The silence is absolute save for that drip-drip-drip and the sound of his heart beating in his ears. He doesn't know how he got here and when he looks down he's wearing his old court suit - as perfectly tailored as it ever was - shirt and jabot crisp and white, the faint scent of lavender still trapped in the wool. Pushing away from the wall, he walks - because he doesn't know what else to do. He walks, despite the emergency lighting flickering and his pulse with it, the fear of an earthquake sparking each time the lights dim. He walks, and always forward, forcing himself to take step after step until he reaches the end of the hall.
...And at the end there is nothing - just a blank wall. He stares at it for a moment, disbelieving, and swallowing hard against the rising sense of unease as the lights flicker more vividly and he feels the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and his pulse quicken in response. Finally, he runs his hands over it, nails seeking any crack or seam, but it mocks him with its solidity until he gives in, resting his forehead against the paint, the coldness of the bricks beneath pressing hard against his skin.
He turns to retrace his steps but only takes one before he realises this is not the corridor he entered. Still green, still dark, still lit by that strange flickering blue glow – but now it has telescoped in on itself, a mere few feet between him and the other end. And at the other end there is a sliding door, an illuminated arrow and a button beside it; the unmistakeable outline of a bullet hole in the reinforced glass.
The terror is instant, choking the breath out of him and freezing his limbs, and he takes that one step back again, almost a stumble, pressing himself back against the wall, shaking his head unconsciously, too numbed by the horror of it to think or to speak.
He looks away, down, anywhere except at the door, and he blinks. Suddenly the burgundy wool of his suit is frayed and shredded; the jabot ripped from his throat; his shirt and vest torn - missing buttons as if he'd been fighting for his life, or as if someone had been fighting him. He doesn't want to move, but something propels him forwards, a leather-gloved hand on his shoulder, large and strong, jovial laughter echoing in his head as a finger reaches out to press the button.
The door slides open and the stench hits him immediately - death and terror and stale air and sweat and blood. The blinking light from the emergency sign lighting up the scene and shining on the polished metal walls. Panic seizes him and he tries to turn, to scramble away, but that hand on his shoulder becomes a hand on his back, shoving him forwards until he stumbles, the door sliding closed behind him.
And he stands there, the fear and the revulsion making him shudder and almost fall to his knees, he finally finds the resolution to at least raise his head. And then he sees it, that thing he knew would be here all along.
The body is slumped in a corner, half-turned away and drenched in blood. His spectacles are laying to one side; frames bent and lenses fractured; the blue neon reflecting from the shattered glass and on the pool of blood that encircles both him and them. It looks almost black, gleaming in the unnatural light, thick and viscous. The metallic scent catches in the back of his throat like the smell of his hands when he had covered his face, the tang of warm gunmetal still lingering on the skin.
His legs finally give out then at the sight of it, and he sinks to his knees on the floor - the blood still warm as it soaks his pants and seeps through to the skin, almost hot against his hands when he crawls forwards, the smell and the sensation of it making him sick to the stomach.
But when he reaches out a hand slick with blood and places it on a shoulder to turn the body towards him, it's not his father that he sees, but the sightless face of Kristoph looking back at him, his throat slashed neatly across the jugular and his hair slicked dark with his own blood. The scar on his hand stands out in stark relief against skin paler than he ever remembers it and lips so faint a blue as to be almost white.
The shock is enough that he gags, then, the smell and the fear and the sight of it too much for him – the thought that he is covered in Kristoph’s blood – that it is on his hands and on his clothes and in his hair, that he can taste it on his tongue…
His head swims and he would have fainted, were it not for that baritone laugh that breaks the silence behind him, freezing him to the spot, the vomit caught in his throat and a fresh fear creeping up his spine.
When he looks up he knows exactly what he'll see, but he doesn't get the chance. Before he can move his head, long, strong fingers deliberately twine in his hair and jerk his head around, the pain of it forcing him to move on his knees, his bloodied hands reaching up and gripping the hem of the blue wool jacket, nails catching on the brocade almost in supplication as he is dragged to face in the opposite direction.
And then he sees them - the others.
His father, shot through the heart and spreadeagled on the floor, his head at an odd angle against the wall, glasses reflecting the blinking emergency light blankly. Blood still seeping from the wound and mingling with Kristoph’s on the floor, the two finding each other and binding like drops of mercury into a pool. Beside him there’s a gun, its safety off, the smell of gunpowder hangs on it, and when he looks down at his own hand he can see the imprint of the handle in the blood.
And Phoenix, his skull crushed by something heavy and blunt, features almost unrecognisable save for those wide, blue eyes that had once held so much life but that now gazed sightlessly in shock back at him. Blood spray covers the wall behind him, pieces of brain and skull visible on the base of a heavy bottle that rolls of its own volition from side to side just out of reach of that dead and grasping right hand. Inside, he can see a hand of cards – two black aces, two black eights, and the five of hearts.
Klavier, then. Slumped in a pool of his own vomit, lips blue and eyes wide in pain and fear as he’d died. His left hand is claw-like, the raking marks of fingernails leaving livid trails from jaw to heart as if he’d tried to tear out his own throat as he died. His clothes are torn, filthy, and the fingers on his right hand broken, casting twisted shadows in the blue flickering light.
He struggles against the fingers in his hair but the hand presses down, forcing him to stay on his knees, to look at the bodies, preventing him from turning his face away or up. But he doesn't need to - that soft chuckle, warm and deep, recognisable to him from years of hearing it - tells him all he needs to know.
I won't let them have you, Miles. You'll always be mine.
He can’t answer – just sobs incoherently in response, ashamed of himself even as he does but lacking the will to do anything else, And then, as suddenly as it appeared, the pressure is gone, the fingers untangled from his hair. He sucks in a breath of relief, his only thought to get out of this place, but before he can get up from the floor, they're on him again - hands encircling his throat, thumbs pressing relentlessly against his windpipe.
He tries to struggle to his feet but he can't, shoes and knees scrabbling at the floor, unable to find traction in the wet blood, hands slippery with it, too slippery to grip those wrists or pull away those fingers that dig ever deeper into his skin, and he chokes on his own fear and on his own blood while that rich and quiet laughter builds into something more manic and high pitched.
Finally he looks up, desperation forcing him to plead for his life…. but it's not Manfred's face, serene and smiling, demanding his obedience and his perfection, nothing more and nothing less. Instead, it's Kristoph's face looking down at him, his eyes full of rage - those same eyes that had looked at him with such hatred and such disgust in the dungeon; Kristoph's hands around his throat, and Kristoph's laughter that echoes from the metal walls of the elevator.
His lungs burn as if they are on fire, and rational thought slips away when the panic overtakes his mind and his body and his vision begins to fade, the sound of his own pulse in his head slowing almost to nothing.
If he could draw a breath, he would scream. But he can't. All he can do is die.