Alter ego

He needed a moment to adapt his eyes to that absolute whiteness. Then he could tell apart the floor from the ceiling, the left wall from the right. The front from his back. But it didn't matter where he looked at: everything was pale, immaculate and smooth. Not a single reference, no sign about what or which place it was.

That wasn't the only disconcerting thing. He saw that he was suited up in a black jumpsuit, in impeccable contrast to the monochrome surroundings. His breathing began to shake and sounded strange to him, as if filtered. The gloved hands searched his face but they didn't find skin, something akin to plastic covered it. His scared scream went off scrambled and artificial, absolutely incomprehensible.

A cold fear made his body tremble. He didn't remember how he had ended there, much less why. His confused mind looked for an exit but the only thing he found was another surprise, a metal shining object thrown onto the floor. He got closer and recognized it. The sharp blade and the jagged edge for tearing were unmistakable. Startled, he grabbed the knife, already suspecting what was it all about.

The echoes from some noises caught him by surprise. They were fragmented, grating and unintelligible. Voices filtered by masks like his, he thought. They seemed to get closer, armed surely. He had never brawled with anyone and less to the death. Fighting for no reason against strangers? Him? Impossible. Awfully scared, he decided to slip noiselessly away.

He held the knife like his fear, at the ready. Each step was a jump into danger within that perennial whiteness. Each exhalation, a treason against his own life. Because of that he trod carefully, on tiptoe when getting closer to a crossroad, always leaning out with extreme caution.

His fingers brushed the umpteenth corner and became paralized, a shattered sound was lurking at the next turn. It had a recognizable cadence, a breathing rhythm. He hesitated in keeping going forward but he didn't got the time to make up his mind. The filtered panting hastened till turning into an indescribable cacophony. Seconds later, that breath moved away to duel with the broken grunts of another completely unknown.

He decided to spend a bit of his valor sneaking a look. Slowly, he brought himself closer to the edge and stuck his head out just enough. What his retina saw shook him. Both men, also in black like him, fought with fury. They rushed upon each other, grabbed, throw each other against the walls and used any opening to slip their hits through. Yes, as he had feared, it was a fight to the death. That confirmation terrified him even more.

And those masks... The masks they wore were upsetting. The head of one of those guys was bluish and one-horned, with exaggerated and rounded features. The other's one reminded of a gold-skinned feline, but with its curves mixed with straight angles. Those were countenances of mythical creatures, fierce and with no hint of compassion. And the bestial faces had transformed those two men into roar-distorted monsters. He stopped watching and stuck himself to the wall, with a tachycardia closing in on his hearth.

He took his free hand to his face and, with a trembling touch, tried to deduce the features that had been imposed on him. He felt them smooth and well-proportioned except the mouth, which seemed to be quite a pronounced V-shaped smile. The horns on his brow made him suspect what could that face be. He remembered the metal of his knife and used it as a mirror. He snorted an anguished laugh when he understood his reflection: a devil with a deep red skin was looking at him with a malicious and confident grin. They couldn't have chosen a damned better alter ego for him.

What could he do? No idea. Anxiety hit him with each of the nearby fight's screams. Fleeing didn't seem an option, and he also didn't believe he would be able to defend himself. He could only delay as much as possible the encounter with whoever was there, locked in with him. His confusion distracted him and he didn't noticed the silhouette at the other end of the corridor. He needed a second to see the dark spot that, in an instant, became a black human figure.

Calm, fearless steps put that stranger in front of the poor devil. The newly arrived had a severe, bearded face which had a marble-like paleness. The hair had been shaped wavy and wild, stressing the effigy's impression of power. Moreover, under the dark attire well-formed, powerful muscles were defined. Truly, the man fit his mask's spirit perfectly.

Such demigod looked at him a moment, just enough to evaluate him and issue verdict. Even with the distortion, it became obvious that was a laugh of contempt. Without words, the giant had told him that he was nothing, not even the shadow of a menace. With a stretched out hand he indicated him to flee, he would kill him later. For the demigod there wasn't any difference. The demon needed a moment to overcome the fear paralysis, before leaving with his cowardice where he was told to. First slowly and under the rival's watchful eye, he moved away with the wall at his back till he was some steps far. Then, with the mortal combat's echoes still on his heels, he just knew to run through the endless whiteness.

The horror was panting in his lungs and panic ruled his actions. He crashed into walls in crossroads, turned clumsily on the corners, fell a few times to the floor. But eventually his anguished race runned out of steam and then he stopped. Supported on the wall he gave himself a second to catch his breath. The faulty sound of his breathing became the sinister melody for his hearth's scared beats. Again he was alone in nowhere and he still didn't know what to do. But that place had other plans for him. Suddenly, the white surrounding him became deep red. Blood-red. He straightened himself and saw how everything around him was dyed in such vibrant color.

An odd raucousness grew in the air. It was closing in fast on where he stood, and he nervously looked towards the direction it came. He was surprised by a face travelling from side to side of the walls. It was the golden mask of one of the guys he had seen fighting before. He didn't need much else to make a grim realization. The picture got lost in the labyrinth but others followed it not much later. Ones he wasn't expecting at all: arrows. Stylized and red, they appeared within white circles on the yet red walls. They moved like a stream, pointing all of them towards the same direction. They invited him to follow them, but he didn't find trusty that sudden guide.

The arterial crimson fused into white, the signs begin to vanish one by one. Right in that instant the devil changed his mind. He thought less pathetic to go after his death rather than being hunted by it. In spite of his dread, he had to run to not lose sight of the symbols. Although not for long. The last one he could see was telling him to turn right in another junction. Fearing the worst, the devil peeked slowly at the pointed corridor. Another mask, dark and with geometric features, met his gaze. And it didn't hesitate to go promptly after him.

The pursuit barely lasted two corridors. They rolled on the ground, their fighting screams entangled in lethal desperation. The strength of both were even, also in horror. Anything went in: elbows, kicks, slashes with the edges they both clutched. Victory meant life, and to see on the dark mask those carved teeth, prominent, white and sharp, fed the surviving fury of the demon. He didn't want to die. He didn't want to die!

The stroke of luck was his. In a critical moment he could push the other away with his legs. The guy fell on his back and didn't had the time to get up. The red devil rushed to spit his enemy's chest with his blade, screaming with fury and horror. Then, he let the handle go and allowed the doomed one to breathe his last peacefully. The pool of blood blended with the floor when the labyrinth announced the death of the man with the blackish mask. But the demon couldn't react, he hadn't ever killed before. It was a totally new kind of fright, the feeling of him being a killer.

A distorted shriek got him out of his absorption. It had sounded too close. He turned around, right when the death rattle's cause turned up in the intersection. It was the man with the bluish mask. He was walking slowly, leaning on the wall with a bloodstained hand. With the other he was trying to grab something on his back, a knife's handle. Fast steps caught up with the dying one and a man grabbed him by the chin, slitting his throat with ease. The body fell, gurgling and weak, and the red mask trembled. A too familiar stony face was looking back at him.

The walls didn't take long to count the recent victim in red. Meanwhile, that cruel demigod inhaled deep, outstretched his arms and let the squatted devil contemplate his physical prowess. Then he pointed at him with the end of his bloodstained dagger. The terrified devil then thought about recovering his knife and running away from that psychopath, but the labyrinth still had another surprise in reserve.

A faint electrical noise came with the change of aspect. The walls were relocated, their dimensions got altered or simply dissapeared, and the damned place turned into a big room regularly divided by equally sized partitions. Nevertheless, it didn't loose its inscrutable and neat albinism. The devil understood that that transformation was a sign, the strange white colosseum was demanding the last sacrifice.

The red mask wrenched the knife from the chest of his first victim and rushed to get lost amongst the walls. His marble-faced rival took it easy, showing the confidence of one who knew himself hunter. First he unleashed his gloomy filtered laugh to hound his new prey, and then the giant began his pursuit.

The demon moved winding silently, going from one wall to the next. But he didn't have a clear strategy in his mind, not even a killing desire. He only wanted to live, and that wasn't enough. A stealthy edge suddenly hit him on one arm. He turned around by mere reflex action and the next cut branded his back. He cried in pain and his enemy gloated over his misery.

He fleed somehow, trying to ignore the sting of his wounds. He could only think on getting far from the sinister taunt, on delaying his execution. In the end, weariness made him slow his pace, sobbing his misfortune. His eyes misted over, clouded by anguish. He looked at his knife, still dyed with his previous rival's blood. Maybe it wouldn't hurt that much if he stabbed himself in his heart.

Still, he chose to hide again. He had felt his pursuer getting close. Without being seeing, the bloodthirsty hunter and the discouraged prey hounded each other by their steps's whispers, by the revealing sound of their breathing. The blood that the wounded stained the walls with... And they didn't meet, but by very little.

The devil chose to turn to his left and stayed put behind another perfectly white wall. In only a couple of seconds, the terrible bearded demigod reached the place. He stopped, as if smelling out the air. He searched in the whiteness looking for crimson traces, he tried to hear any breathing, but nothing.

With no traces to follow he didn't knew where to lead his hunt. He went a few steps to the left, but his instict made him think right in the opposite direction. He walked away, slowly and with the dagger ready in front of him. The demon waited for a moment, and then he peeked from the other end of the wall concealing him. When he thought he was alone, he allowed himself some respite. A tiny one. He was still trapped with a maniac in who-knew-where. He didn't know what to do yet.

He glimpsed something among the walls. It seemed a shadow. He went close stealthily and saw it was a leg. And that leg had an owner, in mortal past tense. He was the man with the golden mask. After the labyrinth's reconfiguration, the corpse had become a messy bundle on the floor. His knife was close, equally neglected. Despite his dread of the scene, the man with a diabolic face had an idea. He would win his survival by being truly demoniacal.

The stony face was kicking the blue mask's body, in a futile attempt to release his frustration. He had passed again by two of the dead ones, but he wasn't finding that despicable faint-hearted little devil. And that damned place wasn't that big, how could it be? But something broke the silence and his ears soon found out the sound's source.

He ran, fearing losing the guidance from the last notes of that scream. He didn't took long to reach the spot and he found something completely unexpected. A body was lying face down over a pool of blood. The red mask was limp aside... The bastard had killed himself! He warily moved closer and, since he didn't perceive any reaction at all, he bent and turned the man over. A grip crowned his chest and nothing could be seen of the blade piercing the flesh.

His annoyance for not claiming the prey distracted him. He didn't felt the figure at his back which emerged from the silence. Only when the coldness of the steel touched his neck he knew he had fell into the trap. Then, he could not even whine: centimeters of metal driven by rage and fear slashed the giant's throath.

The demon-possessed man did cry. He bellowed his fury and turned the fake demigod into a real fountain of blood. He didn't release him till he squeezed his last breath. Next he dropped him with the knife yet across the neck.

The labyrinth reacted to that ending by rearranging the walls as a straight passage with just one destination, a rectangular and deeply black opening in his final end. The last survivor calmed down and began to walk, properly erect but with tense and closed fists, towards what seemed to be the exit. However, he stopped halfway and, after brushing his short dark hair undecidedly, he turned around with a firm step.

He grabbed the dagger of his last victim and cleaned it the best he could. Then hesitated a moment, but he also picked the devil mask up off the floor.

His alter ego could be useful later.
Usually, terror is associated with the darkness, the mournful, the decrepit or the neglected. And I seem to remember that it was due to going completely against this tradition that I thought the basic premise for this story: horror can manifest itself under the most clear and intense light. That's why the scenario is spotless, subtly ultratechnological, and its bathed in a white light that annihilates the shadows.

The mask and the black jumpsuit dehumanize the fighters, easing the clash among them. But, at the same time, they give them a new personality, different from the one they had before getting into that lethal game. Maybe one they already had hidden under the skin, waiting for its moment. Not assuming it can get them killed, but accepting it and surviving also has a price. Then, what is more terrible?