“Blake should be here,” Daniel muttered as he gazed out the window at the passing countryside. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“I told you,” Darrek said. “I don’t want anything to do with her.”
Daniel looked back at Darrek, exasperated. “How long are we going to continue this mess?”
“Enough, the both of you,” came a voice from the back seat. Dr. Armedt, leader of the Pittsburgh Chapter House of the Rosicrucian Order, leaned forward. “Darrek is right, whatever his reasons may be. We don’t need the other Covenants involved on this. At least, not yet.”
Darrek glanced at Daniel, then directed his eyes back to the road. “We’re agreed on one thing,” he said. “I have a bad feeling about this, too.”
They drove in silence for about twenty minutes, until at last they came to a long stretch of rural road—Mayview Road. The sense of power was growing, and it wasn’t good power.
“What the Hell is going on here?” Daniel said.
Armedt grunted. “All we know is that somehow, suddenly, this place exploded with power last night. Something’s going on here, and the Rosicrucians seem to be the only ones privy to it.”
“Not surprising,” Darrek said. “The rest of the Covenants in this town have been in disarray for years. Even still…why here? There’s not even a building left. It’s just an…empty… field.”
The car slowed and ground to a halt.
“You sure about that?” Daniel said.
There, in front of them, in what was for half a decade nothing more than a field of rubble, stood an enormous mansion-like building, somewhere between Gothic and Victorian in style, its crumbling superstructure and peeling paint appearing to sit in utter darkness even though it was mid-afternoon, the sun shining brightly from a clear sky.
“That,” Darrek said, “Is not right.” He turned to Armedt, “Okay, so there’s a gigantic building here, which most certainly is not Mayview State Hospital. And there shouldn’t be a building here at all. And there’s some sort of dark magic surrounding the place. It’s not Taint. It’s not Sadicas. I don’t know about you all, but I vote we get the Hell out of here.”
“Unfortunately for you,” Armedt said, “This isn’t a democracy. We go in.”
“I’m kind of with Darrek on this,” Daniel said. “There’s something very wrong with this. We should come back with an entire cabal.”
Armedt shook his head. “We don’t even know what we’re dealing with. I’m not risking a cabal until we’ve got more information. The three of us is enough of a risk. We’ll have a look, then get out. But we’re going in.”
Darrek and Daniel looked at each other. “We’re going in,” they said together.
Darrek pulled the car up to the chained gateway that barred entrance to the site, along with a broken-down sign reading NO ENTRY. Dr. Armedt stepped out of the car, spoke an invocation and waved his hand over the gate. The chain unlocked and dropped to the ground; the gate swung open, and Darrek drove in. He pulled up to a spot about fifty yards away from the structure and stopped. Daniel shot him a questioning glance.
Darrek shrugged. “I just got this thing washed and detailed. I don’t know what’s in there.”
Daniel nodded. “Fair enough,” he said.
They got out as Armedt walked to meet them. The trio stood before the massive building for a moment, taking in the scene. Then, as one, they strode forward. A wave of uncomfortable, sickening energy washed over them, and Darrek felt the overwhelming desire to giggle for no apparent reason. A random and distinctly unpleasant thought washed over his mind: Is this how Sam felt? It was all he could do not to turn and run back to his Rav4 and gun it the Hell out of here.
Armedt, ever one to lead from the front, stepped forward and pushed on the door, which opened without resistance, but gave a loud, creaking groan as the ancient hinges struggled. Rust fell to the floor in powdery clouds. Inside, the place smelled of decay and death…old death. Centuries of death. The sensation of madness contained within the Essence signature of the place was worse inside and Daniel let out a childlike squeal, followed by a maddening chortle. The other two looked at him and he went sheepish.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m not sure where that came from.”
“I am,” Darrek said. “What kind of magic is this?”
“Alien magic,” Armedt said. “Something new. Something very unpleasant.”
That was when the first of the spirits came—an old woman in a broken down wheelchair, rocketing towards them and screaming for help. The three men froze in place as the spirit passed right through them, sending a painful chill throughout their bodies.
Daniel frowned. “I told you we should’ve called Blake.”
“Nothing for it, now,” Armedt said.
“I think we’ve seen enough,” Darrek said. “Let’s just bring a few other mages here and shut this place down.”
Armedt shook his head. “We don’t know what this place is, what made it appear, not even a clue what’s going on. Until we have more information we don’t have the means, and possibly not even the power, to shut it down. Come on, gentlemen.” He strode forward with a grim purpose.
“That’s not good,” Darrek said.
“Hmm?” Daniel replied.
“His eyes,” Darrek whispered. “Did you see his eyes? He’s not rational Daniel.”
“Allah doesn’t like when we speak in whispers,” Armedt called from the next room. “Now come!”
Daniel strode ahead. Darrek threw his hands in the air and said, “This is insane!” but followed his companions forward.
He heard the screams before he passed through the next doorway—nigh inhuman screams that nevertheless and unmistakably belonged to Daniel and Armedt. Forgetting his better instincts and always one to rush towards danger against his better judgment, Darrek ran full tilt into the next room…
…and the world turned upside down.
At first he saw nothing but an empty dining room. Then, the table was covered with old, rotting food and full of flies. A roasted pig, long rotted, spun on the table and barked at him like a dog, spittle and snot and pus-colored ichor spraying towards him. Colors bombarded his senses—shades of gray, of yellow, of red, in dead, sickly shades. The walls vanished; there was nothing but colored mists—red, gray, yellow—surrounding him. The ground beneath his feet was invisible, spongy and the smell of rot assaulted his nose, along with an underlying odor, something sick, sweet, perfumed, decayed and somehow alluring. It was unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. It was the smell of something that had no smell, not in the rational world.
It was the smell, he realized, of sheer madness.
The screams continued somewhere in the mists. “Daniel,” he called. “Dr. Armedt! Where are you?”
The answer was indistinct, guttural, desperate. The only word he could pick out from the ululations was, “help!”
Darrek ran into the mists, passing spirits upon spirits of people, some dead in the past ten years, some hundreds of years gone, but all in torture and madness. The energy here, the Essence, he realized, was indeed something new. It was the very stuff of madness, decay and death. It was an energy fed by these energies, corrupting everything it touched.
And there was no way out.
As he moved blindly through, the mists vanished and he fell face-first into a room. Darrek pulled himself to his knees and looked around. The room was familiar, yet at the same time alien, a dark corruption of a place he knew too well. There, before him, a boy of around eighteen sat rocking back and forth, his back to Darrek.
“Sam?” Darrek said. “Sam, is that you?”
He reached out, and the boy suddenly spun. Darrek fell back in horror at the sight. It was Sam, but his complexion was severely jaundiced, his face covered with cuts. He was chewing on his fingers—no, chewing off the tips of his fingers. Darrek reached for the hand to pull it away, but Sam skittered back.
“Sam!” Darrek said. “Stop it! What are you doing? What’s wrong?”
“She’s coming!” Sam said. It was the first words Darrek had heard from the boy in two years, and they weren’t words he ever wanted to hear.
“Sam!” he said…and then Sam was gone.
Darrek was in another room, a large, empty room with no furniture. Another man was there, with wild, greasy red hair that had been torn out in chunks. He was restrained, but Darrek couldn’t see where the restraints originated. He, too, rocked back and forth, and he was shirtless, with two enormous, long and deep wounds down either side of his back, from shoulder-blades to waist. There were strange markings covering his back, markings that after a moment Darrek recognized as Enochian in origin, but they were shifting, indistinct, and he couldn’t read the words.
The man spun, and Darrek was horrified again. The front of the man was also covered in those strange, shifting marks, and his eyes had been clawed from his face.
“They don’t understand!” the man cried. “I am an angel! An angel…in a psych ward!”
The walls caved in, then, and the screams from Daniel and Armedt were audible once more. The mists were back, but now, suddenly, there were hands—gray, rotted, decayed hands grasping at Darrek from everywhere. He fought against them, called upon his most powerful magics, to no avail. At length, he screamed, his own howls joining his companions. It was then that he felt another influence, something bolstering his magic, something increasing his own power. He had the image in his mind. An image of another boy he’d seen on occasion, following him. A powerful boy, helping him, boosting his power. A boy who in turn needed help.
Everything went pure white, and Darrek screamed, then all was dark again.
- * *
When Darrek came to, he was laying face-down on the ground in the middle of a field of rubble, the former site of Mayview State Hospital. A man was shaking him.
“Hey, you awake?” The man said.
Darrek sat up. His head was pounding. Everything was fuzzy and for a moment he couldn’t remember where he was, how he’d gotten here. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“This is private property,” the man said. “You’re not allowed here.”
That was when everything came back to him, in graphic detail. Darrek sprang to his feet and looked around. The building…it was still there, but faint, indistinct and ghostly. He could hear the screams still echoing from inside. His friends, begging him for help.
“Do you see that?” he asked, pointing. “Do you hear it?”
The man looked around, confused. “I don’t see nothing. You sure you’re okay?”
Darrek stamped his foot. “Goddammit!” he said, then took a breath. “Yes. I’m fine. I’m sorry to have trespassed. I’ll leave.”
He got into his Rav 4 and started it up. He laid his head on the steering wheel and tried to think of other options—any other options. But there weren’t any. The kind of help he needed, he’d probably only get from one place.
“Gods damn you, Blake,” he said, and drove away.