Fiona was aware that she was dreaming. She’d had this nightmare far too many times–the power was out, debris littered the floor, and the smell of dust and mold permeated the air. However, it felt different this time–she was now aware that she had some level of control over the path she would take. Though she doubted that being lucid would change the result, it was clear to her that this time, her nightmare would play by her rules.
She knew from experience that the house was empty, so she didn’t bother to call out for her father. Still, the melody of London Bridge beckoned for her to explore. She climbed the stairs, sidestepping the hole in the floor, and moved toward her old bedroom. Through the battered doorway she caught a glimpse of two small silhouettes–hybrids like her, though far younger–playing what a game of chess in a field of reeds. As soon as she noticed them, they grabbed each others’ hands and stood. The reeds gave way to a room lined with shelves, each holding an assortment of strange shells and fossils; in the center, the two figures spun, singing in tune to the melody of the music box that lay on a nearby dresser. She tried to focus on their faces, but she couldn’t. Instead, the face of a white fox invaded her mind, staring deep into her eyes for a second before fading away.
She was outside now, staring at that tree from the front porch. It seemed to glow more vibrantly than before, but that failed to comfort her. Fiona didn’t bother to approach it–she knew this would cause it to wither, and she refused to watch it die. She felt that the tree represented her life, and what its rotting might portend was a secret she was not ready to expose.
Instead, she turned toward the garage and gazed up at the apartment above it. No lights were on, and the windows were cracked and filthy. As she took her first step toward it, she felt a hand fall onto her shoulder. She turned to see her father, his face swollen, and his left eye shut tight. He attempted to smile, but he could barely move his lips. “I’m sorry,” he said, revealing a broken tooth. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “What happened?”
“Are you okay?” he asked, tilting his head.
“I’m fine, Dad.”
“No, you’re not.” He grabbed her hand and lifted it. “You’re bleeding.”
Fiona looked at the bottom of her wrist and saw a strange symbol cut deep into the flesh. “I didn’t do this,” she said. “I don’t know how it happened.”
“That wound is yours,” Devon said. “It was given to you. It’s not a good thing, but you shouldn’t let it bother you.” He caressed her cheek. “It’s only there to remind the others that you are hers.”
Fiona suddenly felt uncomfortable, and pulled away. “I think I’ll grab some coffee,” she said.
“Please stay,” Carter said. “I don’t want you hurt. It’s a long way down, after all.”
She turned to see that the cliff had eroded all the way to the front porch. Instead of water, the cliff dropped off into a black void. Within its depths, she could hear things crawling around, things too horrible to imagine. Her father gripped her shoulder tight, as if he was trying to pull her back. But when she looked at that hand, she could see that the bones in the fingers were broken and exposed, and that blood was pouring out in streams of vivid red.
She whipped around and saw her father’s body hanging by a rope from the door frame. He looked dead, yet he spoke, in a voice too cold and gravelly to be his. “They are the light that awaits us in the end.”
His agonized tone caught her off guard, and she stumbled backward, falling off the ledge. She managed to grab the edge with her hand, but her shoulder jerked out of socket. Somehow she was able to maintain her grip. She refused to look down, too terrified at what awaited her below. Her father spoke, but his words were cryptic: “It’s a chilly night out. The moon has given us light, but the fox is on the town.”
The statement was bewildering, but she didn’t have the chance to respond–her fingers slipped, and she plummeted into the depths. The fall seemed to take forever, but eventually she hit the ground below. Her wrist snapped on impact, but she was unable to cry out.
Slowly she began to regain her strength. Clutching her hand, she stood to find herself on the edge of what she thought were the Devonian swamps. The more she looked, however, the more the flora seemed out of place–instead of the expected ferns and cycads, the landscape was filled with cypress, mangroves and moss. The stench of stagnant water was heavy in the air, and when she she tried to take a step she felt the muck pull her leg down. In the distance, the hisses of agitated reptiles could be heard, invoking a strong memory, the details of which seemingly lay out of reach.
She began to walk. With each step, the land changed. Though subtle, the ground felt like it was shifting in unnatural ways. It was as if walking a straight line was impossible, that even a simple path would twist and contort into curves that defied reality. Whatever path she was taking was no longer her own.
She caught a glimpse of a figure moving through the mangroves, a familiar form that seemed to mimic every mode she made. It followed her, fading in and out of view, with its body seemingly made of shadow but with eyes that burned like fire. It seemed neither friendly nor hostile, and neither safe nor dangerous. In her mind, she felt that it simply was–a truth, one both personal and primordial, one that had been waiting in the depths of the unconscious mind to reveal itself–to the world, to her family, to her.
Something called out to her. An ancient voice began speaking to her, in a tongue that she felt was impossible for man. Its meaning seemed to have been lost to time and memory. Though too simple and alien for her to understand, she began to feel this voice in her blood. This is you, she thought, although she didn’t know why. This is the part of you that was forced upon your bloodline. This is man’s greatest achievement, and his only sin; it is the one thing he has done that no other animal has done before.
She felt naked. She had learned something from this, and had the feeling that it was unimaginably huge. However, the specifics were too great for her sleeping mind. She felt her heart rate begin to drop, and she realized it had been beating fast. As she slowly began to stir, she felt a drop of drool forming at the corner of her mouth. Before she could lift her hand to wipe it away, a loud thud sent her flying to her feet.
She was in the living room again.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” Carlton said, pushing a foot locker beside the couch. She could see her father standing in by the stares, glaring at him. However, it was the figure in the kitchen door that caught her attention–slightly taller than her, with a black and white coat and wearing a priest’s collar, he carried a leather satchel and wore a white cap. A wave of nostalgia rushed over her. “Twister?”
Jacob Niles smiled. “Hello, Fiona,” he said, lifting a paper cup to his mouth. “I seem to have come at an interesting time, haven’t I?”
“I guess,” Fiona said. She watched Carlton take a seat on another foot locker and bury his head in his knees. “What the hell is going on, anyway?”
“Well, it seems Simon brought quite a few guns over, which Devon isn’t particularly happy about. His story about why he did this is amusing, and quite frankly it would make me think he was psychotic if it wasn’t for everything else that has happened.”
“A voice,” Carlton said, panting. “A voice came from my truck’s radio and then from the TV. It told me to bring my best guns. But I’m pretty sure Dr. Carter is going to call the police, not that I can blame him.”
“I’m not,” Carter said. “Considering how bizarre these past few days have been, I’m not ready to dismiss your story just yet.”
“What did you bring?” Fiona asked, trying to change the subject.
“”Mostly big bores,” he said. He stood and opened the chest he was sitting on, and began to remove an impressive arsenal. “One lever rifle, a limited run Model 1895 chambered in .405 Winchester. Same model and caliber Roosevelt used on his safaris, except this one’s got a Monte Carlo stock and a muzzle shroud to help keep the ringing down. The recoil pad helps make my custom rounds a bit more manageable, but make no mistake–it’s still a thumper. Then there’s this beauty,” he said, raising a polished, nickel-plated shotgun. “I’m sure you guys remember it. Haymaker has a recoil-reducing wire folding stock, an 18-inch barrel and a 6 round capacity if you don’t count the chamber; she’s built for 3-inch magnum shells.”
He then pulled out two massive pistols that–to Fiona’s eyes–resembled Lugers on steroids. “These two are brutes. They’re Verities–made-to-order magnums that can be swapped for any of the supported calibers just with a barrel change and an adjustment of the gas system. One’s got the standard five-and-a-half inch barrel, and the other’s got a ten-inch; they’re cannons of course, chambered in .45 NAACO with eight round magazines and enough stopping power to bring down a bear. They do kick, but gas system helps a lot. Then we have this,” he said, removing a colossal blued pistol. “The Jericho Thunder Mark Five. A standard 1911 pistol, scaled up fifteen percent and chambered in that very same .45 NAACO round. The ten-inch barrel, bushing compensator and wraparound grips make it easier to handle than the off-the-shelf model, but it still kicks hard. I’d recommend against using it on anything that you can’t afford to miss, but rest assured: there are very few things out there that can take a hit from this and get back up.”
Next he pulled out a much smaller pistol. “For those of us who can’t handle the big guns, I brought my GSh-18. Don’t let it’s looks fool you–it’s a Wonder Nine, and a damn fine one to boot. It packs a punch with the right ammo and is tame as a kitten. Pain in the ass to get it into the country, but worth the effort.”
Finally, he pointed toward the kitchen. On the table were a large number of guns, none of which Fiona had seen before–notably, she made out a shotgun that resembled a pistol with three barrels, a small, black handgun, several larger shotguns and a pair of rifles. “You can see one of my newer creations on the table out there: Black Falcon, a .40 Smith and Wesson pistol meant for concealed carry. I also have a 20 gauge over-and-under with a shortened barrel and a red dot sight, a custom-made break-action shorty with three barrels, a Buckmaster slug gun, my old Garand sniper rifle, and a custom-ordered marksman rifle in .308 Winchester. I also brought my home defense gun in case we run into trouble in the house–it’s a shotgun with a tactical light built into the slide. And I threw in a few of my custom knives for shits and giggles.”
“Jesus Christ.” Carter rubbed his eyes. “Keep in mind that I’m actually grateful to have an arsenal like this, but why the hell do you have so many guns? The last time I heard of a someone having this kind of firepower was during the Waco Siege.”
“I doubt you’d be able to do much with firearms,” Jacob said. “Dheania’s not exactly a physical being.”
Carter leered at the priest. “Jacob, what do you know about this?”
Jacob closed his eyes and took a deep breath. After taking a moment to gather his nerve, he reached into his bag and produced a large, ancient tome–one bound in brown, stained leather, covered in a nauseating web of hexagonal folds, with a spine decorated with entwined copper wire and numerous small bones; a charred symbol not unlike a warped pentacle was stamped into the overly thick, rigid cover. “All I know,” Jacob said, “is what is inside this book.”