‘Where are they?’
That single thought pulsed through her mind as she navigated the unfortunately familiar world.
Deep down, Ib really wasn’t surprised that she wound up here again.
Because she knew she was supposed to be here.
Because she left two very important people here for ten years. A little girl and a young man were lost in this place, all because of her.
She still had no clue how it could perfectly replicate her mother like it had, and she had tried to let them know that her mother was alright and not trapped in a painting and that she was going to talk to her, but they had been so busy arguing with each other that she got frustrated, and left…
Of course, there was no real excuse for abandoning two people who care about her in this nightmarish place, and karma quickly kicked in when her “mother” turned into smoke before her eyes. So by the time she stumbled upon the exit, she was so afraid and distraught that she welcomed the return of freedom and sanity with open arms, having forgotten them in her haste.
Reminiscing, however, did nothing to remove the pit of shame and guilt in her stomach.
She suddenly squared her shoulders at a noise that came from a corner, sounding horrifically like a moan of pain. It could be another monster, but she had to know. Crying the names of her missing friends, Ib turned the corner-
-to find her boyfriend crumpled on the ground, long auburn hair tossed in his face, limbs spread-eagled on the ground, and a long green rose clamped in his hand.
“Oh Marcus.” She groaned. If there was one person who she didn’t want to be here, it was him.
Unbeknownst to her, someone else was there, watching her attempts to locate him. He really should have been upset because she had left him behind, but he really couldn’t bring himself to be.
Because he was deeply pleased that his name had been the first thing she whispered, followed by Mary’s. He was glad that she was searching for them because it showed she cared, even if she wouldn’t be able to find them unless he wanted her to.
But, that would be remedied soon.
Because they would be leaving together, Ib, Mary and himself.
‘And that boy-’ His silver eyes flashed at the young man hugging her ‘- has no place there in her arms, comforting her.’
Why should he be there and not him? When he had waited patiently to see her again. When he had been ripped away from her by one cruel illusion, and when he realized what had happened, could only watch as the exit was sealed from him and he was abandoned by the outside world, by time and by life.
The only beneficial result was that he and Mary had grown very close. He saw her more like a little sister now, and from what he could tell, she saw him as a brother. So when she confided her secret in him, he let her know she wasn’t going to be left behind. Either they would all leave or Ib would stay with them.
Fortunately, that boy's existence would keep that plan from happening.
All he needed was to get her away from him, and the opportunity quickly presented itself as they stumbled into a room that now included mouths as well as eyes on the floor. Although grotesque, they were harmless in the right hands.
He waited, watching as she and her, ugh, boyfriend stepped through the maze of detached limps. Ib constantly had to encourage him to move forward as he was trying to go back every chance he got. His patience paid off when Ib finally stepped on an area with a big slit on the floor. He waited until she had both feet on the ground before snapping his fingers. Immediately, the mouth opened and swallowed her in one gulp, sending her harmlessly to another area in the gallery, where someone was waiting for her.
He entertained himself for a minute by watching the boyfriend squawk in fear as the mouths and eyes closed up like they had never been. Fear forgotten, he was trying in vain to pry open the mouth. However, he quickly tired of the endless screaming and sent a hand to grab at Marcus. To his delight, the boy screamed and ran into a random room, the exact room that he had wanted him to go into.
‘Must be my lucky day.’
He needed to go now, there was only so much time a person would spend in a place before they decided to press on, but he took a second to give Ib one last glance. She had long since landed and was now fiercely hugging a small blonde girl in a green dress with a grin on her face.
He took a second to memorize her smile, if all went according to plan, this would be the first of many smiles he would see...
Where the hell was he!? What happened to the other people!? And where the hell did Ib go!?
Hands shaking, Marcus fumbled for a cigarette, brushing the long green rose in his pocket. He raked a hand through his straight, auburn hair.
Just, fuck this place, fuck it and its rules, he would do whatever the hell he wanted. Despite the bravado, the fact that he was unable to properly slip the smoke into his lips was enough to show that he was beyond shaken.
He didn’t know what scared him more, the fact that he was in this bizarre, psychotic realm, or that his girlfriend of three years had been here before him. He couldn’t help but be shocked when she had told him that she was here before. Why did it come back for her ten years later? And why did it take him too? She had just begun to explain when the goddamn floor-
“I want my Ib back!” He yelled at nothing in particular.
“Your Ib?” A smooth voice muttered with thinly laced contempt. “Sorry to say, but Ib has been mine long before you slithered into her life.” Marcus turned to see a tall man with wavy lavender hair scowling at him. “Who-? Where did you-?” He yelped, the cigarette, its box and lighter tumbling out of his hands. “Does it really matter? You’ll soon wish I hadn’t appeared at all.” The man responded with a venomous look.
“Whats your problem? I don’t even know you!”
“I know enough about you to know that you don’t love her.” The man replied.
“Wha- who?! Ib? I do love her!”
In the speed of lighting, Garry wrapped his hand around the boy’s throat and hoisted him up into the air.
“Really? You expect me to believe that after doing this to her?!”
Garry turned Marcus to face the wall, shoving his face into a canvas directly behind him. The younger man was shocked to find an image of a sobbing Ib with a small blonde girl and three pictures on the wall.
The blood drained out of his face as he noticed the contents of the paintings. Each is of him with a young woman. And none of them were the one he was dating.
His heart broke just by watching.
Honestly, Garry had been happy for her, he truly had. He was glad she found someone who made her happy. And then he had shown up at the gallery six months later with a ginger haired girl who obviously was not Ib. He thought that she had broken things off, until the younger man had called and lied about where he was, then proceeding to make out with the girl in front of the Embodiment of Spirit. He hadn’t given much of a reason for his actions, but that didn’t really matter anymore.
For two and a half years after that day, this was still going on, and he was more than fed up with watching him screw around with her and not get any repercussions for his actions. He was so glad that this realm chose to aid him in showing the truth. While it hurt Garry to his core to see Ib so upset, she wouldn’t have to cry over this boy for long.
“Do you like seeing her cry?” Garry hissed in his ear, watching the hair on the back of Marcus’s neck stand on end.
The younger man grimaced, choosing to remain silent.
When Garry received no answer, he simply smiled.
And slammed his face into the painting as hard as he could, hearing a yelp and a strange cracking noise as blood began to stream down his nose.
“You don’t seem to understand that I asked you a question. Do you like to see your girlfriend cry?!” He snarled, slamming the youth’s face in again.
“Aagh! No! Wh- who the hell do you take me for?!”
Garry reached for the already wilting green rose, annoyed to find that Marcus had a strong grip on it. He squeezed the boy’s neck until his grip loosened and let the younger man drop to the ground, gasping for air, while he walked away with the green rose. He twirled it sharply in his fingers, smiling at the five… oh! Four wilting petals and the moan of pain behind him.
A part of him dimly realized that if he was to go through with this, he would be just as much as a monster as the multitude of creatures here, but he found that he really didn't care. He was going to be victorious in this endeavor no matter what.
He tossed the flower into a nearby vase, taking it out when seven petals out of ten bloom. That would be enough…
“You want to know why I’m so mad?” Garry said quietly, toying with the rose. “Its because I know her. I know how wonderful and beautiful Ib is. She deserves so much better than you.”
“I know.” Marcus quickly replied, raising a hand to try and calm the other man. “I know, but-“
“What. What the hell could you possibly say to make me see that she deserved to be cheated on? To be betrayed by someone she trusted deeply enough to let into her heart?!” Garry snapped back as Marcus cowered in fear.
“I- I know I’m not the best guy, but I’m going to make it u-“ A long thorny vine slammed against his face, blood oozing from several scratches on his cheeks, nose and mouth. He shrieked and grasped his face.
“Well, thank God you're at least smart enough to get the first statement right, but I don’t believe for a second that you intend to change! I’ve seen you with three other girls and I’m certain they won’t be the last. If you had made any attempt to talk to her when you felt that whatever ‘problem’ you had couldn’t be solved without acting on your own selfish desires, then maybe you wouldn’t be in this mess!” He snarls, sick of his excuses.
Six petals left.
Another vine wrapped around the young man’s left arm, dragging it away from the facial wounds. The thorns bit into his flesh, scarlet liquid staining his clothes.
“I should probably explain myself. In this world, there exists a rule. In order for an inhabitant of this realm to leave, someone has to stay behind.”
A vine wound painfully around Marcus’s torso, hoisting him up into the air with much more force than necessary. He clawed at it, moaning in pain.
“Now I was once a regular person like you, only I wasn’t under the impression that lies and infidelity were the way to live my life. But I unfortunately lost my way. Lets just say, I’m grateful you came into her life for this reason alone.”
He really didn’t need to tell him the full truth, and frankly he didn’t want to. Why bother telling him about Mary when she wouldn’t be there when everything was over.
No one would be…
He grinned as the boy convulsed when a vine dug into his left leg. By this point, blood streamed down his nose, his arm, stomach, leg and face. Marcus wiped his face in an attempt to clear his vision.
‘Oh god no.. He can’t leave me here…’ He thought pitifully, trying his damnedest to think of a way to escape, to make this crazy man drop the rose or do anything other than stare at him with a smug grin on his face.
“Now, don’t look so scared. This place isn’t all that bad. You’ll get used to it after a while, the insanity, loneliness, sentient paintings...” Garry laughed, hysteria spiking his pitch as he nearly lost himself in his excitement. “Its not like you were making any contributions to better the world, adulterer.” He taunted.
Digging his free hand into his pocket, Marcus fumbled at a small box in his pocket. He gasped as he felt razor sharp thorns pierce his neck. Wheezing in an attempt to speak, to beg for mercy, the only noise that came out of his throat were gurgles. He gave up on talking after a while to avoid choking on his own blood, which foamed and dribbled down his chin.
The room was filled with the coppery smell, making the boy dizzy and nauseous. Garry however, lifted his faded blue rose to his nose, enjoying the faint fragrance mixed with the scent of blood that filled the room.
Two petals remained on the stem. He decided that it was time to end this before his body did.
“As much fun as this little meeting has been, I really should get going. After all, I have a home, a job, a new little sister and a beautiful girlfriend to return to.“ The boy’s eyes opened as wide as he could muster. ‘No… he can’t take my-’
Garry curled his hands around the youth’s head, spindly fingers digging sharply into his scalp.
“I just might bring her back to see you one of these days. Nevertheless, thank you. Thank you for giving me your life.”
He brutally yanked his head to the side, his smile grew demented at the loud cracking sound. The last two petals fell from the stem, Marcus shuddered and went still, the small box dropping from his fingers.
Spying the cigarettes and the lighter, the young man scooped them up and plucked one from the box. “What the hell, I deserve a treat.” He declared joyfully in the eerily silent room. He slipped it between his lips and lit it. Surprisingly, the nicotine provided a huge buzz.
It figures, nine years without cigarettes would remove his body's addiction to them.
He savored it slowly, as it would be the last one he intended to have for a long time. They still were bad for his health after all, and he wanted to live for a long, long time...
Garry placed his wilted rose in the vase, watching the ten petals bloom back to life with a smile. ‘Yes, I’m free now. And so is she…’
Retrieving his flower and the box, he glanced at the small gold ring inside. “Cute. Real cute. You think a chunk of metal will make up for betrayal.” He plucked it out and inspected it. The band was a simple golden ring with no embellishments of any kind. Maybe he’d pawn it later, he could get Ib something else. He turned and gave the corpse one last look, disdain and slight boredom etched on his face as he scanned the lifeless, glossy eyes and limp, puppet like body.
“You were a dead man right from the start, to be perfectly honest.” He walked out of the room, just as the gallery closed in on its newest victim...
“Mary, I’m sorry you had to hear all that. ” Ib sniffed, drying her eyes. She had been more than distraught after realizing her boyfriend’s infidelity.
Not only had he betrayed her, but the people he was with were former classmates, after she had begun dating him for a while, each of the girls slowly started to drift away from her and eventually him.
Now everything made so much sense...
“Why would he do this to me? I knew I wasn’t perfect but-” She whimpered, tearing up again.
“I hate him.” Mary stated, gently patting her back. When she walked into the room to find her friend all grown up, she didn’t know what to think. Secretly she had been a little sad as they wouldn’t be able to be friends like they used to be, but as the two girls became reacquainted, Mary found that she didn’t really care, Ib was still Ib and she was her friend.
And then they had stumbled across this room. And Ib began to cry.
She stared at the russet haired man as he kissed a pretty looking girl with short black hair.
She didn’t know where he was, but he would pay for making Ib cry. Where was Garry? Wouldn’t he want to be here to make her feel better?
“I’m glad you’re here with me.” Ib murmured as she embraced the girl. “I just... I wasted so much time on him. I wish I could get a do-over. I wish-“
She whirled towards the voice. Garry stopped mid stride, speechless.
He really thought he hadn’t been serious when he said that she would be his girlfriend, but looking at her, he realized that some part of him wanted that to be a reality, as weird as he felt about it. He sighed and smiled gently at her, no matter what, he would be happy to be whatever she needed in order to be happy, even if it just meant a friend.
She stared back an awe. Even after all this time, even after wallowing in this hellhole for ten years, nothing about these two had changed, instead, they seemed to have thrived, somehow defying everything that could have corrupted them. Mary seemed much more balanced and calm, unlike the secretive and slightly awkward child she knew. And then there was Garry. One of her first friends, a comforting pillar that supported her. She was conflicted by her ex’s betrayal but, she knew she wanted to get to know Garry better, because he was very important to her.
Mary looked at them curiously. ‘Why are they just looking at each other?’
“Oh my god.” Ib whispered at last, a grin forming on her face.
He smiled sweetly at her and opened his arms for a hug.
Ib’s mouth dropped in horror, fear blooming in her heart.
Garry’s smile became lopsided in response.
Noticing a ‘mirror’ near a wall, he turned to inspect himself. In shock, he saw several splotches of blood spattered on his shirt and pants. He had been so happy to see her...
Ib regained enough of her wits to grab Mary’s arm and run.
Garry sighed at the retreating figures before starting after them. This was a minor setback at best, as they would be leaving no matter what.
“Nothing will ever be easy here, will it?”