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One swift slash of the knife in the dim glow of a single lamp. Blood sprayed from the severed carotid artery.
“Sh’fath dulakh k’lathna vah. Djebdu methakha vektha K’t’rahl,” the acolytes of the Dread Lord chanted as Crncevic held up a bowl to catch the spurting blood.
The spurting stopped along with the heart of the sacrifice. The flow of blood slowed to a trickle, then a drip. Crncevic turned to face the wall, holding the bowl of blood before him. A fresh-dried coat of whitewash covered the wall. Gouges through the whitewash at each of the corner formed letters in the script of the Old Ones.
The acolytes continued their chant. “Shev’kha ezekhadja tredzkhan’th. Sh’fath dulakh k’lathna…”
Crncevic lifted the bowl high and stepped toward the wall.
The lamp blinked. Crncevic frowned. The lamp continued to blink. Crncevic turned to the acolyte at the front of the group and held out the bowl. “Continue the ritual.”
The acolyte bowed and took the bowl. Crncevic strode to the door of the small room, sparing a glance for the corpses, each with their throats slashed, piled in the corner.
In the hallway outside the room, Crncevic removed the hood and mask that covered his head. He stripped off the polyethylene rain suit and nitrile gloves. A quick glance showed no trace of blood on his priest’s garb.
With a sigh, he opened the door to the stairwell and climbed from the basement where the Order’s work proceeded to the ground floor where their public face waited.
“Father!” another acolyte, who had remained here to tend the lost and wounded that came to them, called as he entered the main foyer of the abandoned building in which they had set up housekeeping, “I was just about to call you.”
Crncevic looked from the acolyte to the two police officers who stood in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, Father,” one of the policemen said, “but could you come with us, please?”
“Is there a problem?”
The officer shook his head. “One of the search teams found someone and, well, he asked for a priest. I remembered you setting up an aid station here and…”
“Of course, Officer. Let me get my things.”
“Thank you, Father,” the officer said. “Truth is, I don’t think that guy’s going to make it.”
Crncevic forced a friendly smile to his face. “Then we had best hurry.”
Crncevic collected his bag, which contained the things a priest would have in ministering to the sick and dying. He pulled on a jacket against the chill outside then extended his hand toward the door. “Shall we?”
A big SUV with police insignia stood in the street, its engine running. One of the officers opened the back door for Crncevic and he climbed in. The two officers got into the front seats. “Shouldn’t take long, Father.”
Crncevic said nothing as the police officers pulled out. He ran his hand over his bag while affecting a serene expression while inside he wanted to scream. Two days. The pause before the final rise of K’t’rahl had continued for two days. It was time to receive the Dread Lord’s word. He should have been there to complete the ritual. Instead, the charade forced upon the order required he be here instead.
Very well, he would give that doomed fool his Last Rites, but in his heart he would dedicate his soul to Dread Shev’kha, one more to prepare for the rise.
“Negative,” White said. “Procedure is to stay with the plane.”
The white strip was as smooth as it looked, a perfect runway. The only difficulty on the landing had been the crosswind.
“But how are we going to find where we are without a search?” That scientist, Albertson, had been the loudest voice insisting on going out “exploring.” White would have expected the younger one, Damjan, to be the reckless one.
“We stay with the plane,” White said. “The Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy, whoever, will be looking for us when we don’t come back. And the plane is a much easier target to spot than a few people wandering around. We…stay…here.”
“Captain’s right,” Damjan said. “Here we’ve got shelter, food–we do have food, right?”
“Water,” Damjan continued, “everything we need to stay safe. Safe is good. And this plateau is high enough that if another tsunami comes through….”
“All right, all right,” Albertson said. “I still think we should go take a look.” He stabbed a finger down at his laptop computer. “I’ve searched. I drew a circle that marked as far as we could possibly have gone. There’s nothing like this island in it anywhere.” He stopped, then pointed at White. “Have you ever been to Hawaii?”
“Sure,” White said. “Took my wife there for our honeymoon.”
“This island is bigger than Lahaina, almost as big as Moloka’i.” He spread his arms, indicating the island around them. “Do you think we’d miss something like that? This is impossible, utterly and completely impossible, yet here it is. And you’re saying not to even go look at it?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” White reached forward and closed the cover of Albertson’s laptop. “We wait for rescue.”
Albertson threw his hands in the air then let them drop to his lap. “I’ve got to get out there.”
White shook his head. “Not going to happen.”
The Seahawk seemed determined to end up in the sea.
“Not gonna happen,” Pomerantz said as the Seahawk bucked. He picked up a bit more altitude then shouted, “Geoff? Our friend?”
“Still following us,” despite Torgersen’s shout, without the intercom Pomerantz could barely understand him over the noise of the helicopter. “We’ve put some distance between us but he’s still coming.”
Pomerantz swore. That glowing stuff the creature had shot or spit or breathed at them had done a number on the engine. The Seahawk was barely staying in the air. He should have simply zipped back to the ship leaving the lumbering beast far behind. Instead it was a race, a race they seemed to be winning at least.
The smoke trail behind them thickened. The Seahawk slowed and began dropping again.
“Damn.” Pomerantz could hear the rotor slow. He eased up on the collective to try to slow their descent.
“Charlie? Any ideas?” He waved at the dead instrument panel and muttered. All of the electrical displays were cold and blank. “Stupid glass cockpit. Stupid upgrade. Give me my instruments back.”
“I’m guessing oil,” Rodriguez said “She’s not going to last much longer.”
Pomerantz spared a glance backward. The creature was wading after them, waist deep now. Ahead? There was the Gonzalez, looking more beautiful than Pomerantz could ever remember.
“Trailing smoke, limping back, followed by a monster. Think they’ll know something’s wrong over on the Gonzalez?”
“They’d better,” Rodriguez shouted back.
Pomerantz adjusted the engine controls, trying to coax a little more power out of it and eased the collective a little farther upward. The Seahawk shuddered but climbed. He looked down at the waves, still closer than he liked. Hard to judge how fast they were going over water. Not very.
Ahead, the crew on the destroyer had apparently spotted them and began to turn in their direction.
“Looks like momma’s coming to get us,” Pomerantz said. The pitch of the engines’ whine increased. Pomerantz frowned and looked up. Rotor speed seemed to be about the same. He cursed. “Not the transmission too. Come on, baby, hold together just a little more.”
Next to Pomerantz, Rodriguez leaned forward. “Flags on the deck. I think someone’s trying to signal us.”
“Get the glasses,” Pomerantz said. “See what you can see.”
“On it.” Rodriquez opened the case that held a pair of binoculars, used for Search and Rescue, occasionally on recon missions. He peered through them at the destroyer. “That’s Baker waving the signal flags. He’s…he’s signaling us to port.”
“To port? Why?”
“I think he’s saying to get out of their line of fire.”
Pomerantz stared at the Gonzalez. The turret for the five inch gun swiveled in their direction. The barrel rose. “Oh shit!”
He pulled hard on collective and cyclic sticks while pressing on the left pedal, coaxing all the speed he could get out of the crippled helicopter in a hard left turn.
Seconds later, the helicopter lurched and dropped in response to the air sucked away by the passage of the five inch shell.
“Jesus! Fuck!” Geoff’s scream came from the rear of the helicopter even over the noise of rotor and engines. “God damn! What the fuck was that!”
“Incoming” Rodriguez shouted back. “Hang on.”
Pomerantz fought the helicopter’s controls, struggling to maintain altitude while running farther out of the way of the incoming shells.
The Gonzalez fired again. Again, the helicopter lurched, less strongly this time as they were farther from the projectile’s flight path.
“Geoff!” Pomerantz shouted. “How about our friend? Are they hitting? Is it doing anything?”
Two more shots. Two more lurches, the second little more than a bump. Torgersen stuck his head up from the rear. “They’re hitting. A monster that size? How could they miss. Doesn’t seem to be doing anything though.”
Another burst of the glowing vapor streaked past them, this one not directed at them. It splashed against the front of the Gonzalez. Flames broke out on the decks of the destroyer. Torgersen dropped back into the rear compartment of the helicopter.
Cold clutched at Pomerantz’ gut. “Shit.”
The captain on the Gonzalez was clearly thinking fast. The ship launched a Tomahawk which streaked past them toward the monster.
“That gave him pause!” Torgersen shouted from the rear. “He’s stopped.” A moment later he stuck his head forward again. “He’s swimming south. I guess he didn’t like that last one.”
Pomerantz shook his head, looking at the burning destroyer. “Or maybe he just didn’t care.”
Coming soon in Paperback and Kindle.
In the meantime, you might take a look at my recently released fantasy novel, The Hordes of Chanakra:
Click on the cover image to get the book.