Once again, the creeping silence made its way around the room, hovering above the dust-covered floor. It slid like a dark spirit over the broken tile, searching for any noise that might violate its dominion. Silence had reigned in the room for countless years, defying even the smallest sound to challenge it. And so the silence patrolled the thick darkness, listening.
Gliding above the cold floor, the silence stared deeply into a pair of eyes: eyes which spoke of endless, aching loneliness. The eyes belonged to the ornate mosaic that had, in times long-forgotten, served as revered memorial: a royal ancestor crafted in tile in the floor. But now those eyes were transformed by the cracking of age, the dullness of neglect, and the paralyzing tyranny of the silence.
Satisfied that no intruder lurked there, the silence began its crawl up the loose stones that formed the north wall of the room. Giant stones that had once been polished and beautiful were now worn and rough. Cool air seeped through hairline cracks, filling the room with a mute chill.
Nothing threatened the silence as it continued up the wall. A blanket of dust obscured the elaborate runes that had been etched into the gray stone molding. The silence almost laughed as it passed undeterred over the carvings and onto the next wall, and the next wall and the next, until it came to the eighth and final wall. This wall alone had the power to overthrow the silence; this wall had a door.
The door was massive, with its thick oaken planks and rusty metal hinges. But it was not the door itself which the silence feared, but what lay beyond it: the anarchy of untamed sound.
Faintly, far away, a noise could be heard in the hall. Very soft at first, it was becoming louder: a growing echo cascading down the countless hallways. The silence shrank away. Still the noise advanced.
Three boots drummed the flagstones of the hallway. Clouds of dust rose from the floor as each boot struck. One pair of boots belonged to a strong, tall man. A black cloak hung to his bootstraps and stirred up more dust as it whirled behind him. The man walked with a measured gait, every muscle in his body tensed. His breath, like wisps of steam, seeped from his lips, clouding an unshaven face. Dark brows hovered above his dull, blue eyes. Strands of his hair hung flat against his forehead, almost reaching the thin scar that ran along the left side of his face. Around his neck hung a brilliant blue light, which flooded the area through which he walked. The stone walls rushed past, flying out of the darkness ahead. In his rough fist, he tightly clenched the shoulder of a boy.
The boy was approaching manhood and appeared strong. Upon his right foot he wore a heavy boot, similar to those the man wore. His left foot was unbooted, and he favored that foot as he walked. He wore a brown woolen jacket and thickly woven pants. Like the man dragging him down the hall, he had dark hair and blue eyes. Unlike the expressionless eyes of the man, however, the boy’s eyes were bright and alert, though his entire face was veiled in confusion and fear.
The two turned a corner, and continued down the black hallway. The boy stared ahead anxiously. The man reached a hand deep into his cloak and drew out an ancient filigreed key. A moment later, moving out of the darkness toward them, appeared a huge, wooden door. Terror gripped the boy, and his expression tightened.
The silence shrieked in agony as the heavy bolt that had long locked the door invaded the room with a groaning sound; it slid open. The door suddenly creaked, admitting a flood of light into the room. In a dark corner, a remnant of the silence huddled; then it was gone. Two figures stood in the doorway, their huge shapes almost filling the opening. The last bit of light in boy’s eyes faded at the sight of the forsaken room. The man strengthened his grip on the boy’s shoulder and spoke in a booming voice.
“Perhaps you’ve changed your mind?” The words resounded through the room and hallway and echoed in the boy’s ears as he considered his plight.
The man’s grip tightened even more and the boy’s arm protested in pain. “I ask for your decision! Answer me, boy!” Anger choked his voice and his face reddened with rage.
Though fear gripped the boy, his courage was stronger. Staring directly into the man’s cold eyes he answered calmly and quietly, “I would sooner die.”
The man’s muscles tensed with fury, digging his massive fingers into the boy’s shoulder. Pain flooded the boy’s arm and he tried to wrench himself free. But he was no match for the man. A rough hand whipped through the air and hit the boy hard in the face, causing his entire head to jerk. The man took a deep breath and exhaled. The anger faded from his face and he glanced indifferently at the boy. “Then my son, you WILL die” he said simply.
Terror prodded the boy to action. Directing all his energy into escape, he writhed and kicked. In the struggle, he struck the man with his fist, causing blood to flow from his nose. But the blow only elicited a sarcastic chuckle. “Foolish Atrus,” he muttered. Showing no emotion and with little effort, the man slammed the boy into the wall beside the door.
Darkness swamped the boy’s mind as he tumbled into unconsciousness. Without a second look, the man flung his son into the room, slamming the great wooden door and bolting it securely. Footsteps, only one set this time, echoed in the hallway. They grew fainter and fainter until they could no longer be heard at all.
From a dark corner, the silence grinned nervously as it peered at the new addition to its lair. Legions of darkness gathered to hold vigil around the bleeding boy, hoping for death to come and claim him.