Cautiously you take a seat on a rock, facing Harold across the firelight. The night is silent for a moment as you pause to consider the questions you might ask — silence broken only by the crackle of the fire or the occasional cricket song. After that moment, however, you relax and say the first thing that comes to your mind.
“Harold,” the sound that escapes your lips is almost a sob — you manage to get it under control and finish your question “what’s going on? What the hell is the deal with Ward 32?”
“Well that certainly is the question of the hour, isn’t it?” Harold pauses for a moment, considering his next words “To tell you the truth, pal — you’re not going to like my answer much for a number of reasons….” he trails off and begins again shortly after.
“What’s going on here has been going on since the dawn of time. It’s the oldest story ever told — the only story ever told, really. Cosmic forces locked in eternal conflict, mankind in the middle, all that shit. Except unlike in the kiddie stories, neither side really gives a damn about us.”
“You and I, Vlad… well we represent one side of that conflict. I like to think of it as the generally less awful side, but I’m probably just fooling myself, there. Fortunately it’s kept me alive, and that’s all I really care about at this point.”
“As for Ward32,” he spreads his hands and shrugs “It’s wierd, is what it is. It’s like reality ends at the doorway and… something else begins. Oh we old-timers have our theories, but to tell you the truth, nobody really knows anything about this place.”
Harold furrows his brow a bit, as if considering something distasteful. “Compared to these things, Vlad… compared to these… cosmic forces, we’re nothing. We’re so small. We’re only still here because we play ball. Those of us who have been around a long time are still here and still sane, (whatever that means)” he chuckles “because we don’t look too closely.” At this point, Harold sinks into his thoughts a bit. You take the opportunity to ask some more questions.
“Harold, people keep saying they know me. That they’ve seen me before, or that we’ve all done this before. What the hell are they talking about? I don’t remember a damn thing about this place.”
Harold smiles at that “I think some people are waxing a bit poetic about the situation. Then again, some people in this asylum are actually insane, too — so I wouldn’t read too much into it. Of course, they could be referring to your predecessors.”
“Yeah, those who came before you. Those who took your part in this great struggle. Y’see, Vlad… you have a part in this, same as I do — same as Benziah does. My role is to see that you get where you need to be and do what you need to do. Benziah’s role… well it seems like he’s gone a little off the script, actually…”
“Harold,” you break in, “what is Benziah’s role? Come to that, what the hell is Benziah?”
“Just like you and I are working, even though you didn’t know it, on one side of this struggle, Benziah is working on the other side. His traditional role is to play opposite to you in all this. Both of you have to be in a specific place at a specific time, and when you get there you have to make a choice — each of you.”
“Yeah, a choice. It’s what you’ve been doing this whole time, Vlad. One choice after another. The choices have all led you to this point, and they will lead you further — to the end of this whole sad story. Once you get there, you’ll make one final choice and the decisions you’ve made thus far will influence that, no doubt…”
Harold looks down at the ground, as if trying to discern the truth from the dirt at his feet “That’s all life is, really… a series of choices… you make your choice and you roll the die, and you see how things turn out.”
You break in again “And you said there were rules, Harold. Rules that Benziah is supposed to follow. What rules?
Harold’s reply sounds like a mixture of pain and sadness. “When our opposition chose Benziah to represent it, it should have chosen him knowing that it would be in him to follow the rules. It would seem that the entity has made… a mistake. It is not Benziah’s place to harm you, or to harm me — at least not until we reach the final chapter…” Harold winces a bit and puts his hand to his left side. When he brings it away you see a dark stain on his fingers. Blood. “It would seem he didn’t get the memo.”
“Christ, Harold. Let me look at that!” You dart over and stand next to him. He moves his arm aside with a groan, allowing you to see it, although in the darkness you can’t get a very good look. “We’ve got to get that bound, Harold.” Immediately you tear a strip off your uniform jacket and try to bind the wound. “Shit, I don’t have any painkillers left. I’m sorry, man.”
Harold waves you off. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. I’ve had worse.” He chuckles. “I suppose it’d be better, though, had I made a clandestine visit to the supply closet, as you did…”
You finish binding Harold’s wound, and sit down nearby. You lose yourself in thought for a moment about all that Harold has said, and then finally ask your last question. “What do I have to do?”
“Ah yes. The most important question of all.” Harold gestures towards the forest, and for the first time you notice that you’re not on the same shore of the lake as you were before. Somehow Harold got you across the lake while you were unconscious. “I need to get you into that city and we need to find a place to hide you for a few hours until you can read that book you’ve got in your hands. Then we need to get you to the Yellow Hall before sunrise. We’ve got to do all that without letting Benziah catch or kill us first, which should be… interesting. His army of spies… his ‘pretty ones’ are everywhere…”
“And once we reach the Yellow Hall?” You ask.
“Well then, you make your choice.’ Harold smiles weakly. “You should understand after you read the book.” He breathes in sharply, with the pain. “I don’t know if I can move, quite yet. Dragging you around… aggravated my wound somewhat. We’ve got a few options, though…”
“I’ll let you choose:”
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If you’re getting into this late, here’s an explanation of the concept behind Ward32.