I am writing of the last day of February from the safety of the first day of March.
After 2 months of horror and intrigue, the final act of Kraken Moor played out in a single, harrowing day. Some people have lived, some have died, but none of us escaped unscathed.
I lay in bed, barely strong enough to write, but determined to commit the end of this story to paper.
I have lost a lot of blood.
It is fortuitous for the purposes of this journal that it was my left arm and not my right that was broken as it allows me the ability to write. Around me, the wounded rest or ache or simply try to hold on to life. I have yet to see Remy Lafayette’s body move, but I am assured he will be fine.
While I found myself at the center of the storm, I am unable to give a complete and full accounting of the events of the last day of February beyond my own experiences. Perhaps due to the frequency with which Death visited us yesterday my own thoughts to turn my own demise, but an image of myself on the porch of my father’s house, my children and grandchildren surrounding me, stays foremost in my thoughts today. In this fantasy, there is no husband that I am aware of – I have attempted to insert Remy into this scenario, but it feels wrong. If this indicates that I have yet to meet my future husband, I am okay with that.
I look for someone, anyone, to tell me if the day was truly won, if our gambit truly worked, but I take my continued breathing to be a sign that, if nothing else, the day was not totally lost.
Yesterday began with myself tied to a chair.
“Ah, you’re awake,” General Haupt said as my eyes fluttered open. I was still tied to the wooden chair inside the former Lady Coraline’s room. I tried to stretch but my bonds were holding fast. My legs each had their own leg of the chair while my hands were tied behind my back. Around the room, I could see an agitated Mrs. Cotts staring out the window, a scared Mrs. Haupt cowering on a sofa, and a please General Haupt pointing a revolver at me.
“That does seem excessive,” I said to the fat, ginger-haired soldier as I nodded towards his gun.
General Haupt laughed as he approached me and slapped me across the face, stinging my cheek. “Others may underestimate you, Miss Sharper, but I do not. I will admit,” he said, turning away from me and walking towards his wife, “that when my eyes first fell on you my interests were solely physical. But Satan was with me, for while I sought you out for physical gratification, I became aware of how smart and resourceful you were, while still remaining numb to the totality of events at Kraken Moor.”
“Then fill me in,” I said.
The General smiled as he sat next to his wife. “Tell her,” he ordered.
Mrs. Haupt whimpered, but said nothing.
The General pulled back the hammer of his revolver and pushed it into his wife’s temple. “Tell her, dear, or I’ll paint the walls with your brain.”
Mrs. Haupt whimpered, so I stepped in to buy her time. “Is that an actual gun, General? No electric blaster? No fire pistol? No steam shooter?”
The General sneered. “Technology civilizes us,” he replied. “I prefer savagery.” He tapped the gun against Mrs. Haupt’s head. “Do not make me give the order again.”
“Kadul has captured Gretchen and Hans,” their mother whispered through tears. “Gunnar is hiding. Once Kadul captures my youngest, he will slice their throats and bleed them out, unlocking Hell’s Gate and allowing the Kraken into this world!”
“Who stands against Kadul’s forces?” I asked.
“There, there,” the General said to his wife, “that wasn’t so difficult to say, was it? They are only children and only exist because I gave them to you. Which gives me the right to take them away, for the glory of the Kraken.”
“You’re talking to me now,” I interjected.
“Kanarl and Tchitok were trying,” the General smiled, using his gun to brush his wife’s hair off of her forehead, “but thanks to your intervention, their armies are debilitated and refuse to leave the relative safety of Hell.” General Haupt laughed at that. “Imagine, my dear, that you stand in a building less preferential than Hell.” He rose to his feet and put his revolver inside his purple, canvas coat. Moving towards the room’s small bar, the General beamed with pride. “Kadul surely played you for a fool, Miss Sharper. That was thanks to me,” he said, pulling the top off a bottle of cognac. “Certainly, there was interest in you from the start. As I mentioned, you are quite fetching, but it was after you ran to the maze to attempt to save my son that you came to my and Lord Shepherd’s attention. Because of his … unique parentage, he thinks only of sexual conquest, but I convinced him to hold off on his seduction.”
I scoffed at the thought of ever falling into Lord Shepherd’s bed but the General shot me a look that mocked my unspoken denial.
“You think yourself too good for Lord Shepherd?” he asked, the decanter of liquor held above his still empty glass. “Why do you think you were given the Necklace of Anticipation? It’s a game the demons of Kraken Moor play with one another. A new woman is marked for the game and the demons take their turns trying to seduce her until she finally succumbs to one of their advances. Why do you think you were visited by the three major demons of the house so early in your tenure? After Mrs. Cotts hired you,” he continued as we both glanced to the forgotten woman at the window, who paid us no mind, “you were marked for the game after Madam Soiss succumbed. When she fell to Kanarl, the Necklace was given to you.”
“But Lady Coraline-”
“A whore of most epic proportions,” General Haupt shrugged as he finally poured his cognac. “Not that I minded, of course. She was my introduction to this world. Oh yes, I have been coming here my entire life. My father sailed with Captain Shepherd after the fateful trip in which the Kraken took Mary Williams, and the two men became allies. My father was tasked with preparing Germany for the coming of the Kraken, a task in which he was a spectacular failure. Increasingly, the Haupts came to Kraken Moor. Our primary task was the education of my father in the ways of the Kraken, but I have come to believe that Captain Shepherd and Mr. Wabanate saw promise in me. The Lady Coraline certainly did, and on my 16th birthday, she invited me into this very room and on that very bed,” he pointed to the bed to my left, “she introduced me to both the wonders of the female body and the Kraken, making me a man and a servant in one night.” The German sipped his drink. “She rutted with the goat and wolf, too, of course, especially as she grew older and the squids turned their attentions to those of birthing age, but no one is perfect. I salute the old bat,” he said, tipping his drink towards Hell.
“I would complain about your long-windedness, General,” I replied, “except for the fact that I asked for it. If only I had known you so enjoyed the sound of your own voice. What now?”
The General downed his drink and set the glass heavily on the small bar. “That is not for me to decide. If you had not let Mrs. Cotts’ husband and his eight-legged friends loose, Kadul might have been content to let you leave. As it is … you have become a very sharp thorn in the sides of a very powerful demon and a very powerful Brute. The Dolphinae and goats are in the process of killing the last of the spiders. When Gunnar is found, Kadul will take all three of my children to the basement, where the squid have gathered in the deep water pool, and bleed them to the death. Their blood will be feasted upon by the squid, who will then sacrifice themselves to the Hell Gate.”
“And that’s it?” I asked. “The Brute comes through, no chance to stop him?”
The General poured himself another drink. “Not unless you’re willing to find and sacrifice more innocents,” he smiled.
“I think that will be enough, Mr. Haupt.”
Our eyes turned to Mrs. Cotts, who had finally turned from the window and towards the room.
“Do not speak to me like that,” the General snapped. “You are kept alive only by the bonds of the demonic agreement agreed to by your late husband,” he informed her, turning his back to his liquor.
“And you have been kept alive so that Miss Sharper knows the stakes,” Mrs. Cotts replied, pulling another of the Russian necklaces from the front of her black work dress as she walked across the room. General Haupt turned to her just as she dropped the yellow-jeweled necklace over his head. The German’s body froze.
He dropped his glass.
He began to remove his clothes, slowly and purposefully.
Mrs. Cotts turned from him to move in my direction. Mrs. Haupt was finally moved to action, calling out for her husband.
“Sit down, Evelyn!” Mrs. Cotts ordered, a small gun suddenly in her hand.
“You should be glad I did not put a bullet through his skull for what he has done,” Mrs. Cotts told her sharply. “I am not a killer and I do not intend to start tonight, but I guarantee you that if I do, it shall be with you for attempting to free that worthless man. Do we have an understanding?”
Mrs. Haupt started to protest. Mrs. Cotts turned her small gun on the stripping General. “Unless you would like me to start with your husband?”
Mrs. Haupt sat down.
Pocketing the gun, Mrs. Cotts pulled a knife out of the same front pocket and moved to cut me free.
“That is quite the magical pocket,” I remarked as she cut my feet free. “The General is …”
“He will spend the night wasting potential children,” Mrs. Cotts explained, freeing my feet.
“I am afraid his wife is attempting to do something about that.”
Mrs. Cotts caught my eye and sighed, then turned quickly and fired the knife across the room, where it hit Mrs. Haupt in the shoulder, felling the screaming woman.
I tugged on my bonds. “I would have preferred if you had shot her.”
Mrs. Cotts turned back to me, a rough smile on her face. “Magical pocket,” she said, pulling out another knife and cutting my wrists free.
“What now?” I asked, rubbing life back into my sore muscles.
Mrs. Cotts turned to the window where large, furry legs of a giant spider were resting against the window. “I suggest we leave the Haupts to the spiders and find Gunnar Haupt. They are children, after all. Perhaps there is not enough blood with the older 2 children to open the Gate.”
The window smashed in, compliments of a spider’s leg.
“Are we certain the spider will finish the Germans off?”
Mrs. Cotts looked sadly at the window as a second and then third leg broke through the glass. “Trust me, Miss Sharper,” she said, moving towards the door, “my husband will not let us down.”
The giant spider pushed the entire window into the room and crawled inside.
Mrs. Haupt screamed.
We never saw her or her husband again.
I wanted to ask Mrs. Cotts numerous questions, but when we hit the hallway, she shushed those questions aside, promising to answer them later, “if we survive.”
“That is not likely, is it?” I asked as Mrs. Haupt continued screaming on the other side of the wall. “The two of us against an army?”
“We have the spiders with us,” she reminded me.
“Could I bother you to answer that question, at least?” I asked, thinking of her “husband.”
“No,” she said definitively. “What about the Lafayettes?”
“Remy is hollowed out,” I answered. “And Julie is gravely injured.”
“I believe he is dead.”
“A house exploded and then fell in on him.”
Mrs. Cotts shrugged. “He’s survived worse.”
“So I hear.”
“Charles has a son-”
“Ignatius,” I said. “I met him briefly. We are led to believe Miss Valmont has injured him to the point that he will not be joining us.”
Mrs. Cotts eyed me with a hint of disdain. “Is there anyone you did not kill or maim on your trip to London?”
“Ah, good,” Mrs. Cotts mocked. “It is good that the only person to survive meeting you unscathed is under the thrall of the Kraken.”
“Your sarcasm is not assisting us in stopping the arrival of the Brute,” I replied curtly.
Mrs. Cotts sighed as Mrs. Haupt finally stopped screaming. “At the end of the hallway from your room is a sealed door. It is beyond that door that the deep water pool resides. It is in that pool where the squid are gathered and where the Haupt children will be taken. I will head there.”
While her spirit was admirable, her plan was foolish. “How will you hope to stop Kadul all by yourself.”
As if answering my words, the door to Lady Coraline’s room was splintered as the foot of a large spider punched through it.
Mrs. Cotts looked to the leg. “Because my husband will follow wherever I walk,” she answered as another leg punctured the door. “I suggest you are not here when he exits.”
“I should come with you,” I insisted.
Mrs. Cotts shook her head. “You can do nothing. It is best if you flee Kraken Moor. Or return to where you left Remy Lafayette. He is a nice boy made a nightmare at the insistence of his sister.”
Lady Coraline’s door was shattered outward and the multi-eyed head of the furry, light-brown spider pushed itself into the hallway.
“Run,” Mrs. Cotts ordered quietly, and not knowing what else to do, I ran.
I did not, however, leave Kraken Moor, or run to the Lafayettes. While I was under zero illusion that I could stop the Kraken from coming, I did feel responsible for bringing things to the point where they currently stood, and I was determined to do my best to put a stop to it. Quickly, I backtracked down the hallway to where I had left Kanarl and Miss Selton.
In truth, I was not expecting the room to contain anyone except for the deceased body of Lady Coraline, but it was to my immense surprise that I was exactly wrong: Lady Coraline was nowhere to be found, yet Miss Selton and Kanarl were both still present.
The white-furred wolfman was laying on the same sofa I had seen him last rutting with Miss Selton, but this time instead of pleasure the demon was clearly in pain. Blood was soaked over most of his body, and his head lay in Miss Selton’s lap. She cried as she rubbed his fur lovingly and I said nothing until she acknowledged me, not wanting to interrupt the solemnity.
“There is no hope,” Miss Selton said at the last, when she had noticed me. “Kadul’s injuries have cut too deeply, and Kanarl will soon perish.”
“Demons can die?”
Her body shook. “Demons can kill demons. Humans can only … only … oh, what do the rules matter?!?!” she screamed at me from the sofa. “It’s over! It’s all over! Kadul will find the last Haupt child and open the Gate to Hell! Even if the goat’s wounds will not kill my love, the Brute will surely feast on his body! This is your fault!” she accused. “Your fault! And I shall see you dead!”
Kanarl coughed and blood was ejaculated from his mouth. One spat of blood managed to find a clean spot on his face, and it became part of the red when Miss Selton rubbed it in. “Hush, my love!” she begged, fresh tears coming. “Save your strength! Save-!”
The wolfman reached a hand up to grasp Miss Selton’s throat. “Unless you would like your vocal chord to join Lady Coraline’s on the floor, you will cease using it.” The burned woman looked horrified but she obeyed and Kanarl forced himself to sit up. When Miss Selton started to protest, the wolfman snapped his arm out and backhanded her to silence. His eyes burned with orange energy and he pointed a mangled hand in my direction. “You can stop this,” he said, coughing up more blood. “You have the power … to stop …”
His body was wracked in coughs. At that time, I did not know what he possibly could have meant. It was only later that the true meaning of his words would make itself known to me. But before that moment, there were still deaths to come.
A body knocked me to the side, and as I fell towards the floor, I saw a flash of fire erupt from out of the corner of my right eye. I hit the ground and looked up.
Kanarl’s blood-soaked, furred body was on fire! The flames roared across his body, but the wolf demon made no cry of pain.
All he did was rise to his feet.
“Beatrice, my darling,” Jackson Dereks said once the wolfman’s body had totally succumbed to the flame and fallen to the floor where it continued to burn. “Let me help you to your feet.”
Jackson grabbed the edges of my green vest and pulled me to my feet.
Before I could say anything, Miss Selton ran forward, bellowing pain of an emotional kind.
“Oh, do sit down,” Jackson said, kicking her in the stomach and then pushing her to the ground where she fell on the burning corpse of her lover. I thought of Lady Coraline’s words and wondered if was also true to say that she had fallen on the father of her child.
“Was that necessary?” I asked, slapping Jackson’s hand away as he reached for me.
My former betrothed sent a confused look my way. “Does it matter how she is treated?” he asked. “She is a demon’s whore! It does not-!”
His words were halted due to my slapping him in the face.
“If Miss Selton is a demon’s whore,” I asked, resorting to base language, “what are you?”
Clouds of darkness descended onto his face. “What happened to you?” he asked with disgust. “When I heard you had run away from home, I thought you were running to me! Or your father, at least. But when I learned you had run from everything the South holds dear …”
“Don’t romanticize slavery, Jackson,” I shot back. “Or the Cause. Or Stonewall or Davis or even Lee. I ran away. Maybe it was because of slavery. Or maybe it was because I hate my mother. Or maybe it’s because of the whole stupid war! Or maybe … just maybe it was because I could not stand the idea of marrying you and living a life on the backs of others!”
Jackson scoffed. “So you became one of those precious backs? Working for others? It is unbecoming a lady of the South.”
“So is this,” I said, and grabbed his gun away from him. I should not have been able to do such a thing if he was prepared for me, but he was so shocked by my abrupt action that I took the fire pistol with ease and pointed it at his chest.
“What happens to the undead when we kill them in this world?” I asked Miss Selton.
“They return to Hell,” she said, rising to her feet.
“So it’s not like killing them at all, is it?”
I fired, and Jackson’s purple coat immediately caught on fire. He looked shocked and panicked, and tried to stamp out the flames with his hands. By the time he thought to run to the door, Miss Selton had already slipped behind him to shut and lock it. Jackson frantically pawed at the door knob, but Miss Selton made certain he would not leave this room.
Taking a small dagger from off her hip, the burned woman slit Jackson’s throat.
As he choked to death on his own blood, he looked to me desperately, but I turned away from him.
“Why?” he choked.
Jackson’s body was dying, but I felt as if something deeper was dying inside of me.
“Are you okay with-?”
“I want this over,” I said to Miss Selton. “I want this stopped. I have been pushed and pulled since I first entered this castle and I will not be a victim of others anymore. Jackson will go back to Hell, where I assume I will one day join him, and he can have his revenge then and there.”
Miss Selton looked at the bodies. “I have so many questions about what has happened since we last-”
“They will have to wait,” I said, not wanting to discuss the past any more than was necessary. “I need weapons.”
“You will need to thank Lady Coraline. She brought what she had for our protection.”
I had not noticed (perhaps because the old woman was nude when last I saw her) that near the chair in which Lady Coraline sat was a small cache of weapons on the floor. “Perhaps she should have used one of these before Kanarl tore out her throat,” I said, grabbing a gun belt and two electric blasters. I tossed aside Jackson’s fire pistol and took another one from Coraline’s pile. Finally, I turned back to Miss Selton. “Are you going to try and stop me?” I asked.
“Are you going to help me?”
“No,” she said defiantly. “I will return to the library in Marehaven. You have seen-”
“I stopped caring after you said, No,” I replied roughly, and left the room.
So much death had surrounded me that I had become numb to it.
As I sit here now, on the 1st of March, writing down the events of yesterday, my body weak from the loss of blood, I know that when I again find my strength I must leave here and take again to the road. A solitary life is what my soul needs.
The hallways were empty. There were no goats, no spiders, no Dolphinae, no squid, no soldiers in Kadul’s army … there was nothing but dead bodies and destruction. Passing Lady Coraline’s room, I stepped inside to see if the Haupts lived.
They did not.
Moving to the open window, I was surprised that the day had turned warm. The snow, unconcerned with the activities of Kraken Moor, melted languidly. There was evidence of destruction and death wherever I looked. I had thought myself numb to its presence, but as my eyes moved across the bloodied estate to the destroyed maze, I felt my spirits sink as my resolve hardened.
I have never understood the sadness that those who commit suicide must feel, but as I looked out towards the crypt where I knew Remy and Julie Lafayette were recovering, I was determined to bring an end to Kadul … or have him bring an end to me.
Turning, I saw the sad image of the ghost of Mary Williams Shepherd standing behind me.
“What is it you want?” I asked. “I freed your precious spiders.”
Mary nodded. “They are all dead,” she said. “Mrs. Cotts’ husband was the last to fall, but you will find him on your way to the basement.”
“Who killed him? Kadul?”
Mary shook her head and looked at the floor as if her vision could pierce both the physical world and the metaphysical barrier of time. “Mrs. Cotts killed him,” she sad softly. “It was him or it was her,” she explained. “That was always going to be the case. His deal with the demons was that she would live so long as he was a monster, but if the monster was ever let loose, he would chase his wife through the end of the world unless she found the strength to kill him.”
I felt my anger begin to flow once again. “You wanted me to free her husband, knowing what would happen.”
“The spiders were our best chance.”
I wanted the subject changed. “And what of Gunnar Haupt? Has Kadul found him?”
Mary shook her head. “No, and the demon and Brute lose their patience. Kadul will attempt to open the Gate with the blood of Hans and Gretchen. If that is not enough … the Dolphinae and soldiers of Kadul have already been sent to round up the children of Marehaven.”
“It is hopeless, then,” I answered.
“No,” Mary said hopefully, floating towards me. “Find Gunnar and we can stop him!”
“Where is he?”
“I do not know …”
“Can you not … ghost your way through the house?”
“There are places even I cannot visit,” she said, and then dissipated away.
I need not write how I spent the next half hour searching Kraken Moor, except to say that I did not even think to open the door that led me to Gunnar until I was standing before it. I blame my own lack of focus for this, as it was the same door that had led me to Gunnar the previous time he had gotten lost. I do wonder if there was not some deviltry at play, as the sight of the door hit me with the force of a physical blow as it had not even occurred to me to attempt to look in the place where Tchitok had taken him.
Moving fast, I made my way to the chosen room and threw open the door.
As if my life were reliving a previous moment, there was Gunnar, sitting in the chair and there was Tchitok, the massive green snake, coiling and uncoiling his body around the circular room.
“You have spent the least time thinking of me,” the great snake said, “and I have spent the least time worrying about you. It is fitting that we find ourselves allied here at the end of Kraken Moor.”
As his body came close, I could see that he was badly injured. His body was marked with cuts but instead of his blood running red, it ran yellow, and seemed almost beautiful against his dark green scales. One of his eyes was missing and his jaw did not fully close.
“We must take Gunnar and run from Kraken Moor,” I said.
The snake shook his head slowly, his tongue flicking out to touch Gunnar’s face. “I cannot leave this area. You know this. You also know if Kadul and the Kraken do not have enough blood from the innocents to break the Gate to Hell, they will simply raid Marehaven to find more innocents. But together … with Gunnar … we can stop them.”
“Blood opens the gate,” the snake hissed, “and blood closes the gate.”
“No! I will not let you-!”
“I need your help!” Tchitok roared, coiling his body around mine.
He squeezed in on me, and then there was only darkness.
When I awoke, I was standing in an open dungeon cell and Gunnar Haupt sat next to me, staring at nothing. The white-haired boy
“He is under a spell,” Tchitok whispered, “and feels nothing.”
I stepped into the hallway to see we were in the basement hallway that, when I looked right, led back to my quarters, and when I looked left, led to a closed steel door. Tchitok had managed to coil his entire body into the dungeon cell across from us. “I will not let you kill this boy,” I said in a clear voice.
“The boy is going to die to save the world,” Tchitok answered, his scales rippling. “It is a small price to pay, is it not? One boy … one boy already under my thrall … for the countless billions of lives who inhabit this world.”
“To save yourself, you mean!”
“To save all of us!”
“But he is just a child!” I insisted.
“It has to be a child!” Tchitok hissed, pushing his face into mine and knocking me to the floor of my cell. “Only the blood of an innocent can open or close the Hell Gate.”
I looked to Gunnar, aghast at what the demon wanted me to do, but there was no other option that I could see, and so I slumped my shoulders and asked, “What would you have of me?”
“Enter the room, watch the ceremony. Wait until the gate is broken and the Kraken emerges, and then come for me.”
“Is there a ceremony?” I asked. “Won’t they stop you?”
Tchitok shook his head, his one good eye glancing towards the door. “Fortune is with us. The ceremony to open the gate also contains the mean to close it. We simply need blood to shut it.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I could not bare to look at Gunnar and as cold as I had become on this day and from this entire experience, not all of my tears were restrained as I left the cell and condemned the child to death.
It took only a moment to reach the door. I carefully pulled it open and stepped inside.
Whatever it was that I had been expecting, this was not it.
I stepped into what appeared to be a square cavern. To my right and left, the stone wall extended nearly 50 or 60 feet, where it made a hard turn ahead. In front of me at a distance of nearly 100 feet, stood Kadul. Next to him was Lima. On the wet, stone floor were the tied bodies of Gretchen and Hans Haupt.
Looking at the four of them, my mind ran the previous two months in reverse, highlighting all of the death that I had both seen and caused. I had expected there to be more people, for the ceremony to contain all of the soldiers of Kadul’s army and all of the Dolphinae and all of the newly stolen children from Marehaven, but there was but four people standing between me and the Gate to Hell.
And what a spectacular gate it was.
I had imagined massive black towers and a nightmarish door between them, but there was no physical gate in front of me.
There was only the ocean, held at bay by an invisible force. Towering what seemed like an impossible 1,000 feet in the air and running the length from one wall to the other was the ocean, the salty, bluish-green ocean standing there as its own wall, as if this were one half of the Red Sea parted by Moses himself. Kadul, Lima, and the children were as ants before it.
Circling round and round, round and round, creating an opening just behind the surface of the water was 100 … a 1,000 … a 1,000,000 black squid … all of the Kraken’s progeny. The hole of this massive circle must have been 50 feet in the air and as I watched it, I could see two human figures floating from out of the deep to the surface of the water. They stopped at the edge, the back half of their bodies still in the water while their faces were clear to the world.
Without ever having seen them, I knew this to be Captain Shepherd and Shiro Wabanate.
The water served as a ledge for their feet to stand on.
“The Kraken is ready!” Captain Shepherd announced.
“Cut the children!” Mr. Wabanate ordered.
From just below their feet, a giant black squid float up to meet them. It pushed four of its tentacles through the wall of ocean and the Captain and his butler stepped down to place a foot on each tendril. I knew in my heart that squid must have been Jenson Shepherd, and I watched in astounded horror as he floated towards the floor, his body in water, his tendrils in open air, delivering the two old men to stand before Kadul and Lima.
The demon and minion of the Kraken yanked the kids to their feet. Tchitok had ordered me to wait until the gate had been opened and the Kraken emerged, but seeing the two children there, I knew I could not watch them die and made a choice to attempt to save all of them instead of seeing the snake’s plan to fruition.
“Wait!” I yelled across the distance.
All of the adults turned to me with various looks of surprise on their face.
“You are too late!” Kadul roared in triumph as I began to run towards them, my hands reaching for the fire pistols on my belt.
I cursed myself for waiting to move for there was no chance – none – for me to save the Haupts. Condemning my soul to Hell for my body’s delay, I could do nothing – NOTHING – as Kadul and Lima sliced glittering knives across the chests of the children and held their bodies aloft. Behind them, Jenson raised his body to its full height and extended his arms, ready to take the children as sacrifice.
I still ran and I must have fired, for flames erupted from the guns, but I still had half the distance to traverse and the blasts of fire could not make that distance.
Someone laughed at me.
One of Jenson’s tentacles wrapped itself around Hans’ neck, and another did the same to Gretchen. That the unconscious children gave no indication of being anything more than peacefully asleep did not make what was happening any more bearable. I knew I should stop running, that every step I took towards the oceanic wall was a step I would need to retrace to run back to Tchitok, but I could not stop my forward motion.
I needed a miracle, and even after all that I had done, I had the temerity to pray to God for help.
To my eternal gratitude, He answered.
Jenson’s body convulsed, and the Haupts nearly fell to the floor. Black ink began to waft away from the body of the giant squid. Confusion hit every adult in the room as the flash of steel in the water was followed by a tentacle floating away.
More ink was spilled, foiling the clarity of our vision, but another flash and more ink followed. Gretchen fell to the floor, the spasming black tentacle along with her. A moment later, Hans followed. The wall before us was nearly completely black. We could see nothing, until we could see everything.
A large brass head pushed past the wall’s edge and I knew and Lima knew what this meant.
Charles Francis Poseidon was alive.
He pushed his entire body, cloaked in the brass helmet and beige deep sea diving uniform that the Dolphinae had worn when we took Gail from the Lafayettes back in London. Poseidon must have fought his way free of the squid-infested pool and pulled on the suit before the explosion.
All of us were so stunned by his appearance, that we simply watched as he removed his helmet, cocked a smile on that handsome (if now severely aged) face and declared simply, “You lose, Cap’n.”
Captain Shepherd let loose a primal scream of disappointment and anger. “You killed my son!”
“You’ll be joining him,” Poseidon answered and the knife in his hand shot out. With a hard, fast slash, Poseidon nearly severed Captain Shepherd’s head from his body. Mr. Wabanate rushed forward quick enough to knock the knife from Poseidon’s hand. To be fair to the demon hunter, the heavy suit and all the energy he had already exerted slowed his movements. Still, though he hand no knife and though he was not operating at full speed, he stuck a heavy foot out and Wabanate tripped over it, sending his body back into the water.
Rather, half of it was sent back into the water. His lower body crashed into the stone floor and Poseidon simply sat down on the Oriental’s back, trapping him in place and drowning him to death.
Foolishly, I though the day won.
It was not.
Kadul and Lima picked up the bleeding children and tossed them into the Hell Gate.
There was a thunderous crack, loud enough to sound as if the world itself had been broken in two. The entire room shook and while the great wall held, all but Kadul were knocked to our knees. The goat demon yelled triumphantly, and when Poseidon dragged himself to his feet, the demon was ready and grabbed him by the metal collar of the diving suit and tossed him away as if Poseidon had weighed no more than Gretchen Haupt.
Behind the wall of water, the squids dispersed as another crack wracked the room, but quickly reassembled themselves. A bright, orange and yellow and red light began to move towards us through the ocean and we could see the squids form a massive tunnel, stretching back into the water and coming right to the surface of the wall.
The orange and yellow and red light began to take the form of fire, as if the ocean itself were burning.
The fire surrounded the squid and the only bluish-green water that remained was inside that circular tunnel. The squid swam so fast that a whirlpool was beginning to form in the water’s surface. Faster and faster the squid circled, and the whirlpool began to sink back into the ocean, creating a tunnel of air. I watched, unable to move, as the whirlpool disappeared out of sight, as if it were simply circling down the drain in the kitchen sink.
I looked to Poseidon, who was struggling and failing to remove his suit.
Lima and Kadul were so overcome at the thought of what was happening that the Irishwoman dropped to her knees and Kadul stood over her, holding her hair as if he was going to pull her head back and slit her throat.
He did not do this because tentacles the thickness of staircases began to move out of the tunnel.
The Kraken was coming to Earth.
A horrendous clacking and screeching accompanied these giant tentacles and the sound finally moved me to action. Instead of running to Tchitok, however, I ran to Poseidon.
I had a plan.
“What does ‘innocent’ mean?” I asked, nearly shouting him back to his knees.
“This is hardly the time for a vocabulary exam, Miss Sharper,” he said, his eyes locked on that giant tunnel and the monster that was crawling out of Hell.
“Tchitok and Kanarl mentioned that the blood of an innocent could shut the gate!” I snapped. “What does ‘innocent’ mean?”
Poseidon’s head snapped to meet mine. “Are the demons still alive? Do they have Gunnar?” As he asked this, his hand that held his knife was raised. “We can use his blood to-!”
“I will not sacrifice that child,” I yelled, “until I know what ‘innocent’ means!”
Poseidon looked at me as if I were crazy, but answered anyway. “It means they’re virgins.”
“That is what I thought,” I said, and grabbed his knife-wielding arm and pulled it down, slicing deep across my own arm.
“What are you … oh,” he said, his eyes popping wide. “You haven’t … not even with Remy?”
I did not dignify his gossip with an answer, but instead walked towards the water. My eyes drifted up and to the right as the body of the Kraken had now come to the edge. All of its tentacles were squirming on the floor, and I could see that both Kadul and Lima had been wrapped in the Brute’s tendrils and were being crushed to death.
Poseidon grabbed my arm. “You don’t have to,” he said, but his eyes told me that I did.
So I did.
I walked straight into the water that was on fire and felt my body boil as if I were a lobster dying in a pot on the stove. I could hear thunderous cracks, and when I looked up, I saw the squids shoot off in all direction. The tunnel was closing, and the gate was sealing itself shut.
I gave myself to Death.