The Books of Darkness
by Robert N. Stephenson
|Table of Contents|
part 2 of 2
“Come with me,” she said, dragging me to a blank wall to the rear of the basement. She pressed her hand against the surface, a panel slid open to reveal a tunnel. A poorly lit hole in the wall. “This will take us away from here and out of Bela’s contact.”
The way, lit by candles and stinking of candle wax, felt long. We walked in a steady stream of water down the floor and seeping through the walls. The smell reminded me of wet coats and sodden earth.
We trod and splashed for an age, perhaps two kilometres, the stone curves of the tunnel closing about us as it twisted under the park and down Prospect road. The sounds of cars above echoed about us. At the end of the tunnel a flight of steep, worn stairs led up. Sarina led the way, pulling her skirt above her ankles as she climbed. She disappeared into darkness, and I followed. Nowhere else to go.
We came out beside a fireplace in a well-furnished house. The lights were off, but the glow from the street lights showed off what looked like antique furniture. Turned legs, winged arm chairs. Sarina drew the blinds before turning on the light. She shuddered. The colours of the room must have been unnerving. All bright florals and garish flock wallpaper.
She turned on me. “What did he tell you about the horse?” The always calm Sarina looked anxious. “I need to know, Diana.”
“Only that it belonged to The Dark One and that it was important to him.”
“It’s important all right.” She hugged herself. “He can’t get it back. He can never get his hands on it, do you understand?”
I thought of the book, maybe a selfish thing to do, but I had to focus. I had two days. How did the horse affect what I had to do about the book?
“I’ve got to get that goddamn book back yet,” I said, not feeling all that happy myself. “I have no interest in taking the horse for dark features.” I sat in one of the floral arm chairs, glad to be out of the stench of cigarettes, glad not to be surrounded by black right at this moment.
Sarina paced a little, mumbling something. She stopped in front of me, knelt and took my hands. “You can’t give him the horse.”
“I won’t,” I said. “I promise.” She gripped my fingers so tightly it hurt.
“You won’t be able to stop yourself, Diana. He knows who you are, Bela knows who you are and how to influence you. They will get to you, get to me through you.”
“Then what can I do?” Was this a fait accompli?
“First we return the book, satisfy the Ta’ibah’s needs, get Bela out of the picture.” She put her head in my lap. “It wasn’t meant to go like this,” she cried, voice high, upset. “If I’d known, if I’d only known.”
“What are you talking about?” I eased her head out of my lap. She was crying. “Our meeting, getting to know each other, it wasn’t meant to be like this. It was meant to be simple.” She looked worn out. “We were meant to work on my book, you get to know me and then, and then love.”
“You planned to fall in love me?” This was new.
“I’d already fallen in love with your writing. I could tell you were in the work, and I fell in love with the author I thought you were.” She shook her head. “I didn’t know about the troubles heading your way. I just wanted you to fall in love with me.”
This wasn’t the time for such confessions. She could have said all this well before now, picked a better moment.
“No point confessing now,” I said. “Whatever you planned, it’s all gone to hell, and you and I have to get out of it.” I understood my own feelings but I couldn’t think about them, not yet, not now. I needed her to pull herself together. I needed Sarina back. She couldn’t go to pieces on me now.
She kept her grip tight around my fingers. “I have to tell you before anything happens to you.” he face wet, mascara running like black rivers down her cheeks. “Diana, I even had Dr Sholan keep an eye on you for me,” she cried.
“What?” My doctor, my shrink was a part of all this?
“I helped him with his books, and he kept me informed on your health, your mental state.” She looked at me. “I wanted you to be well, Diana, please believe me. I didn’t mean any of this to happen.”
Too much. I wanted to run from the house. Scream to the night, get locked away and pumped with drugs, block it out of my life. Breaking her grip, I grabbed her shoulders and gave her a firm shake. Strength, I needed her strength, needed her to guide me, show me what to do, how to stay alive. I couldn’t deal with tears and emotions, deal with deception, not to mention privacy issues, it would have to wait.
“Well, there won’t be much chance for love if I end up dead, will there?” That worked. Sarina wiped her face and stood. “Do you know how to deal with any of this?”
“I’ll call a limo and we can go.” She straightened her dress, a distraction, a self-ordering gesture.
“Sarina,” I said, standing. “Do you know what to do?”
“No,” she said, regaining some of the resolve I expected.
I didn’t want to hear that either.
She took her phone out of a small handbag and placed a call. We sat, saying nothing until the limo arrived. The drive to Glenelg, in silence, took thirty minutes. I couldn’t get my head around Dr Sholan being involved, how could he? I had trusted him.
By the time we were safely in the apartment a heavy tiredness had crawled into me. I felt weighty, it became difficult to move. I told Sarina. She looked at me gravely before explaining The Dark One had started his penetration, his fight for control over me.
It would be a matter of time before I would bring him the horse. He couldn’t succeed, Sarina explained. As long as I was safely within her sphere of protection, and so long as we stayed together, I would be okay.
I asked about the horse as I sat in one of the arm chairs and let my lethargy soak into the leather. She wouldn’t tell me at first, said it was dangerous to know, but if my life was going to be on the line over it, I deserved to know.
Sarina joined me in several large glasses of scotch. I’d never seen her drink anything stronger than wine. She settled on the sofa, legs drawn up, one elbow on the arm. She twirled the glass in her fingers, watching the amber fluid wash against the sides. I looked into my own glass and only saw the wobbling image of myself staring back. What was on her mind?
“The horse is very old,” she said. It startled me. We’d sat in the quiet of the apartment for almost an hour, just sipping scotch and getting lost in the blackness. I didn’t speak. I understood this disclosure ran up against trust. She owed me, owed me big time.
“I took it nearly a century ago.” She drank again. “I had drifted too close to the pit, The Dark One’s home. I’d been starving, unable to feed because of a mouth ulcer.”
She looked at me briefly before pouring another large measure. “You have to understand that when a Uttuke can’t feed, their darkness increases and brings them closer to The Dark One’s presence. It was by the pit I saw the horse. It stood on a tall pillar of onyx, expertly hidden in shadow, but I saw it nonetheless.” Sarina shifted to lying on her back, knees up, head rested on the arm of the sofa. The glass balanced on her chest, at the top of her cleavage.
“I was falling, Diana, giving into the darkness, I had to find something to hold onto. I grabbed the horse.” She fell silent.
I wanted to say continue, go on I want to hear more. I had to wait. Letting her remember and speak in her own time would help her settle, regain composure. If she regained her resolve she just might be able to save my sorry arse. Besides, the talking helped me with Beth, it helped me when ever Sarina let me ramble. It was her turn.
“The horse sent me back into the light,” she said, lifting her head to sip. “It drove the darkness back.” She sighed. “It was Marie who told me what it was. She’d heard of it from other Uttukes throughout Paris at the time.”
Sarina got to her feet, walked across the room and lifted the statue. “Inside this horse are the ashes, the last remains of one of the bravest Uttukes of all time.” She stepped over to me and handed over the statue. It was heavy, warm.
“Not all Uttukes live for a long time, Diana, and this one was the shortest-lived of all. He died of a broken heart.”
“Don’t you dare give me that love conquers evil,” I said. I might have been giving her a chance to fix things but I wasn’t about to buy into more of this crap.
“No love; light.” She drained her glass, her eyes looked brighter, steadier on her feet. “You hold an exact replica of Alexander the Great’s horse, Bucephalus. Inside are his ashes.”
Unbelievable. I cradled the horse, ran my fingers over its fine lines, the perfect musculature. I couldn’t see any seams to suggest this was just a fancy urn. At least love didn’t come into it. Light I could deal with.
“The horse was fashioned in Alexandria in his honour in 333 B.C.,” she continued, “though only he knew what it was to be used for.” Sarina sat in the other chair, leaning forward and watching me.
“When Hephaeston died of a fever, Alexander grieved like no other in history. He had the Uttuke gift, he could have so easily saved his friend, but had hesitated, unsure of his power, reserving his love. The fever moved too fast; he became helpless.”
“The story goes that he was gay,” I said. I’d seen the movie like most people.
“He was a Uttuke, there are no sexual boundaries in our lives.” She said, just a little too firmly.
“I didn’t mean...”
“It’s okay,” Sarina relaxed. “The thing is that Alexander, faced with an eternity without his friend and blaming his physician for his death, not only crucified the poor man, he marched into Cossaea and for no apparent reason massacred the entire nation.”
“He went mad?”
“He went from the greatest to the most despicable within a few days. Uttukes within his own army left his side, his men started to lose respect. He drank heavily,” Sarina looked at me. “And eventually succumbed to a fever. Twelve days of misery later he was declared dead. Some Uttukes had returned on news of his illness. They beheaded him and later cremated him. The greatest of our kind was also one of the saddest.”
I handled the horse with a sense of sadness myself. A broken heart, the loss of love had brought him down when armies could not. His body was burnt and the ashes placed within the horse. It was the only thing that had never left his side.”
“And how did The Dark One get it?”
She poured herself more scotch, offering the bottle to me. I put the horse on the coffee table, took the bottle and half filled my glass.
“Like all things through time, the statue was lost, passed on through trading, theft, seeing more markets than battles. A Ta’ibah working for The Dark One in Turkey found the horse in a junk stall, felt its link to us and took it to his master as a gift.
“Alexander’s horse is a symbol of strength and tragedy to the Uttukes, a reminder of the costs involved in the life they live. To The Dark One it is the embodiment of death and destruction; he can draw back through history, feed on the anguish and fear through Alexander’s warring ways.
“It was a also a reminder to be used against Uttukes, to show the fallibilities of their lives. The urn also held the last known power of the old one, the one who had converted Alexander in the first place.”
In Sarina’s hand that power could be used to control the roaming of the Ta’ibahs, thwart some of The Dark One’s ways.
What he would do with the horse wasn’t clear. He would use the power to find the Old One, the oldest Uttuke alive. Knowing he hadn’t found him even with the horse brought Sarina and others some comfort, but it would have only been a matter of time, the one thing he has ample supply of, until he found the Old One. His purpose for this, according to Sarina, isn’t known, but the darkness wasn’t known for anything good.
Sarina and I finished the bottle and went to bed. We made slow, clumsy love, she on top and grinding, me simply lost in the haze of booze and soft skin. I liked the closeness, loved the way she felt and sighed with pleasure. I thought about her confession and how I felt.
Inside the fugue of intimacy and drunkenness I couldn’t place my emotions. Or was it because I didn’t want to. Could I really love something like this? Was I indeed in love? She slid down me, spent and breathing hard. Her head lay between my breasts. I closed my eyes, my world spinning slightly, and gently toyed with her hair.
Would I ever know if I was in love?
Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson