The Prodigal walked across the street towards the club. A giant neon sign bathed the sidewalk in purple hues. DHARK was all it said. He chuckled to himself as he approached the door. Appropriately named, this place was by far the darkest place in town. The story went that it used to be an insane asylum back in the day, and the guy who bought it revamped it into the pit of debauchery that it was today. Why The Prodigal had ever walked inside that first night was beyond him, but ever since then, he had been hooked.
He nodded to the well-dressed doorman, who smiled in return.
“Back again, I see,” the large man remarked.
The Prodigal laughed and shrugged. “Eh, you know how it is; I just can’t stay away.”
The doorman arched an eyebrow. “Well, here’s to another night of drinking the demons away.”
The two of them shook hands as The Prodigal entered the club, and the doorman slipped two pills into his hand. Once inside, he popped them into his mouth and he swallowed. Maybe this time he would catch the hallucinations. Maybe this time the trip wouldn’t be so rough. Not that he minded too much; in a strange way, he liked the misery the drug brought to mind.
The main dance floor was packed, with couples dancing feverishly to the thumping bass and zipping synth sounds. On several platforms, scantily-clad women danced erotically, surrounded by men throwing money at their feet. Muliti-colored strobe lights flashed all around, seeming to dance with the crowd.
The Prodigal made his way to the right, towards the bar. He needed to have a drink in his hand before the drug kicked in. The drug in particular was called R-Squared. It was something they made and distributed at Dhark exclusively. He didn’t know what the intended effect was, but he had suspicions that it intentionally made you think of all the things that made you want to drink. Not a bad business plan for a bar.
About ten minutes after taking it, you felt euphoric. On top of the world. But that feeling didn’t last. And it was at this tipping point that The Prodigal now found himself. He took a deep breath. Let the games begin.
He walked around the outskirts of the dance floor towards the stairs that led up to the second floor bar. His vision clouded for a moment, and sitting on the stairs in front of him sat a girl. She was in her mid twenties, her head down, and her jet-black hair covering her face. For a moment, he felt frozen; his heart seemed to stop beating, and he couldn’t breathe. He knew this was just the beginning; the girl in front of him could not be real, for several years ago, she had died in his arms. This was the drug; it wasn’t the high that he was addicted to, it was the ability to interact with those he had lost, with his failures, shortcomings, and his regrets.
The girl looked up, her hazel eyes glinting and shining in the shifting lights. She stared almost right through him, no emotion showing on her face. They looked at each other silently for a moment before she spoke.
His name. A name he had long since forsaken. A name that brought to the forefront of his mind all the ways he had failed in his former life. Named after a king, and he had never lived up to it. He shook the thought from his head.
She leaned back on the stairs and ran her hand through her hair. August’s heart fluttered as it always had whenever she did that. It was such a simple, ordinary thing, but to him, it was everything he had loved about her; she was such a glorious, beautiful, strong woman, and she was completely unaware of it.
She sighed. “You never came. They took me, and you never came.”
The guilt was crashing in heavy tonight.
“I did come, though. I found you as fast as I could. I searched everywhere for you.”
Erin snorted. “Everywhere except where I was, apparently.”
The Prodigal knew she would never have really said these things to him. This was nothing more than his mind torturing him once more. Maybe this time he could direct the visions. Maybe tonight he could find peace, if he could just find the right words…
“Erin…I’m sorry. If I could go back and keep them from getting to you, I would. If I could take your place, I would. I wish I had been there sooner.”
The girl inspected her fingernails. “Well, you were too late. And you let me die. You let them kill me. And then, you didn’t even avenge me. You could have hunted them, you could have obliterated the lot of them, and what did you do instead?”
August felt tears welling up in his eyes. “I…I…I walked away. I left the Order and came here. I ran away.”
She looked at him once more. “Maybe you never deserved me at all; I thought you were better than this.”
The Prodigal stepped forward and outstretched his arms to touch her, and the vision faded in a sudden puff of smoke. In a moment, he had forgotten that none of this was real. He wiped his eyes and looked around, making sure no one had seen his display of weakness. He sniffed and ascended the stairs, ready to face the next vision.
Upstairs, the music continued to pound, drumming its repetitive patterns into his ears. On the floor, he noticed a figure, mostly hidden by the dancing crowd. For brief seconds, he would catch a glimpse of a middle-aged man watching him, beckoning to him. He knew better than to obey the hallucinations, but he couldn’t help himself. How was he supposed to ignore his own father?
He followed the man across the floor, winding around the second floor, finally stopping by a false window. It was a wall-sized screen, displaying a digital image of some big city from decades ago. Lights flickered on and off, cars whizzed around on the streets, and if you looked closely enough, people milled around on the sidewalks. But it wasn’t real. Then again, neither was the man who had led August to it in the first place.
The man placed his hands behind his back and looked at the screen.
“Auggie, you disappoint me.”
“Well, we’re not pulling any punches today, are we?”
Seeming to not have heard his son, the man continued. “You are a disgrace. You were a Knight of the Order, the pride of this family, at one point. You showed such potential, such promise. Now, you sicken me. You are a waste, less than a shadow of your former glory. I am ashamed to call you my son; even saying the words puts a sour taste on my tongue.”
August hung his head. He had this conversation every night. And every night it went the same way. It was a masochistic satisfaction for him, hearing, or at least thinking he was hearing, his father belittle and destroy him gave him some sick pleasure, like a good kind of pain. It stung, and it made him feel like less than human, but perhaps this was his perdition. This was the hell he must endure for the man he had become.
He looked up at his father. “What if I were to go back?”
The man laughed dryly. “Do you honestly think that they would have you back? You, a drug-addicted, alcoholic, waste of life? You, who begs on the street in the day for enough to eat and get high? You, who has stooped so low as to lie and steal for your daily fix? If they had any sense, they would shoot you on sight. You don’t let a sick dog back in the house, you put him out of his misery.”
“And that is what I deserve.”
The man’s eyes flared with a hidden fire, his fury visible. “And then some, boy. If it were up to me, you would suffer like in the tales of old. You would be eaten alive every day, renewed every day only to suffer again.”
“That sounds a lot like what I already do, old man,” August thought to himself.
The two of them stood silent for a moment, and just like the girl, the man disappeared in a swirling puff of smoke. The Prodigal looked once more at the screen, wondering what life would have been like in that time. Did those people have lives like his? Or were they free from these deep-seated demons? The world was so different back then; he liked to think that it was a better, more hopeful place.
He stumbled back to the bar and ordered another drink. He was definitely not himself. He had ceased to be August of Fyte a long time ago; the vision of his father was right, he didn’t deserve even the air in his lungs. As he sipped his drink, he looked into a mirror across the bar. The sight disgusted him.
Suddenly, his reflection shifted. It looked away from him, glancing around the room, and then stepped out of the glass.
“Shit,” August muttered to himself, “this is a new one.”
His reflection walked towards him, hopped over the bar, and sat down next to him.
“How ya doin’, old chum?” it asked.
The Prodigal didn’t respond, simply waiting for his reflection to continue.
“Well, not feeling up for conversation, I see. That’s fine. I think it’s just time to say some of these things out loud. All this stuff that you’re carrying around, all this weight that sits on your mind all the time, there’s a way to get rid of it. And I think you know what that is.”
August looked away and lazily stirred the ice cubes in his drink. His reflection went on.
“When you left, you took very few things with you. Two things, actually. Now, why on earth would you bring your guns if you planned on never shooting another person ever again?”
The reflection grinned wickedly, and kept speaking.
“You never planned on shooting ANOTHER person. You are not another person. You aren’t even really a person anymore. You know how to end this. You know how to make all of this…” The reflection spun in his chair and motioned to the rest of the club, “stop. You know there’s a way to make all of this disappear. Peace is nothing more than a deep breath and a short squeeze away.”
August snapped, and threw a punch at his reflection, which promptly disappeared. The motion threw him off balance, and he fell out of his chair, hitting his head hard on the floor. As he drifted out of consciousness, he heard his reflection laugh, and whisper, “Think about it…”
Some time later, a girl dressed in leather skins walked up to him and nudged him with her toe. She sighed. “Auggie, what have you done?”
The Mystic knelt down and hefted him over her shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go home. It’s time you end this crazy little vacation and get back to work.”
She carried him down the stairs and out the front door. She knew it would be a hard road to recovery, but in the long run, it was better than the hell he had been living in. The Order had been looking for him for years. The world needed them now. All of them. Including Auggie. It was time for The Prodigal to return to his tribe. The demons that plagued him were nothing compared to the ones that plagued the rest of humanity since his disappearance.