The sounds of nighttime traffic filtered through the walls and windows of the hotel room. Besides this low background rumble, the room was silent. Moonlight silently crept through the slits of the window blinds, casting a faint, opalescent glow on the room, giving it an unreal quality, partially illuminating the furniture: the desk with an open, mouldering tome of extreme age atop it, the nightstand decorated with carved wooden figures of various shapes, sizes, and subjects. A black hijab hung from the corner and a pair of black-rimmed glasses rested beside it.
Their owner, a slight girl with tanned skin and shoulder-length black hair, lay awake in the dark, her arm around the man sleeping soundly beside her. She could feel his chest rise and fall against her and the comforting warmth radiating off of him. She idly traced the burn scar on his bare chest, lost in thought and in a terrible limbo.
She was tired, but she dared not fall asleep. She wanted to rest, but felt a crushing guilt over the rough scar she felt beneath her fingers. Phen should not have been hurt, she thought, I wasn’t good enough. I deserved to be burned, but I didn’t. At least then he wouldn’t feel so bad about it; he wouldn’t feel so self-conscious about his scar and I’d be happy. We’d both be happy. She sighed. He deserved so much better than her. If only she could take the scars and the pain and the trauma herself in Phen’s place.
She began to feel her head becoming heavy and the energy seeping out of her. She lowered her head onto his chest, soothed to sleep by the feeling of his skin on her cheek and the warmth rising from it.
* * *
She found herself walking through a moonlit field, wind whipping at her from all sides. She walked on, coming to a large, tumbledown ruin. Bits of demolished wood and stone littered the ground and frayed wires and twisted pipes jutted from the ragged remains of the walls. The entire effect was one of a perverse blend of the ancient and modern; of the medieval and the Romanesque, the Twentieth Century and the Renaissance.
She felt a terrible sense of dread wash over her at the sight of the desolate scene. No...she thought, Not here...anywhere but here...She wanted to run, but some unknown force compelled her onward into the ruin itself. A black at darted out from the rubble and sat on the remains of a weathered well of immense antiquity, its rim decorated with letters no doubt carved by ancient Roman hands. It fixed her with an eerily knowing stare, his large eyes flashing.
The cat leaped off the well as the great stone covering it was tossed aside from within. She tensed and draw her weapons: a short scimitar and and old flintlock pistol, both carved with delicate Arabic script. She held these at the ready as a figure pulled himself from the putrid, ancient portal to a hellish netherworld. As the man climbed out, she gasped in horror.
The man was old, dressed in the raiment of an ancient swineherd. Hsi frame was gaunt, his sunken eyes bulging and mad. He held a staff in his hand. She could see a gaping bullet hole in his forehead from which blood was lazily oozing. The man stared at her, grinning with wicked delight with sharp, rotting teeth.
“Fatima Al’Hazred,” he said in a sepulchral voice.
“No,” cried Fatima, leveling her weapons at him and cocking the pistol. “You’re dead! I killed you myself!”
The old man laughed.
“Dead? No; I am immortal! While the Baptistes live, so does my clan, foolish girl! You are powerless to stop us, as you were the night we killed your worthless father, as those fools who locked me away when I discovered my true nature!”
The cat sauntered over to the man and began twining hiself around the old man’s legs. A terrible crescendo of scratching, scuttling sounds could be heard from the open well as if a great swarm of rats was running through those black places underground, that Fatima could only vaguely imagine with the utmost terror.
She stood fast in the face of these terrors, forcing her fear down, replacing it with a murderous rage directed towards the man, no, the bloodwritten who had ordered her father slaughtered. She fired at the old man who had begun to laugh maniacally, saying:
“The rats! The rats! Can you not hear them?! None shall stand before the de la Poers!” The musket ball simply went through him as if he were smoke.
The cackling bloodwritten faded away and she saw a man staggering towards her covered in blood. He was tall and broad, with a bearded face straining with the effort of dragging a shredded, bloody leg behind him.
“Fatima,” he cried, “Get out of here! Tell Earl Faulkwine to send reinforcements!”
“No dad,” she half-whimpered, half-shouted, “Let me fight them off! I-”
Before she could finish her sentence, three bloodwritten in demon from swooped down from the sky and began mercilessly tearing him apart.
Fatima dropped to her knees, releasing her weapons. She began to shake uncontrollably, disbelieving the fact she was witnessing her father’s murder a second time. A thick despair fell over her and she began to cry, falling down on her side and curling up on the debris-strewn ground, her body wracking with sobs and trembling.
“A touch excessive, don’t you think, my dear?” came a droll, low voice.
Fatima looked up, still sniffling and shaking, as a man stepped out from behind a crumbled wall. He was tall, thin, and pale, with long, black hair and half-lidded black eyes ringed with gold. He wore a black robe embellished with strange, golden glyphs and a high, metallic headdress decorated with rubies and carved with hideous sea creatures resembling a cross between a fish, a frog, and a man.
The feasting bloodwritten vanished and the half-eaten man melted into a silvery liquid which flowed towards the newcomer, coalescing into a gaunt woman with glaring, yellow eyes and long, brown hair.
“Begone familiar! This is no business of yours,” she spat.
“If it involves my mistress, then it is,” said the man in a lethally restrained tone, “Besides, I did not believe a weakling demon like yourself still had the strength to terrorize mortals.”
The man shot the demon a murderous look, which she returned as the ruins faded into a white, formless mist.
“You’ll get yours, squid!” the demon-woman hissed.
The man smirked at her, his eyes narrowing with amusement.
“Shall I dear?” he said, venom dripping from every syllable, “I’ve been led to believe that the god of the mortals will track you down and boil you alive for all eternity someday. Yes, he does not seem the most pleasant fellow, so fixated on filthy, unworthy mortals that he would exact terrible vengeance on all who would harm them.”
“Oh dear, it seems you have possessed and mistreated his precious mortals. Oops. Seems we are in trouble now, aren’t we? Especially considering how devoted your favorite plaything is to this god, not to mention my own mistress.” He gestured to where Fatima was still sitting in shock, her arms clasped around her legs and her chin resting on her knees.
“She worships quite the similar god, though somewhat similar in various nuances. Either they are one and the same, and you have doubly angered him, or you now have two furious gods bearing down upon you.” He smirked at her, smugly regarding her with his piercing eyes.
The woman hissed at him, her eyes flashing with infinite rage. For a second, Fatima thought she saw a twinge of fear cross the demon’s face at the mention of her God. She felt her courage begin to rise. She stood, silently praying for strength and courage. Summoning all her strength, she walked toward the man in the robe. The man looked at her out of the corner of his eye, a satisfied look on his face.
‘“I’m sure you’ll fare no better,” said the demon, “I will have my revenge, familiar, and there is nothing you can do!”
Fatima picked up her sword and ran at her.
“Back to Iblis with you!” she screamed, plunging the weapon into her. “You have no power over me, Alecto!” She wrenched the weapon painfully around in the wound she had made.
Alecto’s eyes went wide in surprise as the girl she thought she had subdued ran her though. She choked and gagged as Fatima twisted her sword, allowing the girl to think that she had won.
Fatima pulled out the sword, crimson with blood, and in one swift motion swung at her neck. Alecto splattered into silvery liquid as the weapon hit her, flowing into the mist. Fatima stood there, panting as the adrenaline began to subside. The man walked over to her.
“Are you alright, mistress?”
Fatima turned and smiled at him, throwing her arms around him and hugging him close, much to his utter shock.
“Thank you so much, Howard,” she said, burying her face in his chest, “Thank you for helping me find my courage.”
“You are welcome mistress,” said Howard, awkwardly draping his arms around her shoulders, “The demon is not dead, however, and I suggest we return to the land of the waking as soon as we can.”
Fatima nodded and gave Howard one last affectionate squeeze before letting the bewildered man go. A great rumbling rose in the mist. Fatima felt a violent wind nipping at her. The mist cleared away, revealing a horrifying vista.
The air began to reek of decay like a mountain of rotting fish. Sodden spires, dripping with putrid, briny seawater loomed above her, somehow askew, somehow surreally wrong. Their angles and geometry were utterly alien, bending at odd angles which would be impossible in the waking world. The sky was sickly green and a cold, black sun hung overhead like a single, staring eye. The crashing of waves could be heard in the distance.
Fatima felt her newfound courage fall away as waves of dread and despair pulled her under as she sank to her knees, clutching Howard’s robes. She knew this accursed place from her years aof reading and research, but nothing could have prepared her for the sight of it in all its ghastly glory. A single word hung in her mind: R’lyeh.
As she hung onto Howard’s garment, she could hear him speaking in a guttural, alien tongue. Somehow, she could understand it.
“She will not be a bother, Master,” Howard was yelling to the deathly expanse spread out before them, “Leave my mistress alone! The stars are not right, Master, go back to sleep! You are dealing with a daughter of the man who discovered your secrets, recorded them so that some mortals now know! You shall not have her as you took him! Her mind will be unsullied as well. What is a mortal to you anyhow!?”
Fatima looked up at Howard. He was white and trembling slightly, but his face looked determined. A certain passion burned in his eyes, a depth of feeling she had thought impossible for him. This comforted her. She stood, though shaking.
“Yes,” she cried over the breaking of the waves, “You won’t have me! Away with you!”
The wind picked up again and Howard pulled her downward, covering her with his cloak.
“Don’t look outside,” he said, “Be calm and try to awaken. I’ll hold him off as long as I’m able.”
The wind blew harder and she felt the cloak slapping against her. A terrible din could be heard, a shrieking chorus of demented flutes and a frenzied sawing on unseen stringed instruments. She stuffed her fingers into her ears and tried to concentrate, picturing herself waking up.
The howling wind and the demonic orchestra grew louder. She could barely hear Howard shouting something indistinguishable against the all-encompassing cacophony that threatened to rip Fatima’s sanity from her skull. She shut her eyes, praying this nightmare would end.
“There is no god but Allah,” she whispered, “and Mohammed is His Prophet.”
She repeated these familiar words, drawing comfort from them. The veiled chaos around her seemed to fade. Soon all was quiet.
“Fatima...” came a whispering voice, “Fatima?”
She felt pleasantly warm, pressed against a soft mass. She opened her eyes to find herself back in bed, Phen holding her and gently stroking her back and hair.
“Phen...” she breathed.
“Are you alright,” he asked, “You were crying in your sleep.”
She nodded, “Bad dream...” she whispered, feeling her heart still racing.
“Shhh, it’s alright Angel, I’m here.” He kissed her cheek.
Fatima smiled as she felt a pleasant fluttering sensation in her stomach. She began to calm, knowing she was safe. She was with Phen. The terrible events she had just witnessed were only in her imagination. She was safe. Phen was there. She snuggled up against him, feeling his chest slowly rise and fall with his breathing.
“Will you stay awake until I fall back asleep?”
“Of course; anything for you...”
He kissed her forehead and ran his fingers through her hair. Fatima closed her eyes and laid against his chest. Phen did not have to stay awake for long as she drifted off into a serene, dreamless sleep.