As soon as he heard that horrifying scream, Deni DeMarco grabbed his Beretta from his night stand and leaped out of bed. He could hear the flapping of the creature's wings outside the window, even as it bumped against the glass. Cautiously, he reached into his dresser and removed a large anodized sound suppressor, screwing it onto the gun's barrel. As he approached the window, he gazed through the glass and--spying the creature--took aim and fired without hesitation.
The loud crack of the bullet flying through the air blended with the breaking glass. Though the shot destroyed the creature's skull, it flew into the room anyway, blindly bouncing off the walls. With one more shot, the creature went down, dying in a vicious spasm on the wooden floor, staining it with sickening black blood.
Deni grabbed a broom and used it to pin the tail, which twisted about, its sharp, fin-like scales scratching the floor. He noticed a thick spine protruding from the base, and he pulled back in disgust. He'd seen the creature in one of his books, and he knew its presence was a bad sign.
To be sure, he studied the body from afar. It vaguely resembled a pterosaur, but with no legs or eyes; it had a single claw at the very end of each wing, which was small and useless. The creature's long neck was covered in deep grooves, and while its mouth held nasty teeth, it was little more than a hole in its face, from which a long whip-like tongue hung lifelessly.
“Cygnokista,” Deni said. “Shit.” He stomped on the corpse, crushing it beyond recognition, and picking the mangled body up he carried it tot he back porch where he doused it in alcohol and set it ablaze. As he stood in the doorway watching the corpse burn, his disgust began to give way to fear. The boxed swan was a known harbinger of unrest, feeding on public fear and fueling violence. Though exceptionally rare, they were known to appear before particularly vicious riots. There was never only one, either; they were like cockroaches, difficult to clear out of an area they had infested, and always being accompanied by countless others that lurked in the darkness away from sight.
A cold shiver ran down his spine. Something was going to happen, something brutal, and it would fill Calusa Shores with chaos. Deni didn't want to be there when whatever was brewing broke free. He had to get out of town, and fast.
He rushed into his bedroom, haphazardly throwing clothes in a duffel bag. Running out to the shed, he grabbed a pair of water purifiers and a few plastic bottles, topping the kit off with a pocket knife and a hatchet. He considered grabbing a sleeping bag, but decided against it--he should stick to building his own shelter, if necessary. But as he carried the bat toward the front door, something clicked, and he dropped it.
Pepper's visit should have been a red flag from the beginning. She was never interested in his books; the idea of a supernatural world was, in her words, “Bullshit.” She hated the idea of an otherworldly power, and had stated many times that belief in such things was beneath her. It should have been obvious to him, especially when she asked for that book.
It wasn't a coincidence, and that terrified the hell out of him. There were only three books in the Visea Arcana; each had only one subject, and none of them could be avoided simply by leaving town. If the Cygnokista was there for the same reason Pepper came, heading into the wilderness would accomplish nothing.
Leaning on the door, he placed his head in his hands and sighed. “I need a fucking drink,” he said.
* * *
The sun was setting in the meadow, filling the sky with brilliant canvas of oranges, reds and yellows. It was gorgeous, but despite that Jacob Niles could not take the time to admire it. Time was running out, and the day that Dheania would make her move was fast approaching. They stood no chance, a group of pitiful mortals facing off against an ancient and vindictive god. Even if they did, they had no idea how to defeat her, and would likely die trying. Or worse.
None of that really mattered though. A more pressing issue was on his mind. He was lost, far away from civilization, with the nearest person likely a days walk in any direction. He tried to gather his bearings. The meadow appeared to be close to marshland. The sky, though darkening, was flaring like fire. The ground was soggy, and covered in rotting grass, and sawgrass peppered the landscape everywhere he turned.
There were rocks, each one easily distinguishable, and all of them featuring strange symbols carved into their faces. But time and moss had caused though carving to fade, making them hard to identify. He reached down to clear one of the stones, only for it to dissolve at his touch. The liquid turned dark red, draining into the soaked ground, leaving behind a thin layer of pink foam.
The area was now filled with a faint buzzing, like a swarm of mosquitoes had engulfed him. The wind seemed to whisper in a strange voice, speaking arcane truths that he could not understand. As he watched, the already burning sky seemed to catch fire, but there was no smoke or ashes in the air. Then he felt a sharp sting in his leg, and his body began to go numb. He collapsed to the ground, his breathing becoming shallow and strained, and at once the buzzing grew very loud.
He was unable to move, but he could still see, and he watched in horror as a swarm of unidentifiable insects began to crawl across his body. Even with the numbness, he could feel their sharp feet as they covered him, and he could feel their jaws chewing on his flesh. The insects began to dig into his nose and ears, and soon he could taste their acidic bodies. They crawled down his throat, into his chest, and he could feel them chewing at the walls of his stomach and lungs, suffocating him and eating him from the inside out.
He woke with a exacerbated gasp, his body still paralyzed. He was on Devon's couch, staring up at the darkened ceiling only barely lit by the TV. Soon his body allowed him to move, and Jacob pulled himself upright. He reached for a glass of water that sat on the coffee table, trying to steady his shaking hand.
Same old dream, he thought. It'd plagued him for years, ever since he first read the Tome Kataklysma. A combination of literary horror and an assault mind fueled them, from the very night he opened the old book. It was that same affliction that led to his predecessor's suicide and caused the failed attempts to burn the book in the first century, but even the Vatican could not destroy the tome, and its would be burners lost their lives instead. The book, it seemed, wanted to exist, it protected itself in any way it could. It waited patiently for a soul to tell its story to, but it pulled no punches when someone stood up to the plate.
As he took a sip, he began to wonder if keeping those details from his family was a good idea. Granted, what he had told them was enough to keep them from trying to burn it, and Devon would not bother trying to sell a book that was so problematic. Still, the cost of reading the Tome Kataklysma was not light, and the horror it contained was sealed within the very writing itself.
He sighed. Fumbling in the darkness, he grabbed the remote and began switching channels.
“You're awake,” a voice said, coming from the kitchen door. Jacob turned to see Fiona, her eyes filled with the same exhaustion and anxiety that plagued him.
“Yeah,” Jacob said. “Couldn't sleep.”
“Big day tomorrow,” Fiona said. She gazed at the clock and shook her head. “Well, today.”
“Has Steven told you the details?”
“Nah,” Fiona said. She took a seat next to Jacob, and casually took the remote from him. “He probably won't, either. I do know what dad bought, and that's enough for me to know it's not for me.”
“Okay,” Jacob said, pushing himself up off the couch. He stepped into the kitchen. He wanted tea, and he knew Devon would keep some around, but as he gazed at the cabinets lining the walls he couldn't quite figure out where to look. He shrugged and opened the cabinet above the stove, only to find himself staring at a multitude of pastas.
“Need any help?”
Jacob turned to see Fiona in the doorway. “I just thought I'd make some tea,” he said.
“Earl Grey or English Breakfast?” she asked, reaching for a door near the stove.
“Earl,” Jacob said. He hated the term English Breakfast--it wasn't used in England, where they preferred a tea American brands liked to mislabel as Orange Pekoe, but he knew what to expect from Earl Grey, and he knew Devon would not buy the cheaper blends.
“Okay,” Fiona said. She opened the door to the sound of wings flapping, and she dove to floor screaming. Jacob looked up--a small bat was fluttering around, bouncing off the corners of the ceiling. Before he could react, he heard Devon racing down the stairs, and when Carter asked what was wrong he could do nothing but point at the small creature.
“Damn it,” Devon said, shaking his head. “Just come out of here and shut the door. Not much I can do until morning.” Then he reached down and grabbed Fiona by the shoulders, escorting her out of the room. At the doorway, he stopped and turned to Jacob, who was still busy staring at the creature. “Something wrong?”
“Why didn't it go out?” Jacob asked.
“Bats are nocturnal. It should be hunting at this hour.”
Devon stepped back in the room. “Well, maybe the hole it used to get into my pantry wasn't accessible. Maybe it got stuck.” He frowned. “Or maybe it's sick. Come on; God himself won't save you if it gives you rabies.”