Hypnerdic

You are getting nerdy…

The House of the Grey Circle, Chapters 11 through 15

Chapter 11
February 12th, 1935

Abigail and Daniel had remained in the hospital for most of the night, waiting for word on the man’s condition.  He had remained unconscious that entire time, while doctors and nurses did what they could for his malnourished vitals.  Finally, exhaustion and hunger had worn down their patience, and not long after sunrise, Abigail and Daniel went in search of breakfast and strong tea.
When they returned an hour later, feeling slightly refreshed, they were intercepted in the waiting room by one of the nurses they had spoken to earlier that night.  She looked decidedly distressed, which immediately set their nerves on edge.
“Is there a problem?” Daniel asked before she had said anything.
“He’s, um,” the nurse hesitated, “he’s gone.”
“Dead?” Abigail’s spirits fell.  She didn’t know him well enough to grieve for him, but she had taken responsibility for the man.
“No,” the nurse shook her head. “Gone.  One minute he was unconscious just like you left him, and when I came back from the nurse’s station, he was gone.  Just disappeared.”
“No one saw him leave?” Daniel asked.
“No, and I doubt he could have gone far in the state he was in.  Someone have surely noticed.”
“But no one did,” Abigail said, gazing steadily at the nurse. “Rather odd.”
“This was left behind,” the nurse stammered under Abigail’s scrutiny.  She held up a small, bronze-coloured loop.  Abigail took it and examined it.  It was a lock of reddish hair, braided and twisted into a bracelet.  The exact same colour as the locks on the man’s head.
“We should get back,” Daniel said quietly, “there’s nothing more we can do here.”

They began their work anew first thing in the morning, with a light breakfast to keep them going.  Selena immediately began poring through the bestiaries she had finally found last night, searching for anything on snake men or serpent gods.  Arthur’s task was geography, trying to find a source for the vision they had seen of the island city.  Warren and Evelyn teamed up to try and decipher the various symbols they had encountered.
Two hours after they began, Arthur suddenly looked up from his work, staring at the nearest window.
“Abby and Daniel are back,” he reported, his gaze distant.
A few minutes later, the two errant magicians descended the stairs to the common.  In response to questioning looks on their friends’ faces, they explained what had transpired at the hospital, placing the hair bracelet on the table so the others could see.  They passed it around, Evelyn taking it last.  She stared at it for a moment before slipping it on her wrist.
“There’s power in it,” she said, “I can feel it, now I’m wearing it.”
“Odd,” Selena frowned. “I couldn’t detect any enchantment on it.”
“It’s there,” Evelyn assured. “There’s no mistaking it.”
“Just who was that man?” Arthur asked futilely.
“There’s no use worrying about it now,” Daniel said. “Have you managed to figure anything out while we were gone?”
“Not a great deal,” Selena said. “The information is there, but sorting through it is interminable.  There are legends of repilian humanoids in nearly every part of the world.  Though I’ll admit some are less applicable than others.”
“What comes closest so far?” Abigail asked.
“The most consistent are the Naga,” Selena explained. “They’re worshipped in Hindu myth as divine beings, often associated with fertility.  They’ve been commonly described as half snake, half human.  The term ‘naga’ is used around Southeast Asia to refer to other beings.  Beyond that there are some rather outrageous claims by some of the theosophists of the last century that the world is secretly ruled by lizard men.”
“Anything confirmed by the bestiaries?” Abigail prompted.
“Nothing that matches what we saw.  Certainly there are reptilian creatures of all kinds.  Spirits, old monsters, there’s even evidence of dragons at some point in prehistory, but nothing I’ve read so far has depicted anything human on top and snake at the bottom, outside of myth.  There’s a book circulating around the Middle East that claims to be the lost Book of Jasher, an ancient Hebrew text, that supposedly describes a serpent race.  If they correlate, we might have something.”
“Okay,” Abigail nodded, “let’s put a pin in the Naga theory for now, we’ll see if anything connects to it later.  What about the monster we saw on the wall last night?”
“There are numerous instances of serpent gods in history,” Selena continued. “The Aztecs had Quetzalcoatl, and the Mayans had Kukulcan, both referred to as feathered serpents.  The Greeks had a number of partially serpentine beings in their lexicon, from Cecrops, the first king of Athens, to the Titans and the god Boreas.  But these were all only partially serpent-like, and none of them were water-based.”
“You’re leading up to something,” Daniel said with a knowing smirk.
“Of course I am,” Selena said with mock-irritation. “The most promising connection is Narayana, referred to by the Hindus as the two hundred and forty fifth name of Vishnu.”
“We’re back to the Hindus,” Daniel noted. “Is there a connection?”
Selena nodded. “In Thailand, the Naga are considered a symbol of Narayana.  So we might have something there.  Additionally, the most common description I’ve found of Narayana is a great celestial serpent, with seven heads.”
“That sounds familiar,” Abigail said, suppressing a shudder. “Have you found any artwork that matches what we saw?”
“No,” Selena said, “any depiction I’ve seen of Narayana is much more flattering.  But we could be looking at a separate belief system with a similar inspiration for its deities.  This is all the more likely if there really is a being like that out there somewhere.”
“It’s a theory,” Daniel agreed, “though nothing else we’ve found even vaguely resembles Hindu imagery.  We’ll come back to that.  How about that island?”
“I’ve given up trying to find an existing city like the one we saw,” Arthur reported. “It doesn’t exist, plain and simple.  I’m convinced at this point that, like Abby suggested, we were looking at something that used to exist, and doesn’t anymore.  Not where we can see it anyway.”
“A lost city,” Abigail said. “That’s what you’re talking about.”
“It sounds ridiculous, I know, but remember that crackpots like Le Plongeon were proposing whole continents, not tiny islands like the one we saw.”
“So what have you got?” Abigail encouraged.
“Okay, we’ve all heard the nonsense about Atlantis, or Lemuria, or Mu.  Big continents that couldn’t possibly exist.  But there are numerous accounts of much smaller landmasses, or accounts that don’t even go into scale, but still follow the same story: ancient island civilisation, far more advanced than any other that existed at the time, sunk beneath the waves by some watery cataclysm.  It can be safely assumed that the theosophists who were pushing Lemuria based most of their notions on these older ideas.”
“You have examples, of course,” Daniel said.
“What do you think I’ve been doing for the last hour?” Arthur replied somewhat petulantly. “Starting back with the Greeks, then.  They had Hyperborea, supposedly the home of a race of extremely magical humans.  This place was the home of Boreas, so there’s a very thin connection to the lizard people there.  Next up is Thule, supposedly ‘six days’ sail’ north of England, according to the map-makers circa 300 BC.  It’s commonly accepted at this point that they were talking about Greenland, though there’s a whole occult society in Germany focused around it, that the new government over there is supposedly connected with.
“The Welsh legends talk of Cantref Gwaelod, protected from the sea by a dyke controlled by two princes.  Apparently that one sunk because one of the princes was a drunk and forgot to close the dyke.  We can scratch that off the list, I think.  Lyonesse is as close to home as we’ll be getting today.  A lot of people figure it’s just another word for Avalon, and will rise out of the sea when King Arthur returns.  Not bloody likely.
“Kumari Kandam is basically Lemuria without pretending to be scientific about it.  It’s supposedly just off the tip of South India, and sunk after two separate floods.  This is as close as I got to anything even remotely credible, based on what Selena’s said, because of the Hindu Naga legend.  Some of the stories say they lived on a continent in the Indian ocean before that sank.”
“Okay,” Daniel nodded, “we’ve certainly gone out on a limb here, but at least we’re seeing a connection.”
“I’m not sure I like the connection,” Abigail said with a frown. “At least, not what it’s reminding me of.”
“What do you mean?” Evelyn asked.
“You’ve all heard of Helena Blavatsky, right?”
She was met by a chorus of exasperated groans and rolled eyes.
“Right,” she continued, “nothing but a useless charlatan.  She’s mostly being used nowadays to promote ‘master race’ ideals, like that Thule society, and to stir up lunatic theories.  Her big one is Lemuria.  She wrote a book that claims that Lemuria was populated by ‘dragon men’ whose civilisation fell after they got into Black Magic.”
“Sounds similar,” Daniel conceded, “but we all know Blavatsky was full of hot air.”
“No doubt,” Evelyn agreed, “but we’ve never seen what she used for her sources, if anything.  She might have lucked into something real and not even known it.”
“It’s not terribly likely,” Abigail said, “but not impossible.  I suppose we’ll have to pick up a copy of The Secret Doctrine, though I hate bringing that trash in here.”
“We can toss it out when we’re done, if you like,” Daniel reassured her. “Meanwhile, what have we got on those symbols?”
“Not a thing,” Evelyn reported with a discouraged shrug. “They don’t match anything we’ve been able to find so far, and the circles could be just about anything.  We’re up against a brick wall unless we want to spend a year searching the library, or we pick up another clue.”
“Then I suppose we’ve done what we can,” Daniel said. “When was the last time anyone looked at the journal?”
“Not since we got back last night,” Warren responded.
“That sounds like a good next step then,” Daniel concluded. “Abby?”
“If all else fails,” Abigail trailed off with a shrug.  She fetched the journal from the far side of the table and opened it to the newest entry.

February 12th, 1935
I must confess that I’m no great fan of flying.  I like to think I take enough risks in my life that I ought to be absolved of the task of stuffing myself into a glorified missile and hurling myself through the air, held aloft by infinitely fallible mechanical engines.  The last several days have been a hardship, but I certainly haven’t had the time to simply drive everywhere.  I would be weeks behind!
Intercontinental flight is most certainly the worst.  The very idea of spending hours on end suspended over the Atlantic, thousands of miles from any sort of aid should this damned machine decide to fail, is more chilling to me than any monstrosity I’ve faced to date.  I swear I just heard the engine cough.  That cannot be a good sign.
All discomfort aside, this is unavoidable.  If I haven’t time to drive around Europe, I certainly don’t have the time for an interminable journey by boat.  I must suffer the hazards of modern technology for now, if my purpose is to be met.  I will most certainly be relieved when I feel firm earth beneath me again.  At least, from what I have heard, New York is worth the trip for the sights alone.

“He’s gone to America,” Selena inferred needlessly after Abigail finished reading.
“I suppose it was only a matter of time,” Daniel observed wryly, “with the way this tour has been going.”
“I am not flying a plane all the way to New York,” Arthur said flatly. “I don’t have the stamina for it.”
“No one’s asking you to handle an intercontinental flight, Arthur,” Abigail said. “We’ll take a commercial flight.  We should be able to survive first class, I think.”
“You’d think that,” Arthur replied, “but we don’t even know if Warren will fit in the seats.”
Warren glowered at Arthur, without any real malice.  Arthur mock-recoiled regardless.
“Hey,” he said, “can I help it if you’re a big fellow?”
“I drink my milk,” Warren shrugged.
“It will be fine,” Abigail said a bit snidely. “Now, I think we can expect to be across the pond for a while.  Does anyone know of any good hotels in New York?”

Chapter 12
February 13th, 1935

The Plaza Hotel in New York City earned the honour of being the second palatial locale they visited that week.  It wasn’t quite as palatial as the aptly named Palais Grand, but it lacked none of the opulence.  The service was up to par as well.  Considering they came in with no reservation and requested six rooms of fine quality, they were seen to with remarkable efficiency and excellent manners.  Money was better than magic, in some circles.
They were shown to their rooms by a team of extremely eager bellhops.  Thankfully they had exchanged for enough American dollars to provide the tips the young hotel staff were so anxiously seeking.  It wouldn’t do to ostracise the employees on the first night when they didn’t know how long they would be staying.
An hour after they arrived, evening already, they were settled into their luxurious rooms.  For some, Warren and Evelyn in particular, these trappings of wealth weren’t entirely comfortable.  Daniel simply found it strange, though his rooms above the bar were well enough appointed.  Not knowing how long it would be before they would find out what they needed to do next, they gathered for a quick meeting in Daniel’s room.
“He hasn’t written anything new yet,” Abigail reported after flipping through the Journal.
“So we don’t even know where he is,” Arthur said. “He could be on his way to the west coast by now for all we know.”
“But we don’t know,” Daniel responded, “so there’s no reason to worry about it yet.  It’s not as though we can’t afford to keep chasing him around.”
“So what do you propose we do?” Arthur asked pointedly. “Lounge around here until Malachi deigns to drop us another hint?”
“That is precisely what we’re going to do,” Daniel said with a sudden smile. “We’ve had no opportunity to relax since this whole thing started, after all.  What do you say we go get a drink?”
“I daresay that’s the best idea we’ve heard in days,” Abigail returned Daniel’s smile. “Shall we head down to the Oak Room then?  We can likely have our dinner there as well.”

The Oak Room was one of the finer bars in the city.  The décor was a combination of polished wood, gleaming brass and dark leather upholstery.  The bar itself occupied the centre of the room, a long oval of dark wood, polished to a mirror shine.  Along the walls, high backed booths afforded a degree of privacy, while the table scattered around the room added to the lively ambience.  At one end of the room was a small raised stage, on which a grand piano gave soft music, coaxed by a blond haired player in a white suit.
They took one of the booths and ordered drinks while they pondered their meal choices.  The quiet strains of the piano drifted around them, as they settled down to enjoy the first normal evening they had had in more than a week.  They chatted idly after their drinks arrived, in a manner they had been incapable of in six years.  Evelyn looked lazily over at the stage, and the piano player focused so intently on his art.  A tanned face furrowed with concentration and at the same time almost blissful.  Bronze coloured hair flowing down to his shoulders like a fiery cascade…
Evelyn nearly choked on her wine.  The man they had rescued in Peak Cavern looked up and directly at her, and winked, grinning playfully.  Without looking, Evelyn reached over and nudged Abigail, who was sitting next to her.  Abigail looked over at her with a raised eyebrow.
“The piano player,” Evelyn said quietly, without changing her expression, “does he look familiar to you?”
“Can’t say he does,” Abigail shook her head. “Why?”
Abigail looked at Abigail in mild disbelief, and then back at the stage, and her disbelief became rather less mild.  The blond haired young man sitting at the piano looked nothing like the man from the cavern, the man she had been staring in the face just seconds ago.
“How very bizarre,” she whispered.
“What are you on about, Evey?” Abigail asked with a small bit of concern on her face.
“I would swear that just a few seconds ago, he looked exactly like the man we took out of Peak Cavern.  The one who disappeared from the hospital.”
“It doesn’t take you much, does it?” Arthur smirked, looking at her barely touched wine.
“I’m serious,” Evelyn snapped. “He looked right at me.”
“Are you sure you saw what you think you saw?” Daniel looked at her rather seriously over his brandy.
“Don’t patronise me Daniel.  I’m not some flighty girl.  I am certainly not prone to seeing things.  And before you ask, no. I’m not tired.  I had a rather good nap on the plane.”
“It’s bizarre,” Warren said, “but not very important.”
“True enough,” Daniel agreed. “Unless something like that happens again, we’ll keep it filed under strange but random.  If it means anything, I expect it will repeat itself in some way.”
“At the very least,” Abigail added, “we can worry about it later.  For now, let’s just relax.”
“Very well,” Evelyn sighed, “but I intend to keep my eyes open.”

By the time they returned to their rooms, they were all much more at ease, and perhaps a little bit tipsy.  They parted company as they each retreated into their suites for an unusually good night’s sleep.  Abigail closed the door behind her and crossed to the large, unimaginably soft bed, sitting on it gingerly.  She felt oddly restless, despite her own suggestion that they relax.  She felt as though they ought to be doing something right now.
Her eyes fell on the journal, sitting atop the clothing in her open suitcase.  Without giving herself the chance to think about it, she reached for it and flipped it open.  The second she saw writing on the page that had been blank the previous day, she snapped the book shut.  Surely it wouldn’t do to read it alone.  She stood up and walked out of her room.  The others must still be up, it had only been a minute.
She knocked on each door quietly.  To each surprised and occasionally tired-eyed person who answered, she silently showed the book.  To their credit, they followed without argument.  She came to Daniel’s door last, the other four behind her.  Daniel answered, already clad in a housecoat provided by the hotel.
“Hello,” he said with some surprise. “Is something wrong?”
Again, Abigail simply held up the journal.  Daniel paused a moment, weighing the importance of the journal against the time and the brandy in his system, then sighed and held the door open.  They all piled in, gathering around Abigail as she sat on Daniel’s bed and opened up the journal.  In an unusually hushed voice, as though she expected someone to be listening, she read.

February 13th 1935
Phillips Maine is the sort of town that can only exist in a country as big as this one: quiet, utterly dull, and completely consumed by its own internal decay.  Though I’ve seen nothing especially interesting since I arrived, the whole place somehow instills a greater discomfort in me than the forest in Romania.  It’s an oddly benign miasma.  The combination of excessive homogeneity and a gathering of secrets too unpleasant for anyone to admit, even if everyone surely knows.  The house probably doesn’t help matters.
It seemed nice enough to the eye, when I drove past it on my way in.  The broken windows and tragically overgrown lawn were certainly telling, but even a fixer-upper can be nice.  If I had nothing more than my eyes to look with, I’m sure I’d think nothing of it.  But even the painfully normal people of Phillips have enough awareness about them to sense something wrong about this place.  To me, it radiates unpleasantness, almost visibly.  There’s a darkness in there as deep as the darkest places I’ve seen.  Surely something terrible happened there.  The place is so stained with trauma I can almost taste it.
I must admit, I’m a bit frightened to venture in there now.  It hadn’t occurred to me until now how much willpower this task will call for.  Now I must consider that this apparently minor bit of research might truly destroy me.  I’ve taken that risk more than once already on this journey, but never in a place so bizarrely contrary to that sort of risk.  I do hope my next stop will be more like Paris.

“That was rather ominous,” Daniel commented.
“Where is Maine?” Arthur asked. “I think we’re going to need a map.”
“We’ll worry about it tomorrow,” Evelyn said, “we’re all far too tired right now to work out a plan.”
“I’m sure it’s not too far,” Abigail mused. “We can probably get there easily enough tomorrow.”
“Enough,” Evelyn said with surprising authority. “To bed with you.  We all need sleep more than action right now.”
Under Evelyn’s watchful eye, everyone but Daniel shuffled out of the room and returned to their own suites.  Abigail sat alone again on her bed, wondering if she was going to be able to sleep, feeling as restless as she still did.

Chapter 13
February 14th 1935

The town of Phillips certainly was a drab looking place.  No one could say from where Malachi had derived his talk of buried secrets and quiet discomfort, but he was surely right about the homogeneous dullness of the town.  They stared out the windows of the cars at endless houses of particularly boring design.  Everything seemed just slightly shabby, like the effort to keep it all up was being made, but the town’s heart just wasn’t in it.
Malachi had offered no indication of where to find the house of which he had written.  All they could do was drive aimlessly around town, looking at every house and hoping he hadn’t been exaggerating its obviousness.
He had not exaggerated.  When they found the house, there was no doubt of it.  The lawn was not merely overgrown, it was a jungle, the front walk barely even visible beneath the ridiculously long blades of grass that bent under their own weight.  The smashed windows hadn’t been boarded, but left as gaping, jagged holes into darkness.  What windows weren’t smashed were caked with what looked like decades of dust and grime, making them all but opaque.
The appearance of the house was nothing compared to how it felt.  It pulsated with evil, breathing unseen clouds of malaise out on the street around it.  This was not like Romania.  The woods had been dead, devoid of spirit save the one evil thing that dwelt there.  This place seemed to writhe with twisted life, none of it visible, all of it malicious, washing over the young visitors like a wave of quiet horror.
They all shuddered.  Arthur grimaced with apparent pain.  Warren looked as though he was about to vomit.  There was no question that this place was a site of atrocity to have gathered such a malign aura about it.  They stood on the street, staring up at this quiet old home that clearly wanted to devour them whole.  Setting his jaw in a hard line, Daniel pushed through the broken old gate and started up the front walk.  Reluctantly, the others followed, with Warren moving the slowest, in obvious discomfort.
The front door was warped, unpainted oak.  Despite its age and disrepair, it was heavy and quite sturdy.  It was also unlocked, a rather unexpected boon.  Evelyn suppressed the thought that perhaps the house was deliberately allowing them in, for its own dire reasons.  Warren did not suppress the thought.
Inside, the house was a wreck.  The wallpaper was peeled away almost to nothing, and any paint was chipped and pitted to the point of being little more than bits of colour lying about the floor.  Anything that still even looked vaguely like furniture was broken beyond usefulness.  Scraps and splinters that could have come from anything were scattered all over the floor, which was so thick with dust the intruders left footprints.  They weren’t the only ones.  Enough sunlight filtered in through the filthy, broken windows to reveal two additional sets of footprints: one that led from the front door up the stairs, and one than came down the stairs and ended back at the front door.
The stairs groaned threateningly under their feet, and they took them slowly.  The banister was almost totally gone, leaving only a few broken posts to signify that it had ever existed in the first place.  The house grew no more pleasant on the next floor.  They found themselves in a narrow corridor, lined with warped and chipped doors, a couple of which were hanging off of their hinges.  The footprints led to the end of the hall, to another far narrower stair, which led up into darkness.
Daniel took the lead again, climbing the stairs cautiously.  It was more reassuring than he cared to admit, hearing his friends behind him.  This house was entirely too creepy for anyone’s good.  The stairs led up to a cramped attic.  There was very little light by which to see, straining to make it through the one filthy window.  Even without being able to see, they could all feel that this attic was the epicenter of the horrible aura this house had.
Daniel crossed the room and struggled with the window for a moment, finally forcing it open.  Cold air and colder light trickled into the room, allowing them to take in the environment that somehow made this whole house reek of evil.  Ultimately, there wasn’t much to see.  The bare wood floor was as warped and broken as the rest of the house, and the walls were stripped almost bare of wallpaper.  Of interest was the lectern standing in the centre of the room.  More specifically, the thick, black leather bound book sitting on the lectern.
There was no mistake, the evil manifestations emanated from the book.  As they drew closer, they could all but feel it reaching out to envelop them, drawing them in as if to devour them.  Warren couldn’t even look directly at it.  He sat down heavily in the corner of the attic, looking horribly ill.
The cover was unmarked, offering no indication of what might be inside.  Tentatively, Daniel reached out to open it.  Arthur’s hand closed on his wrist before it got there, pulling him away.
“Remember what Malachi said about willpower,” Arthur said. “My mind has the best defenses out of any of us.  I should do this.”
Daniel nodded understanding and stepped away.  Arthur moved closer to the stand and flipped the book open.  Turning to the first page, he began to read.  Almost immediately, his eyes went wide, and he all but froze in place.  His breathing became shallow as the colour drained from his face.  He stared, unblinking at the book.  Evelyn put a hand on his shoulder, concern all over her face.
“Arthur?” She tried to look him in the eye. “Arthur, can you hear me?”
Arthur didn’t respond.  His eyes were locked on the book.  His hands gripped the lectern so hard his knuckles were white.  Evelyn shook him, futilely, and passed her hand in front of his eyes.  He gave no sign that it had even registered.  He was in another place, and from his face it didn’t look like it was a good one.  Even as Evelyn called Arthur’s name again, panic beginning to enter her voice, Daniel reached over and closed the book.
Arthur sprang suddenly back to life, falling backward and scrambling away from the lectern, terror etched into his face.  His breathing came hard now, and his face had regained none of its colour.  He stared wide-eyed at the closed book.
“Arthur?” Evelyn said, kneeling beside him. “Arthur, I need you to answer me.  Can you answer me?”
“I…I’m here,” Arthur said, his voice shaking. “It was…talking in my head.  It’s not even written in English.  It was reading itself to me.  It grabbed my mind…used my power against me.  I was wrong.  I’m more vulnerable than any of you.  I can’t go near that thing again.”
Evelyn held Arthur’s hand reassuringly, putting another soothing hand on his cheek.  Mental healing wasn’t something she had much practice at, but she willed what power she could through her hands to strengthen his wrecked nerves.  Arthur’s breathing slowed to something less panicked, and the colour started to return to his face, though he still looked traumatized.
“What did it say to you?” Daniel asked.
“It said ‘I am the history of the world, the perfect truth of all that has come before and all that will follow.  I speak for those banished from a world rightfully theirs, and offer words of their power and final return’.  Then it started talking about the beginning of the world.  It said something about these ancient beings making the world their own before anything intelligent evolved.  That’s when you closed it off.  Thanks, by the way.”
“Any time,” Daniel nodded gravely. “I’ll go next then, shall I?”
“Daniel!” Abigail looked at him askance. “That thing nearly destroyed Arthur’s mind!  You’re not seriously suggesting you should read it too!”
“Arthur said it himself.  It got to him so fast because he’s a psychic.  I should be able to last longer.  If we take turns, and are careful to pull each other out before we look too far gone, we should be all right I think.”
“I remember you being more cautious,” Abigail said reproachfully.
“That was before I started worrying about the end of the world,” Daniel countered.
“You think that’s where this is going?” Selena asked.
“With everything we’ve seen so far, I can’t see it going anywhere else.  Malachi’s chasing something truly nasty, and I’m long past starting to wonder if he’s gone in over his head.  We could all be out of luck if we don’t figure this out.  That means taking a few risks.”
“He’s right,” Warren all but groaned from the corner. “Something this bad is just sitting in a house on Nowhereshire, U.S.A, imagine what the things it’s preaching about must be like.  We need to know.  But it’s on the four of you.  I can’t even get close to that thing.”
“All right,” Abigail conceded reluctantly. “But we’re cutting you off the second you start to look like Arthur did.”
“Deal,” Daniel agreed. “Not a second before though.  I’d rather get this over with quickly.”
Abigail nodded, stepping out of Daniel’s way.  Daniel opened the book, and stared down at its pages.  The words were written in the same twisted script that had been around the cave mouth in Romania.  They meant nothing to him, but he could already feel the book’s own consciousness reaching out to his mind.  It wrapped around him, oozing into his thoughts, filling him with a cold futility and a sense of utter insignificance.  He was so very small.  So pathetic in the face of all the things that waited to consume him.  When he felt like he was almost ready to break, it began to speak.
I bore witness to the rise of those great enough to be called gods.  I witnessed their dominion over this barren world.  They trampled the worthless earth and reigned over the empty seas.  They were supreme, save for the one thing this world made despite their perfect dominance.  Life.  Tiny things grew and crawled over the world, and the great ones saw themselves outnumbered by insects.  They held no fear of them, these unevolved creatures, until the gods saw the birth of the race that would dare challenge their supremacy: Man.
It ended suddenly, as the book slammed closed.  Daniel stumbled back, insensate and unaware of the world around him.  He was stopped from falling by Arthur’s hands, and found himself rudely shocked back to reality when the flat of a small hand struck his face.  The sharp sting knocked his senses back into gear, and he saw Evelyn standing in front of him, hand raised in case she needed to hit him again.  He let out a shaky breath that almost turned into a sob, and looked around at the others.
“Who’s next?” He asked wearily.
“I’ll do it,” Abigail said without hesitating. “The rest of you be ready to pull me out.  I’d rather not end up in a heap.”
Now Abigail opened the book, and the cold fingers of its will wrapped themselves around her thoughts.  She shuddered visibly as it reached into her, and spoke its words directly into her soul:
Man alone had not the power to defy the great ones, primitive apes that men were.  But these useless mortal creatures had something all other creatures lacked: Patronage.  Something beyond the sight of the world bore a love for humanity equal to the great ones’ hate.  This patron gave the humans power.  This was the birth of magic.  The great ones sought to break humanity, and many of the filthy primates bent to their will, but there were too many who stood against.  They shared the power given to them by undeserved grace and drove away the rightful gods of the world.
The book closed, and Abigail all but fell into Selena’s waiting arms.  She shuddered again, as the tendrils were ripped from her mind.  Selena guided her to sit on the floor, where Daniel and Arthur were already seated.  Their eyes were closed, and one of Arthur’s hands rested on Daniel’s forehead.  As Abigail sat, Arthur’s other hand rose to rest on her brow.  She could feel his presence seeking entry to her mind.  She closed her eyes and allowed him in.  His mind was a soothing balm compared to the terribly consciousness that had occupied her seconds before.  She felt Daniel in there with them, their three wills leaning on each other for shared strength.
Even as she began to relax, she was peripherally aware of Selena dropping to the floor beside her with a heavy thud.  Instinctively, she reached out as Arthur had and placed her hand on Selena’s forehead.  She felt the shock of Selena’s mind as she joined their circle, and then the words came tumbling out, in a voice that belonged to none of them, but all had heard:
The great ones were banished, but they could not be fully expunged.  Their power is too vast to be taken utterly from the world.  Ever have they reached beyond their prison outside the cosmos to touch the fragile minds of the mortals who now believe themselves supreme.  For aeons they have guided the building of the gates, and in the twilight of humanity, their power shall gather at the gates to batter down the doors of the world and shatter the artificial world of Man.
They remained in this circuit for a long while, as their shared minds put the pieces of the story together.  After a minute, they felt Evelyn join them, her mind unscarred by the touch of the book.  She came in only as a spectator, and soon Warren followed.  They sat in silence, and shared the experience, easing the burden on four minds with the combined strength of six.  Even so, they felt Warren’s ill discomfort as he felt the full force of the house’s spiritual sickness.  Without words, they agreed that the time had come to leave this foul place behind.
The descended the stairs, Evelyn insisting on taking up the rear.  They had to help Warren get down the stairs after so long exposed to the dark spiritual power.  They left as quickly as they could without dragging Warren or falling down the stairs, and all breathed a small sigh of relief as they reached open air.  They did not truly feel that relief until the house was disappearing down the road behind them, and the awful miasma finally faded into the distance with it.  They didn’t even discuss spending the night in Phillips, Maine.  They simply drove directly to the airport to put as many miles as they could between them and the cursed house.

Chapter 14
February 15th 1935

No one woke early.  The trauma of the previous day had drained them so utterly that they had remained conscious only long enough to return to the hotel.  It was noon by the time any of them stirred.  They met for brunch, each sharing the same drawn look of one who hadn’t slept all that restfully.  Abigail brought the journal with her.
They were very quiet for a long time.  No one particularly felt like sharing the nightmares they had all experienced to some degree last night.  Evelyn was the only one not completely traumatized, and as such was the only one who could even pretend to be well rested.  There was little consolation she could offer.  She had seen the trauma in their minds.  Only time could heal that.  For now, what they needed was a distraction.
“Abigail,” she said, startling them all by speaking, “may I see the journal?”
With a sight that almost seemed relieved, Abigail handed the book across the table to Evelyn.  It was an odd contrast to hear Evelyn’s soft voice reading instead of Abigail’s more strident tones.

February 15th 1935
Colorado can truthfully be called one of the last bastions of untamed wilderness in our overcivilised world.  I’m not far from the Rocky Mountains, staying on a reserve occupied by a small clan of Navajo Indians.  These people have managed to hold firm to their traditions, and clearly take considerable pride in their adherence to the Old Ways.  Among those traditions, apparently, is a distrust of outsiders.  It took a great deal of talking to convince the elders to even allow me on their land.  When they learned of my purpose, I thought for a moment that they might kill me.  Curiously, it was the offhand mention of another’s name that spared me and saved my purpose.  A shared association, apparently.
They are quite insistent that I not venture out at night.  I am beginning to notice a pattern in these outings.  Apparently the welcome they have extended to me is unlikely to be shared by the spirits that occupy the wild forest I must venture into.  These spirits, apparently, are more active at night.  Nothing abhorrent like Baba Yaga, but rather dangerous regardless.  I have opted to heed their advice.  I suspect there is more they are not telling me, but I can only take so many of their secrets before they take offense.  I can only hope their advice and the myriad preparatory rituals they are insisting I undertake will suffice to protect me, even if they will not tell me from what I am to be protected.
This is a peaceful place.  There is a great store of quiet power in the land.  But I sense that peace is conditional.  Nature still holds sway here, and nature has always been prone to unpredictability.  Still, sites like this are unfortunately rare treasures.  I think that Warren would love it here, but I suspect that he already knows that.

“What does that mean?” Selena directed the question at Warren. “That you would already know?”
“He was telling us where he is,” Warren replied, “somewhat cryptically.  I don’t know why he’s being so secretive.”
“What do you mean?” Daniel asked. “How does that tell us where he is?”
“I’ve been there,” Warren said. “The reservation.  I was there for about a year, in ’32.”
“Is this a good thing?” Arthur asked. “This sounds like another dangerous trip.”
“I really don’t want any more evil spirits trying to eat me,” Abigail complained.
“We’ll be fine,” Warren said with a tone of finality. “I’ll look after you.”
Everyone looked vaguely nervous, except for Evelyn, whose face was unreadable, and Daniel, who put his hands on the table just hard enough to draw attention to himself.
“I’m convinced,” he said with stubborn cheerfulness. “From the sound of things, this is Warren’s home turf.  If he says we’ll be okay, we’ll be okay.  Right Evey?”
Evelyn nodded with conviction, and Warren raised an eyebrow at Daniel with a quiet respect.
“You’re starting to act like Malachi,” he said.
“Maybe someone ought to,” Abigail answered before Daniel could.  “And he’s right.  We should trust you.  We do trust you.  Whatever happens out there, you can get us through it.”
“Don’t rely on me alone,” Warren warned.
“Of course not,” Abigail nodded. “We’ve gotten this far by working together, haven’t we?  You’re just going to take centre stage this time.  We’ll be following your cues.”
“Agreed,” Daniel said. “Warren takes point on this one.  All in favor?”
Everyone but Warren nodded or voiced assent.  Daniel looked to Warren, whose usually expressionless face showed surprise.  He nodded.  Only Evelyn saw the gratitude hiding under the surprise.

“He noticed,” Warren said once Evelyn’s door was closed.  He packed light, and so Evelyn was only halfway ready when he had knocked on the door.
“Of course he did,” Evelyn chided. “He’s always paid attention to that sort of thing.”
“Has he?  I never realized.”
“That’s because Malachi always took the lead in the old days.  Daniel’s only just stepping into the spotlight.  Abigail too.”
“She’s been waiting for it.”
“Be nice,” Evelyn shook a playful finger at Warren. “She was only bossy then because she was worried.  She’s much easier to deal with now.  She’s grown up just like the rest of us.”
“She has,” Warren conceded, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. “Though I expect Daniel’s influencing that too.”
“They’re a team,” Evelyn said, “and a rather good one at that.  I don’t mind them taking charge the way they have.  They’re not going overboard about it.  They listen, and everything is still going to vote.  They’re just keeping us on task.  I think we need that.  It’s been so long since we were a team, seeing them work together like one is helping us remember how to do the same, I think.”
“I agree.  Don’t get me wrong about that.  I’m just surprised they took to it so naturally.”
“They’ve always had it in them. It’s just that, with Malachi around, they never really had the chance to show it.”
“True enough.” Warren nodded. “Do you suppose things will go back to the way they were when we find Malachi?”
“I wouldn’t imagine so,” Evelyn said. “We’re all rather different people.  We don’t need a big brother anymore.”
“I never thought of it like that.  I suppose that’s what he was.  Big brother getting us all into trouble and then getting us out in the next beat.”
“Fair enough for kids.  Not so good for serious business.  That’s how Daniel and Abby are treating this.  It’s serious and they’re not pretending it isn’t.  I’m a bit relieved, honestly.  It was always such a game when we were young.”
“Not now,” Warren said. “Just as you said, this is serious.  Too serious, if you ask me, for a bunch of novices.”
“I don’t think we should be thinking of ourselves like that,” Evelyn shook her head. “We’ve all shown we can handle ourselves in a squeeze.  I think it’s time we were rid of the kid gloves and called ourselves what we really are.”
“Wizards,” Warren finished. Evelyn nodded.
“Wizards.  Now, are you just going to stand and watch or are you going to help me pack?”
“Sorry.”

The nearest airport was in Denver.  From there they had to drive out to the reservation.  Warren took the wheel of the first car, leading the way down the highway, and eventually off of it.  The cars bumped along country roads that the passengers suspected most Americans didn’t even know of.  As they got further from the city the terrain became less rural and more arboreal.  It wasn’t quite a forest growing up around them, but it was a fair imitation.  As it grew dark, the whole trip was reminding them rather uncomfortably of the trip through Romania, and everything that had come with it.
The gravel road was starting to rise and fall as they got to hillier terrain.  Had it not grown so dark, they might be able to see the Rocky Mountains in the distance.  Warren had the courtesy to signal before he turned suddenly off of the gravel onto a nearly invisible dirt road.  This road led into thicker trees, signaling the outskirts of true forest.
They drove for only a few more minutes before Warren came to a stop.  As the cars’ headlights stretched into the darkness, a few buildings could just barely be seen.  Warren stepped out of the car and waited.  When the others had also stepped out, he took a few long steps forward, signaling with one hand that the others ought to stay back for now.
“Kill your headlights so we can see you,” a voice came from the darkness, accompanied by the sound of a shotgun being cocked.  Daniel and Arthur reached into the cars to oblige.  This situation was getting more similar to Romania by the minute, and not in a pleasant way.  When the lights died, they were left for a moment in total darkness, before the hoods were taken off of a pair of old fashioned oil lanterns.  Two men stood before them, their long dark hair tied back.  Each carried a shotgun.  Warren didn’t look concerned as he spoke directly to one of them.
“Good evening, Curtis,” he said. “Is John around?”
One of the men, presumably Curtis, lifted his lantern off of the ground and raised it higher, to get better light.
“Warren?” He asked in the near dark. “Is that you?”
“Of course it is,” Warren answered reproachfully. “Who else knows where you live?  Did you think I wouldn’t be back?  You still owe me five dollars, as I recall.”
“It’s a debt of honour, friend,” Curtis chuckled. “It will be repaid in whatever manner, and at whatever time, the spirits deem appropriate.”
“Then it’s time the spirits gave you a kick in the honour,” Warren returned the chuckle with his own deep rumble, which shocked even Evelyn.  He never did that.
“They move mysteriously,” Curtis shrugged. “By the way, you’re not the only one who knows where we are.  Another guy waltzed in here yesterday looking to enter the Walker’s territory.  He waltzed out this afternoon.  Guess he found what he was looking for.  He mentioned you.”
“Yes, that’s why we’re here,” Warren said. “He’s a friend of ours.  I didn’t tell him about you, before you ask.  I don’t know how he found you, but we need to find him.”
“This is serious, isn’t it,” Curtis said it like he already knew the answer.
“It may be deadly serious,” Warren confirmed. “May we speak to John?”
“Yeah,” Curtis turned to the other man. “Chester, go wake John.  Tell him it’s Warren and it’s important.  He won’t get too pissed at you.”
Chester ran off into the darkness, and Curtis sat down on a nearby stump, cradling the shotgun in his lap and resting his lantern on the ground.
“Your friends can come closer,” he said to Warren, “I’m not going to shoot them.”
“They’re just being cautious,” Warren answered, nodding to the others as he did, “you’re not the first person to point a gun at us this month.”
“Making yourself popular?” Curtis gave a small grin.
“In all the wrong places,” Warren said gravely.  The others gathered around him, showing varying degrees of nervousness and impatience.
“I hope this friend of yours is worth the trouble.”
“He’s family,” Warren replied simply.
Curtis nodded gravely, and didn’t ask Warren to elaborate.  Whatever customs the people here had, Warren understood them, and Curtis seemed to respect him.  The sound of approaching footsteps ended any conversation anyway.  Two shadowy forms emerged from the darkness, one of them still carrying a shotgun.
“Warren?” The other shadow called out in a deep, weathered voice. “Where are you, boy?  Raise that light, Curtis.  I can’t see a damned thing.”
Curtis lifted the lantern off of the ground and its light spilled a little further.  The two men walked into the circle of light, Chester staying at the edge and staring out into the darkness beyond like something might jump out of it.  The other man was an older, well-fed fellow.  His face was as weathered as his voice, but the wrinkles spoke of wisdom more than anything else.  His hair was just as long as Curtis and Chester’s, but his was a silvery grey, and left loose rather than tied back.  He gave Warren a stern look.
“This had better be important,” he said, “to be waking me up damn near the middle of the night.”
“It’s not even ten, John,” Warren replied, but there was surprising respect in his voice, “and this is as important as anything.”
The old man, John according to Warren, reacted as though he had heard their whole story in Warren’s voice.  He nodded gravely and signaled them to follow him with a wave of his hand.  The followed, and he led them to a long, low house.  Inside was darker than the outdoors, and no warmer.
“Sorry about the lack of amenities,” John said with no small amount of sarcasm. “No electricity out here.  Curtis, get the fire going.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Daniel volunteered. “Just show me where.”
Curtis shone his lantern into the single long room, and its light fell on an old cast iron wood stove.  Daniel opened the grate and found it already conveniently stacked with fresh wood.  He held a hand over it, and uttered his familiar latin.  The wood sprung alight, and the long house began to warm up almost immediately.
“Do all of your friends have the touch?” John asked of Warren.
“In some form or another,” Warren affirmed. “Daniel, there are a few more lamps around the room.  If you wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course,” Daniel walked slowly around the room and, one by one, the lamps on the tables against the walls came to life.  Finally the room was well enough lit that everyone could see each other clearly, and warm enough to take off their coats and get properly comfortable.
“A useful friend to have,” John commented.
“They all are,” Warren agreed, “we owe each other our lives a dozen times over, at least.”
“Very good friends,” John looked impressed. “I should introduce myself, since Warren doesn’t have the manners.  My name is John Dancing Raven.  I’m the elder around here, which for you unfamiliar English types means I’m in charge.  I’m also the village shaman, which should answer any questions you have about why Warren knows me so well.”
“It does explain a lot,” Arthur said.
“Don’t interrupt,” John said bluntly. “Respect is a big thing here, son, and manners and respect go hand in hand.  You’ll know when it’s your turn to speak.”
Arthur opened his mouth to retort, thought better of it, and closed it again.
“That’s better.  And get out of my head.  You don’t need to read my mind to know what I’ll do if you get uppity.” He smirked at the surprise on Arthur’s face, and returned his attention to the group. “Chester told me why you’re here, mostly.  He said the other guy who was here yesterday is a friend of yours.  You plan on telling me what’s going on?”
“As much as we know,” Warren said. “Malachi disappeared on us a couple of weeks ago.  He left a journal he can write in from far away, and we’ve been using it to follow him.  So far we’ve been messed with by an old man on a mountain in Scotland, almost eaten by an evil spirit in Romania, did a favour for a ghost in Paris, took down a black cult back in England and got far too close to a terribly evil book in Maine.  We still don’t know exactly what he’s after, but we’ve figured out that it has something to do with some sort of ancient evil.  Something older than the natural spirits we know.  It was banished from the world in the earliest days of humanity, when the spirits offered their aid and gave us magic, and it’s wanted back in ever since.”
“It?” John asked probingly.
“Or they,” Warren shrugged. “We don’t really know.  We saw an image of something fairly horrible in the cult’s cave in England.  We figure it was a depiction of one of these ancient things.  Doesn’t look like any spirit I’ve heard of, or any monster our resident creature expert knows about.  It looked as though it was worshipped like a god.  A sea serpent taller than a tree, with a leech-sucker face and seven tentacles with human faces on them.”
“Doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard of,” John shook his head. “Our history doesn’t speak of such unnatural things.”
“How about snake men?  Body of a man, tail of a snake?  We saw one fossilized in Romania.”
“We have a few legends,” John said, “but nothing really worth mentioning.  We haven’t heard of anything like that around here since before my ancestors were born.  Why is your friend looking for these things?”
“We don’t know,” Warren admitted.  “We think it has something to do with the tragedy that brought me to you three years ago, the one I can’t speak of.  We think he may be chasing the thing he thinks is responsible for what happened to us.”
“I see,” John sat back, as though struck by a revelation. “These are the friends you told me of.”
“Yes,” Warren nodded.
“Then you are bound together by tragedy as well as love.  And this Malachi, he is one of you as well.”
Warren nodded again.
“You’re afraid that he’s in over his head,” John deduced. “I can tell that you’re afraid for him.  He’s family to you, and you want to save him, perhaps from himself.”
“In a nutshell, yes.”
“Family must stick together,” John declared. “Malachi is bound to you as much as I am to my own tribe.  I can do nothing but honour that.  Of course, I would probably have helped you anyway.  You’re still called friend here, Warren.”
“I’m grateful for that,” Warren said with respect, “and for your help.  Curtis said Malachi went into the Walker’s land.”
“He did,” John turned grave, cautious. “Your friend is very stubborn, and very convincing.  We did insist that he wait until morning to go, and we gave him what protection we could.  I think he used some of his own medicine as well, but I’m not sure it was enough.  He stayed past nightfall and came out of the forest running.”
“He angered the Skinwalker?” Even as the word escaped his lips, Warren seemed to catch himself, and looked apologetic.  John gave him a sharp look, but seemed to accept the silent apology.
“Maybe,” he said. “We gave him our best protection, and the Skinwalker isn’t the only thing to be afraid of in that forest anymore.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Arthur raised a hand somewhat carefully, “would you mind explaining this ‘Skinwalker’ business?”
Warren looked to John with a question on his face and, after a reluctant moment, John nodded.
“The Skinwalker is a spirit of the wild,” Warren explained. “There are a number of them in the world, though only the Navajo have many legends of them.  It is a spirit made of both animal instinct and human will.  It protects the territory it has claimed, with lethal force if it must, and it doesn’t welcome trespassers.  The one that protects this forest is a spirit of wolf and shadow.  The Navajo have always respected the Skinwalker, and it acknowledges their respect by tolerating them in its forest, so long as they continue to be respectful.  If Malachi went in with their blessings about him, that should have been enough to pacify the Skinwalker, unless he did something to anger it.”
“Malachi’s never been in the habit of making anyone angry,” Selena pointed out.
“Apparently there’s another possibility,” Warren said, turning back to John. “What else stalks the woods now?”
“Something far more dangerous than a Skinwalker,” John’s voice dropped to a whisper, as though he were afraid to speak the word aloud: “Wendigo.”
Warren was stunned into silence, while the others were silenced only by Warren’s reaction and their own confusion.  Finally, Warren spoke again.
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I would not joke about such things,” John said, his voice dire. “The cannibal spirit has come, and it has preyed on my kin, though we now hold it back as best we can with our own magic.”
“Why hasn’t the Skinwalker destroyed it?” Warren asked quietly.
“I don’t think it can,” John explained.  “The Skinwalker is now only spirit, barely able to take solid shape.  The Wendigo is spirit mated with flesh, and is the stronger for it.  None here have the power to face it.”
“You called it a cannibal spirit?” Evelyn asked.
“Yes,” John said. “The Wendigo is a spirit born of rage and the worst sort of excess.  It possesses those who succumb to their darkest unnatural urges.  Cannibalism, incest, blasphemous ritual, all these things can make a normal man into a Wendigo.  We don’t know how this one was made, nor where it came from.  As far as we know, its flesh was never one of our reservation.  But still it terrorizes us.”
“What does this mean for us?” Abigail asked. “We need to go where Malachi went, see what he saw.”
“I’ll give you the same advice I gave him,” John replied. “Go in the morning, and leave before dark.  The Wendigo comes out only at night, and the Skinwalker is unlikely to be about in the day as well.”
“No,” Warren said suddenly, unexpected anger on his face. “We go at night.  We will deal with the Wendigo.”
“Warren,” Daniel said with deep concern, “what are you getting us into here?”
“You said you trust me,” Warren said, “Yes?  You trust that I know what I’m doing.”
“Yes,” Daniel answered, rather helpless, “of course.”
“Then trust me now.  We were strong enough to escape Baba Yaga in her own woods, and overpower Sin at the height of his strength.  The Wendigo does not rule these woods, and he has no suffering on which to feed.  We can kill it.”
“You’re sure of this?” Abigail asked.
“I am,” Warren said resolutely. “We will take the day tomorrow to prepare.  If we are thorough, and take all advantages we can, we will have the strength to cleanse the forest.  The spirits will smile on us for it.”
Daniel gave Warren a long, hard look, as though he was trying to figure something out.  He hadn’t seen this sort of resolution in his normally aloof friend before.  This was clearly important to Warren, and it wasn’t difficult for Daniel to understand why.
“All right,” Daniel said, “if we’re all in favour of it, we’ll do it your way.  I’m in.”
“I am too,” Evelyn said without hesitation.
“I think we can do it,” Selena agreed.
“Well, we’ll need to stick together if there’s to be a chance,” Abigail said. “If you’re all in, then I am too.”
“I am NOT staying behind while you lot have all of the fun,” Arthur said, crossing his arms. “I’m owed that much after what I had to deal with in Maine.”
“We all had to deal with it,” Selena cajoled him, “you were just dumb enough to insist on going first.”
“Whatever, I’m in too.”
“Good,” Warren said with finality. “We will prepare tomorrow, and leave when it grows dark.  We’ll need every advantage we can get.  I don’t want this to end up like Romania.”

Chapter 15
February 16th 1935

Daniel found Selena in the long house, seated at a table with a scattering of small pieces of wood, a ball of leather string and a carving knife.  When he looked over her shoulder, he saw her carefully carving a magical sigil into one of the pieces of wood, which she had already carved into a convex oblong shape.  She looked up at him and nodded a greeting.
“What are you doing?” Daniel asked.
“Making talismans,” Selena explained. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this two weeks ago.  I don’t have the time or the resources to make anything fancy, but when these are done they should be able to store enough power to give us a bit of an edge without having to take the time to build up.  We’ve gotten awfully lucky so far given how long it usually takes any of us to get a spell off.”
“That’s a really good idea,” Daniel said encouragingly. “I wouldn’t worry about whether you thought of it before.  I’m just glad you’re thinking of it now.  We’re going in expecting a fight this time, and not against some demented magician.  Given how Warren and John were acting, I’d say this Wendigo is probably as nasty as Baba Yaga, and I get the impression it’s built to kill.  And then there’s this Skinwalker.”
“From what John said, the Skinwalker shouldn’t be as much of a problem.”
“I should hope not,” Daniel was silent for a long moment. “Are you all right, Selena?”
“What do you mean?” Selena asked. “Why wouldn’t I be all right?”
“You’ve been through a lot this past year,” Daniel said. “And now you’ve gone and uprooted yourself to wander all over and risk all kinds of unpleasant harm just because we asked you to.  I really feel terrible that I haven’t talked to you about this before.”
“You shouldn’t.  It’s not your fault you weren’t around when William died.  We had all scattered, and I knew that.  It wouldn’t have changed anything if you were there, really.”
“We could have given you some support.  That’s what friends are supposed to do.”
“We were hardly friends by then, Daniel.  We’d all seen each other once in five years, for an hour or two.  I certainly didn’t expect you to rush to my side when I didn’t even tell you what happened.”
Daniel heard Selena’s voice crack.  She kept her face turned away from him.  He walked around the table and sat across her.  She was holding back tears, her face set in a stubborn expression.
“We’re friends again now,” he said. “How you’re doing matters as much as any of us.  This is the first time any of us has even asked how you’re feeling, and I’m not okay with that.  We need to be there for you now, especially since we couldn’t be when it really mattered.”
Selena forced a smile, even as a tear managed to get past her stubborn façade. She looked down at the table, and the amulets she had just started working on.
“Since William died,” she said quietly, “I only really had my mother in law to talk to.  I had to be strong for the children, of course, and even with Gertrude I couldn’t really let myself break down the way I wanted to.  I learned the only way to really feel alone is when you’ve got people around you, and you have to hide right in front of them.  William was the only one I ever really felt close to the way we were all close years ago.  I suppose I really didn’t expect to ever have that sort of bond again, not after what happened.”
“And yet here we are,” Daniel said.
“Yes, we are.  Is it the same, really?  Are we what we were when we were kids?  Can we even be that close?”
“It’s not the same,” Daniel said with a bit of sadness. “It can’t be the same when we’ve all changed.  But I don’t think it would be the same even if nothing had happened six years ago.  People change, they grow up, and sometimes they grow apart.  What matters is that, even if we’re all different people now, what we had still matters.  We’ve been back together only two weeks, and I’ve already seen us starting to grow back together.  Evelyn and Warren act like they always have.  Abby and I are certainly back to our old tricks.  But you, you haven’t had a chance to really let yourself feel what you need to.”
“What about Arthur?” Selena asked.
“Arthur?  He’s always been a bit of a shit, hasn’t he?  It seems to me he’s stuck with us this far, he must be staying for a reason.  He’ll never really show it, but I think he still wants to be a part of the family.”
“Family,” Selena repeated the word. “I suppose you’re all the family I’ve got now.”
“Family sticks together, Lena,” Daniel said. “You can trust us to help you handle this, just as we’ve all trusted each other since this whole crazy escapade started.  That’s still there, the trust.  No one even hesitated to rely on each other for our very lives, and I think that says something about the connection that’s still there.”
“I suppose it does,” Selena wiped away the stray tear. “Thank you Daniel.  I don’t think I’m ready to share my feelings or anything quite yet, but it really does mean a lot, what you’ve just said.  I won’t forget it.”
“Good,” Daniel smiled. “Do you need a hand with the talismans?”
“Not yet.  This part I have to do myself, or it won’t work.  Once they’re ready to be properly enchanted, I’ll need as much power as I can get, so we’ll all want to get together.  I wish we had Malachi here.  This would work so much better if we had seven.”
“We do what we can with what we’ve got,” Daniel said. “Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll round up the others.”

They sat in a circle in the middle of the long house, any tabled in their way pushed over to the walls.  Six identical talismans of wood held in leather thongs sat on the floor in their midst.  For a moment, they looked around at each other.  Gathering enough power between six of them to be worth investing in the talismans would be time consuming to say the least.
Before they could actually begin, the door opened, and John Dancing Raven.  He saw them seated in the centre of the floor and raised a curious eyebrow, peering over them at the amulets gathered between them.
“Protection?” He asked.
Warren shook his head. “Power.”
“You won’t get much like this,” John scolded. “Come outside.  This is too important not to do it properly.”
He urged them all to their feet and led them out into the cold.  Presently, they arrived at a small fire pit.  John took a few logs from a pile off to the side and stacked them in careful formation.  He opened a metal box filled with old dry grass and twigs for kindling, but hesitated for a moment.  He looked at Daniel, who shrugged, and held a hand over the logs.  With his usual utterance, he ignited the dry wood, and very soon a small, cheerful fire was blazing.
John took the pendants from Selena and arranged them carefully around the fire, with the amulets themselves closest to the flames, though not too close, and the leather bands attached to them splayed out in six directions.  At his signal, they all sat around the fire.  John stood at the point where their circle finally closed.
“You’re not at your full strength,” he said.  “You’re one short of the strength of seven, which your missing friend would normally offer.  I’m not a part of your circle, but today I’ll offer my own strength to give you seven and empower your mission, if you’ll allow it.”
They didn’t even bother to discuss it, they simply shifted closer together, opening their circle for the older man to join.  Selena placed her left hand palm up on the palm of Daniel’s right hand, and he did the same to Abigail next to him.  This continued around the circle until Warren’s hand rested on Selena’s and the circle was closed.
As one, they closed their eyes, and concentrated on the power of the circle.  With six of them, it would take a great deal of concentration and ritual to build up enough power.  But with seven, the perfect prime number, the magic flowed more easily, and more abundantly.  Almost instantly, energy jumped around the circle, from person to person like lightning.  It didn’t take long at all for it to be more than enough.
Selena opened her eyes, and focused her gaze on the six amulets around the fire.  The fire was significant, it aided her focus.  Under the yoke her of concentration, the power they had gathered channeled itself into the centre of the circle, dividing evenly among the six talismans.  The simple necklaces took on a bright glow as the power filled them, and then quickly faded back to a normal appearance.
The others opened their eyes, and the circle disengaged.  John stood, while the young magicians each took one of the talismans.  The necklaces fairly vibrated with the energy they stored within them.  They stood, and all but Daniel and Warren started to shiver as the cold settled in on them again.
“That was a really good idea, Selena,” Daniel said. “But I think we should get back inside where it’s warm now.”
Without waiting, the others trudged off back toward the long house.  John stopped Warren before he could walk away.
“When evening comes,” he said, “just before dusk, come to me.  We will prepare you for your ordeal.  Whatever strength we can offer you, you will have.”
Warren didn’t speak, but nodded gravely, then turned and followed his friends.

They gathered as the sun was beginning to set.  The guests didn’t recognise anyone except for John, Curtis and Chester, as they hadn’t spent much time outside of their own company.  The Navajo had built a massive bonfire and now stood around it.  A low, wordless chant echoed around the circle, of which the English visitors were not a part.  They had no place in this ritual.
Warren stood in their midst, facing the bonfire.  He was stripped to his waist, but in the heat of the massive blaze, there was no room for a chill.  John and Curtis stood on either side of him.  Working with their fingers, they applied paint to his skin in patterns that Warren’s friends couldn’t see from behind him.  The chanting circle grew silent, but John and Curtis continued.  Their low throat singing could barely be heard over the roaring fire.
Gradually, the light of day was growing dimmer, as the sun sank below the horizon.  The light was halfway to vanishing when Warren turned around.  His torso was decorated with angular red lines, and a single red stripe divided his face horizontally.  Curiously, the area around his heart was untouched.  The circle of men took up their throaty chant again, and this time Warren joined them.
The chanting increased in pitch, growing louder and more insistent.  The spectators could feel the power gathering around the fire, ebbing and pulsing with the rhythm of the throat singing.  The fire was all but drowned out by the chorus of loud voices now.  Warren threw his head back, and his own voice soared to a wild crescendo as he bathed in the power of this people.
The last rays of the sun vanished as it slipped at last below the horizon.  The very second the light faded, the chanting stopped abruptly, leaving a sudden and almost deafening silence, apart from the fire.  The circle parted, and Warren stepped away from the fire.  John handed him a homemade looking leather vest, which he pulled on, carefully avoiding smearing the paint on his skin.
He joined his friends, looking quite grave and imposing in the firelight.  He looked out into the darkness of the woods for a long moment, as though listening.  Then he raised a hand and pointed into the blackness beyond the trees.
“We go that way.”
John handed out three torches, made from bundled wood soaked at the top in pitch.  Daniel, Arthur and Abigail took them.  With a gesture and a word, Daniel set them all alight.  John then handed Warren two shotguns.
“This is all we can spare,” John said. “I hope it will be enough.”
“It will be,” Warren replied with confidence.
Abigail and Arthur handed their torches to Evelyn and Selena and took the shotguns.  At this moment, they were as prepared as they had been for anything.  The amulets around their necks still buzzed with stored power, and Warren himself seemed cloaked in a quiet strength not his own.  Evelyn paused with surprise when she looked at Warren, her eyes drawn to the one area on his chest not marked with paint.  She reached out and her fingers traced four long, thin scars, like claw marks.
“Where did you get these?” She asked quietly.
“Here,” Warren answered simply, “the last time I was here.”
Evelyn looked concerned for a moment, but the calm resolution in Warren’s face seemed to settle her mind.  Without another word they walked out of the light of the fire and away from the small piece of civilisation.
The woods were very dark, but it was a natural darkness.  Moonlight and starlight trickled through the trees as it ought to, and the small sounds of nocturnal animals could be heard around them.  Warren led the way as though he knew precisely where he was going.  As far as the others were concerned, he probably did.  His absolute certainty was oddly reassuring to them, and they found they were beginning to share in his confidence.
They walked deep into the woods, following their large, silent friend.  When they came to a place where the trees grew thin, Warren stopped suddenly.  The woods were suddenly quiet, save for the crackling of the torches.  Warren waved at the others to step back, and as they moved away, he fell out of the light of their torches, standing instead in shadow.
He stared into the deepening dark, as though he was waiting for something.  The others squinted into the darkness, trying to see what Warren saw, but they perceived only shadow.  It was Arthur who suddenly perked up, as though he was noticing something as well.  The others understood.  Something in the darkness nearby had a consciousness Arthur could sense, and a spirit Warren could feel.
Suddenly, one of the shadows moved.  It was somehow darker than the very darkness from which it emerged.  Slowly, it approached Warren, and the others struggled to make out its shape.  It seemed to be some sort of animal, but at the same time it was undeniably humanoid.  As it came closer to Warren, its shape, such as it was, became easier to define.  It was definitely humanoid, but at the same time it was clearly not human, and possibly not even solid.  Its head, as much as they could see, seemed vaguely canine.  It had little apparent mass, seeming quite thin and most insubstantial.
Warren and the shadow thing stared at each other for a long, silent minute.  It raised what must be one of its hands, which gradually became clearer and more seemingly solid than the rest of its form.  The fingers could now be clearly seen to end in sharp points, like claws.  With this hand it touched Warren’s chest, right where there was no paint.  In a sudden, quick motion, it drew its claws across Warren’s chest.  He made no sound, and did not flinch.  Drops of blood could be seen to scatter on the snow at his feet.  Evelyn stifled a gasp.
The shadow being turned away from Warren and melted back into the darkness of the woods.  Warren turned as well and walked back into the light of the torches.  In the very spot where Evelyn had seen the four scars, there were now four identical open wounds, a light trickle of blood flowing from each.  Evelyn reached for the cuts, gathering power in her healing hand, but Warren stopped her hand and pushed it away.
“The wounds must bleed,” he said. “As long as my blood flows on its land, I am in communion with the Skinwalker.  It has given us welcome, with my promise that we will aid it in destroying the Wendigo.”
Evelyn nodded, and pulled her hand back.  The others were busy trying to stifle an unexpected awe in the presence of their old friend.  Daniel had been right the other day.  Warren was in his element here, and his strength in this place was palpable.  Warren turned again to face the darkness.
“This way,” he said, and continued walking.  Without question, the others followed.
The forest was like a maze.  Endless twists and turns around trees and huge formations of rock.  The snow crunched softly under their feet, a contrast to the hush that had fallen over the evening.  Unlike Baba Yaga’s woods, there was no strange distortion of time or space.  They knew precisely how long they had been walking, and it didn’t take very long before they had been walking entirely too long.  Their breath hung in the air in white clouds, and they felt the winter chill creeping in on them, excluding of course Daniel, who was dressed for early autumn, and Warren, who apparently didn’t feel the bitter cold on his bare skin.
There was no fear this time, at least not the unnatural fear that had been forced on them the last two times they had taken expeditions into nature’s glory.  Tonight they had only to contend with the perfectly natural fears of getting lost and freezing to death, and of being devoured alive by one of the primal evils of Navajo legend.  These fears, at least, they could attempt to quell by rationalizing them away.  The forest was huge, after all, and the chances of the Wendigo being anywhere near them were exponentially small.  Even if it found them, they outnumbered it six to one, and that had a proven effectiveness against homicidal supernatural beings.
Truthfully, the only thing that went any distance toward easing their concerns was Warren’s apparently total lack of fear or concern.  He strode confidently through the forest like he was walking the Manor grounds at midday.  Whatever he knew of the Wendigo, whatever fear had briefly touched his voice when he had spoken of it with John Dancing Raven, he was now apparently unafraid.  In fact, he had kept the same look of vague anger about him since their first conversation with John last night.  Clearly, the Wendigo’s presence here offended Warren more than it frightened him.
Quite suddenly, Warren stopped.  A scant few seconds later, the others realized why.  They could feel it.  Something in the woods that should not be there.  A dark power, seething somewhere out of sight, its sensation sickeningly familiar to that of Baba Yaga’s domain.  It did not approach, it merely waited wherever it was for them to find it.
“Wendigo?” Abigail asked in a hushed whisper.
“No,” Warren shook his head. “There is no spirit there, good or evil.  It is only power.”
“No mind either,” Arthur chimed in. “Whatever it is, it’s not a conscious entity.  If I had to hazard a guess, I’d assume it’s what we’re looking for.  From the feel of it, it certainly fits the pattern.”
“Shall we find out?” Daniel asked with forced cheer.  It didn’t convince him any more than it did anyone else.
They followed the sick feeling they shared in their guts, cutting between trees that grew gradually thicker, until they had to force their way through, and swiftly lost sight of each other, though most of them were noisy enough to compensate for that.  Warren slipped in between the trees like a ghost, like he knew exactly where to step, as though he had spent his whole life in this forest.
Finally, they broke through the trees into a wide clearing.  The terrain was wholly unremarkable.  Nothing but empty snow and scattered rocks from one end of the clearing to the other.  The jagged lumps of stone that dotted the landscape gave it the look of some long forgotten cemetery.  The whole clearing was perhaps twenty meters across, if that.  Above, the sky was obscured by a heavy bank of clouds.  The source of the dreadful unpleasantness that assailed them waited at the centre of the clearing.
The air and ground around it seemed to distort, warping in toward the inexplicable gap that hung suspended in space.  It was as though the natural world bent under whatever dark power emanated from it.  The hole was long, thin and jagged, as though someone had manage to stick a knife in the air itself and tear it open.  It measured approximately the size of a man, as best as could be judged the way it warped the perception of those who looked on it.  Within the hole was an impenetrable blackness, and those among them who stared too long into it were shocked to realize the darkness was moving, as though it was made up of thousands of inky black entities, all swarming to get out of the hole.
They were reluctant to approach it.  Most of them simply stared in shock at the impossible and deeply unsettling thing.  Warren glared at it with a slow burning anger that seemed to threaten to boil over at any second.  Abigail regarded the fissure with cold, clinical disapproval.  Slowly, she paced around the hole, giving it a wide radius.  No matter the angle from which she looked at it, it appeared the same.  It had no dimensions, and didn’t seem to truly occupy any space.  It simply was, when it should not be.
“Some sort of portal?” Daniel asked, looking at Abigail.  She was, among this group, the unquestioned authority on crossing the boundaries of worlds.  After giving the hole a long, hard stare, she shook her head.
“Not a portal, nothing so sophisticated.  This is far cruder.  It looks as though someone, something, rather, simply put an insane amount of pressure on the barrier between realities, probably from the other side, and just tore right through.  It would take a ridiculously huge power to even hope to accomplish anything like this, and even with the power of a god it would take centuries to get a rift of even this size.  An opening like this is extremely dangerous, as without the safeguards built into any portal construct, there’s nothing keeping the two realities from bleeding together at the nexus.  At this size, with the rate of emanation from the other side, it would take a long time for anything significant to happen, but if left unchecked, this could do horrible things to the land around it.”
“How horrible?” Daniel asked with some reluctance.
“Honestly?” Abigail’s face was grim. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Baba Yaga and her disgusting forest turned out to be the result of something just like this, left unrepaired for centuries.”
“I was afraid you’d say something like that,” Daniel said. “Where do you suppose it goes?”
“Someplace we really don’t want to get close to,” Abigail replied. “We can trade theories when this is all over, but after everything we’ve experienced in the last two weeks, I won’t be terribly surprised if we’ve all reached the same conclusion.  I need to close this immediately.  I’m going to need all of your help to do it.  This is going to take a great deal of power.”
“What do we need to do?” Selena asked.
“We must first encircle the fissure, closely enough to join hands.  I know, it will probably not be any more pleasant than our afternoon with the book from Hell, but we must fully enclose it.  After that, simply follow my lead.  With a lot of work, and a good deal of uninterrupted concentration, we should be able to seal it up.”
That was all the urging any of them needed.  The torches were stuck, burning end up, in the deeper parts of the snow.  With an effort of will on all of their parts, they gathered around the horrible hole in reality, and slowly closed in on it, stretching their arms out to join hands as soon as they were close enough.  They never got that close.
Warren sensed it long before the others could.  He turned suddenly away from the circle, staring out into the impenetrable woods with a shockingly wild look on his face.  The howl came from far enough away that none of the others could sense the creature that made it, though they could all guess at its origin.  It was not the sort of howl one would expect to hear from a true beast of the woods.  Though it was as savage and as primal as any predator, the voice that carried it bore a distinct inflection, a tone that fixed its description as an actual voice, and not simply an animal noise.  On some level, no doubt deeply regressed, the creature that offered the howling challenge was human.
Warren had begun a low, throaty and wordless chant, bracing himself as he stared into the woods.  Nothing moved out there, and for a long minute the only sound but for the torches was Warren’s deep voice making its own quiet, primal call.  Whatever he was doing, his friends all hoped with every ounce of their fear that it would be fast enough.
It was not fast enough.  The sound of snapping branches and shaking trees assailed them from the near distance, to the left where they were facing.  They all turned to face the oncoming threat, save Warren who was now lost in whatever magic he was weaving.  The cacophony of trampled landscape grew louder as the unseen nightmare drew swiftly near.  Arthur cocked his shotgun, and raised it, Abigail following suit.
The monster – it could not be called anything else – burst from the tree line with a roar that was at the same time shockingly human and utterly beyond humanity.  It was massive, surely nine feet tall at least, and absolutely overloaded with muscle.  Most of its body was covered with thick white hair, and where it was not, its chest and the palms of its hands, the skin was a steely grey and had the look of tough leather.  It was bipedal, and its hands were massive claws, its nails scything off of its fingertips at a length of two inches or more.
Its face was most horrifying of all.  The eyes were the first source of distress, as they still had a look of humanity to them, black pupil and brown iris in a white background, though quite bloodshot and wide as saucers.  The humanity in those eyes were jarring for the fact that they were set in the face of an inhuman monster.  The skin was the same leathery grey as its chest and hands, surrounded closely with the same white fur.  Its nose was a disgusting cross between a human nose and an animal snout, scrunched inward as though it had been smashed into the beast’s head.  And its mouth, good god, its mouth.  It bore a permanent, massive grin, literally from ear to ear, taking up half of the area of its face.  It was filled with teeth like long, jagged, broken needles.  When it roared, that mouth opened far wider than it ought to, like it was built to bite the head off of a grown man with a single swallow.
It bore down on the huddled group with unquestionable predatory intent, propelling itself with its hands like some sort of disfigured primate.  Most of them scattered.  Warren remained where he was, seemingly oblivious to the impending attack.  Arthur stood his ground and leveled his shotgun.  He fired, and the blast echoed around the clearing.  The pellets struck the Wendigo square in the chest, peppering it with speeding lead, but the creature didn’t even slow.  It simply howled its rage and hurled itself at Arthur, massive jaws gaping wide.
In a moment of fortunate quick thinking, Arthur threw himself back, angling toward the ground just before the Wendigo reached him.  The snapping teeth closed on empty air where Arthur’s head had been a brief second before.  The Wendigo did not continue on though.  With clear quick thought of its own, the beast ended its lunge abruptly, dropping its great mass overtop of Arthur, pinning his shoulder with his massive hands.  Claws that would have torn skin and muscle alike into ribbons narrowly missed his shoulders, digging instead into the snow.  Still, Arthur gave a cry of pain as the Wendigo put its terrible weight down on his shoulders, pressing him down.  Selena cried out in horror, Abigail raised her own equally useless shotgun, and Daniel and Evelyn started to run to his aid.
Arthur’s forearm forced itself up to his chest, and his fingers wrapped around the talisman of power given to him by Selena.  Clenching his hand into a fist around the amulet, and grimacing with pain and sudden exertion, he stared defiantly into the eyes of the cannibal monster.  The Wendigo’s scream of pain was as horrible as its howl of anger.  It reared back, clutching at its head, crying out in sudden distress and falling away from Arthur.  He scrambled back, and Daniel and Evelyn reached him just in time to help him to his feet and run with him back to the others.
“What did you do?” Daniel asked as they ran.
“Kicked it in the head,” Arthur answered breathlessly, “in a manner of speaking.  Gave its mind a good jab right in the pain centre.”
“It’s a good thing it can feel pain then,” Evelyn noted.
“No doubt,” Arthur agreed. “Damned difficult too.  I couldn’t have pulled it off without the extra power. Thanks, by the way Selena.”
“Don’t mention it,” Selena said as they were rejoined. “But I think it’s getting better.”
Indeed, the Wendigo’s agonized wails had subsided, and it lurched back to its feet, pure animal rage in those all too human eyes.  It turned on them, advancing more slowly now.  It had certainly not expected these human morsels to put up any sort of real fight.  Cautiously, it paced before them, drawing gradually nearer.  Daniel and Selena reached for their own talismans, preparing to unleash their own attacks, though they weren’t terribly optimistic about it.
Warren’s throat singing chant grew suddenly louder, ascending into a loud, wordless wail.  Power suddenly surged around him like a flare, catching the attention of his friends and of the unexpectedly sensitive Wendigo.  They all froze for a few tense seconds as the shadows danced in the light of the torches, seeming to surround Warren.  Far out of the radius of the torches’ light, another shadow moved of its own will.  The Skinwalker detached itself from the darkness of the woods and bore down on Warren with a whispering howl.  Warren’s chanting rose further in pitch until it was a howl of its own, and Warren threw his head back, his hands clenched into fists at his sides as he screamed at the cloudy sky.
The shadowy being seemed to tackle Warren, wrapping itself around him in a formless black embrace.  It sank into him, appearing to slip under his skin through the open wound on his chest.  As the Skinwalker vanished, Warren began to change, hunching over in sudden pain.  Most noticeably, his already large frame grew even more massive, towering suddenly in height as new muscled bulged and grew beneath his skin.  That skin was soon obscured as thick black fur sprouted all over his body.
When the change subsided, his bulk rivaled that of the Wendigo.  The fingers that now unclenched were tipped with vicious looking claws.  The face, when it turned to glare with animal fury at the Wendigo, was that of a predator, a beast.  Dark fur covered it lightly, and his nose and mouth had grown out into a canine muzzle.  Powerful jaws opened to reveal great, sharp fangs.  Even his ears had shifted to the pointed ears of a wolf.  But the eyes, though brimming with primeval rage, were still Warren’s, and the anger they bore was solely for the Wendigo.
The beast that was Warren howled a challenge, charging at the Wendigo.  The Wendigo roared in response, turning to meet him.  The two half-monsters met, and the force with which they collided was so great it elicited a clap of impact like thunder.  Warren’s hand gripped the Wendigo’s forehead, trying to force it back, as he raised his other hand to slash at its throat.  The Wendigo responded by raking its own claws across Warren’s unprotected stomach.  Crimson droplets sprinkled the snow, and the combatants broke apart.  First blood to the Wendigo.
More cautious now, Warren circled his opponent, a low growl rumbling in his throat.  The Wendigo turned in place, keeping its eyes on Warren as he paced.  With a speed the human eyes that watched couldn’t even process, the Wendigo lunged suddenly, bringing a heavy arm down to claw at Warren’s shoulder.  Warren’s own hand shot up with equal speed, catching the claws midswing, and he brought his other hand up to slash at the Wendigo’s chest.  Black blood joined the red on the snow, and they broke apart again.
Their strength and speed appeared equal, promising a protracted battle.  The spectators shivered, both with fear and cold as they watched the animal titans fight for both survival and supremacy.  The Wendigo charged, catching Warren in a powerful tackle. They fell, and as Warren’s back hit the snow he kicked up with his knees, forcing the Wendigo to continue on until it sprawled face first into the snow.  Warren sprung to his feet, pivoting to face the Wendigo, which scrambled back to its feet as well.  Their strength was equal, but Warren clearly had the superior mind.
The Wendigo was all but foaming at the mouth in its rage.  It screamed its bloodlust as it charged again, aiming to tackle Warren at the waist.  He simply stepped to the side and put his leg out as the white monster passed.  The Wendigo tripped over the outstretched foot and went careening to the ground, rolling across the snow to come to rest before the fissure still dominating the midst of the clearing.
Something happened.  A shockwave of tainted power emanated suddenly from the rift, spreading across the clearing and leaving a sick feeling at the pits of the spectators’ stomachs.  The Wendigo stood, its breath deep and ragged, and its horrible grin grew wider.  The distorted air around the hole seemed to part before the monster, which appeared to have grown slightly larger.  It hurled itself at Warren, and this time it was too fast.  It struck him in the chest with its massive shoulder, and Warren was sent sprawling across the clearing.
Before Warren could rise, the Wendigo was atop him, and its attack on Arthur played out again with horrifying similarity.  Like Arthur, Warren was pinned by his shoulders.  Unlike Arthur, the Wendigo’s claws found purchase in Warren’s flesh, and blood welled from gashes in his shoulders as the Wendigo bore its weight down on them, its slavering spittle dripping disgustingly in his face.  And, like Arthur, Warren reached for the pendant at his throat.  Like the Wendigo, his mass grew visibly, but only very slightly, not as much as the monster had.
It was, apparently, enough for now.  Warren placed his hands on the Wendigo’s chest and heaved, his muscles straining visible.  With a grunt of exertion, he shoved the cannibal beast off of him, rolling to one side as the Wendigo fell to the other.  Warren forced himself to his feet and managed to place himself between the Wendigo and the rift before his enemy recovered.  Recover his enemy did, standing to face Warren again.  Black streaks of blood marred its grey chest, and it fairly quivered with anger.
Warren stood his ground, eyeing the Wendigo carefully.  It was still stronger than he was, and faster.  He would have to be smarter.  Above all, he could not let it near the rift again, lest it grow even more powerful off of the horrible energies.  He planted his feet, locking eyes with the Wendigo.  He was not a fighter, and could only get so far on his wits.  Hopefully, it would be far enough, but he had no ideas so far.
The Wendigo did not give him time to think.  Snow was trampled under its clawed feet as it charged at Warren yet again.  As it approached, Warren ducked low, and caught it in the midsection with his shoulder.  Struck with the force of its own charge, the Wendigo’s breath escaped in a long, wheezing gasp.  Warren wrapped his arms around the monster’s waist, planting his feet and pushing back against the Wendigo’s weight.  When the Wendigo regained its breath, it roared and brought its claws down on Warren’s back.  The Wendigo was still stronger, but Warren had leverage.  They stood deceptively still, locked in a struggle in which neither was willing to give first.
The spectators, meanwhile, were growing sick of spectating.  They huddled in the cold, and an attempt at a plan began to form.
“We can’t just watch,” Abigail said tersely. “Warren’s losing!  We have to intervene, or he’ll die.”
“You’ll get no argument,” Daniel agreed, “but we can’t just throw haphazard attacks at that thing.  It’s too strong to risk wasting any power on it.  We need one solid, synchronized assault, something powerful enough to put Warren back on top of the game.”
“Got it,” Selena said after a moment’s thought. “Daniel, me and Evey will have to work together on this.  Full power, talismans, everything we’ve got.”
“What are we going to do?” Evelyn asked.
“You control water,” Selena answered, “moisture.  Daniel controls fire, heat.  I control air, and that’s where this is going to start.  We’re going to pile it all together in the clouds and drop a huge bloody bolt of lightning on that ugly thing.”
“You think we can pull it off?” Daniel asked uncertainly.
“Just follow my lead.  Arthur, be ready to warn Warren off.”
The three of them gathered together, each placing one hand in their midst, all joined together.  As one, they reached up and grasped the talismans of power.  The energy that jolted between them grew instantly.  As they concentrated together, the wind around them picked up, blowing the tops of the trees about wildly.  After only a moment, Selena raised her head to look to the sky, and opened her mouth.
Warren, Arthur called desperately into his friend’s mind, Get clear!  Now!
Whatever bestial influence may be on Warren’s mind, he understood the warning.  He raked his claws across the Wendigo’s back, causing it to rear back in surprise and pain. As it pulled away from him, Warren rolled off to the side, coming quickly to his feet to lope away.  Almost the second the two beast-men were separated, a long, echoing scream issued from Selena’s throat, crying out to the heavens.
The heavens replied, and thunder rolled through the dark grey clouds above them.  The Wendigo’s hair stood on end, a mere split second warning before a massive bolt of brilliant white lightning dropped from the clouds and caught the Wendigo dead on.  It was too bright to look on directly, and they were all forced to avert their eyes.  The accompanying thunder threw them from their feet and shook the needles from the pine trees around them.
When the thunder subsided, and the light dimmed, they looked up to see the Wendigo on its knees, its fur singed black or burned entirely away.  Its skin, too was horribly burned, and its breath came in a shallow rasp.  It struggled to rise, but could barely even stay on its knees.
Warren advanced on it with dire purpose.  The Wendigo stared up at him as he stood over it, defiant anger in its eyes even now.  Warren grabbed it by the jaw and pulled its head back.  His other hand was a blur as his claws slashed across the monster’s throat.  Black, tar-like blood flooded from the Wendigo’s throat, and it fell to the snow, its last breath a drowning gurgle.

And I will never touch this piece of shit story again.

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November 29, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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