“May as well take you straight to a nursing home. Give up. Die of old age at seventeen.”

The next few rooms were empty, though they appeared to have been inhabited in the not-too-distant past. There was straw on the floor, a chair in each room, a tin bucket, a few bones. They also had metal rings and chains attached to the walls. There was an awful smell about the rooms, the smell you might find in a pigpen or filthy outhouse.

“This must be what that room back there is like,” Kane said as the wailing recommenced behind them. “Only there’s someone in it.”

“You think he’s scared of us?” asked Dylan.

“Not us,” suggested Arika, “judging by those chains on the walls.”

Dylan was standing at the final door, looking up the empty passage. “There’s no more rooms.”

Kane felt his scalp muscles tighten. Dylan was right. The passage continued, but there were no more doorways, only the same pattern of bricks and vaulted arches, extending unbroken into the darkness.

“There’s plenty of places we didn’t check yet,” he said, though he knew they’d searched all the logical hiding places. The only places left were the places the book was unlikely to be.

“No, there’s not,” said Dylan. Head down, he began walking back the way they’d come. “The book isn’t here. If it was, it’d be in the study. This is a waste of time.”

Dylan’s negativity – his propensity to give up at the smallest obstacle – infuriated Kane. It reminded him of everything he’d disliked in his brother all these years, all the things he’d hoped would be washed away now they had a common enemy.

“It has to be here,” he asserted, looking around. He truly believed it. There wasn’t any other outcome that made sense, certainly not the outcome where his brother lived out the rest of his life as an old-age pensioner.

“He must have took it with him.”

“We’ve already been through this, Dylan. It wasn’t there.”

“Maybe it was in the car.”

“Why? – when he was doing a spell at the altar?”

“He might have taken notes, like he always does.”

“Then why leave the book in the car, where someone could come along and steal it?”

“I don’t know!”

“The book is buzzing with energy; you said that yourself. If he had it, it would have been at the altar. And it wasn’t.”

“It isn’t here, Kane! Let’s just go!”

“Go where?”

“Home.”

Kane shook with frustration. “May as well take you straight to a nursing home. Give up. Die of old age at seventeen.”

Instantly regretting his words, he went up to his brother and placed a hand on his shoulder. Dylan was trembling and Kane’s temper melted away as he gazed into Wilfred Waite’s eyes and saw his brother staring out of them. Dylan was terrified. They were both terrified. Kane knew that if his brother didn’t have the resilience to go on, he would need enough strength for both of them.

“I’m not gonna stand here and let that bastard win. I’m staying here till the job’s done, even if that means waiting for Waite to get back and ripping the book from his – from your – hands. Now how about we get you out of here and I’ll come back and finish looking myself?”

Dylan squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them again, they were shiny with determination. “I’m sorry to be a crybaby, Kane. This damn body is getting to me.”

“I know, bro. It’s getting to me too. You’re so dang ugly!”

They both smiled.

Dylan stared back up the dark passage. “We may as well go all the way to the end, hey? Now we’re here.”

“Okay. Come on, we’ll try go faster.”

Up ahead, the passage curved to the left. They followed the curve and soon spied the final arch. As they approached it, they could see an inky blackness on the other side of the passage, a blackness the light from the two lamps was failing to penetrate. There were no more arches, no more brick walls; only the start of stone slabs on the floor. Coming from the abyss, barely discernible, was a sound – or rather a multitude of sounds: howls and wails that continued at a steady level, as if they were made by the darkness itself.

“Jesus,” breathed Arika. “More of them.”

“As long as they’re locked up, we’ll be fine,” Kane assured them.

At the sound of his voice, something above them took off with a heavy flapping of wings.

“Was that a bat?” asked Dylan in a low voice.

“Sounded too big for a bat,” said Arika.

“I hope it’s not another Messenger.”

“You know how to kill a Messenger,” Kane reminded him.

Dylan was looking spooked. “If I had the spell and the powder I could.”

Kane glanced at Arika’s axe and Dylan’s cattle prod. They were little use against the types of creatures Waite could summon. Even Arika’s gun would be like a pea shooter to them.

“Not to worry,” he said, trying to sound unconcerned. “It was flying away from us, so I doubt it’s a demon from another dimension sent to kill us.”

Stepping into the darkness, he turned and raised his lamp. The walls of the chamber were carved from gigantic stone blocks, each one a head taller than him. He ran a hand over the stone. The blocks were cold and smooth. They fitted together with such precision there was barely a crack between them.

“That’s impressive workmanship,” said Arika, doing the same. “Someone took real pride in building this.”

Standing back, she ran the torch beam up the wall to the domed ceiling, which towered at least six storeys above their heads. As she moved the beam around, they could see the ceiling comprised a complex system of intersecting domes. It was like a cathedral made for giants.

“This is no fallout shelter,” she said.

They were interrupted by a groan from Dylan. Returning to the brick passage, they found him sitting on the ground, a hand pressed against his eyes.

“Hey, bro, you okay?”

Dylan nodded. “Just a dizzy spell.”

Kane knelt beside him. “Okay, we’ll rest awhile,” he said. “Then we’ll go and see what else Waite has hidden down here.”

Arika glanced from brother to brother. “I’m tired too, Kane. We’re not super-fit fire officers like you.”

“Trainee,” interjected Dylan, unable to help himself.

“Trainee?” repeated Arika, raising her eyebrows.

“Didn’t I say I was a trainee? I must have.” Kane put on his most innocent face, though he was well aware he hadn’t mentioned he was still in the training program.

“Anyhow,” continued Arika, “the point is: you’re a super-fit machine and we’re not. So if you want to keep searching, I can stay with your brother while you have a look around.”

Kane felt a rush of relief at the prospect of breaking away from his two companions. He could pick up the pace and finish the search in half the time. “If you’re sure,” he said.

“We’re sure, aren’t we, old man?”

Dylan nodded.

“Okay,” said Kane, getting up. “I’ll try and hurry.” He glanced at Arika’s axe, which was leaning against the wall next to his brother. “Let’s swap weapons. If Waite comes back, you’re better off with the rifle. It’s Dylan’s body, so the sedative should work on him. If not, use the cattle prod and keep him cornered till I get back.”

“And I’ve got my real gun if his goons turn up,” she reminded him.

He handed her the rifle and picked up the axe. “Just don’t shoot my brother.”

With a final smile at them, he entered the chamber carrying the axe and the oil lamp.

As he forged deeper into the darkness, he heard Arika say to Dylan, “Come on, grandpa, let’s get you back to the study.”

Read Chapter 26: The altar

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