As the hours went by, my discomfort was growing. Something bad was going to happen and I could feel it. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I felt watched, unsettled, restless. I found myself staring at the ground, wondering if a horrible creature would suddenly jump out of it and eat me, but all I could see was a trampled and manicured lawn. The stillness and tranquillity of the scene only worried me even more. Mr. Ashley-Croft had finally found strength to come meet his guests, but I was carefully avoiding him. I didn’t want him to see me here, even thought I wasn’t sure he’d recognize me to begin with, with him being older than dirt. Wait, what was I thinking? He was something more than human, why was I underestimating him just because his body was old and wrinkled?
There were only a few minutes to midnight, and I was frantically looking for Tim, who had wandered off for a while to talk to some acquaintance of his, and had promised to find me before the witching hour. However, the old man had just invited a series of very important and very boring people to make speeches about the importance of this or that charity, now that Christmas was arriving, and the season to be jolly, and holly, and a whole lot of other shiny words ending in –olly, was upon us – therefore, a whole lot of guests were congregating in the winter garden. Not for a moment did I think this was a coincidence. It also made my task of finding Tim so much harder. I discretely checked the programme the staff had recently delivered: at midnight there would be Yule fireworks, followed by a lot of screaming and death ‘en masse’. So I had just made up that last part in my mind, but I was pretty sure it would be happening. But I had absolutely no idea how, which meant I also did not know how to prevent it. I realized then that I could very well die in a few moments, but I couldn’t feel any directs threats aimed at me. If the explosives or fire Tim had suggested were going to be used, I should have been getting glimpse of danger to my person. Maybe it was the poison he had also suggested; since I had consumed nothing, I wasn’t going to die, and therefore, not endangered. I had checked again and again to find any potential threats in the food, but none was to be found. I had checked the candles and napkins and the plates and glasses themselves, just in case it was a contact poison instead of an ingestible one. Still nothing.
A fanfare announced midnight, and a salvo of fireworks lighted the sky, followed by the sound of fans being turned on, and several movie-like machines started to spew forth mist to add, I suspected, a the magical ambiance to the entire procedures. My eyes had been on Ashley-Croft the whole time, since I was certain he was going to do something, only to find him quietly sitting on his chair, gracefully bowing his head in agreement to the words being said right before everyone turned their eyes to the sky; this caused me not to notice when the first people started to fall. I didn’t hear the screams of the surprise of the others around them because of the noise of the fireworks, but I did notice the commotion and, after glancing around, I noticed it was happening in the areas where the smoke was hitting people. Curiously, one or two didn’t fall, and I felt no threat from the smoke, it wasn’t poisonous, although its chemical composition was quite odd, designed to be barely lighter than air – it took me a moment to realize that it was a piece of a vaster trap. A poison delivered in separated parts – it wouldn’t climb as fast as normal gases, and would instead linger and kill!
Cussing under my breath, I reacted by instinct, pulling on the energies at my disposal. My thoughts were clear, precise, and my skill was as good as it had ever been. Analogies about riding a bicycle would have certainly come to my mind if I wasn’t so busy saving the dozens of people who weren’t dead yet. A gesture, and a multitude of ancient letters flared to life surrounding me in a circle of flaming words. I pulled on the electromagnetic field of the earth, and redirected it into a magnetic pulse that fried anything electronic in a one-hundred yard radius. The sound of the fans immediately stopped, but that was unnoticeable to everyone else except me because the fireworks deafened all other sounds. I looked around to see where the smoke was being lead by the breeze, and it was then my eyes met the Deadman’s. He was staring straight at me, in disbelief. At first, I thought he had recognized me, and was surprised to see me, but as I conjured the strongest gale I could muster, rewriting reality to change high and low pressures and suck the gas upwards at a far too fast speed to continue to spread over the ground, I saw him screaming straight at me. He wasn’t surprised at me being there. He was not expecting me being capable of doing what I was doing. Unfortunately, I shouldn’t have lost my focus, because the next thing I knew it, a tornado had formed on top of the cocktail stand crashing anything it its path to smithereens; while it accomplishing my immediate the goal of sucking the gas away from the people, it was also creating a stampede of panicked guests.
The power at my disposal made me heady, and I caught a glimpse of the floor beneath his feet, willing it to dissolve. He fell with a scream into the chasm I had opened, but his plight went unnoticed in the panic. I closed my hands, mimicking what I wanted the earth around him to do. But to my surprise, nothing happened. I frowned, wondering if he had countered me somehow, but that moment, I saw him crawl out of the hole with an agility and energy that didn’t fit a man his age. I didn’t hesitate, and a willed a torrent of earth and debris to rise and engulf him. He vanished from sight for a moment – and then I could see him again, unfazed, not a spec of dust on him. I tried again, and the same thing happened. His father had given him apparently an uncanny resistance to anything created being thrown at him, and his smug smile, as he carefully walked away, seemed to confirm my guess.
In that case, I had a little thing to give him. I screamed my rage, and a might wave of pure energy left me, aiming at him. If any of the mundanes wasn’t too busy running for their life, and was instead looking at us, they would have seen nothing. But he felt it. Oh, yes, he did. I could hear his scream over the noise of the fireworks and the rumbling of the tornado, rampaging but a few dozen yards away from us, its mighty winds making debris bounce off my shields, before their kinetic energy was drowned and they remained immobilized where they were.
Pure, raw, unfiltered energy. The building blocks of reality. The essence of the Dragon Veins he had diverted because they were anathema to his father. He rolled on the ground, like an ant caught under a lens focusing the sun right on it. I was about to finish my job, when I heard it, felt it and knew it.
It was coming.
I had saved most, but many had died. Enough to draw it to us, it seemed, and I looked up, stupefied. I thought I had managed to save us all. I thought I had won. For a moment, victory had been in my grasp.
Croatoan. Croatoan. Croatoan.
I heard the song of Its name in every fibre of my body.
Croatoan. Croatoan. Croatoan.
The Deadman was getting up, laughing, and in the midst of the madness and the chaos, I saw him mouth something at me.
It took me a moment to decipher his words, but my heart stopped when I realized what he had just said and what it meant “It’s coming for you.”
It had been a trap all along. But I hadn’t been the prey. I had been the bait. It was then I knew a terror I had never known before. It had seen me and It had followed me all this time. Until I had lead It into a place where It could break free when a proper sacrifice would be given to further weaken the flimsy walls that kept It away. I had caused this. I had doomed us all. The Deadman had wanted me to come to his party all along; he had wanted me to find the truth, the name –
And draw Its attention.
I could hear the triumphant laughter of my enemy, and rage filled me to the point I thought my heart would stop. I unleashed hell on him, throwing so much of the energy in me at him that for a moment, it flickered into the visual spectrum. I was doomed, but I would take him with me. He screamed and cringed to protect himself, but something diverted the stream. That moment, I could hear reality scream and the world beginning to unravel under my feet.
It was not going to allow Its vessel to be hurt. The vessel was important, the stepping stone, the key.
I don’t know how I knew this, but I knew, a painful knowledge etched suddenly deep into the core of my self. I screamed again, in anger, in frustration, and this time, I channelled my rage and my energy at the creature that swam under me, like a shark, poised mere moments away from breaking the surface of the water. I could feel the breach in reality, and so I let reality pour into its opposite, wishing nothing more than to make It scream for me, one last victory I’d take to the grave with me. I would not have such victory, for my will alone could change the world but could not be. And that what was not, belonged to It and was Its to control. It was mocking me, I realized, as it was about to come to me, and It was letting me know.
I let out a howl of fury, seeing the world swimming in shades of red, not fearful but angry that my will was such a flimsy conduit for the universal energy that was and could destroy what was not. Will was not palpable, will was not physical and they had set the lines aside so they wouldn’t lock this world to It. I could hear the faint thundering of the Veins in the distance; had they been closer maybe I could divert them enough to crisscross over the weakened reality – a net to trap It where It belonged.
But they were distant and physically away. If only I could bring them…
I once had brought a Vein to a foe, to protect me. I had channelled a ley-line; I had become its living conduit. And unlike my will… I was real. I was physical.
I don’t know where I had so much strength to summon, but despair lent me power, and time seemed to grow slow as I rewrote reality to divert the might of the great Artery into me. I could feel the incredible amount of energy that had been etched into my back being drained to alter the world around me, writing a direct channel to the nearby river of creation. Slowly, way too slowly, I felt reality change and shift in its axis. I felt a distant connection. And then silence.
A few more unnerving moments of stillness… and I heard a rumble, far away, distant, too distant to realize what it was. Then, it become louder, and louder, faster and faster…
The impact brought me to my knees. I attempted to hastily use my own energy to funnel the incoming wave into something I could manage, but I could feel the raw and unfettered power eroding easily the flimsy shields I was putting up. I screamed without a voice, and with my last conscious effort, I directed it to the area where once the ley-lines had converged into each other, the weakest spot in reality. But my body was betraying me, and I could feel it unravel, struggling to stop being matter and becoming energy as well. I wasn’t managing to focus it; the power was seeping through me, escaping in all directions as my cells began to split.
All was lost. I was a cracked vessel, incapable of containing so much energy. Defeat was upon us.
It was then I felt a crushing presence all around me, as if it was about to smother me. I struggled in panic for a moment; then I felt whole. I was no longer coming apart at the seams. I had felt the presence first, and then, came the physical contact. Strong arms enveloped me, drawing me into a lover’s embrace, tighter than any I had ever felt, as if it could, with its tenderness alone to prevent me from becoming undone.
And to my unending surprise, it was.
I noticed I was on my feet now, and I blinked to see a cloud of blond hair floating around me. Behind me, Tymmaneth'wardwyn held me for dear life. And he was taking on all the extra energy I couldn’t handle. He would die if he kept this up. His body couldn’t take so much energy, could it? I felt him falter, and sensed rather then heard him screaming. “Do it!!!”
And so I did.
A whole river of possibility, existence, good and evil, reality, creation and destruction poured through me into that tiny spot, where once a little girl had stood innocently to become the carrier of something terrible. I stood anchored, unmoving, held fast by the Fae lord that I feared, but who, at that glorious moment, was my mate, my lover, my other half, and together we birthed something never felt, never known to the things on the other side of the mirror.
Alice had been right in wondering if the milk on the other side of the mirror was good to drink: matter has its direct counterpart. And when the two meet…
… They annihilate each other.
The mighty wave of universal energy was nothing but a pinprick to the immensity that was the Kroat’Tohan. But it was. It was something, no matter how small.
And being was anathema to It.
There was a howl that I knew rather than listen, as It screamed knowing pain, knowing… something for the first time. And then I hear it too, as Its son learns that with flesh comes pain, and having one’s fleshy heart ripped out by a 10ft, extremely pissed off werewolf is as painful as it comes.
Then, silence. Perfect, absolute silence. Tim has not let go of me yet. I hear his breath weakening, and I feel him falling. I want to scream, to tell him to stay awake, to stave off the temptation to give in to sleep because he would not wake up; then, I realize that I am too silent. I am fully quietness.
I have no breath to scream
My heart no longer beats.
As we fall together, I can no longer keep a hold on the Dragon Artery, and it spurts free. I hear a growing pulse in the distance, coming closer, louder, and perhaps it is my heart that is beating again.
It’s the sound of the Veins. With the Deadman finally truly dead, the ley-lines can run back to their course. It was him who kept them diverted, away from their proper course. They are free to run again, weaving a net of protection that cannot be breached. Their regular thumping is a welcome sound, like a slow beating heart. The heart of the world.
And it’s the heartbeat of reality that lulls me to my final sleep.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."
— Audrey Hepburn