Chapter 3: Songs We Sing
Chapter Summary: Jon debates whether to inform his assistants about what is going on, while grappling with the scary truth about his future, that the Archivist has presented him with. A decision is made for him, when a certain statement proves more dangerous than the archival staff initially thought.
CW: Elias Bitchard and his very own manipulation station, canon typical worms and associated descriptors, spiders, injury (glass cuts), unreality
Author's Notes: This one took longer than I expected but finally here we are! I'm still very excited about this fic so don't let the time between updates give you the wrong idea kdfjgkjijh god i have IDEAS
Anyways, I gift to you this chapter and I promise you I am not speedrunning Tim's arc. Not even a little bit.
Jon awakens with a tidal wave of memories that don’t make any sense. In an attempt to go on with his life, he searches for the cause of the turmoil in his mind. He knows, though, that something inside him is waking up.
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The next months slip between Jon’s fingers like liquid, and before he can blink he’s staring at March in his calendar. It feels significant, strengthens his already high anxiety, yet he can’t figure out why. Nothing in the archives feels different; they’ve been researching and recording statements as normal. Bits and pieces of information slip into Jon’s brain, just to be swept away by the current of his memory. He’s gotten pretty good at differentiating real statements from false ones; they feel different and the real ones demand to be read out loud. Jon knows why that is even though he can’t quite put words to it. He knows a lot of things that way – vague hunches and feelings, but no real substance, no actual knowledge he can use.
That is one of the reasons he hasn’t explained anything to his assistants. The incident with Naomi Herne lingers over them like a storm cloud, and they’ve been asking about it at first, worried. Martin was the first to let it go, opting instead to go about everything as if nothing happened, for which Jon is, frankly, grateful. Sasha asked him twice, and has been observing him intently ever since, but Jon could deal with that. What he couldn’t deal with was Tim, who progressed from gentle concern to anger.
“Jon, for the last time,” he says, placing his hand flat on Jon’s desk. “Get it through your stuck-up head, I’m worried about you. You’ve been acting strange ever since you took this damn job, let us help , for Christ’s sake—”
“I told you it’s none of your business, Tim.” Jon presses his lips together. “Maybe you should put this energy into something more useful, like work.”
“God, you are impossible !” Tim throws his arms in the air with a look of outrage. “You can’t do everything alone! That’s not how life works!”
“I don’t recall asking your opinion on how I should live my life.” Jon’s voice is cold, and he stares into Tim’s eyes with drawn eyebrows.
“Fine!” Tim shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “Maybe you’re a lost cause, whatever. I’m done wasting my energy.”
He turns around and the office door slams behind him.
Jon sighs heavily and hides his face in his hands. Tim’s anger feels familiar and right in some way; he knows he deserves it. Tim is right – he knows he can’t do it alone. He wishes he could tell them what’s happening, but he barely grasps it himself and he can’t come up with a way to explain it. They wouldn’t believe him, they’d just think he’s finally lost his mind.
He realizes the irony of that fear, and yet he can’t tell them. He doesn’t know where he would even begin, and he decides that he needs to understand, truly understand what’s going on before he involves anyone else in it. Especially if it’s dangerous – and Jon has a feeling it is going to be, if it isn’t already. Perhaps ignorance can shield his assistants until the matter is resolved.
Of course, Elias pays him a visit the day after Naomi leaves, claiming to have heard what happened, and scolds him for driving away a statement giver. Jon is too tired from the nightmare to care, and he just agrees to everything, barely even listening. Elias stares at him again with his cold steel-grey eyes, trying to read him, but then he just shakes his head slightly and leaves.
After all that, no one brings up Naomi Herne again.
Jon makes a surprising discovery that only his relationship with Martin hasn’t suffered in the past months. While Tim had apologized for his earlier outburst, both he and Sasha have been quite reserved ever since (or was it Jon who have grown distant?); Martin however clearly wanted to keep the energy of the office up. Jon expected to hate it but, despite the pain and the persisting feeling of loss, he’s been enjoying his company. Martin has been consistently bringing Jon tea to his office, three hours before lunchtime – sometimes in the afternoons when Jon stays in the office past the clock – and Jon can’t help but admit he’s started to look forward to it.
He grows restless, however. The Archivist’s warning lingers in his mind: Martin will be first. First to what? Die? Jon doesn’t want to believe that. It can’t refer to the worms – the nightmare is so real in Jon’s mind that he feels he’s already experienced it before anyone else. Although, now that he thinks about it… He recalls a statement, the name Timothy Hodge. Could it be connected to his nightmares? Why would they come after them, though? Why would they come after Martin ?
As March comes, the feeling of not remembering something vitally important grows like an incessant weed, combating every attempt at eradication. Everything seems ordinary; Martin brings him tea and goes out for a follow up, Sasha quietly taps at her computer, and Tim is deeply engrossed in a Wikipedia article only tangentially related to the case he’s currently working on.
Then, the next day, Martin doesn’t show up for work. Jon stifles his panic because Martin clearly texted him he’s sick, but something feels off. The following two days are pretty much the same, with Jon fighting himself on whether it would be appropriate to check up on him; he even hopes the Archivist shows up in his dreams to explain this sudden alarm, but it doesn’t. He just dreams the same nightmare full of worms.
After a week of empty messages from Martin and a fifth unanswered call, Jon decides it’s enough. He puts his phone down on the desk and starts drumming his fingers.
“Hey, Jon, do you want some coffee?” Sasha shows up in the door to his office. “Or tea, I suppose. I’m going out for lunch, and I can get you something since Martin is still—”
“Do you know where he lives?” Jon asks suddenly and stills his fingers, looking up at her. Sasha blinks.
“Martin. Do you know where he lives?” He prays she can’t hear the nagging anxiety in his voice. Sasha takes a breath, her eyes wandering to the side, thinking.
“Um… I don’t know. Why?” Jon tsks, and the drumming resumes. Sasha frowns with concern. “Are you okay?”
“He’s not picking up his phone,” Jon informs her dryly. Sasha shrugs.
“Maybe he’s just tired—”
“It’s been a week.” Jon’s lips form a tight line. “I need to see if he’s okay.”
Sasha looks genuinely surprised.
“You’re… actually worried,” she states more than she asks, and Jon looks at her again.
“Yes, of course I— Why is that surprising?”
“I just…” She shrugs. “I didn’t think you cared this much.”
Something tightens in Jon’s stomach.
“Well, I do,” he says after a quick pause. “Could you check his address for me?”
“Alright.” Her eyes linger on him for a moment, but Jon can’t figure out what exactly she’s thinking.
While Sasha sits down at her computer to do her digging, Jon leaves his office, following a sudden idea to check what Martin had been working on before he disappeared. He looks at his desk and searches the pile of documents; some notes about a residence on Boothby Road and a couple of unfinished poems (Jon feels his cheeks grow hot; he discards them hurriedly, pushing the bundle of feelings out of his mind). Finally, he finds it – statement of Carlos Vittery, the man followed by a creepy spider. Is Martin targeted by the Web? Is it at all related? Jon realizes he doesn’t know why he searched for the statement at all and leaves it be on the desk. There’s no evidence that Martin is even missing , he scolds himself in his mind.
“Do you have anything?” He asks, walking up to Sasha’s desk.
“Yeah,” she says, not looking at him. “Stockwell. I’ll text you the exact address.”
“You’re amazing, Sasha,” Jon says before he can stop himself and, not paying any mind to her surprised expression, takes his bag and leaves the Archives.
It is when he finds himself in front of Martin’s building that he realizes he has no idea what he’s doing. He wants to check on Martin, yes, but the anxiety in his gut is only rising and he has a feeling this isn’t a natural occurrence at all. The Archivist’s words have echoed in his brain the whole journey there: You better apologise to Martin in advance. He will be first.
He has no idea how to fight whatever he finds inside. All he has on him is a couple of loose documents, a book and… a tape recorder? Jon frowns. He definitely did not take it. He shrugs and turns the recording on.
“Even better that I have it,” he says. “I’m outside Martin’s house and I know whatever it is that is inside, is going to be supernatural. I don’t know why, but I just know . I’m recording this in case… Just in case.”
He puts the recorder back in his bag and opens the door. He pays no mind to the fact that he shouldn’t have known the code to the door; it comes too naturally to him. He quietly enters the silent building, his legs shaking a little. His eyes fall on the fire extinguisher in the corner, and he sighs.
“I’m taking the fire extinguisher as a, uh… A weapon. I don’t know how useful it can be but um… It’s better than nothing.”
As he climbs the stairs, he wonders where this certainty of a paranormal nature of this incident is coming from – no tangible facts would suggest that. Is he just making a fool of himself? Only further proving that his mind is deteriorating under the Archivist – if it is even real at all? Jon shakes his head and continues quietly but surely, wielding the fire extinguisher. This is no time for existential detours.
He finally reaches Martin’s floor, and he halts, fear stopping him dead in his tracks. The sound makes it to his ears first – the wet writhing and heavy breathing. Next is the putrid stench of decay, bringing tears to his eyes. He idly wonders how is it that no one in this building noticed anything. Were they all gone?
Jon steels himself and rounds the corner to face what he already knows is there.
The creature from his recent nightmares stands surrounded by all too familiar worms. Its hair is dirty and looks sticky as the worms move among it. Its punctured hand is knocking on Martin’s door, and it smiles baring more worms to the world. It turns to Jon slowly and looks at him with eyes full of goo and something black.
“ Archivist… ” it whispers. Its voice is distorted somehow, elongated, and just sounds… wrong. Jon finds himself frozen in his place for a moment, as the worms start crawling in his direction. Blind panic overtakes him, his mind plagued by the sensation of those same worms digging into his skin and feeding on his flesh. The next moment, he tightens his grip on the extinguisher and, not thinking at all, sprays the worms with the CO2. The creature hisses at him and the hiss lingers in his mind as the worms writhe in pain and try to escape the gas.
“ We’re not done… Archivist… ” The creature hisses. “ Their song… You shall hear… Their song… ”
Then the creature melts into thousands of worms and bugs that scuttle towards the window and leave the building. Jon keeps spraying them, mind cut off from processing, until the remaining worms are either dead or gone.
Feeling a bit light-headed already, Jon pounds on Martin’s door.
“Martin? Martin, it’s me, Jon!” He hears a little yelp from the inside. “Are you alright?”
“J-Jon?” A faint voice comes from the inside.
“Yes, it’s me! Open the door, Martin, it’s— that… thing , it’s gone now!”
He looks around again to make sure no worms made it back and leans one hand on the wall to steady himself. After a moment he hears a key turn in the lock and the door cracks open to reveal Martin.
He looks exhausted, like he hasn’t slept in a couple of days. He’s wearing sweatpants and a hoodie depicting a cow. His hair is in disarray, and he looks overall a mess.
“Jon? What—” He starts but Jon interrupts him by opening the door wider and pulling him into a hug.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Jon mumbles.
For a moment Martin is too shocked to do anything, but then his arms carefully wrap around Jon’s shoulders. Jon really shouldn’t be surprised that Martin is an amazing hugger, especially that a part of him already knew that, but he relaxes a little bit before he comes back to his senses and realizes he is actually hugging Martin, his assistant . He awkwardly withdraws to lean on the door frame, clears his throat, and crosses his arms on his chest, cheeks burning.
“You weren’t bitten, were you?” He asks very matter-of-factly, hoping to save face. Martin shakes his head.
“Uh, no I-I was here and—Jon, what is going on?” His insistent gaze clears a bit of the brain fog that the CO2 has left Jon with.
“Ah, I’m—I’m sorry. I, uh—” His eyes scan the flat over Martin’s shoulder. “Can I… uh, come inside?”
Martin looks nervous as he takes a step back to let him in.
“Yeah, sure, but,” –He stops when Jon sways unsteadily as soon as he lets go of the wall’s support. “Jon?”
“Sorry, uh… That’d be the CO2, I think,” he laughs. Martin steadies him and leads him to a couch, then closes the door. Jon takes a couple of breaths.
“You can open the windows, Martin, they, uh… they’re gone now.”
“How—,” He sighs and shakes his head. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” Jon rubs his face. He stands up carefully and walks up to a window that Martin now opens. He closes his eyes; takes a deep breath of fresh air and can feel his brain clear up a little bit.
“Do you, uh…” Martin starts. “Do you want some tea?”
Something tightens in Jon’s chest, constricting his breathing room. He raises his eyebrows at this, frankly, ridiculous question, given the circumstances, but Martin’s disconcerted and confused expression doesn’t let him point it out.
“Yes, sure,” he says instead, noticing Martin nod with determination before heading to the kitchen.
Silence falls over the flat for a while, only broken by Martin’s tea preparations. Jon takes his time, clearing his lungs of the CO2 and Martin, even though he must be itching for an explanation (Jon scolds himself for the choice of words), seems to give him all the time he needs. When the two cups are ready, he places them on the kitchen table and takes a seat. Jon opens his eyes then and follows suit.
“How—" Martin begins. “Wh— H-How did you know…?”
“I…” Jon stares at his tea as he realizes he did not plan that far ahead. He didn’t plan at all . How is he supposed to explain? “You weren’t picking up your phone.”
“I wasn’t…” He exhales, trying to follow Jon’s thought process and shoots a glance at the apartment door. “But h-how did you—”
“Honestly, it was dumb luck,” Jon chuckles nervously and sips his tea, still not looking at Martin. “I grabbed the fire extinguisher randomly to have a weapon and… turns out it works on them.”
Martin looks down and swallows.
“Are you okay?” Jon asks, finally looking up. “How are you feeling?”
Martin takes a sip of his tea.
“I… I think this is, uh… I think I have a, um… a statement to give.”
“A statement?” Jon repeats and immediately reaches to his bag. He takes out the running tape recorder and places it on the table between them.
“Wh—W-Why do you have a tape recorder running?” Martin asks in disbelief. Jon shrugs.
“I wanted to… uh, have proof. In—In case something like this happened.”
“I thought you—”
“Just tell me what happened, Martin,” Jon interrupts, not very keen on answering questions he doesn’t have answers to. Martin sighs and nods. Jon takes a deep breath.
“Statement of Martin Blackwood, archival assistant at the Magnus Institute, London, regarding…?”
“A close encounter with something I believe to have once been Jane… Prentiss,” Martin fills in, looking down.
“Recorded direct from subject, 7th March 2016. Statement begins.”
Silence falls over them when Martin finishes talking. Jon swallows and looks at him.
“Why didn’t you come to me before going back there?” He asks and Martin scoffs.
“You wouldn’t have believed me! You said dying encased in web surely had a natural explanation! No, I needed hard proof.”
Jon sighs and rubs at his face, pushing his glasses up to his forehead.
“This is probably as far as hard proof goes,” he huffs out. Martin doesn’t laugh. Jon looks up at him; he looks thoughtful, staring at a point in the table. “Statement ends.”
He clicks the STOP button on the tape recorder and clasps his hands together on the table. Martin is still in his thoughts, frowning slightly. He looks… sad. Jon feels a soft chill on his skin all of a sudden.
“Are you okay, Martin?” He asks quietly. Martin blinks, as if settling on something and looks up at him.
“Jon… why? Why did you, uh… I mean, don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate it and you, you might have just, uh, s-saved my life but, uh…” Martin fidgets with his fingers. “Why did you come here?”
Jon feels as if someone just stabbed him in the chest. He instinctively moves his hand to grab Martin’s but stops himself and takes a hold of his empty mug instead. He knows it doesn’t escape Martin’s notice, his green eyes following Jon’s hand, even though he doesn’t react. He does have rather pretty eyes, doesn’t he?
“I…” Jon exhales and looks down, shutting down that line of thought before it starts in earnest. “I just… I had a bad feeling.”
“A—A bad feeling?” Martin repeats and Jon sighs heavily.
“Yes, I know how it sounds, coming from me. But look at that, I was right! Even if I… don’t really know why. Or how.” Jon bites his lip and looks away. “Look, I… I want— no, I need you to know that, uh… That you’re valued at the Archives. And, uh… I was worried. About you. I’m… I’m glad you’re okay, Martin.”
Out of the corner of his eye Jon sees Martin look at him in surprise before turning his gaze onto the table. His face shows no emotion and his stare seems empty.
“Oh,” he lets out and nods slightly. “Th-Thank you for coming.”
Jon wants to comfort him somehow, but he doesn’t have the first clue on how to do it. He’s not exactly well suited for helping people come to terms with trauma, so he clears his throat and says the only thing he feels makes sense in the moment.
“We need to get you to the Institute.” His voice is deeper and more in control, and it grabs Martin’s attention. “You’re not safe here. I have a place in the document storage where I sometimes sleep when I stay in the Archives for too long, it should be enough to provide a safe space. I’ll ask Elias to double up on security and to maybe get more CO2, just in case.”
“Wh—uh… What do you think this means?” Martin asks.
Jon starts drumming his fingers on the table, but his mind is providing no useful insights. As he turns his attention inwards, all he feels is guilt. Could he have stopped this? If he just remembered, if he just… what? Listened to the Archivist?
“I think…” He starts. “I think something bad is coming, Martin.”
Elias Bouchard leans back in his chair, up in his office in the Magnus Institute. The office is immaculate and neatly organized, every book on the shelf and each document on the desk exactly in its designated place, as if afraid to step out of line under the Head of the Institute’s watchful gaze. Above Elias’ head, on the wall, there is a portrait of an older, greying man, wearing a monocle on a thin golden chain. Below it, on the frame, are three words, etched into the wood.
Vigilo. Audio. Opperior.
And that is exactly what Elias Bouchard is doing. He watches the two men enter the Institute and quickly head down to the Archives. He listens as they explain to their friends what has happened. And he waits for The Archivist to come to him, asking questions.
Elias can’t say everything is going according to plan. In fact, from the looks of it, he’s going to have some troubles with his current plan in the near future, but it doesn’t bother him much at the moment. The Archivist is bound to his position, as are his co-workers. He trusts in his own abilities to improvise should the need arise.
What Elias does not understand is what in the hell happened to Jonathan Sims.
He felt it; he’s fairly certain every Avatar of all of the fourteen powers felt it. The night before Jon’s first day as the Head Archivist something happened. Elias doesn’t know what and it bothers him like a splinter in the flesh of his mind. Something changed in the very fabric of the universe, Elias could feel it tear and split, and then sew itself back up as if nothing happened. But something happened. And after seeing Jon that morning, Seeing him absolutely torn apart, his whole being scattered like bricks of a toppled tower, he knew this was the result of whatever happened in the night. He’s tried to get a look into Jon’s head for a while now, but he’s become… guarded. His mind has created protections that his Eye couldn’t penetrate, and it was… frustrating to say the least. It doesn’t necessarily thwart any of his plans, but he has to assume Jon now possesses some knowledge and abilities, and that does pose a threat.
Elias sighs and straightens in his chair. Here he comes.
As expected, there’s a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Elias says. Jon comes in and closes the door behind him. Elias does his best to read Jon’s expression, but he’s closed off, as ever.
“Martin was just attacked by a… worm hive we believe to once have been Jane Prentiss.” Ah, there it is. The anger. Not in complete control then, Elias chuckles in his mind. Now, that would surprise him.
Elias decides to play his part. Jon may already know his identity and perhaps his role in all this, but that doesn’t mean he needs to open his cards just yet.
“Martin was what?” He asks in disbelief and frowns. “What are you talking about, Jon?”
“I’ve seen it, Elias.” He revels in the little emphasis on his name, subtly saying ‘I know your secret, stop playing around’. As if that’s leverage. “Thousands of worms. And I’m sure you remember that statement about Jane Prentiss. It has to be her.”
Elias sighs and stands up.
“Alright, if you say so. Is Martin okay?” Elias glances at Jon. Anger flashes through his eyes. Oh, how curious he is to know what exactly Jon knows now.
“Yes. I said he’d be able to stay in the Archives until the matter is resolved.”
“Very well,” Elias nods reluctantly and runs down the stairs. “Does that mean you’re going to fix your sleep schedule?”
“I—what?” Jon blinks. Elias shakes his head.
“Since Martin is taking over your temporary bed in the Archives I’d think you’ll start going home earlier to get some proper rest.”
Jon doesn’t answer.
They walk the rest of the way to the break room in silence. Martin is sat in one of the chairs with a blanket over his shoulders and a hot cup of tea in hand and Tim is sitting next to him, telling a story. He stops as they enter.
“Martin, are you alright?” Elias asks and Martin nods.
“Yes, I’m—I’m quite okay now.”
Elias nods curtly and glances about the room.
“Do you have any proof of those… worms, you said?” He turns to Jon just in time to see his lips press together in stifled frustration.
“I have it all on tape,” he almost growls, and Elias raises his eyebrows.
“All of it?”
“Martin’s statement included. You can listen to it if you so wish.”
Tim raises his eyebrows, looking from Jon to Elias, while Martin continues to stare at his tea. Elias makes a mental note that Jon is already seeking out statements to feed the Eye.
“Very well. Do you need anything else of me, Jon?” He turns to the Archivist.
“We need extra security at the Institute’s entrances and more fire extinguishers,” he says.
“Thank you,” Martin says quietly and Elias nods in acknowledgement, his lips forming a slight smile.
“Whatever you need, Martin.”
Jon stares after Elias for a long while after he leaves, his lips forming a thin line. Thoughts crowd in his brain like ants in an anthill that has been stepped on. How much does Elias know of what’s going on in his head? How much of this is his plan? If so, what would be the next step? And, most importantly, how does he stop it?
“Jon, are you okay?” Sasha materializes in front of him, and he jumps at her voice a little.
“Oh, I… Yes, I’m fine. Why?”
“Elias left five minutes ago, and you’ve been unresponsive.” She frowns. “This must have been traumatic for you too, sit down and we’ll—”
“What…? N-No, I’m—I’m perfectly fine.” Jon sighs and shakes his head. “Elias gets on my nerves.”
Tim scoffs sympathetically and nods.
Jon unzips his bag and takes out the tape recorder, then places it on the table. It’s almost the end of their work day, but he can’t stand the thought of leaving Martin alone here.
“Do you mind if I play it?” Jon asks. Martin looks at him confused, so he adds. “The tape. From the… from today.”
“Oh,” Martin looks down for a moment. “I… I’d rather not listen to it, if that’s—”
“Absolutely,” Jon nods and takes the tape recorder. “I’ll be in my office then.”
As soon as he’s alone, he plays the tape. He listens to it intently, noting the static when he approaches Prentiss and the heavy distortions when she— when it speaks.
As the tape winds to an end, a memory resurfaces in Jon’s mind – a spider on the shelf, that shelf collapsing, thousands upon thousands of worms crawling into the Archives like a flood. It looks just like his nightmares, except Jon can swear he’s lived it. Besides, in his dreams he is always alone, and in the memory Sasha and Martin are with him. It’s a quick flash but the knowledge stays with him as he fumbles for a notepad.
Jane Prentiss is going to attack the Institute.
The tape finishes playing and the only thing that can be heard is Jon’s drumming fingers.
The walls hum a tune Jon doesn’t know, that nevertheless sparks a feeling of familiarity in his mind. The office is empty and would be quiet if not for the humming, getting progressively closer. He can’t determine the nature of the sound – it doesn’t sound like any instrument he’s ever heard. Despite containing no words, it speaks of warmth and love; family. Jon abandons his research on the desk (he can’t even recall what he was researching, but that doesn’t matter) to inspect a wall behind his chair, the only fragment of it not obscured by shelves. The surface vibrates ever so slightly under his touch, and he feels a surge of anticipation run through his body. Whatever hums on the other side of the wall yearns for him, and he finds that he yearns for it back. His heart goes out to the feeling of wholeness – unity – and he needs to find the source.
He locates the weak spot in the wall, cracked open so many times before, but he stops. A spider sits in the corner, just next to the place where Jon thinks a hole should be, and its black eyes glisten in the light of the office. Jon’s blood freezes and he withdraws, searching the surface of his desk for a weapon. He finds a thick book and lunges it at the spider without a second thought. The book and the spider carcass both fall to the floor, and all is still. A shiver of disgust and fear passes through Jon. It’s dead, it will no longer stand in his way.
“ That was very stupid. ”
A distorted voice comes from behind him, but as he whirls around he sees nothing but shelves and the absence of the door – all perfectly ordinary. The voice laughs, now somewhere to his right, and Jon wills his fast-beating heart to slow. He just needs to get to safety. The humming is getting closer still, inviting him into its embrace, calling him home; he carefully steps over the dead spider and punches the wall with his hand.
He expects pain and debris, but the wall gives way and tears easily, almost like wet paper. The dark tunnel inside is cut short by a door that, in the light getting through the entrance that Jon has made, seems to be pale yellow. The humming swells in his ears and a dizzy spell has him reaching out for the wall for balance. The stone is sticky and wet, as if covered in slime. Jon takes his hand back to see a squished white worm on his palm. He fights a wave of nausea as he frantically tries to get the remains of the worm off of his skin, a sickly sweet smell of decay filling up his nostrils and clouding his brain. The humming starts to sound suspiciously like wet writhing and the warm feelings of home rot in his chest, shrivelling and squirming in the pit of his stomach. Small bodies stir within him, moving in time with the beating of his heart – a sort of tickling but nauseating sensation – and he screams, revulsion making his body recoil.
The Archivist’s words ring in his mind – You can’t control the dream but following it until it ends usually works . He struggles to turn the handle of the yellow door the right way, the dizziness making it difficult to establish left and right. He needs to get away, somehow, run away from what’s inside him. The worms want to claim him as one of their own, a home, but none of the previous feelings Jon now recognizes as illusion could penetrate his utter disgust at this violation.
The door opens into a brightly lit corridor and Jon falls through onto the floor, the door closing behind him immediately with a gentle click. He gives himself a moment to breathe heavily, relieved at the feeling of his insides once again belonging only to him. Then, he blinks and sits up, trying to assess his current situation.
The corridor is hazy, doused in various hues of orange, red, and yellow light as if from an early sunset, except there are no windows to be found. It stretches for at least a mile ahead, Jon thinks with growing unease, joined by other corridors at different, peculiar angles. He can see one going up from the ceiling, another going diagonally up and to the left, and yet another one several dozen feet away from him dropping straight down. The walls are covered in an old-fashioned yellow wallpaper with dark wood moulding and a colourful flower pattern swirling into spirals that immediately give Jon a headache. On both sides of the hall hang mirrors of varying sizes.
Jon scrambles up to his feet, squinting in the light. The corridor smells like new carpets and paint, and he frowns at the sudden acrid intensity of it. For a second it’s so overwhelming he has to shut his eyes, but then it passes as if it never happened. Jon shakes his head and turns around to the door—
Only to find it gone, replaced by a floor length mirror. He flinches back, startled by his own reflection. Have his arms always been this long and thin, his fingers swirling into serpentine streamers, with nails so sharp they cut his eyes just by looking at them...
Jon staggers back, shutting his eyes again, and breathes slowly. He can get through this if he just follows the dream wherever it goes. If it happens to be down this wretched corridor then he just has to accept it.
He turns away from the long mirror before he opens his eyes again and starts walking at a brisk pace, careful to go around the hole in the floor that the branching corridor creates. His eyes involuntarily stop on the mirrors he passes, each showing a twisted reflection of himself.
He decides not to take any turns for fear of getting lost and continues ahead for what feels like twenty minutes. He then looks back idly but stops short in shock. There is a left turn behind him, right the way he came, yet he is sure he was going straight forward the entire time. He backtracks to see what is past the turn and finds an irritatingly similar yet nonetheless entirely different corridor than he has just been in. There’s a star shaped mirror on the wall that Jon is sure he would have remembered.
“This is impossible,” he mutters.
He turns back around to see a dead end, and a floor length mirror in front of him. His reflection is just slightly elongated with otherwise natural proportions this time, but its arms are crossed on its chest, and it looks at Jon expectantly.
“What—” he chokes down on the word and takes a step back.
“ Yes, it is quite impossible, isn’t it? ”
His reflection speaks with the distorted voice Jon had heard before.
“Wh—Where am I?” He wills his voice not to shake under his own scrutinizing gaze.
“ What an excellent question! ” The light, almost playful tone of the voice doesn’t match the hard expression on the reflection at all, even though the lips move with the words. “ You are nowhere and everywhere. You are here and you are there, but you also quite aren’t at all. ”
The voice giggles and Jon feels sparks of irritation break through the fear.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he says and his reflection laughs again.
“ Oh, but it does make sense! It makes all the senses, the sight, the smell, the touch... ”
Jon feels something brush against the back of his neck and he flinches violently, only to realize it must have been his hair.
“How do I get out of here?”
“ What makes you think there is a way out? ”
The reflection moves to another mirror and Jon blinks, suddenly dizzy.
“ Perhaps you have always been here, the outside just a dream? ”
“No.” Jon shakes his head, trying to assemble his jumbled thoughts. “I know that’s not right.”
“ It is certainly not the first time you are here ; you know that as well, don’t you? ”
“I...” The corridor sways and, as he moves his eyes, his vision clips, as if the world moved ever so slightly to the left, sending a mild electric shock to his brain. “No, you’re lying.”
“ Well, isn’t that just stereotypical now, ” the voice lets out a mock scoff. “ I do so much more than lie. And yet it doesn’t change the fact that you don’t know what the truth is .”
And isn’t that right? He doesn’t know what’s real anymore, his head is heavy and spinning, and he looks up at his reflection staring down at him with contempt. In the corridor behind it, Jon notices a dark figure spotted with green. He whips his head around but all there is behind him is a wall, the flowery pattern on the wallpaper swirling hypnotically. He tears his eyes away to look back into the mirror, where the figure still stands in the distance. Determination rises in his blood.
Without unnecessary delay he slams his fist into the mirror and lets out a cry of pain when the shards of glass cut through his skin. The reflection shatters into pieces and disappears in the glass on the floor, leaving an empty frame on the wall. Jon is about to berate himself for acting on impulse, but he turns around and the corridor that he saw in the mirror now stretches before him, along with the dark figure looking at him with its hundreds of green eyes. The tape bounds wind down to the floor and snake right up to Jon, connecting to the cuts from the mirror shards on his palm.
“ For a moment or two I thought you would not make it ,” The Archivist speaks in Jon’s head. Its voice is emotionless and coated in static, as always, although Jon can’t help feeling judged.
“But I did, no thanks to you,” he retorts, looking apprehensively at the blood trickling down the magnetic tape. Every movement of his hand causes the tape to move in the wound and Jon grimaces at the uncomfortable feeling. “Were you watching?” He asks with a considerable amount of sarcasm.
“ I try to .”
Something in its voice suggests that these words have more meaning that Jon is able to see at the moment.
“I have some questions for you.” Jon decides to change the subject and get to the point before their time is cut short.
“ Of course .”
“When you said Martin would be the first, did you mean what happened with Prentiss? That he would get trapped in his flat?”
The Archivist nods and guilt churns in Jon’s stomach.
“How did you know it would happen?”
“ I’ve already told you ,” it sighs. “ This has all already happened. I’m here to change that, but I can’t . ” It raises its arms along with the heaps of tape. Jon frowns.
“Not that I don’t feel bad for Martin, but isn’t changing the past a little much for stopping someone getting trapped in their flat for a week?”
The Archivist blinks once.
“ This is just the beginning. Jane Prentiss is one small piece of the grand puzzle. ”
“Alright, what exactly are you trying to stop then?”
“ The end of the world. ”
Jon lets out a small sigh.
“You can’t possibly expect me to believe that.”
“ After what you’ve seen I am very much expecting you to. ”
Jon scoffs, throwing his head back and rolling his eyes.
“Jane Prentiss is... a one in a million chance. Most of the statements are utter nonsense and the ones that aren’t are few; besides, my understanding of the role of the archive is that unnatural things, as rare as they are, have been happening for centuries! What’s so different now?”
“ You. ”
“Uh... What?” Jon falters slightly.
“ You are going to bring the end of the world. Unless I stop you. ”
Jon suddenly feels very cold.
“So, you do want to kill me,” he whispers, but the Archivist shakes its head.
“ No. There are many things that are going to want to kill you but I am not one of them. As far as I understand, you are essential for my own survival, such as it is. ”
“Right,” Jon nods with bitter humour despite the fear gripping his chest like a vice. “Because you live in my head. So, if I die, you die?”
“ It’s more complicated than that… But simply put, yes. ”
Jon takes a deep breath. The Archivist hasn’t moved since they started talking and Jon decides its presence was less unnerving when it was sitting down.
“What if you die?” He asks suddenly. “What happens to me?”
The corridor is quiet for a moment and Jon is uncomfortably aware of his own breathing.
“ The only way for me to die in this state would be from hunger, ” the Archivist begins; Jon can’t help but think its words sound more careful. “ But I don’t think that will be happening any time soon. ”
“What do you mean?” Jon insists. “How do you... feed?”
He grimaces and the Archivist blinks for the second time.
“ You don’t need to know that. All you need to know is that it isn’t hurting people. ” Somehow, Jon suspects the word yet has been left unspoken.
“But you haven’t answered,” Jon points out. “What happens to me if you die?”
“ Worst case scenario, you continue on your fated path like before. You make the same mistakes, and you bring about a world of fear. ”
“And what's the best-case scenario?”
“ You die with me. ”
Jon opens his eyes wider.
“You said you didn’t want to kill me.”
“ Your death is better than your ignorance. ”
Jon swallows and nods, more as an acknowledgement than an agreement.
“And—And what happens if I free you?” He asks, feeling a warm darkness starting to envelop his vision. Their time is running out.
“ Our minds become one. ”
Jon exhales sharply.
“So, my choice is either dying or becoming a monster?”
The Archivist chuckles quietly and bitterly.
“ It’s the only choice you ever really had. ”