Strife awakens with a busted lip. He does not remember who it was that wronged him, and he can hear voices… music. He feels the unfamiliar contours of his face. It is framed by long dark hair that hangs in curls.
The music is getting louder. He opens his eyes and looks through the leaves of a potted plant. He can smell the ocean. His clothes hang loose, there is a chain around his neck. He stands slowly and exhales. Will he ever get used to this? No, there is no way.
This body has sustained other injuries, he can feel bruises on his chest when the loose fabric of his shirt brushes against them. Inside he watches people dancing, they are in an apartment, separated from him by a pane of double-glazed glass.
He does not watch them for long. He has seen their madness before. They writhe and thrash out of time with the music. Theirs is the celebration of a descent into hell. He turns away from the apartment. He can feel the music pushing him away, almost like a strong wind.
Beyond the edge of the balcony is the sky and it is pure black. The light from the hotels has swallowed the stars until only blackness remains. Below the blackness of the night he can hear the waves rolling in and out; crash, hiss, roar.
He steps up to the balcony. Behind him the glass door is drawn open and he hears a voice. Somebody claims that they know him, they call him Stephen. Strife does not turn around.
He is standing on the very edge of the balcony now, arms outstretched. He can feel the height below him by its sense of absence—he does not know how far he will fall. The voice behind him implores him to get down. They call him Stephen again.
He steps out across empty air and then he plunges. He is not immune to the effects of gravity, nor is he exempt from the sensation of neurological fire they call fear. But he is used to them.
Stephen’s body falls and cracks against the pavement. Aside from the sound of the impact there is little other sound. There is music, there is the wind in the trees and there is the sound of the ocean.
Yes, Strife thinks as he listens to that familiar sound. A pool of blood is forming around the body, a seeping darkness that collects in the cracks of the concrete and is directed by them in patterns like a network of canals.
Strife travels with the shadow of the blood, he is no longer the body—was he ever? Distantly there are people yelling Stephen’s name. But he is not Stephen; he is not even Stephen’s blood.
He is the shadow as it trickles down now, dark droplets lingering at the edge of a set of stone stairs. Again, Strife plunges down and there in the hidden corner where one step meets another he finds more shadow with which to build.
Now Strife slinks along the sand, following the undulating weave of shadow that follows the dunes. The ocean grows louder and he seeks it out. The peaks of sand flatten and he slips easily now across shells, across dried out molluscs cast ashore.
At first the foam touches him and it is there in the miniscule reflections of the hotel lights that Strife feels the closest thing that he might describe as discomfort. Must it follow him everywhere, that blasted light?
He seeks a place between the bubbles, he plunges into the water as the wave recedes and thus he is carried back out into the vastness of black ocean. Down he travels, down, he becomes both the currents and the tide. He is vast now—so vast. The very darkness of the ocean meets with him and they become one.
And thus Strife is carried once more into the realm of Styx, the deep dark below.