The tower was a burning pillar of fire, stretching up into the sky. Molten debris fell from the higher stories, flames poured from the windows, blackening the concrete walls. Isobel craned her neck, squinting against the oppressive heat as she gazed up into the inferno. Wind from the conflagration roared around her, sending her long red hair billowing around her head like a halo of flames. The building tugged at her senses; she felt an almost magnetic connection to the place. Like gravity, the tower pulled her inexorably forwards. She took another step towards its wide, fiery mouth; a gaping black maw edged with teeth of flames. She could see fire dragons circling above, flying leisurely circuits around the buildings summit. Somehow she knew they were aware of her, but they weren’t pursuing her now. Her presence, though noted, didn’t seem to bother them. She shrugged mentally. If they were going to play indifferent so was she, despite her wariness. She cast a final nervous glance at the creatures as she passed under the building’s entrance and into the shadows.
This part of the building was a foyer of sorts. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom Isobel could make out a staircase leading up on one side and further back a lift with an old out of order sign sellotaped to it. The sign was aged and yellowed by exposure and probably heat. One corner of the sellotape had come away, leaving the sign wilting like a dying flower. Deeper into the building, past the disused pigeon holes were shabby doors leading to the ground floor flats. The glass, knocked out of them, lay in jagged splinters on the floor. Isobel could feel the press of heat in here, an insistent pressing weight squeezing the building, gradually strangling it. The temperature itself, however, was strangely cool, at least in comparison to the relentless, oppressive heat outside. Whatever, Isobel was glad of the shade. She sensed something, some movement and her eyes flicked towards the flats. Nothing moved. Nothing, except the haze of fine ash that sifted through the air, like dust in a sunbeam. Curious, she took a step forward. Then another. She stopped after a third step, her ears picking up a minute sound.
Probably a mouse.
She laughed abruptly. It had to be something else. All the mice were dead.
Something slithered, a harsh rasp that echoed around the empty foyer, ricocheting from the walls.
She spun round.
Shambling towards her, slumped against the wall was a girl. One shoulder dragged against the wall as she staggered forwards. Dark hair hung in her face, obscuring her features; her legs were covered in red and black burns. Her bare feet bore a rash of blisters. Her shoulder left a trail of blood along the wall as she stumbled towards Isobel, thick runnels of gore oozed slowly down, pooling on the floor below. Strange hitching breaths issued from her throat, rising in urgency as she edged closer.
“Hey,” Isobel called, despite the fear constricting her voice. “Hey are you okay?” She took a step towards the girl. “Are you hurt?” The girl’s moans rose in volume as the distance between them shrank. Isobel could see her arm was hurt from here, skin was hanging off in thin shreds… but it wasn’t bleeding. Even in the meagre light of the lobby Isobel could see the deep scarlet of congealed blood on the girl’s forearm. She stopped in her tracks, watching the girl from a few feet away. Something was wrong with her and not just the wounds. She was surrounded by a black, buzzing cloud of something…
Flies, Isobel realised with a shock. She’s surrounded by flies!
The thought was enough to make her take another step forward. A deeper, throatier noise came from the girl’s mouth, her lips pulling back to bare rotting black teeth.
That was when Isobel realised she was dead.
The girl was dead.
And she was blocking the exit.
Isobel gasped and looked frantically around, trying to find a weapon in the dark hallway. Nothing presented itself. Unarmed Isobel turned back to the sinister girl closing in on her.
“Come on you undead bitch!” she cried, her defiant war cry, becoming a strangled scream as her voice cracked. She was rooted to the spot, terrified, unable and unwilling, to take her eyes off the girl shambling towards her. She was close now, though still swathed in shadow. From six feet away, Isobel could smell the scent of decay that surrounded her. Flies buzzed around the girl’s head, feeding on her dead skin. The sight made Isobel’s stomach turn and she fought not to retch. As the girl drew closer, her grunts and almost words rose to fever pitch, a rhythm of inhuman hunger. Isobel watched in horror as a decaying, fly coated hand reached out to her. As rotting fingers caressed her arm, the girl’s face rose to meet her own.
* * *
Isobel woke up screaming. Really screaming. Shrieking so loudly she hurt her throat. A movement to her left startled her, prompting another yell as she tried to leap away. Her legs tangled in the bed covers and she fell, tumbling to the floor beside the bed. She scrambled frantically away and whipped her head round to see what had violated her room, her sanctuary. It took a moment for her eyes to work properly; all she saw was a shape with long dark hair cast in shadow. For a terrifying moment she believed it was a continuation of her nightmare, that the girl had somehow followed her out of her dream. Another ragged scream escaped her as it reached for her. It wasn’t until the shape softly said, “Isobel” that she recognised him.
A sigh of relief escaped her. She drew her knees up to her chest and looked up at him as he leaned over the edge of the bed.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah.” She saw his eyes.
“Damn it.” She sighed and ran a hand through her sweat dampened hair. God, she was so tired of this. The eyes weren’t even that frightening anymore, just wearying. She was about to express how weird it was to be so resigned to something so bizarre when she felt something move in her arm. In her arm! She looked down to see her forearm crawling with something she couldn’t quite see in the gloom. A dark line seemed to form and disappear just below the surface of her skin. “Jake,” she said, voice trembling, “turn on the lamp. Now!”
Obediently he flicked the lamp and a soft glow swept over Isobel.
Fine black lines, some thicker than others, crawled down her arm. She gasped, low sounds escaping her throat as she watched the thinner lines twirl slowly around their heavier cousins. She stretched both arms out in front of her and saw the same thing happening on either side. Shaking with fear, she looked at Jake. His wide black eyes, conveyed the same dread Isobel felt surging through her.
“My arms,” she managed to croak through her suddenly constricted throat.
“It’s not just your arms,” he breathed. “It’s all over you.”
Isobel swallowed nervously, not wanting to look. “There’s a mirror in the wardrobe,” her voice was quaking, terrified of what her reflection would show. She watched, fear mounting inside her, as Jake crossed the room and opened the wardrobe, exposing the full length mirror inside.
Isobel just stared.
Her entire body was criss-crossed with veins of black. She watched, transfixed as fine black threads snaked down her legs and arms, spreading across her feet, polluting her hands. Her abdomen crawled with them. The scariest thing was it felt natural almost peaceful to her; as if this noir terror was just another part of her. Some dark corner of her mind embraced the sight of the black tentacles, revelling in it, even as the rest of her reeled in panic and fear. So stunned and terrified she couldn’t even scream, Isobel dropped to her knees, sank her head to the floor and wept.
* * *
As dawn broke they sat in Isobel’s living room, the first strong rays of sun penetrating the flimsy curtains, bathing the living room in a muted version of first light.
Dressed in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, Isobel sat on the sofa, staring at nothing, both hands wrapped around a steaming mug of sweet black coffee. A generous amount of whiskey had also been added to the brew to calm her rattled nerves. The mug shook with minute tremors as she clutched it, the liquid sending ripples raging across the surface like waves on a stormy sea. At least her hands weren’t shaking as badly as the first mug Jake had given her. At that point she’d been shaking so badly she’d scolded herself, spilling hot coffee all over her hand. Uncharacteristically she hadn’t sworn, silently absorbing the burning pain as it joined the multitude of others tormenting her body and mind. In fact she’d been silent while she drank the coffee before handing it out for a refill. Now the same seemed to be happening with the second cup. She needed to speak but wasn’t sure how to phrase her thoughts. Finally she settled on, “I thought it ended with the eyes.” She looked up at Jake, leaning against the arched entrance to her tiny kitchen. “I thought that was it, not that that isn’t bad e-fucking-nough but this…” She shook her head and sipped from her trembling mug. “This is ridiculous. It’s... it’s too much.” She looked at him imploringly, “Jake it’s too much. This can’t go on, can it?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I hope not.” He paused. “Maybe your dream triggered it? What happened? What did you see?”
“I saw a tower. One I’ve seen before.”
Jake’s brow furrowed with concern. “A high rise? Reaches up and up to the sky?”
“Surrounded by fire dragons.”
“I’ve seen it.” They looked at each other for a moment. Jake glanced down, his mouth forming a small smile.
“What?” Isobel said sharply, not sharing his amusement.
“It’s just.” He looked at her, still smiling. “I’ve never honestly been able to say to a woman ‘I know your darkest dreams’ before.”
“I’m laughing inside,” Isobel sniped.
Jake’s smile gradually faded under the force of Isobel’s glare, finally disappearing altogether.
“I’ve dreamt of that tower,” he said sombrely. “Last night. And before.” He looked her in the eyes. “Our dreams are synching up.”
He spread his arms. “Why the hell not? It’s not like anything else about this makes sense.”
“You really think that’s possible?”
“We both dreamed of the same tower.” He shrugged, “You’re the one trying to identify patterns.”
“God,” she whispered. “This just gets more and more insane.”
“It’s not just the nightmares I’ve seen that tower in either.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s real,” he said, coming to sit by her on the other sofa. “It’s a real place.”
“Yeah. It’s a high rise block on a shitty council estate a couple of miles from here.”
“We need to go there,” she said, sipping her coffee.
“No we don’t.” Jake was adamant. “It’s pretty dodgy round there.”
“After last night and this morning, it’s gonna take more than a few hoodies to scare me.”
“You don’t get it,” he was more impassioned. “It’s gangland. We could get shot. Hell, someone was shot there last week! Then there was the case where someone was hacked up with a machete! They were finding pieces for weeks!”
“Jake,” she said calmly, “I’m going. With or without you I’m going to that tower block. I have to see it. I need to.”
“Because of her.” Isobel recounted how she’d gone into the building and her encounter with the dead girl inside. Her voice shook as she described the scene, remembering the stench of the girl’s rotting flesh, the sick sound of her breathing.
After she’d finished Jake looked at her for almost a full minute before speaking.
“I didn’t see any zombie girl,” he said at last. “Hell, I didn’t even really go inside.”
“I guess our dreams aren’t exactly the same yet.”
He sighed heavily, “It’s dangerous round there Isobel.”
“Then it’s a good thing I have a man to protect me,” she joked.
Jake gave a short laugh and shook his head, “You’re serious about this aren’t you?”
She nodded. “Jake, I need to do this. I have to.”
“I just…I feel it.” She turned determined aqua eyes to him, hoping for some support.
“Shit.” Jake blew out a heavy breath and shook his head, resigning himself to the inevitable. “And there’s nothing I can say to stop you?”
She just looked at him.
“Guess not,” he ran a hand agitatedly through his unkempt hair, turning back to her with a tangible air of anxiety. “This is a bad idea.”
She just shrugged and drank her coffee. “I’m not forcing you to come.”
“Of course I’m coming with you.”
She gave him a soft smile, grateful for the support.
“When do you want to go?”
“No time like the present,” she replied. As she spoke, Isobel noticed that her hands had stopped shaking.
* * *
The tower block loomed over them, morning sunlight gleaming off its twenty-five stories. Across the litter strewn road, lay the entrance from Isobel’s dream, swathed in shadow unpenetrated by the blazing sun. Her eyes ran up the building’s height to the roof.
It was taller in my dreams.
Isobel swallowed, letting out a slow breath, trying to ignore the ominous feeling in her stomach. She could feel her throat constricting with fear and closed her eyes, focussing on her breathing until she was calm again. Or at least calmer. Jake was tense too, she could tell from the tightness in his shoulders and the set of his jaw. He’d been twitchy about coming here from the beginning and tension rolled off him in waves.
“It’s a very dark tower, isn’t it?” she joked, leaning into him.
He looked down at her without smiling.
“At least it’s not on fire.”
Jake sighed, “Let’s just get this over with.” He glanced nervously at a group of hooded teenagers kicking an empty beer can around in front of the high rise. Other, older youths slouched sullenly against the dirty concrete walls. “Let’s go find your zombie.”
“We’ll probably get stabbed.” He muttered.
“And that,” she looked at him pointedly, “is not stopping me. Christ if anything it’d be a relief! You can’t dream if you’re dead.”
“As if you hadn’t thought about it,” she said. “That building,” she indicated the towering high rise with a nod, “contains some clue as to what’s going on with us. With our dreams. I know it, Jake. I know it and I’m going in. Now stop being a pansy and come on.” With that she turned and started across the street. With a resigned sigh Jake followed her. Halfway across the road his foot connected with an empty beer can, sending it rattling across the pocked and broken tarmac, crashing loudly into the kerb. He froze in his tracks, a rabbit in headlights. Two of the hoodies playing football looked up from their game. One muttered something to his friend who laughed and shook his head. With a further laugh their attention returned to their game.
Isobel never broke her stride, her long legs marching purposefully towards the shadowy maw of the high rise.
It’s just like in my dream.
She couldn’t help glancing up to see if there were any fire dragons circling the summit. Of course there weren’t. Instead Isobel got the full glare of the bright morning sun in her eyes. She blinked against the bright dots dancing before her eyes, willing her vision to clear. As she stood there she felt something on her arm.
Probably a bug she mused and looked down.
It wasn’t a bug.
Moving steadily down under the skin of her forearm was a thin line of black, small spiky branches forming along its route. She gasped in horror, a small quiet sound that didn’t do justice to the fear and anticipation building in her chest. “I told you there was something here,” she breathed, as Jake sidled up beside her. She noticed he was on her left, standing between her and the youths.
Isobel raised her arm showing him the black veins winding beneath her skin.
“Holy fuck!” He exclaimed.
“Sums it up,” she replied. “How are my eyes?”
“That’s never happened before unless I’ve been dreaming,” Isobel said.
“What about mine?”
“Normal,” Isobel replied.
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head, dark hair sliding across her shoulders and cheeks. “But I think the black is how our bodies respond to… the evil.”
She turned to him, “Well it’s not anything good is it?”
He looked at her and gave her a small half smile and Isobel’s heart did a little dance.
Just adrenaline she told herself, though inwardly she knew it wasn’t. Jake’s smile just excited her.
Jake rolled the sleeves of his checked shirt up and held his arms out in front of him. “Mine aren’t doing it.”
“I guess you’re not as important as I am,” she smiled at him, humour doing little to disguise her nerves.
Jake laughed, his smile, though tense, briefly widening. The moment didn’t last long. The oppressive heat of the morning wasn’t the only thing pressing on Isobel, she could, feel the presence of the building weighing on her, pulling her forwards as if she were a puppet on strings. A chill fell over her as she took her next step and she shivered in spite of the scorching temperature. Off to the side the kid’s empty can clattered across the pavement, the sound ricocheting off the walls, echoing in the entrance. Isobel practically leapt at the sudden noise.
“You scared?” Jake asked.
Isobel just looked at him for a moment before indicating her arms with a downward glance. “Yeah,” she said simply. “Yeah I’m scared.” She turned back to the entrance and let out a heavy breath. “Let’s do it.” With that she headed inside the building, black veins writhing like a living tattoo down her shaking arm.
* * *
The lobby was even more run down than in her dream. Isobel looked around, shocked at the level of squalor. Tied black bin bags occupied much of the space near the rectangular entrance. Several were spilling rubbish from splits in the plastic; fat and grease oozed from one. Flies buzzed around another bag, trying to reach the rotting food inside. Across the way Isobel spotted a soiled nappy either dropped or discarded in haste. The stench of decaying waste filled the air and Isobel covered her nose with the back of her hand, protecting herself from inhaling too much of the vile stink. The close up of the black veins made her switch hands, but the other was just as bad. She smiled to herself, laughing at her own silliness. A strange sense of gallows humour had stolen over her since she’d noticed the frightening activity in her forearm. It was either that or her mind would fracture. She already suspected something inside her head had snapped, that under the unrelenting pressure of surreal and disturbing sights her mind had simply broken. There was no way she was ever going to be the same after this. But then she’d been living with this curse so long already. No, Isobel decided, she’d left normality far, far behind a long time ago. She didn’t blame Matt, or any of the others, for leaving her. Her mum was right; Isobel was a freak.
But I’m my own freak, she thought defiantly.
“So where are we going?” Jake’s question startled her from her straying thoughts. She blinked several times, quickly and looked around with a grimace.
The sooner we get out of this hallway the better.
“I don’t know exactly.” She looked around. Front doors to the flats lined the walls with more visible through the cracked, splintered wood and glass doors at the rear. She recognised those doors from her dream and couldn’t help looking back over her shoulder for the dead girl she’d come here searching for.
“You okay?” Jake asked, watching her. Isobel didn’t respond, distracted as she was by a staircase to her left leading up into darkness. “I dream of a stairway to the sky,” she muttered under her breath.
“What?” Jake asked, confused.
“The stairs,” she nodded. She looked at her arm. The veins were crawling in the direction of the stairs, as if drawn to them. “Jake,” she raised her arm. “Look.”
“Woah.” He blinked in astonishment. “God, Isobel.”
“Yeah. They seem to know where they want to go.” She looked to him. “What say we follow?”
* * *
Isobel was silent as they climbed, her focus on following the path indicated by the black veins and her own instincts. Examining her arm, Isobel was certain that the black veins were in fact her own veins infused with some… parasite, a virus maybe; something that was simultaneously part of her but also other. She seemed instinctively to know where she was going; a fact which both pleased and terrified her.
Jake, for his part, was alarmed by what was happening to Isobel and her understated reaction to it. Maybe she’s cracked he thought, After all who could blame her? Or me.
After a few minutes of climbing they stopped on a concrete landing, with stairs leading up and down to either side. A drab sign next to the heavy wood and steal door read simply: 8.
“This floor” Isobel said.
“At least it’s not the penthouse suite.” Jake said.
Isobel smiled. “I doubt they have a penthouse suite.”
“What? A place this classy?” Jake deadpanned. Isobel smiled wryly and shook her head. The metal handle of the door made a loud ‘rat-chat’ noise that echoed off the walls of the hollow stairway as she pulled it open. On the other side Isobel and Jake found themselves in the middle of a narrow uncarpeted concrete hallway. Dark grey tiles led away in two directions, disappearing round corners at either end of the corridor. Dim uncovered fluorescent bulbs lit the way. A toy car hurtled past, almost hitting Isobel’s ankle and making her jump. A young boy followed in its wake, barely glancing at them as he raced after the plastic vehicle. Jake touched Isobel’s arm to reassure her and she smiled at him, glad he was there with her. She knew she would have come alone if necessary but having Jake along was reassuring. She glanced at her wrist and announced, “This way,” before setting off down the corridor.
Sounds of televisions turned up loud, music and crying babies came from behind several of the doors. Isobel heard familiar sounds of moaning coming from the other side of one door and struggled not to laugh. Further along a couple were screaming at each other from inside another flat, their yells stirring up Isobel’s own unpleasant memories.
Soon they reached a T junction, Isobel glanced both ways to make sure no one was around before checking her wrist, then she turned left following the direction the threads were showing her. A minute later they were standing in front of a door with 819 mounted on the chipped wood panelling. “This is it.” Isobel said lowering her arm.
“You’re certain?” Jake asked.
“I am. Look.”
The black veins running down Isobel’s arms were writhing towards her fingertips. The very ends of her fingers had turned almost completely black, as if the presence inside her was reaching out to whatever was in flat 819.
A chill ran through Jake, head to toe, as he contemplated just how disturbing this was. “Is that good?” he asked staring down at Isobel’s black veins. “I mean, they’re kinda going nuts.”
“They were guiding me here.” Isobel’s voice was strangely distant, as if she was speaking from somewhere else. “Whatever’s in there they want it.”
“You are freaking me the fuck out Isobel.”
“You and me both,” she said. “You want to do the honours or shall I?”
“Ladies first.” Jake held his hand out towards the door. Isobel grasped the handle, gave Jake a nervous look and pushed downwards.
The handle gave.
The door was unlocked.
Isobel smiled, excitement and trepidation coursing through her. Her instincts had proven right. Now she only hoped this was a good thing. Isobel gripped the door handle taking a moment to gather herself and stepped forward, pushing the door open as she went. Jake followed her into the flat.
The hallway they were in was small and short with rooms branching off to either side. A door at the far end opened onto a messy kitchen, a cupboard and tiny bathroom were on the left and a living room lay to the right, the beaten door hanging open. Presumably the bedroom was around the corner at the end of the hall. Damp marks showed on the peeling wallpaper, emphasised by cheap prints hanging crookedly in broken frames. The corner of one desperately needed gluing back in place. A faint smell of waste and decay hung over the place, as if the bins hadn’t been changed for a while.
“Close the door.” Isobel said as Jake walked in. He did, closing the door with a soft ‘snick’. “I want at least some warning if someone comes in behind us.”
“We shouldn’t be here Isobel,” Jake said uncertainly. “There are coats on the hooks.” He indicated the row of jackets on a battered set of hooks and the shoe shelves beneath. “This is someone’s house.”
“You sure about that?”
“There’s a jacket hung up and I can smell cooking.” Sure enough the scent of smoke and old meat hung on the air. “I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.”
She sighed, “Well we’re here now.” Irritation crept into her voice, masking her own fear. “Let’s see what we can find.”
“Fine. Five minutes.” He held up his fingers for emphasis.
“Five minutes,” Isobel nodded. She turned and headed into the living room, still following her veins. A second later she stopped dead in her tracks, halted by the sight before her.
“What?” Jake said coming in behind her. He gasped when he saw what she had stumbled on. “Woah!” It was almost too much to absorb all at once. Jake found himself blinking repeatedly, as if his brain could only process the scene in bite-size chunks.
Drawn on the floor in front of them, in something that looked frighteningly like dried blood, was a pentagram; a pentagram so big it took up most of the admittedly small living room. The sofas, tables and other furniture had been pushed roughly back against the walls, as if the owners didn’t care for them at all, to make room for it. A smashed TV lay face down next to a toppled table, glass shards scattered beneath the wreckage. Taking a step closer Isobel saw the pentagram was surrounded by a circle of grainy white powder.
“Salt,” she whispered.
“Salt,” she repeated, “look.” She pointed at the white circle, running round the outside of the pentagram. “Whoever did this used a circle of salt.”
“Why the hell would they do that?”
She shrugged, “Usually it’s for protection. Maybe in this instance they wanted to keep something in. Hard to say without investigating.” She squatted down on the floor. Forming an outer circle around the pentagram were runes. They too were drawn in blood. Frowning, Isobel studied them, she leaned forward slightly for a closer look at one to the left, careful not to lean over the edge of the circle.
No telling what it was used for. She turned her head right scrutinizing another rune. “I had a friend in college,” she told Jake, still standing behind her. “Sarah. She was a proper goth, we’re talking black leather corsets, black lipstick, black everything. She was also heavily into Wicca and the occult.”
“That what this is? Wicca? Cause it looks more like…”
He nodded, a grave expression coming over his face.
“It looks like woe working, using runes to cause harm. See that rune over there.” She indicated with a tilt of her chin, “The reverse swastika thing?”
“That’s the wheel of life.” She stood up, walked past him to the opposite side of the circle, while talking, “Over here we have its partner, the wheel of death. It doesn’t have to mean that literally, but in this case it seems likely it does. Over here,” she indicated again, “we have Sol and this two brackets looking thing is Jara, the cycles of change. I don’t recognise all the others, but I’m betting that,” she pointed to an oval with several criss-crossing lines smeared across it, “is a bind rune.”
“What the hell is a bind rune?”
“A hybrid of two or more runes,” She explained. “Whoever did this used a traditional Futhrak alphabet but they’ve fused it with other runic systems too. It’s complicated.”
“Right,” Jake said, nodding slowly absorbing her words. “Isobel, how the fuck do you know all this?”
“Yeah, I learnt a lot hanging around her. Didn’t believe in any of it, not like she did, but it was interesting. I picked up a lot of stuff, memorable stuff.”
“Like the runic symbols for evil death?”
She nodded, a small smile played on her lips. “Yeah, stuff like that. Who’d have thought it would ever be useful?”
“Yeah, it’s real useful.” Jake glanced over his shoulder. “This is giving me the creeps, we shouldn’t be here.”
“No.” Isobel was calm, focussed on studying the pentagram. “This is exactly where we’re supposed to be.”
“What, fucking around in some one else’s flat on the vilest, most decrepit council estate in England? Yeah we really belong here.”
“We do,” she said with quiet authority.
“Look, Izzy, let’s just bug out now, before...”
“They were killed here.” Outwardly calm, Isobel felt a chill of dread steal into her. She looked at Jake, “Get down here.”
He hesitated not wanting to get closer to the sinister pentagram. Isobel repeated her command, more insistently. With a weary sigh, Jake reluctantly squatted beside her.
“Don’t touch the circle,” she cautioned as his shirt tail narrowly missed brushing the salt surrounding the pentagram. “This circle was drawn in blood.”
“You can’t tell that.”
“Looks like blood, smells like blood.” She pointed to a collection of runes. “Those mean end of life.” Her finger moved to another, “the cycle of life becomes the cycle of death. On the other side is the opposite.” She looked at him again. “From life comes death, from death comes life.”
She nodded. “This pentagram was drawn in blood, fresh blood. The runes indicate that whoever the blood donor was, they were alive at the start of the ritual.”
“And now they’re woodstain.” She stood. Jake followed her lead. “Something really bad happened here Jake. Really bad.”
“No fucking shit.”
“Yes. Fucking shit.” She blew out a heavy breath, sending a curl of dark hair dancing across her face. Jake smiled at the way she tucked it back, behind her ear, even though her hair was so thick that her curls simply fell out from behind her ear a moment later.
Isobel noticed his look peripherally, but pretended not to. Usually she’d act on impulse, maybe smiling back or kissing him, but she was focussed on the gruesome sight in front of her and didn’t want the distraction. “I don’t think they were just killed,” she said slowly.
“What? What do you mean? They were like...”
“Tortured,” she said, voice breathy. She felt the colour drain from her face and swallowed back the lump rising in her throat. “Look at the five points,” her finger shook slightly as she pointed them out.
Jake squinted at the five points of the star in the shady living room. “They’re darker,” he observed.
“Yeah. Corresponds to five wounds. Then the blood was siphoned into lines somehow. It’s not perfect, you can see blood spatters here and there, but it’s serviceable.”
“Could be.” Isobel ran her hands through her hair. “I’m not an expert, I just have eyes.”
“And random occult symbol deciphering skills.”
“Those too.” She looked at him. “Jake, I think this thing is why we’re here. This tower was in both our dreams. It means something. I just don’t know what.”
“What the hell happened here, Isobel?”
She shook her head, was about to say she didn’t know again when another, more assured voice answered the question for her.
They whirled round to see a woman standing in the living room doorway. She had dark hair, straight with a slight kink, brown eyes and fair skin. Jake’s eyes quickly roved down her slim, curvy body, but decided against any hormonally driven action. There was something about the way she leaned against the door jamb that screamed warrior; tough, sassy and more than likely to finish a fight. She was dressed similarly to Isobel, except in place of jeans she wore a frayed denim mini-skirt and tights. Knee length leather biker boots added to the badass image she projected. “A particularly brutal, yet unsuccessful summoning.”
“And who the hell are you?” Isobel asked, defiant, but still a little scared.
The woman answered simply, her eyes not leaving Isobel’s.