Chapter 1: The troubled waters of Lakeside
The universe, space, time, and death all these things hold many wonders. I have seen many of these things for I was created to serve a being that could manipulate all these things. The universe itself is not big. It is not small either as it has no size that can be measured. Some consider it to be infinitely big never thinking that it is them who are infinitely small.
My name is Valtiel and through the powers that god gave me I have witnessed both the beginning and end of my existence. I have seen the many possibilities of fighting my destiny and have ultimately found that any efforts in this cause are futile. I am happy in the knowledge that I will have lived longer than most of the entities that exist on this planet by the time of my demise. At the time that I am writing this I am serving as a historian by advising and helping a young man called Rodger Widmark to write a book detailing this small town's history. I write my tale in secret to add to that book and hopefully spread the knowledge of a great wrong done here. I also hope that since his name is on the cover that it is him that gets the blame for the knowledge getting out as I feel I deserve a break from my own suffering. What I write is not fiction however unbelievable it sounds. Much has happened in this seemingly small place. Great things have been built; gateways to other worlds, even other galaxies have been formed. Wars have been fought; great loss of life has resulted in the creation of a new land. Names have been given and lost as have people. I have been witness to many of these events. The story I tell now is my way of explaining the small part I played in a war of Godly proportions.
It began with a war between my Mistress' Mother and a demon. They were locked in a power struggle and the only way to gain strength was by gaining souls. Too many of them were being claimed by her nemesis and she was afraid of an army of demons overthrowing her paradise. The dweller in the lake was becoming more restless with each sacrificial ceremony. It was obvious that he was growing stronger. Even with her disciples at work in the community faith in her was waning. Day by day more people were worshiping Samael through fear. God tried many things in order to win the people back but her efforts to overpower Samael were futile. It seemed that in power terms they were at a stalemate. Yet the scales were steadily starting to tip in Samael's favour as he had the more persuasive pitch. Namely presenting the choice of servitude or an eternity of excruciatingly painful torture.
After Samael's first appearance at the lake the people of Lakeside called on God to save them from this terror and, in fairness, she came through for her part. She offered them salvation but as with all salvation there also has to be a sacrifice. For although she could save them her corporeal aspect on Earth died with the effort it took to create paradise. She left behind two children: my Mistress Xuchilbara and Lobsel Vith to carry on her work. Xuchilbara stayed behind to protect her Mother's mortal children while Lobsel Vith left the physical plane to finish the work of preparing paradise for the chosen ones and guide God's children on the other side. Once God was lost the chosen could never return to their homeland as they once were. Instead they were to spend the rest of eternity in the service of her daughters. They were to be the new harvester's of souls and travellers to unseen worlds on other planes of existence. Few people were willing to take the risk of venturing into the unknown and possibly facing a worse fate than they were facing now. I was one of the few to go. It is best to really start my tale on the night of the council that decided all of our fates.
Like so many other stories of impending doom begin it was a very stormy night...
The entire village had been summoned to the church hall for the first council since the appearance of Samael. The inside of the hall was comforting. A large fire had been lit and was now roaring steadily, the flames licking around the large logs making a fiery cradle. The hall's atmosphere was one of safety, warmth and comfort. When everyone was gathered the fragile illusion was brutally shattered like a thin pane of glass. Tension and worry filled the air. The mayor seeing this tried to calm the people down but did not have much luck.
Hell he couldn't blame them; he was just as scared as the next man was. The elders weren't much help either. He had talked to them beforehand and they were all doom and gloom. The only person that could offer any consolation was the assistant minister from the church of Xuchilbara, and all he could offer was the promise of more answers as the minister was talking to the Red God out in the sacred forest. So far he had been out there for a couple of days and not a word had been sent back from him but the assistant minister had assured the mayor that he would be here, that he would hear the bell and come to the town's aid.
The mayor tried to calm the crowd down once again. The ringing stopped; the bell ringer came in and sat down at the back of the hall.
"Are we all here then?"
The doorman answered, "Any that could have made it are here. Just start. I'll keep an eye out for any more."
The mayor nodded. He walked to the front of the small stage to signal that he wanted silence, but still to no avail. 'Desperate times call for desperate measures,' he thought. He picked up his chain, which seemed heavier than normal; he held it out at arms length and dropped it. It made a loud clanking as it hit the well-worn floorboards.
Silence immediately followed.
"People of Lakeside I come to you tonight not as an official but as a person. I come as the man you know as Troy Weinhelt. I am as concerned about this new threat as anyone else is. There is no possible way we can keep sacrificing decent folk to this tyrannous devil. Nor will I have the blood of strangers on my hands. No one deserves to suffer the way that we have suffered. The good Reverend Dumont has gone to speak with the Red God directly to plead our case and ask for merciful salvation, so pray hard for him at this time. I have called this meeting to ask if anyone has suggestions that could help with this current situation."
One man stood up in the sea of faces. It was Filbar Johnston, one of the main representatives of the Johnston family. His father, Olben was there too but was too sickly to speak for the family. They were all given weird and wonderful names because there were so many of them. They had a farm out near the sacred forest. They all seemed to live a bit longer than most people. So much so that there were currently five generations living at one time on the farm. Filbar was of the second generation and was currently around ninety years old. His father was well into his hundreds yet Filbar only looked around his mid forties. They lived on what used to be the natives camp years ago. They still kept in good favour with the remnant of the natives; a chief and his shaman son. The two natives lived with the Johnstons and were good friends to them. The rest of the village accepted the two because of the Johnston's respect for them. The Johnstons themselves were respected because of their large number and the fact that they produced most of the town's food.
It was Filbar who spoke now, his jaw set and his appearance agitated as if what he were about to say was difficult.
"I know that I have no right to decide the fate of this town but if this sacrifice keeps up there will be no town left to live in. I don't think we are even on the same level as cattle here. I don't think it matters to this thing if we all die. I think our deaths will make this demon stronger if anything. You all saw the lake turn to blood and lately the crops here have been failing. Therefore I suggest that we take this thing on now as one movement to try and overpower it. I don't know if we can kill it but God willing there must be at least some way to contain it. Though it saddens me to say this we could even try to persuade it to move on to another place."
A voice from somewhere else in the crowd spoke up.
"No. I think I speak for everyone else when I say that no one else should be made to suffer. I think this thing has fed too long on people's fears. I will stand with you if you want to wage war on the demon but I will not pass the nightmares onto anyone else." A loud communal "here here," was heard in agreement. It touched the mayor to see his people come together like this to fight a common foe. For all he knew the fate of the world could depend on this battle.
A loud bang made everyone turn their heads sharply to the back of the room. Some of the more excitable villagers jumped right out of their chairs. All that could be seen was an arm with an old, gnarled hand keeping the door open. A ring on the index finger signified it to be someone of importance as few people could afford such luxuries. It glinted from the sheets of lightning that flashed frequently outside. The candles near the entrance had blown out making it impossible to see the intruder's face. The figure was hooded and covered in black clothing that dripped droplets of pure night onto the floorboards. The figure struggled to close the door against the howling wind while the doorman hurriedly went to fetch a light to relight the candles.
When they finally lowered their hood a large sigh of relief was let out as if everyone had been holding their breath until that moment. It was the Reverend Dumont. He chuckled softly
"My goodness but you would think I had just stumbled into a warren of rabbits the way you all jumped. I apologise for scaring anyone but it is hard to slip in on a night such as this one. I see that the meeting has already started, have I missed much?" One of the Johnstons fetched the old man's coat and then moved a chair near to the fire so that the minister could sit down.
"Bless you my child," Dumont said as he ruffled the boy's hair. "It is good to see that the parents are still raising the children properly anyway."
Filbar beamed with pride. "It is good to see that someone still notices the hard work we put in." A chuckle rippled around the hall before Troy spoke up.
"No father you haven't missed much. So far in terms of ideas all we have is death or glory. The general consensus has been to fight the beast in one concentrated attack."
The Reverend shook his head. He sighed as he warmed his hands up. He spoke loud enough for people to hear while he focused on the flame's hypnotic dance.
"I have another option. It would mean starving the beast but it would still require one last sacrifice. Are you willing to hear it?" The atmosphere became a bit uneasier in the hall. The wind howled even louder as if it were trying to shape the building at its very foundations. The candles flickered and some in the crowd panicked and struggled to get out before being held down.
The mayor sighed. He had a feeling that he was not going to like this.
"Keep hold of those little ones. If the storm gets in here we will have even more problems to deal with. Continue with your idea Reverend, we will listen if nothing else."
The Reverend Dumont nodded appreciatively,
"As many of you are probably aware by now I have been to the sacred forest to call upon divine instruction. The wonders I saw there were nothing short of miraculous.
Creatures…no angels whirled about me singing tunes that were so beautiful that it made the hairs stand on the back of my neck. It was as if I had been struck by a bolt of lightning and I soon found myself dancing with them. Can you imagine? A man my age dancing like a foolhardy young'un. The creatures…oh my word; more beautiful beings I have never seen. Their faces shone white with purity. Their bodies were perfect for lack of a more deserving word. They glistened with a golden radiance. Each one had a red mark on the back of each hand. It was the sigil of our lady. At the height of the glorious dance they spread their large majestic wings. Each of their wings was marked differently with a prominent patch of colour. It was as if they had been blessed at birth with the best wings in creation.
Suddenly the frantic beat stopped and the large stone that we danced around split open to reveal a doorway. One of the creatures told me to shield my face in the presence of my lady. All I can remember about her was that when she walked the earth a multitude of flowers appeared around her and bloomed from nowhere, as white as the driven snow. She laughed like a child whenever she saw me, her silvery voice like honey to my lips. In that moment I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of her voice and I knew that I would do anything for her.
"My good servant," she said, "it is a pleasure to see you. So you are one of the few that has been keeping my faith alive. I know what it is you seek and I do indeed have answers. Know first that the creature you now know as Samael came from the same universal womb that bore my Mother. We have come to Earth because the life here appeals to our pallets. I enjoy the happiness that is found in your short, vibrant lives. You amuse and dare I even say it interest me. Unfortunately my brother has also taken a liking to your kind. The fact that we have landed so close to one another is strange and unfortunately leaves you with a troublesome situation. Fortunately I have created a way out for you although it requires sacrifice.
It is this. I will open the gateway and take all that are willing to go with me. Whoever comes with me shall walk the path of Lobsel Vith, wander the heavens and see things that no human has ever seen. In return for this gift they must sacrifice their homes and previous lives. They can never go back to that life. Now that Samael has taken a liking to you, that was always going to be the case. You must put your lives in my hands and serve me completely." The Reverend finished his tale, "That friends is the plan straight from the mouth of our wondrous and merciful God. What say you to this?"
Cyril Peterson, Lakeside's carpenter stood up and cleared his throat.
"May I have permission to speak?" He glared at the mayor as if to say, "Just try to stop me." His large, white, bushy eyebrows helping to create a menacing shadow on his face in the firelight. Troy sighed in resignation and lifted his hand towards Cyril's direction to show that he could speak. Cyril nodded out of courtesy,
"Folks not to put a dampener on the good Reverend's suggestion but I have had enough of serving any God. This is our home that we are fighting for not some daft new religion. Sorry to be so realistic but I have seen religions come and go and that entire time only one thing has remained reliable: the earth under my feet. So forgive me if I come across as a harsh man but I have a strong urge to fight for what's real and not to be chasing about like a headless chicken for some 'God' that I have had no contact with, except to witness her absence as my boy was taken bloody and screaming from his room in the night. I'm not saying that we will win this fight but at least we will have died fighting for something worthwhile." Cyril sat back down only for someone else to croak up.
It was Olben Johnston. Troy didn't need to ask for silence this time. As the oldest of the immigrants, everyone stayed silent out of respect and hung on every word he said.
"Something worthwhile? Brother you forget yourself. The Red God is worthwhile. Do you forget what age you are? You should be dead at least twice over by now. You know we were all called to this place by a force other than the need to simply find a new home. Xuchilbara guided us to our homes because she wanted us here for a reason, to wait until our destinies become apparent. Now they have and you want to deny that for these people. I think it would be wise to reconsider." Cyril said nothing but muttered darkly to himself.
Suddenly something hit the fire sending embers flying onto the people sitting nearby. Quickly dusting himself off the Reverend dashed over to look up the chimney to see what had caused the disturbance. Sweat trickled down the back of his neck, as the heat of the embers was still strong. He looked up to the end of the chimney. His gaze met two fiery pinpoints of light at the top of the chimney as the red glowing embers reflected off something's eyes.
A flash of lightning revealed the listener in the dark. The Reverend put his hand to his mouth to stifle a gasp of sheer terror. The creature that stared back at him was the stuff of nightmares. It had a completely spherical head with two piercing brown eyes that had unnaturally large pupils. There was no nose to speak of; however there were tiny nostrils that flared due to the small wisp of smoke that escaped from the embers. The most terrifying feature about its face was a wicked perpetual grin full of cruel, jagged teeth. The beast made a move to go, revealing more of its body. It had large scars that ran across its torso as if it had previously been tortured excessively. Unlike its head the things body was square in shape. It had no arms or hands but rather in their place there were large metal spears so that it walked on all fours.
Dumont watched in amazement as it took to the air. The amazing thing was that it did not seem to need wings to fly. It awkwardly jumped into the air and started to somersault, except gravity seemed to have no effect on it and so it did not come down but kept on rotating in mid-air. It flew off towards the lake. Dumont slowly took his hand down again and turned around to face the expectant crowd. Troy was anxious
"What was it Reverend?"
Dumont sat down, his face a little paler than before. "It is best that I do not tell you lest the nightmares become worse. What I can tell you is that we were not alone in our discussions. My friends I did not expect this to happen. Time has just become dramatically shorter. You need to make a choice now. Either come with me to serve God in paradise or stay here and postpone your miserable and inevitable death for another few days."
Without waiting to hear any more words or speeches the Reverend Dumont got up and turned to quickly leave the hall, he was closely followed by about ten people including the Johnstons and myself. Troy looked thoroughly depressed when I last saw him. He knew that he had a duty to lead his people even if they did choose a path of certain death. I looked back at the sea of resolute faces and waved a sad and respectful goodbye to Troy, as I knew that I would never see him again. From the look on his face he was thinking along the same lines. They were doomed and he knew it. They were about to suffer the consequences of plotting to attack a war deity. We reached the town limits and were about to enter the sacred forest when a bone chilling communal scream reached our ears. We stopped and slowly turned around to watch in horror as a thousand creeping, crawling, cutting, crunching creatures moved in on the hall from the direction of the lake.
A dim orange light appeared in the night skyline. Someone had thrown a gas lamp at the horde of creatures relentlessly bursting in though the door screeching and shouting. They clawed to get in desperate to kill and full of the instinct to tear, rip and bite into all living flesh. The lamp only served to set a large portion of the hall ablaze. The fire was only bright enough for us to make out silhouettes in the dark cityscape. Perhaps it was better that way as the things we could make out made most of us throw up. It looked like the creatures were using the torn up bodies as meat puppets. The monsters were making fun of the massacre using the corpses of the freshly slain.
The red light that shone from the unearthly creatures eyes glimmered in the darkness. It reminded me of a particularly beautiful sunset on Toluca Lake. A harsh whisper came from the forest brush near us,
"Keep yourselves hidden. Fools, standing around like dumb animals begging to be slaughtered." It was the old Indian Chief Black Bear. Filbar walked over to him and greeted him like family,
"Good to see you here. I was starting to fear that they had taken you as well. I noticed that the lights were out at the farm. You acted surprisingly quickly. Did you know that this attack was coming?"
The old Chief solemnly nodded his head, "Yes I knew. The spirits have been restless during the past few days. They told me that something big was going to happen."
Filbar looked puzzled. "If you knew then why didn't you leave town or at least tell us something?" One of the Johnston children started crying.
The chief looked over sternly, "Keep that child quiet. Do you want it to have an early grave?" Isabel Johnston made great efforts to keep Joshua quiet.
The Chief answered Filbar's earlier question. "The spirits were not specific as to what was going to happen they only knew that something was definitely going to happen. As for leaving I am bound by oath to stay in this land until I am called back. All I can do now is bring you to the gateway and let you pass through. Reverend you will be familiar with the place we travel to now but not it's true purpose."
Dumont looked confused and suddenly brightened when he realised where the chief was referring to, "The place of calling?"
Black Bear nodded, "Yes. This journey should be particularly interesting to you. Now come on before the things pick up our scent."