Dreams from the Darkness
I have lost all perception of time. Day and night have no meaning for me now. I only know that time passes and as it does I slip deeper into this abyss. My fear grows for what lies below because I know my presence will wake it from its slumber. I can hear it breathing. I can hear it dreaming.
The new day's light was bringing the shop to life and three figures stood among the silent antique crowd. Lori had not slept since Kay's late visit the previous night as her emotions swung from the anticipation of going to the fear of leaving. She thought it a joke at first but after a time accepted that this woman, who had only been in her life for two days, actually wanted Lori to accompany her to Italy. How could she pass on the opportunity to travel to a place she felt she knew so well but had only read about in books? On the other hand, how could she leave her grandfather who had come to rely on her assistance every day since she joined him in his shop?
Although she wanted to scream with delight, she had not accepted the offer immediately. She told Kay that she would have to talk it over with her grandfather before she could make a decision since his life would probably be as much affected by this sudden development as her own. Kay promised to return in the morning and at opening time the tall woman was waiting at the front door in the cool morning air. Lori was grateful for Kay's reassuring presence as she conveyed the news to her grandfather.
Kay remained in the background feeling a little awkward in this very personal and highly emotional engagement. She watched the blond woman timidly tell her grandfather that she had been given the opportunity to travel to Italy but she would have to leave this afternoon. She saw the expression on the old man's face change from concern to happiness, maybe delight, for what his granddaughter had told him. He seemed to understand her difficulty with this decision and the reassuring smile on his aged face was warm and comforting.
"Lori, my child. Many years ago you made a decision to stay here with me in this old shop but your soul is being held here against it's will. When I watch you write I no longer see a little girl scribbling a few pages to pass the time. I see a woman with more potential than could ever be explored within the confines of this shop...no, within the confines of this city, even this country. Your mind reaches parts of this world that the great explorers have only dreamt about and a hundred times over you have earned the right to see them."
Kind hazel blue eyes, faded with age but glistening with emotion, regarded her with a deep love that was almost tangible. He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, bringing her close so that her soft, youthful features filled his vision. "I have anticipated this day for many years now and I knew it would bring me both happiness and grief at once. I have always wanted to see you escape to some place better than this. Your spirit has been lying dormant within you, subduing your aspirations while it secretly waited for something. Until now I did not know what that was."
She took a deep breath to steady her voice. "Come on, grandfather, it's only a trip to Rome. It's not that big of a deal." His face started to blur and she blinked to clear her vision.
"Maybe that is what it looks like to you but I think it is much more." He brought his hands to her cheeks. "It would be a cruel joke for fate to play if this was not the beginning of the rest of your life. You were never meant to stay here, Lori. There is a whole world waiting for you beyond that door and I for one cannot wait to see what you are going to do with it."
She brought him close and wrapped her arms tightly around him. "Thank you grandfather," she said and held him for a few moments longer as a silent tear fell to his shoulder.
"You will take good care of my granddaughter," the old man asked the silent figure that was leaning on the upright piano. Kay hadn't expected her offer to bring so much emotion to the little family before her but now she realised what this meant to these people. To Lori, a young woman who had no prospect of anything but life as a shop assistant, it must seem like a dream come true. For her grandfather, an old man who wanted nothing more than to give his granddaughter the world, it was his wish fulfilled.
"Of course I will." The taller woman straightened herself and took a few steps forward. "I've been to Rome before and there's little chance of danger. Not much can go wrong in libraries or museums and that's probably where we'll be spending most of our time. I know it doesn't sound very exciting but...."
"....but Lori will be right at home there," the old man finished and took one final look at his granddaughter before releasing her to the care of the other woman.
"Hey," Lori protested teasingly, "I can take care of myself."
"I know you can," her grandfather replied. "You've been taking care of both of us and nobody could have done it better."
Another silence fell as Lori realised she was leaving someone she had seen every day for over ten years.
"Go on, before I say something that changes your mind." Her grandfather waved her towards the door.
"I'll bring her back to collect a few things and say goodbye before we leave this evening," Kay assured him. "We have a few things to arrange at the university first and I'll send Charlie over immediately. He's the one I said would assist you while Lori's gone."
With a final wave before she closed the door, Lori left the shop behind. Harvey knew it wasn't the first time she had left him alone but it was the first time since Lori had been living with him that he had felt alone.
Strange shapes and forms taunt me. They will me toward them with promises of release but as I draw closer they fade and disappear. Even death laughs at me for I offer myself freely but she will not take me. She finds more pleasure in my living so that my desire for her grows with every passing moment. Now she is all I desire for who would spit death's sweat taste from their mouth to drink from the sour cup of life.
On the way to the university Kay explained to Lori what her role would be once they reached Rome. "Basically the university feels that my time is wasted when I'm not reading or studying books. Therefore, I have to find someone else to assist me in finding what I'm looking for and then to file the notes I make into some logical order."
"But I don't know anything about finding information in a library...or filing notes." Lori began to look a little nervous.
"Don't worry. You have a couple of hours to learn how a library is laid out and how to look up journals and research papers. As for the filing, I don't think that will prove to be too difficult. To be honest, the policy was introduced to stop people from abusing the university's financing of foreign research trips. If they force you to take an assistant then you're less likely to spend all day laying in bed and all evening sampling the night life."
"I see," Lori said. "I heard you say something to Mr Cannon yesterday about a trip to the Mediterranean."
"Oh, Robert." Kay said the name like it formed a bad taste on her tongue. "His position allows him to bend the rules in his favour and he somehow managed to get to the Mediterranean without an assistant. He made some stupid case about saving the university money by going on his own and the board foolishly accepted it. I had made a few contacts in the area he was visiting and when he returned with nothing but a healthy tan I made a few inquiries of my own. I discovered that he had shown his face in a couple of libraries in the first three days and nobody had seen or heard from him after that."
"And nobody would ask any questions because of his position in the department," Lori observed.
"Correct. He has a lot of influence and someone could find themselves moved to a basement office or perhaps even lose their job if he put his mind to it." She looked over to see Lori's stunned face. "The day he takes control of the department will be the day I leave," she concluded sternly.
Lori looked stunned, but for a reason other than what Kay thought. She was impressed with the way that Kay had stood up to a man with so much power. She didn't seem afraid of being moved to the basement or losing her job. Something within her told her that Kay had as much of an influence within the department as Robert had but with a different purpose.
They arrived at the university and Kay brought Lori to the dungeon where Mark was sitting at his usual position trying to make a pyramid with the reference cards. It was five layers high and he held up a hand in warning for them to keep their distance. "Kay, you can have any book in this library as long as it's not on one of the cards in my pyramid." Kay folded her arms, raised an eyebrow and her silence said it all.
He turned to Lori. "Well, it's good to see you back down here. I'm glad Robert didnít scare you off." For the second time in as many days, Robert Cannon was summoned by the mention of his name. He pushed the double doors wide open and strode into the library with a self appointed air of authority.
"Kay." He looked at his pocket watch. "Someday I'll teach you how to be on time."
"Actually, I was picking Lori up this morning."
"Oh yes," he said in his usual patronising tone. "The girl from the antiques shop." His eyes looked up and down her body and she shivered under their scrutiny.
"Yes Robert," Kay replied, "but this time she doesn't need my permission to visit the library."
"Oh?" Robert said, unconcerned.
"No. Now she's an employee of the university so she can come and go as she pleases."
Kay got the reaction she'd been looking for. "WHAT?" Robert slammed his hand down on the desk and again the library echoed with a display of his temper. Mark's hands came up protectively around his cards but amazingly they didn't fall.
"Yesterday you told me that I had to find my own research assistant and I did. This is Loraine Winters and she'll be accompanying me to Rome. We leave this evening."
Robert's jaw tightened and the chords in his neck stood out as if trying to escape the torture he would inflict on them. He had to make a conscious decision to relax before he could respond. "You've gone too far this time. What do you think..."
Kay's hand came up to stop him. "Not here. If you want to discuss this then I'll see you in my office."
Hard eyes watched her for a moment and then a long breath signalled his resignation. "I'll see you in your office then." With a quick glance at all three onlookers, and an extended glance at the pyramid of cards, he left the library.
"Does this always happen down here?" Lori asked with a sigh of relief at his departure.
"Robert Cannon in the library twice in one week!" Mark chortled. "That's something you won't see again for a long time."
"Well, it looks like I have a meeting in my office. Mark, I need you to teach Loraine how a library is laid out, how to reference and cross reference books, how to find journals, papers, you get the idea."
Mark nodded. "Sure."
Kay turned to leave when Mark suddenly realised..."Hey, you said I could keep my job, right? I mean...I'm not training my own replacement, am I?"
Kay turned her head to reveal a devious smile and continued out of the library without a verbal response. The visual one was teasing enough.
Lori played along and didn't offer any consolation to the young librarian. "That's quite a sturdy card pyramid you have there."
"Oh, yea." He took a pot of gum from a drawer and put it on the desk. "They kept falling down so I had to...uh...cheat."
Lori looked at him in disbelief. "You've gummed the library's reference cards together in a pyramid?"
"Yea." He tipped the top of the pile with his finger and the entire structure rocked forward and back. "But I only used reference cards for books I didn't like."
Colours fade to shades of grey and life fades with them. The passage of time brings no sleep so that I may dream of better things. I know I would dream. Nightmares could bring no worse an image than my waking eyes endure and blindness cannot release me from these horrors for it is my mind's eye that sees with such distorted clarity.
Kay sat on a wooden bench in Charring Cross train station beside her young companion. It appeared she wasn't used to the fast pace of city life outside the little shop and her head dropped forward from time to time as sleep tried to catch her off guard. She had admitted to Kay that she got little rest the previous night and that the events of the day had drained her.
After a meeting with Robert, which involved as much shouting as talking, Kay had returned to the library to find Lori wandering through the rows of books under Mark's guidance. Lori's enthusiasm had surprised the librarian and he assured her that the young woman had grasped the basics of library reference methods and she should have no problem assisting Kay with her research.
After a quick lunch in the university canteen they returned to Kay's office where Lori couldn't help examining the books and artefacts that were on display on the neatly stacked shelves of the room. Most of the artefacts appeared to be Egyptian in origin and although they didn't look like they were worth much money, she guessed that they must be quite personal to the other woman. "Did all these come from Egypt?" she asked eventually when Kay had finished with the last minute paperwork on her desk.
"Yes." She wasn't sure how far she wanted go with the explanation but before she could decide her mouth was already forming the words. "I went on quite a few Egyptian expeditions with my father when I was much younger. I turned in everything I found at the dig site and the more common pieces were returned to me after they were examined and catalogued."
Lori's face lit up at the mention of the foreign adventure. "Wow, Egyptian expeditions with your father. What could be more exciting?"
Kay remained silent and watched the blond woman as she walked to the window that was capturing the afternoon sun. "You have quite a view from here," she said. "Those flower beds look lovely."
"Yes, they are," Kay responded softly. She watched the lean figure stand by the window, hands pressed against the glass like a creature anticipating its release. What did she see in Lori that brought out these emotions that she hadn't felt in such a long time? It was dangerous not to stop her but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Did she want this young woman to be interested in her life?
Kay pulled her eyes away and threw some papers on her desk that had been hidden in one of the drawers. "Come on, I'll show you the sort of notes I'll be making and how they should be filed."
They spent another hour in the university and Lori insisted on saying goodbye to Mark before leaving. They returned to the shop where she packed a suitcase and said another emotional goodbye to her grandfather. He tried to give her some money to keep her on the trip but Kay insisted that everything would be paid for. In fact, Lori would be paid for her services. "Do you hear that, grandfather? I'll be paid at the end of it." She had secretly longed to share the responsibility for bringing money into the home but until now she had never been presented with the opportunity to do so. A final wave through the glass of the door and she was gone.
Now the two companions sat side by side awaiting the train that was already twenty minutes late. The night sailing to Calais promised to be calm and the train journey to Rome would be complete in another two days. Kay nudged Lori who was doing her best to stay awake. "You can rest on my shoulder if you want," she offered. "You look exhausted."
Lori rubbed her eyes. "Oh, I'll be fine. I can sleep on the boat. I just need something to keep my mind occupied."
Kay reached into a carry bag at her feet. "You can take a look at this if you want." She handed her a book entitled The Mysterious Affair at Styles. "It's a book by a new author Agatha Christie. She looks like a promising writer."
"Thanks." She took the book and had devoured it in the two hours it had taken them to reach the port at Dover. Kay looked at her in amazement as she handed the book back before getting off the train. Just how much capacity does that intriguing mind of hers have?
Lori didn't sleep on the boat like she had promised. Instead, the excitable young woman insisted on exploring every corner of the ship. She had never sailed before and Kay left her to wander the decks alone. She took a seat with the rest of the passengers and within twenty minutes the departure whistle sounded and the ship left the dock. The crossing would only take a few hours so cabins were an unnecessary luxury. However, Kay found herself unable to sleep on the upright seats and after a while she decided to track down Lori to make sure everything was ok.
She stepped into the night air and was greeted by the figure of a young blond woman leaning on the waist height metal guard railings and gazing out into the darkness. The haze of London lights faded in the distance and the rhythmic sound of churning water rose and fell with the motion of the steam ship. A full moon hung heavy and bright in the night sky and it cast it's rays of silver onto beautiful locks of honey blond hair as they danced in the gentle breeze of cool sea air. Lori turned her face into the wind, closed her eyes and filled her lungs with the salty aroma of the waters below and Kay took a moment longer than she should have to admire the vision before her.
"It's beautiful out here," Lori said, as if sensing the tall dark presence behind her. She returned her gaze to the pinpricks of distant lights as they twinkled on the horizon. The heat of the day had escaped through the cloudless sky and the sharp air bit their cheeks with refreshing tenderness.
"I just came out to see how you were," Kay said as she leaned her elbows on the railing beside her smaller companion and followed her gaze into the darkness.
"I'm fine." She took a slow breath and absorbed the silence. "It's so peaceful here. I feel like the world is asleep and the night is rewarding me for staying awake to keep it company." She turned her eyes to the sky. "And I've never seen the moon so bright. I guess it's the envy of all the London streetlights and they drain its beauty before anyone in the city can celebrate it."
Kay turned to regard the smaller woman with a sense of admiration. "There are few people these days who would take the time to see what you see. You have a beautiful vision of the world."
Lori spoke softly as if unwilling to disturb the tranquillity around them. "I just wish everyone could see it. For most people it's a personal experience; they see it when they're alone and solitude forces them to notice things they would simply dismiss when in the company of others. Among the books in my grandfather's shop I could descend into a state of harmony. Most would find boredom but I found peace. I saw a world that stretched far beyond the limits of the city and I knew there was more to life than the man-made monstrosity that surrounded us.
"Modern life gives people little time to look past the boundaries of the city in which they live. The maze of streets and buildings look the same from every angle and we walk the featureless routes knowing that they will remain unchanged from one day to the next. The city fools us with its scattered parks and gardens and soon we come to depend on it as much as it does on us for survival.
"I guess I've always been able to see the world from a better position but I've never been given the chance to share it with anyone. My grandfather had seen too much of a hard life and I never got the opportunity to share anything with my parents. I've been content to experience it alone but what's the point in having a vision if you can't share it with someone who can see it also." Lori turned to look at the dark woman beside her. Her blue eyes were filled with a sensitive understanding that invited the question she had wanted to ask since the long evening they had spent together in the in the peaceful company of books and old furniture. "Do you see it Kay?"
Kay's heart skipped a beat as green eyes reflecting the moons silver met with hers. There were no longer signs of a childish innocence behind them but instead a deep contentment, a woman at peace with herself and the world around her. Kay considered her response for a moment. She let her eyes wander back to the ocean and follow a shimmering path of light to the horizon. Memories returned of her father coaxing her from the tent in the cold Egyptian night. She would sit wrapped in his arms and watch the sun rise between two distant peaks. "The sky goddess Nut is giving birth to Re," he would whisper in her ear and then sit in silence as the morning's glory flooded across the golden landscape. It was something she shared with him alone as the rest of the camp lay in slumber.
"Yes. I do."
Lori smiled and took the other woman's hand in hers. "Then I want to share it with you." She moved closer so that their shoulders touched and they leaned into one another as they returned their attention to the moon's alluring path. The distant lights of civilisation winked out one by one and left the couple alone on the narrow deck of the ship where the appreciative night put on it's best display.
Fire burns me and ice chills me in a merry dance of nature's perverted elements. The cycle relentlessly pounds on my mind where voices chant and wail in an unknown tongue. Dreamers speak of the Great Old Ones whose coming is nigh and their wrath will bring death and destruction for everyone and everything. I pray them to bring it to me.
The entire crossing from Dover had been spent on the deck of the ferry. The night remained peaceful and the sea calm. On arrival at Calais they quickly transferred to the sleeping cars of the passenger train and both women gratefully slumped into the soft beds that were waiting. Their compact cabins were next to one other and were fitted with a single bed, washing basin, dresser and hanging rail. They slept soundly until they reached Paris where a short stop would allow the cars to be transferred to the Simplon Orient Express.
Kay awoke as her carriage shuddered with the cushioned impact against the cars ahead. Blue eyes were still filled with sleep and her mind wrestled to make sense of her surroundings. The sun had returned and a thin curtain filtered the daylight that was trying to force its way through her cabin window. The sounds of porters, station guards and passengers without were muffled by the thick walls but the distinct sound of French accents still made their way into the room.
She lay staring at the ceiling that barely accommodated her height and her mind tried to focus the images of the night before. It felt like trying to remember details of a dream that had the consistency of clouded images and only an encompassing feeling of peacefulness could be retained. Lori had said little for the rest of the night and Kay was happy to share the silence with her. For as long as it mattered, her professional life had been spent in the company of professionals and her private life spent in isolation. Never, in recent years, had she been so content to let silent hours pass in the company of another.
She could see Lori's face clearly in her mind. Those jade green eyes and honey blond hair, an air of innocence, burning intelligence... With an almost giddy pleasure that she hadn't felt since she was a child, Kay realised that her imagination was beginning to take over but instead of stopping it she opened her mind and let her imagination run free. Turning on her side she closed her eyes and hoped that the peacefulness of the past night's shared hours would invade her dreams once again.
Lori knelt on her bed watching the bustling workers and frantic passengers on the platforms of Gare de Lyon. Steam hissed from the belly of the train and clouded the chill morning air. She returned an innocent smile to the odd looks she got from the early morning passengers as they made their way to the carriages. Many were dressed impeccably; ladies with shimmering jewellery and soft fur, gentlemen with black suits and top hats, obviously the upper class of society. Perhaps I will mingle with them later, she thought with a wry smile and shaded the morning light with the curtain before climbing underneath the soft linen again.
Her mind wandered to the woman that slept in the cabin next to her. How much time did she spend mingling with upper class society? She was secretive of her life and background. Lori only knew of her what she had seen in the past couple of days. Obviously a woman of importance in the university, someone who always got her way and was a formidable opponent to anyone who stood against her. But who is she and how did she end up working for the University of London? Was she wealthy? Where did she come from? Was she married? Probably not, she doesn't wear a ring. She doesn't seem like the settling down type anyway.
Lori knew there was something more to this woman than met the eye. Something in her past perhaps? People don't attain that sort of position without a story or two to tell....and I will hear them, she thought, when the time is right. She closed her eyes to let sleep take her and bring dreams of a tall dark haired woman. Was this Kay or the warrior woman of her stories? It didn't really matter any more.
The Simplon Orient Express pulled out of Gare de Lyon and by the time the two women met for breakfast they were on their way through the Alps. Lori spent endless hours pressed against the window watching the majestic peaks and grand valleys pass by while Kay made use of the time to get some extra work done. When the terrain returned to a more familiar formation, Lori insisted in helping her. She decided to get some practice at looking over Kay's notes before the real research began. Kay was happy to oblige and gave her a stack of loose papers with dates going back almost a month. "And you think Mark is disorganised," Lori commented wryly as she started to make her way through the pile but by the end of the day she realised that they weren't as disorganised as she thought. It didn't take her long to understand Kay's system for making research notes and she found that she even pleased herself with the day's progress.
The train passed through Switzerland and into Italy and it was just after dawn by the time it reached Verona. It's destination lay far to the east and the two women changed to a less luxurious train to complete the journey south. Another day of travel would give them an early morning arrival in Rome where their work would begin. Kay had sent a telegram to Jack before they left London so their arrival wouldn't be a complete surprise. She hadn't heard from him since he departed, which was a little disappointing since she was sure that any breakthroughs would have been gleefully reported immediately. However, she was sure her news would bring some well-deserved relief to her friend. After the pains he had endured to unravel the manuscript's mysteries she longed to see him conquer it before it conquered him.
Slumbering minds as tortured as my own break into my reality from time to time. They howl like ravenous beasts that hunger for death as much as I. Perhaps that is my destiny also. I will roar a joyous lament for the loss of myself into this dark place and sing with the voices that occupy this chasm that has become my home for eternity and more.
Kay handed an address to a driver who was waiting for a fair outside the train station and soon she and Lori were passing through the cobbled streets of the beautiful city in a horse drawn carriage. It seemed there were as many carriages on the streets of Rome as there were automobiles and the early hour provided them with a clear route.
A permanent grin was held on Lori's face as her head turned from side to side to regard the illustrious buildings that rose along the wide streets. Figures of carved stone stood guard atop many of the structures. Some had human form while others were small imp-like creatures with wide grins on oversized heads. They clung to small ledges with elongated fingers and peered down on passers by with unknown intentions. They're almost cute...in a strange way, Lori thought as she got the eerie feeling that stone eyes were following her.
Kay didn't seem to be as fascinated by the environment. In fact, she seemed more intrigued by Lori's fascination and watched the young woman's bright eyes absorb her surroundings. It was refreshing to see a new face filled with enthusiasm and she wondered if perhaps she had acted in a similar manner when she first visited this city.
Within fifteen minutes they had stopped outside an old building on a quiet side street. Kay handed the driver some money and with a crack of the reins the horse trotted off, leaving the two women on the narrow sidewalk. "But...our luggage..." Lori said, somewhat alarmed.
"Don't worry," Kay reassured her, "he'll take it to our hotel and get a porter to bring it to our rooms."
"You mean we're not staying here?" They started making their way through the front door and to the reception desk of the cheap hotel.
"No. I prefer my accommodation to be a little more up-market than the university budget would stretch to so I usually arrange and finance it myself." Even in the cool morning, the air within was humid and stale. Lori could feel the carpet stick to her shoes as they walked across the dull room that required electric lighting for lack of windows. A middle aged man sat behind the reception desk reading the morning newspaper and he didn't lift his head until the two women were standing before him, patiently awaiting his attention.
He put the paper down and looked at them. "Prego?"
"Cerchiamo il Dottor Jack Williams," Kay answered. "So che ha una stanza in questo albergo."
A strange grin crept across his face. "Non e' qui. Lui e la donna con cui era sono stati portati all'ospedale."
"What's wrong?" Lori asked, seeing the startled look on Kay's face.
"He said Jack and Melissa have been taken to the hospital." She returned her attention to the man behind the desk, still grinning as if it was the highlight of his morning to convey the bad news. "Quale ospedale? Cos'e' successo?"
"You would prefer if I speaka di English?" he asked looking at both women.
Kay looked like she was going to reach over the desk and shake what information she needed out of him. "I don't care what language you speak, just tell me what happened."
He settled back in his chair and folded his arms. "Well, about three days ago I found the two people you ask for on the floor of the woman's room. The smell it was terrible." He waved his hand in front of his face as if words weren't enough to convey the information. "The woman, she looked like something that had escaped from Satan himself. Her clothes, her hair, her face. I never saw anything like it!
"Immediately I call the doctor and the police but the police, they say they can do nothing. The doctor put the man in his bed and stayed with the woman all day. He gave her food and water, which I provide for free," he added looking quickly at both women, "but she just babble and talk to people who are not there. She has gone mad you understand, eh?"
Kay didn't take the comment kindly and the man quickly continued his recount. "Everything seemed alright but that night the man, he go mad also. The next morning he is found at his desk with papers everywhere. He had been writing all night but nothing made sense. There were words and symbols but it was not any language I have ever seen. When there was no paper left he started to write on my desk. I will have to pay to clean it, eh?
"Anyway, the doctor called some men and they take them to the hospital for people with sick minds. There is no medicine to cure them. My uncle, he is there also. He not remember anything. He not remember his family, his wife..."
"Just tell me how to get to the hospital," Kay said, controlling her voice.
"Ah, you could walk to it from here. It is near the river." The man quickly gave directions and without another word Kay was heading for the door.
"Thank you," Lori added quickly and followed her.
"Eh, the man only pay for a week." The receptionist stood and called after them. "If I get no more money by tomorrow I will give the rooms to someone else." He got no answer. "Ah..." He sat down again and returned his attention to the newspaper.
I sit alone in darkness at the bottom of this great canyon that keeps me. Walls of jagged rock rise on all sides and I am hidden in the shadows of its depths. Gnarled sounds take shape and dance before me in a naked and unholy ritual. I listen to the chants that ride on the howling wind and join with them in their worship of what is to come.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"
"No. This is not possible." Kay stood with a stunned expression, the words falling from her mouth involuntarily. Lori stood by her side as they looked down on the still form of the man in the hospital bed. He was in his late thirties with a long, thin and very pale face. Hints of grey hair hid among brown. His eyes were closed and the words were mumbled by dry lips.
"He's been like that ever since we brought him here." The doctor who had taken them to the bedside was standing behind them. "Like the girl, he slips in and out of consciousness but we haven't been able to get any sense out of either of them. They both mumble incoherently, sometimes in English but usually they just make the sort of sounds you're hearing now.
Lori turned to look at the woman in the bed next to her. She was much younger, probably in her early twenties, with a round freckled face and long curly brown hair. Her cheeks were drained of colour and she also made words with lips that appeared to be controlled by another mind.
She looked again to Kay who seemed to be oblivious to everyone and everything around her. Her attention was held by the man who had earlier been identified as Jack and she stared at him with as much shock as sorrow. Lori took Kay's hand in hers. "Are you alright?"
Kay looked down into pale green eyes, deep with concern. She was unsure how to respond, unsure what to tell this young woman who should be sitting in a library somewhere arranging notes or sorting books. She had fought a long battle to escape this world of evil and insanity but now she was returning and bringing with her this innocent girl who didn't deserve the burden of knowing it existed. She would never survive here. What can I tell her? What should I tell her? Nothing. "Yes, I'm fine."
Lori managed a feeble smile. She could see the conflict in her tall companion's eyes but this wasn't the time to question it. There was something more to Kay's concern than the fact that her friend was laying in a hospital bed. Was it what he spoke? Did it make sense to her?
The doctor stepped forward. "You can stay here for a while if you want. Maybe if you talk to him it will bring back some sense of reality that a strangers voice could not."
"Thank you." Kay took a seat beside Jacks bed. "I'll see what I can do."
Lori was beginning to feel a little out of place. "I'm going to take a walk if you don't mind...get some fresh air."
"Of course," Kay said, turning her head with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry this had to happen. I thought we'd be sitting in the Vatican Apostolic Library now, not in a mental asylum."
"That's alright." She smiled sympathetically, knowing that Kay wanted to be sitting in that library as much as she did. "I'll be back in a little while." She turned and left the dark haired woman with Jack in the long hospital ward. It was brightly lit by a row of windows that stretched to the high ceiling along one of the walls. It accommodated about forty patients who were lined along two sides of the room, some laying in silence, others mumbling quietly to people who were not there. This was one of the more subdued wards, Lori noted as she walked down the long hallway, passing doors that hid frightful screams and pleas for help that sent a chill through her.
The hospital was situated along the edge of the river. Beautiful gardens, surrounded by tall trees that hid the stone and glass of the city beyond, circled the main building. Patients wandered among the flower beds and gravel paths in sombre conversation with friends and relatives. Lori found a bench that overlooked the river and took a seat there to watch the small passenger and cargo boats sail past. The colourful surroundings were picturesque but the building at the heart of the gardens contained so much sickness and ill feeling that it's aura cast a dark and heavy shadow over everything around it.
A sweet voice rings in my ears. It calls my name. I try to answer but my voice only echoes within the chasm that is my home. It cannot escape the jagged rock walls that imprison me. Far above, a storm is forming in the mind of he who sleeps. A turbulent nightmare is coming to life to invade the minds of those who hear him. The surface is above me and those who seek me are waiting there. That is where I must go, even if I cannot stay.
It was after midday when Lori returned to the ward to find Kay still sitting beside Jack's bed. She silently approached the dark woman and put her hands on her shoulders. "Any change?"
Kay shook her head. "I can't get any response from him. It's like he's completely unaware of what's happening outside his own mind."
Lori looked at the man who was sleeping peacefully now. Nothing moved. His lips were still. His eyes lay motionless behind pale eyelids. Only the smallest rise and fall of his chest gave any indication of life.
"So, where have you been?" Kay asked, standing to work the stiffness out of her joints.
"I found a nice quiet spot down by the river. I just sat and watched a small piece of Italian life float past. It was nice but it's hard to relax with all this...misery around you." She cast a quick glance around the ward where the daily routine was taking place, the same daily routine that the patients had endured for longer than their minds could remember.
"Have you eaten yet?" she asked Kay.
"Not yet. I'm not really hungry." She looked at the blond woman who was opening her mouth to.... "Don't worry, I know what you're going to say. I have to eat."
Lori smiled back. "Come on." Kay didn't refuse the offer and followed the blond woman out of the room.
They found a quiet café further down the street and sat at a table overlooking the river. They ordered some food and sat watching the flowing water in awkward silence. Lori wasn't sure just how bad Kay felt about her friends' condition. She didn't want to depress her more with contrived words of condolence and didn't think a light-hearted conversation was appropriate. Kay, on the other hand, didn't want to appear cold hearted in front of Lori. Truthfully, she was more concerned about the words that Jack was chanting. If she understood them correctly then there was more cause for concern than Lori could ever understand. She had to find out what had happened.
"I guess this wasn't what you had in mind for your first day at work," Kay said, trying to brighten the atmosphere a little.
"I guess not." Lori thought for a moment. "Should I go and check with the hotel owner about what happened again?"
"I don't think it will do any good. He said he found the two of them unconscious. I need to find out what happened before that. What caused it? Jack and Melissa are the only ones who have the answer to that."
"Is there anything I can do?" Lori asked with genuine concern.
Kay smiled in acknowledgement of the offer. "This isn't your problem but thanks anyway. I'm going to go back and see if I can get anything from Jack. I can get you a taxi back to our hotel if you want."
"Don't worry about me. I'm content to wait around the hospital."
The food came and they ate in relative silence. The day was beginning to cloud over and the heavy air threatened rain. They got back to the hospital before the first drops fell in a light mist and returned to the bedside of the two victims of the strange illness. Kay remained diligently by Jack's side while Lori wandered in and out between the showers that were getting increasingly heavy. The day passed slowly and the thick black clouds brought an early darkness to the city.
With bleeding hands and feet I can see the sky above me. I reach ever upward and cling to the rocks that cut my flesh. The light hurts my eyes and the air dries my lungs but I persevere because I hear a voice that I remember from my past. Dark clouds bubble in the sky like drops of black ink in the well of the human mind. Time will wash them away but while they pollute the spirit of life there will be much pain. I must tell the world above of the pain, of the suffering that is to come, for when the spring that feeds the well is polluted there will be no return and the waters will flow red with tears of human blood.
"Come on Jack, you have to let me know what happened. I have to find them. I have to stop them." Kay hadn't noticed the slight figure if Lori standing behind her. "Jack, what have you got yourself into?"
Kay jumped at the unexpected sound of Lori's voice. "Um...no, nothing." She turned to look at her companion. "You should go. You must be bored out of your mind."
Just then Jack's eyes shot wide open, catching both women by surprise. "The manuscript," his hoarse voice rasped. "The translation," this time more laboured. "The symbols," barely audible. "The suffering."
Kay stood and leaned over him as he fought against a force from within. With dilated pupils, his eyes were almost completely black. "The Voynich manuscript...is prefaced...by the Seal of R'lyeh." It was the last thing he managed to say before slipping back in to unconsciousness. From an unknown source a trickle of blood fell from his fingers and dripped to the floor.
Kay stood where she was for a moment, distant eyes no longer seeing the frail man beneath her. She turned her head slowly and for a brief instant Lori thought she saw terror in her eyes. "Wait here," she said suddenly and grabbed the first nurse she could find. "Was anything brought in with this man? Did he have any papers with him?"
The startled nurse looked at her. "Er...no. There was nothing."
"Lori, I have to go back to the hotel and get Jacks notes. Just wait here. I'll be back shortly." There was urgency in her voice and Lori didn't object. She hurried out of the room and left the young blond with the two academics. Jack began his chanting of those ill words and Melissa soon joined him. This time, however, their lips moved in synch. The drawn syllables were spoken in unison, as if controlled by the one mind. Lori shrank down into her chair between the two beds and covered her ears with her hands as the stereoscopic chanting drilled into her head
The heavens had opened and the rain was plummeting to the gas-lit streets of the old city. Kay burst through the doors of the hotel, clothes soaked through and hair dripping. In the dim light she looked like she had been sent by Hades himself to claim the souls of anyone who crossed her. She strode to the reception desk to find the same middle aged man behind it. "Which room was Jack in?"
"Eh...hello again miss..."
"I don't have time. Which room."
"Room number nineteen. It's on the first floor."
Without another word, Kay was taking the stairs three at a time. A flash of light lit the hallway as she reached the first floor and a deep roll of thunder quickly followed. The door of number nineteen was unlocked but the light switch had no effect. The room was in near darkness, lit only by what it could steal from the hallway's feeble glow. Rain flooded through the open window that faced her and the curtains shook violently in the wind that found a channel thought the open door.
Kay made out the shape of the desk along the side wall of the room and proceeded to feel her way through its empty drawers. She could vaguely make out some words scrawled on the surface but without proper light she was unable to read them. A sudden upsurge of wind caught the door and swung it closed with a loud bang. She jerked her head around at the noise when a flash of lightning flooded the room in white, outlining the three hooded figures that stood on the other side.
The burst of thunder muffled her scream as she guessed their purpose and launched herself across the bed, feet first, to where the figures stood. Without light she was unable to see them but she caught one square in the chest with her heels. He hit the wall behind him with a thud as she landed on her feet, quickly crouching down. She stayed low until she was able to determine where the other two were standing.
The room was filled with the sound of howling wind forcing its way through the gaping window and torrential rain pounding on its glass; Kay could neither see nor hear any movement around her. She stood slowly, looking for the slightest indication of a human form. Her shoulder brushed against cloth and before he had time to react she was spinning to face him, elbow raised to head height. It caught him square in the temple and he fell to the ground in a heap.
The third figure reacted immediately to the noise and another flash of lightning gave Kay a frozen snap shot of a robed figure running for her. By the time the image had registered in her mind he had collided full force with her chest and brought her to the ground, arms wrapped around her. She lay winded on her back while he struggled to free his hands. She knew what was coming as he sat on her stomach, knees to either side, and she instinctively brought her arms up to protect her head.
Blows came from both sides as he blindly tried to break through her defences. More thunder blasted through the open window as he landed a punch on her side. A punch from that angle meant that he was leaning to one side and she rolled into it, throwing him off her. At the same time she brought her leg around in an arch to kick towards the floor where he lay. Her foot dug deep into some part of his upper body and he cried out in pain.
Ignoring the thumping in her side, she got back to her feet in time to see one of the robed figures opening the door. Before he could make his way through she had thrown herself at it, hitting it with her shoulder and slamming it closed on the hooded man's arm with a distinct cracking sound. She grabbed his loose clothing and threw him to the floor, opening the door wide to let the light invade the room once again.
He lay before her clutching his arm to his chest. He wore a long robe and the large hood hid his face in shadow. She moved forward, pushed him onto his back and put one knee on his arm, pinning it to his chest. He screamed in pain and she pulled the hood from his head to reveal a young face with dark hair and eyes. He had eastern European features but the dim light would reveal no more.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in a low voice, barely audible above the howl of the wind.
He looked at her defiantly, breathing heavily through his nose. She leaned harder on his arm and his eyes closed as another shriek escaped his mouth.
"I want to know what you're doing here," she said calmly. The pain in her side was starting to bite and she tried to push it to the back of her mind. "I can do this all night." She leaned a little heavier and then eased off again.
"I will tell you nothing." His accent was possibly Greek or Turkish. It was difficult to tell with his laboured speech.
"Then you're going to have a very long and painful time ahead. What were you looking for? The manuscript?" He said nothing. "Or were you looking for the translation?" That's it, Kay thought as things began to fall into place. "You were looking for the translation, weren't you. There's something in that manuscript that you want but you couldn't translate it by yourself."
He stared back at her in silence. She leaned heavy on his arm and brought her face close to his. "Where is it?" She grabbed his throat with one hand and quickly searched his body with the other. She found nothing.
A bright flash of lightning was immediately followed by a pounding blast of thunder that shook the room. The storm was above the city and Kay could feel the electricity in the air. A second blast echoed through the window from the alleyway and the figure beneath her laughed.
"Tonight is a night for death." His eyes locked with hers and she saw they were dark and empty. "You will die, just as your friends in the hospital will die."
"Lori." Her face flashed through Kay's mind and everything else was forgotten. She didn't see the figure rise from the other side of the room and bolt at her, catching her from the side. She managed to twist before hitting the floor so that she wasn't pinned beneath him and before he could get up she had hammered her elbow onto the side of his head.
She jumped to her feet to face the dark haired man with the broken arm. He didn't run. He didn't attack. "Tonight is a night for death."
"Not before you." She spun 360 degrees, lifting her leg at the last second to catch him full force on the side of the head. He fell to the ground unconscious and Kay jumped over him and through the open door. She bounded down the stairs, through reception and out into the raging night.
The roads were flooded with the torrential rain and she shielded her eyes from the onslaught as she raced through the deserted streets. She bit against the pain in her side, knowing that she had to make it to the hospital. Lori was there. The gentle face filled her eyes and the involuntary images that forced their way into her mind gave her legs more power as great lengths of ground passed beneath her.
A blast of thunder filled the air, shaking buildings around her, and looking to the sky she screamed back at the gods in defiance.
Lights flickered in the great room and Lori looked about nervously. Lightning flashed through the tall arched windows casting fleeting shadows on the opposite wall. The storm had disturbed many of the patients and nurses were rushing from one bedside to the next trying to keep them clam.
Wails and screams of tortured minds filled the night air and echoes of madness rattled through the asylum's empty halls. To either side of Lori, the unsettling sound of Jack and Melissa's chanting was growing louder. The unnatural way they kept time with one another was unnerving and Lori wanted to leave this house of madness behind.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"
Another patient, an elderly man a few beds away from Melissa, joined them in their sinister ritual. Then another...and another. Lori stood in horror as one by one each of the patients in the large ward unified in their chanting of the vile words.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"
From somewhere further down the hall the wild screams of a patient broke into the corridor. "Take me with you. I am ready."
Lori's attention was drawn to the door as five robed figures entered the ward and stood side by side, faces hidden in the shadow of their hoods and hands hidden in the opposite sleeves of their robe as they crossed in front of them. They stood silently for a moment and Lori's heart began to beat faster in her chest. What's happening?
She was frozen in place as the centre figure drew a decorated knife from within his robes, its smooth blade reflecting the light. The hooded form slowly moved toward Melissa. Lori could only watch as he stood by the side of her bed and raised the knife above his head, holding it in both hands, blade pointing toward the helpless girl below. The volume and tempo of the deranged chanting rose until it reverberated within Lori's head.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"
A flash of lightning burst through the windows and Melissa's voice turned to a high pitched scream. She arched her back, thrusting her body upward to meet the sacrificial knife as it plunged deep into her chest. The room burst into a wailing chorus of insanity and bodies convulsed beneath the bedclothes as inhuman howls rasped from the throats of the maniacal audience.
Time stood still while the image burned itself into Lori's mind in all its horrific glory. She wanted to close her eyes but they wouldn't move. She wanted to close her mind but even control of that slipping away from her. She envied those who watched in unknowing ignorance, those who didn't hurt the way she did at the horror of what they saw. She hurt so much and for the briefest instant, which she would remember for a lifetime, she wanted to join them.
After an unmeasured time, the chanting returned to a hushed tone and temporary calm returned to the room. The hooded man withdrew the blade as a circular stain of dark red grew on the covers. In a smooth motion he walked around the bed and stood before Lori. Green eyes, glistening in the eerie light, looked up into dark and emotionless voids. The chanting began to increase. Slowly the blade rose before her and tears streamed down her cheeks. She wanted to run. She willed her body to run but fear held her fast, her body heavy, unwilling to respond to the simplest of commands.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"
Lightning flashed and a piercing shriek cut through the air. A piercing shriek. Lori knew it. It wasn't hers. It was Kay's. By the time the hooded man had turned his head, all he saw was the sole of a shoe followed by a bright light. His head snapped back and he fell on Lori as Kay landed firmly on her feet. From the ground Lori looked up in stunned silence and with just a quick glance to make sure the blond woman wasn't hurt the dark figure locked her sights on the four hooded forms that stood only feet away.
One ran forward which only served to increase the force of the impact as she spun 360 degrees and planted the heel of her foot squarely on his chest. His feet left the ground and his body doubled over in mid air before he returned to the earth near the other side of the room.
Two more steps and she was standing beside the next closest assailant. He swung a fist at her head which she dodged with ease, bending her knees and ducking beneath it. She landed an upward punch to his stomach, forcing the air out of his lungs and bringing his head involuntarily forward. She straightened her legs and brought her elbow into hard contact with his chin as she passed it on the way to full height. His head snapped backwards and he hit the ground with a hollow thud.
One of the two remaining attackers dived for her legs. She jumped, bringing her knees close to her chest and landed hard on his back as he lay on the ground beneath her. The last attacker was already making his move but her unstable footing slowed her response. She managed to dodge the punch as he dived at her but both of them finished on the ground, wrestling for the dominant position.
Lori had managed to reclaim control of her body and frantically pushed the robed man off her as he began to regain consciousness. She took the knife from his weak hand as his head rose and cold dark eyes met hers. She pointed it at him as she scrambled back against the wall between the two beds and climbed to her feet. On unsteady legs he also stood and took slow steps toward her. Her hands began to shake and although he only stood a few feet away, she couldn't use the knife to stop his advance. It wasn't fear now, it was something else. She had never been given the option of killing someone before and she found that the choice had already been made.
He reached out and took the knife from her hands, a slow grin creeping to his face. She wasn't frozen this time though and as he did she pushed him hard on the chest with both hands. He stumbled back a few paces and Lori knew she only had seconds to move. He cut off her direct route to the door so she tried to quickly climb over the bed to her left. She jumped onto it but the sudden shock of realising that she was standing above the dead body of Melissa caused her to loose her footing and fall on top of her before rolling onto the floor on the other side.
Blood stained her clothes and hands and she looked at it blankly. Kay had wrestled herself free just in time to knock the knife wielding man off his feet sending the shining blade sliding across the floor. "Get out of here," Kay shouted to the blond woman. "Run."
She stood and blocked the route as Lori passed her on her way to the door. The hooded man faced her, dark expressionless eyes fixed on cold blue. "I suppose you're going to tell me that tonight is a night for death." He took a step forward and she feigned a kick that caused him to step back again. "I guess you're not as chatty as your friends at the hotel."
The slight movement of his eyes told her that someone was coming from behind but instead of turning she ran for the man in front of her since his attention had been lost for a split second. She landed a punch to his neck and turned to meet the wild swing of another robed figure, moving slightly so that it missed her by no more than an inch. Before he could follow up she had struck him on the knee, ribs and head with her feet in a right, left, right combination that sent his body jerking in opposite directions before falling to the floor.
The only remaining attacker was heading for the door and using a bed to launch herself high into the air, she travelled halfway across the room with a high pitched yell to bring her foot hard onto the back of the fleeing assailant. He fell to the ground on top of another and the room was left in silence. The chanting had stopped. The patients were motionless again. Four robed figures lay unconscious on the floor. Four robed figures. No, there was five. Kay's eyes shot to where the knife had fallen. It's gone. Lori!
She raced through the hospital doors and out into the raging storm as it battered the gardens around the building. Trees fought a fierce battle against the wind and twigs and branches of fallen comrades flew through the air as a dangerous reminder to those who would oppose the forces of nature. "Lori!" Kay's voice couldn't surmount that of the wind. Where would she go? The main gates...no, the river.
Shielding her face from the rain, Kay ran through lawns and flower beds, hurdled a hedge, barely keeping her balance on the sodden grass, and slid to a halt before the swollen river. Its banks were near bursting and the black water was thick with silt and other debris. "Lori!" She looked left and right without any sign of the young woman. She chose left, trusting fate, trusting hope.
A flash of lightning reflected off the knife that extended toward the silhouetted form of Lori and before the clap of thunder had faded Kay was upon him. A sliding tackle, courtesy of the rain, swept his feet from under him. Knife still in hand he scrambled back to his feet and pointed it at the tall dark woman. She stretched her arms out to either side invitingly and he stepped forward cautiously, swinging the knife from side to side in short quick motions.
She let him gain striking distance and as the first attack came she arched her body out of the way. The next attack came towards her face and she ducked it. With unsure footing she couldn't be too quick to react. Wait for the right moment.
She feigned an attack and he took a wild swing into mid air. His foot slipped a few inches and Kay grabbed the wrist that held the knife in one hand and brought the palm of the other hard against his elbow, a sharp crack as it bent the wrong way. Another quick twist followed by a circular movement and the knife was embedded deep in his thigh, his own hand still holding it. He dropped to his knees, blood running down his leg and Kay twisted his good arm behind his back, knowing that the other one posed no threat now.
She grabbed his hair and wrenched his head to one side. "Where is the manuscript and the translation?"
"You cannot stop what is to be any more than you can stop time passing. The future has always been there, waiting for us to arrive. If my future ends here then so be it. Yours will end some day also. So will your friend's."
Kay turned to look at Lori who was kneeling on the muddied earth watching them. She loosened her grip on the robed man's arm and released his head. She looked down on him again and could see it was pointless trying to get any information from him. She had seen the kind of devotion he displayed to those he worshiped before and she knew that he would die before betraying them. She pulled the knife from his leg and threw him forward onto the ground.
She had only taken a few paces toward Lori when the limp man rose to his feet and charged her. Without much effort she side-stepped his attack and a quick hand movement sent him off balance, careening toward the river. Unable to stop on the wet grass he reached the edge, tumbled head over heels into the churning water and was quickly sucked under by the strong current.
Kay quickly reached Lori's side and knelt in front of her. She held the blond woman's head in front of hers to examine the mind that lay within. Even in the darkness she could still make out the remnants of jade green eyes. She wasn't completely withdrawn as Kay had feared at first. I guess she has a stronger will than I gave her credit for.
The traumatised young woman looked at her blankly for a moment but then slowly recognised her protector. With an upsurge of emotions she reached out and pulled Kay close. She curled into the curve of the other woman's body and closed her eyes to shut out the darkness.
Instinctively, Kay wrapped her arms around the delicate body that clung to her and held it tight. She tried to think of words of comfort but none would come. What could she say? What could she do? She just sat there holding the young woman close, hoping that that would be enough.
Lori felt safe. As she knelt on the grass and watched the battle she had seen the character from her stories, her warrior hero. She was fighting for her, protecting her, saving her. Now she was holding her. There was no safer place to be. A storm of a different kind had raged within her mind but now it was calm. A soft warmth from an unknown source filled her and she knew nothing could hurt her now.
Remnants of Kay's past sought a route into her mind and she fought to keep them back. Dark images that had been buried deep climbed to the surface and taunted her. I am not returning to this world, she vowed, and I am not bringing this innocent girl with me. You've already taken Jack. You've already taken Melissa. You won't have me. You won't have Lori.
The rain washed away all traces of blood and the river carried it far into the night. The relentless wind charged them from all angles but still they remained on the muddied earth. The water from the heavens hid their tears and nature's fierce battle continued around them while they found refuge within each other.
A part of me is gone. Someone I once knew can never return and something within me has left with them. I lay once again at the bottom of this canyon and the blue sky above has escaped to a more distant place. I have resigned to the fact that this is my home and I am now a willing resident. I shall remain here where it is safe and endure the anguished cries that are carried on the wind for my own cry has joined them in the harmonious anthem that we all sing with patriotic pride.
The morning sun streamed through the white lace curtains and warmed the side of Lori's face. Sleepy eyes opened and were greeted by the sight of a large bedroom, brightly painted, beautifully decorated and spotlessly clean. The smell of fresh linen and polished furniture filled the air and the sounds of a new day filtered through the window from somewhere on the street below; the clip-clop of horse's hooves on cobbled streets, the squeaking horns of passing automobiles, last nights storm now a distant memory.
Lori raised her head and looked around, confused by her surroundings. Then her eyes fell on the elegant form of Kay. She stood in a low posture, hands gently moving in straight and circular motions as she took slow, controlled steps in different directions. She was dressed in a silk gown, deep red with a long green Chinese dragon twisted around it. Her graceful form danced with an unseen partner and slowly she turned to face the blond woman on the bed.
Eyes flickered as she realised she had an audience. "Good morning."
"What are you doing?" a smiling face asked as the blond figure sat up in the bed.
Kay finished a slow movement and brought both her hands to her abdomen as she straightened her legs. "It's called Tai Chi. It's an ancient Chinese art that benefits the body, mind and spirit. I usually practice it every day...and after last night I...." She suddenly realised what she was saying when Lori's eyes started to grow distant. "Are you alright?" she asked softly.
Bright flashes of the night before dashed through Lori's mind. Images she didn't want to see. Memories she didn't want to have. Sounds of no discernible source travelled with them and for an instant she thought they came from within the room.
"Lori? Are you alright?"
Kind blue eyes were locked with hers and she was brought back to the present. Kay was sitting on the bed with her, gentle fingers brushing blond strands from her face, a warm touch that passed through her skin and caressed something deep within. She couldn't remember details of what had passed but the encompassing image that was left in her head was enough to deal with for now. She took a long breath. "I will be."
Kay watched her for a moment to try to ascertain the truth of the statement. "It's over now. You have nothing to worry about. You're safe."
"Where are we?" Lori looked around the room. A bedside clock revealed that it was just after midday.
"This is your room in the hotel." Kay looked at the young woman inquisitively. "You don't remember much about last night, do you?"
Lori looked back a little blankly. "I don't remember coming here. I just remember us...on the grass...in the rain."
Kay smiled gently. "We stayed there for a long while. You seemed content with me and I was happy to stay with you. The storm had almost subsided before I decided to get you indoors before you caught something. It wasn't the cold English rain we're used to, but still...
"The streets were deserted and we had to walk to the hotel. You held on to me and somehow managed to make it all the way. I had a little trouble convincing the night porters that we actually had a room here. You should have seen his face when we came trudging across the carpet that he had just been cleaning."
Lori smiled, a reassurance that Kay had been hoping for.
"We're on the fourth floor here. I brought you in and you fell onto the bed. It was an effort to convince you to change into dry clothes and towel your hair. In fact, I had to help you change and towel your hair."
Lori turned a bright red and laughed shyly. For a brief instant it felt like she was sharing a story with a friend she had known her whole life. The feeling left her all too quickly.
"You were asleep as soon as your head hit the pillow. I had a quick bath, got changed and spent the rest of the night in that chair." She nodded toward a large bedside chair that didn't appear too inviting for a night's sleep.
Lori looked at her for a moment, trying to understand the dark haired woman. "Why did you stay?"
She paused, but she already knew her reason. "I didn't want you to wake up alone."
A silence fell as a beautiful display of gratitude danced in Lori's eyes. "You didn't have to do that."
"I know, but I wanted to." Kay let her eyes drop to the bed, an unexpected display of shyness that Lori had never seen before.
"I'm sorry if I was any trouble."
"Trouble?" She echoed the word like it had no place in the English language. "Lori, after what you've been through you deserve a medal. You're lucky to be alive and I'm just glad I was able to get you safely to your bed."
Green eyes faded a little as a new resolve took hold. "Tell me what happened? Who were those people?"
Kay placed her hand on Lori's pale cheek. It was soft and tender against her palm, an innocence that had been protected from the harshness of the world. "You don't need to know. Try to forget last night. Think of better things."
Small hands came up and Lori took Kay's in hers. "Kay, I'm confused. I didn't understand what was happening then and I don't know what is happening now. If you can tell me anything then please do. I need to know. It's the only way I can deal with this."
Kay considered the implications of what she could reveal to the young woman. There was so much that she shouldn't know. It wasn't that she didn't deserve the truth. It was that she didn't deserve the heavy burden that the knowledge would place on her shoulders. Many years ago, Kay's knees had buckled under that weight and it was only recently that she had gained the strength to stand straight again. She couldn't pass that on to Lori. The truth would have to be sparse.
"They are an order of knights known as the Templars," she conceded with a sigh. "Their order dates back to the beginning of the twelfth century where they were formed to guard ancient texts from those who would seek to do evil with them. Wherever their services were called for they would be there and their order quickly spread across Europe and into Asia and northern Africa. I don't know why nobody saw it back then but it was a disaster waiting to happen. Instead of guarding the texts to protect mankind they should have destroyed them."
Lori looked up at her. "You can't just destroy books because of the knowledge they contain."
Kay shook her head. "Some knowledge has no place on this earth. It could never be brought to serve the human race and the high priests of the order were fools to think that it could.
"Sometime around the middle of the fifteenth century the entire order disappeared into the underground, taking the texts they were protecting with them. They had been corrupted by the very texts they were guarding. They began reading the manuscripts, the scrolls, the stone tablets, anything that was meant to be hidden from man. They recited spells and incantations. They performed the rituals without fully understanding what they were doing. It soon became a sacrilegious frenzy that they were powerless to stop.
"Rumours emerged of factions forming within the order and internal conflicts involving black magic and ritualistic killings. Soon the rumours surpassed anything that was physically possible but towns and villages throughout Europe began forming their own bands of vigilantes who sought out and killed anyone who was suspected of belonging to that order. The law of the land forbade what they were doing so all the killings were recorded as the legal burning of witches and warlocks.
"Eventually the order was reduced to a number of no significance. Constantinople had just been occupied and many of the remaining Templars found refuge in the unsettled state. There have been no reports of their sort of activities since then. Everyone thought they just disappeared."
Lori let the story settle in he mind for a moment. "So how can you be sure that they were Templars? Did they tell you?"
"No, I recognised the ritualistic dagger." She nodded towards the dresser where the repulsive item was laying on its side. She saw Lori's alarmed look and gently took her chin and turned her head away from it. "I'm sorry. I'll get rid of it later."
"How did you recognise the dagger? Have you had dealings with the Templars before?"
Sparse with the truth. "Not exactly. You tend to pick up bits and pieces of scattered information when you're working in anthropology."
"So you think they were after the manuscript that Jack and Melissa were working on?"
"I think they were after the translation. The manuscript was as useless to them as it was to us. The fact that they were able to find it so easily is worrying. It means that they have probably been following our progress for a long time, perhaps since the beginning." Even Kay shivered at that thought. She hadn't ruled out the possibility that someone within the history department was working with the order of the Templars but any investigation would have to wait until she returned to England.
"What about Jack? Won't they try to kill him again?"
"He's not in any immediate danger. It was a ritualistic killing so the Templars will view the fact that it was prevented as a sign from their gods that it was not meant to happen. They'll leave him alone for now."
Lori noted the in-depth knowledge of the ways of the Templars again but let it slip past without comment. "So, what are we going to do now?" she asked, a brighter expression on her face.
"We? I'm going to the library. If the Templars were looking for the translation then Jack must have made some sort of breakthrough. I'll have a word with the chief librarian and find out what he was reading. Maybe I can retrace his steps. You, on the other hand, are going to stay here and get some rest."
Lori's expression turned hard. "You're not going to leave me here while you go off looking for clues."
Kay's expression turned harder. "This isn't a game, Lori. This is nothing like the book I gave you on the train. People are dead. It's real." She relaxed a little on seeing the frightened look in Lori's eyes. She got off the bed and took the knife from the dresser. "You could be dead, Lori. I don't want that to happen."
Lori got off the bed also and walked towards Kay. Her voice was low. "You won't let that happen. You're my hero." The statement may have been light hearted but it was said with a serious face. Lori looked at the tall dark woman that stood before her and knew that no matter what danger threatened her, she would be there. Without thinking she stepped forward and hugged her.
"Lori...I...." Words wouldn't come to her mouth so she just looked down at the small woman holding her. She wanted her to come. Despite the danger that was involved she wanted the blond woman with her. It was a selfish wish. Her morals would have told her to send her back to England where it was safe, where she could be with her grandfather in their quiet shop and nothing would harm her. But she didn't listen to her morals. She listened to her beating heart.
"I won't let that happen." The words fell effortlessly from her lips but deep inside the conviction to adhere to that promise was cast, cold and hard. She put her arms around the blond woman and looked at the knife she still held in her hand. Nothing will harm you.