A lost friend and an end begins
Carter slowly opened his eyes. The blurred view of his surroundings was hampered even more by the stabbing pain in his head. As his senses slowly returned, they revealed muscular aches and tender areas on his naked body, which he soon realised were the result of lying on a hard and unforgiving floor. The pain in his groin, however, felt somewhat different. Carter recognised that one. He lifted himself up from the floor only to find his movements restricted by a chain around his ankle, which had him tethered to a wall. Using his muscular arms, he raised his torso and sat upright, resting his aching back against the cold, damp, grey stone wall. He momentarily closed his throbbing eyes in an attempt to stem the pain and steady his blurred vision. Concentrating his mind, he told himself, “I’m fine. Just stiff and groggy – probably an excess of wine. Now, where am I?”
He opened his eyes again. This time he could focus and take in the surroundings. He was in a high-vaulted room, dimly lit by large candles, their limited light flickering across bloody frescoes, which adorned the ceiling, and paintings that hung on the walls. Ominous-looking statues cast eerie, animated shadows and there were grotesque animal skins strewn across the stone floor. His attention was drawn past the burning open fire to the huge bed draped in a sheer black muslin canopy that hung from the ceiling. Red silk sheets topped with contrasting black pillows adorned the bed.
As the mists of troubled sleep cleared from his mind, Carter began to realise he was somewhere he shouldn’t be. He turned to his shackles and tugged at them.
“Solid. Damn!” he cursed.
He looked around the room for any tools close by that might help to free him. On the wall above, he saw crossed pikes with evil-looking blades. “Just the thing I need,” he thought and, slowly, unsteadily, he got to his feet. The effort to overcome the stiffness in his joints as he raised himself off the floor made him realise he must have been unconscious for some time. He finally stood tall and stretched every joint in his body, shedding the cobwebs spun whilst he had been trapped in an unnatural sleep. He turned and looked up at the pikes, shifted to his right as far as the shackles would permit and stretched as tall as his stiff muscles would consent, his fingertips tickling the shaft just short of a decent grip. Carter again forced every inch he could muster from his toes to the tips of his fingers to gain a few extra inches. The shackle was so taut, it began to slice into the flesh of his ankle with the strain. Rivulets of stinging, salty sweat ran into his already reddened eyes.
“Just a little further,” he breathed.
His fingertips gradually worked their way up the very end of the pike shaft. The muscles in his arm tensed as he tugged. Finally, the pike broke free. Despite feeling weak from his efforts, his remaining strength was enough to steady the weapon, preventing it from clattering to the floor. He shuffled back to relieve the pressure from the shackle on his ankle and momentarily used the pike as a crutch to provide welcome relief from the exertion of getting the pike down.
Carter breathed deeply, drawing in damp yet oxygen-rich air to recharge his waning energy. He steadied himself against the wall and looked down, studying the shackle around his ankle. The rusty, heavy chain snaked across the floor to a large iron eye, no doubt buried deep in the thick stone wall. He noticed that the band around his ankle and the bolt securing it were well worn from many, many years of use. This, he concluded, was the weakest part of the fetter. He shifted upright and steadied himself once more against the cold stone wall, raised the pike, poking its point into the ankle shackle by the bolt, and braced himself.
“This is going to hurt,” he told himself.
He proceeded to place pressure on the shaft in order to strain the shackle against the bolt. The shackle bulged from the pressure and the thick wooden shaft of the pike groaned as he applied greater effort. At the same time, the shackle cut deep into his ankle, at which he let out a muffled cry of pain, immediately releasing the pressure on the pike, and he slid down the wall in a heap on the floor.
“God, how stupid!”
Carter groaned, feeling nauseous with the pain from his ankle, blue blood oozing from beneath the shackle.
In a moment of anger and sheer frustration, he leant down, grabbed the shackle either side of the bolt and pulled. Without much effort that he could either see or feel, the bolt snapped and the shackle sprung free from his ankle. He looked down in amazement.
“I did that?”
He held the shackle and grabbed the first few links of the chain and pulled again. The link holding the chain to the shackle snapped with a crack!
“Wow, hardly any effort at all,” he breathed, relieved at being free and at having a strength he didn’t realise was within him.
Carter got up from the floor and tested the strength in his ankle.
“A little superficial damage and blood of a weird colour, but, hey, no apparent pain.”
He let out a sigh of relief and gathered his senses, looking around and getting his bearings. He needed to get out and make his way home. He thought, “Home, yes, but where is ‘home’?” Keeping that thought in his mind, he contemplated the best way out. Opposite the large bed stood two columns, flanking a pair of large steel doors, ornately moulded and sporting evil masks. He walked over, taking care not to make a sound, and he put his ear to one of the doors. Nothing – no sound could be heard, it was deathly silent.
He reached down to the circular catch, opened it and slowly and carefully edged the door open. As he did so, a zephyr of warm air dusted his naked body. “Yes, stupid,” thought Carter, “my clothes!” and he searched around. At the side of the bed, he noticed a bench upon which lay a pile of clothes. “Mine,” he seemed to recollect and, closing the door, he quietly went over and put them on. He was glad to wear them; he had felt vulnerable naked. Fully dressed and ready to go, he retrieved the thought about home and realised he had only to find his friends. He stopped momentarily. “Friends – YES, THAT’S IT!” he shouted in his head. Memories came flooding back. “Sophie, dear Sophie. Toddy and Angie. The strange old guy, Chronus. And Ares, the pretty boy. I just think of them and our bond will lead me to them.”
The brief elation was lost as memories of Temenos also returned, casting a cold dark shadow over his heart. The soul-destroying moment when his friends had escaped and he, even though he had sacrificed his freedom for theirs, had been left behind to remain trapped under the spell of Hecate. Carter’s mind wandered. The spell of adoration for Hecate, although weakened by time passing and Hecate’s absence, still coursed deep in his veins. His heart skipped and yearned for her closeness, began to take hold of his sapped resolve. He recalled the musky scent of her sex and he felt a familiar stirring in his loins and recollections of passion and lust. He turned to the massive bed and saw two sweat-moistened, naked souls entwined in red silk sheets under the sheer black canopy, his heartbeat thumping faster and louder in unison with their quickening passionate embrace…
“No!” he roared at the top of his voice.
The echo bounded out of the room and went deep into wherever it was. The following silence extinguished the vision on the bed and reality returned.
He dashed back to the door and again listened intently for signs of life beyond or of any immediate response to his outburst. Nothing but a heavy silence. He opened the door a little further, slowly to avoid the noisy protests of old dry hinges. He peered beyond the door’s edge. To the left, there was a wall, a dead end. “At least I don’t have to make a choice about which way to go,” he thought. Carter turned to the right and looked upon an empty corridor that tapered off into distance. It was dark and uninviting, dimly lit by random torches placed along its length. A sudden breath of warm air laced with sulphur whispered past him. He froze. “Where did that come from?” he wondered, worried there was someone or something nearby. He looked harder down the corridor into the twilight and sent his acute senses ahead to search every twist and turn, every offshoot. A sense of something – weak, indiscernible, but definitely there – was at some point up ahead.
“At least I’m aware,” he told himself and took a deep breath.
Without so much as a backward glance, he left the room for the last time. He observed from the reflected light of the torches that the corridor’s floor was worn shiny smooth – evidence of aeons of footfalls. The air was thick with the smell of brimstone the further he went. Although lit by torches, the light was of little use for safe way-finding; it cast deep pits of darkness between them and crafted unnatural dancing shadows as the frequent flurries of acrid air fanned the yellow flames. He made slow progress, any sense of his kin evading him, yet he pressed on into the depths of the Fortress of the Black Moon(42).
“Fortress of the Black Moon,” whispered Carter. “Hecate’s name for her home on Obsidian! I remember her telling me as I was paraded around this hell as a trophy, but no more!”
He cursed and pressed ahead, resolute in his desire to be free with his friends.
Progress along the corridor was slow, hampered by the number of intersecting passageways, dark and foreboding. Yet it was odd, he knew of their existence well before he came upon them. He could not understand how, but at least it gave him a chance to use his senses to search deep within these potential traps for any sign of a presence.
“Nothing, how strange. This place was heaving when I was last here,” he murmured then shuddered at the memory of the strange, terrifying beasts that roamed freely as he was exhibited along these passageways. He forced himself to concentrate on his quest to escape this torment and continued on his way, his senses alert and probing, his thoughts searching the heavens for his loved ones, waiting for a sign to guide him.
Way up ahead, he noticed the corridor appeared to end abruptly – either that or the torches had been extinguished. His senses jangled a warning. “Yes,” he thought, “something hiding in the shadows. A number of them, I reckon. What to do, I wonder?” He looked around him and found a keg of torch oil, which he collected and placed a few feet in front of him. He removed the lid and discarded it, then stepped back. Summoning his powers, he raised a light wind and coaxed it to circle him. At the same time, he passed the wind over the keg, where it collected droplets of the oil. The circling wind soon became heavily saturated with the oil, whereupon Carter whipped the wind into a sharp breeze and sent it off up the corridor. With all his might, he thrust the wind along the corridor at gale force. At the point where the gale passed the last torch, he diverted it across the flickering flames, causing it to burst into a raging fireball as it sped onward into the darkened corridor. The silence preceding the roaring wind was no more. Terrified screams erupted from the now-bright corridor. Whatever or whoever had been waiting in the shadows was engulfed in a fiery maelstrom as it coursed through the corridor at an alarming rate. The ambushers fled, the burning wind hunting them down and, as it did so, it relit the torches on the wall, illuminating the way out.
The smile of satisfaction on Carter’s face belied the turmoil in his stomach. Yes, he was well pleased at what he had just achieved, but he was still nervous at the reality he faced; he was a God endowed with unearthly powers, more typical of fictitious supernatural capabilities in the comic books of yesteryear. “Hey, dude!” he shouted inwardly. “This isn’t a dream, it’s real. You do have these powers, so, come on, chill. Spend this energy getting yourself out of here and back home!” Carter shrugged off the doubt and headed off up the corridor through the thick, bitter smell of torch oil and burnt flesh hanging in the air, the desire to get away paramount in his mind.
It wasn’t long before he came across a smouldering heap of unrecognisable bodies huddled in an intersecting alley. The occasional dull flicker of a flame rejuvenated, bursting into life, as it found fresh fuel amongst the heavily charred flesh. The sweet, sickly smell prickled Carter’s nostrils and made him retch. He turned, hand over mouth, and continued on his way, the disgusting cocktail of smells diminishing the further he went.
The air seemed fresher and the corridor less dull. Suddenly, he sensed a presence in the distance behind him – a number of individuals and definitely heading his way. He stopped and turned to look back down the corridor, the light from the torches more a hindrance than a help as the shadows danced eerily between them.
“Wait,” he told himself.
He noticed the dancing shadows cast by each flicker of torch flame momentarily darkened and the latent, static pools of shadow between torches appeared to grow.
“Shadow Wraiths! Damn, last thing I need!”
How he knew what they were was beyond him; perhaps it was an instinct or a legacy from a past experience? It didn’t matter for the moment. His muscles tensed, ready for any sign of trouble. He turned and broke into a fast trot, careful not to run blindly into a trap, his senses penetrating all around, analysing, searching, identifying, his mind re-assimilating his escape plan with each new piece of information received.
The Shadow Wraiths were determined to follow yet appeared hesitant to get too close. “Probably don’t want the same fate as the others,” thought Carter, as he continued on, realising the light within the corridor ahead was increasing in brightness.
It wasn’t long before he happened upon a door set in a timber-panelled wall at the end of the corridor. His senses confirmed that this part of the fortress was clear of life and he boldly decided to enter. Carter immediately shut and bolted the door behind him, hoping the strong bolts would offer much-needed time to make good his escape. Looking across to the other side of a massive vaulted room, he saw on the far wall a large floor-to-ceiling jet black rectangular mirror, its frame ornately carved with terrifying beasts from Tartarus, intertwined with red ivy. He walked over and stood in front of the imposing yet strangely odd black glass. Once more, he concentrated his thoughts on his dear friends – powerful, heartfelt longing to be with them – and sent his thoughts through the black-mirrored portal and waited.
A perception of their friendship came to him, distant yet real and, more importantly, detectable; it was a link he could follow. Carter imagined he could hear Sophie’s heartbeat, precise and steady. He missed her so. He looked back to the door to the room. As he felt the presence of many beyond the bolted door, the door shook under the weight of an assault. “Not long before they’re through,” he thought. “May as well go.” Just as he stepped towards the threshold of the black glass, the head of a massive Ajatar suddenly appeared through the mirror. “Iblis!” Carter screamed in his head and scuttled back in dread, having been too close for comfort to Hecate’s Ajatar in Temenos. He couldn’t understand why he hadn’t sensed this creature before it had arrived, but he had to keep out of its way and he just managed to hide behind a nearby column out of sight of Iblis. His heart raced; he was trapped!
The beast lumbered through the portal, breathing heavily. It appeared fatigued and jaded but Iblis, a powerhouse of a dragon, still projected a menacing image. The juggernaut halted when fully through the portal. Carter, peering from behind the column, noted there was no-one in the saddle. He breathed a sigh of relief, as he didn’t relish Hecate’s return. He did, however, consider that Iblis’ arrival could be a timely blessing, though it was not a beast for any but the bravest to control. He watched it intently for a while. It stood still, head low, its eyes closed and breathing laboured. It seemed still for ages but as the clamouring from the other side of the bolted door increased in earnest, it pricked its ears towards the commotion. Its large eyes narrowed with interest as it moved closer to the noise and sniffed the air from under the door. The beast sniffed again but clearly wasn’t interested in what was there. It gave a little roar and flames licked the gap under the door. The noise beyond ceased immediately. The beast, now disinterested, turned back towards the centre of the room, its great bulk brushing past the column Carter was hiding behind. Carter mentally urged it to go back through the portal. It didn’t. Unfortunately for Carter, it stopped dead, having just passed his hideaway. The sound of repeated and inquisitive sniffing filled the room and drew closer to his position. He began to panic, unsure which way to turn, as he knew the long-necked dragon could reach around the column either way.
Without any warning, he felt the rhythmic rush of warm, moist breath on the back of his neck, accompanied by the sickly smell of rotten meat. Carter froze on hearing the sniffing stop. It was replaced with a low grumble from deep within the dragon’s belly. He waited for death to take him. Moments passed but it didn’t come. Instead, the beast nudged him, again and again, seemingly with affection. Carter’s mind was racing. “Why?” he questioned. The beast then shoved him in the back harder, making him stumble from behind the column towards the centre of the room. The massive head swung back from behind the column and bore down towards him again. “This time,” thought Carter and he closed his eyes, steeling himself for the end. Instead all he got for his efforts was a face full of slimy, smelly dragon spit as the beast nuzzled against him. “Hecate!” Carter cried in his head. “Hecate’s scent is all over me. Who would have thought!”
He gradually opened his eyes to come face to face with rows of razor-sharp, ivory teeth, the stench of rotten meat and brimstone saturating the very air around him. The beast’s eyes, moist and unexpectedly kind, stared at him. Carter thought, “I look nothing like Hecate, so why does this beast show affection for me? Either the scent of Hecate alone appears strong enough for it to trust me, or it thinks I am still under her spell, or perhaps this is a godsend?”
He cautiously raised his hand and stroked a scaly cheek. Iblis accepted the touch like a cat stretching its head upwards wanting more; a contented growl accompanied the breathing. “Just like Gus,” thought Carter, which immediately brought back memories of Sophie. “Yes,” he thought, “home.” He paused and contemplated with a cheeky grin, “Dare I use this monster to make my escape? I think I do!” and he continued to stroke the beast whilst checking out the saddle and reins.
The clamouring returned to the other side of the door with greater earnest. The strong door appeared to be under heavy pressure as the timbers groaned in protest. Iblis turned its massive head to look back at the door in anger, distracted by the uninvited intruders and annoyed at the loss of the pleasant caress. Carter saw his chance. As the beast was preoccupied, he grabbed the reins and leapt up into the saddle. Surprisingly, Iblis was more bothered by the unruly noise behind the bulging door, its panels splintering under the assault. “No time to lose,” thought Carter. He wheeled Iblis back towards the black Obsidian mirror and dug his heels sharply into the soft vulnerable tissue on the neck behind the protective scaled head. Carter didn’t know how he knew, but he instinctively understood how to control this monster. Without even a hint of disapproval, Iblis lumbered across the hall towards the portal. Carter looked back. The Shadow Wraiths were drifting through the rents in the door; a deathly darkness crept through the broken and splintered timbers. The door, unable to sustain the ferocity of the attack, finally gave in and crashed to the floor. There was a brief silence. The darkness, which had overflowed into the hall, immediately shrank back into the corridor from whence it had come. The light from the hall overpowered the spirit of the Shadow Wraiths. But this was but a temporary reprieve, as the Shadow Wraiths soon overcame their fear and began to swallow the light within the hall. Carter noted this and urged the beast to move a little quicker. Iblis duly responded and bounded forward towards the black glass. There was a brief hesitation at the point of entry, before it dived headlong through the portal.
The relief on Carter’s face was a picture as they passed through the seemingly solid black glass unscathed and entered the Mindways beyond. However, just as he was about to contemplate his next course of action, Iblis abruptly wheeled around and hurtled back through the portal, belting a huge breath of flame into the Hall. Carter, his mind in a whirl of uncertainty as to why the beast had returned, saw the scene in the hall – a black backdrop lit up by a score of burning Shadow Wraiths, screaming and thrashing around in painful death throes, having just been engulfed in the brimstone-fuelled firestorm.
Satisfied it had done what was required, Iblis turned and headed back towards the portal. Carter, after surveying the carnage behind them, turned to look at the polished black Obsidian portal they were approaching at an amble and noticed what he was sure was a grinning Iblis. He closed his eyes and looked again. Yes, the beast seemed to be grinning at what it had just done. “How strange,” thought Carter, “Shadow Wraiths are Hecate’s staple demons. Why would this beast of hers kill them?” He pondered this question for a while before realising they were back in the Mindways.
The mist was a little thicker, the purple haze a lot darker and the atmosphere a lot more sinister than he had remembered. He began to reflect on his friends, the sensation of their spirit distant yet perceptible, the attraction of their like-minded souls tangible, enabling Carter to gauge the direction he should take to get home. He pulled the reins, forcing the dragon to the right, and, taking a last look behind him, he realised the enticement of Hecate’s spell was still evident; it called him to return to the Fortress of the Black Moon. Carter shook himself out of the creeping trance of the enchantment, forced the telling desire to the deepest depths of his consciousness and focussed on his friends. The beast beneath him seemed to become restless, so Carter pulled the reins back sharply and dug his heels in, commanding Iblis to rise into the misty void. The beast responded and beat its massive wings, the mist swirling violently as the displacement of air lifted them high into the endless void, each beat creating an echoing whoosh in the empty world of the Mindways.
The two journeyed on in silence for what seemed an eternity, the only sound the rhythmic beating of Iblis’ wings. The non-descript, purple-hued mist shrouded the uninteresting terrain below and the menacing silhouettes watched their tedious progress. Carter felt the presence of his friends growing stronger as they flew on, the bonds of belonging reconnected and amplified with each mile. He sent his private thoughts of love to Sophie into the ether, hoping she would receive them and be comforted by his impending return.
The monotony of the journey and the rhythmic sound of the wing-beats lulled Carter into a semi-sleep, his dreams reviving memories of a not-too-distant past – his unbelievable transition from mere mortal to powerful God and the incredulous events as they unfolded on his travels flashing through his mind. The beat of the wings, the memories, the beat of the wings – hypnotic in their regularity. The memories of lustful moments with Hecate came to him, her spell still lingering and keeping him interested. The reins slipped from his grasp as the state of sleep deepened, his legs relaxed their grip on Iblis’ broad neck, he lolled back into the high-backed saddle, his dreams taking him back to the Fortress of the Black Moon as a desire arose within him to seek out Hecate and embrace her again. Her powerful spell had been recast and was stronger; it took hold of his consciousness. Cater felt his desire to get home slowly ebb, the now-tenuous bonds linking him to his friends fading fast. He was being drawn back to the place from which he had just escaped. He cried within, fighting desperately to retain control of his destiny to go home. The turmoil within him belied the serene setting of Carter soundly asleep in the saddle as the uneventful flight of the huge dragon continued on.
From out of the swirling, purple mist and without any warning, a group of three Ajatars bore down on them. The largest struck Iblis from above. Sparks rained down as this rogue Ajatar’s talons scored across Iblis’ scaly back. Iblis reacted instinctively and rolled, bringing its own talons into play, gouging the attacking Ajatar’s soft underbelly and biting down hard on its neck. Unfortunately for Carter, this instinctive movement tipped him out of the saddle, sending him on a free-fall towards the ground. The other Ajatars, being inexperienced and fearful of Iblis, decided to go after Carter. Iblis, realising this, pressed home its attack on its assailant’s throat, tearing deep into the scales and flesh, causing significant damage. The wounded Ajatar, realising Iblis was a superior and more experienced adversary, pulled back sharply, kicking against its body and pirouetting away from the potential death embrace. But for its master’s predicament, Iblis would have homed in for the kill and sent this young upstart to the depths of Hades, but such was the call of duty to protect its master it broke away into a steep dive and raced after him to prevent the other two pursuing Ajatars from reaching Carter.
The dragons’ inexperience told as their riders failed to bring them under control. They flew erratically and without a plan, their strategy to get at Carter appearing more like a playful chase with no co-ordination. Iblis fixed its attention on the riders and, briefly looking back to ensure the main adversary was of no further threat, it went in for the kill. Folding its massive wings and stretching its body, it plunged – a blur in the mist, unseen by the unfortunate targets below. The first rider was seized, ripped from his saddle and crushed by massive unforgiving talons then discarded. The other rider, on seeing his colleague’s demise, tried to duck as Iblis homed in, but was decapitated as Iblis’ wing claw swept past. The now rider-less Ajatars, free of their riders’ control, were no match for this master of the skies and fled back from whence they had come.
The small crooked shadow of a man sitting in the saddle of the leading, attacking Ajatar was clearly angered at the failure of the ambush. Dismissive of his beast’s injuries, he lashed wildly with his barbed crop, compelling the beast to follow Iblis. The badly wounded Ajatar roared its disapproval, belting out a long tongue of angry fire, and reluctantly plummeted after his enemy.
Carter by this time had stirred enough to find himself falling. Looking down through sleepy eyes, all he could see was purple mist and, unsure of the distance to the ground, he thought, “This is it, the end.” Then he thought, “NO! Summon the wind!” Calling on the power within, he beckoned for the wind, guiding it to come to his aid. The mists in front of him churned as the zephyr approached and slipped in under him, catching him as if in an invisible net. The wind raised him back up just as Iblis reached him. Iblis stretched out and picked him up in its huge jaws, as a cat does a kitten, then tossed him over its shoulder back into the saddle. Immediately, as if in one smooth motion, Iblis veered off to the left, avoiding a second strike from the rogue Ajatar as it screeched past them, its razor-sharp claws seizing pockets of empty air.
Carter, now fully aware of what was going on around him, watched the attacking beast slip past, catching sight of a strange, ugly, dwarfish creature in the saddle, who was struggling to control his beast. Carter, feeling stronger in mind and body, picked up the loose reins and gripped the flanks on Iblis’ neck with his strong legs. With the fog of uncertainty, which had been cast by Hecate’s spell, now lifted, he was back in control of his destiny. Calling on the wind again, he sent it chasing the bolting Ajatar. The all-powerful wind easily caught them and violently buffeted the unsuspecting beast and its master, Abbadon. The ugly dwarf turned to look back at him, rage written all over his face, as they were taken unwillingly by the wind into the far reaches of the Mindways.
Carter reined in Iblis who growled deeply, clearly protesting at being denied the chance to chase after the seriously wounded Ajatar. Carter guided the dragon away and downward, alighting softly on the bleak ground of the Mindways. He jumped out of the saddle and patted Iblis hard on the side of its neck, in appreciation of what it had done.
Carter said, “Thank you, Iblis,” in the hope of appeasing the clearly frustrated beast.
Carter pulled down on the reins, forcing Iblis to squat down. The large dragon did as it was commanded, got down onto its haunches and settled into a comfortable position. Once satisfied the beast would remain still, Carter sat down too, resting his back against a wall of hard scales. He knew both he and Iblis needed to rest; he, to relax his mind and reconcile his thoughts, to ensure he was back on the trail of his friends; and Iblis, to recover from the exertion of defending them during the ambush, but also to calm the aggression he could sense still boiling under the surface.
He reflected back, realising the enchantment of Hecate still coursed through his veins and was capable of controlling him should he let his guard down. Despite his overwhelming desire to get home, the spell attempted to divert him back; it wanted to draw him away from where he was going. Carter was also intrigued as to why this dwarf beast happened to be close by. “I hadn’t felt as if he’d been following us. Despite my unconsciousness, my instinct tells me I have unintentionally gotten close to something I shouldn’t have?” He pondered the significance of the timing and wondered how he could find out what was going on. His senses tingled with indefinable instincts. He knew something was afoot and it wasn’t far away; if only he could see beyond this endless mist. His thoughts returned to his loved ones. “They’ll be waiting for me; I must make a move soon.” He began to search for their spirits. “Wait!” he told himself, “if I can search out my friends, surely I can search out others. I need not communicate, I just need to sense their presence and follow the trail. Yes, that’s it! At least I can return home with something of worth!”
Carter focussed his mind and, having just encountered him, thought of Abaddon. “That ugly dwarf,” he recollected. He began to sense a presence a little way off, well inside the realms of the Mindways. It felt like it was ‘just around the corner’! Carter also sensed another presence; a stirring in his loins could only mean one other. As memories of Hecate filled his mind, he shook his head. “No! I mustn’t let her control me anymore. I have to accept she exists, yes, but I can’t let her choose my destiny.” At that, he shrugged off the feelings of dependency on her – a huge wrench maybe, but necessary if he was to get away. He re-focussed on Abbadon and, within a few moments, he felt he was somewhere off to their right. He also sensed others – many others – and from the magnitude of evil he was feeling, he realised it was similar to that which had emanated from the demon hordes during the skirmish they had had on their escape from Earth. He stood up, took a deep breath, and asked himself, “What is going on? I must find out and tell the others.”
Carter had been dozing in a semi-alert state for a while, when he awoke. Feeling a little fresher, he forced himself to get up, his muscles still stiff from riding. He stood and stretched every inch of his body then bent down and gathered up the reins. He stood patiently waiting by the Ajatar’s head, not wishing to irritate the beast with his desire to get going. Despite their being at extreme opposite ends of the divide between good and evil, a simple bond of understanding had grown between them – neither friend nor foe – but Carter believed they had been brought together to manipulate destiny along the righteous path.
The Ajatar stirred and opened its eyes. It looked at Carter with an apparent understanding. Iblis shuffled its great mass upwards and onto its feet then lowered its head, allowing Carter to mount its saddle. Iblis, using its massive wings, lifted its huge mass from the ground and at the same time stretched its limbs to release the stiffness of resting too long. The damp mist swirled around the great wings as they rose and fell. Moisture condensed on the warm leathery skin and ran off in rivulets. Iblis used its long neck to reach some of these and drank its fill. Carter noticed this clever trick and, feeling decidedly thirsty himself, jumped down and stood, mouth agape, beneath one of these mini cascades, allowing the slightly salty water to sate his thirst. He remounted Iblis and, pulling hard on the reins, turned the beast to the right, gently urging the beast on with his heels. Iblis obliged and, using its massive hind legs, sprang into the air, beating its wings once more, gaining height rapidly and heading off towards the direction from whence came the overpowering sense of evil.
The pair travelled through the murky nothingness. The eternal silence of the Mindways was only broken by the whoosh of the great wings as they propelled them towards their unsolicited objective. Apprehension filled Carter’s mind as they closed in on the manifestation of evil. “What will I find? What, if anything, could I do about it?” he asked himself. The sensation of Abbadon and evil intensified as they flew onward, the mists masking any signs of life, yet the power of evil permeated the very air. From afar, a gradual crescendo of guttural voices barking orders interspersed with the sound of whips cracking broke the tense silence. As they closed in, the air reverberated from the sounds of a vast army on the march. Carter’s mind raced, “As soon as I come across them, they’ll see me. What can I do to avoid being seen?”
Without any warning, a dark shape loomed towards them, gradually achieving a sense of solidity as the mists thinned the closer they came. It appeared to Carter that it was the top of an immense building; in fact, he could make out a terracotta-tiled roof, the gabled end, a tympanum with carved images of men and animals, the stonework and tiles worn by aeons of weathering and blackened by some recent catastrophe. The nauseating odour of brimstone that was saturating the air was combined with a choking acrid smoke, which, when mixed with the ever-present mist, created shifting abstract sculptures as unnatural light from below broke through the thick and poisonous chemical soup.
Carter saw the opportunity.
“Land on the roof,” he told himself. “Quietly, Iblis,” came the whispered command as Carter reined in and steered him down towards the rooftop.
The Ajatar deftly glided down and alighted atop the roof silently and as gently as a feather falling to the ground. The surreal panorama that greeted Carter as he stood high on the ridge was a backdrop of swirling mist that competed for limited space with rising tendrils of black smoke, dissected by a myriad of animated beams of light. Carter sensed acute pain from below. The structure beneath him was trembling, outwardly suffering as if from a mortal blow. A distant, solemn dirge was all but drowned by the clamour of the marching hordes below. “Yes,” thought Carter, “this is the reason I came here.” Slowly, he clambered down across the terracotta tiles towards the parapet of the roof. He tensed his muscles as he arrived at the waist-high wall. He attuned his senses, looking around, checking he hadn’t been seen. There was no-one, just Iblis, who had settled, preening its scales. Iblis stopped cleaning itself and looked directly towards him. It was then that Carter realised their brief partnership was at an end, as he sensed the beast warning him to go. “Shame,” thought Carter, “I was beginning to enjoy your company, but, hey, it was good while it lasted!”
Carter turned and slowly leant over the edge of the building and was momentarily blinded by an unexpected shaft of light bursting from the blackness below. He pulled back quickly, partly from the temporary blindness but more so from sensing the intense malignant aura from below. He rubbed his eyes and opened them, inuring them to the light by focussing on the brilliance of the shaft of light amidst the gloom of the Mindways. Again he went to the edge and slowly peered over to see what was happening below. The beam had shifted along to his right but provided enough light to illuminate the activities beneath his position.
The light emanated from a large cauldron on the back of a cart drawn by massive oxen, its energy produced from strange white boiling lava. There were others far off in the Mindways mists; clearly strong enough to penetrate the gloom of the mists, they were like beacons marking a way through the Mindways. He could make out a procession of humanoid demons and monsters, pouring from between the numerous columns that were supporting the roof he stood on. This line of evil headed off towards the next shaft of light. Flanking this line were large predatory human-like figures brandishing long whips, the sharp crack of the whip drove the demons on. To one side, standing against the prone and seemingly lifeless body of an Ajatar, was Abaddon – a dark shadow on the ground beside the beast, glistening in the flashes of light. Abbadon was in deep agitated discussion with a tall brute of a man.
“Hatcher!” gasped Carter as he recognised him. He touched the scar on his cheek. “What’s he doing here, I wonder? He appears different somehow, but I’m not sure why.”
The river of hate continued unabated. There seemed no end to this army on that was on the march. For that is what it seemed to be; all the beasts bristled with cruel-looking weapons.
Carter turned and looked for a way down from the roof. He needed to get closer to find out what was going on. He noticed a doorway set in the gable end of the building and, checking he hadn’t been seen, quickly made his way to the door. He slowed and approached cautiously, sending his senses far ahead behind the door. There was nothing. He opened it gently, not wishing to make a noise to attract attention, and entered. He found a small lobby dimly lit by torches. Carter closed the door behind him; the light click of the latch seemed deafening in the silence. He took one of the torches from the bracket on the wall and began descending the spiral stairwell. He made his way down, taking care to keep to the outer wall, which gave him the best view down as well as a firm footing on the widest part of the step. Cautiously but swiftly, he descended.
His senses, always probing ahead, found nothing close by but the perception of evil from the Dark Army was a distinct reminder of where he was and how close the enemy was. The feeble light from the waning torch barely overcame the murky darkness of the stairwell as he descended, which added to the gloom of his spirits. The sense of foreboding weighed heavily on his mind. “What do I do when I find out what’s going on? Who do I go to and how do I get home?” he asked himself, doubt clearly overwhelming what little resolve remained within him and also thoughts of perhaps never seeing Sophie and his friends again.
The stairwell began to get lighter. Strangely, and in complete contrast to his latent desire to leave, he felt he was getting closer to a place where he needed to be. The dank smell diminished and somewhat fresher air from below briefly revived his almost-spent torch. He slowed and tensed his muscles ready for any unforeseen event that may befall him. As he was about to reach the bottom of the stairwell, his attuned senses and realised the aura of evil experienced earlier had somewhat lessened and, in fact, it was now far off. Residual evil was still evident within the very fabric of the building and deep inside the foundations, but it seemed inert. He concentrated his senses, searching deeply into every crack and crevice of the building for signs of trouble.
He breathed a sigh of relief, yet he felt the stain of evil itself tainted the whole building.
Safe in the thought that there wasn’t any presence that could harm him, he stepped out from the stairwell at the end of a huge vaulted chamber. An occasional large statue flanked either side of the long room and the odd candle provided scant comfort let alone light. His weary eyes finally rested on a large solitary statue at the end of the hall. “Seems familiar?” He half-questioned his memory then suddenly realisation struck home.
“Gaia, Great Mother of all the Gods of Creation!” he gasped. “I… I’m in Temenos!”
Carter stood looking forlornly at the massive statue, the once beautiful and imposing figure ruined in an act of wanton desecration. He turned to inspect the rest of what was once a safe haven for all, hoping this was but a minor imprudence but, no, destruction driven by hate had rained down and despoiled the very heart of the Mindways. Filth and excrement covered the once-pristine marble floor, the effigies of the Gods of pre-time had been toppled from their plinths and lay shattered where they had come to rest, the doors to the heart of Temenos were torn asunder, the once dynamic room of mirrors was but a dense black lifeless shadow of its former self. The evidence of Tartarus was all around, hell-sent fire and brimstone had kissed and tasted every facet within Temenos. The soot-blackened and physically broken interior was testimony to a vicious and unrelenting assault.
Carter absorbed every minute detail, storing the evidence to present to his peers and masters. His gaze returned to Gaia. His eyes were moist with great sadness as he spoke.
“Oh, great Mother God of all, your desecration will be avenged.”
He bowed low before turning towards the doors that led to the heart of Temenos. Anger filled his heart and, no doubt, would cloud his judgement. Striding through the broken doorway, Carter had wanted to find a degree of hope, something to show that all was not lost and that Temenos had maintained the status quo, along with the few remaining untainted Dimensions of the Universe. Alas, no, the sight that greeted him brought him to his knees. All the mirrors had been smashed and what could burn was on fire. The Mindways threads were limp and lifeless, torn apart. The ceiling, once a bright, vibrant myriad of stars and galaxies, was now just a dense black nothingness. The room was devoid of life. Temenos was all but dead.
Tears welled in Carter’s eyes. He felt as if his soul had been ripped from his body, as if he had lost his mother. At the same time, blind anger raged within, a red mist obscuring his vision. So deep was his hurt, he failed to hear or see Hatcher creep up behind him. Carter knew someone had arrived, but such was the turmoil in his mind, he failed to realise the danger. He turned slowly, only to find Hatcher’s massive hand reach out and grasp his neck in a vice-like grip. He grabbed Hatcher’s wrist in an attempt to release himself, only to find Hatcher’s clenched fist delivering a cruel blow to the side of his head. Had he been mortal, such a blow would have killed him instantly. Carter slumped, limply hanging from Hatcher’s huge left hand. The grip was slowly squeezing the life from him but, being momentarily stunned by the blow, his body was unable to muster the strength to defend him. His mind became fuzzy and incapable of thinking his way out of this plight. Hatcher squeezed Carter’s neck tighter and brought his face closer to Carter’s, his hot foul breath tainting what little air Carter could take in.
Hatcher growled, “Remember me? I’m thinking you wish you didn’t. If you hadn’t already guessed, this place can no longer protect you!”
Carter winced and struggled to get his breath. “How can I get away?” he asked himself, desperation filling his slowly clearing mind. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted movement. A small shadow, darker than any already in the room, shifted across the blackened wall behind them. His recovering senses recognised Hecate’s presence. His heart immediately warmed to her closeness, his desires rekindled. He studied her silent approach, the sweet innocent smile on her beautiful white face masking her intentions. As she neared them, the smile was replaced with pursed lips and a determined look. In a blur, Hecate time-shifted around and stood right by Hatcher’s side and announced her arrival.
“Hatcher! Release my man, immediately!”
Hatcher, surprised by the sudden appearance of Hecate, released his grip, allowing Carter to fall to his knees, where he rubbed his bruised throat and breathed in deeply, replenishing the stale air in his lungs.
Hatcher looked down at the petite Hecate with disdain but acknowledged her authority with a curt, “My lady.”
Hecate waited a second and, with her eyes fixed on Hatcher’s, replied with authority and venom, “You’d better run along, Hatcher. Abbadon will be needing your assistance. My brother – your master – The Dark Lord, Erebus would hate to hear of your tardiness, so, if I were you, I would resume your little errand and leave Hyperion to me.”
Hatcher was unmoved by Hecate’s veiled threat but then he didn’t wish to give his master any cause to punish him, so he smiled wryly at Hecate, bowed and turned to go. He paused at Carter’s side, grabbed his hair and twisted his head upwards so he could look him in the eye. His wry smile was still evident but it belied the menacing tone of his parting message.
“You and I will meet again and I’ll finish what I started!”
Throwing Carter’s head sharply forward, Hatcher released his grip then stood, coolly taking a cigar from his coat pocket. Calmly, he lit it and took a deep draught of smoke into his lungs before briskly walking off without a backwards glance. A lingering cloud of spent cigar smoke was the only evidence he had been in the room.
Hecate strolled over to Carter and gently stroked his hair.
“My darling, Hyperion,” she began in her inimitable little-girl manner, “you should have stayed in my room and saved yourself all this bother. You are mine; we are bonded in more ways than you realise.”
She gently rubbed her slightly proud tummy.
Carter was unable to prevent the spell from resurging within him. The close proximity of Hecate released an overwhelming desire for this dark petite beauty. He looked up into her eyes, captivated adoration evident in his lustful expression. He stood up, his strength returning, and reached out, effortlessly lifting the pretty little witch by the waist and raising her bodily to his lips. The kiss was long, deep and lustful. Hecate responded and nourished the spell of entrapment. He was hers again.
Temenos shuddered in what seemed a final death knell and rubble fell all around interrupting the intensifying embrace.
Hecate pushed herself away from Carter, who was still holding her off the floor, and commanded, “Hyperion, put me down, we need to leave this sad place now and return to my palace.”
He did as he was commanded and placed her gently on the ground. Hecate looked around and called for Iblis. It wasn’t long before the great beast trundled through the doors with an almost noticeable grin as it saw its true mistress standing there with her hands on her hips. It made its way over to her and nuzzled its massive head delicately against her tiny face. Hecate returned the affection and patted the Ajatar’s cheeks.
Whilst Hecate and Iblis were preoccupied with their reunion, Carter stood almost lifeless and without any natural movement, waiting for the next command. He was clearly unable to function without his mistress. It was at this point in time, and out of sight of anyone in the room, that a light appeared from behind one of the largest blackened mirrors, faintly at first but gradually increasing in brightness until it had lit up the whole room with a dynamic glow. It was as if the light itself were alive as it danced and reflected off even the darkest of surfaces. Hecate had realised something was adrift and had returned to Carter, shielding him behind her petite frame.
She called, “Iblis, here! By my side! This place cannot harm you again; it is spent of all its power. Protect your mistress, I command you.”
The great beast was effortlessly quick in covering the ground to stand protectively beside Hecate, its mannerisms indicative of acute sensory perception; it was ready to strike at any sign of movement.
An uneasy silence had fallen upon the room. The heavy breathing of Iblis was the only sign a being was in the room. The light suddenly softened and brought about a calmness, despite the evident desecration around them and the tense temperament of the Hecate and the Ajatar. The blackened mirror from behind which the light radiated began to hum. Despite the glass being dulled by the fire that had all but destroyed the room, a pinpoint of bright light appeared and quickly grew in a spiral from the centre of the once-ornate mirror. When the burgeoning light had reached the limitations of the mirror’s frame, it quickly retracted and formed a humanoid profile. Detail began to fill the outline until there stood the clearly defined character of a short old man. He was sparsely dressed in North American Sioux plains style leggings with a buffalo hide draped over his narrow shoulders, his long hair crowned with a brightly coloured eagle feather headdress. In complete contrast to his dark weathered skin and drab clothing, beautifully ornate handmade jewellery adorned his body. He stepped effortlessly from the mirror and walked slowly and deliberately towards the three motionless figures, who were all transfixed by the spectacle of this small man appearing from nowhere.
Hecate sensed this man was no ordinary being; she was unable to read his mind, he was of a higher plain, complex and impenetrable. She readied a fire spell and reached into Iblis’ mind, calling for firewind from deep within its massive body to rain down on this intruder and smite him asunder. They both attacked without warning, unleashing fire and brimstone from Hades upon the unsuspecting man, or so they thought. The deadly fiery blast merely folded around a protective shield that had been invisible up to this point. The man smiled and, with the wave of a hand, dismissed the inferno, which disappeared in a cold blue flash.
“Sister of the Dark Lord, Erebus,” called the little man in a calm yet masterful tone, “pray stop this game for I have no cause to hurt you. You cannot reach me for I am here but not here, yet I can walk your world and touch you.”
At this point, he disappeared and then re-appeared sitting astride the saddle of Iblis. The elderly man took the reins and steered the Ajatar’s head into Hecate’s back, giving her a sharp shove. She stumbled, unprepared for an affront to her imperial position. As much as Iblis tried to think it wanted to remove this intruder from its back, it seemed unable to bring itself to do so. Likewise with Hecate; her senses screamed at her to unleash the full fury of a witch’s arsenal, yet, for whatever reason, her petite body and sharp mind were unable to deliver an attack. The little old man, in spite of his apparent frailty, dismounted nimbly from Iblis and landed without any sign of worry amidst Iblis, Hecate and Carter.
Standing face to face with Hecate, who, from the quizzical look etched across her pretty face, was clearly unnerved by this stranger’s power, the old man spoke to her, “My Lady, I am here for Hyperion, whom you have unjustly enslaved. He is to depart this Universe for Time has a pressing need of his life force. Do not believe, young Mistress of Darkness, that you can prevent me from taking Hyperion, whom I know is the unwitting father of the child you carry.”
Hecate gasped, astonished at this being’s ability to unravel her defences and see within her.
“Yes, I, Wakan Tanka am aware of your deceit but I foretell this child born of inverse Dimensions, is a prodigy of light and time whom neither you nor your brother can use for your evil ends; this boy child will be your undoing!”
The old man seemed to grow in stature as the light he was formed from reappeared and engulfed him. The swirling light took hold of Carter and drew him into the vortex. Hecate watched agog as the old man and her beloved Hyperion disappeared into a mysterious nothingness.
Sophie sat bolt upright, sharply woken from a deep and troubled sleep, her body wet with perspiration, her mind full of Carter. All this time she had felt his presence, until now. Tears flowed down her pale cheeks, sparkling in the moonlight as they left her chin and fell to the bed.
“He’s gone!” she cried. “I can’t feel or sense his presence anymore. His life’s spent like a candle flame, extinguished by a breath of wind. My love, my life, my Hyperion. What am I without you?”
Carter, sporting a dull headache and his body stiff and weary, opened his eyes and looked around him. He saw he was lying beside a path flanked by tangled, lichen-covered trees. All around and along either side of the path off into the distance, everything was lit by a bluish-hued glow. Beyond the trees on either side of the path lay a misty world void of substance but for dark silhouettes in the distance. Carter sat up and noticed a strange old man sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of him. He appeared to be in deep meditation and was chanting in a strange tongue.
“Yes!” he recollected as his brain began to work and he noticed the clothing and regalia the old man was wearing. “North American Indians! Either I’m dreaming or I’ve lost my mind! Where the hell am I?”
The chanting stopped and the little old man got up off the ground. He turned and looked at Carter with a friendly smile.
“Hyperion, thank the spirits you are well! Your path has been chosen by Time. A journey to enlightenment and the building of new life to replace that which is spent awaits you. Your friends, they are safe and well. They too have a destiny to fulfil, only then will you be reunited. Until then, I and my people will guide you. Please, come…”