It was a plain, brown box. Every hole and crevice was sealed and taped. The label and simple–just a postage mark and some handwritten directions stamped Poste italiane; there was no return address. Indeed, the only identifying feature was the handwriting, which was an elegant, distinctive cursive style–so distinctive that it could only have been sent by Jacob Niles. Fiona didn’t know what was inside, but these deliveries weren’t unusual. Jacob, after all, would frequent the shops and curios in Rome, and most of what he found was sent to either her or Anne. Had she not been sure of the sender, she would have tossed it out without a thought. Instead, she sliced through the tape with her nail and opened the box.
Inside was a small white envelope addressed, “To my Dear Cousin Fiona.”
It’s Twister all right, she thought. She used her nail to tear the seal. Inside, she found a much more hastily scrawled letter, which contrasted with the style on the envelope.
What is in this box may not make sense to you, but it is urgent that you examine it carefully. I will be in town on the fourteenth so that I can go over it with you. It may seem bizarre that I am asking you to do this, but when you are finished with the contents my reason will become clear.
Your loving Cousin,
“That’s odd,” Fiona said aloud.
She noticed a much larger manila envelope on the bottom of the box. The handwriting on the label was even more erratic, with several drops of ink staining the paper. As she opened it, a small key slid out, clattering on the tabletop.
For some reason, her fur was beginning to stand on end. She could feel her legs tense and her hands begin to shake. She began to sense something very wrong about this package, something ancient and terrifying. As she reached inside the envelope, the fear turned to primal terror and she hesitated to remove the envelope’s contents. Still, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and pulled out the files within.
The first file appeared to be a photocopy of some sort of document, one that was very old. It seemed to be written in an ancient variant of the Latin alphabet, and an attempt to read it seemed to confirm this. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t make sense of it. To her, she seemed to be reading a cipher without a key. This was complicated by the presence of some very arcane Greek words, many of which had been mangled by the writer. A small memo on the back only served to deepen the mystery: Scaelin, perhaps?
“What the hell is Scaelin?” she asked herself. For a second or two, she flipped between the front and back, trying to make sense of the memo. When it proved fruitless, she moved on to the next page.
The next page was written in the same cursive script as on the parcel’s label. However, the writing seemed do have been done hastily, and there were several words scratched out an replaced, as if it had been edited as it was being written. It took only a moment for her to realize that it was the translation to the document on the previous page; how Jacob had made sense of it baffled her. However, the confusion soon gave way to that same fear when she began reading the text.
On the dawn of the twenty-third day, within the last month of the tenth year of the third great millennium, it shall come to pass. The Dragon will rise from the deep, and he shall meet the kings of the ocean and die among them. The Soldier shall wield the White Flame, and he shall lead his Witness into the darkness below. The Witness shall raise the Nightwalker to slay the Bladed Man and he shall fall to his feet in pain and despair. The Beast shall raise her eye to the sky, and behold a rain of fire and water shall engulf the land; but the Beast will not know her sister, and the world will crumble still.
Her heart began to race. Her hands began to sweat. Her legs were shaking. She tried to tell herself that the date was a coincidence, that it had nothing to do with her dream, but she couldn’t make herself believe it. There was no reason to to think that the page was anything but fiction. After all, prophecies were the creations of deluded minds–individuals whose hallucinations had been misinterpreted by the religious as messages from god. She closed her eyes and mumbled words of encouragement to herself. There was no connection.
Though it took her a moment, Fiona managed to gather her nerve. Fiona knew there was something that he expected her to see. It couldn’t be the date–she’d never told anyone about it. Instead, she gathered the courage to read it again, and almost immediately she felt like a fool.
Great dragon. That was a phrase that would catch any paleontologist’s attention. In the Mesozoic there were dragon-like creatures in every sea. They had been found on mountainsides in Colorado, in the chalks of Kansas, and even in Europe and Asia. It was that passage that had caught Jacob’s attention, and it shouldn’t have surprised her. After all, a prevailing theory was that the dragons of old were inspired by those same fossils.
She set down both documents and picked up the key. Calusa Shores Bank was written on a tag, accompanied by the number “74.” She was familiar with that bank–her family’s trust was there. She should have no problem getting in the vault; knowing Jacob, he had probably already them instructions.
“Maybe after lunch,” she said, placing the key in her pocket. Then she turned her attention back to the envelope. There was something else inside, a piece of parchment that was rough and brittle. It was another document, but this one–whatever it was–wasn’t a copy. Feeling emboldened, she quickly drew it from the envelope.
As soon as she touched the corner, she felt a chill. The terror from before had returned, this time with far greater intensity. That fear gave way to panic as soon as she saw the drawing. It was the thing of nightmares, a gargantuan beast with fearsome white eyes, towering above its insignificant human prey. Each of its three heads sported a long, limp tongue that hunt from the edge of each maw, with the right-most head bearing a pair of scimitar-like fangs that fell far below the jaw. Its body was no better, from its bloated gut to its matted hair. The beast was horrifying on a level far in excess of what the image should have allowed. It felt as if her mind had been conditioned to flee at its very sight.
But that wasn’t what stood out the most. No, what stood out was that this monster–this hellish behemoth–was not new to her. This beast had been known to her for years. It was the same beast that stalked her every night, the same one that had made her wake every morning in fear. As she stared into its eyes, the room seemed to fall away from her, and the sounds of the office gave way to an unearthly howl. They cry grew louder and more terrifying with every passing second, until it itself had given way to a terrifying scream.
The door behind her flew open. Fiona felt her father’s hands pull her close. He tried to comfort her, but the echoes of that cry could not be broken. Beneath the howls she could hear him trying to sooth her, telling her that everything was okay, but the sound was so deafening that she could barely hear his voice. She embraced her father, felt his hand caress her head, and at last she was aware that it was not the creature screaming, but her.
“It’s going to be okay,” Carter said.”It’s going to be okay.”
No, she thought. No, it isn’t.