Every caged animal eventually goes mad. Desperate yet unable to escape, it starts burrowing inward, ripping out tufts of hair, chewing through its own flesh and bone as if freedom waits within. Was it so with you, o Great Wolf? Restrained by magic and betrayal, did captivity eventually warp your clever mind into wrath-fueled madness? Did your teeth like crescent moons tear chunks of meat from your bones in vain attempt to loosen those impossible bonds? A wolf must run free but Gleipnir leashed you to the earth like a common backyard mutt. A wolf must hunt and howl but the sword driven through your muzzle hindered you from sating your hunger or crying out your agony and loneliness. Whether you would have always grown from trusting pup to crazed, feral beast can hardly matter when your captivity made you one regardless. Yet what else did the gods expect when they imprisoned you? Every caged animal eventually goes mad and if given the chance to turn bloody jaws from gnawing its own flesh to rend the flesh of its captors, well… who can blame it for leaping at the opportunity?
Tanim wonders, chasing the fleeting shadow down the long hallway, if Daren even knows where he’s going. The asylum is a multi-floored compound of brightly lit hallways that to the unfamiliar eye all look the same. Can Daren have any idea where the front doors are, when patients are kept shut away so deep within the maze? And even if he does still remember the way out, how will he get past the locked doors on each level and the employees who guard them? Surely he knows escape is impossible. Mad Daren might be, but he isn’t stupid.
Rounding a corner just as Daren flies through an unlocked door and into the stairwell beyond, Tanim stumbles to a stop and stands gasping for breath. He never imagined Daren could run so fast; though then again, he’s never had cause to chase after him, at least not literally. He gives himself a few seconds to catch his breath and check for security guards – none are following as of yet – then resumes the chase. Up two flights of stairs, back into an identical hallway, through countless turns and turnarounds he follows Daren, who remains always a dark figure vanishing around a far corner.
Finally, Tanim turns and finds himself facing a dead-end hallway just as one of its doors slams shut. Straining to calm his racing heart and aching lungs, he begins checking the handles of each door. Most are locked; given the burned out fluorescent bulb in the ceiling, this particular section of the asylum seems to be rarely in use. The doors on the right side of the hall are all locked. On the left side, Tanim meets locked door after locked door until he is almost to the end. The second-to-last handle moves under his hand and he hesitates, certain Daren is inside but uncertain of what the man might do when cornered.
Tanim pulls the door open slowly, expecting perhaps for Daren to rush him and continue his unpredictable flight, but nothing happens. The smell of blood hits him instead, and he pushes the door open wider to let in the hallway’s feeble light. It falls over Daren where he kneels in the shadows, glistening as it strikes the blood coating the man’s face and trickling in a steady waterfall down his neck, shoulder, and chest. In his hands he grips an open pair of scissors, their blades covered in blood; it is these, it seems, which he has used to make the oozing lacerations which crisscross his shaved head.
“I was trying to fix it,” Daren explains, his voice and eyes eerily calm. Tanim tries to speak but finds he has no words. Instead, he kneels down and gently lays his hands over Daren’s bloody fingers to extricate the scissors.
I don’t know you, little one, and you don’t know me. You will probably never even read these words, but I am sending their ripples out in the hopes you may feel their touch. I don’t know you, but I can guess some things about you. You are young, but you feel old. You long for home, even though you’re already there. You are trapped in a closet, and yet you feel as if you’ve been running all your life. You scream but make no sound; you hurt yet show no marks. You say you don’t believe. You pray to something anyway.
I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but I do know this: you aren’t alone. The Lady of Truth is with you, and She speaks comforts in your ears. The Lady of the Flame is with you, and She brings you warmth and light in the darkness. When you need to be sad and quiet, She is strong arms and a rumbling purr; when you need to be angry and loud, She is bristled fur and bared teeth. Her love is the love of a lioness for her cub: unconditional, unlimited, unyielding. The world is dark and dangerous, but you do not traverse it alone. Bast walks beside you, ever patient and ever loving.