11 – The Spurned Abyss
“Calis…” Thunder clapped. Alex opened his eyes. “Let’s get rid of them.”
“As you wish.”
The fish creatures lunged with claws outstretched, their stench suffocating, and Alex flinched as his back pressed into the doorway behind him. Nowhere to run. Calis’ eyes surged red and he snapped his fingers. The sound sliced through the rain just as a webbed talon scratched towards Alex, light glinting off its edge.
Then it was gone.
Rain drummed down on an empty street, with no sign of any fish creatures. Alex gulped down a breath. His knees shook with relief but his head swam. Dizzy.
“What happened?” Nathan hesitated a step forwards, his fists clenched.
“I sent them away.” Calis beamed with his hair plastered to his face and caught Alex’s eye with a grin. “Cool, huh?”
Calis had done that. They had done that, together. Giddiness rushed through Alex and he fought the urge to hug Calis. He had to concentrate. Get to Melody at the college. Sort this whole mess out.
“We need to run.” Alex took a step forwards but his vision dipped, his head light.
Calis spared him an anxious glance. “Are you okay?”
“Guys.” Nathan’s face paled and he pointed down the street.
A herd of fish creatures bounded around a corner down the street, yapping and howling. Beady eyes snapped towards Alex and the creatures screeched. Ten, fifteen of them, the same ones from before.
Alex backed against Calis. “I thought you sent them away.”
“The more things I teleport, the less far they go.” Calis scratched the back of his neck.
“We can do something else,” Alex said. They had to. “What if we—”
A fish creature broke ahead of the others and pounced. Its face met Calis’ foot full on and the creature flopped to the ground with a crack. Gangly arms twitched. Still alive.
“Just teleport us to the college!” Nathan cried.
Calis blinked. “Oh, right.” He glanced at Alex.
Alex chanced a look up the high street. More fish creatures clambered towards them but the townsfolk seemed to have all found refuge indoors.
“Do it.” Alex nodded.
“Quickly,” Nathan said.
“Okay.” Calis squeezed his eyes shut.
The world blinked around them and Alex suddenly stood in the college field, up to his ankles in mud. Wind battered the shrubs lining the edge of the field and Alex could see the sea, a raging grey beyond the campus. Apart from them, the field was empty.
Alex’s eyebrow twitched. “Couldn’t you have teleported us inside?”
“I’ve never been inside,” Calis said.
Nathan sighed. “Let’s just find Melody.”
Alex took a step forward. The world tilted.
It was only Calis’ superhuman speed that stopped Alex from faceplanting straight into the mud. The energy fled Alex’s body at once and his muscles sagged, his knees shaking like clothes in a washing machine. Or was it a drying machine that shook? Alex’s brain spun.
“Hi.” Alex’s voice wobbled. “I feel like clothes.”
Nathan swore. “He’s snapped.”
“He’s exhausted,” Calis said. “I’m sorry. I should have known this magic was too much for you.”
Calis had his arm snaked around Alex’s torso and Alex didn’t want to lean against him, didn’t want to breathe his scent or sink into his warmth, but he was so weak his body could barely move on its own.
You shouldn’t be the one apologising.
Instead, all Alex managed was: “You’re sorry.”
Nathan lead the way around the psychology block and the three of them slipped into the main building. Silence. The air was so still it made Alex’s heart clench, rain pounding on the roof above him, and the corridors were emptier than a mortuary. A flash of lightning cut through the intermittent flickering of the lights.
“Where do you think Melody is?” Nathan said.
Calis sniffed. “The cafeteria.”
Nathan nodded. “This way.”
Alex crept down the corridor with Calis’ help, adrenaline racing through his blood. Rainwater dripped from his clothes and his trainers squelched with each step, leaving a trail of mud in his wake. They would be easy to follow. Easy to ambush. Alex swallowed.
“So…” Nathan hesitated. “You’re both sorcerers?”
“Alex is the sorcerer,” Calis said. “I’m an incubus.”
Nathan glanced sideways at him with an eyebrow quirked, his lips curled in amusement. “A sex demon?”
“No,” Alex and Calis said at the same time. Alex’s face heated.
“Think of me as a genie,” Calis said.
Calis’ presence was a burning flame by Alex’s side, his entire body radiating heat. The fiercer that heat grew, though, the more sluggish Alex became. Comfortable. As if he could fall asleep at any moment.
“The cafeteria is just through the stairwell,” Nathan said.
Nathan pushed open the door. A shadow of movement up the steps.
Alex’s blood ran cold.
“One moment,” Calis whispered in Alex’s ear. He lay Alex against the wall so he could support himself and ice rushed back through Alex’s body.
Calis moved faster than Alex’s eyes could follow. He leapt up the stairs and something screeched, followed by a heavy thud. Nausea swirled through Alex but he pushed it down and gritted his teeth.
Something flumped to the bottom of the staircase. Scales and slime. Panic cut through Alex’s exhaustion and he jerked to his feet.
Calis jumped down and landed with a heel on the fish creature before it could stand, however, his fist raised and flames trailing from his eyes. A nightmare incarnate.
And the fish creature squeaked.
It didn’t yap, nor growl, but squeaked. Like a human.
Calis hesitated. “Come again?”
The fish creature cowered, shielding its head with its arms. “Don’t hurt me!” Its voice was a rasp, a guttural mess of sounds, but it was intelligible.
Nathan gaped. “They speak English.”
“I’m harmless, I promise!” The creature shook so badly its blubber jiggled, its teeth clattering in fright.
Alex held onto the wall as he leaned forward, some strength returning to his body. This fish creature’s eyes beaded with that same intelligence the giant penguins had, only a lot less deadly. It reeked of brine and seaweed, but watching it tremble like this was kind of… pathetic.
“You can speak.” Calis squared his shoulders.
“We can all speak,” the creature said. “The others just… aren’t very good at it.”
“And you are?” Alex raised his eyebrow.
The fish creature scratched its face. “I like to watch humans.”
Alex’s skin crawled.
“Okay, let’s kill it,” Nathan said.
“Good idea,” Alex agreed. Who knew how many times this thing had been watching him on his way to college, stalking him with fishy eyes? His stomach turned just thinking about it.
“Wait!” the creature cried. “I can help you! I have valuable information!”
Calis hesitated. “What information?”
The fish creature stuttered. “Uh… Like… Our master!”
It was at that moment that the other door slammed open and a streak of blue cut through the room. Nathan cried out and Melody froze with her blade inches from Calis’ neck, her eyes wide beneath her visor.
“Calis.” Melody lowered her blade and her eyes flicked to Alex and Nathan. A sigh of relief. “Thank logic you’re all safe.”
Alex waved a limp hand. “You too.”
Nathan bit his lip as he stared at Melody’s sword. His eyes held equal parts terror and fascination.
“So…” Nathan cleared his throat. “You’re magic, too?”
“I’m a Knight.” Melody locked her jaw. “It’s my job to keep humanity safe.”
Nathan laughed nervously. “You’re doing a great job so far.”
Melody’s eyebrow twitched and she pushed past Calis to grab the fish creature by its arm, dragging it effortlessly into the cafeteria. The creature clattered into chairs as Melody shoved it to the floor with a growl. It scrambled to its feet, edging as far away from Melody and Calis as it could.
Dread shot down Alex’s spine.
All but one of the cafeteria windows had shattered. Broken glass strewed the floor and a shimmering blue line was slashed along the sea wall outside. Beyond the line? A legion of fish creatures poured over the sea wall, clambering across one another in a mad bid to reach dry land. They screeched as they pressed up against the blue line, however, trapped hopelessly against an invisible wall.
Calis whistled. “That’s a powerful ward.”
“I know.” Melody shot Nathan a glare. “I’m doing all I can to get rid of the Shallows, but I’m only one person.”
Nathan gulped. “Sorry.”
Melody shook her head, flicking strands of loose hair out of her face. She looked weary, scratched and bruised, and one of her leg plates was cracked in two. Alex’s stomach twisted. As capable as Melody was, she was still only one person. He couldn’t let her fight on her own.
“How can we help?” Alex said.
“What the hell is actually happening?” Nathan said.
Melody gestured to the sea with her sword. “Shallow Ones. Shambling fish people that populate the Earth’s abysses, existing in that twilight zone between human perception and the real world.”
“They are technically native,” Calis pointed out.
“So are cockroaches, but that doesn’t mean they should be,” Melody scoffed.
Alex exchanged a glance with Nathan. At least the fish creatures had a name now.
“Left to their own devices, Shallows are incredibly stupid,” Melody continued. “The only reason they’re ever capable of staging an attack like this is when they serve a master.”
Melody said the words with such venom it didn’t take much to guess what she meant.
“An abomination.” Alex shuddered.
Melody nodded. “Reverted logic, at least, or perhaps even Divine.”
Fear twisted through Alex’s stomach. Another outer god, just like Hana? Like Kari? How would they ever face against something like that?
“So…” Calis folded his arms and turned to the Shallow. “Spill it.”
The Shallow’s shoulders sagged. “What do you want to know.”
“Who’s your master?” Melody demanded.
Calis sucked in a breath. “The nine-headed goddess of water.”
Shit. Alex did not like the sound of that, especially when they were right next to the bloody sea.
“No, that’s Hydra.” The Shallow shook its head. “Hydro is Hydra’s consort.”
So not a nine-headed goddess of water?
“That sounds really stupid,” Nathan said.
The Shallow made a non-committal gesture.
“Stupid or not, if he’s Hydra’s consort he’s still a god, however minor.” Melody rubbed her temples, her face grim. “An inquisition force are on their way, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold the Shallows off. If Hydro attacks as well…”
“I’ll deal with Hydro,” Kari said.
Alex flinched and Nathan jumped a step back, his eyes wide.
“Where did you come from?” Nathan blanched.
“The door,” Kari said.
Kari stood so still the world seemed to writhe about her, her eyes blazing emeralds. Water drenched her clothes and droplets traced her skin, a puddle quickly forming beneath her feet. No wet footprints led from her to the door.
Alex smiled in relief. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“We need all the help we can get,” Melody agreed, if a little stiffly.
“Let me guess,” Nathan said. “You’re a sorceress?”
Kari gave him a thumbs up.
Melody twirled her blade and it sang through the air, a trace of blue light. “We just need to hold off the Shallows until the inquisition force get here, and hope Hydro doesn’t show up.”
Alex nodded. An army was coming; Rilhey would be safe. They just had to last until then.
“What happened to the Shallows by the cove?” Calis asked Kari.
The sea wall was deserted. Terror gripped Alex, almost as black as when that cultist had trapped him in his basement. Bile rose to the back of his throat.
“They’ve fled,” Nathan breathed.
“No,” Melody growled.
The talking Shallow fell to the ground, scratching its face with its claws. “He’s coming!”
Melody’s ward blinked. An ear-splitting roar tore through the atmosphere and the storm jerked. Raindrops hung in the air, unmoving. The sea lay still as a corpse.
The ward shattered.
A gargantuan shape breached the ocean surface, a great mass of twisted scales and scissoring fangs. Eyes burst open, each one a hollow indigo, and the abomination pulled itself into the shape of a coiling serpent. The raindrops fell all at once, a hail-like onslaught.
To be perfectly honest, Alex had been expecting worse.
“Holy fuck.” Nathan covered his mouth. His body shook. “That… That’s…”
“Yes, he is rather small,” Kari said.
Hydro’s countless mouths gaped and a tidal wave of sound crashed out, jittering with some kind of dread sibilance. Meaning brushed the edge of Alex’s mind, an alien intelligence so profound he felt his soul shake. Or perhaps just the soul-bond.
“He’s going to destroy Rilhey.” Melody clutched her blade with trembling hands. The symbols on her armour burned electric, a kaleidoscope of circles and squares. Ghosts echoed through her eyes.
“Agreed.” Kari narrowed her eyes. “He’s very insistent on it.”
Calis gulped. “As if he hasn’t already.”
Melody dashed towards the sea wall in a flash of light and Calis ran after her. A stab of fear. Calis had his fire, though. He’d be fine, even without Alex’s help. It was all Alex could do to shuffle forwards, exhaustion still chaining his limbs, and Nathan kept mumbling under his breath something about how they were all going to die.
“I’m glad you’re alright.” Kari kept pace with Alex.
“Thank you.” A weak smile.
Alex and Nathan hovered by the broken windows, just beyond the rain’s downpour, but Kari stepped out to the sea wall. Alex had the faint realisation the talking Shallow had scampered off somewhere, but he had more eldritch problems to worry about.
“We have to stop Hydro here.” Calis clenched his fists.
“We have to distract him,” Melody said. “Kari, can you communicate with him and keep him occupied?”
Alex crunched broken glass under his shoes. Kari was an outer god herself; she should be more than capable of matching Hydro’s powers. If she revealed herself now, however, Melody would know the truth. Or worse, the inquisition force could find out.
The Knights would kill her.
“Of course I can.” Kari opened her mouth. She closed it. “Actually, I can’t speak with abominations. That’s not a human thing.”
Melody jabbed her with her eyes. “Don’t you know any rituals?”
“Ah yes.” Kari blinked. “A ritual.”
Alex’s stomach twisted. Kari had likely never performed any kind of ritual in her life. Hydro screeched and a scaled tendril curled under the waves. Blubbery masses of Shallow Ones lurked just below the shore. Thunder boomed.
Kari snapped her arms out either side of her, her palms perpendicular to the ground. Her eyes burned. “Ha!” She twisted in a circle then clapped her hands twice and bowed at a ninety-degree angle.
Calis cleared his throat.
Kari nodded. “I can speak with him now.”
The scaled tendril snaked onto the shore, a lump of pebbled flesh. The ground shook.
“Hurry!” Melody cried.
Kari hopped onto the sea wall and glared up at Hydro. “What do you want?” Her voice bounded outwards, a resounding whisper, and for a moment Alex thought he saw a flicker of green around her form.
Hydro roared and Alex covered his ears. Spots danced in his vision.
“She did?” Kari cocked her head.
“Oh.” Kari frowned. “I see.”
“What is it?” Calis said.
Kari turned back to them, her face impassive. “Hydra left him.”
“What?” Melody faltered.
“Hydra broke up with him and went back to Neptune,” Kari repeated. “Hydro thinks he can win her back with a bit of conquering.”
“Correction,” Kari said. “Hydro knows he can win her back.”
All of this was some eldritch lovers’ spat? It was too ridiculous to be real, so mad that his brain could barely comprehend it.
“I’ve gone insane.” Nathan clutched his hair.
“I passed that point long ago,” was all Alex could say.
Two more colossal tendrils flopped onto the beach and trees flattened in their wake, a section of the sea wall by the college crumbling completely. Rubble splintered the ground.
“We have to stop him!” Melody’s voice was frantic. “Rilhey—”
She never got a chance to finish.
A blinding circle exploded through the sky. Tessellating patterns scorched through the air and a horrifying pressure gathered, like the heavens themselves were falling. The circle pulsed.
A column of light erupted downwards—straight onto Hydro. The outer god shrieked, a noise so shrill the remaining window shattered. Alex covered his eyes. Shards of glass cut across his arms.
Half of Hydro’s body was gone. Evaporated.
Black blood pumped into the sea and Hydro lunged towards the circle in the sky, all of its myriad fangs bared.
Alex fell to his knees. Too much.
The circle blazed and a second beam of light caught Hydro head-on. A fetid stench and the sound of sizzling flesh filled the air. Blood and viscera rained along the seafront.
Hydro was gone.
Alex could only watched as armoured figures flooded into Rilhey, decked in neon reds, greens and blues. Melody’s arms sagged. Her bottom lip trembled.
Alex’s stomach dropped.
The inquisition force.