Unleashed by Xephos

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
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Submitted: October 07, 2009

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Submitted: October 07, 2009

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James staggered out onto the moonlit pavement, panted for a few moments, then ran down the empty street. He moved like a desperate man, his eyes staring, his heavy boots splashing water from shallow puddles. He had gone beyond the point where he cared about elegance and his mouth hung open, taking huge gulps of air, a thin line of saliva running down his chin.

After forty yards he thundered to a standstill then bent over and grabbed his knees, taking ragged breaths. His pounding heart jarred in his head and his eyes felt itchy and dry. Biting back the urge to vomit, he risked a look over his shoulder – nothing had followed, but it was too quiet. His ears were ringing in the silence, where moments ago the noise had been deafening.

It wasn't until the last song that things had started getting really weird. No, he’d noticed it earlier than that, but hell, he hadn't expected anything to actually happen. In the sharp night air he could smell smoke, his clothes and long hair reeked of it, but it was not the cigarette smoke he was used to. It smelled sweeter and greasy, like burned fat.

His blood turned to ice. Something was coming out of the doorway. Cold terror gripping him, he took a shuddering breath, turned, and forced himself into a shambling run.

The creature covered the distance in seconds.


* * *


"Dude, get up! We're going to be late!"

James lifted his eyelids with an effort and blinked. Had he been dreaming? He couldn't remember, but he was sweating. He pushed off his duvet and rubbed his eyes. A slit of light was streaming through a gap in the curtains, illuminating dancing particles of dust. He picked up a pair of jeans off the floor and pulled them on, then opened a drawer and took out a t-shirt and sweater. He stretched and yawned, then called hoarsely,

"Alright, alright, I’m coming!"

"Hurry up!" came the reply from downstairs. As James quickly dressed he heard the front door open. The same voice spoke, but more quietly this time.

"Oh. Hi Eve. James is still in bed."

"Lazy boy. Let's go?"

"Yeah."

As the door swung closed James considered going back to bed. The temptation was almost overwhelming, but he fought it - he had already missed too many lectures this year. He grabbed his bag, pulled a dark woollen hat over his matted hair and hurried out.

Squinting in the dim sunshine, he could see Shaun and Eve walking briskly at the end of the road. He considered jogging to catch up, but decided against it. Eve was looking up at Shaun and leaning close, talking brightly. It was a cold morning and he could see her breath curling in white jets. As they turned a corner, Shaun reached over to put his arm around her. James felt a lump form in his throat. He knew it was stupid to feel jealous, but he couldn’t help it.

They had met her two weeks ago at the Rishma. Shaun worked there in the evenings, which mainly involved ensuring the fuses didn’t blow after the first chord and turning the lights off at the end. The Rishma had a capacity of around 600 and hosted a wide variety of bands, usually local metal groups. James tended to come along under the pretence of ‘helping to set up’ then sit in the stage lighting booth on the balcony. Most of the bands had no need for fancy lighting, so as long as James didn’t touch anything, no one minded. It was quiet in there, and if the bands were terrible or the crowd consisted only of sweaty men, James could put his feet up and smoke.

During a particularly mediocre gig, while carrying four bottles of lager back from the bar, James had bumped into a short girl who promptly dropped her glass on the floor. She was younger than James, perhaps nineteen, her straight black hair framing a pale but pretty face with silver studs in her nose and bottom lip. She had glared at him with fiery eyes until he offered her one of his drinks and within an hour they were kissing in the booth.

 Then Shaun had walked in on them. He had paused, uncomfortable under James’s angry gaze, then swallowed and tried to back out of the booth. Instead, Eve had muttered an apology, squeezed out of James’s arms and vanished into the crowd.

He had not expected to see her again, but three days later, he spotted Eve walking next to Shaun, just as she was doing now. She looked different in normal clothes and without the facial adornments but he knew it was her. That evening he had pressed Shaun for an explanation, even though he already knew the reason. It was obvious. She had chosen Shaun instead – he was better looking, taller and fitter. James had barely listened as Shaun explained how he and Eve had talked later that night in the Rishma and ended up exchanging phone numbers.

After about ten minutes walking in their long shadow, James watched as Eve separated and headed off towards a large square-fronted building. Shaun remained still, his eyes following her stupidly. James gradually caught up and then stopped and looked closer – Shaun appeared to have scratch marks running down his cheeks. The wounds looked recent but had scabbed over.

Shaun turned to face James and suddenly James felt his heart pounding. Shaun’s eyes were wide, terrified, and for a moment James thought he could see flames flickering behind them. Then Shaun’s expression softened and he sagged, recognising his friend.

“Oh, it’s you.” he said.

“You alright?” said James. Shaun’s eyes drifted away for a moment, then floated back.

“Yeah, fine. Fine.”

James paused for a moment, studying Shaun.

“What happened to your face?” he said, lifting his hand to point.

“What? Nothing.” said Shaun, stepping back and raising his arm protectively.

“Did you get in a fight last night or something? Looks like someone scratched you.”

“No, no. Well, yeah, it’s nothing. Look,” Shaun checked his watch, “Dude, we’re going to be late.”

“What?” James blinked, then shivered in the chill air. “Fine, lets go.”

They hurried the remaining distance to the lecture hall in silence and arrived just as a grey-haired professor began speaking. The hall was semi-lit and smelled musty, like damp wood. It was nowhere near full and they shuffled into the backmost row and sat down. As the lecturer mumbled on, James wondered why he had bothered coming. He had no motivation to take notes and could barely keep his eyes open.

“Dude,” Shaun said in a low voice, making James jump. “You aren’t still angry about me and Eve right?”

“No, no.” James replied, unable to keep sarcasm out of his voice. “Not at all.”

“Well anyway man, look, I was a dick about it. If you promise to forgive me I’ll tell you something awesome.”

James frowned, then turned to look at his friend. Shaun’s face was glowing with a mischievous excitement that James hadn’t seen in weeks. He had known Shaun since secondary school – their surnames were alphabetically similar so they had shared a desk in several classes and finished up close friends. It was not entirely coincidence that they enrolled on the same course at the same university, but once they were there, sharing a house was an easy decision. They had lived together for a couple of months but since meeting Eve they had barely spoken.

“Sure.” said James. “Go on.”

“Well, Eve told me not to tell anyone,” Shaun took furtive glances left and right in case anyone was watching, “Especially you, but if I didn’t tell you and then you somehow found out, you’d never speak to me again.” Shaun was speaking quickly now. “Plus I have to tell someone. Anyway, there’s no way they’ll know you’re there –”

“Where? What are you talking about?” James interrupted.

Shaun paused dramatically, then lowered his voice to a whisper.

“Path are playing Rishma. Tonight.”

James couldn’t stop his mouth falling open and Shaun beamed, his eyes glittering.

“It’s a totally secret gig. Seriously invite-only. They’re doing the seven songs off Chronicles.”

“No way,” breathed James.

“Yeah, I know, I know, it’s awesome. Only the most hardcore fans got invites.” Shaun’s scratched face creased as his smile widened in excitement. “Their first ever Chronicles gig and they’re doing it here.”

James frowned. “Why?” he said.

“Why what?”

“Why here?”

“I think it’s got something to do with tonight – it’s Halloween.” Shaun replied.

“What?”

Shaun sighed. “Rishma is like the only venue that wasn’t booked up ages in advance, because Henry always takes his holiday at this time. No one knows about this gig, except those who are going, of course. Not even Henry.”

“What?” said James, his eyebrows raising. Henry was the owner of the Rishma and a very scary man. Running a gig without his permission was downright stupid. “So who’s running this?”

“I am.”

“What?” said James, a note of hysteria in his voice. A couple of people two rows in front of them glanced back at them, frowned, and looked back towards the front.

Shaun lowered his voice again. “Well okay, Eve is.”

“Right,” said James, shaking his head. “Of course she is.”

Shaun nodded. “She knows someone in the band apparently. They are bringing everything. Doormen, drinks, even lights. Man, it is gonna be amazing. All I gotta do is open up, enjoy the gig, then go home. Dude, they even put down half payment up front.” He looked pointedly at James. “Paid in cash. Twenty kay.”

James recoiled as if Shaun had hit him. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. Thoughts rushed through his head. “You know what you’re doing? Right?”

“Yeah it’ll be fine. It’s gonna be awesome. So, you in?”  replied Shaun, as if trying to convince himself.

“You’re getting me an invite?”

“Er, no.” Shaun gave a short laugh, blowing air out of his nose.

“Booth then?”

“Yeah. It’s tinted, so if you don’t make any noise, no one will know.”

“And they are bringing their own lights?”

“Yeah, candles apparently – lots of candles. Man this is going to awesome.”

James couldn’t hold back his grin any longer and beamed at Shaun.

“Hell yeah it is.”


* * *


The afternoon passed slowly, with James unable to concentrate on anything but the upcoming evening. Of all places, Path were coming to the Rishma. One half of his brain refused to believe it and bristled with the idea that Shaun was playing a sick joke – but the other half somehow knew it was true.

The full name of the band was Path To Hell. They were Scandinavian and their debut album, Chronicles, had slowly climbed to the top of the UK charts – an overnight success. James was not the only one fascinated by their music. Although the guitar riffs and drum-line were nothing revolutionary, the guttural lyrics evoked an energy that gave unusual power to the songs.

James had read on an internet message board that Path were inspired by a recently excavated codex in Iceland – apparently one of the oldest ever found. There had been a lot of press coverage and controversy over the Askja codex – the indecipherable writings it contained and fanciful stories surrounding its discovery had led to several prominent archaeologists dismissing it as a fake. To add fuel to the media fire, there were rumours that the original had been stolen and replaced with a copy.

James left Shaun mid-afternoon and jogged home for a much-needed shower and some clean clothes. Shaun returned at six, carrying a pizza and they sat in the lounge in silence. The sun had set now, and it was quieter outside. James was unable to eat – he was too nervous – and soon they were once again walking in the cold air.

The route to the Rishma was comfortingly familiar, but James stamped his feet in anxiety and scanned the darkness for anyone that looked suspicious. Shaun too looked ill at ease and walked stiffly and quickly. Ten minutes later, James breathed out in relief as they slipped into the alley that led round the back of the Rishma. Shaun produced a set of keys and hurriedly unlocked the back door, his fingers shaking.

Once inside, they headed through the storeroom and James collected a couple of bottles of lager, then they walked upstairs to the balcony. The balcony had seats for about sixty people, but was usually sealed off for gigs. James leaned on the railing and looked down on the empty hall. It was quiet, the calm before the storm.

James opened a bottle and passed it to Shaun, who moved to accept it and froze. James felt his heart thud for a moment, then relaxed as Shaun reached into his pocket and pulled out a vibrating phone.

“Hi hun. Yeah, just got here. No. Yeah, he’s probably sleeping.” Shaun winked at James. James rolled his eyes. “Okay. Yep, give me a minute. Okay. Bye.”

Shaun pressed on his phone to hang up, then dropped it back in his pocket. He grimaced at James. “She’s here.”

“Already?”

“Yeah. Good thing we came early. You better get inside.”

“Okay. You locking me in?” James walked into the booth.

“Yep. I’ll lock up the balcony doors too.” said Shaun, closing the door to the booth.

James jammed his foot in the door before Shaun could close it fully. “Wait, spare key?”

Shaun paused, then looked sternly at James. “Look, for this one we better be careful, their security won’t know you. You can’t come down, whatever happens right?”

“Yeah I – ”

“So it’s probably better if I lock you in and then come get you at the end.”

“What?” said James, “What if I need to pee?”

Shaun laughed. “You got a couple of bottles in there right?”

“Yeah – but wait, wait! What if there’s a fire or something?”

Shaun laughed, but his eyes flickered to the fire extinguisher in the corner of the booth. “There won’t be.”

“You sure?” said James, removing his foot from the door.

Shaun grinned, clicked the door shut and turned the lock. James watched him walk past the front of the booth, then wrap chains between the handles on the double doors, the only entrance to the balcony. And James was alone.

The place smelled like it always did – old spilled beer, sweat and electrical cables – but damn, this was exciting. He had never felt more alive. He picked up a bottle and took a drink.


* * *

Fifteen minutes passed before James heard voices from below. He stood up. From his vantage point he could see the whole stage and about half the floorspace. There were several black-cloaked figures wheeling speakers onto the stage and others setting up a raised platform in the middle of the floor. He couldn’t see Shaun anywhere, but he recognised Eve. Unlike the others, she was wearing a crimson robe that obscured her face, but somehow he knew it was her. He watched as she guided the other figures to set up racks of thick candles on the raised area over the main floor.

James soon realised that the candles were being arranged into a pattern – a pentagram. He grinned, his excitement turning to wonder when Eve flicked her wrist, lighting all the candles at once. They must be electrically controlled, Shaun reasoned, although the flames flickered and danced realistically.

After an hour, the crowd began arriving. They were dressed in a wide variety of clothing, but as it was Halloween, many people had opted to come in fancy dress. James could see several vampires, zombies and people with pumpkins on their heads. There were quite a lot – perhaps five or six hundred – and they quickly filled out the hall, comfortably fitting into the spaces around the raised pentagram in the centre of the floor.

The main lights suddenly went out and the crowd noise dropped to a whisper, leaving the hall in candle-light. Three gaunt figures in flowing grey robes appeared on the stage, two of them carrying guitars, the third stepping behind a drum kit. A fourth figure then appeared, carrying a thick book that seemed to be covered in cracked leather. In the darkness, James realised it was Eve. He watched as she stepped off the stage, over the candles onto the platform, and held open the book in the centre of the pentagram.

The crowd watched in silence as Eve held the book still for a moment and then the candles flickered out, filling the room with darkness. In an instant, the candles re-ignited and the crowd gasped in surprise. Eve had vanished, but the book remained, spinning around in mid-air. A great opening trick, James thought, and then a drum beat started. Recognising the song, the crowd began cheering and yelling.

Guitar chords rang out, then the two guitarists stepped forward and started to sing. James closed his eyes and let the words wash over him – somehow he knew the words by heart and moved his lips to mime the words. They were in a language he didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter – they had power. The crowd seemed to feel this too and sang the lyrics in time with the band.

When James opened his eyes he saw that the book was glowing. Scrawled red shapes snaked their way across the pages, glowing in a bright crimson light. When a page was filled with the blood red words, the thick paper turned over to the next page, and began filling once again.

By the third song, James was enthralled. The crowd were singing louder than before and the light show had really begun. The pentagram started to glow with a faint green light, and wisps of blue smoke drifted up from the edges. Encouraged by this, the crowd jumped with energy and the pentagram grew brighter.

The concert rumbled on, James relishing every moment. At the end of the fifth song, a glittering light seemed to descend from the ceiling, filling the space in the pentagram with a silvery glow. James could make out an ethereal figure in the centre, holding the book, but it was too big to be Eve – perhaps twice as tall. It was a convincing projection, James thought, and it seemed to be getting thicker.

Halfway through the seventh and final song, James saw something that tore him out of his trance. The ghostly figure holding the book was nearly solid now, but it was not alone any more. A lithe black shape curled around the legs of the figure, a creature that James knew he had seen before. But where? He couldn’t remember. Damn, where had he seen it?

Wide eyed, he looked at the book. There weren’t many pages left, the crimson glow from the letters was flickering and shaking violently as it if were about to explode. Thick plumes of blue smoke billowed from the candle flames that had tripled in size and bright red light erupted from the lines of the pentagram – searing, painfully bright. The music was much louder too, ear-piercingly so, even in the protected booth. He couldn’t imagine how loud it was downstairs, but the crowd didn’t seem to notice – they just continued chanting. Chanting. Yes, it wasn’t singing any more – the crowd were chanting. The light and sound reached a climax and James raised his arm to cover his face. There was a final flash, a final guitar flourish, and then the room was plunged into darkness.

James’s ears were ringing, but he could make out sounds from downstairs – cheering and screaming. As his eyes adjusted, he realised that it wasn’t total darkness, it was how the room had been lit at the beginning, although the candles were nearly burned down now.

And a huge crimson-robed figure stood in the pentagram, but it was most definitely not alone. A huge black-skinned dog padded the ground, circling around the robed figures legs. It was flecked with crimson patches, as if it were made of smouldering magma – and thin trails of smoke drifted from its body to curl and twist in the air. The crowd were reacting in shock; mostly stumbling back in fear and shouting, while others cheered and whooped at this unexpected encore.

The figure pushed back the hood of the cloak, revealing a face that was simultaneously the most beautiful and most disgusting thing James had ever seen. The left side was Eve, but perfect. Rosy pink and full lips, bright green eyes – it was a face that men killed for; that men died for.

The right hand side was also Eve, but dead. Her skin was grey-black with decay, the eye socket filled with oozing yellow liquid and crawling with maggots. The figure smiled, revealing both perfect white and jagged brown teeth.

And suddenly James was kissing her. He could taste heaven, but it was mixed with a taint of rot. He tried to close his eyes or look away, but he couldn’t. His mind was on fire, torn between desire and the urge to vomit. In terrible madness, he clawed at his face, trying to scratch out his eyes, but he couldn’t reach them. Instead, his nails scratched bloody lines in his cheeks. The physical pain awoke him and he was alone in the booth again.

Gasping, he looked down towards the floor below. Blood-soaked corpses littered the ground. The crowd were all dead, their bodies piled over each other. James could see no movement at all, and the huge dog stepped between the bodies, its black and red skin glowing like ashes and billowing acrid smoke. The air tasted like metal and burning fat.

Had they all been seduced by her too? Stood still, like lambs to be slaughtered? In horror, James realised that the hound was looking at him. It could see him. Oh fuck, it could see him.

The front of the booth crumpled under the attack, but did not collapse completely. James watched the hound fall away, and then its muscles rippled as it prepared to leap again. James kicked at the door frantically, but the lock held. Instead, the bottom of the wall broke away from the floor of the booth, exposing the floor outside. James kicked out again, breaking more of the thin wall away, then bent down and pushed through the gap, dragging the fire extinguisher behind him.

The booth was crushed flat behind him and the hound steadied itself, looking at James with flaming eyes. It was the size of a horse, but with teeth like carving knives. It leapt, but James reacted in time. A thin jet of water caught the hound in the face, raising steam and blinding it for a moment. James ducked to one side, the hound soared past him into a pile of chairs.

James reached the double doors at a run and slammed the fire extinguisher into the glass, but it didn’t make a dent. He dropped the extinguisher and tugged at the doors in terror, looking around at the hound. It was climbing upright but slipping on the scattered chairs, trying to find a foothold. Shaun hadn’t tightened the chains properly, so the doors could still open a fraction, leaving a gap between them. James pushed his arm into the gap and then pulled with all his strength. For a terrible moment he thought he wouldn’t make it in time – but then he was through, just as the doors crashed deafeningly behind him. James lay panting on his back as the hound fell away and moved back for another charge. It wouldn’t take long for it to break through, James knew.

James scrambled to his feet and dived for the stairs, taking three at a time and feeling his knees and ankles jar as he ran. He reached the back door, where he tripped over Shaun. His friend’s body was stiff – he had been dead for hours. He must have been killed before the concert even started. The self-inflicted scratches on Shaun’s face stood out against the white flesh. Shaun had more contact with Eve than James. His dreams must have been far worse.

James staggered out onto the moonlit pavement, panted for a few moments, then ran down the empty street. This had happened before. He remembered the dreams now, but what could he do? How could he change things?

Lightning flashed in front of him, breaking the air with a resounding boom. Before James, there stood another man, no, he was bigger than a man. He was wearing tattered copper armour that barely covered his huge frame. But what struck James most was that this giant’s right arm was raggedly severed below the elbow. Blood trickled from the open wound, but the giant seemed oblivious. He hefted a massive sword in his left hand, his bicep and shoulder muscles flexing with the controlled swings.

The giant looked up at the full moon and rested his sword on his shoulder.

“It has been very long.”

The voice echoed in James’ head, slow and gravelly with age. The Jotun had spoken, but his lips did not match the words that James had heard. It gave the giant the appearance of being badly dubbed, but it was terrifying – his mouth growled and snarled as if he were an animal.

“I was beginning to think that six hundred and sixty six would never chant those words on the hallowed night. I was beginning to think that this day would never come.”

The giant turned to look at James, who flinched. The Jotun’s eyes were black, but blue sparks flickered in the darkness like bees.

“You have done well, silent one. It is not easy for mortals to escape her embrace. Doing so has allowed you to summon me. Be glad, for this may save the souls of those you love.”

James blinked.

“Now leave, silent watcher,” said Tyr, hefting his sword. “Fools have unleashed Hel this night.”


© Copyright 2018 Xephos. All rights reserved.

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