Dreams from the Darkness
The city descends into a time of slumber and in the darkness its people believe they create their own dreams. They do not know that their dreams are not their own. They are merely viewers of a greater dream held in the mind of a greater being. They see what their minds can understand, but no more. Only a select few can see more. The artist, the sculptor, the architect, those who look for inspiration will find it here where glimpses of a greater world can be stolen. But sooner or later, every thief must pay a price.
The cramped cabin of the overnight train to Verona left Lori with a stiff neck and a sore back. She found little sleep on the journey that seemed to last an eternity and their late purchase of tickets left them with no choice of cabin. Kay was in the next room and Lori lay on the bed, watching the wall between them and longing to talk with her but the tall woman had said good night in as many words and retired before the train had even left the station at Rome. No sound could be heard through the thin walls and Lori ran her fingers along the carved grooves of the divider that separated them. At an hour she could only guess to be three in the morning; she decided to spend the rest of the seventeen-hour journey alone.
Their parting at Verona was quick as Kay's eastbound train was waiting at the station for its midday departure. She gave Lori some French francs and English pounds in case of an emergency and after a brief goodbye, Lori was left standing on the platform watching the back of the train as it rolled along the tracks and vanished from sight. Kay's train was heading towards Mestre and Trieste in Italy and Ljubljana, Zagreb and Vinkovci in Yugoslavia. After that, the track divided and Lori had no idea which direction Kay would take, if even she reached that far.
The afternoon sun left the air warm and humid and Lori was forced to spend the four-hour wait in the station because her luggage was too heavy to drag around a city she didn't know. She almost missed the train after falling asleep due to the restless night, even though the bench was hard and uncomfortable, leaving parts of her body tingling with numbness. Few porters spoke English and the station was far behind by the time she found her cabin. It was similar to the one she slept in on the journey to Italy but this time there was no excitement, no novelty in having her own cabin on the Simplon Orient Express and its smooth walnut décor held little interest for her.
She left her luggage on the floor and fell asleep on top of the bed covers, too tired to wash or undress. The Italian countryside rattled past, oblivious to the blond woman who lay on the small bed within the train and Milan and Dommodossola had came and gone outside her window before she awoke to the roaring sound of the Simplon Tunnel walls rushing past her carriage.
She found the switch that illuminated the room in a dull orange glow and whose intensity rose and fell with the speed of the train. The hazy luminescence made the cabin look even smaller that it already was but she managed to store her luggage away in a compartment under her bed and change her clothes in time to revisit the world on the other side of the tunnel. She opened the window to let he crisp air of the Swiss Alps wash over her and bring her fully awake.
The dining car had not yet started to serve breakfast so Lori spent a quite hour in the salon car watching the mountain peaks pass in the opposite direction to the last time she had seen them. She was lost in their spell, their enormity dwarfing everything around them, especially the train as it snaked its way around their feet and along their ridges. She eventually left their company and returned to the dining car for a large breakfast after realising how long it had been since she had eaten.
Still early morning, she retrieved her writing book from her cabin and looked at the words that had been put to paper in the days before she had left London. Her hero had just returned from a lone quest in a land far to the north where she fought and defeated a life long nemesis that Lori had modelled after the Shamans of North America's native tribes. Her battle was over and she had won it alone but on this reading of the story Lori realised that there was something missing from her Hero's life - a sidekick.
She thought for a long while and finally took her pen and started writing. As each word was formed, her mind struggled to find the next. Line after line was filled with scored out phrases and corrected grammar. Page after page held less meaningful passages and soon she threw down her pen in frustration. This had never happened to her before. In her years of writing, the words she needed to convey a story had never been lost to her. This time they were and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't transmit her thoughts to the pages of her book.
Perhaps it was her thoughts, she concluded. Her hero had survived for so long without a companion that now, in her mind, she was unable to accept one. Within the pages of her stories, her character had taken on a life of its own and it refused to share the glory with another. She closed her book and didn't open it again for the remainder of the journey home.
The bland food and repetitive scenery contributed to a monotonous journey where every passing tree, house and bridge looked the same as those she had seen on the journey to Rome. The evening entertainment in the salon car proved unexciting, even though the rest of the clientele seemed to be enjoying the amusements. Lively piano tunes were played throughout the evening and several couples played bridge or poker while the rest enjoyed each other's conversation over the various spirits that were served at the bar. Lori sat alone for a while and, after a number of curious looks from the rest of the passengers, she retired early to spend a restless night tossing from side to side on the small cabin bed.
The next day passed as uneventful as the previous and their arrival at the port brought the prospects of home a little closer to Lori. Calais was shrouded in mist and the seven o' clock sailing was underway on time. She stepped out onto the deck but no full moon greeted her, only a heavy, clouded sky and a chill wind that all her layers of clothes were unable to break. After a short while, the rain forced her to return to the shelter of the lounge where she spent the remainder of the voyage fending off a drunk French man who insisted in calling her 'Cheri'.
The service train from Dover to London took a lifetime and a thoroughly exhausted blond figure stood outside Charring Cross station trying to hail a taxi as dawn was breaking over London. Whitechapel had not yet come to life as Lori was dropped off outside her grandfather's shop. She handed some notes of Kay's emergency money to the driver and he quickly disappeared around the corner at the end of the street.
As Lori approached the door of the shop she knew there was something wrong. She had to take a second look around to ensure she was on the right street. The shop door was not the one she remembered with its glass pane and reversible 'closed' sign on display. It was a solid wooden door with a heavy iron knocker. She tried to look through the large shop windows to either side but the entire shop floor was hidden in shadow, despite the adequate daylight that seemed unable to penetrate the glass.
She stepped back, unsure of whether or not to proceed, just as she realised that the door was open a crack. She pushed it slowly and stepped inside but the daylight had no such invitation and the interior remained in darkness. A strong smell of burnt wood filled the air and dripping water could be heard coming from somewhere at the back of the shop. "Grandfather?" she called softly.
As if suddenly given permission to enter, light flooded through the large front windows and the incinerated remains of the shop floor were bathed in daylight. Every piece of furniture was laid out as she remembered it, the piano, the chair, the globe, they all retained their shape but they were burnt to a crisp. "GRANDFATHER!"
She dropped her suitcase where she stood and raced forward into the shop but she stopped sharply and swung around when the door slammed shut behind her. A dark form stood in its shadows, unmoving and unrecognisable in the dim light. "Grandfather? Is that you?"
The figure took a step forward and raised its head, fire bursting from the ground beneath his feet. "Don't you recognise me Lori? It has only been three days since you left me in a place like this."
Lori choked on her breath as the Italian accent rang in her ears. The fire at his feet lit his face from beneath giving him demon-like features in a mixture of light and shadow. "F...F...Father Antonio." Lori's words held fear, loathing and a hundred other emotions at once, none of which she wanted to feel.
"Yes, my child." Lori moved back as he took another step forward on the bed of fire that followed him. "Welcome to my scorched world. I thought I would pay you a visit at your home since you were so kind to pay me a visit at mine. This is how you left me and this is how I must leave you."
He was dressed completely in black and stood over a foot taller than Lori. He was unaffected by the flames at his feet, his inhuman smile almost conveying a twisted pleasure in the pain it brought him. He spread his hands wide, inviting the young blond into his arms and floating forward on a carpet of flames towards her.
"NO! You can't be here." Panic set in and she stumbled backwards into her chair by the globe. It crumbled under her weight and as she turned to get up she found herself looking straight into the face of the burnt remains of a human body. She wanted to stop her mind from thinking the inevitable - but she was unable to hold it back. The shop was lost to her and only her grandfather's face remained in focus. Her senses went numb. No pain, no emotion, no sound could be perceived. An empty shell without the ability to move was all that remained and even time took leave of her body so that nothing was left but a single, stagnant, timeless, emotionless image.
"You have seen my world now, Lori. I have repaid the debt I owe you and in time I will repay it again. I will give back ten fold what you have given to me and only then will you know the world to which you have condemned me."
She reached out to touch the remains but her shaking hand would not complete the journey. On weak legs she found her way to her feet.
"More than just my life was taken from me on the day that you visited my home so I shall take more than just your life from you."
She turned, slow and determined, to face the thing that called itself Father Antonio. She let her anger build for a moment before charging him with all the strength she could summon. When she was only a few steps away the flames suddenly rose and he was enveloped protectively by the fire. She had to throw herself to one side to avoid being caught by the walking inferno.
From the ground, she turned to see the flames subside and return to their place at his feet. "I will visit you again, Lori. Wherever you go, I will be there, not because I follow but because you bring me with you."
The fire at his feet rose again to consume his body but this time it burned out to leave ashes hanging in the air for a moment, before falling to the ground in a cloud of dust. She closed her eyes against the wave of ashes and when she opened them again she was faced with the pale form of Melissa. She stood beside her grandfather's remains with the handle of the sacrificial dagger protruding form her chest as a morbid reminder of her fate. Dark blood ran down her body from her chest wound and collected in a pool on the floor around her feet.
"Hello Lori." She reached down to her chest and pulled the dagger from it. "You paid me a visit in hospital and now I must return the favour."
Lori quickly found her way to her feet for the second time. "What's happening?" She spoke the words to no one in particular and they hung unanswered in the air between them.
"You watched my unwilling sacrifice, Lori, and you did nothing to stop it. This dagger didn't just take my life. It condemned me to a world of nightmares from which I can never escape. I will return one day and I will take you with me but until then you shall remain here for there are others who wish to know your mind."
She turned to where the charred corpse lay on the floor and raised the dagger above her head in the same manner as the Templars in the hospital. The bones beneath her began to move in the ashes and the skeletal form thrust its chest into the air as she brought the sacrificial knife down and buried it in its exposed rib cage with a dry crunch. She took a few steps back and with a quick sideways glance at Lori, Melissa faded into the shadows.
Lori's heart thumped in her chest as the skeletal form of her grandfather's remains twisted and convulsed on the floor. The pool of blood that Melissa had left behind was mixed with ashes and the black paste found its way onto the bones of the creature. It began to groan as if a voice box had just formed and with wide eyes Lori watched the thing take human form. With completed limbs that somehow bent in strange directions, it climbed to its feet and the face of evil looked straight at Lori.
She didn't know how to react. This vision before defied all that she had known to be real and her head hurt from trying to rationalise that which cannot be real. Lori's unwilling eyes followed the thing as it stalked her awkwardly in a semi-circle, its dark, glistening face remaining stiff and emotionless. It stopped a short distance from her and its torso twisted a slow circle so that its back was now facing Lori, a back that was made up of another face and chest.
"We know you, Lori." Its mouth moved mechanically, as if being controlled by a mind outside its body. "We know your thoughts and We know your dreams." It took a step forward while twisting its torso back again. Pale eyes regarded her with repugnant compassion. "We are your dreams."
The slow, controlled sounds that it made were spoken in two tones at once. The words were synchronised perfectly as they were spoken with both mouths, male and female voices joining in a shrill harmony to penetrate Lori's head.
"You know Us, Lori. Speak Our name."
Lori looked behind her for a route to escape. The door was closed but it was her only hope. She had only taken a few desperate steps when a line of fire crossed the floor from one side of the room to the other, cutting off her only path to freedom. A shadow formed in the flames and within seconds it stepped out of the fire and stood before her. It was the same creature and a quick glance behind her confirmed that it was no longer there.
"You fear Us but We are not before you, We are within you. You know Us, Lori. Speak Our name."
Lori's heart was pumping so fast that she could taste blood in her mouth. Her eyes wouldn't close for fear of finding something more terrible hidden in the dark. She shook her head in confusion and forced her lips to answer it. "I don't know you," she whispered.
"Look at what you hold in your hand, Lori. See what We have given you."
Lori looked down and realised she was holding a book. It was the first book she had ever written her stories in all those years ago. She dropped it in surprise but it had faded away before it hit the ground. She looked up again to find the creature standing closer.
"You know Us, Lori. Speak Our name."
Tears began to form in her eyes. Her mind was in chaos, cluttered with thoughts that made no sense. Her lips formed the words, "I don't know you," but her throat was unable to give them sound.
"See what We have given you."
It held its hand out to direct Lori's attention and she nervously turned her head to see what awaited her. With a gasp, she wheeled around and stood face to face with a leather clad female warrior standing six foot tall and pointing a sword directly at her. It spoke to her in a deep voice. "I am not your creation, Lori, and you cannot do with me as you will. I am not yours to control for I have existed and always will exist in the mind of another. You are merely an instrument, a conduit through which I may pass from my world into yours in the form of words on paper." She brought the blade closer so Lori could feel the cold steel on her throat. "I do not need a companion and you cannot force one upon me. Do not try to change that which is not yours." She faded away into the shadows of the darkened room.
The voices from behind were at her ear and she jumped as the creature spoke again. "We are your source. We are your inspiration. We told you stories in your dreams and you wrote them in your books while daylight kept you from Us. We are the architects of your world. We are the painters of your visions. We are the sculptors of your mind and the musicians of your heart. You know us, Lori. Speak our name."
"No!" she screamed. "I made her. She is MY character, MY hero." Tears were flowing freely as she tried to believe in what she said. She listened to her own words and willed them to be true but as each glistening drop fell from her cheeks it took with it a little piece of the conviction that she held within her. "Those are my stories."
"YOU OWN NOTHING." The fierce blast of words brought with them a power that knocked Lori off her feet and she found herself on the floor for the third time. "WE are the creators of this world you live in. We brought your race out of the dark ages by showing you the way in your dreams. You have been preparing this world for Our coming and the dawn of a new age is nigh. We are taking this world from you. Speak Our name, Lori, and renounce claim to all that We have given you."
Lori shook her head slowly. "But I don't know..."
"You know Us, Lori. We have been with you every night of your life. Your eyes grow heavy when We call your name. Your body grows weak as We draw you close. We lay beside you on your pillow and watch you as you sleep. We are the cold breath on your neck, the silent whisper in your ear. You know Us, Lori. Speak our name."
Its pale eyes grew expectant and it moved closer as if tasting victory in the air.
She whispered the word without knowing who or what it meant. She only knew that it would bring this nightmare to an end.
A deep, hollow, victorious laugh filled the room and shook the ground beneath her. The creature opened its arms and the ashes that formed its body began to fall from its limbs. A wind from beneath it lifted them into the air and the black blizzard filled the room in a whirling torrent of fragmented nightmares. When the skeletal body was stripped of its burnt skin it collapsed on the floor in a clatter of bones, the empty skull resting at a mocking angle and watching Lori with hollow eyes.
The wind disappeared and the ashes fell like black snow in a festive season of insanity. As each one found a resting place it burst into flames. Lori scrambled for shelter, waving her arms frantically as they burned her face and hair. She reached for the door of a wardrobe but it crumbled at her touch. A burnt cabinet had the same reaction as she reached for the door handle.
The skin on her hands and face was blistering and the flames were beginning to eat through her clothes. She ran to the front door but as she reached it the lock snapped shut with a familiar click and she could do nothing to work it free.
Flames were devouring the entire shop floor. She moved to the window and pressed her hands to the boiling glass. She screamed in agony as a layer of skin was left behind but the pain was quickly forgotten as the vision of the outside world was registered in her mind.
The street was gone. The buildings were gone. London was gone. A barren landscape of red stone and cracked earth stretched as far as a huge range of mountains where jagged peaks cut into a dark, turbulent sky that hid the source of its light behind bloated clouds. A great canyon split the land in two and ran to the mountains in a staggering, ragged path, the wound that drained the earth of its life.
Enormous creatures of unimaginable origins roamed the plains, some on two clawed feet, others on four, six, eight or more cumbersome legs. Some crawled on their bellies and chewed on the dry rock while others fed on the carcasses of fallen companions. Huge winged beasts filled the skies, their size only evident when they swooped down and dwarfed some of the land dwelling creatures, catching them in huge, powerful jaws. Their aquatic and reptilian characteristics were the only fleeting resemblance they had to any earthly creatures.
Lori stood for a moment in dazed silence, her mind unable to accept what she was seeing. "Where am I?" Her thoughts made her lips move but there was nobody to answer her question. She was alone in the burning shop, the searing heat at her back forgotten. "Where am I?"
Her thoughts returned with the only answer they could find and she suddenly realised that someone had been here before. Someone had seen what she was looking upon and painted his memories on canvas. The paintings were destroyed but the land they depicted lived on. It stretched out before her and alien life lumbered across its vast expanse.
Something shook the earth. The land growled as an unknown force punched its side. Then, the force made itself known. A gigantic arm of unimaginable size emerged form the depths of the canyon and reached over the side. It crushed some of the creatures beneath it as it came to rest across the land. Even the clawed fingers dwarfed the largest of them and the ground cracked beneath its weight.
Another arm raised high into the air and fell on the plains on the other side of the canyon. Like a herd, the roaming beasts ran from this god of monsters as it began to heave its body out of the canyon. Huge wings were first to break the surface but these were a deception of its true size. A massive back emerged as it continued its ascent and eventually a head of unnatural makeup rose high into the sky. Wet, octopus-like tentacles formed its face and hid eyes that scanned the world around it. The mountains were like pebbles in comparison and the depths to which the canyon must descend to conceal its body were unfathomable.
The string of images were pulled through Lori's mind like knotted thread through the eye of a needle. She looked upon the creature and felt her mind choking on what she was forcing it to see. It was drowning in a thrashing sea of impossible truths and wave after wave of torturous thoughts dragged her deeper into the black chasms of jagged rock within her mind.
She had to escape. She had to run. The shop was in flames and the most lethal of all nature's elements was devouring her clothes and skin. Her body was weakening and soon it would be too late. She begged the stubborn glass to give her her freedom while she called for the only person she knew could help her.
The link between the mind and the body is not as strong as many believe. The mind is a free spirit that knows no such physical bounds. It escapes into the playground of the night where it runs free, unhindered by the physical world, and we pray each night that it will return to us in the morning. Not all our minds return, however. Some lose their way in a land of nightmares.
Kay stepped inside the small cabin and dropped her luggage at her feet. She sat on the bed and stared at the window for a while, letting words of comfort flow through her head, analysing each one for its effectiveness in explaining to Lori why she was doing this. She methodically made her way to the end of her vocabulary and finally let her head fall back on her pillow. She couldn't think of anything to say.
She turned her head to the side and watched the wall between them, running her fingers along the grooves of the polished wood. She couldn't remember the last time she felt this way about someone. In fact, she thought, she had never been given the chance to feel this way about anybody before. What would it take to convince herself that she was doing the right thing? What would it take to convince Lori that she was doing the right thing? How do you tell someone that you care for so much that you're hurting them for their own good? She closed her eyes. Lori wasn't the only one hurting.
She didn't open her eyes again. She grew weary and sleep called her. Without realising, she drifted away on a bed of confusion and hands held her down while words floated in the air before her. She strained her eyes to read them but she was unable to bring them in to focus. The letters no longer made sense to her. Everything was getting complicated again.
The train had almost reached Verona by the time she came awake. She knocked on Lori's door but there was no response so she remained in her cabin until the train had reached its destination. A conductor was directing eastbound passengers to another platform as the two women stepped off the train. The Orient Express was impatiently hissing jets of steam from its sides, waiting for the conductors whistle to set it on its way. Kay turned to look at the blond woman by her side. "Lori, I..." The remainder of the words got lost.
"It's ok. Don't say anything. Your train is waiting."
The sound of trampling feet dwindled and the wave of passengers subsided, some finding the exit and the rest boarding their connecting train. Kay took a last look at Lori. "I'll see you when I return. I promise." She boarded the train and found a window. She couldn't take her eyes off her research assistant until the platform had carried her out of sight. Even then, she just stared blankly through the window and fought to stop the image fading in her mind.
The cabin was the same as the one she had before and she stored her luggage, washed and changed before making her way to the dining car. The day stretched out before her and she quickly realised how lonely it was without a companion. Her thoughts had always been enough to keep her company but now she found her thoughts drifting to a blond woman who was travelling in the opposite direction. As each mile of track separated them, a new flame of desire found its way into Kay's heart.
She looked at herself in the back of the soupspoon she was playing with. "What's happening to you, Kay?" she asked the bulging eye that looked back. A long sigh steamed up the reflection and she dropped it into the bowl of cold soup. She rested her head in her hand and stirred the creamy entrée absently.
"There is something wrong with your soup, Madame?" a young voice asked her. She looked up into the face of a waiter that stood with a white cloth draped over his forearm.
"No, it's fine. I'm just not hungry right now." She pushed the bowl toward him.
"Madame is travelling alone?"
She paused before answering. "I am now."
He smiled at her. "Perhaps you will find some company in the salon car," he offered and left with the soup bowl in hand.
She watched him until he disappeared behind the swinging doors at the back of the car and then returned to her cabin to find an evening dress.
The countryside raced past the windows of the saloon car but time moved much slower. Kay sat alone at a table and watched the sunset as the train sped into the deepening eastern night. She could see Lori pressed against the window, in awe of the foreign sun in the red sky simply because it was being viewed from Yugoslavia instead of her native England. The picture that was so vivid in her mind was rudely disturbed by a man who sat down opposite her.
"Good evening," he said in an accent, native to the country they were passing through. "You appear to be in need of some company."
Kay sat upright and put her glass on the table. "No, actually I'd prefer to be alone."
"Nonsense my dear. Nobody should be alone on a night such as this." He turned his attention to the bar and raised his hand. "Waiter! A drink please."
"No, really. I'm sure you would be much more appreciated in other company."
The waiter walked up to them and looked at the stranger.
"Two glasses of your best wine please."
He nodded and returned to the bar.
"I don't drink wine," she said firmly, finished her glass of spring water and looked at the door, hoping he could take a hint.
"But of course you do, Kay. Don't you remember the little party we had here some years ago? You tasted some forbidden wine back then and got rather drunk on its power, if I remember correctly."
Kay's mouth went dry as a slow grin crept across his face. Her throat was tight but she forced the words out. "Who are you?"
"We are your family, Kay. You said that we never let go and you are right. You were our prise possession and we will never let you go."
"Templars." Kay spat the word out in disgust.
He leaned back in his chair. "You don't remember me, do you, Kay? The last time we met I was a simple farmer. I had a wife, children, a home. I had a life that was prised from my bleeding fingers, when I reluctantly became the innocent sacrifice of your initiation. It was my blood you drank, my life you stole. You used my spirit to enhance your own but now you insult me by denying your heritage. I am here to re-initiate you into the family."
The waiter returned with two empty glasses and set them on the table. "Enjoy your wine," he said, handed the stranger a corkscrew and left.
"Ah, but our glasses are empty," the man said mockingly and leaned forward. "We'll have to improvise then, won't we?" He held the corkscrew in one hand and raised his other above her glass. Looking straight into her eyes, he stabbed the spiral metal into his wrist and let a stream of blood run down his hand and into her glass. He laughed aloud at the shock in her eyes but none of the other passengers paid any attention. They continued drinking and talking as if the inhuman display was invisible to them.
Her body was numb. She wanted to stand, to run, to fight, anything. Some power held her in the chair and she was forced to watch as he filled her glass with the thick, red liquid.
When the glass was full he reached out, took her hand and placed the glass in it. He lifted it slowly to her mouth but before it touched her lips he stopped. He looked down at his own glass and said sarcastically, "But wait! I don't have anything to drink." He brought her glass back down to the table and took her hand from around its stem. He held it above his glass and picked up the corkscrew in his other.
She could do nothing to resist. Her heart thumped in her chest but she had no power to move her limbs. Her senses remained, however, and she could see his dark eyes watching her and feel his cold hand around hers. She was able to close her eyes before the cold metal pierced her wrist and she felt the rivulet of warm blood run down her hand. He held it there until his glass equalled hers in volume and then replaced her own glass in her hand.
He linked his arm around hers and lifted her glass to her mouth as he drank from his. She held her lips tight and managed to stop the vile liquid from entering her body. It flowed down her chin and her chest as he swallowed a mouthful with sick pleasure.
"Tonight, I only drink of your life. I will come again to drink of your spirit. Until then, there is another who wishes to speak with you."
He stood, raised his glass high in the air and threw it hard onto the ground across the car. The glass shattered and its contents splashed across the floor. The blood soaked into the lavish carpet and burst into flames that gradually rose higher until they licked the ceiling. The silhouette of a man appeared at its core and when it had fully formed it stepped out into room. Tight black skin with a tree-bark texture encased its body like burnt wood. It walked on legs that bent the wrong way and its head slowly turned so that its other face could look upon its prey.
Kay regained control of her body and clasped her hand around her wrist to try to stop the bleeding.
A dual tone voice of combined male and female vocals was cried from its mouths. "Kay, Our child. We have looked forward to the day when We could finally meet you, finally touch you with borrowed hands, finally see you with stolen eyes. That day has come and it will be one to remember because from this day on, your life has irreversibly changed. We know you, Kay. We share your thoughts. We share your desires. We share your dreams."
On the outside, Kay's expression almost remained calm. On the inside, she fought hard to control herself. Her mind raced to make sense of the situation but she looked upon the creature cautiously, absorbing every detail of its dead features and strange movements. This can't be real, she thought, noticing that she was alone in the carriage with the creature, the rest of the trains' passengers no longer having a purpose in this simulated reality.
"You seem less surprised to see Us than your friend."
Kay's attention suddenly had focus but she tried not to give away her weakness.
"You believed you were sending her to safety but instead you have delivered her to Us. Even now she calls your name and her voice is carried on the wind that blows through the minds of the sleeping. Listen to her, Kay." It directed Kay's attention to a window and the foliage of Yugoslavian countryside faded into abrupt night. It was replaced by a young face that Kay immediately recognised and her heart twisted in her chest as the slender figure beat her fists on the window and called Kay's name.
"Lori." Kay answered her call in a soft voice and reached out to touch the glass but pulled her hand away as the hot surface burnt her fingers. A background of roaring flames was brought into view and Kay could see the burning shop as if standing on the Whitechapel street, its wooden wares fuelling the hungry flames around the blond woman. A sharp twist of fire engulfed the young blond and her muffled cry was replaced by the crackling silence of grinning flames.
A single tear left its trail on Kay's cheek but it was quickly wiped away before she turned to face her tormentor. It looked at her curiously. "You seem undisturbed by her fate, despite the knowledge that you sent her to it."
Kay answered calmly, "That is not Lori's fate. That wasn't real and this isn't real." She looked around the carriage for something to base her argument on but she could find nothing.
It walked toward her and its head turned unnaturally as it approached. "What is real? For something to be real only requires one's belief that it is real. If you can see it, is it real? If you can touch it, is it real? If it brings pain, is it real? If it brings death, is it real?"
Kay held out her bleeding wrist. "I don't believe this is real." The last few drops of blood fell to the floor and she wiped it clean to reveal an unharmed wrist, void of any wound.
It circled her but she held her ground. "You have a strong will, but a weak heart. You can control what you see but not what you feel. Was the sorrow you felt at the loss of your loved one real or are your emotions an illusion also? Her reality lays somewhere far from our own and the pain she feels is as real as the emotions that run through you now. You pretend to find little hurt in that which you believe to be unreal, but what of that you know to be real?"
It reached up and pulled the emergency chord and Kay grabbed a table to keep her balance as the carriage shuddered and glasses slid off tables, crashing to the floor all around them. The train came to a screeching halt and they were left with the creaking sound of stressed breaks and hissing steam. Shards of glass gritted and cracked beneath its feet as it walked to the door that led to the dark outside world. With another twist of reality, it opened the door and let warm sunlight flood in before stepping off the carriage and out of sight. Kay followed, but only after a moments consideration which drew the conclusion that there was no other option.
The outside world had changed. The train had found its way to a destination far from Yugoslavia, far from Europe, far from the previous memory and straight into another. She stepped off the train onto the warm sand and shaded her eyes from the bright sun. It only took her eyes a moment to adjust but, when they did, her legs nearly gave way beneath her. She found herself standing in the middle of a dig site, an excavation she remembered from ten years in her past. The tents, the trenches, the wooden tables of unearthed Egyptian artefacts, everything was as she remembered it. Ghost sounds of horses galloping and men fighting filled the air but she was unable to tell if they only echoed within her head. Nothing moved in the lifeless camp but the loose ends of tent canvas in the dry wind.
"Welcome back, Kay. Welcome you to the time and place of your birth. You didn't know it then but this is where it all started. The seed of desire was planted here and it grew fast within you. You had blossomed by the time you joined the Templars and were fruitful in your devotion to your new-found family. However, the day you turned against your brothers and sisters left a deep wound that has not yet fully healed."
Kay looked at it with a hint of a satisfied grin. "And you think that by bringing me here I will return to that life?"
"You will return, Kay. You need your family as much as your family needs you."
She walked forward to a table that had some freshly excavated artefacts waiting to be catalogued. She picked up a bowl with a chipped rim and a faded design around its girth. "My father dug this up in north-west trench four the day before he died. He never got a chance to examine it." She took a brief look at the Egyptian design. "It looks like a bowl that would be used in a ceremony of some sort. The design depicts the snake god Apep battling the sun god Re in the underworld and the eclipse indicates that Apep was the victor. An intriguing find. Not the sort of thing that could be bought from the merchants that regularly travelled from Alexandria to this region." She took a closer look at the design and then suddenly threw it against a rock at her feet, smashing it to pieces.
It looked at her coldly. She picked up a piece of a stone tablet. "Ah, here's one I found myself in north trench six the same day. I wasn't quite sure what it was back then because the hieroglyphics didn't make much sense but now I know it's a piece of an ancient spell. It was supposed to give strength to Apep while he battled Re in the hope that he could keep the sun god in the underworld forever, plunging the world into eternal darkness. The words of the spell were never fully known...until this piece of the tablet was found." She raised it above her head and destroyed it on the rock below.
She turned to look at the twisted face of the creature watching her. The tension in her jaw and the anger growing in her body was threatening to make her next move irrational. It's time to end this. "Do you know why I know these artefacts so well?" she said defiantly. "It's because they are all sitting on shelves in my office in London. This place you have taken me to does not exist anywhere but in my mind. You have twisted it to suit your needs but I have grown weary of your games. It's time for me to leave."
Its face slowly changed to a grin and then it laughed at her impertinent remark. "When, or if, you leave is not your decision."
"That's where you're wrong." Kay took determined steps towards it as foreign words of an unknown language poured from her mouth. Dark blue eyes stared at the creature as it gritted rotten teeth and snorted at her like a cornered animal. A strong wind from nowhere lifted the dry sand into the air and her words rode the gusts as if they belonged together. Tent canvas flapped wildly and tables began to topple over but the words still came, increasing in volume to match the increasing strength of the wind. She persisted forward, head bowed to the showers of sharp desert crystals.
Its face twisted as it was bombarded with wave after wave of sand. It convulsed its stomach and flaming liquid poured from its mouth but it was soaked up by the sand and the flames were drowned in the dry sea. Kay stopped several paces before it and continued her onslaught of words. It began its own chanting but it was too late. Its words were scattered by the wind and were lost to anything that could hear them.
A dark hand reached toward her and a voice like death itself found its way to her ears. "You will not leave until We dismiss you. You will not leave until you speak Our name." Its final words were choked by the wind and Kay watched it disappear into a cloud of sand through the slits of her eyelids. The wind around her obscured everything from view. She was buffeted in one direction and then in the other and with growing disorientation she was finally blown off her feet. She didn't hit the ground, however. Instead, she was cushioned by a soft mattress and pillow as the sound of the wind faded. The click-clack of tracks beneath a train and the gentle rocking of a sleeping car gave her mind something to hold on to as she pulled herself awake. She opened her eyes to find herself looking at the ceiling of her cabin in the passenger train to Verona.
The sight brought a welcome familiarity but a disturbing sense of time. The train to Verona, she thought. I'm still on the train to Verona. Lori! At that instant she became aware of a distant cry of someone calling her name. It was Lori in the next cabin and she was out of bed and on her feet before the thought had fully registered. She opened her cabin door to find a night porter knocking on Lori's door, enquiring as to what the matter was. Kay pushed him to one side and tried the door with her hand, only to find it locked. Then she tried the door with her foot, with a much better result.
Lori was kneeling on her bed and knocking on the wall of her cabin that separated her from Kay's cabin. She feebly beat her fists on the thin panel wall and called Kay's name in a weak voice. Kay immediately grabbed her and lay her down on the bed without much resistance. The porter stepped inside but Kay quickly pushed him out again. "Everything's fine now," she said, closed the door and dragged a suitcase from the middle of the floor to hold it shut.
The faint light in the cabin reflected of Lori's face in a wet sheen. She lay on her back, eyes wide open but seeing a world far from Kay's where her mind fought to make sense of its physical impossibilities. The ground shook beneath the weight of the enormous being that heaved its way out of the canyon and lumbered towards the mountains in the distance. Her clothes were on fire and her skin was badly blistered but merciful unconscious would not take her. The unbreakable glass stood between her world of pain and the outside world of nightmares and her weakened fists fought for access to the lesser of two evils.
She had almost given up hope when night suddenly filled the outside world with a thick darkness. She was greeted by her own reflection, a face that was not scared or blistered and clothes that were not burnt. The fire was no longer there. The pain was gone and she stood in silence.
Another figure came into view in the reflection. A tall dark woman that Lori wanted to reach out to but she could only press her hands against the glass. "Kay." She spoke her name again, the only word that gave her hope and the only sound that didn't bring pain in this world. Kay glided through the darkness and stood on the other side of the invisible separator and placed her hands opposite Lori's. She slowly curled her fingers around the soft hands of the blond woman and gently drew her through the window of her prison, the glass's resistance giving way to the dark woman's will. Lori stepped through into the darkness, wrapped her arms around Kay and held on tight to the only remaining memory she had of the world in which she belonged.
The darkness around them slowly gave way to light and the silence to sound. With each breath, a small piece of the old world returned. With each heartbeat, the sea of confusion ebbed by another wave. Pain was replaced by peace, hurt with comfort, fear with the soothing knowledge that she was not alone any more. Her body was exhausted and her mind had little control over it. She managed to turn her head to look into the face of the woman holding her. Deep blue eyes reassured her of her safety and the cradle of strong arms became her sanctuary. She closed her eyes to the soft touch of a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Sleep now," a voice said. "I'll watch over you."
I wander through this city of the living, watching those who regard me with wide eyes and disgust in their faces. The city alleyways are filled with the philosophers of the world. I wander among them but even they jeer me when I tell them of my plans to escape. I enjoy a feast of rats and city waste in preparation for the long journey that awaits me.
Her name rang out in the darkness. There was no discernible source.
Again it floated on gentle waves of sound. It was warm here; comfortable, quiet, safe. She didn't want to leave.
Kay's voice drew her awake and her blurred vision slowly sharpened to bring the room into focus. Kay was sitting at the head of the bed with her back against the wall, holding Lori close in her arms. The blond woman was lying on the bed with her head on Kay's chest. She lifted it gradually, as if testing her ability to move without pain, and turned to look at Kay.
"Come on. We have to change trains."
She wasn't fully awake and all she could think of doing was responding immediately to the command. "Ok. I'll get my things." She slid off the bed and tried to pick up her suitcases, stumbling with the effort.
Kay grabbed her before she fell. "Leave them. I'll get a porter to transfer our luggage. Lets just concentrate on getting you onto the next train."
A refreshing breeze blew across the open platforms at Verona station. Passengers bustled this way and that, crossing on raised walkways and dashing for trains that pulled out of the station on a mass of track that criss-crossed the ground to either side of the old building. Kay got the attention of a passing porter, handed him some money and asked him in his native language to bring their luggage from their cabins.
With an arm around each other's waist, the two women staggered their way towards the largest train that rested proudly at the head of its platform. Lori used Kay's stable frame for support after finding that her legs were unable to carry her as well as they did before. They ignored the attention they got from more than a few passengers and zigzagged through the crowd. Before they reached the carriages, Kay felt Lori suddenly tense and stop dead. "Wait!" She turned and looked at Kay. "Don't send me back to England alone. Please. You can't!" Her eyes were wide and fear danced wildly in them.
"Sssh. I..." Kay tried to reassure her but her words weren't penetrating. Lori was getting herself more and more worked up.
"I can't go back there alone. It's waiting for me. It knows where I live. And grandfather...it..."
Kay brought her hand up and placed her fingers gently on Lori's mouth. "I'm not sending you back. You don't have to worry. You're coming with me."
Lori's breathing slowed again. "I'm coming with you," she said mechanically.
"Yes. I'm taking you to Constantinople. You have nothing to worry about." They started moving again. "And your grandfather will be fine. You don't have to worry about him either."
They boarded the Simplon Orient Express, after a brief argument with the ticket officer and station guard who eventually gave them a second cabin that would see them through to their destination. Their luggage arrived moments later and both women soon found themselves alone in the quiet of Kay's cabin. Lori took a seat on the bed while Kay found compartments and cubby-holes to store their luggage in. Lori's cabin was three cars away and neither woman even suggested she should go there.
Although her blank expression and distant stare said otherwise, Lori was fully awake and aware of what was happening. Kay took a seat beside her, pulled off her shoes and drew herself back onto the bed so that she sat against the cabin wall with her feet curled up beneath her. Lori followed, kicking her shoes onto the floor and sitting back against the wall, knees hugged tightly to her chest. Both women sat in silence, staring at the far wall of the cabin, each with their own thoughts and each wondering what the other was thinking.
The conductors whistle sounded and the mechanical grating of breaks releasing their wheels rose from beneath the cabin floor. The engine car hissed and its wheels spun on the track as it took up the strain of its chain of carriages. One short blast and one long blast of the train's horn announced its departure and soon the click-clack of wheels crossing the track joints gained the rhythmic periodicity that its passengers had become accustomed to. The gentle rocking of the carriages and the whoosh of passing telegraph poles merged into a soothing melody that drained the tension from the two women on the bed. Their muscles relaxed, their breathing slowed, their thoughts became less intense. They were on their way to Constantinople, together.
"I'm sorry." They were the first words to break the silence. It was the foremost thought in both their minds but one of them got it out first. "I should never have taken you on this trip," Kay continued. "It was a selfish act. I had to get this trip approved by the board and Robert Cannon played a card straight out of the department regulations. I had to bring a research assistant with me and he knew that there were none available within the university so I used you to get over that one final hurdle. One part of me hates me for it, but another is so very glad that I did. I should have sent you home when I realised what had happened to Jack and Melissa but I keep you with me. It's my fault this has happened to you."
"No, I asked to stay. I wanted to stay, even after the night with the Templars. I would have been hurt if you had sent me home."
There was another silence before Kay spoke again. "Well then, welcome to my world. I condemned myself to it many years ago and I fooled myself into believing that I could leave it behind. This will always be my world and anyone I touch will be given a frightening glimpse of it."
"Tell me what's happening, Kay. What is this dark world you speak of?"
Kay turned her head away.
"Please don't tell me that there are things I am better off not knowing because I have already been given more than a glimpse and I am trying not to think of things that are all the more frightening because I don't understand them. I had a dream, Kay. I lived through three days and they felt so real that I can remember everything like it really happened. The fear and pain is still with me and there is only one way I can even begin to live with them. Please, tell me what's happening."
Kay still looked at the far wall but Lori could see things happening in her eyes. She was debating something with herself. Lori spoke again. "I have desperately wanted to know the secrets that you kept since the day I first met you. You didn't have to say anything, but I knew there was more to you than what I saw on the surface. I didn't dare ask before because I had no right to do so but now there are things I know nothing about and they are attacking me in my dreams, things that you could explain to me. I have to know what they are if I am to stand any chance of protecting myself. Please, tell me."
Kay knew she was right. Perhaps if she knew something of what they were facing then she could begin to protect herself in some small way. "First, tell me what happened in your dream."
Lori fell silent.
"Please, Lori. It may be important to understanding what's going on and then I'll try to explain to you what it means."
The blond woman nodded. "I think the first thing I dreamt was waking up in the carriage I had fallen asleep in. I knocked on your door but you weren't there. When we reached Verona we said goodbye and I travelled all the way back to London alone. Everything seemed normal, the food, the sounds, the smells, everything was just so....real. That is, until I got back to the antiques shop and everything got turned on its head. The whole shop had been burnt and my grandfather was dead. I saw Father Antonio and Melissa. They spoke to me, tried to blame me for their death."
"You have a kind heart, Lori, and that is being used against you. Guilt will weaken your mind and your compassion for the people who have died will be twisted in favour of those attacking you. Remember that what you saw were only images. Your grandfather is not dead and you need not feel that he is in any danger just because you left him alone. What happened next?"
"It came to me. An inhuman creature with two faces and..." The memories were painful and her voice was deteriorating. "It told me things that hurt me and it kept telling me to speak its name. I tried to tell it that I didn't know its name but then I realised I did. Kay, I knew its name. How did I know its name?" Her glistening eyes were filled with confusion.
Kay spoke the name with a cold breath. "Du'drosmos."
Lori felt a shiver run through her.
"You know many things you don't realise. We all do. There is only one realm of dreams and we all enter it when we sleep. We have our own dreams from time to time but much of the night is spent listening to the dreams of others. The human mind is a weak and fragile thing. There are minds far superior to our own that dream with such strength that we have no option but to hear them. There are other creatures that do not lose control of their minds when they enter this realm and they can communicate to us through it. The minds of thinkers are the most receptive. The artist, the sculptor, the architect or musician or writer, they all listen but do not remember. You know Du'drosmos from your dreams and you know its name because it has told you its name. It has come to you before, perhaps once or perhaps many times. Either way, this was not the first time that you have encountered Du'drosmos while you slept."
Lori was silent.
"It may have made you speak its name as a test to see how much you remembered from past encounters or by speaking its name you may have opened a channel through which more memories from the dream realm can seep. Acts such as speaking a name can have any number of meanings in a dream. In any case, you must be careful. It was not done without a reason."
This was having its toll on Lori, to the point where she almost found it difficult to breathe. She didn't know why she was doing this to herself, but she had to know more. "What is Du'drosmos? Does it live in this dream realm?"
"No, nothing can exist there but the mind. It cannot contain the spirit. Du'drosmos has its origins in the Hyborian age, in the north-western lands of Cimmeria where both the sorcerer Makryat and sorceress Yora sought to become masters of dreams. Makryat had been born with the power to see into the dreams of the people he touched and Yora could whisper into the ear of a sleeper and tell them what to dream. They despised one other and spent two decades at war, each coming close to death on many occasions.
"Eibon was travelling the lands of Hyperbora after the death of Zylac, looking for adventures to make a name for himself. Early in his travels he came upon Makryat and Yora and promised the people of the land, who were being greatly affected by this war, that he would stop them. He was not yet powerful enough to destroy them so he came up with a plan to have them destroy each other.
"To each he sent a snake, disguised as a person of unimaginable beauty, and the mages' lust prevented them from seeing through the illusion. The snake took their bodies and while they slept it bit them, putting them into a deep coma. Eibon took their spirits and bound them together, expecting them to destroy one another when they realised what had happened, and cast them into the Dreamlands where their destruction would not effect the people of the physical world. They could not return to their bodies because their spirits were now merged but instead of destroying themselves they pleaded to the Dark Lord of Koth who granted them immortality in exchange for their services.
"They are now prisoners of the Dreamlands where they call themselves Du'drosmos, still two spirits bound together and unable to pass through any gates that bear the Sign of Koth, the only gates that would allow them to physically pass into this world."
"But I thought you said that the Dreamlands could not hold a spirit."
"The realm of dreams cannot hold a spirit but the Dreamlands can. The Dreamlands lay beyond the realm of dreams..."
Lori turned away and hid her face in her hands, sighing heavily and taking a moment to think. "This it too much. It all seems so unbelievable yet I do believe you because I have experienced it, or a part of it at least. I guess there's a lot I still don't know."
"There is. I won't say you shouldn't know because you obviously have a different opinion on that subject, but I see the innocence in you that I once had and I also see it being eroded away against your will. I sat on this very train almost ten years ago. Constantinople was my destination then also and the confusion I felt was similar to the confusion you feel now. Only weeks before, I saw the beauty in the world and I could hardly contain my love for life and what I was doing with it. I bought a return ticket in London but the woman that left was not the woman that returned seven years later."
Kay bowed her head, seeing in a flash the changes that had taken place in her life. She thought she had climbed out of the abyss that had devoured her but just as she reached the top she lost her grip. She selfishly grabbed Lori before she fell and now she was uncontrollably tumbling back in and dragging the young woman with her.
Then she felt Lori take her hand and a feeling of extreme comfort rushed through her, washing away the hurt that was building up inside. Maybe she hadn't grabbed hold of Lori but Lori had grabbed hold of her. When Lori was there, she didn't feel herself falling as fast. Perhaps Lori wasn't falling.
"Tell me what happened to you," Lori said softly.
"You don't want to hear about my problems."
"Yes I do," she replied sincerely.
Kay paused for a moment. "I'll tell you if you promise me one thing."
Kay smiled. "I never see this written in any of your books."
Lori smiled in return. "I promise."
"There's another world out there, Lori. A world that most people refuse to accept exists, but if they stumble across it, it consumes them whole and they are lost to it forever. It has existed since before man walked upon the earth, before the land, sea or sky were filled with the life you see now, before the continents had formed or the world you recognise had even begun to taken shape. There was life before our own and it was eternal. It is eternal, for after two billion years on earth, it still lives.
"This world brushed past me once and I could have let it pass by, but I did not. I chased it and willingly crossed its borders, searching out its dark core. In good faith, I must now say that I regret what I did, but in all honestly, had I known then what I know now and had the situation been the same, I would probably have made the same choice. I had to.
"To understand why I did this you must know what happened before.
"My mother died in childbirth so all I have to remember her are paintings, photographs and my fathers stories. I was his only child and he told me wonderful things about her; what she looked like when they first met, about their wedding day, their honeymoon on the Nile. He told me how sorry he was that I would never get to meet her but that he would do his best to make up for her absence in my life. I think that by loving me the way he did, he was loving the only part of her that was left.
"We had a huge house on Kensington Road overlooking Hyde Park with maids, servants, cooks, butlers, just about every sort of convenience that money could buy, because money was something that we were not short of. Still, there were no nannies. He insisted on raising me himself and kept to his word of being a mother and father to me for as long as I needed him to be.
"He was a well-respected archaeologist who worked for the University of London and by the time I was four, he somehow managed to convince the university that he should be allowed to take me on a research trip with him to Italy. That's the first time I met Marcello and although I was only four at the time, I still have vivid memories of the huge library with row upon row of books and journals. From that time on, I became the child of the history department in the University of London. He took me with him to the university every day and I spent most of my childhood playing in his office or the libraries or the university gardens during the summer months. I sometimes sat quietly in his lectures during the university term time, not understanding a word he was saying but just content to listen to him speak while a room full of people listened to what he had to say. All the doctors and professors and research students knew me; even the cleaners knew who I was. Professor Rutherford was like a grandfather to me and the university became my second home.
"I don't know when it happened, but at some point I started to remember things about what I heard my father and other lecturers talking about. I developed an interest in discovering things for myself and slowly began to read the books in the library instead of climbing the shelves they were stored on. There was no end to the encouragement I got from the faculty in pursuing my own research. I found it fascinating that I could find answers to almost any question I could think of asking in this great library.
"By the time I was eight, he had begun taking me on short expeditions all over the world. Within a few years, I'd been to Japan, China, India, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and several other European countries. They were all short excursions to have a look at existing excavations and to gather preliminary information on the sort of discoveries that were being made. He was a popular choice since he helped the university finance the trips and he had more experience than anyone else of his age.
"He led an expedition to China when I was twelve, an excavation which was to last five years on a site that was only accessible during the dry season. I spent several months a year in China until I was seventeen and I made a good friend in my father's Chinese counterpart Niu Tai Hong and his daughter Shu Ren. My father and Tai Hong quickly became good friends and several weeks after our arrival, we were invited to spend the remainder of the season at his home instead of the tents at the dig site. On our first night in our new accommodation I saw the most amazing display of a physical art I had ever seen in my life. They called it Kung Fu and he performed a form in perfect synchronisation with his daughter. It wasn't common for girls to learn Kung Fu but he had no sons and his family style would have been lost if he didn't pass it on to his daughter. After some time, I convinced him to teach me also.
"For the remainder of the season I was merely a punch bag for his daughter during hard style training but I also learned soft styles such as Tai Chi and Qui Gong. I had never seen anything like it before and I loved every minute of training. We trained ever day when I was in China and I kept practising when I was home in England. When I told people at home about it they either didn't know what I was talking about or they give my father a telling off for letting someone teach me how to fight. They don't understand what a martial art is about. There's so much more to it than just fighting. There's the philosophy and spirit, the meditation, the mind control and self-discipline, the healing. I don't know where I'd be now without it.
"The last season's digging in China revealed something that was to stay with my father for the rest of his life. We had already proven that European cults had spread to China much earlier than most people believed and our excavation had given us hard evidence to back it up. Several weeks before the site was filled in, we lifted what was believed to be the base of an altar and discovered that it had been built on top of a grave. We never discovered who the grave belonged to but there were some very interesting artefacts buried with the body that occupied it; the most important of which was a book.
"The grave had been sealed with some sort of waterproof substance. The book had survived hundreds of years alongside its owner, or writer. We couldn't find anything to identify the human remains but the book was written in a western alphabet, an ancient Greek dialect. It was one of the few artefacts that the Chinese government gave us permission to keep since it obviously did not have Chinese origins. Everything else was documented and handed over.
"By the time I had finished in China, I had learned several languages, something that was made easier by the fact that I spent much of the rest of the year travelling around. I had even managed to pick up a couple that were no longer used for speech to facilitate my research using books written in the archaic dialects. My father and I were a team when it came to research and hardly a day went past when I didn't learn something new from him. We were known in almost every library, museum and university of any importance throughout Europe. My name began to appear beside his on his published papers and journals that were distributed around the world. He was always proud to put my name on the papers even though he had done most of the work.
"When we returned to England, my father began his investigations into the books contents. At a glance, it appeared to be standard cult writings for that time. They had their gods, prayers and rituals but nothing that was out of the ordinary. Nobody had come across that particular cult before but it wasn't uncommon for small cults to pop up and disappear in that time period. It was just fascinating that this one had found its way into Asia.
"I'll never know why, but for some reason there was a small passage that caught my father's attention. It mentioned an ancient city called Irem, the City of a Thousand Pillars, built in the desert and of great importance to the ancestors of this cult. It was destroyed many thousands of years ago by a great lightning bolt from heaven and all traces of it, and the roads that led to it, were washed away by the desert. It seemed like an impossible task, since this was the only known reference to the city and it didn't even mention which desert it was built in, but my father made it his personal mission to find this lost city.
"He didn't even ask the university to fund this research, knowing full well that they couldn't approve a project with such little evidence to go on. Instead, for the next three years, he spent every minute of his spare time looking for more evidence of its existence. Nothing was found in any of the resources at his disposal in London but he brought his mission with him when he travelled abroad and country by country he searched most of Europe for anything to point the direction to Irem. He wasn't to know that the books he searched for were still in the hands of the cults he thought had been extinct for over a thousand years.
"His investigations must have caught the attention of some of the cult members, although they were happy to remain in the shadows as long as he had no more than the book he found in China. His regular work continued but more and more of his spare time was consumed by his search for Irem. Instead of being deterred by the lack of evidence, it spurred him on. Not only was it lost to the world but it was also lost to the world's memories and he believed that when he found it that he would be returning something to the earth that it had forgotten it possessed.
"In early 1912 he made an unexpected discovery. A student returned from The Valley of the Kings in Egypt where he had spent some time as a tracer, someone who copies drawings and inscriptions from tomb walls for further study. He had always doodled drawings and hieroglyphics on his textbooks and one in particular caught my father's eye. It read 'A thousand pillars must rise from the sand before R'lyeh can rise from the sea.' It was small, but enough for him to set off to Egypt, and Luxor.
"He found the tomb that the tracer had worked in and by piecing together fragments of inscriptions on its walls, he found the location of The City of a Thousand Pillars. He returned to England and immediately began to gather the resources he needed to excavate the site. He easily gained approval from the Egyptian authorities because the sites he had identified were truly in the middle of nowhere, far to the west of Bawiti in the Egyptian desert.
"A team of fourteen, we set out in November of 1912. He had identified three possible sites near the base of some rocky outcroppings that stretched for several miles and he divided his team among them. Each began work on a set of trenches that we plotted but progress was slow because of the sandy ground we were digging. Our first reward was some pieces of pottery, a sign that there was a settlement in this area at some time. Then, in late December we found the foundations of our first building. At its front were the bases of what were, at one time, enormous pillars. Around their girth were words of a language we had never seen before. We pulled the whole team to this one site and as time went on, more and more pillar bases were uncovered and some interesting artefacts were dug up around the buildings' foundations.
"Late January saw the uncovering of our last great discovery. Nine stone tablets were found within the remains of a building that we suspected to be a temple of some sort. Throughout our excavation of the site, the pillar bases had been the only things to have this strange writing on them until the tablets were uncovered. They were in excellent condition because they weren't cut from the same stone as everything else we had uncovered. It was much stronger and darker in colour. They intrigued everyone on the site but there was nothing more we could do than catalogue them, store them with the rest of the artefacts and continue our work. We dug for another two days, uncovering bits and pieces here and there...before they came."
Kay stopped speaking for a moment. Lori waited silently, unsure of whether or not to say something. Kay's eyes were distant, as if she wasn't seeing the cabin around her but somewhere far from here, somewhere far in her past. She took a deep breath and continued.
"On the night of the twenty ninth we were sitting around the campfire. We had just finished supper and Dawson and O'Neill were playing their guitars, the rest of us were singing as badly as ever. My father was in his tent because he couldn't keep away from those tablets we found two days previous. Miranda was ignoring Larry's advances as usual; he knew better than to try anything with me. Penamun was cleaning up after losing his turn to Jefferson again the night before. He was our guide, a local boy, or as local as you could be to our camp, and they had taught him to play poker on his first day with us. By now they had won everything he owned except his clothes and his camel.
"The stars were out and the temperature had dropped quickly. I went to dad's tent because he always got so engrossed in his work that he forgot to...
"Dad, have you put on your extra pullover yet? It's cold out."
"No, but I'll put it on now because I know I'm not going to get another minutes work done until I do." He smiled at his daughter and pulled an old green woollen sweater from beneath a pile of rolled up maps he had been working on the previous day. "Happy now?" he said playfully. "Did you make sure Larry had an extra layer on before you left him out in the cold?"
"I think he's hoping Miranda is going to keep him warm. He can catch a cold and spend the rest of the season in his tent for all I care."
"Oh? And who'd do my sketches then?"
"I can sketch. There's nothing to it. A rock here, some sand there, some more sand and finish with some sand."
He put an arm around her. "I'm sure you'd do a great job but who'd work north trench six for me? It's been coming up with fragments of tablets recently. Who knows, maybe you'll find another one of these." He walked her to the table where he had two of the nine dark tablets laid on their backs. They looked even darker in the dim light of the paraffin lamp and the sunken letters appeared to move on their surface with the dancing flame. He ran his fingers across their words, feeling the perfection of their letters and contemplating the mystery of their origin.
She took his hand off the cold stone and held it in her own. A loud bang followed by a roar of laughter came from the group at the campfire. "Have you had supper yet?" she asked him.
He just smiled and let her lead him out of the tent.
Their rowdy amusement had drowned out the sound of the horses and we didn't realise they were coming until they were on top of us.
A war cry was the first sound to overpower the merriment at the campfire. The singing suddenly stopped. O'Neill stood and turned around to meet the edge of a curved sword as a horse shot past him. He didn't have time to scream before his throat was cut and he fell to the ground choking on blood. Two more riders rushed the gathering with their mounts, jumping the fire, brushing the flames and striking at Larry who had only begun to realise what was happening. One missed altogether, the other missed his neck but cut his shoulder wide open. He spun with the force of the blow and fell on Miranda who had been sitting next to him. He screamed with pain, clutching his shoulder. She screamed in fright and scrambled back, paused and rushed forward again to help him to his feet.
Another rider stopped before them. He leapt from his horse and unsheathed his sword. His head was wrapped in cloth so that only his eyes were visible. He looked at her and then down at Larry. He was still face down in the sand, possibly in too much pain to realise what was happening. Miranda felt nothing. There was no sound, no pain, no fear. Only numbness. He raised his sword and drove it down through Larry's back. He twisted for a moment and then went limp. Maybe he screamed, maybe not. Still, there was no fear. She could see horses galloping quietly past, scattering sand and burning ash. Muted men shouted in silence and ran and fell and bled. Some fought. Some begged. All died. The stained bladed of the sword was raised and silently passed beneath her chin. The world went bright, and then dark.
At the first sight of the horsemen, Kay grabbed her father and ran back to his tent. "Who are they?" she asked, holding her hair back out of her face and breathing heavy.
"I don't know. We have to get out of here." A horse galloped past the tent entrance and they both fell silent and still.
"We can't run. They'll see us. What do they want?"
"I don't know." He held her by both shoulders. "Kay, listen to me. When they come in here I want you to get out the back of the tent and run for the trenches. Don't wait for me, just run. I'll follow when I can."
"What do you mean when you can? Lets go now."
A horse came to a stop outside and the tent flaps were pushed aside. A tall man with a shaved head and coloured symbols painted all over it stepped through. He seemed surprised to see the two before him, but only for a moment. He looked first at Kay's father and then at Kay, calmly smiling. His sword was still in its sheath and Kay stood by while her father rushed him before he had time to unsheathe it. "Run, Kay. Now!"
"It's the last thing he said to me. I ran so fast that I had fallen into a trench before I realised that I had reached them. I had never been as scared before in my life. I lay there listening to the terrible sounds coming from the camp and when they had died away there was talking and laughter. I don't know how long they spent there but I waited in silence, almost afraid to breathe. I waited until I heard them mounting their horses again and the sound of hooves had completely disappeared. Then returned to the tent. I expected to find my father dead but he wasn't. He was alive. I couldn't believe that they didn't kill him but he was alive. I didn't realise that they had killed him. He just hadn't died yet.
"They had done something to his mind. His eyes were wide open but he couldn't see me. They were blank and emotionless and he never moved or made a sound. They had taken the horses and killed the camels so I couldn't go for help. I stayed by his side all night, not knowing what to do except hold his hand.
"The next day I ventured outside the tent. Everyone else was dead. Blood soaked the sand where they fell. Everything was silent. There wasn't even a breeze to make a sound and I could hear every step I took in the dry sand. Every movement I made caused a racket in my ears because I was the only thing left alive in a dead world. I had never seen anything like it. No sound but what I made and no movement but my own.
"I returned to the tent with some food and water but he couldn't take either. I had moved him to his bed and he just lay there, a dead man with a beating heart. I remember talking to him, telling him that I would work harder if he came back. I still had so many things to learn from him, and so much love to give him. I needed him to live because I couldn't live without him.
"The sun had set again before he passed away. I hadn't realised until I felt his hand grow cold. I didn't allow myself to cry while he was still alive; I didn't want him to wake up and see me with tears in my eyes. Now I knew he would never wake again so it didn't matter any more and I cried myself to sleep that night sitting by his side. I hoped that I would dream of him because it was the only place left that I could see him, but I didn't. I just didn't dream at all."
Kay wiped the tears from her cheeks. "I'm so sorry," the blond woman said, not knowing how else to express how she felt inside. Kay squeezed her hand in acknowledgement and settled herself with a shaky breath.
"The only things they had taken from the camp were the nine stone tablets. I tried to understand why but nothing about what had happened made any sense. I spent another two days in that place. I put the bodies in a trench and broke the wood that held the sandbank. I made a special grave for my father and marked it with a wooden cross so that I would know where it was. I left a space and another cross beside it and wrote a message to anyone who found me. I would never have made it to the nearest town on foot and I expected to die when the food had run out. If Penamun wasn't lying with the others, he would have taken his camel back to his village that day for supplies. That was the only reason that Jefferson never took it from him in poker.
"I can't remember what I did for those days. I know I spent a lot of time still talking to my father by his grave. There were a lot of things that still needed saying. I think I also finished cataloguing the artefacts and even went back to digging my trench for a while." She choked as she tried to laugh and the salty taste of a tear found its way to the corner of her mouth. "What do you do when you're waiting to die?"
"Kay, don't do this to yourself," Lori said, taking the rest of the tear from Kay's cheek with her hand.
"I'm ok," she assured her and adjusted her grip Lori's hand as if it was the channel from which she drew the strength she needed to re-live this. "On the morning of the fourth day I awoke to the sound of camels in the camp. Anen, the older brother of Penamun, had brought us food and water after his brother hadn't returned to the village. It never occurred to me at the time that he would be missed. I had to tell him about his brother and what happened to the rest of us. He took me back to his village and I stayed there for a few days before returning to England. I was still confused and I didn't know what I was doing at the time but I gave him my address and what money I didn't need for the return trip and asked him to find out who they were and where they went. I don't know how much I gave him but it must have been a lot because my father's 'emergency money' could have kept a normal man for a year.
"When I returned to England I was alone for the first time in my life. I was twenty-one with a house on Kensington Road and more money than I needed. I couldn't go back to the university because it reminded me too much of him. I couldn't face the libraries that I had shared my life with him in or the people that had become more of a family to me than the few relations who showed up wondering about their non-existent inheritance. I sat at home, watching families taking walks in Hyde Park from my bedroom window, wondering what lay in store for the children that held their parents hand or fed the ducks with the crumbs of bread left over from Sunday lunch. Did they know the love I had known? Will they know the loss I felt? I envied their innocence, and their happiness, but I also feared for their future. I saw the tears that were shed when they fell over being wiped away by warm, loving hands and knew that they too would awake one day to find those hands had grown cold, the sound of laughter silenced, only painful memories remaining.
"I awoke crying one morning. I couldn't remember why I started but there could only be one person that those tears were for. I found a reason somewhere to get out of bed and opened a letter that had been delivered. I didn't look at the postmark and didn't realise where it was from until I began reading. Had I realised before, it would probably never have been opened. It was from Anen. He had spent several days tracking the people who had attacked our camp. He never discovered who they were but he sent me everything he knew about their whereabouts.
"He guessed they would go to El Minya, the nearest town on the banks of the Nile, where they sold their horses and got passage on a boat. From there he tracked them north to Cairo and then on to Port Said by train. It wasn't difficult to find information about a large group of men travelling with nine stone tablets. They caught a cargo ship at Port Said that would take them across the Mediterranean, through the Dardanelles and into the Sea of Marmara. It stopped at several ports but he told me that he could not follow them any longer. He had to return to his mother and father in their village.
"He had done more than enough because I knew where they were going. The only place they could disappear without a trace in that area was Constantinople. By the time I had finished breakfast I had made my decision. I was going to find them and stop them from ever doing this again. For my father, for the children who played in the park, to relieve the anger that was building up within me, to confront the tattooed face of my father's attacker that had embossed itself in all my memories. I could find so many reasons to go that I didn't even look for a reason to stay.
"I travelled the route we are taking now but I didn't realise that the what lay at the end of the line would consume me. It swallowed my soul quicker that I realised and I spent four long years in the belly of the beast that was the world of the Templars. It didn't take me long to find them, not the ones that had attacked our camp but their organisation. Some people knew they existed; the poor on the streets or the small outlying farming communities. They were all just too afraid to admit it.
"I was walking dangerous ground and the only way I could watch them without becoming a target was to join them. I would discover nothing about them from the outside but from within I hoped to find out just how far they spread. I somehow managed to gain the confidence of a small group and piece by piece I gathered parts of the bigger picture. I slowly learned about their ways, their gatherings, their rituals. I don't know when it happened but I realised that being with them gave me power. I can't explain what it was like but I felt something within me growing stronger as each day passed. Their ceremonies were more that a display. Their magic was more than just a myth. It was real and it had a source that I had only begun to understand.
"With every ritual I performed, the past became more blurred and the future more clear. As time passed, their gods became less of a symbol and it took less faith to believe they existed. I knew they existed. They gave me the strength I wanted. I thought I needed it but truly I just wanted it. I gained knowledge of things I never knew existed and wouldn't have guessed existed in my wildest dreams. With knowledge came power, power I needed to gain more knowledge because the things I was learning were not meant for the human mind to contain. Knowledge and power built upon one another in an upward spiral that had no foreseeable limit. Nothing mattered but climbing higher and higher. Secrets were revealed, puzzles were solved, treasure chests of immense power were opened before me and I adorned myself with their riches.
"I didn't know who I was anymore or where I came from. I didn't care about the past because only the future was under my control and I felt that I had so much control of it that I could shape it into anything I wanted. Nothing was beyond me. Nothing could stop me.
"I did many things in those years that I can't tell you about. I climbed the ranks of the Templars faster than anyone before me and I became a priestess within my order. We travelled Europe performing rituals on our holy grounds and communicating with beings that no longer inhabited the earth. We called demons to do our bidding and drew power from portals to distant worlds. They myths of bedtime stories were twisted into the dark reality we lived in. We walked alongside things that walked the earth a billion years before man. We fed them and they fed us in return. We used them and they used us. A relationship that found a balance across time and space and life was the currency used to pay the way.
"We also searched out lost texts and talismans, anything that could give us more power. I had a key roll to play in these because of the knowledge I had gained in what had become a past life to me. I discovered many lost treasures of ancient times that were lost for a very good reason and returned them to the hands of those who only knew how to use them for evil. I learned languages that had no earthly origin and interpreted the text of rituals that had been lost to man for tens of thousands of years. Our crowning achievement was to come after the interpretation of nine stone tablets that had been etched by an unknown hand in the time of Haon-Dor. They would call forth the Great Old One known to us as Cthulhu."
Lori turned to her. "Cthulhu. It was in the line that Jack and Melissa kept repeating and you said you knew what it meant."
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." She said the words with such ease that it frightened Lori. "It's part of the rites of Cthulhu and it means in his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming. Cthulhu is a Great Old One who sleeps in his sunken city of R'lyeh at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. He speaks to us telepathically but the waters inhibit his communication. Some people hear him in their dreams but if he were to come fully awake and rise above the ocean, all but the strongest minds would be driven to insanity. We were fools to try to raise his city but we believed our minds were strong enough to listen to his thoughts. Imagine hearing the thoughts of a being that has lived through millions of years, has seen the passing of ages and has fought wars that predate the existence of man. He has known the changing of stars.
"The ritual had to be performed in Irem and a high priest was chosen who had been studying the tablets for years. In 1916 I returned to the ruins of the city that the desert had almost reclaimed for the second time. The preparations were finished just as night fell, torches lit the surroundings and the nine tablets had been arranged in a circle where the high priest was to stand. I was in my tent preparing myself when a lesser priest came in and...
"It is time." The man turned and left without another word. Kay stood and closed the silk robe around her body, raising its hood over her head. The night was calm and the low mumbling of chanting priests mixed with the crackling of burning torches were the only sounds. She walked towards the grounds of the ritual, dragging her feet through the sand as she went. Her toe caught on something and pulled it from its hiding place. She turned and lifted it. It was two pieces of wood hammed together in the shape of a cross. She turned it around and her eyes widened. It read 'Kay Ridgeway - Died:' and then a blank space.
She stood for a long moment looking at it. Sounds of horses whispered in the wind. She turned her head quickly to find the source of an echoed scream. There was no source. Not knowing what possessed her, she dug in the sand a few feet from where the first cross was found. She pulled another one from the ground. This one read 'Henry Ridgeway - Died: Janurary 30th 1913'. She held both in her hand, looking at each in turn until the lesser priest called her again. "The high priest is coming. We must start."
She dropped the crosses where she found them and continued to the circle of stone tablets. From the corner of her eye she could see a campfire burning but when she turned her head it was gone. She watched the high priest and his assistants walk from their tent and he stood in the centre of the circle, cloaked and hooded. A guitar started playing from behind her and again she wheeled around, gaining the attention of some of the other priests, but the ghostly notes were muted as quickly as they had been plucked. She staggered backwards, confused by what she was feeling. She yelped as a hand touched her shoulder but it was not there. She stumbled back some more as a horse galloped past in sound but not in sight.
The high priest turned and shouted, "There must be silence." He drew back his hood and a tattooed head of coloured symbols was revealed. The sounds left Kay and there was quiet again. She stood motionless, calm on the outside but within she was being overwhelmed with memories. She had no defence against them and they rushed through her as if the dam that held them back had exploded. She lived a lifetime in a few breaths and then fell to her knees, breathing heavy, knowing, remembering. She planted one foot firmly on the ground and then the other. She stood up slowly, pulling her hood back to face her father's killer. He gasped in recognition. "We killed you."
She walked forward toward the high priest and his two assistants stepped in front of her. She pushed her hands forward, almost not touching them but sending them flying through the air to land on their backs, a smouldering dark patch on their chests. The high priest spoke a word that could not be spoken and the ring of stones caught fire around him. Kay stopped briefly and then bolted through the flames, struck the high priest on the chest with her shoulder and the two of them fell to the ground on the other side with singed clothes.
Before she could continue her assault, he climbed to his feet, picked her up with one hand and threw the other into her chest, palm first. It sent a burning bolt of pain through her body and she fell back several paces with the force. A few of the surrounding priests tried to grab her but two quickly found their robes catch fire at her touch. She caught the third by the neck, whispered some words in his ear and dropped him to the ground where he twisted in pain as his muscles tightened until all his bones had snapped.
She turned to the high priest again. They circled one another looking for an opening, physical or mental. She tried to see his fears but he kept them well protected, as did she. "Are you ready to spend a revolution listening to the cries of the dying? That is how I am going to kill you as you killed my father. A day an night, caught just beyond the land of the living, listening to the wails and feeling the pain of those who pass through, trying to drag yourself one way or the other." She saw his eyes straining to break her defences. All she needed was a split second. Just a blink.
A blast of wind hit the camp from behind her. The calm night broke its silence for just a moment. It brought with it a shower of sand that struck his face. He closed his eyes and turned his head. It was more than enough. A voice that rode the wind shouted 'RUN!' and she obeyed. She ran forward and grabbed his head, placing her hands on his temples and pulling his head back so that she looked down into his eyes. "I will see to it that your first few minutes are the worst because the rest of these priests are going to find ways to die that they never knew existed." She strained her eyes some more and his mind buckled under her mental pressure. He fell to the ground still breathing, eyes wide but unable to see.
She stood above him, looking down on his empty body for a long time. Two smouldering corpses and a crumpled body lay to one side. The two assistants lay lifeless where they fell. The few remaining priests had found horses and disappeared into the night. Leaving the high priest staring at the sky, she walked back toward her tent. She stopped where the two crosses lay on the sand and picked them up again. She felt the ground with her hand and knew he still lay beneath it. "I'm sorry I forgot you," she said and stabbed his cross into the sand. She walked a few paces before dropping her own, leaving it there for the desert to keep.
"I left the camp that night as soon as I had gathered enough things to get me to Ciro."
"So you didn't kill any more of them?"
"No. Something returned to me after I had beaten him; I might have called it humanity if I had known what that was at the time. The fire that burned within me was beginning to flicker. It was far from out but it no longer raged. I looked around and I saw a sight I had seen four years before. I stood in a silent camp, surrounded by death and the body of a man who would know death all too soon. I looked to where the trenches had been and remembered where I had hidden. When I lay in that trench, cold and shaking with fear, afraid to move or even to breathe and terrorised by the sight of the man who had entered our tent, I prayed that my father would follow me like he said he would. He never came. When I buried him I promised myself that I would never feel fear like that again. However I managed it, I would grow strong so that I need never run or hide or leave someone behind again. I had succeeded in keeping that promise to myself but not in the way I had wanted. The camp was in chaos and bodies lay at my feet but bandits had not attacked us this time. This was my doing. I saw what I had become.
"I went north to Constantinople, taking the same route that the Templars had taken before. I found myself standing in Sirkecki Station with a ticket in my hand that would give me passage all the way to England. I longed to return to London more than anything now, to see my home again and to speak to the people I called my family.
"I saw the train pull up and a wave of passengers flow onto the platform. Men and women from all over Europe, families on holiday and newlyweds on honeymoon; I saw myself step off the train with a mission to track down a person like the one I had become. I dropped my ticket, knowing that it would be a long time before I could see my home again. The power I had gained was a drug with side effects that were not just dangerous to me but to everyone around me. I was under control, of sorts, when I was in their world but I knew there and then that I was not strong enough to resist it for long. Without help, I would return to their world one day, a thought that made me feel physically sick, but there was no one in London who could help me. Only one person I knew could teach me the discipline I needed to resist and give me the power I needed to break free. I went East.
"I spent three years with Tai Hong and Shu Ren. I was a mess but he welcomed me without question. I studied the ancient arts that had been passed down in his family. I studied oils and incense, herbs and potions, healing, meditation, Tai Chi, Qui Gong, all day every day. Anything to keep my mind off what I had left behind. It wasn't easy. I still had a strong link with the Templars and other orders that immersed themselves in the black arts of another age. I had only been there a few months when there was a great rift on a plain close to the Dreamlands that I had visited many times. I don't know what caused it but it originated somewhere in Europe and it reached me through a link I thought I had severed. It sent me into a frenzy and I think I nearly killed Tai Hong before he brought me back again. He didn't cast me out though. He redoubled his efforts to give me control of my mind.
"To this day I still meditate and practice Tai Chi as you have seen. I will never be free of the Templars and it is the only thing that keeps me under control. Without it I would have destroyed myself long ago and even now I still have the potential to do so. I chose a path in life that trapped me in a world filled with evil. For four years I lived in its centre, revelling in its power and giving it my soul in return. Now I live on its borders, unable to fully return to the world I left behind.
"I returned to London two years ago and you know the rest. I went back to the University, worked on a few small projects, met Jack and here I am, sitting on the train that brought me hurtling towards the end of one life and the beginning of another, but this time I've taken you with me."
Lori looked at her in silence. She didn't know how she should react. She wasn't as frightened as she thought she might be but she wanted to know and now she did. She wanted to understand the dark secrets that this woman held and now at least some of them had been revealed. She has opened up her life to me, something she probably hasn't done for anyone else. She never revealed her secrets to Marcello, someone she had known since childhood, yet here she is, laying it all out for me. Why?
"Well, you asked and now you know," Kay said, as if she had read Lori's mind.
"Now I know," Lori replied quietly. "You once told me I had a beautiful vision of the world. Now I know that world was a lie."
"No, Lori. Don't say that. That world is the real one. The one I have told you about is merely a disease that is living on it. It is deep rooted and will never go away but the world is still a beautiful place and it needs people like you to see it. I am so sorry that I have taken you from your home and a grandfather that loves you to expose you to this."
"Don't be," Lori replied with heartfelt sincerity. "You have enough regrets in your life without adding me to your list. I have been attacked by Templars, I have escaped the burning house of a mad priest and I have lived through a nightmare that was so real that I can still remember the pain. I saw this creature you call Cthulhu, a thing with the features of the statue in Father Antonio's house. I have survived it all. That must mean something."
"It means you're stronger that I would have ever given you credit for. You looked upon the face of Cthulhu and lived. That is no small feat. Most men would have been driven to madness."
"I felt like I almost was."
Lori rubbed her eyes, fatigue taking up residence where confusion had previously dwelt. She wasn't sure why she felt so calm about what had been revealed to her. Perhaps it sounded so extraordinary that her mind reacted as if it was just a story, despite the fact that she believed it. Maybe fear of the unknown is always worse than fear of what you know. Maybe she didn't care what the world threw at her as long as she didn't have to face it alone.
Kay looked at the blond woman for a while. She was relieved that Lori knew these things; no more secrets or playing with words. Could she even begin to teach Lori how to protect herself? She couldn't leave her alone now to fend for herself after opening the gates to this secret place. She had underestimated Lori more than once since she had met her and this time was no different. She was seeing strength in Lori that she had never seen before, strength she suspected she did not have herself when she made this journey. They were in it together now, heading east, into the unknown, but this time Kay wasn't making the journey alone.
"It's time you got some rest," Kay said to the blond woman beside her.
Lori nodded. "Alright, but there's something I want to do first." She slid of the bed, opened one of her suitcases and retrieved her writing book.
"What are you doing?" Kay asked.
"I'm writing a sidekick into my story. My hero needs a sidekick. This is my story and I need to prove to myself that I can do it."
Kay just looked at her.
"Trust me, it will make me sleep better."