Lighthouse In The Abyss, Time: Unknown
The doors closed behind me with such finality that I started. I stopped for a moment, looking back at the two doors before shaking my head.
There would be plenty of time to consider the impact and meanings behind what I’d seen, just now.
Getting lost in a philosophical and existential tangent over who was the real Zero was a total and utter waste of time— and like Alzalam said: ‘time is not your ally.’
And so I turned away from the doors and began to move forward. There was a lighthouse to fix.
I took only a few steps forward before I realized the awful state this place was in.
The air was stale and musty, I noted as I took a few steps through the dimly lit, filthy chamber. A quick look at the fire lamps showed that they were overrun with grime and dirt.
This place had seen better days.
“A lighthouse.” I murmured as I reached for my wand, which was somehow still in my pocket, despite everything that happened. “More like a filthy dungeon. Is the entire place like this?”
I moved towards the lights, which flickered weakly as the seconds passed, and swished my wand over the first. “Scourgify.”
The dirt and grime vanished off of the glass, casting a stronger light in the room as the oxygen finally entered through the holes, breathing life back into the flame.
I stared at my surroundings with a less pronounced grimace. With more light, this place will be simple to fix.
As if to spite me, the light died back down to its previous level. I frowned and turned to examine the lamplight that I’d just cleaned.
The filth, dirt and grime had returned in full force, almost as if I never cast a spell in the first place.
I stared at it for a few seconds longer, not understanding what was going on, before exhaling. “All right.”
I moved my wand in the lambda pattern, before tapping it against the lamp. “Inspicere Empiricus.”
My eyes fluttered as I took in the wealth of information washing over me. “Hmmm…”
Judging from the patterns and sensations, I can tell that there’s some kind of restoration spell going on, but it’s only activated when another spell of its opposite is used. I thought, continuing to assimilate the data. But… restoration of what? I’m the one restoring the place to its former appearance.
I mulled this over for a moment before letting my breath out through my teeth. I didn’t have the time to mess around here. I needed to get to the top and fix the problem, once and for all.
And yet… I thought, staring at the weakening flames. What’s the point of a working top floor if the lower floors are so derelict that you can’t even get there?
I was on a race against time, but I also got the feeling that, if I ignored the small details of this place, I would be essentially dooming myself to complete this race without a steering wheel, or a pedal— the metaphor was getting a little stretched, but the logic still worked out well, in my mind.
“The Scouring Charm triggers this restoration spell, which is restoring… The filth?” I said with a frown, not fully grasping the concept. “Weird logic, but I suppose it could work like that. The concept of ‘restoration’ can be eroded to make it all function.”
I was met with the ever-present silence of my surroundings.
“So…” I continued speaking and tore a strip of clothing from my sleeve with a quick cast of the Severing Charm. “I have to clean this place without magic.”
I grimaced for a single moment before it turned to a wry smile. “I suppose being assigned cleaning duty bt Hagrid will be paying off, after all.”
I wiped the grime from the lamp, getting the patch of cloth dirty, but I saw the light from behind the glass intensify as the flame was fed more fuel. I waited a few seconds to see if the filth would return.
Nothing happened, and I nodded, half-satisfied and half-annoyed.
It appears I was right. I thought. Looks like I’m going to need to clean the whole place up. Joy.
It wasn’t an activity I looked forward to, but no one ever said that something worthwhile doing would be easy.
At least, the Scouring Charm worked on my makeshift cleaning rag. It would have sucked if I were forced to lose all my clothes just to clean this place up.
I went about cleaning each light, making sure not to snuff the flames as I went about my work. With every wipe, the light strengthened, and I felt a little lighter as a result.
It was a literal cleansing of the soul, though I knew there was likely far more ahead of me than a simple cleaning. As soon as I finished cleaning the final lamp, I heard the sound of wood clattering in the center of the room.
I turned with wild eyes, pointing my wand to the source of the noise, with a spell already leaving my lips.
“Odgov…” I said, trailing off when I saw no enemy before me.
No. Instead of an enemy spawning to fight me, there were two wooden objects. I frowned and made my way to the center of the room, picking the two up and sighing.
“Adam the Janitor, huh? As far as callings go, I could do worse.” I shook my head with a chuckle as I held a mop in one hand and a bucket in the other. “I suppose it’s best that I get to work.”
I set the mop handle down and held my wand over the center of the bucket. “Aguamenti.”
Water streamed forth from my wand, nearly filling the bucket to the brim in a few seconds flat. I cut the spell off, pocketed my wand, and rolled my right shoulder— an old habit that still carried on from my previous life.
I frowned, my mind wandering to the exchange I had with Alzalam earlier. Did I even have the right to call myself Zero? If he was the real one… Why did he insist on calling himself ‘Alzalam’? Why did he not use our— I guess his— birth name?
I sighed and forced the thoughts out of my mind before taking the mop and bucket and heading to the corner of the room. One step at a time.
I dunked the mop in the water bucket for a few seconds before extracting it and driving it into the corner with a loud slap, which echoed in the large, empty chamber.
And so I began to mop the floor, making long strokes from left to right to cover as much ground as I could. As I did so, I saw the filthy blackness begin to disappear from the floor, revealing the pure white stone beneath. My gaze moved towards the wall, and I realized that it was covered with this grime, as well.
“Ah, the walls and ceiling too, eh?” I said and nodded to myself, raising the mop upwards and ignoring some of the dirty water falling on my cheek. “Best to start from the top, then.”
I took a deep breath before tightening my gaze and starting the grind. I lost myself in the haze of work, feeling myself working muscles that I hadn’t used in a long time, even when working with Hagrid.
As the time passed, I felt as if I was moving in a strange, stiff dance.
Replace water. Dunk mop. Clean. Re-dunk mop. Clean. Repeat until water needs to be replaced again.
The longer I worked, the faster my strokes went, and the more precise my technique became. I increased my pace, almost hopping as I side-stepped, turned and swirled the mop with the grace of a master painter, wiping the blackness away to reveal the sacred white of this edifice of hope.
Before I knew it, I had already gone through the door leading up to the next room— which I made sure to clean as well— and was staring up at the long, filthy spiral staircase.
I could almost see the sheer grandeur of this passageway before it had succumbed to time and neglect. The spiral stairs twirled up at the dark ceiling, and I could almost see how the light used to filter in from above, brightening the inside of the tower like a brilliant gem.
I nodded and rolled my right shoulder again. “The grind never ends.”
I began to notice the little things about the place as I went about my business cleaning the floor.
I saw the perfect symmetry of the glowing bluish engravings upon the white stone beneath me, the well measured form of the rising stairs, and the haphazardly flowing, yet elegant patterns adorning the reflective metal railing.
My naked eyes feasted at the sight as I made my way up the staircase, cleaning it all as I went along. The walls, the steps, the small slits in the stone which showed small glimpses of the outside; I did not ignore a single thing.
The walls which I couldn’t reach through normal means, I cleaned when I elongated the broom with the use of my wand. That was all the magic I dared to use; the cleaning would have to be done manually.
I had a feeling that enchanting the broom to do the cleaning for me would be the most inadvisable course of action.
With every step I cleaned, and every step I then took, I was taken with its rhythm— a steady, smooth percussion reaching into the depths of my being and carrying it upwards into the welkin above.
I wondered if this was what the act of ascension was supposed to be about; cleaning your soul out so that you could attain a higher form of existence. I shook such fanciful thoughts away and continued with my task.
The top of the staircase was within my reach now. Every step I cleaned now invigorated me further and further, and before I knew it, I had mopped the final bit of filth away from the final step, as well as the trapdoor leading into the top.
Trapdoor, I may have called it, but don’t be fooled— it was a very large, lever-controlled, ornate, reflective silver door, covered in the same patterns as the rest of the railing, as well as the floor at the bottom. The now-transparent glass squares set in its center revealed the white ceiling above.
Interesting. I thought. The final room is already clean? Since the door was closed… Makes sense. Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
I didn’t give it much thought as I nodded to myself, placing my hand on the lever and getting ready to go forward. If the place was dirtier than initially thought, I would clean it, just like the rest of the tower.
Pulling the lever down, I watched the trapdoor unlatch itself from the ceiling and open upwards with a smooth spin until it was perpendicular to the floor it stood on.
It glowed for a moment before beginning to pulse with power. The blue light in the patterns intensified slightly, streaming its way downwards and injecting new life into the cleaned structure.
I felt my face twist into a smile at the sight; a job well done.
Though… I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something strange about the entire experience.
Why had the place been so filthy, in the first place? Something had to have caused this. The words that Alzalam had shared with me before I entered the lighthouse came to mind.
“But know this: you’re stronger than you think you are. You can do this. Remember that for me, won’t you? Whatever you see in there; just trust your instincts.” I repeated the words out loud, wondering what he was getting at.
So far, all I had done was clean the filth and grime plaguing the tower.
Still, from the way he had spoken, he implied that there was something I had to face in here and more than that; I had to beat it. My eyes turned back up to the open trap door with a slow, but deep inhale.
Whatever I needed to fix was likely to be found in the final room.
And so, I ascended into the lighthouse’s light room. This was it. This was where the real cleansing would occur. With a heart full of cautious optimism, I took my first few steps in the large chamber.
It was a grand, large and circular chamber made from the same fused white stone as the rest of the lighthouse. At the center of the room, there was an overturned black stone, shaped in the form of a lozenge.
I swallowed at the sad sight. No wonder this place’s light had died; the filth had covered it like a glove, choking the life out of it completely.
No. I realized, seeing a weak glow coming from the side which wasn’t facing me. Almost.
I left the bucket and mop at the entrance, instead rushing towards the center of the large light chamber. I knelt by the stone and started to wipe the grime away from it, but nothing happened.
It’s not working. I realized after I started rubbing the stone so hard that my hands began to sting. The cleaning isn’t working anymore. What’s going on?
I stared at the stone for a long moment, before it clicked. Maybe it was like Alef Ard’s stone? Did it require blood?
There isn’t exactly a way to get any Strong Blood here. I thought, pulling my wand out and holding it over the stone. “Inspicere…”
But I stopped, feeling a dark chill running up my spine. I took a step back with a slow, but deep breath. If I had finished casting that spell, I had the feeling that something horrible would have happened.
“Trust your instincts.” I repeated, stepping away from the stone and trying to observe the room with a little bit more care. My eyes found their way down to the patterns on the white, stone floor.
Contrary to the blue light, which I had seen in the stair-case chamber, as well as the base floor, these patterns were an orange so dirty and dark that it forced me to recoil. More than that, they seemed to be trying to spread out of the patterns.
I swallowed and tried to follow the runic patterns to their source. That’s when I noticed something strange. “What…”
A few feet off to my left, I could see that the stone had been cracked open like an egg, leaking the dark orange fluid over to the patterns like a demented version of an egg-yolk, turning everything it touched into a festering disease.
It was a desecration of what life ought to have been; in other words, something perfect to destroy the lighthouse and allow the abyss from the outside to swallow it entirely.
It all started to make sense to me. To go with the egg comparison, this tower is basically the egg containing my life— maybe it’s even the ideal aspect that all eggs are based upon. A safe haven to protect and nurture the life it carries within?
The concept was both strange to behold and made perfect sense at the same time. I was fixing the corruption from within to keep the corruption from without, far away from my haven.
But, how had it become corrupted in the first place? The trapdoor had been closed. No filth should have escaped.
Before I had the time to think about it, the fluid launched itself towards me, wrapping around my neck before it continued to spread over the rest of my body, leaving my head untouched and forcing me to remain still.
I gasped, feeling something stab into the back of my neck.
Just stay like that. A high pitched voice said. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt for long. Let’s see what’s in your mind…
The world around me shimmered for a moment before it washed away into a deep, dark blackness.
I see. It said with glee. You have been here before— I knew I recognized your scent from somewhere. A reincarnate of that fool standing outside of this structure? But… Not quite? How strange!
I frowned, feeling the instinctive need to defend myself and my former self. “He is no fool… And neither am I.”
Aren’t you, though? The unknown creature continued to speak. Though your soul has morphed a little, you are still the same fool who has stumbled over every obstacle he has ever encountered in his life. Still the same off-key clock.
I recoiled as I found myself at the center of somewhere I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. It was a large playground, big enough to hold a football field.
At one end of the playground was a large, half-rusted gate, topped with barbed wire. Besides the gate, there was a small shack, in which I saw a middle-to-late aged man selling all kinds of food to the children crowding his establishment.
From sweets and chips to delicious sandwiches, the man had it all. It didn’t surprise me that everyone called him—
“Gaby the miracle worker.” I finished, still studying my surroundings. “But he’s long dead; a heart attack… I haven’t set foot here in a long time. It probably doesn’t even exist in this world.”
Nothing is dead here. The voice spoke. Nothing is alive, either.
I ignored it and stared at the other end of the playground. I had expected it, but seeing it was another thing altogether.
I saw myself, back when I was eleven years old, in my previous life.
Little Zero. The voice mocked as I watched the boy walk alongside his friend— a taller boy with brown hair done in a bowl-cut. His name was Albert.
“Why are you showing me this?” I said, frowning as I realized what was going to happen.
“You got some change?” Albert said.
“Yeah.” My younger self said, checking his pockets. “A little. Only enough to get a couple small bags of chips.”
“Oh. Well, mind getting me one?” Albert said, glancing at his nails.
My younger self seemed ecstatic at the chance of helping his friend. It had been one of the first few friends I had ever made. Helping people used to make me happy, once upon a time. “Of course not! I’ll be happy to help.”
I watched as my younger self went to Gaby and bought a few bags. The store owner nodded as he juggled between ten different orders, managing to get mine within half a minute’s worth of waiting.
I pursed my lips and braced myself for what was about to happen. I watched Albert take my freely offered gift and then abandon me for his own group of friends, saying that he would talk to me later.
I had been used by the boy and then discarded.
Staring at my younger self’s heartbroken face, I spoke. “Why are you showing me this…?”
This is where your innocence was first broken; before he fully turned on you and ignored you even existed. This is where it began. The voice said, its annoying voice full of contempt and derision. Look at yourself. Pathetic; you actually thought you were worth talking to. You thought that the people around you actually cared about you. You were nothing to them— a cheap meal ticket. Someone to use for copying homework.
“You’re wrong.” I said, glaring at my surroundings.
I didn’t want to be here anymore.
Like an off-key clock. The voice said again, making me grit my teeth. That’s what you always described yourself as. You could truly never connect with anyone— because you were always behind everyone else when it came to anything outside of your studies. Off-key clock! Some things never change, do they? Even in this life, you are the same. Still the same.
“I…” I said, frowning as I collected myself. “You’re wrong. Dead wrong. I found friends— good friends. It took a long time, to be sure, but I found people in my old life— people who understood me and didn’t judge me. The people in the far past…”
I stared at the playground again. “They could never appreciate who I was. I might have held some resentment towards them at some point, but that was a long time ago. I’ve let go of such negative feelings in my life.”
You’ve ‘let go’, eh? The high-pitched voice seemed amused as my surroundings began to change, brightening so hard that I was forced to close my eyes.
The first thing that I perceived was the sound of something giving off persistent beeps.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
I felt my breath hitch in my throat, and I didn’t dare to open my eyes. I had a feeling that I knew where exactly the creature had taken me.
Let go of your negativity, have you? The being latched onto me cackled as it drove its spike deeper into the back of my neck, forcing me to open my eyes.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
I took in the shimmering surroundings and froze, eyes wide with both fear, dread and anguish. “No. Not here. Anywhere but here.”
Your words were pretty bold before, weren’t they? Look at you, now. The creature laughed again. Getting over your pathetic little childhood was one thing, but this is the one thing I know you’ll never get over, no matter how many lives you lead.
I wanted to say something to the voice, to curse it to Hell, but nothing came out. I just continued to stare ahead at the sight before me. I was frozen with fear, helpless to watch as the room began to settle into a sight which haunted the majority of my previous life, as well as a little of this one.
I stood at the entrance, fixing my eyes at the window showing the darkness outside of the moderately lit hospital room. I knew, without even needing to check, that a half-moon stood proudly in the dark canopy above, uncaring of the concerns of those it shined its light upon.
I kept my eyes away from the bed.
I knew who its occupant was, but I didn’t dare to look. I knew what would happen if I did.
My, are you feeling shy, boy? The vile creature seemed to enjoy my fear as it stabbed into my neck, over and over. Come on. Give her a look! You haven’t seen this one in many years!
Eventually, the pain became too much, and I turned my eyes to the sight before me. As I did so, I felt the wave of grief, anger, pain and heartache seize me and take me in its horrible grip.
The occupant of the bed stared back at me, her sunken eyes greeting me with a look so familiar and loving that it nearly broke me, there and then.
Shouldn’t you thank me? The voice said. For reuniting you with your mother?
I ignored it and moved towards her, kneeling beside her bed and taking her hand into my own. “I…”
I tried to speak, but the lump in my throat made it nearly impossible. My mother continued to stare at me, her eyes turning glassier with every passing second. I knew that there was not much time left, that I had to say something to her, but my mouth refused to move.
Just as I had kept quiet back then. I thought. This isn’t real— I know it isn’t, but I can’t help but think that…
And then, her grip slackened. I heard the steady sound of the machine indicating that her pulse had flatline. I raised fearful eyes to meet her own and recoiled. She had already died.
Aw. The voice said. You thought you could say goodbye? You thought you had a second chance? No such luck; there are no second chances for people like you.
I didn’t react to what he said, staring at my dead mother with unblinking intensity as the emotions stormed within me. Hatred, and an anger so fierce that it threatened to unmake me burned within my body.
Still, I didn’t move an inch, as the anger was replaced with an even deeper, unfathomable grief.
Well, don’t worry. The creature said, its voice turning sweet and alluring as it began to spread its filthy limbs over my head. Just stay here with her. You owe her that much, don’t you?
“Yes.” I said, still staring at her, even as her hand grew cold in my own. “I will stay here. I won’t go. I can’t go.”
Good… It said. You can stay here as long as you like.
I knew that it was wrong. I knew that the lighthouse was becoming overrun with filth again. I knew all of this, but I just didn’t care anymore.
I was going to stay here.
“They can wait a little, outside.” I said, swallowing. “Just five more minutes. I’ll go in five minutes. They can handle it, until then. I can’t go.”
The machine beside the bed continued its endless, relentless beep, and this time, I welcomed it with open arms.