[Cherik] After the Nightfall (Part 1)

After1

Disclaimer: Characters belong to their respectful owners

Fandoms:  X-Men: First Class (2011), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), The Shrine (2010)

Rating: M

Pairing(s):  Erik Lehnsherr x Charles Xavier

Genres: Fanfiction, slash, crossover, AU, slight horror

Characters: Erik Lehnsherr, Charles Xavier, Lucifer, Martin Vosper and other Eden residents

Warning: a little gore, maybe

Summary:

Part 9 of Eden series. Related to Fair Trade and Eden.

Two travelers, lost in a faraway land of central Europe, came across a village. They asked to stay for the night and ended up getting more than they bargained for.

Part 1.     Charles Xavier

It was a terrible mistake, the cruelest kind fate can have in store for us short-lived humans.

All we intended was celebration – of my successful thesis defense and my little sister’s graduation and engagement to her college boyfriend. Instead of getting a ridiculous amount of booze and partying like there was no tomorrow, we all wanted something different from the ordinary – oh how young and foolish we were! My little sister was always keen on traveling and somehow she had managed to convince us – her big brother she often endearingly nicknamed ‘old fart’, and her fiancé, a full-time computer geek – that a backpacking trip was very appealing an idea: we would venture into the rural lands of central Europe where the primitive landscape is much preserved – don’t you love that? We would stay in the locals’ house, we would learn about their lives, their customs – don’t you love that too? And before our rational minds had the chance to speak of various potential threats, we had booked three tickets to Poland, and readied ourselves for the journey to come.

After a month, we found ourselves at this backwater village, where, just as we liked, the primitive landscape was most untouched and the life of the locals largely remained as it had been in the Middle Ages.

Our nightmare began here, our very last nightmare.

The commotion outside caught my attention. New voices distinctively stood out amongst all the familiar ones. Memorization of all the voices in this village isn’t too difficult once you get the hang of it. Well, to be fair, there weren’t awfully many people here and seeing that I had nothing better to do, I might just try to distinguish one from another. It came in handy sometimes, telling newcomers apart from villagers, for instance. So far, I allowed myself a little pride for doing a more-than-average job of it.

That, and teaching myself the language spoken in this foreign land. I was American and it’s quite true when they say American is synonymous with monolingual, so Polish proved quite a challenge for me. But time had made up for the lack of talent and time I had plenty in my hand, if that was all I could have.

“My name is Charles Xavier,” spoke one of the newcomers, voice clear, soft and in perfect Polish.

My heart skipped a beat at the name. A coincidence, I tried to reassure myself.

“This is my companion, Erik Lehnsherr,” Charles continued. “He’s German.”

So, ‘Erik’ with a ‘k’ instead of a ‘c’.

The other one, Erik, greeted the villagers in a low voice while Charles went on: “We came from the States and we lost our way here. Is this forest always so misty?”

My ears stopped hearing the rest of Charles’s words after “the forest”. My temples throbbed. Pain. Pain so acute that it made me forget everything and everyone around. Behind my shriveled eyelids came the sight of the aforementioned forest, its never-ending mist engulfing all the trees and rocks. And the statue! Don’t look at the statue! Don’t look at its outstretched hand, its bleeding heart…

Swallowed up in my sudden vision I had lost the responses from the villagers. I didn’t suspect they were having the same reaction – immensely horrified by Charles’s mention of “the forest” – yet they hid their fear well beyond a calm, serene façade. Practice makes perfect. They wouldn’t let their new ‘guests’ know of their fear. Not before they saw it for themselves.

Confusion was shown in Charles’s brief silence before he asked, politely as he had been since arrival, “Could you please provide us accommodation for the night, please? We’ll pay, of course. It is getting dark and we are unable to continue our journey until the morning.”

I fought back another pain, which was not quite terrible as the first. They would let Charles and his companion stay the night, there was no doubt. In fact, they would absolutely not allow their ‘guests’ to leave. Not before their work was done.

The dreaded sense of déjà vu dawned on me. Once again I felt so helpless, so hopeless.

They had all the time they needed for preparation. They would do what they had to do, with eyes of detachment and a terrifying sense of efficiency, like they had done countless times before. I had been there long enough to know.

But that was after the night fell on this accursed land. For now, they would play the hospitable host for their ‘guests’.

Aron was the one who had offered to take the two travelers since his was by far the most affluent household in the village. I had been under his roof once – had felt indescribably grateful when he gave us, lost, clueless American travelers, accommodation for the night, even providing us with hot, delicious Polish dinner and soft beds. The most affable, kindest man on Earth until we learnt that he would be the one to swing the sledgehammer.

Always the monstrous-looking sledgehammer.

The unwarned resurrection of my sister’s last scream coursed through my nerves like thousands tiny flames imbued in my flesh. I sank down on the stair, my arms embracing my trembling frame. It was so real, the pain, that I entirely forgot I shouldn’t be feeling it, couldn’t be feeling it. Leaning my head against the railing, I listened to the bustling conversation down the dining table.

Aron was playing the charming, amiable host tonight; I knew he was actually charming and amiable – when his guests weren’t travelers who got lost wandering in the misty forest by the rear of the village. He had invited Charles and Erik to dinner, scrupulously prepared by his docile wife Irena, who had never set foot outside their village. She was a textbook housewife and a great cook, and her cooking had only improved since last time. The alluring aroma pervading the air nauseated me soon as I caught it.

I wasn’t surprised to find out Charles was the more loquacious of the two. He carried on the conversation easily with his flawless Polish, now and then throwing in some collocations and slangs that dumbfounded my flimsy grasp of the language but sent Aron to a fit of boisterous  laughter and even the shy, reserved Irena to giggle. There was a melody icing his tone and the manner with which he articulated each syllable; just listening to him eased the pain in me. Erik, on the other hand, remained mostly silent throughout the meal save a few scarce words when Aron steered the attention to him. Perhaps his Polish wasn’t so good as Charles or he was naturally the silent type.

I heaved a sigh. Erik seemed the type that I would find intriguing and probably seek to pursue for companionship, provided that I wasn’t in this state and he was going to…

I tried not to imagine his scream when Aron swung the sledgehammer.

Driven by the curiosity of my subconsciousness, I followed the pair. Aron had arranged the upstairs guestrooms for them, opposite from each other’s. “Should you need anything in the night, just use the phone,” he said, ever the thoughtful and considerate host.

My footsteps halted in the corridor as a question sprang to my mind: What am I doing, following them to their rooms? It was a violation of privacy that my conscience was trying to raise a voice against. I had never been an eavesdropper and the very thought of being one appalled me. But then, another voice cut in, sharply, to remind me that in the state I was, my presence never went noticed and I was as good as any other furniture in their rooms. Moreover, it was unlikely that I could see any of their secrets, let alone divulge them.

In the end it was my curiosity getting the better of me, really. Even just for a few hours, I yearned desperately to know a little more about them, about the world outside this damnable village from which they came, the world I longed to return with every of my conscious minute and never could.

And Erik… If only I could at least see how he looked like, how they looked like.

My feet were already moving on their own before I decided which room to enter. My body slipped effortlessly past the thick oaken door and I half expected the silence or light snoring as Erik might have gone to bed early. Instead I heard Charles’s voice, clear, soft and undoubtedly British as he were chatting with Erik.

Erik’s replies were scarce as before, which left their conversation more of a monologue. Charles didn’t appear to be bothered as he went on talking. Perhaps Charles knew Erik always paid attention to what he said. Perhaps that was the way they were – the enthusiastic conversationalist and the faithful listener.

I listened only to the timbre of his voice, never mind the meaning. The sweet, soothing melody crafted into words. It revived the memory of the orchestral concerts where I had managed, on occasions, to drag my little sister to and though she either grumpily complained or yawned throughout the length of the show, I knew deep down she enjoyed it as much as I did. To recall it now was like recalling a faraway dream, fading with the passage of time.

“Erik,” Charles broke my reverie, the name rolling on his tongue as though he had spent copious hours practicing its pronunciation. Now that I noticed, every speech Charles made was seemingly without flaw, no stuttering, no mispronunciation, no filler or such, and melodious in a way that appeared mystical, hypnotic. Be it Polish or English, he commanded the language with perfection, and in his perfection there was little humanity. Of course I didn’t know Charles enough to reach such a conclusion, but there was something abnormal about this man that I perceived – call it sixth sense if you want – and I was mesmerized as I was unnerved by it. Irrational, but true.

“A foot rub, maybe?”

Erik made a derisive sound. “Not your pet,” he replied in faint German accent.

Charles was not put back by Erik’s curt refusal as he said in cheerful tone, “So cold!” The rustle of fabric was caught in my ears. “But some comfort for my sore feet is not asking too much, no? You know I’m not accustomed to this hardship of traveling.”

Footsteps thumped lightly on the hardwood floor, moving closer to the bed. “Serve you right for accepting this stupid bet.”

“I know, you’ve said that a hundred times already! But Erik, you can’t chide me for a little fun!” Charles rebuked and possibly pouted… Why would I associate Charles with the childish act of pouting? I didn’t even know what sort of expression he was wearing, or how he looked like.

Erik snorted in reply.

“Anyway, it’s been forever since we got to be alone, just the two of us. It’s very much our…” He paused. A chuckle filled in. “…honeymoon.”

My face heated up at his lexical choice. Such intimacy. They must be…

“And what now?” Erik asked sarcastically. “Honeymoon sex?”

“Exactly my thought after the foot rub.” There was a triumphant note in Charles’s tone.

The rustle of fabric got louder, mingled with Charles’s giggles. He seemed to like smiling and laughing a lot, the sort of youthful cheekiness my little sister used to have. He was probably her age too, judging by his voice, with Erik only a few years older – his voice deep yet untouched by the weight of years.

So young, so full of life, and still…

It was time I got to leave, slipping incorporeally through the door the same way I had entered, forced by the need to respect their privacy, my rising pity for them, or my disgust at myself for being so helplessness. Perhaps the combination of all three…

I lost track of time – did I ever really pay attention to time – when I drifted along the empty corridor. Whenever I started this self-induced trance, I was under an illusion of being held at the bottom of the ocean, my limbs heavy and bound by seaweeds to rocks. I lay on a platform of pearly sand, seeing light yet unable to feel its warmth, hearing sounds yet unable to reach their source. Every time I felt detached, isolated, the fact of being truly alone in this vast world full of people starkly highlighted, and I felt safe, utterly safe at the same time. When I was here, under this thick, dense blanket of water, I was protected from them, from their manacles and cold knives, and most of all, from the final scream of my little sister, from the savage memory of her being mutilated and slaughtered in front of my eyes.

A curse to bear for eternity, if eternity was all that was left for me. But for now, I was allowed a short break from it.

A short break indeed it was. I barely touched the surface of temporary serenity when hurried footsteps on the wooden floor shattered my trance. They were coming for the pair; the time had come at last.

Despite my utter inability to alter their inevitable fate, I stepped in and barred the door as though my incorporeal body could somehow produce a force to stop them, a futile act I kept nonsensically repeating every time footsteps came stomping the corridor. How many times I had witnessed they force the door open, passing through me without the slightest notice, once more reminding me of my non-existent existence, and how I had become what I was:

A ghost!

… It was my sister’s scream that roused me from my light sleep. Throwing back the covers, I rushed to the door and was only an inch away from the brass knob when the door was swung open, the violent force of which caused me to tumble and fell on the floor. I had only a brief glimpse of my sister and Henry, her boyfriend – both struggling against the vice-like grip of two towering hooded men whom I recognized as the twin brothers glaring at us with unconcealed menace upon our arrival. They looked down on me with their icy pale eyes, sending a chill down my spine. Then I saw Aron, ever-friendly Aron, stepped in and knocked them both unconscious with a club in his hand. He needed not do me since my resistance was far feebler. I was never a man of physical strength and subduing me was an effortless task. My demands for an explanation in both lame Polish and English went completely ignored as the men dragged us to the church, down the damp, stony stairs to a dimly-lit basement. At a corner unadorned wooden coffins from which the unmistakable stench of putrefaction reeked. I shuddered at the morbid atmosphere and the grim prospect of what they might want with us – abduction, slavery and murder, those stories were common in these remote corners of the world. The priests in old-fashioned, ornate robes stood waiting like icons in temples and in front of their cold, emotionless eyes the men stripped us bare, paying as little attention to my sister’s modesty as possible, and dressed us in stark-white gowns while I yelled and cursed them. Like my previous demands, they went deaf on them as well.

It was Henry’s screams that pulled my sister back to consciousness. They had placed us in a makeshift cell and taken Henry to a large, cross-shaped stone surface, securing his head, limbs and wrists. Upon witnessing what they were doing to him, and would likely do the same to us – lacerating his wrists and Achilles’ tendons with the accuracy of surgeons – she howled a bloodcurdling cry. “Don’t look!” I whispered into her ears, holding her head away from the gruesome sight with trembling hands, and she obeyed, muffling her cries into my chest and covering her ears. Horrified was not enough a word to describe us at that moment; I clung to her as much as she clung to me for support. However, I forced my eyes to stare at the scene; I had to know what would become of our dear Henry and bear the agony of it in place of my little sister. Henry’s pleading gaze at us gave me some assurance that I was doing the right thing.

The head priest – I assumed from his lavish robe and aura of authority – was reading from an old, leather-bound book, the language too alien for an English ear. It might not be Polish but some ancient tongue serving this particular practice. The other priests echoed him. As they were chanting, the younger men gingerly held a bizarre-looking metal mask over Henry’s head. I couldn’t help a gasp when I noticed the two spikes protruding from the mask’s eyes. My blood ran cold at the foreboding thought of its function and I tightened my arms around her, putting more force to prevent her from turning her head should the urge hit her. I alone was enough; she needed not see how gruesome they took her fiancé. I held onto her small frame as if crushing her when Aron, the same Aron, who had praised her golden hair and told Henry how lucky he was to win such a lovely girl’s heart, swung the sledgehammer. Everything and everyone had turned to nothing, leaving only Aron, his instrument of execution and our poor, beloved Henry, as time dissolved into the movements of bulging muscles of Aron’s arms. Then… Henry was gone.

They tore her from my embrace with such strength that our bones literally snapped. Pain was lost on our terror-induced minds as the two of us were trying to hold onto each other. Don’t take her, take me instead! Let she leave this place! Let she live! I remembered begging them in both English and Polish. Deaf on their ears, my pleas. My sister wailed and kicked at them with a furious strength unknown to her petit form and it took two men to restrain her while the others wound the leather straps around her forehead, wrists and ankles, and bled her and brought death on her as they had done her fiancé. It was no simple slaughtering, I realized; it was an occult ritual designed for a purpose; whether it was a demon sacrifice – that, too, was not unheard in these lands – or an exorcism was unknown to me but I had a hunch that this practice must have something to do with the grotesque statue in the misty forest outside the village. Henry and my sister had been fascinated by it but when I looked at it, I had only felt a deep disturbance. Even when we had left, I could still feel its eyes on our backs and even hear the low sounds coming from the heart in its hand, beating and pumping red blood as if it was alive. That would be the only plausible explanation as to why the villagers had captured us, us who were perfect strangers to them, and gone to such extreme to dispose us.

In fact, those deductions about their occult were my later thoughts as I spent day and night roaming this accursed village, my body lost to dust and maggots yet my soul remained on this earth, unable to move on like my sister’s and Henry’s and countless other victims’ before and after us. At that moment, all in my head was the deafening scream of my sister when the mask came upon her. Even now I still had not figured out the cause of my lingering existence – if I could call it ‘existence’ at all – with my eyes blinded and limbs agonized by that nightmare my soul sometimes recalled. Oh, if only it had been a nightmare! But no, it was real as this bizarrity was real and it would take a greater measure than a pinch to the arm or a bucket of water to wake up from it. And what measure, I had not the slightest idea!

Hours, days, months or years had passed in confusion I couldn’t remember. Then, like a creature waking up from long hibernation I had risen out of the darkness of the cold basement, out of the confinement of my decaying corpse, laid anonymously in a crude wooden coffin. Though I couldn’t see, I was engulfed with the cacophony of life around me. It took time, really, to figure out how to block the sounds before they conspired to drive me mad yet I was not fully confident of my method – now and then they would become overwhelming again. I could feel everything around me too, the winds, the rains and the sun, hot on my ghostly skin like the flame in my ghostly heart. I had been in rage then and I had often wished I could take my vengeance on our murderers in the most violent and cruel manners as the vengeful spirits I had watched in horror movies did. Movies lied, obviously, because no matter how consuming my wrath was, I could do no such things as a poltergeist could. I could touch objects, true, feel their texture, their temperature but once I tried to lift them, my hands slipped through them like smoke. I could not even touch people. Whenever I attempted to, I would either slip through them or be instantly repelled by an unnamed force. It was much worse with the holy men, the old priests; my fingers felt like they were toasted and turned crispy before I even made direct contact with them. After many a failed experiment, I gave up eventually and as I did, the burning vengeance also died out. I was a void specter, stuffed with horror and pain each time new victims filled their prepared coffins down the basement, only to be emptied again and again. An endless cycle of torment. Despair.

One more time my feet had carried me down the damp, stony steps to where my nightmare had begun. I told myself the pain was not physical and if I tried I could block it the same way I could the sounds. Even if I couldn’t, it would only be temporary. My self-persuasion was not very convincing, not when the chill from the atmosphere was seeping into my skin. Not when my sister and Henry’s screams were swirling at the back of my head.

Charles didn’t scream, to my surprise; what I heard were strings of rapid-fire Polish that were too fast for me to follow. It astonished me that even at the moment his speech was free of stammer, that he sounded coherent and collected as a professor trying to reason with his difficult student instead of a victim of this unforeseen turn of event. Charles seemed to me the type that believes conversing can resolve most issues peacefully while Erik struck me as the complete opposite. Words I didn’t hear from him, silent as a mute; I heard him, or rather, I hearth them trying to subdue him: hisses and growls flying, fists pounding into flesh, and flesh hitting walls. I heaved a sigh. Aron himself was a burly man and his twin assistants were a little less than giants, not to mention the robed priests around them. Erik’s chance was slim, and fading fast.

Erik’s struggle ceased after Charles’s sharp cry of his name. He was utterly silent that I was afraid they might have knocked him unconscious. The head priest began chanting in a low, ominous tone and all present echoed powerfully. The force of their combined voices reverberated through the walls of the basement, shaking me, hurting me. No, this wasn’t my soul recalling my mortal pains; this was real pain, as real as the burn I received from trying to touch the priests. I should never have gone down the stairs, I tried to tell myself every time and every time I ended up doing the opposite. I couldn’t help myself. As though there was an irresistible pull that lured me here – something to do with my remains stored in one of those boxes perhaps. The same force pushed the rewind button. It might not be Charles who was bound to the altar, it might be me. Listening to the chanting of ancient alien tongue that evoked the fast-swelling dread of damnation. There’s no one to help us, to listen to our pleas, to our prayers. We are beyond hope even before the blades cut into our flesh. All we can do is stare at the impending doom that hovered above our face, the full stop to our existence as a human being. Man or woman doesn’t matter afterwards, since what will be left of us is a mutilated corpse and maybe an imprisoned soul, if it could be call a soul at all.

It was quiet now; the chanting had stopped. An interlude to clear the body before they carried on with the other. Charles hadn’t screamed. He hadn’t even spoken. How unsettling was his bizarre silence towards the end. I hadn’t screamed either, my remaining rationality knowing such was futile. Though I kept my mouth shut, my own body had its own voice. It thrashed about in a desperate attempt to resist its fate. But Charles’s body had none of that voice, which was to me appalling. It was as though he had already died before the ritual began.

Even more, Erik’s silence in his companion, his lover’s murder was what chilled me to the core.

The distinctive sounds of the sledgehammer hitting metal and of bones cracked and smashed were beating against my eardrums, echoing in my mind and beyond, where it joined with the persistent haunting of my sister and Henry’s screams, and of all the unfortunate souls’ after, until everything died out and the whole universe fell into a deaf pit.

A sound then, a real one, not a phantom of my mind. It was soft at first, gradually growing louder. It was the voice of the metal bars behind which they kept Erik so that he would witness his friend’s end and envisaged his own. Someone shouted, probably Aron, and panic was palpable in a string of rapid-fire Polish that followed. The head priest gasped and began to yell words I only knew to be prayers. Chaos erupted and the whole basement went spiral into a symphony of madness. Voices I heard, a lot of them, among the sharp cries of metal. There were metal objects all around the place: the manacles, the bolts, the hooks, the masks. As if beckoned by some force, they all raised their voices at once.

Suddenly all noises was muffled, or seemed so because my hearing, refusing any other sounds, only allowed a peculiar one. All my time in this damned village I had only caught it once: when the curious and daring Americans discovered this basement and the village’s hideous secrets at its bowel. One of them, the most intrigued, opened a coffin lid and tried to lift the mask from a decomposing victim’s face and failed, not knowing the metal had been nailed to the skull. It was bone-chilling, that sound, unmistakable to my ears no matter how faint it was amidst a sea of noises. Now I was hearing it, listening to it as it became clearer and clearer: the bone was smashed to smithereens and the muscles and skin were ripped like fabric under someone’s attempt to pluck the freshly nailed mask from the face, made unyielding by the flesh trying to hold it in place. I wondered if it was Erik doing the job and the villagers, stunned by his action, had momentarily forgotten to stop him.

Don’t look, I whispered. Don’t look. The visage of your loved one ruined beyond recognition will be your everlasting curse. Perhaps, I reckoned now, the reason I was anchored to this land was because I had visualized my sister’s face under the mask, Henry’s and my own right before Aron carried out my execution.

Have you ever imagine how a person’s voice would be like once their face was smashed? You probably haven’t, you can’t, simply because no human could utter a syllable after having a heavy sledgehammer crushed their skull, let alone speak. But at the moment, there was no mistake I was hearing such a voice. It was clear enough, surprisingly, to crudely make out the meaning, despite the gurgling sound of fluid and clattering noise of smashed teeth and bone. If the peculiarity qualities of the voice were not enough to run chill down my spine, its tone surely did. It was horrifying to me not because it was sizzling with hatred – the tone I imagined coming from the evil-starred ones if they had been able to – but because it was dissonantly calm and serene as if the speaker was merely complimenting the savory treats in his afternoon tea.

“It was quite painful, you know,” he said. Impeccable, poised and very much British as before. My hearing must be deceiving me! It was Charles who had just spoken, Charles who should have been a corpse!

“And this robe is a total eyesore.

Aron was shouting “Devil!” and the head priest’s mantra thundered. Others began chanting after him. I heard a soft laughter, cutting through the cacophonous sea like a silver knife. The space reeled and my head was reeling with it. Dizzy. Nauseous. I felt sick like I really had a body of flesh and blood.

The objects were singing, the metal voice blending into the human ones until they reached a crescendo. And then, silence. Dark silence.

An acrid smell pervaded the air. Something burning?

I heard Erik for the first time throughout this ordeal. “You look disgusting,” he said.

I was at lost about who and what he was referring to.

But more importantly, why were Aron and the others quiet?

“I know. You don’t have to be so ruthless to your old man.”

A short period of silence. Then Charles’s voice again. “I feel better already.”

“You lose,” Erik flatly replied. I could pick out a faint amusement just underneath his tone. And why am I imagining Charles with a pout?

“If only you helped me though…”

Soft footsteps were gradually approaching my direction. My entire being took alarm. False alarm, I thought. Nonetheless I stepped back. Fear was rising in me. I knew it was nonsense, that I was invisible to any eyes, that not many things could do actual harm to me. The whole anomalous situation – made worse by my blindness and thus exaggerated by my imagination, desperately trying to fill in the gaps – induced in me an urgency to escape. While I still could.

“Now now, don’t run away from us,” a voice, Charles’s voice, spoke. “We don’t bite.”

I had already slipped half-way through the wall when a hand grabbed me. I was stunned. Shocked. A hand touched me, caught me and didn’t slip through me! I wasn’t repelled. I wasn’t burnt either. The skin felt cold though it shouldn’t, like metal dipped in snow. I shuddered. It wasn’t my soul’s recalling of living sensations; never had I come in contact with this sort of chill on human skin. Even the frozen cadavers at the university appeared warmer than this hand.

The grip was gentle yet firm though I supposed I could tear myself from him if I struggled. I didn’t. A subliminal yearning held me still. The need to be seen, to be heard, to be touched.

Even by the Devil.

Aron’s word echoed in my mind, growing weaker by second and was soon lost to oblivion. Pay no mind to the Devil. The Devil sees you, speaks to you and touches you, you who are a ghost forgotten in humans’ history.

Charles’s voice again. The same soothing timbre which had had me mesmerized. Only this time I wasn’t hearing him with only my ears; I was hearing him with my entire being. His voice enveloped me like the vast and thick body of water which blocked out the world while securing my mind in its safe embrace. I felt safe and protected as I had never truly felt after my death. I didn’t protest or even stirred when he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me close. Now it was clear to me that this man wasn’t human. Probably the Devil, like Aron had exclaimed.

He was lean, almost small, a build similar to my own. His body was as cold as his hand.

“You’re not wrong,” Charles whispered. “I am the Devil indeed. The Father of all devils.”

His reading my mind or his being the Devil, I couldn’t care less.

His hand was on the shriveled flesh of my once eyes. Cold, but not unpleasant. Just when I was convinced that I could be lulled to sleep, droplets of liquid fell to my eyelids. Hot. So extremely hot. Droplets of boiling oil. My dead sense flared, brought back to life in the most excruciating manner. I cried out. My whole body convulsed and was ready to slip away, passing through Charles’s embrace, through the ancient stone walls, through reality into endless loop of screams.

Charles held me close to his chest, whispering incoherently. English? Polish? I didn’t know. I couldn’t even answer my name if I was asked. Pain was consuming me, drowning me. Not the safe, comforting body of water in my trance. Not at all. Heavy, trapped, helpless, hopeless. I thought I was dying the second time but this time would be slower, more suffering than the last. I wept.

Suddenly Charles’s words made sense to me. Hold onto me, they said. It’s almost over. The words repeated in a soft melody that calmed my nerves. Like mother’s lullaby. Chased away the fears. Chased away the pain. The agony became dull and faded away until there was not a sliver of it. Lethargy beyond comprehension caused me to lay limp in his arms.

“There, it has gone away.”

I nodded, feeling his cold hand caressing my cheeks. I leaned into his touch.

“Never fear me, child. For we are one family.”

Somewhere I heard Erik’s quiet laughter. Was he amused? I couldn’t tell.

“Open your eyes,” he said, half-commanding, half-coaxing.

I shook my head. “I can’t.”

“Of course you can.” He chuckled. “I’ve just seen to that.”

I protested no more, trusting in his words, in their unearthly melody. Slowly, carefully, I opened my eyes, feeling the flesh tight, hesitant. Remembering the treatment they had gone through. I expected the pain but there was none. Similarly, the sudden light wasn’t so excruciating as I imagined. What was, instead, the scene of carnage that greeted me. Now I understood why Aron and the others remained deadly silent in spite of the chaos.

The ground was littered with shriveled bodies, brown and dried up like barks. Unrecognizable, they could only be identified by their belongings – the cruxific and leather-bound book lying by a robed corpse, the heavy boots that belonged to the twin executioners, the sledgehammer discarded from vine-like hands. I looked around to the coffins, three of which housed the remains of Henry, my sister and myself, and returned to the mummified bodies. Was I delighted that our vengeance was done at last, that our murderers had suffered a fate worse than ours?

Not really.

Only one was alive: a young man clad in brown leather jacket and black turtleneck with a defiant expression on his chiseled features. In this living Hell he stood tall like a beautiful angel of death.

Then, for the first time, I laid my newly restored eyes on the one who had been speaking to me and holding me all along. None could enthrall me more than this face, not the carnage in front of me, not Erik’s dark beauty. I knew this face, had looked at it countless times before the loss of my sight. These blue eyes. This slightly freckled nose. These dark brown curls on his head that so contrasted his pale complexion. They were Charles’s as they were mine.

For a moment I wasn’t sure if I was looking at Charles or at a mirror. Doppelgänger.

Not a mirror. The light in Charles’s eyes – shining like rare sapphire – and the mystic air that veiled his countenance when the corner of his lips curved I could never possess in a thousand years.

He was smiling to me as I stared at him, dumbfounded. “It’s very lovely when you look at me as if looking as an angel, you who possesses the same face as mine.” Erik joined him. His sharp features softened with amusement.

Why would the Devil choose my image as his guise? I couldn’t understand.

“Not a guise,” Charles corrected. His cold hand ghosted over the contours of my face, the chill remarkably distinct yet strangely pleasant. “You are my seed, the reflection of my image in mortal flesh. You and many of your brothers.”

I had no brothers, only a little sister. Somehow the thought of her wasn’t less aching as before.

“Tell me, child, what is your name?”

“…I… I…” I struggled with my voice, rasp from not speaking for too long. “… I…am… Charles. Charles Xavier…”

Charles’s smile was breath-taking. “I am known as Lucifer to the world at large.” He paused briefly. “But you, my child, can call me… Father.”

End (Part 1)   

*Note: This is largely based on the horror movie The Shrine (2010) . However, you don’t have to watch the movie to understand this story. The second part, told in Erik’s POV, will clarify and fill in the missing parts.

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