Prologue

Through me you pass into the city of woe. Through me you pass into eternal pain. Through me among the people lost for you. Justice the founder of my fabric moved, to rear me was the task of power divine, supremest Wisdom and primeval love. Before me things create were none, save things eternal and eternal I endure. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Such characters in colour dim I marked, over a portal's lofty arch inscribed...Whereat I thus: "Master, these words import hard meaning." He as one prepared replied: "Here thou must all distrust behind thee leave; here be vile fear extinguished. We are come. Where I have told thee we shall see the souls to misery doomed, who intellectual good have lost." And when his hand he had stretched forth to mine, with pleasant looks, whence I was cheered, into that secret place he led me on.

Here sighs with lamentations and loud moans resounded through the air pierced by no star that even I wept at entering. Various tongues, horrible languages, outcries of woe, accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse, With hands together smote that swelled the sounds, Made up a tumult, that forever whirls Round through that air with solid darkness stained, Like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies...

I looked down at the child in my arms, sleeping. When I looked at my pocket watch I saw that it was far later than bedtime. I always get carried away when reading this to her. I kissed the young girl on the forehead and smiled to myself. I rescued my arm from under her and laid her gently down on to her pillow, tucking her in, I gave her yet another kiss goodnight. I left her bed, and turned out the light leaving her to her dreams, carrying my leather-bound edition in my hand.

I made my way downstairs, placing the book in the shelf on the landing before departing. I heard the sound of the rain outside and felt glad I was in the warmth of my home. Branches from the old tree next to the house scratched at the windows regularly, but I heard a different type of scratch this eve. The sound emanated from the living room, east side at the front of the house, the window overlooked the porch but as I made my way to the window I saw not the tree, but a white owl perched on the sill. Just my luck.

I opened the window for the owl to enter, a barn owl one I am greatly familiar with. The owl was followed by a knock at the door, it was nearing eleven and I was concerned as to who would be visiting at this hour. I took my revolver from my belt and cocked the hammer ready...I made my way silently to the doorway, unlocking it and pulling the door towards me. I took my gun, threw the door aside and thrust it in the face of my visitor.

She looked at the barrel and shook her head, and when I saw who it was I retracted my gun and replaced it with a humble apology. The woman was dressed in black, black dress, black boots, black coat and a black umbrella sheltering her from the oncoming storm raging outside. I asked her inside to which she accepted, but she was not alone. Two men, in military attire followed her inside, they alone confirmed my suspicions.

We sat for over three hours in my lounge, it was relaxed. We shared several rounds of brandy and high brand vodka. I was reluctant, I never wished to leave. She needed me, she lost her mother, and she couldn't lose me. Not like this. The woman in black, bringer of sorrow...left a shade over my home that night. She took the light from here and stole it, and I let her.

The house lay empty tonight, there is nothing left here. Every treasured possession is safe. So with one loose end...I made the house burn... And burn it did... With the woman gone, and my daughter safe with her...I watched as the house crumbled, fire has followed me everywhere I go, destroying everything important to me...oh Evelyn...I'm so sorry...

It was only until the last ember snuffed out, extinguished by time and lack of fuel. Once that final ashy glow dissipated I knew what to do. I sat on my knees, that Friday morning, April 12th... my journey was about to begin just...as I found myself in the middle of that dark wood.

I. An Early Start.

The rain outside reminded me of the cold autumn weather, it was reminiscent of my childhood, it was the sound of growing up in the mild climate of England. I loved living by the sea; the salty air was very humbling, although it brought with it a fair few negativities. The weather was always cold, wet and worst of all, windy. The dreary weather was always to be expected. I could hear the branches of the tree outside scratching at the window frame, it wasn't dark, but was still very early in the morning. I could hear the fishermen returning from their morning journey.

I felt a tremor in the floor, Elliot was awake and covered his head in the blankets. A steady pace of thumping was getting increasingly louder, louder but also closer. I heard them clearer now. I could hear Footsteps. Footsteps were outside the door.

"Get up, you brat!" The man burst into the room, his face a dark colour of beetroot. "You will be late for school!"

He marched over to th bed, wrenching off the covers. The blankets fell at the edge of the old and dim room. The boy was terrified. Bravely, he refused to let it show. He knew it would not make a difference.

I watched in silence as he was dragged out of the room. He was silent. I felt awful watching it, but it felt worse to know I had no power to stop it. I followed them down to the kitchen, where the man was assisting the boy to get dressed. The boy was completely in the nude, humiliated, he had his uniform thrown in his arms.

"You're old enough to get dressed from here" he said cruelly. I felt a strong anger and humiliation, but the boy, my friend, just stood there emotionless.

The boy got dressed as he was told to. He put on his shirt, his underwear and trousers, his jumper, and his shoes. And then he got his bag, and left. The moment the door closed, the tears started to run down his face, I felt only sadness for him, and only hatred for the man.

His name was Mr. Johnson, a well respected military veteran who we both despised. Mr. Johnson is not a particularly bright man, so used to his military schedule, did not realise that today was in fact Saturday. Elliot didn't have school on Saturday.

As we walked down the school lane, we saw many people. Some spoke, some didn't, some called to Elliot by name, and others just ignored us entirely.

"Where shall we go Ben?" he asked me, hoping that I would have an answer he did not.

"I'm not sure Elliot...Ms Atkinson's?" I replied. He looked at me, brushed away his tears, and grinned broadly. I mean, where else can we go?

He started to run, down the lane towards the pier, I was able to keep up, but the overwhelming force of excitement was indeed overwhelming. Ms Atkinson, owned a bungalow in the end of the pier, she was strange like that. She built it herself, or so she says. Ms. Atkinson was a kind-hearted woman with a bubbly personality, who like most people who live on a pier, is a bit out-of-the-ordinary. She had always been a constant part of our lives, an open door for when things were tough.

As she opened her front door, her face lit up like Christmas morning. "Hallo dear! How can I help you? Would you like some tea? Or perhaps something softer?" she spoke quite quickly, possibly speaking before she had time to start thinking about the sentence she was about to say. Her voice contrasted Mr Johnson's; it was soft and gentle with her words rolling out of her mouth like lyrics. As we followed her into her humble abode, I saw many strange things; walls plastered with scrawls and etchings, some on paper, some on the dry-wall, mainly of people and items. I recognised my companion, but none of me... there was not an empty space. The floor was littered with newspapers, and less privileged drawings. And piles and piles of scrunched up paper. She was an artist alright.

Her easel was propped up against some books, opposite was a chair where her subject would sit to have his face duplicated onto paper and canvas. Miss Atkinson was a slim woman, who looked to be in her early sixties, with the energy of a woman half that. She, like her house was a bit untidy in her appearance, her hair was medium length, and bushy, and was tied back to show her greying roots. She was quite short, maybe five foot five, or maybe even five-six. Her aging skin showed a troubled life, full of worry, yet her face showed only a bright cheerful complexion, rather than a hard worked appearance that comes with the job. Her smile always cheered us up, even when we were blue; she was able to beat a smile out of Ebenezer Scrooge himself. The kettle whistled away and Miss Atkinson proceeded to spill the contents into a pair of china tea cups. The cup appeared to have numerous paint marks on the rim, as if they had once been used as paint pots. She handed Elliot one, and looked to him through her spectacles.

"So Luke, how are you today?" She grinned. I looked at her appallingly, she was a lovely woman, but not only had she not given me a cup of tea, but she had also referred to my friend as Luke.

"OK, I guess" He lied; I knew he was lying, and he knew it too. But we promised never to worry Miss Atkinson with our problems, or anyone else. Elliot looked at me, and then so did Ms Atkinson. The way she looked at me was like I wasn't there at all. It was unnerving.

Miss Atkinson looked back at Elliot through her small rounded glasses, which were perched on her delicate nose, and smiled slightly. She sipped her tea and spilled most of it down onto her floral frock, causing her to jump due to the hot tea. She scowled at her mistake, but otherwise continued the conversation.

"How was your time with Mr Johnson?" She spoke with a soft tone, as if she was anticipating a violent response.

"It was horrid!" I exclaimed. "He treats him like dirt!" she did not even look at me; instead she just looked into his eyes, waiting. Elliot looked up at Miss Atkinson, tears flooding from his eyes. With a total disregard for her tea cup, she threw it to the floor and rushed to him, embracing him in a firm but gentle grasp. The cup hit the ground lightly, cushioned by the layers of paper on the carpet, the tea however, splashed over one of the few blank canvases on the coffee table.

She comforted him, and said with a soft smile. "You can stay here as long as you like, I have clothes for you here" She got up and waded through the mess towards the kitchen, tripping on nothing in particular, and then continuing her journey.

"I couldn't say anything bad about Mr Johnson. He was a good man." Elliot spoke with a stutter, from crying out his pent-up emotions.

"He is not, he deserves to be miserable for the remainder of his life" I tried to reason with him, but we knew he was right. Mr Johnson was a good man. He was.

Ms Atkinson returned with an assortment of clothes in a variety of colours, there were blues, greens, purples, lots of different shades of many colours. I pointed out an indigo hooded zip-up, Elliot picked a yellow tee shirt, and Ms Atkinson added a pair of cargo shorts to complete the look.

"Very jazzy!" She looked so pleased with herself, having picked out some shorts that looked awful against the green and indigo. Despite her artistic background, fashion was not her strong point. But Elliot was happy to get out of his uniform and into to something comfortable.

"Wait! I've got the perfect addition to this outfit! It will be flash" She sang as she danced out of the room a second time. "Fantabulous! Glam! Amazi-" she sang.

Elliot swiftly got changed into his new outfit, it looked good, it suited him. Miss Atkinson returned with a box about the size of a loaf of bread, wrapped in brown paper, the sort used for parcels. She handed the package to Elliot.

"A friend helped me find this, she used a thingy-bobby called internet, something she's been working on."She remarked, puzzled. She said internet in a way as if she did not know exactly what it was, almost if she had no idea at all, but then – neither did I...

Elliot looked down at the box and ran his fingers across it. He was looking for something, be it someone else's name on a label, or something similar. Miss Atkinson was staring at him, stuck in a pose that was uncomfortable to look at, let alone to be in.

"Open it then!" she was more excited than we were. Elliot peeled off the first layer, slowly and cautiously as if expecting it to explode with a bang. The layer revealed a second underneath it and under the second there was a third. The layers continued to be unveiled, with every layer Elliot was getting more confident, and with every layer Ms Atkinson's laughter got more hysterical. Under what must have been the twelfth or so layer Elliot now had a small rectangular box in his lap. He looked exhausted after the unwrapping episode; he opened the box, and found something that he could not believe. Ripping off all the layers of paper was highly entertaining, so I was half hoping it was another wrapped parcel. Instead there was a pair of new trainers, red and whites, Elliot's favourite brand of trainer.

He threw the box aside as he tried them on. As he rose from tying the laces, I realised that Ms Atkinson was no longer in the room. Elliot modelled his new shoes in front of the mirror, smiling from ear to ear, and looked at me for my approval.

I looked back at the shoe box, and noticed that it was not empty. I gestured Elliot to look inside, and he pulled out a large book, it was old and leather bound, it was dark brown and covered in dried acrylic paint. On the cover was a large locked seal, it wouldn't budge, preventing the book from opening. But it also held in place, a small folded piece of paper. Before we could examine it further, we were interrupted by a loud crash, as if the ceiling had fallen down.

Elliot ran out of the lounge, abandoning the book, with me close behind. We entered into the kitchen, which could no longer be described as a kitchen. Dust filled the air, enough to taste on your tongue. Equipment, pots, pans and utensils littered the floor; I was surprised that we had not heard them fall out of the cupboards. There was a huge hole where the wall once was, I could hear the roof creaking above, and it was going to fall. Below, the support beams looked damaged, with several black marks on the further ones. I saw Elliot move closer to the edge.

"What are you doing?! The floors going to collapse, we need to get out of here!" I called.

"Nonsense, I need to get this-" before I could gather what 'this' was, Elliot had made his way to one of the last remaining segments of the broken wall, where there was a single , undamaged post-it note. He retreated hastily as the floorboard gave a yelp.

He showed me the note.

Ok Greg, Alex, Phillip oh, I'm sorry!
You need to get out of here, and quickly.
Take the book!

"No, that is nonsense" I looked at him sceptically. "Even after three attempts, she still got it wrong"

"We need to go, grab the book" Elliot replied, without a moment's hesitation.

"You get the book!" I argued "I can't!"

Elliot returned to the living room, and grabbed the package just as the second crash echoed through the building. This one sounded more of an explosion, followed by wood splintering, which I guessed was the flooring. The whole house shifted slightly, and then vibrated, as the floor dipped on one side, we had to run. It was a close call, but we got to the end of her pier. We watched in silence, as Ms Atkinson's house sank into the harbour, half in flames, half submerged; the house seemed to weep as water trickled down its face, onto the wooden frame of the porch.

Ms Atkinson's home, our sanctuary, our light in the darkness...it was gone, just like that. Elliot should have cried more, but tears would not bring her back, so we soldiered on. Waiting for neither rest, nor moment to catch our breath after the horrible episode, we left there after a few moments, after watching our friend's house slowly die. My mind wondered, but Elliot's eye caught a boat not too far from shore, with Ms Atkinson clearly visible on the prow, head in hands. She was stood next to a man, a man in military uniform. We watched as he turned, grabbing Ms Atkinson's arm and the boat slowly depart.

We walked slowly, I watched Elliot as he walked, with his head staring into nothing in particular. I looked at the book, pulled tightly into his chest. He looked down, and removed the loose paper. I watched with fascination as he unfolded it. The paper, perfectly square, detailed map to the port town's tavern. Underneath written in scrawl, "I do like a pot of Earl Grey, with three sugars"

"Are we now in agreement that she was mad?" I mumbled.

Elliot looked at me accusingly. I felt his pent up emotion, but he would never let it show.

"No. But at least we have somewhere to go." As he said this, he looked away, and brushed a lone tear from his cheek.

The Tavern was a dark, dank hell hole. It was mostly empty, aside from us, and a few local men. Grotesque portraits of famous and local pirates lined the walls; one of them had a strange resemblance to the barman, whom was just as dark as the pub. We walked up to the bar, and leaned on it, Elliot was trying to gather the courage to speak in the presence of the enormous man.

"A pot of Earl Grey tea, with three sugars, please." Squeaked Elliot.

The barman looked at him, first with a startled look, then a look of disbelief.

"I am sorry, Sir. But we have just run out. If you come with me, I can show you where to get some." The man spoke with surprisingly upper class pronunciation, it completely confused me, as it completely contrasted his appearance. The Barman opened up the bar, and led us through the back. He led us to a cellar door, which he opened, and gestured Elliot down.

"Take this torch" he said handing Elliot a large industrial dynamo torch. "This tunnel will lead you to safety; I will do the best I can to stop them from finding you."

I looked at Elliot, and he looked back. We then both looked into the tunnel in unison.

"Thank you, I am sorry for your trouble" sighed Elliot.

"No trouble at all Sir. Anything for an Admiral of the fleet" He replied. With that he saluted, and returned the way we had come.

"Admiral of the fleet? Did he mean Ms Atkinson?" I questioned.

"Of course not, not Ms Atkinson" He sounded unsure, but seemed convince it was not possible.

We climbed down to the tunnel, dropping the door on our way to cover the entrance. Together, we marched into the darkness.