Chapter 06 - Michael's Nemesis

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What pursues the Night? The Light. What pursues the Light? Zyzzyx.

– Bellamy Clayhaus Martin, Prophet of the Light


Jaylina could not stand. A strange weakness overcame her while her mind worked to absorb all she had just seen. "That thing was eating me," she moaned, wracked by a spasm of disgust.

"We have to leave now," Michael said, glancing about before turning his eyes momentarily to her. "We're not safe here for long."

He returned his attention the dim shadows beyond the circle of salt he'd laid, as if calculating the defensive strength of its thin white line. All around them sounds of hissing, strange clicks and growling echoed in the falling rain. The shadowy darkness around them pulsed, seeming to grow in strength, pushing hard against the boundary of his impromptu magical barrier.

It was going to fail. A distant roar cried out over the clamor.

He turned back to Jaylina. "Time to go," he said and hoisted her up by her arms. He threw the remaining salt from his sack in front of them, clearing a path through the rising commotion and led her as they dashed toward the lighthouse, a stalwart sentry shining through the umbra of night.

As they sprinted through the tall grass, Jaylina thought she heard angry voices whispering in the rain and sensed shadowy claws swiping at their feet. They were being pursued.

Which was real? The man or the shadows? The monster or the cliff?

When they arrived at the lighthouse, Michael kicked open its weathered wooden door with a muddy boot, sending splinters flying. Inside, Jaylina glanced around the spacious chamber, dank and warm, that smelled of burlap and sea salt, not unlike that of a quiet, holy place now disturbed—violated—by Michael's breaking of the door. A single candle burned almost to its stump flickered as they entered but did not go out.

Michael pushed Jaylina toward the stairs. "Climb!" he shouted.

<PHWUUMP!>

Jaylina noticed the air displacement again, the kind she experienced when Michael first appeared. Only whatever mass caused this displacement was larger...much larger.

She stopped on the circular stairway and shivered as the temperature dropped by several degrees causing goosebumps to raise on her skin. They were not alone.

"Keep climbing," Michael ordered.

As Jaylina resumed her ascent, she heard an inhuman voice come from below.

"How quaint," it rasped. "The Left Hand seeks sanctuary in a house of light." The supernatural voice reeked of ancient envy and hatred. Jaylina sensed the voice in her head more than she heard it with her ears. Even so, she covered them at the sound. Every syllable the voice spoke pierced her eardrums like hot nails.

Jaylina stopped again, despite Michael's order. She had to see for herself what monster made such terrible sounds, what thing held such a capacity for sheer hatred.

The dark being stood in the chamber below them, balanced on two muscular and carapaced legs bent backward like the hind quarters of an insect. It was huge by human standards, maybe three meters tall. Its face, if it could be called a face, had oozing lumps and distortions, as if two heads had been smashed together, and in places its brains seemed to have burst from its skull like grotesque mushrooms that pulsated, releasing clouds of red spores into the air around it.

Jaylina saw its several rows of broken teeth, and in each of its four twisted limbs it grasped a different weapon: an axe, a sword, a spiked club, and a cat o' nine tails. Behind it, trailing back outside into the darkness, lay an iron chain as thick as a man's leg. The chain reminded Jaylina of her own silver cord that appeared when she had crossed over. This creature was tied to a corporal form on the other side.

It didn't make sense. But nothing about what she had seen that night made much sense.

"Perhaps you will purge me of my darkness the way you did this woman?" the monster said, taunting Michael. "The way you cut down the blubbering cretins in the alley and left them swimming in their own filth? Would you like to try?"

The last question dripped with the venom of an epic challenge. Jaylina bit her lip and tasted blood as she fought back the urge to climb the lighthouse tower screaming and throw herself from the parapet.

"Zyzzyx," whispered Michael.

"Your navigator can't take her eyes off me, Dark Light. Perhaps she'd enjoy watching me suck the flesh off her body."

Navigator? Before Jaylina could ponder the meaning of the its words, the creature lifted the cat o' nine tails and swung it in a great arc up toward her. The razor-sharp braids whipped around the rail of the stairway where Jaylina stood and embedded their teeth in the sturdy oaken planks. With a mighty heave, Zyzzyx pulled and ripped the rail apart, leaving Jaylina reeling to catch herself on the flimsy remains of the stairway.

Michael jumped off the stairs and into the chamber. That he could face such a horrible manifestation with no visible weapons was the bravest thing she'd ever seen. From another limb, Zyzzyx's sword flicked out like a steel tongue, cutting Michael along his forearm. Michael stifled a cry of pain and faced the creature, trying to draw it away from Jaylina.

"In this world, you're nothing more than an automaton, Zyzzyx," Michael scoffed. "A dangerous sack-man meant to scare the young and the foolish."

At these words, the creature roared and spit and launched itself at Michael. Michael disappeared and reappeared behind it. He jumped on its back and held its neck in his arms, focusing all his energy.

"Now let's see what kind of soul is buried under that carcass." Michael was trying to purge it like he did the shadow.

Nothing happened.

Zyzzyx appeared to laugh, but to Jaylina it sounded like the cries of screaming children. The creature threw Michael off with a shrug, sending the man sliding across the chamber floor.

"Tonight is surely a night of surprises for you, mortal. I'm no feeble shade that can be snuffed like a candle when the wind blows."

Zyzzyx lumbered to where Michael lay momentarily stunned. "I've searched a long time to finally take your light, mortal. You defile everything you touch. I will see your soul decorate the halls of Night."

Zyzzyx's raw, fleshy claws reached into Michael's body as if to wrench something out of it. Michael screamed and his scream became maniacal laughter. Zyzzyx stopped momentarily as if confused.

"It is surely a night of surprises for us both, demon," said Michael. "Mortal I may be, but you cannot take my soul from me, not you, and not your Queen."

Michael rolled away and pulled a small leather bag from his pocket and threw its contents into the many eyes of Zyzzyx. A cloud of black dust burst around the creature's head. Zyzzyx recoiled in pain, covering its face with all four of its claws.

As if by magic, there was a flint and tinder in Michael's hands, and he threw a spark on the creature's face. Zyzzyx immediately burst into flames.

"Your first lesson in the material world will be one of pain," snarled Michael.

The creature howled in agony and the sound shook the walls of the lighthouse.

Jaylina could not keep herself from screaming, even as she pressed her hands to her ears and shut her eyes tightly.

Zyzzyx stumbled backward, clutching its charred face in its four gnarled hands.

Michael kicked it off balance and made his way back up the ruined staircase to Jaylina.

"Come, to the top," he said, clutching his bleeding arm.

Jaylina nodded like a mute, and without hesitation they quickly climbed the steps, leaving the abomination wailing alone in the darkness.

"I will follow you to the end of time, Dark Light! You will be my personal slave in the House of Night!"

The vow of vengeance faded and the last sound she heard as she climbed toward the light was of a great chain clanking, and she pictured Zyzzyx being dragged back to whatever plane of existence it had come from.

Was there no end to this night?

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