Chapter 5: The Confrontation
Hal struggled to his feet, breath heaving as he looked around. The state in which he found the others confirmed he wasn’t the only one feeling the effects of the impossible journey.
Amelia was tugging on Doc Turner’s arm, urging him to his feet, but the doctor seemed unable to gather himself enough to stand. Amelia was beginning to cry, her tears turning to steam and leaving bright red tracks down her cheeks as they fell.
Hal hurried to her side, grabbing the young doctor beneath the other arm and heaving him up. As soon as he let go though, Doc Turner crumpled back to his knees.
He’s got nothing left. He gave everything to that foul Amun.
Hal lifted him again, turning to look for their path but instead jerked back when he found Amun’s putrid face inches away from his own. Amun’s hand darted out, grabbing Doctor Benjamin Turner by the throat and knocking Hal aside with a sweep of his arm.
Hal hit the ground hard, rolling several feet before crashing against a sharp rise of rock. He shook his head. Holy crap, he’s strong. Strong not only from the doctor’s touch, but now from Hal’s, as well.
He thought he might have left a layer of skin on the stone of the ridge as he struggled to right himself, but he finally managed it, leaning heavily against the cliff wall, one arm folded tight against his ribs. Blinking away the burning smoke and grit, he opened his eyes to find Amun holding Doc Turner by the neck, dangling his body out over the abyss. Amelia was shrieking at him, her ragged form staggering forward against the blazing updrafts sweeping along the narrow ledge.
“Amelia,” Hal choked, reaching an impotent arm out to her. “Amelia, stay away from him!”
But Amelia had already reached the foul beast, now almost fully fleshed. And Doc—Doc was screaming; screaming as his flesh burned away in a coursing rise of hellfire; screaming as his fat melted and flared in bright, hissing bursts like a piece of roasting meat.
Dark hair was sprouting from Amun’s head, growing and whipping about his face in the turbulence from the doctor’s burning body. Amelia, shrieking like a banshee, leapt at Amun’s back, jerking hard at the wild mass flying about his head. He barely shifted at her impact. He simply released his grip… and Doctor Benjamin Turner fell from the ridge, his wretched screams joining the legion of others rising from the pit.
Father Donahue was struggling to reach Amelia, but Hal shouted his name, blocking a blast of heat with his scorched arm. The priest hesitated, casting an agonized look in her direction, but clearly knowing, as Hal did, that Amelia’s journey had ended the moment she touched Amun.
Amun’s hand whipped around, snatching Amelia by her tendrilled hair. She screamed, flailing and struggling against his grip, but he was too strong. Strength leaching from her, she began to wail—that horrid, piercing cry of unparalleled pain that dominated this place. The sound struck Hal to his very core.
Sick, demented, psychotic piece of…
Finding his feet, Hal crouched, bracing himself for a steadying breath before leaning forward and touching the tips of his fingers to the rocky surface of the ridge. With purposeful intent, he slid one foot backward. He hadn’t done this since high school, but he had been pretty damn good at it back then.
Digging his toes into the stony ground, Hal pushed off with all his strength, launching himself forward toward the towering form of Amun as Amelia’s tiny body burned away in his grip. Gauging Amun’s proximity to the edge, Hal dropped his shoulder and careened into the twisted soul’s back, shoving him forward with both palms as hard as he could. Is he close enough? Am I strong enough?
The drop in his stomach told him he'd reached the lip of the ridge. A sharp jerk from behind caught him just before his other leg cleared the edge, and he stumbled, spinning sharply to scrabble at the edge of the drop-off, clawing to find purchase as the sound of Amun’s tortured screams faded among the wails rising from the lake below.
Father Donahue held the tail of Hal’s shirt in a two-handed grip, now pulled almost entirely up and over the back of Hal’s head as the priest struggled to keep him from sliding the rest of the way over the edge. A vein in the priest’s temple was pulsing as he pulled against Hal’s weight, one foot braced solidly against a jutting spur of rock. He heaved, and Hal lifted with him, dragging himself back over the ledge until he lay panting on the ridge once more, Father Donahue on his back beside him.