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It was freezing cold and sleeting when Count Orlok met me on a darkened road in the woods.

“Come, She wants to talk to you.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was finally going to meet Life-in-Death. I grew weak and Count Orlok had to assist my shaking body into the horse-drawn carriage waiting for us.

Her abode was majestic. It was a mass of contradictions of life and death. Great pillars of bone. Clinging vines upon gray, dead statuary. Giant bas reliefs etched into dull stones depicting scenes of struggle between the living and the dead. The most prominent symbol in all of this orgy of architecture was the large, looming half-closed eye.

We entered the great hall of the fortress and a tinkling as of small chimes played above me. Looking up I beheld a vast web of memento mori, each suspended by a thread from the darkness of the ceiling and ending in a casing of a silver frame.

And then She appeared. Walking from the far end of the hall, she greeted us. It was the strangest visage I had ever beheld. She had golden hair flowing out of her fleshless skull. Inside the sockets were bright blue eyes and cherry red lips adorned the mouth. But these seemed alien upon the ivory of the bone and somehow stood out in starker contrast than if they were on a normal face.

LifeinDeath

She wore a flowing, green gown that reminded me of lichen or moss and from this ornate dress her bony, delicate hands protruded. Each bony finger ending in a finely painted nail.

So many questions had been humming in my brain but they all vanished into silence in her presence. I was struck dumb before her elegance.

“We finally meet, James Branner. I am Life-in-Death, the Lady of the Land of Nod. You’ve overcome so much to get where you are but something has come to light of such importance that I felt you needed to hear it from me. Will you walk with me?”

I managed to produce a cracked “Yes”.

She dismissed the Count and then she led me out into a strange garden of bizarre vegetation juxtaposing gorgeous flowers with ruthless weeds.

“You well know that Silent Redding has been sowing discontent throughout this land. But he has not been idle in the Waking World either. By the way, I don’t blame you for not killing him. You did the best with the circumstances you were given. It’s just unfortunate, however, because now, you still must deal with his handiwork.”

“His handiwork?”

“Yes. And he is more devious than I had imagined. What I have to tell you, James, will surely come as a great shock, but you must overcome the denial and the anger to find the truth. For it is certainly true.”

“What is true? What must I do to reach the City on the Hill?”

“While you were away, Silent Redding was busy putting things in order for your failure. He knew, after you tore his throat out, that you had the drive, the desire, and the wherewithal to end his quest to replace the Ochre King. Did you really think he would just forget that?”

“No,” I whispered.

“Oh, No, he didn’t. So when I tell you that he meticulously contrived to plant his agent in your path, he did so with the utmost evil in mind. He has beguiled you with that vixen Shelly. She is his agent who is even now working her way towards your demise.”

“No!” I screamed. I clamped my hands over my ears and fell to the ground screaming at her to stop spouting her hated lies. I spit at her, cursed her, and tore my hair in anger. But she only shook her head in sorrow for me.

Eventually, my ranting turned to sobbing and wailing. Then, bending close my ear she whispered, “You know what you must do, James.”

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