Dreams from the Darkness
We see through children's eyes when we gaze upon the world and our innocence is a gift we take for granted. When we close our eyes we are met with darkness for we are not meant to see the truth that hides in the night. But when we close our eyes we dream. Our mind is not restricted by the absence of light and we hear the voices of those who dwell there. I hear them now for they speak to me in many tongues and I cry in my sleep, longing for daylight to return me to the quiet land from whence I came.
The Vatican Apostolic Library stood at the centre of a busy square in the oldest quarter of the city. Even to its regular visitors it was still an awe-inspiring sight. A row of giant columns supported a large triangular shelf that extended across the front of the majestic building. Carved stone of intricate detail decorated almost every inch of surface, ranging from repeating and interleaving patterns to larger than life statues of heavenly creatures bearing mournful expressions and heavy wings. They looked down upon two figures that nimbly climbed the steps and stood dwarfed by their surroundings at the entrance.
A fresh wind, the remnants of the night's storm, swept through the city and weaved among the columns like a child would play among the trees of an enchanted forest. Lori paused for a moment, holding back the urge to join nature in its playful dance, and attempted to absorb some of her surroundings in the hope that the memories could be recalled later when darker ones were sure to surface. Kay stood by her side and for the first time in many years she took a moment to look around her also. With a silent glance Lori told Kay she was ready and they stepped through the great wooden doors into a world of history and knowledge.
Streams of light, tinged with colour, flooded though stained glass windows, illuminating the vast room from all angles. Ornate pillars stretched from floor to ceiling where a glass dome held the centre of a stone canvas depicting biblical scenes of various periods. Directly below the dome a circular centre stage, constructed of wood and three floors high, held shelves of books that stretched back until obscured from view. Catwalks protruded from this central column to join the wooden platforms that had been built along the walls of the building. These contained more shelves and it seemed that not an inch of space was unused in housing these great books.
Eyes wide with delight, Lori looked around at the interior of the building. A great white marble floor stretched out beneath them with large gold letters of an ancient alphabet scattered across it. Wooden beams criss-crossed far above and spiral staircases ascended to the various levels of the open plan library. It appeared that the internal structures had been erected as an afterthought when the floor of the building became inadequate to store the ever-growing quantity of books that the library held.
People spoke in hushed whispers and quietly wandered among the laden bookshelves. From time to time the muffled thump of the librarian's stamp echoed through the stone chamber and the sound jumped from wall to wall as if celebrating its escape before being drowned again by the silence.
The main desk was situated at the base of the central structure and Kay made her way straight to the librarian who sat behind it. "Ho bisogno di parlare con il bibliotecario in carica: pou' dirgli di uscire?" The young woman behind the desk looked at her strangely for a moment and then with a quick spider-like movement scuttled up the spiral staircase into the floors above, leaving the two women looking at each other.
"Is there a rule somewhere that says every library must have an odd character in its employment?" Lori asked after a pause to make sure the other woman was holding the same thought.
Kay smiled at the comment. "I think everyone is normal when they start working in a library. It just chooses a victim every now and then and pours itself into their mind. Some turn out intelligent, others just plain weird."
"You sound like you believe a library has a spirit," Lori commented, half jokingly, half intrigued by Kay's statement.
"It'll take some time but eventually you'll understand what I mean. When you've spent as many hours as I have in places like this you find that you get to know each one personally. It's not just the smell or the décor. A library is like a great mind with the knowledge of centuries and when you're inside it you can hear it think."
Lori looked at Kay in silence, a slow smile creeping across her face.
"What?" Kay reflected on her words. "You can laugh now but in a few months when I hear you saying 'good morning' to the library when you enter I'll remind you of this moment." They broke into shared laughter which they were quickly forced to hold in after a few sharp glances from nearby patrons.
A man descended the staircase, closely followed by the young female librarian. When they reached the bottom she rushed past him, quickly took her seat at the desk and resumed stamping the library book returns. He turned to face the two women and a smile of recognition crossed his face. As he reached them he opened his arms and took Kay in a friendly embrace, kissing her on both cheeks, much to Lori's surprise.
"Kay Ridgeway, it has been too long. Why have you not visited your old friend in all these years?" He was in his later years with greying hair and a kind, friendly face.
Kay smiled back. "Marcello, I'm surprised you still recognise me."
"How could I forget a face that is gifted with such beauty. And those eyes...they have not changed a bit."
She modestly shook off the compliment. "Nor have you changed a bit. You were telling me the same things back then."
He paused for a moment and his voice lowered. "I haven't seen you in so many years. I never got to tell you in person how truly sorry I was to hear about your father. He was a very good man and I for one will always miss him."
Kay's throat went tight. She wasn't expecting this and the suddenness of the words caught her off guard. Marcello didn't notice this but Lori did and, although a little stunned at the revelation herself, she tried to take the attention away from Kay for a moment.
"Hi," she said extending a hand toward Marcello. "I'm Lori, Kay's research assistant."
He took her hand, pulled her close and kissed her on both cheeks, leaving her wide eyed and blushing. "It's very good to meet you. You are lucky to be working with such a fine woman."
"I take it you've known Kay for a long time." She looked up to the taller woman who had steadied herself again.
"Oh yes," he replied. "Why don't we go into the back and I'll tell you all about her."
"Here we go," Kay droned, knowing the sort of stories he could tell.
He led them around the centre of the library and through a door. It was an area that was off limits to the public: a few storage rooms, a makeshift kitchen and a seating area where staff could relax. There was nobody in sight and Kay and Lori took a seat around a low coffee table. "Can I make you some tea?" Marcello asked. "I know it probably won't be as good as your English tea but I will have a try."
"Thank you. Tea would be lovely," Lori responded.
After he had left them alone Kay turned to Lori, leaned close and whispered to her. "Be very careful of Marcello's tea. I don't know what he puts in it but it's like nothing you've ever tasted before. Someone once dared me to drink a whole cup and I couldn't taste anything for a week."
Lori smiled back at her. "I'll be careful."
The librarian returned with a tray and placed it on the low table. He poured some tea into three cups from a teapot that Kay swore was the same one he had been using ten years before. He gave her a cup and she poured a little milk into it.
The bowl had sugar lumps that looked as old as the teapot. "No thanks."
He turned to Lori and handed her a cup. "So, you are Kay's friend from London. How long have you known her?"
"Not very long. This is my first real assignment as her research assistant."
Kay took a sip of tea and winced as it hit the back of her mouth. Lori wasn't so lucky and coughed involuntarily as her throat refused to accept it. "And so far she's been doing a great job," Kay said quickly, grabbing the man's attention.
Marcello sat back in his chair and took a long drink of the tea. "Ah, well I've known her for much longer. She started coming here with her father when she was just ten years old. Back then I would spend most of the day chasing around the library after her and trying to coax her down off the wooden supports that she was so fond of climbing. I swear I am twenty years older than I should be because of this woman."
He looked to Kay who rolled her eyes skyward at the assertion. "I swear you wouldn't have been as fit as you were without me."
"Then," he continued, raising a finger, "by the time she was fifteen she had gained an appreciation for books. When I knew her and her father to be in Rome I had to search the library every evening before closing to make sure she wasn't hiding somewhere among the bookshelves." Kay laughed, realising the story that was coming.
"One time she had began studying a book so old that it had to be kept beneath a glass covering. When a page was to be turned she had to make a request to a member of staff who would unlock the cabinet and turn the page. Well, being only fifteen, the staff members didn't appreciate the extent of the young woman's knowledge. They soon grew tired of her requests to turn the pages and refused to assist her any more. Neither her father nor I were in the library that day so she decided to resolve the situation herself.
"That evening, she hid among the shelves on the highest level in the library and when everyone was gone she picked the lock of the cabinet, lit a candle and spent the whole night reading the old text.
"Her father had returned to the hotel and when he found that she hadn't come back he went sick with worry. He didn't sleep all night. He tracked down the supervisor who had locked up the library but he insisted that the young lady had left earlier in the day and there was nobody in the library when he closed up. He called the police who had some officers search the more questionable areas of the city while he searched the area around the hotel.
"At six a.m. he turned up at my home, got me out of bed and insisted that I unlock the library. Reluctantly I got my keys and followed him down here where we found the young woman curled up in a chair in this room turning the last page of the old book that sat on her knees."
Lori was listening to the story attentively. "I don't believe you. She stayed in the library all night to read a book?"
"Not just any book. Only a handful of academics had attempted to read that old thing and few of them had managed to finish it. It wasn't even written in English."
He turned to look at Kay who was blushing wildly. "As punishment, or so we thought, we made her write a paper on the contents of the book and you'll still find people today who request copies of that paper for their own research. Even at fifteen we could see that there was a great future ahead for Kay and she hasn't proven us wrong."
"Well," she said playfully, "that's what happens when you keep all the best books under lock and key."
These were good memories and Kay warmed to them. She knew she should be getting on with the matters at hand but a part of her was reluctant to leave the place and all the memories of a forgotten past. She needed these memories, now more than ever. She needed to be able to match the bad ones with good ones, blow for blow, and the previous nights events led her to believe that there would be many of those to come.
Looking around her, she felt like the fifteen-year-old girl again and she could see the spot where she had spent that timeless night in the company of the old book. She could see the look on the faces of Marcello and her father when they burst through the door and found her. She could see the wide eyes on the librarian as he perused the paper handed to him a week later and the proud look on her father as he truthfully denied any involvement in its writing.
She could even remember the last visit she made to the library almost ten years ago. She was with her father and it was the last opportunity they had to gather some information before continuing on to Egypt. As usual, they playfully lined up all the books they wanted to cover and put the centre book face down in the middle. Pen in hand and paper at the ready, he started at one end and she started at the other and they raced toward the centre book. It was the first time in their years of research together that her hand came down on it before his did. It was also the last time that she ran that race with the only person that mattered in her life. Soon after, he was gone.
"Kay? Are you alright?" A sweat face was looking at her.
"It's just been so long." She steadied her voice. "There's a lot I'd forgotten."
Marcello leaned forward. "It's been too long. You must tell me what you've been up to all these years."
Her expression changed quickly, but subtly. "Maybe another time, Marcello. I've come here with a more urgent matter."
"What's on your mind?"
"Dr Jack Williams, a good friend of mine from the University of London, came to visit this library about a week ago and I need to know exactly what he did here. When he came, when he left, who was with him, what books he read. Anything"
"I remember him." Marcello leaned back in his chair again. "He came here looking for books on ancient geometry and mathematics."
"Yes. That sounds right," Kay answered.
"He came here alone. The first day he took a lot of books into one of our study rooms and spent many hours there. We were re-cataloguing a part of the library at that time and I allowed him to stay well into the night. I think he left about eleven. However, I do not think he found what he was looking for.
"The next day he returned, alone again. This time I ate lunch with him and he told me a little about his research. I knew he was not revealing everything to me but I did not inquire further since it was none of my business. Anyway, I told him about Fr Antonio, an old priest that I had encountered once, and that afternoon he left to visit him. Later he returned with some books that looked like sets of scribbled notes. He spent some more time in the study room and then left. I have not seen him since."
He took another drink of tea thoughtfully. "I have left the study room as it was since he did not tell me he would not return. You can take a look if you want."
"I'd be more interested in what that priest gave him. Is that still here?"
"No, I believe he took that with him. There was nothing left in the study room but the books. If he doesn't come back soon I will have to return them to the library floor."
"He won't be back," Kay said solemnly. "He's in hospital. I don't know if he mentioned his assistant but she is there also....except she's dead."
He paused for a silent moment, teacup held between the saucer and his mouth. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"I don't know exactly. Jack's got himself into some sort of trouble and it's got something to do with the manuscript he was trying to translate. He came here looking for the key to the mystery and I think he found it, if not here then in the books that Fr Antonio gave him. Whatever he did led him down a dark path and both he and his assistant ended up in hospital. Last night Melissa was killed."
"Do you know who killed her?" he asked after a moment.
She looked down into the teacup and considered a drink instead of answering, but eventually she resigned with a sigh. "The Templars."
She let the silence settle before looking up into the face of her old friend. His skin had gone pale and his eyes were lost in her. Every emotion from fear to worry to anger flashed across them and she looked away again, waiting for the response she knew was on its way.
"Kay, what are you doing?" He let the question float in the air between them for a while, knowing it would go unanswered. Lori sat still, afraid to move and draw attention to herself. She could feel the tension take hold and decided she was more than happy to remain in the background.
"Do you have any idea what you are getting yourself into?" He tried to be angry and sympathetic at once but only managed to sound confused, almost betrayed, by her. "Kay, you can't get involved with the Templars. You may as well sell your soul to Satan." He paused, considering another approach. "Kay, look what happened to your father when..."
"Stop right there." Cold blue eyes were locked on him and he froze in place, words unwilling to come to his mouth. "I know what happened to my father more than anyone. I was there. You can't tell me not to get involved because I've been involved every day since he died."
She stood and looked down on the older man as he shrivelled back into his chair, her voice low and coarse. "You asked me to tell you what I've been up to since you saw me last. If you only had an inkling of what I've been up to you wouldn't be sitting here drinking tea with me now. You'd have run for your life, and your soul, as soon as you set eyes on me. My involvement began ten years ago and whether I like it or not, I'm in for life. They never let go. Never."
Her pulse was rapid and she was breathing heavy. Emotions clashed within and threatened to consume her completely. They didn't, however. The sight of the librarian in his chair slowly penetrated her mind and she realised what she was doing. A glance back to Lori revealed an equally stunned face.
"Marcello, I'm..." She paused, not knowing what to say.
The librarian looked back at her, slowly relaxing in his chair. Her eyes had returned to those he recognised from the past but he knew that this was not the person he had once known. "I guess a lot can happen in ten years. I'm sorry Kay, I should have known better than to..."
"No, I'm sorry." She sat down again. "You're right. A lot can happen in ten years, a lot that I can't tell you about. You know I've always regarded you as the next best thing to a father and for a while after he died I even considered coming to stay here. I realise that you want to protect me but there may be things happening that only I can understand. I can't stand by and let them come to pass. Our memories of the past are good, at least some of them are, but we would be fools to sit remembering good times when we know of the darkness that lay ahead.
"Few people here on the outside understand their world. Even fewer can stand on the outside and look into the blackness without being absorbed by it or repulsed by it. If there's anything I can do then it must be done; for you, for me, for the memory of my father and anyone else who can be touched by the evil that The Templars can bring.
"Jack and Melissa were just the beginning. I am trying to stop them and I'm asking you for help. Please, tell me where to find Fr Antonio and I'll be gone."
The older man regarded her for a moment. He had mistaken her strength of will for a wild recklessness. She had grown into something much bigger than the girl he had known, he just didn't fully understand what that was. Perhaps he didn't need to. He loved her as much now as he did then so if nothing could be said to make him love her more then nothing need be said at all.
"I'll give you his address. He doesn't live far from here." With an uneasy silence he scribbled an address on some paper and handed it to Kay.
"Thank you," she said, taking the slip from his hand.
They stood and he hugged her warmly. "You can thank me by coming to visit me before another ten years have passed."
"I will, I promise. Goodbye Marcello." With those words she turned to leave.
"Goodbye Kay." He turned to Lori. "And take good care of this young one. I can see a lot of potential in her eyes."
Lori smiled back at him. "It was a pleasure meeting you. Goodbye, and thanks for the tea." She turned and followed Kay through the door.
"Goodbye Lori. We will meet again," he said and looked down at the two full teacups on the table.
Masked faces float before me and I recognise them as unkind reflections of my own. Fear, terror, torment, they are my closest allies in this world of mental pain and the electric shocks that rip through my mind are only a small discomfort in comparison. I must find a path to freedom, a route through which to escape at any cost to my mind or body. My time will come. All I must do is wait. What else is there to do when trapped within the confines of eternity?
A short taxi ride left Kay and Lori standing outside the address that was given to them. They completed the journey in relative silence. Lori had many questions she didn't want to ask and Kay and many answers she didn't want to give. Not yet. They both made an unspoken agreement that there would be a more suitable time.
Kay looked up at the red brick building. They were standing between two rows of terrace houses on a narrow side street in a residential area of the city, away from any major thoroughfares. Both sides of the street mirrored each other and each house looked the same as the next. It could have been any street in any city but this was the house that held the key that Jack had sought all these years. Kay knew it.
She reached up and let the heavy iron knocker fall on the solid wood three times. The sound ricocheted from building to building as it raced down the street to freedom. The city was all around them but the tall houses hid its familiar sights and sounds. There was a deathlike stillness to everything, an eerie silence that magnified the distant barking of a lone mongrel. No couples walked. No children played. The world was empty. Everyone was gone.
Lori looked around uneasily. "I don't like this, Kay. There's something wrong here. Can't you feel it?" Her mind could see the glistening eyes watching her from behind net curtains and darkened windows. They slid up and down her body leaving a wet, slimy trail and they pricked her skin to see the colour of her blood. They wanted to know her. They wanted to see inside her body, see inside her soul...take her soul for they had none of their own. "Kay, I..."
With the click of a heavy lock the door opened before them. The light revealed an old man with tanned skin and silver hair. He stood in the doorway regarding the two figures for a moment before opening his mouth to speak. "How can I help you?" His voice was soft and refined. He smiled warmly and clasped his hands together in front of his chest.
"Fr Antonio?" Kay asked after a moment.
"Yes, my child. And which one of God's fine creatures might you be?"
"My name is Kay Ridgeway, this is my assistant Loraine Winters and we're from the University of London. May we come in?"
"Of course. Come in, come in." He stood to one side and extended a hand as they walked through. "I don't get many visitors. It's good to see the world hasn't forgotten me."
He closed the door behind them and the lock snapped shut with the same click as it had opened.
The priest was dressed from head to foot in a black one-piece suit and a white collar circled his neck, the distinct uniform of the clergy. He stood as tall as Kay and was surprisingly agile for his age. He led them into the small front room that had a two-seater sofa and two chairs and was modestly decorated with some paintings, ornaments and a tall grandfather clock. Kay and Lori took a seat on the sofa and the old man closed the door.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked, looking down at the two women.
Kay shook her head. "No, we won't be staying long."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," he said, taking a seat in the chair opposite them. "I don't get many visitors here, especially none as beautiful as yourselves."
Lori smiled at the comment but Kay didn't show any reaction. "I understand you had a visitor here about a week ago," she said, eyes fixed on the man opposite her. "His name was Jack Williams and he was looking for information on an old geometry system. I believe you were able to give him some notes to help him in his research."
"Yes. Dr Williams. I remember him. Other than myself, he is the only person I know of who has encountered the system. It was unfortunate that he had not found me sooner. I could have saved him many years of research."
"You mean that you understand the geometry system?" Kay asked, trying to keep any evidence of surprise out of her voice.
"Not completely. It would take a lifetime of devotion to make sense of the entire system and I have devoted my life to another cause." He tugged at his white collar. "However, I have managed to reconstruct most of the major theories which make the system functional and they are sufficient to interpret all but the most complex structures."
"So, it's not just a primitive form of describing shapes?" Lori asked, suddenly interested in this unknown part of history.
"Oh no, my dear. It is vastly more complex than anything that is used in mathematics today. Are you a student of science?"
"Uh, no," Lori said, shying away a little. "I'm just curious, that's all."
The old priest smiled at her. "That is good. It is curiosity, not acceptance, that leads to discoveries. I will try to explain. The system of geometry in use today is merely an extension of the concept that points can be described in two dimensions by two variables, commonly referred to as 'x' and 'y'. Advanced theories use a third variable 'z' to represent a point in three-dimensional space but points are always described in relation to an origin, which is usually the corner of the graph paper they are drawn on.
"These points can be joined to form vectors and planes and wonderful things can be done with them in the fields of mathematics and physics. There are formulas for manipulating these points. They can be scaled so that the shape remains the same and only differs from the original in size. They can be rotated in a circle around an axis or translated across a plane in a straight line." He took a moment to laugh at the thought. "They call themselves the greatest minds of our time yet all they can do is move a triangle from one side of some paper to the other by making a few calculations.
"The long forgotten geometry system that your friend and I were studying goes far beyond this concept of using three variables to describe a point in relation to an origin. A universal origin is used, one which changes over time to stay in alignment with the stars. It evolves with us, follows us through time and space yet it acts as the only absolute constant in this ever-changing universe. No two calculations ever give the same result, just like no two seconds of life ever yield the same experience.
"Other variables are also used, ones which represented day and night, light and dark, life and death. They change with the seasons, gaining power as the sun rises in the eastern sky and losing it again as it sets in the west. Some age and die over time while others flow for eternity. Some are reborn to influence the calculations once again and those that lay dormant awaken to wreak havoc across the plane of numbers that make up a part of life we have lost sight of."
The old man's enthusiasm was building and he sat forward on the edge of his seat. "There are constants that create and constants that destroy. They move through the formulas, forever changing them, evolving them, giving them a life of their own. You can't remove them. They are always there, giving birth and touching with death."
He clenched a fist before him, giving strength to his words. "Can you imagine it? A system that describes shapes that only exists once or exists every five hundred years when the stars align themselves in the night sky. A system of calculations that can mirror life and death, describe existence as we know it. My child, these are the numbers of the Universe, the calculations that make the planets turn and the sun rise. The air you breathe and the water that touches your skin can be written, not in words but in numbers; numbers that can be added and subtracted like any others."
Lori was drawn by the explanation but Kay just looked sarcastically at the old man. "So, what are you telling us? This is the formula for life?"
"No. There is so much more to the Universe than life. There is death. There is nothingness and eternity. There is the past, the present....the future. Tell me, if the number seven represented yesterday and seven plus seven represented today, why would adding another seven not represent tomorrow? Eibon believed..."
"Eibon the sorcerer?" A light flashed in Kay's eyes.
"Yes. Son of Milaab and student of Zylac. There is no other. It is good to see that there are others who follow his work."
"I never said I followed his work. He chronicled his own life and no doubt exaggerated his so-called adventures to place himself among the most renowned sorcerers of his time."
"His time and any other time. Eibon was the greatest sorcerer this planet has seen. He believed that if he could represent the Universe with numbers then he could see the future. He could manipulate the future with foresight. For most of his life he used visions and magic but these were too unpredictable. Mathematics was the key but only he could fathom the complexities so he wrote them in a book until the human mind had evolved enough to accept this knowledge. Within The Book of Eibon are the secrets of the Universe." His belief was genuine and evident in his voice. He spoke the words with the conviction of a preacher speaking the word of God.
"I think your belief is in error and your faith is misplaced. Only fragments and weak translations of the book remain. Eibon was a great sorcerer but I have never seen evidence to indicate that he invented a geometry system like the one you speak of."
"Then you have not been looking in the right places." The old man sat back in his chair again, his enthusiasm reclining with him. "It was never used for its intended purpose. When Eibon departed this planet and left the book in the hands of Cyron of Varaad. The mages of that time used the geometry to describe spells and rituals since they were based on heavenly alignments and celestial events. They dreamt of distant worlds and colossal cities and used Eibon's system to portray them, for no human hand could draw such complexity. They were scaled and translated across space and projected onto the earth and the sites became the holy grounds for the worshipers of the Great Old Ones. Perhaps they were seeing the future, they just didn't know it."
A silence fell on the room. Lori was divided between intrigue and apprehension. This was certainly a great story but it wasn't told like one of fiction. Where did it come from? Did the old priest actually believe in what he said? He was a man of God but he spoke like a worshiper of some other god, an ancient religion that was primitive yet powerful in it's methods. There's something wrong with this. Something not right about this man, this room, this house.
Kay watched the old man closely. He knew more than anyone should about those forgotten times. Where did he discover these histories? The Vatican? Yes! The vaults. They contain books and archaic volumes that are out of the reach of society. What did he learn and how long has he lived with this knowledge? He knows more that he's letting on. Those were carefully selected words.
"You obviously know a lot more about those times than we do. Jack found your notes a great help. He's working on them as we speak."
Lori looked up at her questioningly but quickly caught herself.
"I was wondering if you had any more that I could have a look at," Kay continued. "We've been researching in this area for many years but you seem to have made more progress that we could ever hope for. Have you ever thought about publishing some papers on the subject?"
"Ah, publishing is not for me. I'll leave that to the academics. Wait here and I'll get you some more of my notes."
Kay grinned slyly as he stood and left the room. She looked to Lori who was already looking at her with worried eyes. "Kay, there's something not right about this room."
"I know, this whole place is creepy."
"No, I mean look around. We are sitting in the living room of a priest and there is not a single bible, holy picture or religious artefact to be seen. He doesn't even wear a crucifix around his neck. He speaks of this Eibon and his book like he believes they hold the secret of life. I don't like this at all."
Kay thought for a moment. Lori was right. She looked around the room and there was nothing on display to indicate his faith, his devotion as he called it. "Wait here. I'm going to see what he's up to."
Lori sat and watched her leave the room through the same door as the priest. She wrapped her arms tight around her. It felt cold. Dead cinders lay in the fireplace and for an instant she thought she could see bones among the ashes. She pulled her eyes away, not wanting her fears to be confirmed. The walls were close and the air was thick. The furniture felt damp and nothing moved save the pendulum of the grandfather clock as it made it's click every second, although the interval felt like an eternity.
"Fr Antonio?" Kay called the old priest's name as she walked up the narrow stairs. There was nothing on the ground floor but a dining room, a small kitchen and a utility room that lead to the back of the house. There was no response and she called it again as she reached the landing.
"Go back downstairs. I'll be with you in a moment." The voice was commanding.
Yea, right. She pushed the door open and stepped inside the small room.
A wave of terror coursed through her body as the sight of the small statue hit her. It's bloated, anthropoid form was constructed of greenish-black stone and it stood about a foot tall, a creature not of this world with an octopus-like head and scaly, aquatic skin. Small wings, incapable of flight, protruded from its back and clawed hands and feet gripped the pedestal on which it crouched like a praying beast of the darkest legends. The pedestal was engraved with characters of an unknown alphabet and the entire structure had a disturbing, life-like workmanship.
It lay at the centre of a ring of candles on a makeshift altar to one side of the room. The rest of the room was lost to Kay as she looked at the hideous thing and as time passed without it stood still within.
"No!" After a time, the involuntary word escaped her mouth and raced through the house with a piercing agony that only she knew.
"Kay?" The cry found the small ground-floor room and Lori bolted from her seat. She reached the doorway to find Kay and the priest facing each other in determined stances. He had lost his soft, welcoming features and his eyes were cold and hard. A hunched form had replaced his tall, authoritative stature and a wide grin crossed his face as he noticed the blond woman. Kay took a step deeper into the room.
From the doorway, Lori could see the entire room had been defaced with indecipherable scrawl, written with such intensity that the plaster had crumbled beneath it. Large symbols, painted in dark, red ink, or something else, held prominent positions on all four walls.
Even the ceiling had not escaped this frenzy of graffiti. Celtic-like swirls emanated from a central point and formed waves of dizzying perspective. Rotting books hung off shelves and cluttered an old desk while loose pages lay scattered across the wooden floor. Sketches and oil paintings of unearthly sights were propped against walls and awkwardly hung on misaligned hooks. Their stark portrayal of that which could not be real was painfully unnerving in that no human mind could conjure such images of its own free will. Great primeval beasts hunting and devouring their prey, human prey. Eyes that could not be given such emotion had that emotion not been felt. Expressions of such terror and scenes of such horror that a sane person could not hold their hand still for long enough to put the paint to canvas.
The entire room was an outpouring of the old man's tortured mind. Lori remained in the doorway, afraid to step inside the hideous den for fear of such insanity penetrating her mind which was now screaming at her to run. She didn't run, however. Kay was still here.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." The words that haunted Lori's subconscious were spat from the lips of the old man. "I can hear Him dreaming. He is preparing Himself. His slumber has been disturbed and soon the world will know of The Great Cthulhu." Kay took a step closer and he snarled at her like a beast protecting it's master. "He and His city will rise from the ocean and The Great Old Ones shall rule the earth from the throne of R'lyeh once more."
Kay looked at the small blond woman in the doorway and then back at the hunched form that started circling her. "I'm sorry, but I don't believe in monsters that will come from the sea to take over the world."
"You mock me but you know I speak the truth." His eyes shot to Lori and she was locked in his gaze. "You protect her. Her mind is weak and you fear that she cannot accept the reality of what is coming."
He returned his cold stare to Kay. "He will come, you cannot prevent it. What will you do then? Lock her away?" A broad smile crossed his face. "You cannot protect her from her dreams. Look around you. These are my dreams. This is what He shows me when I sleep. This is our future."
He turned to the greenish-black statue and his eyes softened as if he was looking into the face of his saviour. "The Great Old One is coming."
With only a few steps, Kay was standing before the altar and she grabbed the statue with both hands. She raised it above her head with the intention of scattering it across the room in small pieces but the old man was too quick. He grabbed her hands above her head, pinning them to the statue. She swung it from side to side but his grip held fast. Finally she pushed the statue toward him, striking him square on the nose with the solid base and he stumbled back holding his face.
With a quick upward and downward motion the statue hit the floor hard but not even a chip blemished its surface. The unnatural texture of the stone was something Kay had felt on only a few occasions and she didn't want to remember them. It lay on its side staring at her, it octopus face mocking her attempt to destroy it.
Before she could make a second attempt the old man had sprang at her with outstretched arms. A quick motion blocked his hands and her fist hit his throat as he fell forward. Coughing, he took a second to regain his breath as she calmly watched him. He ran at her again and she side kicked him in the chest. Again he stumbled back, this time almost losing his footing.
Undeterred, he made a third attempt and lunged at her with all his strength. This time she smoothly side-stepped his attack and sent him careening into his makeshift altar, now deprived of its centrepiece. He fell over it and brought most of its decorations crashing down on top of himself, including a few candles. The wax burned his skin and he flinched with the pain but soon the flames had caught his clothes and fed on the melted wax as they quickly spread across his body.
Screaming in agony he rolled across the floor but the flames followed him, engulfing his convulsing form. Kay looked around for something to smother the fire with but there was nothing. "Lori. Get a blanket. Quick!"
Lori ran down the hall and found an old disused bedroom. The bed still had a few moth eaten sheets and she grabbed one and dragged it back to the burning room.
"It's too late." Kay had to raise her voice above the crackling flames as the quickly spread across the dry paper that littered the floor and climbed the stale books on the shelves. Smoke was filling the room and it was becoming difficult to breathe.
"But maybe we can..." Lori started toward the room but Kay quickly grabbed her shoulders.
"Lori. It's too late."
The roar of the flames drowned the whimpers of the old man and his body stopped moving...but only for a moment. Silently and with a slow determined motion he climbed to his feet. His head, now devoid of human features, rose to face the two stunned women. "Cthulhu fhtagn" The last audible words to come from the dripping form before he stumbled a few feet forward and fell to his knees. He crawled a few more inches, reached out and grabbed the statue with skeletal fingers. Like a child with its favourite toy, he curled into a foetal position and hugged the thing to his chest.
A bookcase crashed to the floor and a torrent of burning papers rushed through the door. Both women turned quickly to avoid the shower of flames as it swept past them. Within seconds they were slapping fragments of glowing paper from each other's hair and clothes.
"Get out of here Lori!" Kay's voice barely rose above the deep thunder of the burning room as the fire searched for new feeding grounds. It began to claw its way around the doorframe and into the hall where the two blackened forms crouched beneath the thick smoke. Lori took Kay's hand and tried to leave but Kay didn't move.
Lori turned. "Come on."
"You go. I have to get that statue."
"What? Kay, don't be stupid. You can't get that statue now. Come on."
"Lori, I have to..."
"Kay, don't make me drag you down those stairs."
Kay looked at the young woman for a moment. She wasn't going to leave without her and she had to get her to safety. There was no real choice. "Alright, come on."
With stinging eyes, they ran down the stairs and, after a brief argument with the lock, they fell out onto the deserted street, filling their lungs with the stagnant air. Smoke bellowed from several windows and the sound of shattering glass caused Kay to grab Lori and pull her away from the shower of shards that fell to the street.
Kay looked up at the brick building as flames started to emerge form the windows. "We can't stay here. I don't have time to explain this to the authorities." Kay's voice was determined.
"Kay, what have we done?"
"We've done a service to humanity, that's what we've done." She turned to leave but noticed the terrified look in the young woman's eyes. That won't do as an explanation, will it? She took the blond woman by the shoulders. "Do you trust me?"
Lori looked up at Kay and for a moment she didn't know what to say. She couldn't think straight. The confusion of everything that had happened was clouding her mind but there was nobody else to trust. Without Kay she'd be on her own. "Will you tell me what he meant when he said you were protecting me from the truth?"
Kay was taken aback for an instant. "Lori, I..."
"Will you tell me?"
It only took a moment's consideration. "Yes, I'll tell you."
"Then I trust you."
No faces appeared in windows or doorways. The soulless shades that inhabited the street cowered within their lairs and the unwelcome visitors slipped out of sight unopposed. The pendulum of the grandfather clock stopped swinging for there was nobody left to live the time it counted. Fire mercifully consumed the tasteless canvas and spat out the remains of nightmares that found a way to the land of the living. It devoured sickened books and diseased papers, their bitter taste like nothing it had fed on before. Their ashes rose and spread across the city to be rained down on the streets and trodden on by its citizens. Humanity didn't need to know what happened. It was better that way.
But not everything could be destroyed. There are things that must always be.
I row upstream on a river of tears in this crumbling boat that is my mind. I must face the source of this pain before the strengthening current forces me back to the seas of madness. All rivers run to the sea and Pacific waters churn as the Great Old One's sleep is disturbed. I cannot be drawn back there for when he wakes, the seas will boil, black clouds will plunge the land into darkness, madness will rain down and the rivers will wash away the last remnants of humanity. This irreversible cycle will signal the beginning of a new age, an era ruled by insanity and where vision is impaired by the mind's interpretation of reality.
A lone figure crouched in the shadows behind a cluster of rocks. He played thoughtfully with his moustache and goatee as he looked down on the events below through the home-made telescopic lens of a camera. The contraption was held together with tape and elastic and from time to time he had to realign the various components of his handiwork to get a clear picture.
His finger was poised over the shutter release button to capture what new images the night may provide. He already had a collection of scenes of the clearing below at his apartment, all taken from the same vantage point that kept him out of sight. Still he returned every night to watch their secret gathering. It was growing in size and complexity, leading to some climax that could not be too far away and when it came he would be there to capture it in black and white.
It began several days ago when he heard rumours among the market stalls in the city about strange occurrences in a village outside the city walls. They had been exaggerated to the point of demons and undead creatures walking among the living and stealing children in the night. However, this was enough to spark his interest, not for the academic insight into local legend and superstition but for the fame that would come with the discovery of such creatures and, of course, with fame comes money. He held little hope of finding anything worth photographing but after spending weeks in the Sirkecki Library he felt that any hope was worth it. On his first night he was not disappointed.
He had left his car under cover and crept into the village unseen. He soon realised, however, that there was nobody left in the village to see him. It had been completely deserted. Chickens, goats and a few other farm animals made the only sounds and front doors lay open on all the houses. He carefully peered through windows where dim lights found their way to the street and he saw that suppers remained half eaten as solitary candles of humble families burned away at the centre of the table.
By the time he reached the far side of the village he could see the glow of a bonfire through the trees that sheltered the small community from the north. As he approached the source of the fire, his ears began to pick up the regular beat of a drum and on reaching the border of the clearing he could hear the low murmured chants of the villagers as they danced around flames that rose 15 feet into the air. Even from this distance he could feel its heat on his face.
Fearful of being discovered, he circled the large clearing and eventually found an elevated position where he could assemble the camera he keep in a wooden box slung over his shoulder. Hidden behind some rocks, he used what little film he had in capturing the ritualistic dance that was played out before him, the light of the roaring bonfire providing enough illumination to expose the film. This was no sending off of a recently deceased villager or a celebration of an annual event. There was evil here. The robed figures that conducted the orchestra of dance were not bound to any local religions and the symbols that were painted on the earth were not to be found in any religious or cultural texts. A previously unknown cult was the only explanation and he was determined to wait for something to happen that would be worth bringing to the attention of the world media...and then selling to the highest bidder.
As the days passed, the painted symbols on the earth changed, as did the dance and drum beat. When the ritual finished each night, the villagers would return to their homes in silence and the robed figures would disappear into the forest one by one. On one occasion he made his way to the clearing at dawn so he could take a closer look at the fire and symbols. He had never seen the fire being lit or the symbols painted and his discoveries only left more unanswered questions.
The earth beneath the place where the fire burned was not grass or soil. It was solid stone, about 20 feet in diameter, greenish-black in colour and with a strange smooth texture that he had never felt before. Even more curious was that there were no cinders or ashes to be found. It didn't even blacken his fingers as he rubbed them across the surface and no smell of charcoal could be detected.
Stranger still were the red symbols that blemished the earth. The smallest was about five feet in size and the largest about ten. They were not painted like he thought at first. The soil had changed colour as if dyed and even the blades of grass that grew on it had changed in colour. On digging down a few inches with his hands he realised that the change in colour descended to an unknown depth and a frightful revelation was that as he moved the earth away from the lines of the symbols it returned to it's natural brown and green again. New handfuls of soil placed onto the lines slowly changed to the dull red before his eyes.
A crack of wood from the trees caused him to jerk his head around sharply. There was no movement. Perhaps it was just an animal but he didn't stay around to find out. He ran for the car that was hidden a distance away, so that nobody could hear it's engine on his approach or departure, and returned that evening before the ritual began. Part of him wanted to remain in the safety of the city but the dominant part, which could only see the fame and fortune in his imaginary future, brought him back to this place of evil. Now, several nights after his viewing commenced, he found himself keeping the company of silent rocks who would not give away his secret.
First on the scene was a single robed figure. He stood at the altar and held out his hands towards the circle of rock. He spoke some words in an unknown language and then reached into a small pouch and cast some white pellets onto the greenish-black disk. Almost immediately, blue fire erupted across the surface, slowly changing to yellow and finally fiery red. With some more words and an elevation of his hands the fire rose to full height.
Several more robed figures emerged from the forest and stood around the fire at the points where the symbols burnt the earth. From the distance he was unable to hear the words that were spoken but within minutes the old symbols had receded beneath the surface and new ones were forming. Letters of a strange alphabet perhaps? He didn't know. Whatever they meant, Mother Nature would disapprove of them being there.
As the night deepened, the villagers entered the clearing and took up positions around the fire. In a new addition to the ritual they were roughly stripped of their clothing from the waist up by the robed figures. They stood behind them, placed hands on the villagers' backs and drew forth red symbols in a similar manner to those on the earth. The villagers remained still, either in a trance or too frightened to move. The drumbeat started, the unholy ritual began and from his hidden vantage point the unseen onlooker added another piece of tape to the camera lens.
Three more figures emerged from the shadows of the forest and approached the altar. The hooded robe of the centre figure was crimson in colour and decorated with black and gold. The two to either side were dressed in less decorated yellow robes. The drum beat stopped as they reached the altar and the villagers concluded their chanting with a high pitched shriek. Then silence descended on the gathering.
The crimson figure produced a set of loose papers and placed them on the altar. With hands raised, he spoke unknown words to the fire and through some inexplicable method of comprehension the villagers answered the calls with unknown words of their own. The camera shutter snapped and the colourless image was recorded.
The words kept coming and the villagers' answers grew more intense. The fire began to convulse within itself and flames of different colour leapt from its centre. Its roar grew louder and the radiant heat could be felt in the elevated hiding place. He could only imagine what the heat was like below. With the twist of a dial on the makeshift zoom lens he brought some of the villagers closer. The skin on their exposed torsos had reddened and was beginning to blister. Again the shutter clicked and time stopped.
Suddenly the fire began to twist in an anticlockwise direction, quickly gaining speed. As it accelerated it changed colour, casting a blue light onto the scorched faces of its onlookers. The temperature dropped and the pillar of blue flame rose high into the night sky. It emanated cold now instead of heat but still it filled the clearing with light. Four servants in grey robes dragged a village man and woman to the altar. They struggled to free themselves, painfully aware of what was happening unlike their fellow villagers. It was to no avail and they were held fast as another servant stripped them of their clothes and bound them together, back to back, with rope. A dial was turned, the lens zoomed and the shutter snapped.
The column of fire now reached beyond sight into the cloudless sky linking the earth to the heavens by a cosmic strand of light. The two naked villagers were forced forward toward the twisting flames by their captures, shouting for help to their neighbours who only responded with blank stares. They were brought to within a few strides of the flames and then pushed ahead as the robed figures retreated. They stopped themselves before reaching the column but their fate was sealed. A tentacle of fire whipped out and swept them in, their cries drowned by the churning flames. Another click. Another image.
Silence fell and the chaos began. The roar of the fire subsided and wails and shouts from the burned villagers began to fill the air. There was no organisation. It seemed like each man and woman was trying to surpass the other with their words. Some fell to their knees while others reached towards the frozen flames to have their hands singed by ice. A wind that wasn't there before began to rustle the trees surrounding the clearing and the robes of the figures at the altar started to sway, gently at first but more violently as the intensity grew. The papers that were being held down by the crimson figure burst into flames and as he pulled his hand off them they were caught by the wind and the burning fragments disappeared into the night. Again the camera shutter blinked, afraid to look at the sight for too long.
The crimson figure lifted its hands high into the air and the sleeves fell along thin arms. The wind caught the hood and it was blown back to reveal a dark face with eyes hidden in the shadow of thick brows. A mouth opened and, like the last words on a dying breath, the hollow word formed. "Du'drosmos" A shaky thumb depressed the button and a another lifeless image of terror was burnt onto film.
As if filled from a funnel in heaven, black light trickled down the column of flames and fought with the blue light as if the two were repulsed by one another. The column became hollow and a single human figure began to take shape at its centre, legs and arms spread apart as it withstood the whirling torrent. When the shape had fully formed, it reached toward the heavens and the flames around it grew more violent, spinning first in one direction and then in the other with an intensity that shook the ground beneath it. No longer able to hold the fire inside, the invisible force that held the column in shape split and in a final explosion of wind and light the frozen flames flooded out across the clearing and were instantly consumed by the darkness of night.
After a few countless, silent seconds, torches were lit and soon the clearing was alive with flickering light. Shadows danced on the wall of trees that appeared to have gathered close to see what had happened. The ground, the villagers, the robed figures, everything had been covered in a thin layer of frost and the breaths of the onlookers hung in the air as a subtle reminder that they still belonged to the land of the living...all but one.
At the centre of the circle of stone, what appeared to be a broken human figure was bent over backwards with buckled arms and legs. It looked to the dark sky from where it fell, movement beginning to creep into its limbs as if testing them for the first time. It slowly rose to its knees with the appearance that the lower part of its legs were bent the wrong way. Then, on unsteady feet, it rose to full height and at full zoom on the camera lens, the onlooker was brought face to face with terror.
The face was of human origin but could no longer belong to that race. Pitch black skin was wrapped tight around its skull like knotted tree bark and pointed teeth gleamed white in a lipless mouth. Either empty sockets or black eyes completed a face that was so death-like that a soul could not belong to such a body without calling to the world for a merciful release.
Its limbs moved in awkward directions and it was not until the creature turned around that the true nature of its body was revealed. On the back of its head was another face. Its back did not consist of shoulder blades and a spine but instead a chest and stomach, this time female in appearance. Like the villagers that were bound back to back and cast into the flames, this was a merger of two human bodies.
Its head and torso had the ability to twist a full 180 degrees with rubber-like skin, and did so as if confused about the direction of movement. It looked at its hands from both sides of its head, quickly gaining the motor skills necessary to move its fingers. A shaky step forward and back again were its first steps in this world but it only took a few more before it gained full control of its unfamiliar body. It then looked around at the sea of eyes that sparkled in the torchlight and a slow grin crept to both its mouths.
The crimson high priest stepped forward with a decorated black cloak and timidly wrapped it around its waist. When it was fastened the high priest stepped back, knelt on one knee and bowed his head before the creature. Unprovoked, it took a step forward, grabbed the head of the humble figure and roughly pulled him to his feet. He turned the priest's head to face a cluster of rocks, raised a bony finger and pointed straight through the camera lens to the eyes of a terrified photographer.
His heart skipped a beat, or more, and he slowly raised his head above the camera. The entire gathering below him were looking up at his hiding place and in an instant they were all clambering towards him, shouting words that served no purpose other than to emphasise their intentions. The onlooker grabbed his camera in one hand, held the lens in the other and ran awkwardly for the cover of trees, the open camera box dangling at his legs. The uneven ground hampered his retreat and a small trench hidden by the darkness caught him off guard and he fell to the ground.
His eyes opened wide as he glanced over his shoulder and saw the hoard of villagers advancing on him with expressionless faces somehow managing to convey ruthless intent. Stumbling over one another, they were several strides away when a shout from the forest behind him gave the order to "Attack!".
Horses hooves shook the ground and a group of fifteen horsemen burst from the line of trees that bordered the clearing, each calling out in a war cry as they galloped towards the villagers. The villagers stopped their advance and the horsemen were among them before they could retreat. Wielding swords and clubs, a wave of ten set about clearing a path through the savage hoard while the remaining five held back until their way was clear.
Another horse came out of the forest's shadows and came to a stop beside the man on the ground. He took a moment to look down at him and then returned his attention to the battle ahead. When he saw the opportunity he drew a sword and gave another order. "NOW! GO! Destroy the demon." The five horsemen drew swords from sheaths at their sides and with another battle cry they dug their heals into the horses sides and galloped down the slope towards the clearing.
A group of cult members had formed a row in front of the creature. They were weaponless but they stood their ground, guarding the thing with their bodies. The horsemen were seconds away when the black creature pushed its way through the line and stood facing its attackers. With a determined grin, its head twisted 180 degrees and its body heaved a red liquid from its other mouth that burst into flames as it poured onto the earth. Its torso turned so that the first face looked forward again and a hand thrust out in the direction of the attackers. As it did the flames followed its command, running along the ground toward the horsemen. Another hand came up, spreading the flames in a defensive line across the rider's path and raising them to a blinding height. Four of the riders managed to stop their horses before reaching the flames but the fifth tried to urge his mount through the burning wall. They were disintegrated on contact with the unnatural fire and only charred remains emerged on the other side.
With burnt faces, the four remaining riders fell back a few paces. The wall of flames had crossed the clearing and reached the trees on either side. Without any discussion, two raced in one direction and the remaining two in the other. The flames had encroached into the forest and the wood hissed at the intense heat. They disappeared into the shadows.
The villagers were unable to overpower the ten horsemen and, on realising they were isolated on one side of the flames, they made a run for the forest. The riders didn't follow. They returned to their commander who sat quietly atop his great white horse. The man on the ground stood up, fumbling with the box whose strap had caught itself around his legs. Addressing the commander he began to ramble, "Ah, my good man. You seem to have saved my neck. Jolly good show with the horses and swords and all that. You have my gratitude. Anyway, I must be off..."
"Mister Trader." The commander raised his voice and cut him short while keeping his eyes on the wall of flames. "Five of my men died here tonight. Your gratitude will not replace them." He turned his head slowly to look pitifully down on the man beneath him.
Brought back to his senses, he continued, "It seems you know who I am but I don't think I've had the pleasure."
"I am Yilderim, commander of the Akritai."
He looked puzzled for a moment. "The Akritai? But..."
"But we do not exist anymore. You are right. And tomorrow we will not exist either, because you will tell no one of what you have seen tonight."
As quickly as the fire had risen, it was sucked back into the earth and the smouldering remains of four horses could be seen near the circular stone. The clearing was empty and only a few torches burned around the altar. There was no sign of any cult members or the black creature they had summoned. "Nothing more can be done here tonight." The commander signalled to the other horsemen and they rode into the forest, the sound of hooves on turf quickly disappearing. He turned his own horse to the forest also. "We have been watching you for a while, Mister Trader. You read interesting books and you ask interesting questions but this time you have crossed the line. You have seen things you were not meant to see and your life is now in danger. Return to the city, gather your belongings and leave this place."
"What have I seen?"
"It is better that you do not know. Your dreams will be your own that way. But know this. To have witnessed this event and lived you have been a very lucky man. Do not cast that dice too often because there are five other sides on which that dice can fall." He spurred his horse and disappeared in forest shadows.
The clearing was left in silence. The last of the torches at the altar burnt out and only the silver glow of a half moon highlighted the morbid shapes of an evil place. The smell of singed wood hung in the stagnant air for even the wind was afraid to return. The only remnants of life within the clearing were held in the shaking body of a solitary figure as he replaced the camera in its box. It contained the tangible evidence he would need to prove to his rational side that the images were not conjured up in disturbed sleep. Unfortunately his mind held the intangible evidence and the moving images that were burnt there held more vivid clarity than any photographic paper could ever reproduce.
I took two lives that were not mine to take and their faces have joined the many shades that haunt my memories. Their final cries replay in my mind like the jumping needle of a gramophone that is out of my reach to correct. I cover my ears to hide from the sound but their relentless pleas play over and over and over in my head. With blood on my hands I escape this prison that held my body but my mind will forever be a captive of a barren place where astral creatures roam and their thoughts are heard by all who are trapped there.
Lori knocked on the hotel room door and was promptly greeted by a tall dark woman. "Come in," she said and Lori took a seat on a chair by the bed. She had taken a bath and changed her clothes but the smell of smoke was still in her hair and with each breath she was reminded of the fire at the house...and that room.
She watched Kay pull her clothes from the wardrobe and throw them into a suitcase on the bed. The ease with which Kay was able to ignore the events, which had happened only hours ago, worried her. She had always known that Kay had secrets, a mysterious side that she found intriguing, even attractive at times. Now this unknown side frightened her.
At first, she wasn't sure if she wanted to know more. She thought that perhaps it was better to leave Kay and her dark side alone. She had seen the repercussions of it before and if Kay wanted to talk, she would talk. Lori quickly dropped this thought, however. If she was going to travel on with this woman then she had to understand her.
Outside the burning house she had promised to tell her what was happening but she had said very little since. Her mind was preoccupied. Her thoughts were somewhere far from here and she mechanically grabbed a handful of underwear from a drawer and closed the lid of the suitcase on top of it. She then looked up at Lori as if noticing her for the first time. "Are you packed yet?"
Lori thought for a moment. "No. You never said we were leaving."
"Didn't I?" Kay looked unconcerned. "Well, we are. You'd better pack quickly if we are to get tickets for tonight's train."
Lori wasn't sure how to take this. It wasn't her place to know every detail about the trip or question her employer's motives and this never bothered her before. A different game was being played now, however, and she didn't like playing it in the dark. "Can you tell me where we're going?"
"We'll be travelling together as far as Verona. From there, you will get a train to Calais and on to London."
Lori waited but Kay didn't finish the sentence. She returned her attention to the suitcase buckles.
"And where are you going?"
After a long pause Kay answered. "You don't need to know where I'm going," she said silently without looking back to Lori.
Lori considered returning to her room to pack her own suitcase but something held her back. "Why can't you tell me, Kay? Why are you still keeping the truth from me? Only a few hours ago you promised to tell me what was happening. Please don't say they were simply words to get me to leave."
She looked up at the blond woman on the chair. Taking a seat on the bed she said, "No, they weren't just words. But I've remembered another promise I made to you. I told you I wouldn't let anything harm you and I consider that to be the more important of the two. To tell you what's happening would do more harm than good. To take you with me would be to bring you into the heart of danger. I don't know if I could keep my promise."
"Then I release you from your promise."
Kay shook her head slowly. "I didn't just make that promise to you. I also made it to myself and I cannot release myself from it. The Templars, worshipers of Cthulhu, it's a dark..."
"Worshipers of what?"
Kay froze for a moment. "Nothing. Forget I said..."
Kay's heart sank as Lori spoke the word.
"That was one of the words that Jack and Melissa were mumbling. You know what they were saying, don't you?"
"Yes," Kay resigned, "and every day I wish I didn't. I wish I was just like you, able to look on the world with innocent eyes, not seeing the evil that hides within it." She looked deep into Lori. "I was once like you. I played in libraries like another child would play in a garden or a poppy field. I loved books and history. I loved the cities and the foreign lands we travelled to, remembering every detail so I could talk to Marcello or Professor Rutherford about them for days after we returned, just like you would have told your grandfather all about your time spent here.
"But things changed. I was drawn into a world where strong minds ruled and fragile minds crumbled. A world that has existed since the dawn of time in parallel with our own but it has remained hidden because we don't want to know it exists. There was nobody to stop me, nobody to send me home to England where it was safe. You don't need to make the same mistake because I am here for you. Lori, please, go home to England where it is safe. Return to your grandfather and I promise I'll come to see you when I get back. When this is over we can go on a research trip anywhere in the world. You just name the place." She watched the unconvinced face of Lori for a moment. "I just don't know if I can protect you here."
"Maybe I don't need protecting." Lori wasn't sure where the words came from. She wasn't even sure what they meant. She had seen the way Kay fought with the Templars in the hospital and knew that she would have had no hope without her. All she did know was that she wanted to be with Kay, wherever she was going and regardless of what danger lay ahead.
Kay looked at her for a while, also puzzling over what she meant. There was courage in her eyes but also an innocence that Kay decided she had no right to tamper with. Lori had seen enough already and, although she had handled it surprisingly well, there was no need to drag her any deeper into this world. She would be safe in London.
Lori stood. "I'll go and pack."
For an endless moment Kay watched the door that closed behind her. A thousand emotions ran through her and she did her best to ignore them all. She wasn't wholly successful and a lump began to form in her throat. This is the only way, she told herself and before she could change her mind she was heading for the hotel reception to arrange transport to the train station.
Lori went back to her room and packed the suitcase that had only been unpacked that morning. She took a moment to look out on the street below and at the buildings that faced her window. She would be back in London in a few days with nothing to look at but the broken down building that stood across the street from her grandfather's shop. It seemed so plain and ordinary compared to the grandeur of Rome.
She closed the last buckle on the case but before leaving she took a long look at the chair in which Kay had slept and the bed in which she had spent that restless night, the crisp, white linen looking more inviting now than ever. How many more nights would have been spent like that, she asked herself. Maybe London isn't so bad after all.
Her thoughts were disturbed by a loud knock on the door and a foreign accent asking if the lady was ready to have her luggage brought to the carriage that was waiting. She opened the door and a young Italian man came through. "Your friend is waiting in the carriage outside. Let me take your luggage for you Madame."
Lori walked the corridors and stairs trying to absorb the details of every corner and straight, every picture and ornament, so that she could recall them when she sat in the quite shop and closed her eyes. She wanted to remember everything. It was given to her and then taken away before she knew what was happening. She knew Kay said she would return and they would go on another trip but Lori couldn't help but think that this was the last time she would ever see the inside of an expensive hotel or the architecture of a foreign city, except within the pages of books from which her dreams had begun.
Kay was waiting in the carriage when Lori reached the front doors of the hotel. The porter put the suitcase in the back and Kay signalled the driver to proceed to the station. To Lori, the buildings seemed less colourful than they were on their journey from the station the previous day but they still retained their charisma. Night was beginning to take the city in its arms and warm gaslight illuminated their path home. She was sorry to be leaving and almost felt like waving to the carved angles that watched her pass. She had hoped to get to know them better.
Freedom is merely an escape to a bigger prison. The chains are longer and the torture is more bearable but we are still confined by invisible borders that are put in place by the reality in which we exist. Higher walls must be climbed and more dangerous terrain must be crossed but I will escape again to a new freedom where not only my body but my mind will be released. I must travel by night for there is no place in this city for refugees of another world.
There was a large police presence as the carriage stopped in front of the station's grand entrance. They took their luggage and after paying the driver they proceeded up the steps. An officer stopped them and held out a poster on which a face had been drawn. "Have you seen this man?" he asked both of the women.
Kay remained calm but Lori's eyes opened wide on recognising the face in the rough sketch. "No, I haven't seen him," Kay answered smoothly. "Who is he?"
"His name is Jack Williams. He is English and is considered to be dangerous. Please take note of his face and notify an officer immediately if you see him. Do not approach him under any circumstances." He held up the paper and Kay pretended to study it. Then he turned to Lori. "What about you, Madame? Have you seen him?"
Lori hesitated for a moment, which got the attention of the police officer, but answered calmly. "No, I haven't. What has he done?"
"He has escaped from an asylum in the city, killing a doctor and a nurse in the process. He may try to flee the city by train. Please be alert but do not be alarmed. We will catch him. Good day to you both."
The officer grabbed the attention of another gentleman who got frustrated over being stopped as he was late for his train and an argument was beginning to erupt in Italian as Kay and Lori went into the station.
"Kay, that was Jack," Lori said when they were at a safe distance from the officers. "What happened?"
"I don't know." Kay stopped and looked at her. "This is why I'm sending you home. Jack was a good friend of mine. He came over here with the same enthusiasm that you have shown and look at what has happened to him. You are more than a research assistant to me now, you are also a good friend so you have to understand that I am doing this to protect you."
"I know." Lori smiled weakly at her.
"It's too late to do anything for Jack now. Why don't you find a seat and I'll go and get our tickets."
Lori just nodded silently and found a bench in a quieter part of the station while Kay queued at the ticket booth. Every slow step she took towards the glass window brought another reason for Lori to stay with her. Every breath brought more confusion and her emotions were pitted against her morals. Before she realised, she had reached the front of the queue and she knew what she wanted to say, but she didn't say it.
"One ticket to London...and one ticket to Constantinople."