“Necromonicon not easy reveal secrets.”
Back at the wall, Kane turned and stared into the darkness. The crazy man had quietened down, uttering only the occasional yelp of anger or despair, and there weren’t any other noises in the chamber – no shoes slapping on the stone floor or shouts from a group of pursuers. It seemed Dylan was right: Waite’s gorillas were elsewhere, probably robbing a bank or beating up old ladies or doing whatever it was sociopaths did when they weren’t helping a sorcerer torture reanimated corpses.
“No more distractions,” he muttered as he resumed his circumnavigation of the chamber.
There were no more cells after the fractals, only the stone wall rising unbroken to the domed ceiling. Despite himself, Kane was shaken by his encounter with the prisoner in the floor. All around, outside the circle of light thrown by his lamp, was absolute darkness, filled with the ever-present background noise of what he now knew were starving creatures wailing and howling, while beneath his feet were hidden cells populated by cannibals. Fortunately, the breeze against his cheeks felt stronger now and the stench had reduced to almost nothing, a small mercy in this ghastly, never-ending nightmare.
After continuing for some time, he noticed the wall was coming to an end. Increasing his pace, he broke into a run, then staggered with shock when his lamp revealed what lay beyond the wall of the cyclopean chamber.
It was an immense cave, even larger than the chamber he was standing in. The cave was naturally formed, unlike the perfect construction of the chamber, and it led from the edge of the chamber wall into an inky blackness that devoured the cave and all light and anything else that might have been out there. But it wasn’t just the vastness of the space that took Kane’s breath away. Leading down into the darkness was a flight of gargantuan stairs.
Each step was more than half Kane’s height and twice as deep. The steps had been hewn from the rock, the edges worn smooth through untold eons of traffic, and they continued in a broad semi-circle, extending beyond the range of his lamp.
Standing at the mouth of the abyss, the icy breeze sweeping up from unknown depths, Kane wondered about the nightmare beings that would use stairs of that size. He tried to imagine the horrors that had crawled and swarmed out of the gulf of blackness towards the central altar, but all he could conjure were the monsters he’d seen in movies and comics. Something told him that these monsters, spawned in the bowels of the Earth, intelligent enough to conceive of and worship a deity larger than themselves, yet savage enough to chain their brethren or other unfortunate denizens of the underworld to the stone pillars before sacrificing them on the giant, resin-stained cube, would be worse.
He leaned into the abyss, hoping for the sake of his sanity that he wouldn’t see or hear anything – that whatever monstrosities had clambered up and down these stairs were long dead. He could make out a distant whooshing noise, which he guessed was running water, probably an underground stream, making its way from the Six Hills to the ocean. The only other noises were the ones coming from the wailing creatures in the chamber behind him.
Suddenly, a clatter rattled up the stairs.
Kane leapt back. The noise sounded like a bone dropping to the rocky floor of the cave, a bone dropped by something alive, something that right now might be peering at the glow at the top of the stairs, licking its lips, commencing its ascent towards him.
Another clatter sounded, followed by a succession of scraping sounds.
A long chill ran up and down Kane’s spine. Standing there with axe raised, for all intents and purposes defenceless, he felt a suffocating paralysis akin to being locked in a coffin.
“To hell with you,” he murmured at last, to give himself strength. Lowering the axe, he stared defiantly into the black emptiness. “I’m here to find that damn book, and no evil, stinking, bone-chewing monster is gonna stop me.”
He listened again. The noise wasn’t repeated. After waiting a few more seconds with head cocked, he took a deep breath and continued along the top of the steps.
Soon enough, the lamp light revealed the point the chamber wall began again. Kane guessed from the curvature of the wall that he was probably midway through his search, tired, rattled and nowhere nearer to finding the Necromonicon. Swallowing a rising sense of despair and panic, he took another deep, mind-clearing breath, blew out the air and continued on.
The wall stretched a long distance, following the same gentle curve as before, with no further distinguishing features – until Kane discerned what he thought was a faint glow. It was so faint that at first he thought he was imagining it. As he approached the glow, he could see it was coming from a stone arch: the opening to a dark passage. This passage was about half the size of the one they’d entered from the stairs that led from the well. He bit his lip. Now he was at the entry to the passage, he could hear the tinny strains of ragtime, a grotesquely cheerful sound in this stygian, stench-filled netherworld.
Turning down the lamp, he made his way silently along the passage, breathing through his mouth. Part of him was tense with fear, but he was also trembling with excitement at the prospect of confronting Waite or one of his accomplices. The music hinted at a living, breathing person, not some mindless zombie or resurrected cannibal, and that meant someone he could interrogate about the whereabouts of the Necromonicon.
The music was coming from the second room on the left. Placing the lamp on the floor, taking a firm grip on his axe, Kane approached the doorway and readied himself to face whoever or whatever was waiting for him just a few metres away.
He peeked into the room.
Sitting with his back to the door, hunched over a large desk, was a skinny, dirty man with a speckled bald spot and long, brown, tangled hair that fell to his shoulders. He was dressed in green and brown rags, his arms wrapped in loose grey bandages, his hands encased in black woollen gloves with the fingers cut out. He appeared to be copying something from a large book into a smaller notebook. On a raised table next to the desk sat an old-fashioned gramophone with a flared brass horn, the arm bouncing as it played a jaunty piano riff.
“Put down the pen,” Kane ordered, stepping into the room.
The man froze. He glanced over his shoulder. On seeing Kane at the door with axe raised, his slitted eyes opened wide, and with a squeal of excitement he slid off the chair and stood wringing his hands, looking Kane up and down as if he’d never before seen anything like him.
“Who are you?” demanded Kane.
Placing his hands against his mouth, the man hopped from side to side. He had a thin face, hooked nose and narrow, close-set eyes behind round, wire-rimmed reading glasses. His lips were loose and black, his neck hanging in a series of folds, though the skin across his cheekbones was stretched tight.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” he piped, shuffling closer. “A man! You alive?” He extended his neck and sniffed the air. “Indeed! Gilles know! Warm breathe. Gilles know warm!”
Kane gripped the axe tighter, recalling what the thing under the altar had threatened to do to him. Who knew what these freaks were capable of? This one, though slight of build, had sharp yellow fingernails that Kane knew could do real damage if he wasn’t careful.
“I said: Who are you?”
“Excusee,” said the strange man, nodding obsequiously. “Gilles. Pleasing meet. Very pleasing.” Stepping closer, he thrust out a hand.
Kane stared at the filthy woollen glove. “What are you doing down here?”
The man frowned at his hand, pulled it away and stuck it inside his jacket. He seemed confused by the question. “Gilles live.”
It took a while for Kane to understand what he was getting at. “You live down here? Is that what you mean?”
He nodded excitedly.
“Assist to Mr Waite.”
“Ah,” said Kane, glancing at the narrow metal bed pushed against the wall, the thin mattress piled with ratty blankets. “You’re one of those.”
Gilles nodded. “One those.”
“Are there any more around?”
“Any more Waite’s assistants?”
Gilles shook his head. “Oh no. Gilles special.”
“Oh yeah, I can see that. What do you assist him with?”
“Study. Necromonicon. Book no easy reveal. Secrets must learn.”
Kane stared past him at the book that lay open on the desk. The realisation of what it was hit him like a jolt of electricity.
“That’s the Necromonicon,” he said, pushing past him. “It’s the damn book! I don’t believe it!”
Gilles glanced at it. “Damn book. Yes. Necromonicon you know?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
The yellowed pages were scrawled with text and symbols, none of them familiar to Kane. Next to the Necromonicon was the notebook the man had been writing in. He’d made almost perfect copies of the text from the open page.
He closed the book. As Dylan had described, it was bound in brown leather (human skin, according to legend). The leather was warped and cracked with age. The head of a hideous horned devil leered at him.
Kane glanced about the rest of the room, trying to make sense of everything. It was large and square, lit by a combination of oil lamps and candles. A bench at the far end was covered with flasks and test tubes, the shelves above it stacked with different kinds of laboratory equipment. Next to the bench was a long wooden table with straps attached at the top and bottom. The room wasn’t dissimilar to the basement laboratory.
“What the hell is all this for?” he asked Gilles. “What do you do down here?”
Gilles had moved very close and was staring up at him with what looked like adoration. He smelt fusty – the type of smell you’d expect from a fungus that grew on dead animals. He was breathing fast, like a bird. “Necromonicon not easy reveal secrets,” he said, and began stroking Kane’s hand with his dirty fingers.
Kane moved away. “Yeah, I get that. But what is all this crap for?”
Gilles followed him, trying to take hold of his sleeve. He reminded Kane of their former neighbour’s dog, Buddy: an annoying mutt that would come bounding over every time the brothers played in the front yard. It would chase their ball and jump on them and get tangled in their feet and nudge their hands so they’d pat it. This was a million times worse.
“Learn and know what? What’s Waite planning? Did he build this place? And how did he get all this stuff down here?”
“No Mr Waite. Own Master Dark.”
“Muster Duck? What’s that?”
“No what,” cackled the man. “Who.”
Kane suddenly remembered the paintings in the house, the ones Arika said were of the wizard, Jonathon Dark. “Ah right, Master Dark.”
“Master Dark bring all. All.” Gilles waved his hands around the room, then clapped them against his chest. “Bring Gilles. Bring all.”
Kane was confused. According to Arika, Dark disappeared decades ago. Surely this Gilles character hadn’t lived here all that time. “Is he a friend of Waite’s?” he asked.
“Friend no. Enemy.”
“Enemy, hey?” Kane smirked. “Very interesting.” So Waite had enemies. The enemy of your enemy is your friend – isn’t that what they say? It was a shame Jonathon Dark was no longer around. He might have been useful. “What happened to Master Dark?”
“Vanish. Pouf! Here now … gone now.”
“When was that?”
Gilles shrugged. “Here now … gone now,” he said, lifting first one hand, then the other.
“Did Wilfred Waite have something to do with it?”
“Mr Waite long time Master Dark gone. Looong time. Gilles wait, wait, wait … One day … Mr Waite!” At this joke, he bent over and cackled till he choked.
By this time, they’d done almost a complete circuit of the room, Kane moving away every time the repellent man nuzzled up against him.
“Do you know what Waite did to my brother?”
“Did brother?” Gilles frowned. A black tongue darted out to wet the flaccid lips. “Ahhh!” he cried, bouncing on his toes. “Fit jigsaw! Rescue young!”
“Yes! The young kid! That’s my brother! Dylan. Do you know what happened to him?”
“Gilles know. Gilles fit.”
“Fit two two together!”
“Two two together? What does that mean?”
“Mr Waite steal spell. Master Dark learn spell Gilles.” He threw out his arms. “Two two … Gilles fit!”
Kane thought hard. “Are you saying Jonathon Dark taught you the spell?”
Gilles shook his head. “Learn spell Gilles.”
He thought again. “You taught Jonathon Dark the spell?”
Gilles nodded till his glasses fell off.
Kane eyed him suspiciously as he retrieved the glasses from the floor. After blowing on each lens, he placed the glasses back on his nose, then stood squinting at him. He didn’t look clever enough to say a spell, never mind create one.
“Do you know how undo spell?”
Gilles flicked a hand at him. “Easy. Take body hard. Keep body hard. Take back … easy!”
Kane’s heart raced. He grabbed the man’s bony shoulder. “How do you do it?”
“Gilles show spell.”
“Tell me how to break it.”
“Gilles show make.”
“Look, man, I’m in a hurry. I don’t need to know how to make the spell … just how to break it.”
Gilles stuck out his lower lip like a spoilt child. “Show spell.”
“Tell me how to break it … I don’t have all night.”
“Gilles have all night and day and night and day and night and day and –”
“All right, all right. Show spell then show break.”
He danced a little jig. “Gilles tell. Master stroke. Two two fit.”
“Yes, tell me how two and two fit.”
He moved his thin face closer. “All know Borellus, true? See self other eyes? Borellus spell.”
“Borellus trick. Stare eyes, take body, see self.”
“Yeah,” agreed Kane, to hurry him on. “Everyone knows that.”
“Everyone know see. Everyone not know keep. Gilles read Necromonicon, read demon possess. Fit two two together. Make forever see self other eyes.”
Despite his fractured words, Kane understood his meaning instantly. “Make forever?”
“But … Waite can’t have a permanent hold on Dylan’s body yet. He comes and goes. It can’t be forever.”
“Long time make forever. Many sacrifice, spell stick.”
“Master Dark three year take.”
“Three years?” He let out a sigh of relief. “So all I have to do is get Dylan away from Waite and he won’t be able to make the swap permanent? Is that what you’re saying?”
Gilles shook his head, a wide grin on his black lips. “Gilles learn speed. Covens together, open gate, summon Yog-Sothoth. Make forever. Young man no young more. Old man young. Young man old.”
Kane gaped at him. So here it was at last: the reason Waite had summoned the Messenger. He’d tried to trick his brother into helping him steal his body.
“Mr Waite win.”
“Not if I’ve got anything to do with it.”
“I’ll stop him.”
“What do you mean?”
Kane narrowed his eyes. “Why would you do that?”
Gilles narrowed his eyes too. His mouth pulled down at the corners. “Mr Waite strong grow. Mean grow. Master Dark back, make dust Mr Waite.”
Kane couldn’t help but smile at Gilles’ loathing for the old wizard. It was good to know Waite’s accomplices weren’t all brainless acolytes. It meant he had potential allies in bringing him down.
“What makes you think Dark will come back?”
“Master Dark open gate, commune gods. Gilles wait. Master Dark come. Gilles here.”
Kane turned back to the book. “Okay, tell me how to break the spell.”
“Easy!” Gilles dragged the Necromonicon towards him. He flipped over a few pages and stopped at a picture of an eye inside a circle of symbols inside a seven-pointed star, all drawn in rust-coloured ink that Kane knew had to be blood. Slamming his hand down on the page, he said, “Necromonicon power here. Hand page, stare eye, think self. Necromonicon break spell.”
Kane pulled the book closer. “Let me get this straight: Dylan puts his hand on the page, concentrates on the eye and wills his body back?”
“Hand, stare, think self.”
“It’s that easy?”
“Hard steal, harder keep.”
“Thank you,” breathed Kane, grabbing Gilles’ hand and shaking it energetically. Letting go, he wiped his hands down his trousers. He felt suddenly invincible. He’d not only found the book, he’d received a lesson in how to use it to save his brother. The nightmare would soon be over. “Listen, man: I’ll get you out of here. You don’t need to stay here one minute longer. You can leave with us.”
Gilles raised his skinny arms as if Kane had threatened to attack him. “No!” he cried. “Master Dark come. Gilles stay.”
“You can wait anywhere. Up in the farmhouse, maybe. Better than down here in the dark.”
Gilles wasn’t listening to him. “Master Dark come! Gilles stay!” he cried, anguish twisting his face.
“Okay, okay,” Kane assured him. “Calm down. It was just a suggestion.”
“Mr Waite come! Gilles no leave!”
Kane glanced at the door. “He’s coming back?”
“What spell is he doing?”
Gilles quickly regained his composure. “Want know?”
Kane glanced at the door again. “If you can tell me in thirty seconds or less.”
“Want know?” Gilles asked again, sidling up to him.
“Yes! Tell me what Waite is up to – besides stealing my brother’s body.”
“Master Dark bring. Mr Waite filthy steal.” He grabbed hold of Kane’s sleeve. “Gilles show.”
“No, no, I don’t have time … we’ve been here too long already.”
Kane stared at him. “Come again.”
“Come new world order.”
“What does that mean?”
“Mr Waite summon gods.”
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“Summon gods, open gate. Thousand year chaos. Rivers turn blood. Cities burn. Oceans boil. New world order. Mr Waite stand foot of gods. Secrets universe learn. Come god.”
Gilles cackled. “Insane … hehehe. Mr Waite call god, come god.”
“How can a weak old man think he can bring about the end of the world?”
“Raise an army? He must be mad if he thinks he can do that.”
“Mad,” nodded Gilles.
“Is he mad?”
“Is he raising an army?”
Gilles nodded. “Show,” he said, tugging at Kane’s sleeve. “Follow. Lamp! Lamp!”
Kane hesitated, torn between getting back to Dylan and Arika and learning more about what Waite was up to. It didn’t take long to choose. If this freak was correct, and Waite was able to make good on his plan, saving Dylan would be the least of his worries – a short-term solution at best. He had to stop Waite from summoning his gods, otherwise they’d all be doomed.
Picking up one of the oil lamps, he followed Gilles out of the room. Gilles turned left, scooted off, came back, took hold of his sleeve and pulled him down the passage.
“Find Master Dark. Bring back. Dust Mr Waite. Find Master Dark. Bring back. Dust Mr Waite,” he kept saying, growing more excited with each step.
After passing a number of closed doors, they reached the end of the passage. Before them was a heavy iron door, with thick iron hinges and a large, diamond-shaped locking plate, reinforced with hexagonal bolts. Letting go of Kane’s sleeve, Gilles pulled from his pants a bunch of rusted keys, selected one, inserted it into the lock and with both hands twisted it until the lock clicked. Then he held the door handle with both hands and pulled with all his might.
The door creaked slowly open, releasing a stench that was worse than any Kane had encountered so far in this hellish place. There also arose a shuffling and murmuring in response to the noise and the light. Gilles waved Kane through.
“You first,” Kane said, keeping a keen eye on his shifty companion.
Bowing at him, Gilles stepped into the darkness. Kane followed with the oil lamp.
They were now in a large room with a low ceiling. Kane glanced around. The room seemed empty, though the light didn’t penetrate all the way to the end. He shook his head. “What is all this?” he demanded, annoyed at whatever game the man was playing.
His voice caused the murmuring to rise in volume and intensity. It seemed to be coming from the floor at the far end of the room.
“Seeeee,” hissed Gilles, pulling at Kane’s sleeve. “Heeere. Heeere.”
Kane moved cautiously forward, making sure Gilles remained in front of him. After a few steps, his guide stopped and turned to smile at him. Kane stepped closer.
They’d come to the edge of a precipice. A metal railing and five metal steps led down into the blackness, ending in mid-air.
Kane raised the lamp and gasped. The light illuminated a scene from a nightmare. The floor of the chamber dropped about a storey, and standing and sitting and lying there staring up at them were dozens of men.
But as Kane leaned on the railing for a closer look, he realised they weren’t men. Some appeared to be half formed, melted, incomplete. Others didn’t seem human at all. They were all wearing the grey pants he’d seen earlier, stacked in piles in the cells.
“Dark army,” announced Gilles, throwing out his arms.
Some of them, realising Kane wasn’t their master, began yelling at them and leaping up the wall of their dungeon. At this commotion, more appeared from the outer edges of the darkness, and before long more than a hundred of them had gathered, an awful, seething, stinking horde of mutants.
“What in God’s name –” he began, turning to Gilles – and then he saw with a shot of alarm that Gilles had ducked behind him. He felt two hands on his back, a shove, and suddenly he was falling forward.
With lightning reflexes, he reached back and grabbed Gilles’ shirt. Gilles yelped and dug his fingernails into Kane’s arm, but Kane held on and together they tumbled down the steps.
The lamp followed them and crashed to the floor of the chamber, where it exploded in flames. Some of the things screamed, but if any of them caught fire they were quick to douse the flames. The fire burned brightly for a few seconds before dying and plunging the chamber into darkness.
Kane had managed to save himself by grabbing onto the railing at the bottom step. The chamber now erupted into bellows and shouts as, below him, the prisoners leapt up and clambered over each other to get at him.
His body hurt all over. It felt like his right arm had been pulled from its socket, and though he was holding onto the railing with both hands, his legs were dangling in the abyss. And his grip was getting weaker.
Gilles was moaning above him, invisible in the darkness. After a while, he began murmuring, “Mr Waite, Mr Waite,” and with each refrain his voice grew stronger.
Kane tried to haul himself up. Though his muscles burned, he managed to grab the next rail up; and then the stairs squealed and shifted under his weight, sending him into a panic that the whole structure was about to break away and fall to the floor below.
Changing tactic, he tried lifting his leg up to the step. He didn’t have the strength to make it that far, so for a time he lay there with legs dangling, hoping that by resting he would gather enough energy to pull or push himself up.
Then something happened that drove him deeper into panic.
Gilles was crawling up the stairs. Kane could hear his laboured breathing and the scrape of clothes and shoes against metal as his body moved further and further away.
He knew that if Gilles made it to the door before him, he’d lock him in this hellhole and that would be the end. It was impossible to conceive of anyone coming to rescue him, even if Arika and Dylan were able to make it to the surface alive. They’d have to convince the authorities to take action, and a search warrant would be needed – but who would believe the failing old man with his story of a body swap, or the out-of-towner with her claims of wizardry and cosmic gods? And if the police did come, how would they find him in this labyrinthine structure, with its network of corridors and rooms, and with him locked away behind an impenetrable iron door?
With a superhuman effort, he pulled himself up, swung his leg, missed the step, pulled up and swung his leg again.
He could hear Gilles dragging himself along the stone floor, grunting with the effort, getting closer to the door.
He tried again. He pulled his body up; felt his arms screaming in pain; swung his leg up; felt a sharp pain as his shin connected with the step. As his legs dropped back, something touched his foot and he yelped and kicked it away. Cold sweat ran down his cheeks. He wasn’t going to make it. The horrors down below were climbing on top of each other, starvation driving them towards him, and any minute now a hand would grab his ankle and that would be it.
With a strange sense of indifference, he tried again, and suddenly, almost without knowing how, he was on his knees at the top of the steps, dripping with sweat and panting like a dog.
In the distance was a dim grey rectangle he knew must be the doorway. Limping towards it, he got there at the same moment Gilles, pushing with his shoulder, shrieked in triumph as the door swung shut.
Kane threw his back against it. He heard a yell of complaint from the other side of the door, braced his legs and shoved with all his might.
The door creaked open. Gilles was leaning against it, but his skinny body was no match for Kane. As soon as there was enough of a gap, he slipped through and jumped away as the iron door slammed shut.
“Pain, hurt, ow,” Gilles moaned, massaging his leg, sneaking furtive glances at him. “Hurt.”
“What was all that about?” yelled Kane. “You tried to off me!”
“Gilles hurt. Ow, ow.”
“I thought you were helping me!”
“Gilles help. Man fall.”
“I didn’t fall! You pushed me!”
“Gilles trip. Man fall.”
“You liar. You tried to push me into that pit.”
“Don’t lie! You tried to kill me! Why would you do that?”
He stood for a while regarding the repellent man, wondering what he should do. Chain him to a wall? Lock him in a cell until he could send in the police? Both were tempting ideas, but Kane had the feeling Gilles was as much a victim of Waite as those poor souls in the pit. The fireman in him couldn’t stomach being the cause of further distress or harm, and he had no real urge for vengeance, or fear Gilles could do anything more to harm him. Now the Necromonicon was in his hands, now Gilles had revealed Waite’s plans, he didn’t need to stick around. He could get out of here, collect Dylan and Arika and leave it to the police or the army to come down and deal with Waite and his band of cronies.
Shoving Gilles against the door with his forearm on his chest, he pulled the keys from the lock.
“Mine! Thief! Swine!” Gilles yelled, trying to grab them off him.
Kane pushed him away. “I tried to help you,” he said with real emotion, “and you tried to kill me. I thought we were friends.”
“You need help.”
“Maybe the police will have better luck.”
“No police!” screamed Gilles, throwing himself at Kane’s feet. He grabbed hold of his leg and hugged it hard. “Bad big! No police, no!”
“Listen, man,” said Kane, extricating his leg from Gilles’ grip. “You need to get out of here, away from that madman. You’ll thank me for this.”
Turning, he limped away, Gilles’ screams pursuing him down the passage.
Back in the room, Kane took the Necromonicon, the notebook and the axe and shoved them into a black leather bag. Slinging the bag over his shoulder, he collected his lamp from the passage and hurried back to the chamber.