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Light and Shadows
“I hate my life,” Wesley said as he walked to chemistry class with his head low and his feet dragging. It was easy to say that Wesley was in a bad mood.
Wesley was a tall teenager of sixteen. He was blond with a pale face and a lot off freckles. He had a smaller-than-normal nose, which was where the main concentration of freckles was. His mouth stood out like a sore thumb against his pale face, giving him a big-mouth appearance. His body was skinny and had barely enough muscle to move his body. That part of pubescence had evaded him completely, and instead he was given the height of a basketball player. Wesley’s clothes were thin from months of being washed and worn and his pants had several holes at the knees.
Jimmy, his best friend, didn’t respond as they walked down the halls of Bennett High School. He didn’t want to argue with Wesley, knowing it would just provoke Wesley into complaining more.
Jimmy couldn’t have been more opposite to Wesley than was possible. He was short, also sixteen, and heavily muscled. His hair was dark black and shaggy. His face was stout with a large nose, and, instead of freckles, suffered from acne. His body was powerfully built with enough muscle to probably push a small truck with no brakes. Jimmy preferred to wear thick clothes, usually darkly colored. He didn’t enjoy having thin or light-colored clothing.
“Why me?” Wesley asked.
Jimmy again avoided responding. However, Wesley continued on as if Jimmy had tried to argue with him.
“I’m mean, its screwed over,” Wesley continued. “I mean, the power of-”
“Shove it,” Jimmy said as his tolerance broke. “All you’ve done since this happened is complain about your power. For crying out loud, it’s a power Wesley, not a disease.”
Wesley ignored Jimmy. To him, Jimmy didn’t understand what was going on. All he saw was power, and all Jimmy liked to do with power was use it to his advantage, no matter what the power was, whether it was being president of ASB or being elected class president. He just used it as he pleased, and didn’t see any difference between a bad power and a good power.
“Sure, and Mr. Brill is a bottle of flower fragrance, not a crabby old fart,” Wesley said sarcastically. “Since when did shadows become a thing of good?”
“Since now,” Jimmy said, knowing he was just walking into a fire. “You’re not a bad person Wesley. Jeez, you’re a better guy than I am. This power can‘t change that.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Wesley said. “‘Wesley Bergeron, the controller of shadows and darkness, but he is a good guy.’ Sounds like the biggest oxymoron I’ve ever heard of.”
Jimmy shook his head in annoyance. “The only one being a moron here is you Wesley. Your power of darkness makes a great intimidator. It could really get you a high position of power.”
The two friends entered their chemistry class and took their usual seats next to each other at the back of the class. Mr. Brill, the teacher, was sitting at his desk working on the computer while he waited for the tardy bell to ring.
“Hey,” Jimmy whispered to Wesley, “Watch this. I’ll show you power isn‘t all bad.”
Jimmy concentrated and pointed his index finger at the teacher. As Wesley watched, a beam of light flew from Jimmy’s hand and struck the teacher’s eyes. The effect was instantaneous, and Mr. Brill never knew what hit him. All he knew was that he was being blinded with an extremely bright light.
Muttering a curse, Mr. Brill stood up and shielded his eyes. Jimmy put his hand down and sniggered. Wesley didn’t react, but just sat looking off into space.
Wesley, absent-mindedly, focused his mind to Mr. Brill’s eyes. Both Jimmy and Wesley watched as a small cloud of shadows covered his teacher’s eyes, letting the eyes heal from the bright light which had burned the retina just moments before.
Mr. Brill appreciated the sudden lack of light, but, as a teacher, he knew the lights weren’t supposed to be off.
“OK, who’s the wise a**?” he asked.
Wesley jumped out of his daze as he realized what he was doing. He watched as the cloud he had accidentally created dispersed into thin air, as if it had never been.
Jimmy had his mouth open in awe. “Hot damn,” he said to Wesley. “That was great. You can blind people without a gag!”
Wesley bent in his head in anger at himself. Apparently his power did have some control of itself, and that scared him. “Just another thing of the power of shadows. Probably means I’ve blinded him for life.”
Luckily for Wesley, Mr. Brill was not blind, but he was angry. Even though he didn’t know who had ‘turned off the lights’, he was able to figure out that Jimmy had shot the beam of light. He figured Jimmy had used a laser pointer, and when Jimmy was unable to give Mr. Brill a laser pointer, he was sent to OCR, or Out of Class Retention.
Jimmy went with a fuss, making a scene in front of the class. Wesley held back a smile of entertainment to the best of his ability.
When Mr. Brill was unable to figure out who had turned out the lights, he automatically figured that he had been momentarily blinded by Jimmy’s laser.
After the chemistry class, Wesley met up with Jimmy in the commons of the high school. Jimmy was still irritated for his ‘mistreatment’ in class and complained about it until they split up to go to their next classes.
After school, Wesley and Jimmy met back up in front of the school to wait for the bus. The two friends lived on the outskirts of Buffalo, New York. Both of Wesley’s parents and Jimmy’s parents worked full time, which meant the two had to either walk the eight miles to their houses or take the bus. Naturally, they took the bus.
“So, you want to come to my house for a while?” Jimmy asked Wesley. “My second phone line is up, so we can game against each other over the net.”
“I can just go to my house for that,” Wesley pointed out. “It is possible to chat over the net.”
“And if your parents catch you?” Jimmy asked.
Wesley playfully slapped Jimmy on the back of his head. “You kidding? They won’t be home for hours.”
“Maybe one of them will get fired,” Jimmy joked.
Wesley moved to hit Jimmy’s head again, but a hand caught his before it fell. Wesley looked behind him at the man who had caught his hand. He tried to get his hand out of the man’s grasp, but the man refused to let go.
“Can I help you?” Wesley asked, rather assertively. Jimmy heard this and turned to see who Wesley was talking to.
“Who’s this guy?” Jimmy asked, putting on an even more fierce tone.
The man released Wesley’s hand. The moment he was free, Wesley took a step backward, away from the guy.
“Who are you?” Jimmy demanded again, pointing his finger at the man, as if to clarify who he was speaking to. To both Jimmy and Wesley’s surprise, the man stepped back like Jimmy had threatened him with a gun.
“The name is Dr. Killjoy,” the man said, keeping his distance. When Jimmy put his finger down, Dr. Killjoy seemed to relax and came forward. “I’m here to take you to your checkup.”
“With someone with a name like yours, I don’t think so,” Jimmy said, his face displaying his mistrust towards Dr. Killjoy.
“You can come either of your own will or against it. You are coming with me,” Killjoy said, suddenly becoming aggressive. He walked forward, holding his hands out as if to grab the two of them. Both Jimmy and Wesley jumped back to avoid him.
The other kids around them, sensing the brewing conflict began to circle the three, and quietly, they started chanting, “Fight.”
Jimmy raised his hands in front of him towards the man. The action seemed childish to the growing group surrounding them, but it got the effect Jimmy wanted. Dr. Killjoy jumped away immediately, his body suddenly tense and alert.
Wesley stared confused at Killjoy and Jimmy. Then he realized Dr. Killjoy knew of their powers. He wanted as much distance between himself and Jimmy if Jimmy showed any signs of unleashing beams of light or something like that.
Wesley raised his hands as well. He had no intention of using his powers, but once Killjoy saw him, he ran like a frightened child. He didn’t look back, he just ran as fast as he could, through the crowd of kids, over the football field, and to a car waiting for him. He jumped into the passenger’s seat and the car took off, peeling out as it left the area.
The entire crowd of students had started laughing the moment Killjoy had run. Insults and slews of names followed the frightened ‘doctor’ as he ran, seemingly for his very life.
Once the car had disappeared, the crowd dispersed. Nobody paid any attention to Wesley and Jimmy. They hadn’t done anything except raise their hands, so they required no congratulations of winning any fights.
“What was that all about?” Jimmy asked.
Wesley chuckled uncertainty. “I don’t know. But he knew of our powers. That’s why he was scared of our hands.”
Jimmy cocked his head. “Odd. I haven’t told anybody about my light. And I can guarantee you haven’t told anyone about your shadows, with your pessimism about it and all.”
Wesley shot Jimmy a venomous look, but quickly replaced it with one of relief. “At least the guy was a wimp. I wouldn’t have done anything to stop him if he had attacked.”
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “I would’ve. The guy would’ve been barbequed chicken if he had come any closer.”
“Good for you,” Wesley muttered.
Jimmy turned to retort, but as he did, the bus pulled over at the bus stop. The two friends had to quickly get a position in line so that they could get a good spot. They hated being in the back, mainly because it made Wesley seasick.
Unfortunately, the two of them, having strayed away from the bus stop, ended up last in line. Since almost every spot was taken, the two had to find separate seats. Both were partially glad, as they were getting annoyed at each other’s views over Wesley’s shadow abilities.
At their stop, Wesley and Jimmy got off of the bus and began heading down the street towards their houses. Jimmy once more asked Wesley if he’d like to play games at his house, but Wesley said he’d catch Jimmy on the net. So, the two split up to go to their own houses.
“I’ll be playing Vigilante Skirmish!” Jimmy called over to Wesley. “I’ll have my own server ready for you!”
Wesley held up his thumb to acknowledge he had heard Jimmy, but he didn’t turn to face his friend. It wasn’t for any reason like he was mad at Jimmy, but he didn’t want Jimmy to suspect he wouldn’t be joining him on the internet.
Wesley unlocked the door to his house with his spare key and entered. He closed the door behind him and jumped back as his dog, Harold, jumped up at him, whining for attention. He smiled and patted the dog on its head. The dog calmed down, but it moved forward towards Wesley and began to sniff at him. Wesley looked at Harold awkwardly as his nose moved along his legs and up to his waist. Then the dog jumped up and began sniffing the rest of his body with his wet nose.
“Cut it out boy,” Wesley said playfully. “Your making me wet.”
Harold finally began sniffing Wesley’s face. He was a big German Shepard, so he had no problem reaching this high point. Wesley moved his hand to brush the big nose away, but the dog kept its neck form so that it couldn’t be moved. Wesley backed away to take away Harold’s support, which worked, and Harold went back to all four paws.
Harold whined again. He didn’t move, but he looked at Wesley with the look dogs give when they sense their master is hurt. Wesley recognized it and chuckled.
“I’m alright boy. Just a freak ability that’s consuming my body.” He said this only-half jokingly, believing it to be true, that the shadows he could control would eventually consume him in some way or another.
Harold relaxed a little, at least in the way that he wasn’t looking at Wesley like he was injured. Wesley smiled slightly and walked forward to go refill Harold’s food and water.
Jimmy logged onto his computer and turned on the game called Vigilante Skirmish, which was an internet game where different people created their own characters, evil or good, and battled each other or went on adventures in several large worlds. Jimmy, after loading up his character, a villain he called Hedonist, created a small battle server on which he and Wesley, and anybody else who wanted to join, could battle.
After setting up the rules, Jimmy went to his favorite hiding place in the level and got his long-range energy blast ready. He knew it wouldn’t be long before Wesley joined him and he could wipe out his friend with one blast.
After several minutes, Wesley didn’t show up, and Jimmy was growing impatient. Even though one person had joined by now, Jimmy was unable to get a lock. But, mainly his impatience was with Wesley. Wesley never took quite this long just to get on the internet.
Probably moping about his shadows no doubt, Jimmy thought. It’s a power for crying out loud! Not a curse. Jeez, if the guy wanted to, he could beat me in a fight, power-on-power.
Being distracted by his thoughts, Jimmy wasn’t ready for the sudden blast of fire that consumed his character and scorched him to death. Jimmy jumped back to awareness too late, and his guy was already dead. Though he could spawn as many times as he wanted, he hated losing, especially when he didn’t even have a fighting chance.
Already having decided that Wesley wasn’t going to be showing up in the game, he quit the server and shut off his computer. He moved for the phone to call Wesley, but decided against it.
What difference will it make. He’s not going to stop sulking about his shadows just because I tell him to.
Now what? he asked himself. I don’t want to play games, and I’m definitely not an outside person. What am I going to do?
In frustration, Jimmy held out his hand towards his window. With a blinding flash of light, he released enough light energy to shatter the glass. Quickly, he withdrew his hand, halting the flow of his power.
“Whoa!” Jimmy said out load, though there was nobody to hear him. He moved forward and touched one of the shards of glass that had landed on his desk under the window. He quickly withdrew his hand when it burned his fingers.
That’s incredible. My light heated the glass so much that it expanded out of its frame and shattered! Maybe Wesley couldn’t beat me in a battle, he thought with satisfaction.
What else can I do? he asked himself. He never had done any true experimentation with his powers, but now, he realized that he might have the ultimate weapon at his fingertips, literally.
Concentrating his mind, he unleashed a beam of light from his hand, more focused than the last blast, and bored a hole in the wall he was facing. He kept the beam going for a few seconds and then stopped to see what he had done. Next thing he knew, water was gushing out of the hole from a pipe he had melted open. Rather than punish himself for breaking a pipe, he felt a rush of exhilaration. If he could melt through a pipe, he could probably melt through…
Yeah. Time to get out of debt, Mom and Dad.
Wesley woke up to the sound of his father watching the news. This was part of his dad’s morning routine before he left for work. It was really the only time of relaxation he got until he got home late at night. By then, if Wesley wasn’t asleep, he was getting to it.
Wesley dressed for school and headed out to get some breakfast.
“Hey Wesley! Come in here!” His father called after him when he heard him leave his room.
Wesley stopped on his way to the dining room and turned for the living room, where his father and the TV were. His father was watching the television, and he barely seemed to notice Wesley when he came in.
“Yeah Dad?” Wesley asked when he didn’t take notice of Wesley.
“Take a look at this,” his dad said, pointing at the TV.
Wesley came around next to his father and watched the TV.
“-occurred yesterday at four o’ six in the afternoon. A person encompassed in an aura of yellow light came into the Buffalo Credit Union and attacked everyone within sight with beams of white-hot light, killing two and seriously hurting twenty-six others. Only four people managed to escape with minimal burns when they hid behind desks in the room.
“The suspect then unleashed more light on the door of the safe, melting through it. When authorities showed up, the suspect was just leaving with a total of twenty thousand dollars.
“The police tried to chase down the suspect, who ran on foot. But, whenever a car came close, the suspect would unleash more beams of light to attack the cars, either blowing up the tires or injuring the driver. The suspect escaped custody and law enforcers have absolutely no idea who it was.
“Now, here is some footage captured by the two remaining security cameras.”
The screen changed to the rough image of a security camera. It showed a short, heavily built person covered in a veil of yellow light, throwing focused beams of light at people, whether they came at it or away from it. In a way, it seemed to be having fun with what it did. Then, after it seemed to have had enough fun, it headed for the safe and burned a hole around the lock. Then it stepped through, grabbed a lot of money, and left.
The scene was repeated over again, but from the view of the other camera. Wesley stopped watching, a wave of nausea overcoming him.
“That’s incredible,” his father said. “What do you think that was?”
Wesley didn’t answer. Instead, he headed for the door, not even bothering to grab his shoes as he exited.
Wesley, walking as fast as he could without running, headed for Jimmy’s house. Who else would be using the power of light as a weapon. Wesley had never thought that Jimmy would do something as drastic as this though, but then again, it was personal gain, and Jimmy liked nothing more than to gain power. Apparently, the power of light was enough power to put Jimmy over the edge.
Wesley reached Jimmy’s front door and knocked hard. He did his best to get on a good face so that Jimmy’s parent’s didn’t suspect something was up.
To Wesley’s luck, it was Jimmy who opened the door. Immediately, Wesley’s face of anger came back. Jimmy saw it and put on a face of concern.
“What’s up with you?” Jimmy asked.
Wesley grabbed Jimmy’s shirt and pulled him out. Jimmy, by reflex, put his hands up in defense. Wesley threw him aside and closed the front door so their conflict wouldn’t be heard.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Jimmy yelled.
“So where did you stash the money?” Wesley asked, putting on a tone of ice, but kept his face that of pure rage.
Jimmy’s face change couldn’t have been quicker. It went from anger, to fear, and then back to anger. “How did you find out about that?”
“The news showed a rather squatty guy in a veil of light. You’re the only one in the world that would be able to do that, let alone have the obsession of power for that!” Wesley said, still keeping his tone cold.
“So I stole some money! Big deal!” Jimmy yelled. Then he put on a smug look, like the one of someone who knows they’ve won an argument. “What are you going to do about it anyway?”
Wesley’s anger grew even more, but he restrained himself for throwing at punch a Jimmy. Doing so would be extremely dangerous. For a moment, he considered using his powers, but his fear of them kept him from doing so. Jimmy’s smile became even wider. “I thought so. You’re so afraid of your own power that you won’t even carry out your so-called justice with it.
“A lesson that you might want to keep in mind. No power controls the person. The person controls the power! I mean, look! Light is always seen as the power of the ones who carry out justice to those who disobeyed some law. Yet, I controlled my power to let me disobey the law!
“So, Wesley,” Jimmy said, smugness and arrogance strong in his voice, “I can control my power to really hurt you if you tell anybody about this.”
Wesley remained silent, knowing he had lost this battle. Or had he? Maybe what Jimmy had said was right. The person controls the power, not vice-versa. And, if so, Wesley could win this battle.
Jimmy, still thinking he was winning no problem, pushed Wesley. “So, why don’t you scuttle home. I don’t want to make a scene in front of my house.”
Wesley stood his ground, and when Jimmy came to push him again, Wesley struck him in the face with his fist. Jimmy reeled back, holding his lip where it had begun to bleed. He held his fingers up to his eyes and, seeing the blood, looked up at Wesley with the look of a madman. He held up his hand to unleash a beam of light, but before he could, his arm was consumed in a cloud of darkness. He looked, wide-eyed at his arm.
“What do you know,” Jimmy said, adding a smile to his face. “I guess wimps can fight.”
He held up his other arm to unleash a beam, but it was also consumed in darkness. Wesley smiled slightly. He didn’t have to move at all to do what he was doing. But, his smile faded when the cloud began to disperse and small beams of yellow light began to escape from where the cloud was thin.
Wesley jumped aside just in time to avoid the blast. One beam scorched his shirt and just barely burned his arm.
Jimmy stopped his attack and moved his arms to retake aim. It seemed to Wesley that when Jimmy attacked, he couldn’t move until he had stopped. Once again, he had to jump aside to avoid the beams of light as Jimmy unleashed them from his hands.
While Jimmy was immobile, Wesley held out his arms as well and fired a beam of razor-like pieces of darkness at Jimmy. Jimmy halted his attack just in time to avoid the beams. But Wesley, unlike Jimmy, could move as he attacked. He continued unleashing the shards of darkness as he corrected the aim of his arms towards Jimmy.
Jimmy was struck in the chest and was knocked back. Wesley stopped his attack, thinking that that had been enough to take down Jimmy.
Jimmy was lying on his back and his shirt was torn to shreds. The skin underneath the shirt was also cut, just like Jimmy had been in front of an exploding window. Jimmy held his hand up to his chest and flinched when he touched the cuts. Then, with a roar of rage, he jumped up and blasted light from his hands. But instead of focusing the light, he let it spread out in all directions.
But, because it wasn’t focused, it only hurt Wesley’s eyes and nothing else. Wesley shielded his eyes until Jimmy stopped the attack, then renewed his. Once more, he unleashed the shards of darkness at Jimmy, but this time was met by Jimmy’s own beam of light. The two beams struck like clashing waves and halted each others progress. However, Jimmy’s beams were quickly winning out, so Wesley switched the attack to beams of pure darkness, not dark shards. This put the light at a standstill.
So focused were the two on keeping their attacks going that they didn’t notice the people leaving their homes to see who was making all the noise. The neighbors were all surprised to see two teenage boys unleashing attacks at each other that could bring down elephants.
Wesley was the first to notice the crowd of people watching from their lawns. He smiled.
“Our secrets are blown Jimmy,” Wesley said. “And especially yours is blown. With this, everyone will know you robbed the credit union.”
Jimmy didn’t respond, unable to move even his eyes because of his power. But Wesley could see in his eyes the look of fear at being discovered.
Wesley wasn’t anymore happy about his power being discovered, but at least he didn’t have a criminal record to worry about.
Then, suddenly, Jimmy stopped his attack and moved aside to avoid the beams of darkness. Wesley began to move his arms to aim at Jimmy, but stopped when Jimmy redirected his aim too. However, he didn’t aim at Wesley. Instead, he aimed at one of the bystanders.
“I’d recommend you back away Wesley,” Jimmy said. “These people aren’t quite so able at defending themselves against my power as you are. They could get hurt.”
Wesley put his arms down. “What’s happened to you Jimmy? You’re- you’re not yourself.”
“You’re thick Wesley,” he spat. “I’ve been your friend for years, yet you’ve never noticed I like power? I use it as I please.”
“You’ve never used it like this,” Wesley said. “Sure, you’ve gone a little crazy as class president, but-”
“Class president doesn’t allow me to get away with what I want to do. This does. Nobody can defeat me now! I’m- I’m invincible!”
Just then, Jimmy staggered. After a couple of uneasy steps, he fell forward onto the ground, unconscious. Wesley started, but then he saw the dart in Jimmy’s back. Wesley looked around for the shooter. Standing next to the car he had escaped in, was Dr. Killjoy, and he was reloading his gun with another dart. He took aim at Wesley, and fired, but the dart never met its target.
Mere feet away from Wesley, a flat disk of darkness opened between him and the dart. The dart passed into the disk, but it didn’t reemerge. Wesley blinked in surprise, not knowing what had happened.
“Run,” a voice said, seemingly from the portal. “Quick, into the portal.”
“Portal?” Wesley asked, but as he did, the disk turned around and became larger until it was large enough for him to enter it. Inside it, Wesley could see dark shapes moving around.
“Get him!” Dr. Killjoy yelled. “Somebody get that kid!”
Without thinking anymore, Wesley jumped into the portal. It shut behind him as soon as he was through.
For a moment, Wesley was in complete darkness. Then, suddenly everything seemed to illuminate, though Wesley could see no source of light.
“Can you see?” something asked.
Wesley jumped. He looked behind him, but he saw nobody.
“Can you hear me?” the voice asked again.
“Yeah,” Wesley said weakly. “Where are you?”
“Can you see?” the voice repeated.
“Yes,” Wesley said, still weakly.
Something moved in Wesley’s peripheral vision and he jumped again, his head turning to see the moving… thing. Something about the way it moved suggested it wasn’t human. It more of glided than walked.
“Welcome to the Dimension of Shadows,” the being said. Wesley could make nothing out of the him, being that he (Wesley was guessing it was a he by the deep voice) was in a black cloak that shrouded his face.
“Dimension of Shadows?” Wesley asked, finding some strength in his voice now.
“A dimension separated from yours until now. I am Kojenik,” the being said.
“I don’t understand,” Wesley said, keeping his gaze on Kojenik.
“That man, Dr. Killjoy, works at the genetics lab that granted you these powers,” Kojenik explained. “Before you were born, your embryo was subjected to the geneticists of that lab. There, they changed your DNA to give you these abilities, in the hopes that someday, when they emerged, you could be a super soldier, able to control darkness and shadows. A reckonable force in your dimension.”
Wesley didn’t respond. He didn’t really know how to. The information was incredulous, unreal. Wesley didn’t even think the technology was possible.
Kojenik, sensing his disbelief, nodded. “Though they planned on giving you a weapon that came from you, they had not planned that you would be the bridge between your dimension and a dimension they hadn‘t even thought existed. That is, of course, because you have not learned that ability… yet. But, until you do, you are stuck here. And, I guess, you could learn a thing or two about your powers. I’d be willing to teach you everything I know.”
Wesley, finally beginning to feel less uncomfortable, cocked his eyebrow. “At what cost?”
“You never share the knowledge with anyone, in this dimension or yours. If any of the more… evil beings in this dimension learned to open portals, they would reek havoc on your world and others.”
“And if I don’t accept your teachings?” Wesley asked.
“You never leave this dimension. You will be faced with its horrors, for this dimension is full of evil beings, banished from their own dimensions to this one. A few have stopped being evil, such as myself, but many, like Adolph Hitler, Rasputin, and other menacing figures from your dimension are still truly horrible people,” Kojenik said, a tone of amusement coming to his voice as he saw Wesley’s jaw drop. “Unless you wish to try and survive this place, for you are the only one still living here, you will learn from me, and learn all that I have to give.
“So, what do you say?” Kojenik asked.
Wesley hesitated, for if this being spoke truly, then the most evil people he had known about, and many others he didn‘t, were here. He doubted if even his powers could save him from everything.
“Is this Hell?” he asked, the idea suddenly coming to him.
Kojenik laughed, a bright, but terrible laugh that echoed for what seemed like eons to Wesley.
Kojenik stopped laughing. He looked directly at Wesley, and though Wesley could see no eyes in the hood, he could sense that they were locking eyes with each other. “My friend, if you refuse my teachings, you will see how much worse this place is than Hell.”