Blood King Rising – Intro 5

Brendan Delvert - December 1928

Brendan Delvert shifted uncomfortably as Maia clung to him.  He cleared his throat.  “Ah, perhaps we should go over your session?”  Maia made a wordless sound of denial, snuggled closer, and allowed her left hand to slide into his lap.  “Young lady,” Brendan gasped, twisting and rising, all the while attempting to extricate himself from her embrace.  “This is unseemly.”  It had to be her upbringing in the cult, he told himself.  She didn’t know any better.  “I’m old enough to be your grandfather.”

He backed away from her knowing smile, only stopping when he bumped into the side table.  He turned on his heel and caught the wobbling wire recorder before it fell.  “That was close.”

“Not close enough,” Maia sighed.

Brendan pretended he hadn’t heard, busying himself with resetting the wire spool for replay.  He had made some notes about specific times of interest and he ran the spool forward until he reached the first point.  “You spoke some words here that I did not catch,” he told her gruffly.  “Let’s see if you can remember them now that you’re awake and aware.  A hypnotic state appears to improve recall somewhat – though it also means that the subject is in a heightened suggestive state.”

“I have a few suggestions,” Maia smiled.  “Come back here and I’ll whisper them in your ear.”

Brendan frowned and glared at her.  “I do not appreciate such levity,” he said, flicking the switch that started the machine.  “We have scientific study to continue.”  It wasn’t that he was unaware of her attractions, he was constantly forced to distract himself so that he could concentrate.  It wasn’t even that she was so young, a mere twenty to his sixty, he had seen many May-December couples in his years as a Pastor.  It was more of an ethical dilemma.  He was trying to help her deal with the trauma that had been layered onto her psyche with every death ceremony.  As her ‘teacher’ of sorts, he did not feel it appropriate to overstep the bounds of such a relationship.

He knew she had developed a bit of a crush on him – that much was all too obvious.  All he could do, if he wasn’t to hurt her further, was to set strict guidelines and try to remain as aloof and unaffected as he possibly could.  After all, in time she would get over this infatuation.

The voice coming from the trumpet-shaped loudspeaker was tinny, but still recognisable as Maia’s.  It talked about the coldness of the altar, then the group response to the leader’s words, and finally began to speak the guttural invocations that purported to be a spell of some kind.  “Here,” he said urgently, gesturing to Maia who was now staring at the speaker in frozen horror.  “I can’t quite make out what you’re saying.”

Maia shook her head vehemently, her hair flying wildly, hands pressed against her ears.  “No,” she moaned desperately.  “No, no, no, no!”

Brendan frowned.  He understood that the memory was traumatic, but she covered this ground in previous sessions without any display of hysteria.  “It’s alright, my dear,” he soothed, flicking the switch into the ‘off’ position.  The wire reel spun slower, making the deep-voiced incantation deeper and more drawn out, until everything came to a halt.

As he reached out to touch Maia’s shoulder, to let her know that she was safe and amongst people she could trust, a tinny voice began to sing:

Enter my world, give all to me

All you are, all that you’ll be.

“Make it stop,” Maia pleaded, her eyes open wide.  “Brendan, make it stop.”

Magic I trade, for a lifespan that’s new

Sacrifice life, my life imbue

You’ll know a joy in pain, life’s sweet refrain, I take it all

Here in my garden bower, you are my thrall.

Brendan’s frown darkened.  This was new.  He’d heard voices on a wire that had not been spoken when he’d been recording before, but always when the spools were spinning and the vocalisations drawn out of the magnetic fields.  He had never heard of an instance where the spools were stopped and a voice sang to him – and it was such a sweet voice.  Not at all hollow or tinny.

Tarry with me, and then ever you’ll be

Adrift on a sea, and dreaming of me.

The great library became obscured by mist as the voice sang on and Brendan closed his eyes to listen closer to that haunting melody.  It was far and away the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.  “Sweet,” he whispered.  “Such sweet music.”

You’ll just fade away, every day, as I grow stronger now

My life will be beautiful as you wonder how

To tarry with me, and then ever you’ll be

Adrift on a sea, and dreaming of me.

“Brendan,” a shrill voice cut through the beauty, interrupting his revery.  He shook his head, squeezing his eyes tighter shut, straining to pick up the strands of music from where they had been so cruelly severed.

Adrift on a sea, and dreaming of me.

Adrift on a sea, and dreaming of me.

Tarry with me, and then ever you’ll be

Adrift on a sea, and dreaming of me.

“Damn you, Brendan Delvert,” the harsher voice was louder now.  “What have you done?”  It was followed by a sharp pain on his right cheek.  “What have you done?”

More pain.  Left cheek.  Right cheek.  He moaned unhappily, this was all keeping him from the music.

“You asked for it, buster.”  There was pressure against his lips, warm and soft.  A moist intrusion pushed into his mouth and swept across his tongue, teasing, tantalising.  He moaned again, his unhappiness transforming into something else even as the music swirled and pulled at him.  When the intrusion slipped from his mouth, he followed it urgently, pressing forward, his lips beginning to move, his own tongue exploring.  For a long while he remained teetering on a balance point, caught between the softly sung words and the wordless pleasure he experienced with his lips and tongue.

He opened his eyes and stared into the depths of Maia’s amber gaze, all the while their kiss continued.  Until she drew away from him with a determined push on his chest.  “Brendan Delvert,” she told him in a voice like flint.  “You are an idiot.”

He blinked in confusion.  “Huh?”

“What have you done?”  She gestured to the world around them and Brendan looked, unable to comprehend what he was seeing.  There was an ever-present haze of mist that ebbed and flowed, sometimes obscuring, sometimes revealing, a truly unfamiliar landscape.

Brendan blinked hard.  He looked again.  Still the same.  Where he had been standing in a vast multi-storied library within Malloran Towers, the place that had been his domain for the last decade, he was now somewhere completely different.  He was now, with Maia, in what seemed to be the centre of a hedge maze.  Though the blooming flowers in those green walls looked nothing like anything he had seen in any botanical collections.  At the very center of this place, a silver and crystal box lay on a stone pedestal.  He cocked his head, considering the construction thoughtfully.

“Really?” he asked.  “I finally have an opportunity to explore an alternate reality and the first thing I see is Snow White’s coffin?”  He laughed at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.

“This is no laughing matter, Brendan,” Maia hissed.  Her sharp fingernails dug into his hand as she grasped it tight.  “Replaying the invocation obviously opened the rift and sucked us in.”  Her face was grey.  “If we can’t find a way back, we’re as dead as my sister.”  Her frightened eyes stared at him.  “And who knows what has taken over our bodies in the library.”

Brendan took control of his racing mind, whispered a calming prayer, and nodded firmly.  “Apologies, Maia.  I do not know what came over me.”  He breathed in deep, marveling at the richness of the scents about him.  “Perhaps I can break its hold on us?”  He moved Maia to his back, where she held onto his jacket waist and peered round him, while he moved his hands in a certain way before intoning a very specific set of memorised articulations while also thinking about the movement of a certain set of stars in their orbits.

“Oh,” Maia gasped in astonishment as a scribed set of lines appeared in midair between them and the coffin.  The whole symbol hurt to look at, though there was an overwhelming sense of peace while they basked in its light.  “What is it?”

Brendan finished his invocation, sweat beading on his brow, feeling sick to the stomach and weak at the knees.  “The sigil of the Elder Sign,” he croaked.  “It provides a degree of protection from a number of nasties, but it’s damned difficult to conjure and takes a lot out of me.”

“That’s what you used when you rescued me, isn’t it?”

Brendan nodded.  He’d seen the horror that had been crouched over Maia on the altar and reacted instinctively, pulling together the invocation he had spent years deciphering.  It had only lasted a few seconds, but it had been enough to frighten the monster that had been Maia’s sister and gave him time to rescue Maia.

This time, the sigil stayed hanging in mid-air longer.  Under its revealing light, he could see a previously invisible network of energies centred on the coffin.  There was a tiny rotating disturbance in the air above the head of the coffin and its dimly-viewed occupant.  From this vortex, a trickle of silver and gold motes drifted down to rest on the crystal surface before fading away.  From the middle of the coffin, a ball of coruscant silver light pulsed like a heartbeat.  Each pulse threw a flicker of energy into a web-like series of strands that emanated from the globe and spread out above the hedge maze.  The whole thing felt oddly alive.

“Concentrate on going home,” Brendan said.  “Perhaps that will be enough.”  He drew Maia close to him, ostensibly to ensure that they both stayed together, but he was glad to feel the warmth of another lost soul.  He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then released it slowly while he pictured the great room of the library, building the image in his head, book by book, shelf by shelf.

There was a moment of giddiness as the world about them wavered, then snapped back into focus in a completely different location.  There was nothing remotely like a library on this windy parapet high above an oddly medieval city that stretched out below them.  Impossible architectures vied with solid functional buildings while a bustling throng of improbably dressed people moved seemingly-haphazardly about their daily lives even as something momentous took place in the distance.

Far away, further than Brendan should have been able to see clearly, the sea at the edges of the various land promontories trembled and the waves stopped beating on the shores or against the thick sea-walls.  An island, obviously the remains of an inactive volcano, shook with increasing ferocity.

“What is this?” Maia asked, shaken.  She held Brendan tight, her face turned to look away from the island.  “These people…”

Brendan shook his head.  This was far outside his experience.  “I have no clue.”

A particularly violent tremor caused the parapet to sway drunkenly and Maia’s fingers dug painfully deep into his sides.  He looked about himself and found that they shared the viewing platform with a number of other people.  “Oh,” he gasped, before clearing his throat and holding out a hand in greeting.  “My apologies,” he said gruffly.  “I did not see you…”

The seven onlookers did not appear to realise he was there.  Two, in golden livery, spears in hand, stood rigidly at attention on either side of a doorway into the tower.  They watched everyone on the balcony, but especially the movements of a tall dark-haired woman in a white flowing dress edged with fur and golden filigree.  Brendan surmised that she must be some form of royalty based on the delicate band of gold crossing her forehead and the richness of the ruby necklace about her neck.

At the woman’s side stood a tall, broad-chested man dressed in silk and leather finery.  He sported a stylized hound head badge on one shoulder and wore a long sword scabbarded at his belt.  The rough stubble that darkened his cheeks spoke of hours without time to rest.  His sharp eyes flicked from person to person, then off into the distance toward the island, before repeating the cycle restlessly.  If Brendan had been asked, he would have said that the man’s gaze hesitated whenever it touched on the woman in green currently leaning over the edge of the railing.

The woman in question was clad in the most glorious green silk gown that he had ever seen.  Her golden hair framed a face that looked young in years and hid, though an errant wind flipped the hair aside, a pair of delicately pointed ears.  She reached up with practiced ease and tied her hair into a pony tail to keep it out of her face – all the while staring across the distance to the island.

A taller leather-clad man, also with pointed ears, and a far more alien set of features leant balanced atop the thin rail, uncaring of the significant distance down to the ground below.  He pursed his lips, shook his head, and alighted with a casual ease that took Brendan’s breath away.  The man’s movements were casual, unhurried, and they flowed, one into the next, without any hesitation.  It reminded Brendan of a cat.

The seventh person was a woman, also in white, but the sleeves of her gown were crimson and fat droplets of blood dripped regularly to the ground beside her feet.  Brendan wondered at first why no-one was helping her, but came to the conclusion that the young girl was also invisible in some way.  Her face reminded him of Maia.  Well, he amended, except for the red eyes and the fact that she seemed to be almost completely transparent.  If he did not know better, he would have described her as being some form of spectre.

The regal-looking woman in white ignored the others about her, entirely focused on the visual disruption that was now taking place over the distant island.  There was such hatred in her eyes that Brendan felt distinctly shaken even being on the periphery of it.  She said something, he was sure of that as her lips moved, but no sound could be heard.  Her fist smashing into the balcony railing in obvious frustration produced cracks in the stone but no noise.

When Brendan turned his head further, his peripheral vision caught sight of the web-like tracery of light that had been visible in the maze.  It vanished whenever he tried to stare directly at it, but it was blazingly obvious when he peered through the corners of his eyes.  What was more, the woman in white seemed to be the focal point of the strands – every pulse that passed through the connections went straight to her.  He surmised that the energy was feeding her in some fashion, giving her strength.

Magic I trade, for a lifespan that’s new

Sacrifice life, my life imbue.

The music swirled back around them, the lyrics giving him the insight he needed.  “She’s the one the sacrificed life is going to,” he breathed, shocked.  “It’s keeping her alive, presumably extending her life.  My god, how did she do this?”

“Mmmm,” whispered a cold voice in his ear, dry as dust, hollow and chill as the grave.  “I would like to know the answer to that question.”

Brendan spun away from the tickling whisper, drawing Maia with him, abruptly terrified.  He had grown used to the bizarre silence and the speaker startled him – especially when he seemed to be invisible.  As he moved, he tried to locate the one who had spoken but all he could see was a polished white skull floating at head-height.  It had gemstones for eyes.

His movement sent them swirling into and through the assembly.  It was an eerie feeling.  The people were as tenuous as smoke, insubstantial and yet so completely present.  A confusing mélange of images played in his mind’s eye – the coffee shop where he and his friends had first encountered each other; the moment when the ragged beggar had opened his foul jacket and blinded them with the glory of the infinite; the hint of white wings flapping in the darkness; the writhing tentacles that emanated from a huge stone portal, grasping at them, trying to drag them all into the Outer Darkness; a battle with a horned demon using swords and arrows, spells and prayers, knowing that death was waiting in the wings to claim its prize; a naked woman who turned into a striped tiger and stalked toward him, one massive paw after another, green eyes intent; a fearsome hound, wreathed in flame and smoke, who turned into a man that looked very much like the silk and leather-clad one on this balcony; a veritable army of reptilian people in armour emblazoned with a platinum dragon.  There were more images, more than he could possibly remember, and as they all came with emotional baggage, he abruptly found himself kneeling against the back wall of the balcony tower, tears streaming down his cheeks.  So much death, so much sorrow.

“Nectar,” the dry voice breathed, definitely emanating from the hovering skull.  There was the tiniest spark of interest beneath that monotone delivery.  “This world still has secrets to reveal and then…”  A pair of huge emeralds, set like eyes in the sockets, glittered as they gazed into him.  “And then we shall turn to your world, little mortal.”

Maia screamed.  She was swaying, still on her feet, half-merged with a transparent woman who had blood dripping from her arms.  “The Blood King comes!” she shrieked.  “The time is now!”

Another detonation far away sent the most powerful tremor yet and a flash of light rivalled the sun for brightness.  Brendan threw an arm over his eyes to protect them.

“Pathetic,” the dusty voice almost sneered.  “Your astral form cannot be harmed by the events on this plane.”  Brendan could sense that the being’s attention shifted away, freeing him from the terrible scrutiny.  He lowered his arm, squinting to see better.

Maia was still entangled with the ghost-like apparition, their faces nearly identical, their mouths opened in an endless scream, hands clasped tight to their heads, eyes wide and blind.

The woman in white, a delicate circlet around her forehead, turned to look in Brendan’s direction. Her teeth were bared in a snarl and she voiced something silently, thrusting her right hand toward him.  A stream of rainbow light issued from her twisting fingers.

Brendan tensed, waiting to be struck.  To his astonishment, the light splashed around the hovering emerald-eyed skull instead.  It vented an involuntary exclamation and slid through the air, rising as it went, until it tumbled away toward the island.  No, Brendan corrected himself.  Not an island.  A nightmarish version of a tremendous castle with turrets and battlements.  Even from this distance, Brendan could make out the details.  The thing had to be larger than a city block.

Worse than that, there came wave after wave of black-winged creatures, all emanating from the edifice that had sprung from nothing and displaced an entire island.  In his mind, Brendan could hear the hungry cries of the creatures as they flew rapidly toward the all-too human city.

The golden-haired woman in green gestured almost angrily to the woman in white, while the broad-shouldered man with the canine insignia stepped between them.  He pointed to the sky.

The flight of creatures had reached the outskirts of the city.  Their sharp white teeth reminded Brendan of the Irish author’s nasty little book.  He watched in despair as the first of them passed over the high wall that bounded the city.  The people in the streets below were in terrible danger and there was nothing he could do about it.

The creature dove over the battlements and burst into flame, its spindly limbs jerking and flailing.  More of its comrades followed, unable to stop their headlong flight, and they all became lumps of flaming charcoal.  Brendan noted all of this but was also aware that he could see a great dome of spidery webbing arching high above the city – all emanating from the woman in white who smiled cruelly at the sight of the carnage.

A larger form, massive wings beating slowly, rose from that faraway castle and flew up into the rapidly darkening sky.  He held a black sword that seemed to have a silvery moonlight glow about it in one hand, a tall shield emblazoned with a black fist on a red background, and wore armour that seemed to be running with fresh blood.  When he reached the apex of the dome, he hovered and spoke down to those on the balcony.  Brendan still heard nothing.

Maia fell clear of the spirit-woman and lay panting on the stony platform, half curled in on herself.

A golden light lanced up from another spot within the city walls.  In no time at all, the radiant globe shot past the balcony and its light washed over them all.  The accompanying emanations reminded Brendan of the Elder Sign but, instead of comfort, they brought a feeling akin to fear.  This was not a friendly light.  After a single blink, the ball of light passed through the barrier and resolved itself into a golden statue of man with wings.  It faced the bloody form of the aggressor, a spear levelled in threat.  To Brendan’s eyes, it could just as easily have been a classical statue, but his upbringing gave it another name which his lips mouthed silently: Angel.

The pale-faced man in the bloody armour simply smiled and nodded a greeting.  He held his shield away from his body, showing his blood-besmirched chest-plate.

The golden Angel shifted position.  Where a normal person would have been seen in the act of moving, this figure simply shifted from pose to pose, each transition an end-point of the movement.  Threaten.  Arm stretched back, perfectly formed musculature coiled and ready.  Throw.  The spear had already left the open hand by the time Brendan realised it had been unleashed.  The gold line of the weapon struck the red-armoured figure.

Well, Brendan amended, it should have hit the opponent dead-centre.  Instead, the spear passed through empty air, and the blood-armoured man was abruptly behind the Angel, a white-feathered wing held in each taloned hand.  The skull, emerald eyes blazing, more gemstones orbiting its bony cranium, materialised in front of the pinioned angel and black flame gushed from its open mouth.

The end, when it came, was swift.  The blood-armoured man pulled as though making a wish and one white wing separated from the golden form with a gush of yellow blood.  The skull’s dark fire turned the golden skin into a black-charred mess.  The sinister man waved a laconic hand toward the skull and the mouth closed, shutting off the stream of fire.  He lifted the limp form effortlessly, spun in the air to ensure that all watchers could see clearly, then bit into the angel’s neck and drank deep.

“Dear God,” Brendan whispered, eyes wide.  He scrambled over to Maia.  “We have to get out of here.”  He had no idea how to achieve that aim, but he knew that it was necessary to escape right now – before anything worse could happen.  It was bad enough that the skull creature had been able to talk to him.  He didn’t want to find out if the white-haired vampire in bloody armour could too.

The woman in white waved her arms and shouted something.

Brendan cursed.  This was like sitting through a silent film without caption cards.  Frustrating.

A wash of brilliance lit up each of the gossamer strands of the web.  The woman was both absorbing and projecting the energies funneled from the crystal sarcophagus.

The scene turned wavery, as though it were just a heat mirage, then faded away as the familiar confines of the great library swam back into focus.  Brendan, on his knees, heaved a huge sigh of relief and issued a cracked laugh.  “Damnation, that was intense.”

“Do not,” Maia gritted, kneeling in front of him, her hands reaching up and clasping his cheeks between them.  “Ever.  Do that.  Again!”  She panted as though she had been running a race.

“I won’t,” Brendan promised fervently, “you have my word.”  He just wished he knew what he had done.  He allowed the pause to lengthen before a triumphant smile lit up his face.  “But we learned where the life energies are being drained to – not to pierce some esoteric dimensional barriers, but into an otherworldly leech.  It’s a problem, admittedly, but not as bad as we’ve all been imagining.”

Maia shook her head.  “Blind,” she gritted angrily.  “The Unnamable Dawn is opening the barriers.  Some of the energies are being drawn elsewhere, but it is attracting attention.  I don’t know what the Blood King will manifest as in this world, but we have just witnessed his entry into that other world.”

Brendan tried to shake his own head, but Maia held him still.  He wanted to refute her words, but he knew that she spoke the truth.  It just wasn’t a truth that he wanted to hear.  A world where Angels were destroyed by blood-sucking demons.  It was too terrible to contemplate.  And it made him feel so alone, so lost.  Forlorn.  Just like he had been when he first encountered a nightmare made flesh.

Adrift on a sea, and dreaming of me.

The tiny hint of music wafted through the silence of the book-lined room and made them both shiver even as it filled them with longing and desperate need.

“Be with me,” Maia whispered, leaning forward to kiss him as hard as she could.

Brendan felt his resistance crumbling and he responded in kind.

The insistent jangling of a telephone interrupted and, much to Maia’s obvious disgust, Brendan separated himself from her to go and answer it.  “Yes?”

It was Corwyn.  “Good afternoon, Brendan.  I have a task for Maia,” he said.  “I hope this is not an inconvenient moment.  Is she available?”

Brendan glowered at the black receiver in his hand, then held it out to Maia.  “It’s for you.”  He was confused, unsure if he should be feeling relief or irritation at the interruption.

“Later,” she told him with a tight smile, her eyes unfathomable.  “We will continue this later.”

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