by Tamari Erin (玉里えりん)
Carter surged to his feet when his cousin entered the small parlour. “Henry!” he exclaimed, a slight nervous squeak to his voice. He had never liked his uncle’s house, and being here after so many years he found that his opinion had changed little.
Henry stood by the door frame and regarded Carter with an odd, smug look in his watery eyes. He was mostly unchanged from what Carter remembered of him when they had been children, a tall, angular man with a pallid look to him like a plant that had been left in the dark for too long. Henry’s eyes were the emptiest Carter had ever seen. “Hullo, Carter,” Henry finally said, as he took another step forward, his hands clasped firmly behind his back.
In the sharp black lines of his suit, Henry almost looked like an extrusion of the dark, drab little parlour. He glided soundlessly over the floor rugs — which Carter avoided looking at because their foreign, intricate patterns made him feel dizzy — to position himself in front of the mantle-piece. Henry tapped at one of the many curio-filled jars that crowded its surface, and peered at the two-headed monstrosity floating within the jar’s murky waters.
Carter took a step forward, into a spot of pale sunlight in the centre of the room, let in through the only window that did not have its curtains pulled tight. “Henry, I–” he began, frustration mounting once it was clear his cousin wasn’t paying him any attention.
Henry had moved to another jar; he held it aloft to study it in the flickering amber candlelight. He looked up when Carter spoke his name, made a noise of surprise, and gestured vaguely in the direction of the door before turning back to the limbless thing in the jar.
Carter nearly dropped the dusty old book he’d been holding. Standing on the threshold of the parlour was none other than his beloved cousin Julie. Her name was on his lips, but he didn’t dare speak because he knew that his emotions — the true feelings that he had always harboured for her, ever since childhood — would betray him.
She tilted her head to him in acknowledgement and crossed the room to Henry’s side, her heels clicking dully on the floor. Henry set down the oddity he’s been examining and took her arm. They made a striking couple, Carter couldn’t deny that.
Julie’s head snapped up and suddenly he was staring into the depths of her wide dark eyes. There was a funny little quirk to her mouth, almost as if she knew what he was thinking.
“Carter,” Henry began, his voice low and rich as though it were echoing up from shadowy depths. “As glad as I am to see you back here, amongst your family, I do wish it had been under better circumstances.”
Julie held out a hand, almost brushing Carter’s arm. The heavy fabric of her dress rustled loudly. He shivered; it was as if a charge had passed through him. “We were so sorry to hear about your mother’s death, Carter. I miss her terribly, but I hadn’t seen her since the two of you left town; I can’t imagine how awful it must be for you.”
“I–” His eyes burned but he would not give them the satisfaction of seeing him cry. He balled his hand into a fist and pressed it to his mouth for a moment, until he could no longer feel a hitch in his breathing. He flicked a quick glance at Henry and Julie; they were still standing by the mantel, Julie with an expectant look on her strong features.
“I,” Carter began again. “Why I’ve come back has… has something to do with Mother’s death.”
Julie tipped her head to the side, brow furrowing in distress. “Oh, Carter.”
He took a deep breath and clutched the book — the only thing his mother had taken with her when she’d left town all those years ago aside from her name, the clothes on her back and her child — in both hands. Carter ran a thumb absently over its gnarled leather cover.
Julie lifted a hand to her neck and Henry made an odd noise in the back of his throat.
“I found this in her her papers after she died. I was surprised; I thought it had been lost. I hadn’t seen her touch it in years.
“When I was younger — much younger — it seemed as though she did nothing but read this book, taking notes and cross-referencing things. Of course, she forbade me to look at it. It was the only book of hers I wasn’t allowed to read. I was an obedient child, and I did as I was told.”
He stroked a hand over the cover. The leather was old, worn supple and smooth. “Until a few years ago, when she simply stopped, as if she’d learnt all she could from its pages. I never saw it nor heard her mention it again. And then–” his voice faltered.
“And then she died and you found it buried in her things,” Julie concluded gently.
Carter nodded a bit too hastily. “Yes, yes. After all those years I was still curious, and tried to read it of course… ”
Henry hissed sharply between clenched teeth, his face gone even whiter.
Carter raised a hand to reassure him. “It’s all right. If there were any secrets in here, they’re safe from me. I couldn’t understand a word. It’s all written in some strange code that doesn’t look like any language I recognize.”
“Then what brought you here?” Henry asked, an impatient note creeping into his voice.
“Though I did not understand the text, I did find my mother’s notes.” He paused for a moment to let that sink in. “I found her conclusion.”
His cousins exchanged a surprised glance. “A conclusion?” Julie said with a laugh. “To what? Did she write her own ending to the book?”
“No,” Carter replied with a shake of his head. “I don’t think it was that kind of book.” He opened it, careful not to crack the spine, and turned to the front table of contents. Carter plucked from between the pages the single tarot card that held the end result of years of his mother’s work.
“May I?” Henry said, a hand set on the book.
“Of course,” Carter replied.
Henry began to leaf through the book, a hungry look in his eyes.
Carter held up the card in the first two fingers of his left hand. “This is it.” The card was the Hierophant; the front of the card had been defaced, quick pen strokes added to give the figure of the high priest an undulating beard and a pair of bat wings. The sun had been coloured black. Carter turned the card so they could see the back. Two dates were written there, a little less than a week apart — and below the second was the town’s name.
Julie furrowed her brow. “What?”
Carter swallowed the heavy lump he felt in his throat. “The first is the day of my mother’s death. And the second… ” Carter gestured at the book Henry was holding. “I have reason to believe that that contains prophecies, that my mother believed it foretold our future. I suspect that some event might occur on the second date, so I came back,” the words tumbled out of him, “to warn you, to give you time to prepare–”
Julie was smiling oddly at him, in a feral way not unlike a cat. Henry snapped the book shut with a thud. “We know.”
Carter blinked and took a step back. “… What?”
“We know,” Julie repeated. Henry set the book carelessly on the mantle-piece behind him. “But we do want to thank you for returning our book.”
“What?” He felt as though he was incapable of saying anything else.
“THis book is the only copy of our most sacred text. The writings it contains have been handed down for millennia. It is older than civilisation itself.”
“And your darling mother,” Henry added with a sneer, “stole it. And you.”
Carter waved the card in Henry’s face. “But it foretells something horrid is going to happen on this date. Shouldn’t you be worried? Shouldn’t you be getting prepared?”
“We don’t need to be prepared because we’ve always been prepared. This ‘something horrid’ as you call it is the whole reason that book was written. We’ve known it was coming, but until now we haven’t had a precise date.” Henry deftly snatched the card from Carter’s fingers. “Thank you for letting us know.”
Carter wiped at his mouth and stumbled back. “No… ”
Julie took a step forward. “But don’t worry, Carter. You’re not going to be left out. There’s a place for you in all of this.”
Henry leered. “Why do you think your mother took you when she ran? Maternal devotion? Your mother didn’t have an ounce of that in her body and you know it. You are going to have the starring role–”
Carter cried out wordlessly and shoved his way past them out of the room.
Carter sprinted away from the house, arms pumping. They were insane. No wonder his mother had left and stayed away. If he’d had any lick of sense, he would never have returned. But… he knew something was coming, something terrible, and he had to let them know. He could do no less. Carter laughed bitterly to himself. Somehow he suspected that Henry and Julie would never return the favour.
His uncle’s house was surrounded on nearly all sides, and Carter ran blindly into the woods. He had to get away, away from them, away from the town. Carter had no idea how far this madness spread. His breath came in short bursts as he passed under the canopy of trees and was plunged into semi-darkness. The pallid light of the setting sun could barely penetrate the thick ceiling of leaves; Carter ran through shadows, black and green.
Bare branches whipped at his face, undergrowth snagged at his trousers He felt a stitch pulse to life in his side. He wheezed, unused to exercise, but he didn’t dare stop.Though he couldn’t hear anything over the sounds of his own laboured breathing, he did have a sense of something — someone — following him.
Carter saw something dark flash by behind him, out of the corner of his eye. he ran faster.
Soon, the shadows grew fainter and he was able to make out his footing. Carter slowed down and mopped at his brow with his sleeve. He looked up at the sky; he couldn’t see the sun, he had no idea where he was–
Carter froze and stared. He wasn’t looking at the sky any longer; he was looking at what was no longer blocking it. Every tree in sight was bare, branches cracked and grey. They looked like withered claws, pulling on the sky.
He looked slowly around, gravely soil crackling loudly under his feet. “What happened here?” he muttered. It was so silent. He had to be the only living creature around.
Something moved, just out of sight. Carter spun around and for a moment caught sight of a dark figure standing in the trees. A boy, with long hair that glistened like an oil slick in the tenebrous light. And then as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone.
Carter shook his head. Now He was seeing things. He had to keep moving. He had a very strong impression that Henry knew these woods far better than he did, and would have no trouble tracking him.
He set off, walking toward where he’d seen the shadowy figure.
In the distance, he saw a house. He had to be close to the shore, because he could smell seawater and the heavy stench of low tide. Carter started to run, and reached it after a few minutes.
It looked like an old school house. Carter leaned against the door until he’d caught his breath. It gave him a chance to examine the structure more closely. After further consideration, he concluded that it was much more likely an abandoned church. There had been a cross on the door once; he could still see the imprint on the wood, but it had been vandalized, a large, red sigil painted overtop.
He grinned to himself, in spite of his exhaustion. He could hide out here until dawn and then try to make his way to the nearest town.
Carter glanced at the church’s windows, but they’d been painted over. He wouldn’t be able to see what was inside without going inside — and, fortunately, neither would Henry.
He pushed open the heavy wooden doors — and stepped inside in shock. The church hadn’t been abandoned at all. It was still in use. It was being used.
Hundreds of candles, dripping white wax on the floor, lined the walls and the pews. Carter stepped forward and let the door swing shut behind him. he could hear low voices and craned his neck. He saw three people kneeling by the altar, bent over something on the floor.
Carter cleared his throat. “Excuse me?” he asked hesitantly.
One of the three by the altar — a woman — turned around and looked up. Carter cried out in horror and stumbled backwards, falling to the floor. There was blood around the woman’s mouth, on her lips, her teeth. When she moved, Carter could see what the three were preoccupied with. The room spun for a moment; Carter pressed his fists into his temples. There was– there was a corpse by the altar, and they were been eating it.
Carter was sick behind one of the pews.
A low laugh echoed in the church. Carter looked up warily. The woman was still looking at him, a smile on her face. She’d tried to wipe the blood from her mouth, but hadn’t done a very good job of it. There was still a red stain to her skin.
“Hullo,” she said.
Carter opened and closed his mouth a few times. The nausea was passing, but he felt dizzy, faintish. There was a gray tinge around the edges of his vision. He wrapped his fingers around the worn rim of the pew.
The woman held out her hand to him. “Come, Brother. Join us in partaking this sacrifice that we make in his name.” And then she made a noise like a frog being vivisected. The others took up her cry and they repeated the awful guttural noise several more times before turning back to the body.
There was something about the sound that felt terribly familiar to Carter. He pressed the heels of his palms into his ears and looked away, trying to block out the noise. He could see faint flashes of light in his field of vision, as if someone were setting off fireworks inside his eyes.
He looked away from the altar and tried to focus on the crude murals that had been painted on the walls of the church. He held on to the pew as they grew blurry. Carter blinked and the walls came back into focus. He passed a tongue over his lips; they’d gone dry and cracked since he’d arrived in town. His mouth felt as dry as a salt mine. The murals… the murals were numbingly familiar.
Carter had seen them before. In his mother’s book, in the holy text that Henry claimed she had stolen from them. Carter sucked in an unsteady breath and whipped his head back to stare at the altar, at what was hanging over it. He gasped at what he saw. Pinned high above the altar was a statue of what had once been Christ. It had been heavily reworked and bore a resemblance to the tarot card his mother had defaced. Its knotty wooden surface had been painted a grayish black, and was anatomically deformed in such a way as to make Carter’s nausea rise again.
For an instant he would have sworn it moved. “No,” he moaned. He stumbled towards the door, but the room was growing dim. The murals lining the walls in turn were growing clearer and brighter, as if they were becoming more real.
They showed the world aflame, and the sun a ball of fire beginning to rise over the horizon. Great dark shapes loomed in the skies above, and Carter’s stomach lurched. He felt a furious stab of claustrophobia. The ground shook and Carter dropped to his knees.
Behind him, he heard a noise like a tree being wrenched from the ground, followed by footfalls. He did not need to turn around to know that it was the statue above the altar, coming for him. An icy touch brushed his neck.
“God help me,” Carter cried, his voice a reedy moan.
He heard the woman’s voice, like a distant echo. “God can’t help you anymore; he had no jurisdiction here.”
“It will rise! When the sun first shows its face, it will rise,” he screamed, before everything went black.
He woke, later, as a damp cloth was pressed against his brow. He opened his eyes groggily. He was in a small, dark room and — he tugged experimentally — his wrists had been tied securely to the headboard. There was no one else in the room with him.
Carter felt drained, empty. He shivered, though the room was warm. His shirt was still damp with sweat, and someone had taken his jacket off. He exhaled unsteadily and looked up at the ceiling.
His mother had called it the Beast.
If it had a true name, she’d never once mentioned it in her notes. He suspected she’d still believed it held power over her.
He knew what it was too. He’d seen it lurking around his life since he was a child, spotting it in shadows, out of the corner of his eyes, in his nightmares. In his fantasies.
It was coming, and Carter had been chosen. It was calling for him in particular.
The visions were gone. Now it throbbed in his mind, like the steady pulse of a lighthouse or the beatings of a moth’s wings.
He recognised the room he was in: it had been where he’d stayed as a boy when he would visit his uncle. The room smelt damp, of mothballs and mold.
The door creaked open. Carter hastily closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.
“Is it him?” a voice asked. It sounded like it belonged to a man who went through life with a perpetual smirk on his face.
“Henry says it’s him.” If the second voice wasn’t indentical to the first, it was a damn close match.
“Hmph.” Carter heard light footsteps approach his bed. “Bit skinny, isn’t he?”
The second man giggled. “Now, now…” A hand touched his cheek and though Carter tried to keep still, he couldn’t help but twitch at how cold the touch was.
“Oho! He is awake.” A finger prodded at his eye.
Carter swore and shook his head from side to side to try to throw them off. He opened his eyes and glared. Two identical, handsome young men were sitting on his bed, looking at him, eyes bright and curious. And, as he’d suspected, with twin smirks on their faces.
One bent down to peer closely at him. Carter tried to pull away, but he was limited by his bound wrists. “So you’re the chosen one.”
The second stroked a hand down Carter’s chest. “What makes you so special?”
“Get off me,” Carter rasped.
They both laughed. The first moved his head and blew gently into Carter’s ears. His tongue then traced a line along the shell of Carter’s ear. The second twin moved his hand down to Carter’s groin and squeezed.
Carter moaned and contorted himself to press closer to both of them. He heard the twins laugh in stereo.
The door opened with a thud and the twins pulled away suddenly.
“Hullo, cousin.” “Hullo, cousin.”
Carter looked up. Julie was standing in the doorframe, her face set in harsh lines. “Get out,” she spat, “both of you.”
The twins hastily got to their feet and maneuvered deftly around her and out of the room.
Once they were gone, she smiled at Carter. “Are you feeling better?”
“What did they mean by ‘chosen one’?” he asked abruptly.
Julie regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. “What did you see in the church?”
Carter felt dizzy, as if the visions were returning. The back of his neck was tingling. “I– Fire. Bloodshed. It was dawn and there were these things in the sky–”
“Dawn,” Julie said, her voice predatory and unlike herself. Carter shivered again.
“Do you know what you are?” she asked.
“No,” Carter replied. Yes, he thought.
“Your mother knew. Before any of us even suspected, your mother knew.” She shook her head. “What you saw in the church is exactly what your mother’s research and predictions were for.
“For thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years, this world’s true masters have been dormant in the darkest reaches of the cosmos, and their high priest has lain dead at the bottom of the oceans. But now the stars are right, and it is time for their return–”
“You’re mad!” But her words resonated sharply within him.
“They will come to remake the world in their image, to burn the chaff from their creation.”
“Everyone is going to die!” he cried.
Julie shook her head. “Oh, no. As their loyal followers, we will be spared and ascend to glory at their feet.”
“You’re mad,” he repeated, but the fight was gone from his words. It was hard to argue with something that he knew deep within himself to be true.
Julie passed a hand over his brow and adjusted his collar. “Don’t worry. It will be time in only a few days. We will come for you.”
Carter knelt in the cool, damp sand. It clung in spots to the fabric of his trousers. He shivered, but not from the chill. The rising tide lapped only a few inches away from his knees. He had spent the last hour watching its slow progress up the beach.
His feet were numb, and his wrists were growing sore from the manacles that held them together behind his back. He tried to shift his weight, but he was limited due to his position. He was worried that due to the awkwardness, he’d end up toppling over if he tried. He had long ago stopped struggling.
They’d brought him out here in the dead of night. He’d watched the moon rise, and was now waiting for the sun to follow it. The sky had lightened to a greyish blue, with a soft pink haze around the sliver of sun visible over the horizon. Reflected in the still waters of the ocean, it looked like a malevolent red eye, opening slowly. Carter kept his gaze fixed on the sky, the sand, the dark cloaked shapes surrounding him, on anything but the sun. He felt as though it were watching him, and judging.
Carter turned his face to his shoulder, and stared at the rows upon rows of cloaked figures standing behind him. He still felt dizzy at the sheer number of them; even with the world in the state it was, he’d never thought a doomsday cult could grow to such a size.
The one closest to him — he recognised Julie even under the yards of black fabric — took a half-step towards him. He looked at her; he could almost see her face under the hood. Henry was beside her; the sleeve of his cloak trembled. Carter couldn’t tell if he’d moved his arm or if it was just the breeze.
“Carter,” she whispered, hesitantly.
Henry’s hands twitched in his sleeves. Carter watched him intently, but he made no further moves. Carter wished he could see Henry’s face; he very much wanted to see what was going on in that twisted mind of his.
“It’s already dawn,” Carter said, in a voice meant to carry. “Look, you can see the sun.”
Julie tensed and deliberately turned away from him. She stared at the horizon, her shoulders still tight.
“Nothing,” he continued, “is going to happen. Nothing.”
Their cloaks flapped heavily in the breeze. Carter ducked his head; it was getting colder. The thin cotton shirt he’d been wearing for the past few days was damp with sweat and sea spray. He gave himself a swift, violent shake, like a dog, and wished he hadn’t lost his jacket.
He raised his voice. “Can’t you see? It’s dawn. Nothing has happened; nothing is going to happen. Your prophecies were wrong.”
But try as he might, he just couldn’t muster the conviction needed for his words to ring true. He knew that his protests sounded as hollow to them as they did to him, because he knew, in his heart, in his bones, that everything they’d told him was true. He was one of them, as much as he might want to deny it. Carter thought of his mother and scowled. Blood will out, indeed.
He could feel the pull of the Beast as well as any of them. It was awake, and it was coming.
The sun had crested the horizon. Henry stepped forward into the water; it just reached Carter’s knees. He raised his hands in the air, and the sleeves of his cloak slid down to expose his pale, bare arms. Head thrown back, he began to chant.
He made noises a human mouth should not have been able to make, strange, wrong and utterly alien. There was a slow, pulsing rhythm to it, almost hypnotic. Though Carter couldn’t understand what was being said, the meaning itself was clear enough. They were calling for the Beast, calling its name. Carter bent his head and hunched up his shoulder, wishing he could block out the sounds.
A wave crashed dramatically against the shore.
Carter, closest to the water, received the brunt of it. He was soaked from the neck down. He sputtered, and shook his hair out of his face. The cultists standing near him staggered back, shaking out their waterlogged robes, plastered to their legs by the water.
Henry paused in his chanting, with a deep intake of breath. Carter balled his hands into fists and hated himself for almost crying out for Henry to continue.
When Henry began again, he was not alone. Hundreds of voices, in near-perfect unison, rang out across the beach as the rest of the cultists joined in. Carter bent his head to his chest and bit his lip. It took all his will-power to keep himself from joining them as well.
The terrible sounds, the language of a time long past, grew clearer with every repetition of the chant, and it wasn’t long before Carter started to recognize individual words. Not long after, he realized he could understand what was being said as clearly as if they’d been speaking English.
Their voices became one with the roars of the surf, and then grew louder, drowning it out until the water was just another sound in the chorus.
Carter stared down at the murky water in which he knelt, and watched the rippling patterns made by the water dripping off his face. When they called out the Beast’s name, he whispered it under his breath. He felt dizzy and feverish, his vision blurry. He clenched his eyes shut and waited for it to pass.
When he opened them again, the water had grown noticeably darker. The shadows he cast had turned an odd colour. Carter looked up at the sky —
— And cried out.
“No,” he moaned. He was trembling; a tightness in his throat made breathing almost impossible. He felt as though someone had taken him and tipped him upside down.
The sky had gone blood red, and the sun burned black as it rose above the horizon. A part of him, dark and deeply buried, saw this and rejoiced.
It was time.
A few miles out from shore, the sea began to churn like a pot aboil. The wind whipped at Carter’s hair. He heard Julie scream and saw her stumble into Henry’s arms, clutching him like a lamprey.
The salt water spray stung his eyes, but Carter could not avert his gaze from the dark, roiling waters of the ocean. He held his breath, heart aswell with anticipation. Henry cried something out, but his words were lost in the maelstrom.
“Hurry,” Carter whispered, “hurry, please hurry. I can’t wait any longer–”
He could see a shape at the centre of the storm, a dark writhing thing rising from the choppy waters. There was a scream of metal and stone, the sound of the world moving unnaturally, the miscarriage from its deepness of something horrific.
A great city rose from the ocean, ancient and alien. Its gunmetal grey surface shone strangely in the light of the black sun. Carter did not dare look at any spot for too long; its insectile architecture and unnatural angles made him feel ill. Water fell in great torrents from its unnatural planes.
Behind him, someone screamed. Carter whipped his head around and saw a woman he didn’t know squirming in the sand, clutching her head in pain. The cultists steadfastly ignored her. Carter gritted his teeth and turned his attentions back to the great structure unfolding before him.
Carter squinted and looked closer. He could see a dark shape emerge from the city’s centre, approaching them. It was still an indistinct blob in the distance, but Carter did not need for it to grow closer to know what — and who — it was.
He closed his eyes, but its face was burned in his memories, in his bones. It was the face he had seen in his dreams, his nightmares, his fantasies.
A crystalline bridge grew slowly from the city to the shore. It was narrow and angular like a knife-edge, and Carter stared, barely able to breathe as the Beast stepped lightly along its length to the sand. Carter could not take his eyes off it. In its own terrible way, the creature was– beautiful. The Beast had the face of an angel. Almost. Its eyes were clear and wide, the colour of the harvest moon, and its features were proudly aristocratic — but at the corners of its delicate mouth quivered small clusters of vestigial tentacles. It wore only a breechclout of rough leather, and intricately decorated copper bands adorned its upper arms. It had skin like emeralds in darkness, glinting in the strange light like snakeskin. Carter longed to touch it, to trace out the patterns made by the light.
The Beast’s long, black hair swayed in the breeze, catching on the spines along its atrophied wings, as it surveyed the beach and its rows of followers. A great hush had swept the crowd and to a man all dropped to their knees. Even the screaming woman had gone silent, though the howling wind still seemed to carry her ululations. Carter bit his lip. What were they waiting for?
Henry chose that moment to speak. He threw his hood back and raised his head to expose the long, pale line of his throat. “We–” his voice faltered. “We bring you a sacrifice as you once bid us, so long ago.”
The Beast moved like lightning. Claws and teeth flashing red in the black light, it tore open Henry’s throat and began to feast.
Carter clenched his eyes shut and bent his head. He bit his lip to keep himself from being sick; he hadn’t looked away in time. He knew he would never be able to forget the sight of of his cousin being eaten alive, of the beatific expression on Henry’s face as a great spray of blood jutted from his neck.
He whimpered in the darkness behind his own eyelids. Carter could hear them, could hear as that thing devoured them, one by one.
Inhumanly long fingers stroked his hair, combing it this way and that. The Beast’s claws nicked his scalp in places, but Carter could barely feel it. He didn’t dare open his eyes. Carter knew he would not die at the Beast’s hands as the others had; it had… different plans for him.
Carter whimpered; the Beast cupped his chin, carefully keeping its claws from digging into Carter’s skin. His breath coming in sharp bursts, Carter opened his eyes slowly. The Beast was regarding him, its expression completely blank. It was as if it wore this shape as a shell and wasn’t quite sure how it worked.
He stared at the square pupils in its yellow eyes, and the Beast looked at him, head cocked to the side like a dog. And then it moved suddenly close to him, like a striking snake. The feelers by its mouth tickled at his neck as it sniffed at him. Carter bit at his lip. The touch was alien but not unwelcome.
Its long hair hung down in front of Carter’s face, smelling of scented oils and spices. Carter closed his eyes. It pressed a long finger against Carter’s shoulder, and then moved it, dragging firmly across his skin to his clavicle.
The Beast pulled away from Carter’s neck and straightened. Carter stared up at it, a protest forming on his lips. It circled him slowly, once, and then a second time, stopping once it was behind him. It touched his hair again. Carter bent his head. He could feel a flush rise to his cheeks.
The sun was behind them. Carter could see the shadow the Beast cast on the wet sand. It bent closer to his manacles and lifted a finger to–
Sharp burning pain flared though Carter’s wrists. He toppled to the ground and scrambled away from the Beast — and it wasn’t until he was a few feet away that he realised that his hands had been freed. He collapsed to the ground, and rolled over onto his back, examing his wrists. There were bands of red welts just below his hands, but they barely hurt at all. Carter took a deep breath and looked up at the Beast.
It stepped closer, and touched his shirt again. Hesitantly, Carter reached up and stroked the skin on the back of its hand. It looked down and then back at Carter. Its gaze had hardened to diamond sharpness, and Carter almost recoiled. Until this moment, all he had seen of the Beast was the shell it wore to walk amongst mortals. Now he was finally looking at a fragment of its immortal essence.
With a few swift strokes, it tore the clothes from Carter’s body. He shivered at the cold. The sand clung to his body in patches.
The Beast shoved him onto his back and clung roughly to his hips. Carter was breathing heavily. He cursed. There was sand everywhere — up his nose, down his ass, on his cock–
It slid its hand gently down Carter’s length, brushing it clean. It wrapped its fingers around the base, and began to stroke it slowly, up and down with a delicate, careful pressure. Carter moaned and bucked his hips. The Beast’s touch was like the softest silk, cool against the heat of his mounting desire.
When the Beast dropped its hand away, Carter nearly tried to force it back. He let out a primal moan and balled his fists in the sand.
The Beast unknotted its breechclout and let it drop to the ground. Carter stared in shocked, disgust mingling with his arousal. He knew he shouldn’t have expected an emissary of the gods to be like a normal man. Between its legs, the Beast had a great cluster of writhing tentacles.
Carter almost tried to scruttle away, but the Beast caught his hips and held him immobile. It smiled at him, and Carter felt that same edge of fear creep into him.
The Beast bent over him, and the tentacles engirdled his waist. They surrounded his cock and slid inside him, stroking him, as soft as any mouth. Carter clung to the Beast for dear life, lost in sensation. It stroked and squeezed, throbbing inside him, drawing him slowly to the edge of pleasure.
He came swift and suddenly, like a bursting dam.
Carter sunk into the sand, drained. The Beast, however, looked essentially unchanged.
And then Carter saw its eyes. And he couldn’t breathe. The frightening, knowing look he’d seen in the Beast’s eyes for only a few moments at a time had returned.
The Beast looked like a man who had risen from a very long sleep, rested and finally, fully awake.
It rose gracefully to its feet, and Carter could do nothing but watch it. The Beast lifted its arms high above its head, tossed out its hair– and spoke.
Its voice was like an avalanche. The world shook.
The sky… the sky was being rended apart, torn by something great and dark hanging in the sky above them. Carter could see into the rifts, and saw colours no human mind should be able to understand, shapes that were not geometrically possible.
Things were emerging from the holes in the sky.
The Old Ones had returned to Earth.
Carter looked upon them and knew madness.