HENRY AND THE ESCHATON
‘Henry, wake up!’
‘Uhrr … wha?’
‘Wake up! Now! And be quiet!’
Henry stirred, finding a hand over his mouth to reinforce the warning. The voice had been so familiar that for a while he thought he was somewhere else, in another bed, sleeping next to … Gavin!
The instant the hand left his mouth, he whispered, ‘Is it you, baby?’
‘Me? Yes, it’s Gavin.’
‘Oh! So! Finally willing to talk to me, are you?’
‘Sorry. Look, can we do recriminations later? I don’t want to wake Ed, and we have no time. It may already be too late. Get your clothes on!’
When Henry sat up, Gavin settled next to him, his maddeningly familiar shape and smell all too evident even in the dark tent. Henry found his boots and trousers. He dressed, grabbed his greatcoat and pistol, then followed Gavin out into the night. Ed was still snoring as they left.
The campsite was quiet, the moon high above the clearing. The fires had died down to embers.
‘Okay, Gavin Michael Price, explain yourself.’
‘It’s Max. The Hellhound has him. I need you to help, Henry. Only you can save him.’
‘Me? You’re the supernatural being, what the fuck can I do against things like that?’
‘Henry! Don’t be obtuse. I know you’ve been hanging out with a seraph. You probably know more about what’s going on than I do.’
‘Don’t bet on it. Why did you blow me off in Strelzen?’
‘Henry!!! Focus, please! I can’t find the Hellhound without you. He can cloak himself from me, but not from you. You are Mendamero. Reach out with your mind. You will sense the blackness.’
Henry paused. Wasn’t this what Tobias had showed him how to do in the Canadian Rockies? He took a deep breath and let his mind float free, his consciousness expanding of its own accord. Within the surrounding blackness he felt a core of denser darkness in front of him and to his right. It was at a distance of maybe two kilometres.
‘You feel it?’
‘Yes, but quite a way away.’
‘No matter. I can take you there, now I know from your mind where to go. Hold my hand. God! Let us not be too late!’
Before Henry could finish saying his automatic Amen, the night shifted around him and he was elsewhere, though Gavin still gripped his hand.
Screams were rending the air, horrible sobbing screams. ‘Please stop! God, oh God! Oh, please! I’ll tell you … aaaah!’ A white figure, seemingly hanging in the moonlight, was contorting and twisting in torment as a dark being lashed at it with a long whip of red fire. Grating laughter was the only answer Max got. The Hellhound was torturing him at least as much for its own gratification as for information.
Henry was stunned. Not knowing what else to do he drew his pistol, releasing the safety catch as he did. But Gavin had already moved. A vast wind filled the forest and a crackle of blue flame struck down from the sky to explode on the demon.
It seemed barely affected. It turned and, when it saw who had interrupted it, did no more than laugh, a sound like rocks grinding together. ‘The Guardian! So you found me. Then more fool you.’
Ignoring Henry entirely, it gathered its whip and began to shift in the moonlight into a new form, half beast and half human, bent over and feral. The whip lashed out, but Gavin had moved quicker than Henry thought possible. Perhaps he had flickered in and out of reality.
Henry edged around to where Max was hanging. Close up, the boy’s body was fearfully lacerated and burned where the whip had curled around him. He was moaning and crying pitifully. It was a wonder he was still conscious and a tragedy that he was not.
Henry did not have the strength to take him down. Angry in a way he had never been before in his life, he aimed his pistol at the Hellhound and fired. The explosion and flare of light succeeded in drawing its attention, though Henry had no idea whether he had hit it. He fired again, this time causing it to reel with the concussion of the high-velocity ammunition. When he saw it was visibly affected by his shot, Henry emptied the magazine and the thing went down under a hail of bullets. Obedient to his reservist officer’s training, he snatched a new clip from his belt and reloaded by reflex.
The Hellhound was up again by now, briefly confused, giving Gavin an opportunity to close with it. Henry marvelled at the lithe strength of his former boyfriend. This was not the old Gavin, as feeble a wuss as ever there had been.
It was a silent struggle between two well-matched adversaries who clawed at each other and wrestled in the dark. The trees around them sighed and swayed in a rising wind. The Hellhound had height and weight, but Gavin was far quicker. Although small, he was possessed of both amazing strength and the anger to use it.
The Hound reached up to a pine tree and broke off a low-hanging branch, which it brandished like a mace. It swept the weapon down on its opponent, clearly hoping to deal a final, crushing blow that would put an end to the fight then and there. But Gavin dodged and the mace ploughed into the ground, causing the demon to overbalance.
This was Gavin’s chance. He closed with the Hound, lifted it and with enormous force drove it onto the snapped-off stub of the broken branch, leaving the creature impaled there, screeching and struggling to pull itself off.
Gavin shouted, ‘Now, Henry!’
‘But shooting it is fuck all use!’
‘No! Destroy it! You have the power!’
‘For heaven’s sake! When did you get to be so dull? Reach out with your mind, just as you did getting here!’
Henry swayed uncertainly. Then he focussed his mind to put forth tendrils, exactly the way he had done when he first searched for the Hellhound. He touched it, felt all its hideous lusts, hatred and anger beating on his mind like the heat from a burning coal. But he knew he was detached from it. Its evil had no power to harm him. That was when he fully realised what Tobias had done to him.
It was easy. He simply willed the part of the universe around the demon to halt. The wind puffed out and the forest became silent. The tree on which the Hound had been impaled was empty, as if the thing had been deleted from existence. The only sign that it had ever been there was a sheen of sparkling white on the bark. Henry reached up to discover a crusting of ice, fearfully cold even a few inches away. It was the cold that lies between the stars, the place to which he had sent the thing, somewhere in the direction of Alpha Centauri.
Henry stared at the scene for a moment more, then with an effort brought himself back to reality.
Gavin too broke out of his stupor. Once more able to hear the incoherent moaning of the tortured boy hanging from the tree, he wasted no words. In an instant he was at Max’s side, lifting him and breaking his bonds before laying him gently on the ground. ‘Oh Max, Max.’ He was crying now, the moonlight shining on his tearstained cheeks.
Henry stooped over them. ‘What can we do?’
‘Get him out of here. I can take him to my … headquarters.’
‘You mean Biscofshalch?’
‘How did you …? I won’t ask. Yes, that’s where we are. You and Ed were on the way there, yes?’
‘I had to talk to you, baby. But no need now. Let’s get poor Max to a hospital.’
‘No human doctor can cure these wounds. I'll tend him in Biscofshalch.’
‘You can heal him?’
‘Yes … with a bit of help from you.’
‘Henry, you must have some inkling by now what the seraph did to you.’
Henry pondered that statement. ‘I’m beginning to have. He also warned me not to use the power I have, in peril of my soul.’
‘I doubt he meant that warning to apply in a situation like this.’
‘Maybe not. Can I fly solo now?’
‘I have no idea, Henry. Perhaps, although I wouldn’t advise you to try. Let me sort it this time. Sit by us here.’
Max was moaning and twisting in his agony. Henry put out a hand to soothe the boy's forehead, wet with sweat. As he did, they were no longer on the forest floor, but in a candlelit chamber.
Elijah was on a sofa and leapt to his feet with a curse. ‘Enoch, it’s Henry!’ Then he noticed Max. ‘My God! What did the thing do to him?’
‘Lije, bring water, hurry!’
Elijah gave one further appalled glance at the horror that was Max and disappeared out of the room.
Now there was light enough for Henry to see the awful extent of the wounds the demon had inflicted. Max's lower abdomen had been torn by the curling whip, Max’s genitals were a ragged, bloody mess. His body was criss-crossed with red and black welts oozing blood.
Henry wanted to be sick. ‘How can we fix this?’
Gavin gave him a hesitant smile. ‘With love.’ He placed his hand on Max’s forehead and the agonised twitching subsided as the boy fell into sleep.
‘There. That’s better. Now, let’s try this.’ Gavin traced each welt with his finger, clearly hoping for some result. When nothing came of it, he frowned.
Elijah returned bearing a bowl, not so much utilitarian as a piece of art: solid sculpted silver encrusted with gold medallions and precious stones. The water in it was crystalline and cold. He placed it next to Max on the floor.
Gavin reached over, dipped in his hand and let it drip on Max’s body. Again there was no effect, other than to wash away some blood. ‘Henry, please do what I just did. Wet your finger, then draw it over the wounds.’
Henry nodded. With a brief prayer, he scooped up some of the cold water. He let it trickle down his finger on to a fearful wound across Max’s chest, one which had torn away the right nipple. Where he traced the wound it closed and vanished, the nipple reappearing in its proper place as the water ran over where it should have been.
Henry’s heart raced when he looked across Max’s body at a now beaming Gavin. He plunged his hand into the basin once again and got to work on the lacerations. The torn abdomen nearly turned his own stomach, but while Gavin held the edges of the gaping wound he poured a handful of water on it. It closed seamlessly.
‘This is the tricky bit,’ he muttered, grinning nervously at Gavin. Taking up as much water as his cupped hands would hold, he hesitantly poured it over Max’s groin to let it wash down the ruined genitalia. When the blood streamed away from the red mess, Max’s penis reappeared whole and perfect once more, as if a dirty window had been wiped clean. Sheepishly, Henry placed one wet hand between Max’s legs and felt the boy’s testicles grow again against his palm, warm and heavy where he held them.
‘Stop enjoying yourself,’ Gavin sniggered, delighted now.
‘Hmm. Don’t tell me you didn’t want to do that bit yourself.’
‘Hey! We’re just good friends!’
Henry rolled his eyes. Then he stared more seriously into Gavin’s. They understood each other, it seemed.
‘He’s a lovely guy, baby. A tendency to run off at the mouth and not listen to people older and wiser than he is, but he’ll be really good for you, and you for him.’
Gavin just blushed, looking for a moment like his old self, the one Henry remembered from Finkle Road. Somehow that brought the sadness back. Henry covered it by turning Max over and dealing with his back and legs. Finally the boy was flawless, clean and beautiful once more.
Elijah too was smiling as he looked on. He picked up the sleeping Max and effortlessly placed him on the sofa, draping over him a throw from the back. ‘Will he have a headache tomorrow!’ Then, with deliberate quirkiness, he complained, ‘Damn, that mat is ruined by all the blood. I liked that mat.’
‘Time to get you back, Henry,’ decided Gavin.
‘Wait! We have to talk.’
‘We will, I promise, and soon. But in the meantime, I have to think hard about what happened tonight – and for that matter, so do you.’
‘He stays here now. The bishop has discovered a link between Max and me which makes him a weak point in our security. He can be safe here and nowhere else, and he must be kept away from detection by our enemies. Besides, I'm certain he’s a force in his own right, if only I can work out how.’
Henry looked at his ex-lover moodily. ‘It’s good to see you, baby. But you’ve changed so much.’
‘It had to happen, Henry. I … still love you, you know.’
‘I guessed. I could say the same. But perhaps it’s just a memory we love.’
‘No. I think we were good together. We were born to be friends. It’s just that … y’know …’
‘We’ve moved on.’
‘Yes, I suppose that sums it up. Now, hold my hand again. Dawn is still a way off. I’ll return you to the campsite.’
A moment’s disorientation and they were once again in the dark under trees. Henry felt a kiss linger on his cheek, and then he was alone.
Anthony arrived early for work that November day. It was very frosty, the sky a clear autumn blue, the trees still golden and red. He felt more cheerful than he had done for days, since the man O’Brien had turned up.
The explosion at Cranwell had been followed by half a dozen more across the south Midlands. Churches of the Conservative Coalition were smoking ruins. The media was appalled at the organisation of the terrorists.
Worse events had followed the next day. Because the relative freedom of the Internet still allowed communication, websites were flooded with explicit videos of several prominent evangelical clerics and leaders engaged with prostitutes – male and female – some doing very kinky things indeed. Arrests quickly followed. Further investigation revealed a huge embezzlement of funds, much of which had come from misappropriation of government social-action grants. Connections were made to prominent ministers in the Coalition. The government was obliged to distance itself from Bishop Jack as its control of Parliament failed and the prime minister’s resignation was not only demanded but expected.
The bishop fought back hard, with what Anthony thought was superhuman energy. He was reasonable and cheerful in front of the cameras, and very persuasive. No commentator yet dared challenge his probity. Still, he was hard put to excuse the peculation of some of his leading followers. He was forced on to his back foot, and a ‘thorough house-cleaning’ had to be promised.
When Anthony reached the office that morning, however, he found the bishop in a mood far from serene. He was striding up and down his office, a deep frown on his face.
He shot a baleful look at Anthony. ‘I had some bad news from Rothenia this morning. Colin has … disappeared.’
‘We expect the worst. Gareth believes the same terrorists who have been targeting our mission here have been shadowing them. He fears Colin was kidnapped, maybe tortured and killed.’
‘The police, sir!’
‘Police!’ the bishop roared. ‘Rothenia is a terrorist state whose police are notoriously corrupt. I have no doubt its government is involved.’
‘My heavens, sir! Then you must not go there. I’ll cancel the commitments after Prague.’
For a moment the bishop looked apoplectic. He made a visible effort before regaining his equilibrium. ‘Of course you’re right, Anthony. Forgive me. I have been so … distracted this past dreadful week. I imagine Rothenia is no more dangerous than any other part of godless Catholic Europe. I shall get on to Gareth and ask his advice. There is no possible way he would let me go into any risky situation.’
The bishop slumped into his chair. A fly buzzed past him. Anthony saw him pluck it out of the air with remarkable dexterity. As he left he thought he saw the bishop pulling off its wings.
Max drifted through some dreadful dreams. He was burning alive. Through the smoke he saw Gavin reaching out a hand to him, yet when he tried to grab it, the flames seemed to slow him down. He woke, calling Gavin’s name. Sitting up, he found himself naked under a thick woollen blanket.
It was then he remembered his night of torment. Yet when he looked down he found his body unmarked. Had it been a nightmare? Bewildered, he recognised the room from his previous visit. He was in the fortress Elijah and Enoch had made for themselves. What had Henry called it, Biscofshalch?
‘Up then?’ A cheery Elijah was leaning in a doorway.
‘Can’t you remember?’
‘I was lured into the forest and one of those devil creatures got me. It carried me away and then … no!’ The horror and pain flooded back, but his memory was confused. Had he seen Henry?
Elijah came and settled next to him, taking him round the shoulder perfectly unselfconsciously. Max huddled into the hug, though he knew that from Lije it was only friendship.
His heart rate slowed. ‘Where’s my clothes?’
‘Fraid you won’t see them again. And I’m not sure what we’ll do about that, since neither Enoch nor I are your size. But here’s a pair of underpants and a tee-shirt. You’re skinny enough, even though the tee won’t come much below your belly button.’
Max struggled into the briefs. They were indeed a bit too tight for his waist size, but the idea that they might have been Gavin’s excited him. The tee-shirt felt ridiculously small as well.
‘Another problem is food. Enoch's out trying to do something about that. There’s a cow in the next field I believe he can milk.’
A scuffle from beyond the room announced Gavin’s return. He came through the door excitedly, beaming when he saw Max. Determinedly he leaned down and thoroughly kissed the newcomer, who responded with enthusiasm.
‘Oh, for God’s sake … I knew this would happen.’ Elijah got up and left, warning as he went through the door, ‘And don’t make too much noise!’
Max clasped Gavin into his lap. The kissing went on for quite a while, its obvious result peeping over the band of the too-small briefs into which Max had crammed his package. When they saw it emerge they both laughed, Max a little sheepishly. Gavin kissed him again and fondled his crotch.
Max enthusiastically accepted the attention. So there was to be a sexual relationship. It was just a matter of how soon, and he wanted it then and there.
Gavin broke off. ‘I found you some breakfast. I had to steal it from a farmhouse bed-and-breakfast in the next valley, but I got bread, jam, cereal … no milk, sorry.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Just tell me what happened last night.’
‘I will, but first …’
Gavin shrugged off his coat, but didn’t stop there; tee-shirt, jeans, trainers and pants followed. Max pulled off what little clothing he had. With a sigh Gavin sank into Max’s naked lap, now wearing only his bag of a hat. His erection was thick and straight. Max closed his hand on it, stroking it and fondling the balls below. His own penis was long and hard against Gavin’s flank. He kissed and licked at Gavin’s brown, beardless cheeks.
‘So you can do sex, Gav?’
‘Apart from one exception – which was more business than pleasure – it’s been a while … um, seven years.’
‘What, not even wanked?’
Gavin blushed delightfully and, being naked, showed the flush right down to his shoulders. ‘Well, yes, after I was taken. Just to see what happened.’
‘And did it?’
‘Oh yes, though it was different.’
‘I’m not sure I can explain it, but I was really thirsty afterwards. That’s why we have the cokes, to sort of top us up’
Max gave Gavin a puzzled look. Gavin once again kissed him passionately, then giggled. ‘Lije goes through a box a fortnight. It’s hard to keep up the supply. We pilfer it from a warehouse in Ranstadt.’
Max burst into laughter. After they kissed some more, he took the initiative and pressed Gavin down on to the sofa. ‘I like to go on top, best,’ he breathed in Gavin’s ear.
‘And I like to go under. I hoped you’d be a top.’
Max stroked and kissed his new lover. He found the squirming he elicited as he played with Gavin’s dark little nipples very exciting. The boy actually moaned, his cock rearing and leaking precum profusely. Gavin’s mixture of strength and submissiveness was deeply arousing. It was as if Max, having conquered a powerful fortress, was marching in with flags flying and drums beating.
Max entered him without lube after Gavin whispered it wasn’t necessary, and besides, they had none. Completely embedded, Max energetically fucked away at the boy under him for what seemed ages. Once he came, Gavin clenched hard on him and came too, more copiously than Max would have thought possible. It sprayed up into his face and only his closed eyes saved him from a serious amount of pain.
Gavin’s cock was still pulsing as he threw his head back with a look of pure bliss on his face. When he eventually refocused he gave a wonderful, happy laugh, saying, ‘I could murder a coke!’ Then he noticed the serious expression on his lover’s face. ‘What is it, Max?’
Max switched to an impish grin. ‘Was that necrophilia?’
In the meantime, Henry was holding council with Rudi, Ed and Davey. They sat together around a picnic table at the campsite, disregarding large mugs of steaming coffee an orderly had placed in front of them. Henry watched the grimaces of horror, concern and relief play across his friends’ faces.
Davey looked earnestly at him. ‘And Max? What’ll happen to him?’
‘He’s where he should be, with the man he loves and who loves him. They’ll be together now, I think, till the end, whatever that end may be. It's a good thing too. It was lovely to see how happy they were. It’s true love, one forged outside this world. They were intended for each other centuries ago.’
Ed smiled and took Henry’s hand. ‘And you’ve done the hard thing at last. It sounds as if the two of you have made your peace.’
‘Yes, Gavin and I will always be friends. We love and trust each other, but we’re not lovers anymore. I’m anxious to see him again, though. We have too much left unsaid about this business.’
Rudi broke in with a stern look on his face. ‘I have a lot of questions, Outfield. So let’s get started. It seems you have powers we have not yet begun to fathom, but at least you know their origin.’
‘Yes, Tobias … activated … me, I think. But it was in a different way from the Icon’s transformation of Gavin, whose power – like that of the Antichrist – belongs to the circle of this world. Mine, however … all I can say is, I think I’ve been given a connection with what’s outside.’
‘You mean you’ve been seraphed?’ Davey smiled.
‘In a way perhaps I have been. That’s a big problem, since no one can really comprehend or guide me in the use of such power. Tobias did his job and departed. He didn’t leave a handbook behind him, just a warning, and I fear that with the Max incident I may already have pushed the envelope. But how could I not help him, so horribly mangled and in such terrible pain as he was?’
Ed’s hand tightened on his. ‘You did right, little babe.’
‘So do we continue to Biscofshalch?’
‘I don’t think so, Rudi. This expedition has already served its purpose. I suggest we leave the boys to get on with what they must do, while we take up the business of Bishop Jack once more.’
Rudi gave a rare smirk. ‘Ah well, I’ve not been inactive there myself.’
They all stared at him before Henry narrowed his eyes. ‘What exactly did you do, Rudi?’
‘Oh it wasn’t I so much as Terry O’Brien and Richard Peacher. Terry and our Rothenian Sichertsdienst in London have been very, very busy making themselves a pain in the arse for the bishop. My father-in-law was an invaluable source of information on the activities and personalities of the Conservative Coalition, which had hopes of his support and which he thoroughly understood, penetrated and subverted.
‘And my, haven’t they been successful!’