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The Halls of Madness

He runs.

He runs through the great, dark halls of the ancient castle. His booted feet slam down on bare stone floor with fear-borne vigor. The labored slaps of each agonizing pace echo across the vast open space of the shadowy corridors and up into the cavernous void above.

And the laughter follows him.

He runs through glowing shafts of moonlight, streaming in through rows of colossal arched windows, creating a slideshow effect across his sun-darkened face. The empty scabbard slung about his waist stridently clanks against his thigh, and his ragged cloak flaps behind him.

He steals hunted glances left and right, down each new adjoining corridor. These are little more than patches of blackness against the dusty grey-brick walls.

Immense stone pillars flit past as he flees from the howling cacophony of maniac laughter that has chased him here. It echoes around the baroque architecture of the castle, amplifying and distorting it, hounding him around each twist and turn that he makes.

Scarlet drops dapple his torn shirt. Blood.

It flows freely down from his nose, forced along by the wind in the man’s face. He turns sharply and sees a figure in the blur of his peripheral vision. It is tall, black, and ephemeral.

He jerks his head around to face the shade to find it merely a trick of the light. Nothing faces him from the shadows.

He turns and pounds down another corridor at random, his heart pumping lightning through his veins and his guts clenching in terror. The windows in this hallway are smaller, a foot or two across, and the moonlight enhances its foreboding appearance. He does not have time to think, just act, and he sprints down it anyway.

A deeper edge has crept into that baleful laughter now; sinister undertones in malevolent harmony with the capricious, high-pitched wail.

“Shut up! Shut up!” the wanderer screams out to the darkness, slowing only for a moment. The only response is the distorted sound of his own cry, reflected back to him by the monolithic walls of the castle.

The terrible laughter, the unholy sound of twisted, perverse pleasure, continues to hammer into his mind.

He grabs a pillar and swings around down another, smaller hallway. This one is darker and the man realizes he has made a mistake. There is no escape. He blunders down it regardless, too scared to turn back, and the laughter reverberates thunderously inside his head. The roof of this corridor is low, and the walls close but, at the end, he can see a dim light. He grits his teeth and plunges forward towards it as if all the hounds of hell were at his heels.

He bursts out into the light and, for a moment, he feels glorious, vindicated.

A flash of the tall, dark specter on the edge of his vision once more causes fear to knife down his spine. His blood-shot eyes bulge in their sockets, and he whirls around frantically, but sees nothing. Ahead is just another empty stone corridor, lined with the huge windows that allow the ethereal moonlight to bathe the floor.

Panting, he looks back into the darkness.

The laughter has stopped, and silence dominates the magnificent hallways, save for his own desperate breaths. He can still hear that laughter, the insane cawing of a demented banshee, echoing within his head.

He turns away from the blackness of the corridor from which he came, and suddenly it is right there!

The grotesque black and white harlequin’s mask, looming over him with an almost physical impact, lips twisted up in a sadistic, venomous sneer. Black pools of emptiness mark the eye sockets, stretching impossibly back into an infinite oblivion and drawing him in. The laughter explodes inside his mind like a banshee’s wail, stripping away the world around the mask, and blasting the man to his knees, powerless. He stares, gawping, trying to comprehend the unfathomable.

The Harlequin’s umbral eyes bore into his own, growing large and lucid as the man trembles. His limbs are weak, and shake uncontrollably as if affected by a terrible palsy.

The wanderer forces his arms up and presses his hands over his ears, desperate to stop the lances of pain sinking into each side of his head. He can feel the warmth of his blood pouring through his fingers and he begins to cackle. His wild howls filling the desolate castle with tormented glee as the madness takes him.

The malevolent jester stands above him, its eternal grin smiling down cruelly at the man as his eyes bleed and his broken mind fails.

You are nothing.

And there he lies trembling, insane and alone, in the Halls of Madness.