“Oh my God! It was awful! The dead things. The abyss. Crawling out … rat-like things, with fangs and claws …”

“He’s not dead,” Arika asserted, turning her back to the ocean.

Dylan stood with hunched shoulders, his face and shirt stained with tears. “How do you know that?” he asked in a petulant boy’s voice.

“Because it has to be true.”

“The spell needed a human sacrifice. It wouldn’t have worked without it. The monster disappeared. Kane’s gone.”

“We don’t know that, Dylan. No one said the sacrifice meant Kane had to die. The condition could have been satisfied by Henri, or one of the soldiers – Sam Morgan, even.”

“Do you really think that?”

“He looked alive when Q’assog-tha disappeared, didn’t he? He was moving. I saw it. I saw him trying to get up.”

He peered at her from lowered brows. “She seemed pretty busy trying to fight the poison.”

“She hardly even noticed he was there. So he was pulled back to her home dimension – alive. And all he had to do there was jump off her back and escape.”

That was good enough for Dylan. He grabbed the Necromonicon from her hands and took off back to the truck. “We’ll go back to the altar,” he said over his shoulder. “That’s where the portal was opened. We can do it again and get him back.”

Arika opened her mouth to protest, then closed it. Of course it was futile trying to open a portal when you had none of the materials or know-how needed to activate the magics and couldn’t even read the spell book – not to mention the insanity of re-opening a portal when you’d only just vanquished the deadly monster that dropped out of it the last time it was opened – but she knew they couldn’t stand around moping all day, or go home and accept things were over. They had to do something. They had to believe they had some kind of control over Kane’s fate.

“Okay then,” she said, following him. “I hope the keys are still in the truck.”

Down below, Henri stirred. She was lying on the beach, flat on her back, where she’d ended up after climbing halfway down the cliff, losing her grip, falling a few metres, then rolling the rest of the way down the slope.

Following her flight over the cliff, she’d hit a grassy outcrop and managed to grab onto exposed roots to stop herself from falling all the way down to the sand. She remained there for a while listening to Q’assog-tha’s chant, holding her fear of heights in check by pressing her cheek against the cliff face and holding on for dear life.

When Q’assog-tha’s chant ended, Henri smiled in delight and turned her eyes to the sky. Sure enough, the Black Queen was beginning her descent. She climbed past Henri on her way to the beach, at which time Henri left the safety of the ledge to begin the climb down the rocks to join her.

By the time she rolled to a stop on the beach, Q’assog-tha was fading, struggling to pull herself along, her limbs and tentacles pushing the sand back more than propelling the gargantuan body forward. Winded, battered and bruised from the fall, all Henri could do was urge her along, like a cheerleader rallying a losing team. Then came the final defeat, the dissolution, and with it, Q’assog-tha’s hold on Henri snapped for the last time. The Great Old One had been sent back to her own dimension. Cthulhu slept on and the world was safe.

Getting up on her elbows, she looked around. She’d lost her glasses on the way down and everything was blurry, but she felt like a blind woman seeing the world for the first time.

“I’m alive!” she cried, falling back on the sand. “It’s a miracle!”

For a while she lay there staring at the clouds, mustering her energy, trying to make sense of what had happened. Ys-kar had worked. Obviously. Kane must have recovered. Or perhaps Arika did it. Whoever was responsible, they’d found a way around the human sacrifice.

“The soldiers, Sam, all the dead soldiers,” she muttered: “they did it. Well, Henri, your plan worked. Wait till I tell the Order about all this.” Sitting bolt upright, she cried, “Oh my Lord, I just saved mankind!”

She glanced around.

“Where is everyone?”

Back on the hill, Dylan carried the Necromonicon past the black vases and purple grass towards the altar. Wilfred was lying where they’d left him, a pile of old clothes and dirty bandages, greenish-black skin showing where the bandages had pulled away. Dylan made a wide circle around him. He couldn’t bear to look at him, and the smell, which until recently had been his own body odour, made him want to puke.

“That’s disgusting,” commented Arika, holding her hand over her nose. She went up to him and lifted one of the bandages. “He’s melting.”

Leaving the corpse, she joined Dylan at the altar. He’d opened the Necromonicon and was flicking through it. Now they were here, she was once again faced with the futility of trying to rescue Kane. Wilfred had set up an elaborate spell involving human hearts – the smashed remains of which were all over the altar and the grass and Dylan’s clothes – and he’d slashed letters into his belly and wielded Ys-kar and done God knows what else to summon Q’assog-tha. All they had was the book.

But Dylan was undeterred. He’d been studying the Necromonicon all the way here, and now he opened it to the page he was searching for.

“Kane told me he thought the starry eye thing might work as a wish-maker,” he said. “We can wish him back, and everything will go back to normal.”

Arika was doubtful it would be that easy, but she wanted more than anything to be supportive. She thought it over. “You mean in the same way Waite’s hold over your body was tenuous, and Q’assog-tha’s presence in this world was the same, Kane belongs here, so we should be able to get him back using the power of the Necromonicon?”

Despite her scepticism, she could see her explanation had struck a chord with Dylan. He nodded excitedly and placed his hand on the page.

Arika watched him as his brow furrowed. After a few seconds of staring at the illustration on the page, he squeezed his eyes shut, like he was straining to make the impossible happen. A full minute passed. There was no sign of clouds transforming or human-like shapes appearing or Kane’s voice crying out to them from another dimension. The day went on as before, grey clouds gathering on the horizon, a strong breeze coming in from the bay, flies buzzing around the blood on the altar – everything normal apart from the absence of Kane.

Suddenly a buzzard mewed and Dylan’s eyes shot open. He glanced around expectantly, spun in a circle, then turned his grief-stricken face to her. It seemed at that moment that all the world’s misery was concentrated in that one sad look.

“Here,” she said, “let me try. If this doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the university and research everything we can on that monster. I’ll get in touch with the best brains in the world and we’ll get Kane back. You have my word, Dylan. Even if it means travelling to that hell dimension and dragging him out ourselves.”

She took his place at the altar and placed her hand on the picture. Setting aside her doubts, she concentrated her thoughts on Kane’s face, on his muscular shoulders, on their kiss and the feel of his fireman’s body pressed against hers; bringing all her memory and will to bear. Kane’s soft lips, his slightly sour breath, the heat of his arms burning through her top – all the passion she’d ever felt in her life, focused on one moment, on one man.

“I can’t feel anything,” she said – and then something hard struck her behind her right ear. She fell sideways and crumpled to the ground.

Peering up, dazed and confused, she saw Dylan standing over her holding one of the black urns in both hands.

“Dylan,” she croaked. “What –?”

“I told you pathetic dust mites you wouldn’t stop me.”

Gasping, she glanced at Waite’s corpse. Unbelievably, it was stirring. A wet gurgling sound bubbled up in its throat.

With a sharp wail, Dylan dropped the urn and grabbed his head in both hands. “No, Arika, he’s back! I was in that disgusting body. Oh my God! It was awful! The dead things. The abyss. Crawling out … rat-like things, with fangs and claws … The abyss. It wants me – I can’t – No, no, no, no, no! I can’t –”

The corpse gurgled again and Dylan threw his hands away and snarled, “Damn you, worthless cur! Fight me, will you? –supreme sorcerer and heir to New Earth? I should have throttled your scrawny neck when I had the chance!”

Suddenly he faltered, grabbed his head again and cried, “Arika! Help me! I can’t hold on! He’s too –”

The corpse raised its head. “– shtrong.”

Arika leapt to her feet. “The book!” she cried at Dylan, before realising it was no longer him; he was back in Wilfred’s rotting body.

My book,” smiled Dylan in Wilfred’s voice, and then he groaned again, and Arika could see the sorcerer was once again back in his corpse.

“Dylan!” she cried, taking him firmly by the shoulders. “Listen to me. Focus on my face. Don’t think about anything else. Listen to what I say and screen out everything else. You’ve got to fight this.” She steered him towards the Necromonicon. “Tell me about your parents; about the treehouse. Remember? – you used to play there. Kane told me. And I’ve been up there. With Kane. How did your father build it?”

He groaned and held his head.

“Dylan! Talk to me! The treehouse!” When he went on groaning, she changed tack. “Okay, Dylan, tell me about Oliver, about your brother, Oliver.”

He looked at her. “Oliver?”

“Oliver. Your brother, Oliver. Kane told me how he loved Donkey Kong.”

“It was my fault,” Dylan whined. “I shouldn’t have left him. It was just for a second.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Dylan. It was an accident. Accidents happen all the time.”

Taking his trembling hand, she stretched it towards the book.

“Dad blamed me,” Dylan went on. “He said I –” His face froze. “Arika! I can feel it! He’s pushing me out! Somebody’s helping him. I can hear them. He’s using their power. I can’t hold on!”

The corpse began chuckling.

“Dylan! Keep talking!”

“Please, Arika! Don’t let me go back in that thing! Please! Please!”

“Tell me more about Oliver, Dylan. And Kane. We’ve got to get Kane back. I can’t do it without your help. You’ve got to fight this for Kane’s sake.”

“I can’t hold on any longer,” he whimpered. “He’s too strong.”

She turned to Wilfred’s corpse. “You evil son-of-a-bitch!”

Pulling Dylan’s hand, she placed it on the Necromonicon and leant her weight on it. She was hoping the energy of the book would do the rest. But Dylan was falling to pieces. He wasn’t mentally strong enough to concentrate his thoughts on the page, and he certainly wasn’t strong enough to beat Wilfred’s centuries-old will and determination.

As she stared in rage and disgust at the chuckling corpse, Dylan went on pleading, his voice growing weaker with each word.

Desperate, her mind in a whirling panic, she pulled the Necromonicon towards her, jumped down, raised it high and brought it down with all her might on Wilfred Waite’s head.

His skull crunched sickeningly.

From behind came a thud. Dylan was lying flat on the grass.

Arika rushed to his side. Lifting his head onto her thigh, she watched in terror as his eyes fluttered open.

“Dylan? Is that you?” Her heart was racing and she felt vomit rising in her throat at the thought she might have just killed him.

He blinked at her. “Wilfred …”

She gasped in shock, but the next moment he added, “I can’t feel him anymore. Is he –”?

Arika slumped with relief. “Oh, thank Christ. Dylan, you almost gave me a heart attack there. Yes. Dead. For good this time.”

“You did the spell?”

“I, er, found another use for the book.”

She helped Dylan sit up, then pointed. He gaped at what remained of Wilfred Waite, his head squashed beneath the heavy, leather-bound tome.

When he didn’t say anything for a while, she grew scared he was about to faint with shock or accuse her of murder or reckless endangerment.

Instead, his lip curled and he said, “We should have thought of that in the first place.” His eyes turned to the altar. “Now we need to figure out how to get my brother back.”

Read Chapter 57: The road to Whalen

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