“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

When Kane got back to the truck, Arika was hanging out the window. She smiled with relief when she saw him.

Pulling open the driver’s door, he jumped in and dropped Wilfred’s bag at her feet. After handing her the Necromonicon, he turned and stared at the skinny, pale-faced, black-haired adolescent in the back seat. Waite’s success in unleashing a gargantuan monstrosity on the world did little to interrupt his joy at seeing his brother back in his own body.

“You okay?” he asked.

Dylan nodded.

Kane narrowed his eyes. “Say something Dylan would say.”

“Where’s my Mars Bar?”

“Okay. Welcome back, bro.” Glancing at Arika, he started the truck. “It went towards the farmhouse. We need to work out what the hell it is.”

Pushing the vehicle into gear, he did a three-point turn and sped off down the hill.

“You didn’t see Simon up there, did you?” asked Arika.

“No, no one.”

She looked at her phone. “It’s funny: he hasn’t returned any of my calls.”

Kane didn’t think it funny. Orwell was probably down in the catacombs, playing his own part in this mayhem.

“I hope for his sake he’s back at the university,” he said.

“Something’s happened to him.”

Kane kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to bring up Orwell’s unholy alliance with Waite again, but the only other reason he could give for the radio silence was that Orwell had dropped dead from old age. And he doubted Arika wanted to hear that explanation either.

“Is there anything in the book about the monster?” he asked.

Arika opened the Necromonicon. “There must be. How else would Waite know how to raise it?”

“Good point. See what you can find. The more we know about it, the better.”

He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Speeding down the road, with time to think, he couldn’t help but feel responsible for allowing the monster to complete its entry into the world. Was there some point at which he should have made a different decision and stopped this from happening? Had his preoccupation with saving his brother doomed the planet?

Arika was turning the pages of the Necromonicon.

“Found anything?” he asked.

“No.” She bit her lip. “It must be in here. There’s all kinds of monsters. This must be one of the bigguns in the pantheon.” She twisted around. “Did you see anything like it?” she asked Dylan. “In the book?”

“He never really let me near it,” Dylan said.

“He didn’t mention any other god besides Yog-Sothoth?”

Dylan shook his head.

Kane waited for what felt like five minutes, and then said, “Found anything yet?”

She glanced up at the road ahead. “Where are we going?”

“Wherever that thing’s headed.”

“What do you plan to do when you get there?”

He raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t thought that far ahead.

“By that time you’ll have found a spell to send it back to whatever cesspit it fell out of.”

Taking the hint, she returned to the book.

“Found anything yet?” he asked as they approached the site of the road block.

“No …” Her finger stabbed at the page. “Wait! There it is!”

He pulled over.

Arika held up the book. The picture was titled, ‘Q’assog-tha’, and the monster was definitely the one they’d seen fall from the sky. She turned it around to show Dylan.

“Yep, that’s it.”

“Does it say how to kill it?”

She returned the book to her lap. “I don’t recognise the language.”

“Does it say how to kill any of those things at the farm?”

“Hardly any of it’s in English.”

“That’d be right.”

“It’s a good likeness. Whoever drew it must have seen the thing in real life.”

“They lived to draw it so there must be a way to kill it.”

“They didn’t kill it,” Dylan, who was leaning over the console, pointed out. “But they must have seen it to get the detail so right.”

Arika flipped over the page. “It might have been a dream. The guy who wrote this thing was supposed to have dreamed it all. Doesn’t necessarily mean Q’ass – Q’assog –” She turned the page back. “… Q’assog-tha was here.”

“I’ve had some pretty horrifying dreams since all this began,” said Dylan, leaning back.

Kane was quietly contemplating the road ahead.

“Kane,” said Arika. “We don’t have a spell to stop it.”

“Maybe we need to leave this to the army,” Dylan suggested. “What can we do? They’ve got rockets and shit.”

Kane sighed. He knew his brother was right, but he also saw sense in Arika’s point that a supernatural problem needs a supernatural solution. What did the army – or the NSO for that matter – know about sending giant aliens back to the hell hole they came from? He ran his hand over his hair. If they couldn’t stop the monster themselves, the least they could do was give the book to Morgan and let him find a wizard or two to release its power.

He started up the truck. “Let’s go see if we can convince those guards to let us through this time … now we don’t have a living corpse stinking up the back seat.”

They continued in silence down the road, Arika turning the pages of the Necromonicon, Dylan staring out the window at the passing fields. Kane half-expected to see fighter jets soaring overhead, shooting rockets and strafing the sky with machine-gun fire, but the day was curiously calm. Part of him wanted to believe the silence meant the monster was dead – squashed by Earth’s gravity or slain by microbes. Why else wasn’t anyone shooting at it?

Soon the road block came into view. It appeared abandoned.

He stopped the truck. “That’s strange.”

“Maybe the fight’s over,” Arika suggested.

“Then why are the barriers still there?”

No one had an answer.

Opening the door, he said, “Let’s go see.”

Arika helped him move the barriers to the side of the road, then they got back in the truck and started off again.

“Hey, here’s the Messenger,” cried Dylan, who’d taken possession of the book.

Kane glanced over his shoulder. “Show me,” he said – and then Arika yelled, “Kane!” and he slammed his foot on the brake.

“Jesus Christ!”

During his distraction, he’d almost run down a woman in purple slacks, a mustard-coloured shirt and red-framed glasses, who’d come flying out from the side road and was now walking towards his window waving her hands at him.

Kane opened his door.

“I’m Henrietta Appleby,” she rushed to say, and then she spied Dylan in the back seat and her face blanched. Backing away, she pointed at him with arm outstretched. “The sorcerer! He’s got the book! He’ll kill us all!”

Kane stepped out of the truck. “What do you know about the book?”

“Do you know who that is?” she demanded, still pointing.

“That’s my brother, Dylan. What do you know about the book?”

“I’m a librarian.”

It was like the punchline to a joke. He stared coldly at her.

“What’s he doing with the Necromonicon?” she demanded.

“What business is it of yours?”

“You’re Kane Gates, aren’t you? You think he’s your brother.”

“How do you –?”

“He’s one of the perpetrators of this massacre. Director Morgan said so. He showed me the surveillance photos.” When Kane didn’t react, she added, “Wilfred Waite. It’s him. In the flesh. Don’t be fooled by that stupid grin. He’s a creepy old man in sheep’s clothing!”

Kane glanced over his shoulder at Dylan, who was indeed smiling. “That was all a misunderstanding. Now, what’s your role in this?”

“Do you know Sam Morgan?” interrupted Arika, who’d gotten out of the truck and was walking up to them.

Henri glanced at her. “I’m with the National Security Office. On assignment. But they’re dead.” A look of anguish twisted her face. “They’re all dead.”

Arika halted. “All of them?”

She nodded, and tears filled her eyes, steaming up her glasses.

“Sam Morgan too?”

Henri pulled out a tissue, took off her glasses and began polishing them.

“How do you know? – that … Mr Morgan is dead?” When Henri didn’t answer, Arika went back to the truck, climbed inside and pulled the door shut.

“A monster ate him,” Henri whispered to Kane.

“A huge black octopussy thing?”

She nodded.

Kane gulped. “Ate him? That’s intense. What happened out there?”

“We don’t have time for idle chit-chat. We need to get in contact with the NSO and get reinforcements.”

“That thing killed them all?”

She glared at him. “No. The other monsters killed them.”

“Waite’s army?”

“I said we don’t have time. We need to get the NSO out here.”

Kane wondered whether she was right, that they should retreat and let the NSO handle it. But how long would that take? The monster could turn on Quorn and flatten it in less than an hour.

“Can the Necromonicon help us kill that thing?”

She turned her glare to Dylan. “Waite should know. He brought it here; I assume he can send it back.”

He shook his head. There was no point trying to explain about the body swap when they had a cosmic-sized monster to vanquish. “So you don’t know anything about all this?”

“Of course I do. That was my assignment with the NSO – to advise on magic and the paranormal.”

“You can read the Necromonicon?”

“I’ve read copies – partial copies.”

“Well, beggars can’t be choosers. Where did that thing go?”

“That way,” said Henri, pointing towards Jacob’s End.

“Get in the truck.”

“I’m not getting in with him!”

“Get in the truck and you can ring the NSO while we chase down the alien.”

“I lost my phone.”

“You can use mine.”

“I don’t know the number. The only number I knew was Sam’s. The others are in my phone.”

“Just ring the number on their website.”

“It’s not that easy. Sam Morgan was head of a secret government agency. Let me think.” She rubbed her neck. “Maybe Ames will be able to get through. I don’t have his number, though.”

Kane huffed in frustration. “We don’t have time for this. Think in the truck.”

“I’m not –”

“If you don’t get in, I will pick you up and shove you in.”

Henri took his measure, realised he could deliver on his threat, and climbed into the back seat. Pulling on the seatbelt, she sat as far away from Dylan as possible, while he smiled at her, enjoying his little moment of power.

“Take the book,” Kane ordered as he started the truck. “See if you can work out how to get rid of that thing.”

Dylan handed her the Necromonicon and she frowned down at the picture of Q’assog-tha. “Ah, yes, I thought she looked familiar. This is a much more realistic rendition of her than the copies. Stay away from me,” she demanded when Dylan leaned in for another look.

“There!” yelled Kane, startling them all.

Up ahead was Q’assog-tha, her black tentacles waving madly as she made her way across the fields, scooping up sheep and dropping them into her mouths.

“She’s going the wrong direction,” said Dylan, “if she wants to destroy something.”

“She’ll figure that out when she hits the ocean,” Arika said.

“If we’re lucky she’ll turn right. The nearest village is about half an hour away.”

“That’s not enough time for the NSO to stop her.”

“How’s it going back there?” Kane asked over his shoulder.

“I’m getting something,” said Henri.

“Get it faster.”

“Why are men so impatient?” She tapped the page with her finger. “There’s something about Q’assog-tha being Cthulhu’s sister … Oh, and mate. How dreadful.”

“I don’t care if it’s the bride of Godzilla. Does it say how to kill it?”

“You can’t kill a Great Old One. You can only send it back to where it came from.”

“Holy shit!” cried Arika.

In the distance, an explosion had hit Q’assog-tha. As the flames rose into the sky, her thunderous voice shook the air.

“A chopper!” Kane cried excitedly. “Looks like they’re not all dead.”

“Won’t do any good,” commented Henri. “You can’t destroy a Great Old One. They exist across multiple dimensions and will regenerate if they’re injured.”

“Thanks David Attenborough.”

A second explosion sent Q’assog-tha into a rage. With alarming alacrity, she leapt on an outhouse, swept up the broken stones and hurled them at the chopper. Her aim was spot on: the stones smashed into the cockpit window and buckled the blades. The chopper rose, spun a few times, then turned on its side and crashed to the ground. Q’assog-tha rushed towards it and crushed it flat with great slams of her tree-like arms.

“Jesus,” breathed Dylan, “I wonder how many people were in there.”

“It’s just the one,” said Arika. “It must have been a survivor from the farm.”

“They only had one,” Henri confirmed. “But at least it means someone had a chance to phone it in.”

Arika screwed up her face. “If you’re right – and judging by the effect those missiles had on it – I’m not sure it’ll make much difference how many there are.”

“Maybe it’ll be jets next time,” said Dylan, “with higher firepower.”

“A supernatural problem needs a supernatural solution,” Kane said, and saw Arika’s half smile from the corner of his eye.

The chopper attack had given them time to catch up. As the truck drew close, Q’assog-tha started moving again.

“She’s heading straight for Jacob’s End,” said Dylan.

“Oh dear!” cried Henri, going rigid. “Cthulhu. In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

“That’s what Wilfred used to say,” said Dylan.

“What does it mean?” asked Kane.

Henri leaned forward. “The great priest Cthulhu is trapped in an underwater city called R’lyeh. According to ancient prophesy, one day he will rise up and destroy the world.”

Arika went pale. “She’s going to wake her brother.”

“What’s a Cthulhu?” asked Kane.

“Another Great Old One. Like Q’assog-tha. But Cthulhu is a priest to the Outer Gods.”

“Don’t tell me it’s even bigger than that thing?”

“Not only bigger. Early last century there was a spate of madness across the Pacific basin and it’s widely believed it was Cthulhu turning over in his sleep.”

Kane snorted. “I don’t get it.”

“Cthulhu’s consciousness can open windows to other dimensions,” Henri explained. “If he awoke fully, his mind alone might be enough to plunge the world into chaos.”

Kane had been following at a safe distance behind Q’assog-tha, but now he stopped the truck and turned to them.

“We need to get in front of it.”

“What then?” asked Dylan.

“Then,” said Arika, “our friendly librarian will tell us how to stop it.”

Henri was running her finger along a line of text. “If you would all kindly be quiet, I may have a snowball’s chance of delivering on your ridiculously high expectations.”

Kane glanced around, searching for the best route to head off Q’assog-tha before she got to the coast. Nearby was a side road with a sign that read: ‘Jones Beach’.

“Hold on.”

Heading towards the sign, he spun the truck’s wheels and sped off down the dirt road.

Henri looked up from the Necromonicon. “I’ve got it!”

“What you got?”

She pulled off her glasses. “Q’assog-tha was summoned using the Black Ys-kar.”

“The how’s-it?

“Ys-kar. It’s a black spear that was part of the horn of a Supreme Being Cthulhu killed in one of his great battles. Apparently, the essence of Cthulhu still clings to it, which is what drew Q’assog-tha to it in the summoning spell.”

“And? And?”

“And Ys-kar contains the poison of the vanquished god. If Q’assog-tha is pierced by it, the poison should make her existence in this world untenable. She should be sucked back to her own dimension.”

Kane felt himself breathe as if for the first time in an hour. “So we need to get close enough to stab her?”

“That’s not quite all. To release the power of Ys-kar, we need a human sacrifice.”

Anger stabbed at him. “Crap! Why is there always crap in the way? Bullshit! Crap, crap, crap!”

“It’s the nature of magic. To make things hard.”

He slowed his breathing and gradually his anger melted away. This was a solution – perhaps an impossible solution, but it was more than they had five minutes ago. “Okay, okay, we’ll find a way round it.”

Dylan regarded him coolly. “It’s all academic if we don’t have the horn.”

Kane reached into the bag at Arika’s feet. “Does this look like the horn of a vanquished god?”

“Ah! Ah! Ah!” cried Henri, holding out both hands.

He gave the horn to Arika.

She stared at it in shock. “It’s amazing,” she breathed, holding it in her open palms. “It seems to have no weight or substance … or colour even.”

“It’s sucking the life from you,” explained Henri, staring at Ys-kar with the eyes of a vampire.

Arika glanced at her, but didn’t request an explanation. “So now,” she said, stroking the carvings on it, “all we need is a human sacrifice.”

Stopping the truck in a parking area at the start of a rise that overlooked Jacob’s End, Kane took Ys-kar from Arika and placed it back in the bag. Pushing open the door, jumping out, he threw the bag over his shoulder and raced up the hill. Arika and Dylan followed.

Q’assog-tha was making her way across the poisoned fields.

“She’s moving north of the bay,” said Dylan. “We better hurry if we’re gonna try and stab her.”

“We need to work out how to make a human sacrifice,” Arika reminded them.

“All those soldiers have died,” suggested Kane. “Won’t they count?”

Dylan shook his head. “For a human sacrifice to work, there has to be intent.”

Kane frowned at him. “I hate how my brother knows the correct way to do human sacrifices.”

He stared at the building-sized mass of legs, arms and tentacles, a seemingly unstoppable force, raised by dark magic and intent on waking an even worse monster so they could wreak havoc on the world. He knew something drastic was called for to stop it, and he also knew he couldn’t ask anyone else to do it.

“Look, guys, we don’t have a choice. If she reaches the ocean, we’ve had it. We’ll never stop her. The Cruelo dude will rise and then … who knows what? The apocalypse most likely.”

He frowned at Q’assog-tha, plotting a path towards her so they would meet at the fence where the last field ended and the cliffs to the north of Jacob’s Creek began. “Wait here,” he said, getting up.

“Where are you going?” asked Dylan as he took off.

He could feel their eyes on his back as he ran to the truck. Resisting the urge to look back, he jumped into the driver’s seat, dropped the bag on the passenger seat and fired up the engine.

As he backed away, Arika leapt to her feet. “Kane!” he heard her cry, but a moment later, Arika and Dylan were receding into the distance, the truck heading at speed towards Q’assog-tha.

All this time, Henri had been sitting in the back seat, her head down as she studied the Necromonicon. “It doesn’t say how or where you need to stab her, but it’s the poison that needs to be administered, so I would guess it could be anywhere. It’s probably best to aim for the body, though.”

She glanced up and noticed Kane was driving alone. Leaning forward, she looked into his face, which was sweaty and intent. Up ahead was Q’assog-tha and they were driving straight towards her.

“Kane? What’s happening?”

“So that’s all you got? Stab her with the horn?”

“Where are the others?”

“Nothing about the human sacrifice?”

“That’s all it says. Deliver the human sacrifice.” She turned, held onto her glasses and squinted out the rear window. “Where are the others?”

He ignored her.

She looked from him to Q’assog-tha and her face blanched. “Um, Kane, perhaps you could pull over for a second and let me out.”

“You’re free to take the truck when we get there.”

“Get where?”

“Where do you think?”

She shook the back of his seat. “Gates, you’re mad. Stark raving. She’ll see you coming. She’ll have you for breakfast.”

“Porridge or bacon and eggs?”

Henri didn’t seem to get the joke. “You’ll be dead meat.”

“What’s with the food jokes?”

“What do you think? Q’assog-tha clearly has a huge appetite.”

“Aren’t you a ray of sunshine?”

By this time, Kane had managed to get them in front of the Black Queen. Slamming on the brakes, pushing the gear into neutral, he pulled Ys-kar from the bag and jumped out.

“Get!” he yelled at Henri through the open window, and without stopping to see if she complied, started running towards Q’assog-tha.

Henri didn’t wait to be told twice. Unfastening her seatbelt, throwing open the door, she rushed around to the driver’s seat and jumped in. Kane had left the truck running, so she released the handbrake, looked over her shoulder and began reversing at top speed. The truck leapt and bounced over the rocky ground, throwing her about the cabin like a rag doll.

When she was a safe distance away, she braked, put the gear into park and watched in shock as Kane ran up to Q’assog-tha. Holding Ys-kar against his chest with both hands, his face raised in defiance, he waited for her to approach. He looked like a mouse standing up to a dinosaur.

“Stark raving mad,” muttered Henri.

Dylan and Arika came running up behind the truck. Their eyes were on Kane, and as he stopped, they stopped too.

“What’s his plan?” asked Dylan as he fought to catch his breath.

“I don’t … I don’t think he has a plan.”

But Dylan knew his brother better than that. “Yes he does. He’s planning to die.”

Read Chapter 55: Duel

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