Henry and the Eschaton
Max woke to find Gavin still flat out next to him. He sat up and discovered he was human once more. What was happening to him?
He grinned to himself. Whatever it was, it was cool. He'd had wings on his shoulders! Real, beating wings that would have lifted him off the bed had he not been twelve-inches deep inside Gavin. He checked his dick. Rats! Back to normal size.
Gavin too was in human guise. After gently stroking his flanks, Max cuddled round his warm body and kissed the nape of his neck.
Max thought out his situation as he lay embracing his sleeping lover. He knew the Icon had changed him, though the transformation seemed to depend on his proximity to Gavin. When Gavin shed his human guise, so did Max. They had been linked. But for what purpose? And then he thought of Soho. He had manifested power there when he was close to a transfigured Gavin. After his encounter with the Icon, the power was greater, enough to transfigure him too for a while.
Then there was the spear the Icon had given them. It stood propped up in the corner of the room. He pondered its significance.
A tap came on the door. Lije's voice called out, 'You decent?'
'Nope,' Max shouted.
Gavin stirred, then sat up suddenly as his situation came home to him. 'I've been asleep again!'
Lije put his head round the door and tutted.
'I said we weren't decent.'
Nothing daunted, Lije came in and sprawled on a chair while the other two grabbed briefs and trousers. 'So tell me what happened. It must have been really something; the tower was shaking.'
Gavin looked impish. 'That was Max fucking the arse off me.'
'Whoa! Too much information.' Lije shook his head. 'You slept again, Gavin. Is it sex that does it?'
'No, I think it's the Max effect. He and I are linked. He's supernatural near me and I'm more human near him.'
Max grinned. 'I need me some coke. Really thirsty!' When all three boys laughed, he had a terrible pang of regret. He knew these moments of fellowship would soon end forever.
Lije's eyes seemed to show something of the same emotion as he looked fondly at his friends. 'Maybe we should give Max a new name.'
Gavin smirked. 'Call him Ezekiel? We'll have the full set then.'
Max shook his head. 'It'd be like a sorta club thing, the E-babes! Nice. But... nah! Don't wanna. I'd feel sorta like a prat. No offence.'
Gavin took him round his neck and kissed his cheek. 'Love you,' he whispered.
Max seized and kissed the fingers draped across his shoulder.
Lije stood and went over to the corner, where he picked up the spear and weighed it in his hand. 'I suppose we'd better work out what it is the Icon has given us. Will you come into the common room? It has more light.'
'Wish there was more heating too,' Max grumbled.
'I sometimes forget you're human,' Lije observed. 'Take that as a compliment and put on a sweater.'
Lije laid the spear on the floor and they knelt around it. It was over two metres long. Its shaft was made of polished ash wood with no mark on it. The blade was less simple, the steel silvered and incised with an elaborate pattern.
'What do you make of these lines, Gavin?' Lije asked.
Gavin reached out and traced the pattern with his finger, but nothing happened. 'There doesn't seem to be any letter or shape in it. It just snakes round.'
'Looks sorta, y'know, ancient, like the Romans mighta done it.'
'Max has a point,' Lije agreed. 'There's a definite look of acanthus about it.'
'Yeah, acanthus. The very word.' Max was grinning, and Lije reached out to ruffle his golden curls.
'Twerp. Now how do we find out what powers it has? The Icon hasn't dropped it off for no purpose. In fact, this is the first time it's done anything like this.'
Gavin gripped it and they all got to their feet. 'Never a Hellhound when you need one, is there. Let's take it outside'
Max shivered as they stepped out into the cold wind blowing up from the lake. The sky had gone grey, turning the mountainside bleak and colourless.
Gavin held the spear out to him. 'You look as though you could do with some warming up, Max. Let's see how far you can throw this. We need to know how it reacts to a mortal.'
'Okay. As it happens I did javelin in sports at school.' Max hefted the spear, balanced it in his right arm, took a run and hurled it.
Lije nodded. 'Pretty impressive, Max, if not quite Olympic standard. I reckon that must have been sixty metres.'
Max strolled over to recover the spear from where it had embedded itself in a patch of peat. When he returned he handed it to Gavin, who spat rather theatrically on his hands, then smiled as he tried to copy Max's actions. While there was no doubting the power behind the throw, the technique made Max wince.
'Fuck! Just missed that sheep! Must have been half a kilometre!' Lije at least was impressed. 'The point is, though, it's your natural - or rather unnatural - strength which accounted for the respective distances. There was nothing uncanny about it.'
'You go fetch it, Gav. Hey! Cheating!'
Gavin had blinked out and reappeared as a distant figure beside the shaft quivering in the ground. The others saw him waving his arms as a signal to join him.
Lije took Max by the elbow. The next thing he knew they were with Gavin, who pointed mutely to where the spear had struck. It had buried itself in an outcrop of rock to the depth of half a metre.
'So... er, it isn't just any old spear then,' Max commented.
Gavin and Lije shook their heads.
'Will you two fuckers stop necking? Rudi'll see you and won't understand. Justy, put Henry down!' Ed was peeved.
'Never snogged a superhero before, have I! Seems the same old Henry though. Tastes the same anyway.'
'Why do you two do it?'
Henry grinned. 'It's your fault.'
'What? Are you saying I'm inadequate as a lover?'
'No. That time in Amsterdam, we could have had group sex if you and Nate had let us.'
'Yeah, and since then me and Henry have been... sorta frustrated. So we come to terms wiv it by mouth wrestling to annoy you two. Seems fair to me.'
'Bloody bottoms! And they say we're controlling. So how does feeling Justy's crotch come into it?'
'Habit. Okay, okay. We're apart. Don't hit me!'
'I'm not sure I could nowadays, Supertart. But I think Nate and I should get together for a joint spanking session.'
Both the smaller men's faces brightened. 'Nah! You'd never do it! Would yer?'
'As if. You'd both enjoy it far too much.'
There was a knock at the door of Matt's study and the mood sobered. An RSS agent entered and held the door for King Rudolf. The three stood, as was almost second nature where Rudi was concerned.
The king was in his usual casuals, which on him somehow did not detract from his air of dignity. He took a seat and gave a smile. 'Now then. Let's have an update. There was a delivery this morning from the Arsenal. Do I get to know what it was?'
Ed nodded. 'Special ammunition and some very illegal anti-personnel mines which the Rothenian army is not supposed to possess.'
'Have we decided where the final battle is to be? Here doesn't strike me as particularly well-adapted for the purpose.'
'It's not, sir, because we have to bear in mind that any combatants will be risking more than just themselves. This creature is ruthless, so we must take measures to protect those close to us.'
'The RSS has Henry's family in Leeds under close surveillance. There are strike teams ready to defend them if necessary: undercover Rothenian commandos with heavy weaponry we smuggled into the UK. Henry's parents are guarded equally well. Fortunately, the rest of our group is mostly concentrated here. As you said, sir, the main point is to decide where we will be best placed to meet the enemy and protect our friends.'
'Agreed. Henry, what do you think?'
'He'll come for me at the end, Rudi, which gives us the advantage of being able to choose the battleground. I had first considered that meeting him at a religious site might give us an edge. Creatures of evil are supposedly put off by symbols of what is holy.'
Rudi shook his head. 'That clearly does not work in this case. Your Antichrist is a bishop and seems happy enough in churches.'
'Terry's source says he is not comfortable at a Eucharist and does not wear the cross which is a sign of his office. But yes, he's not Dracula cowering away from crucifixes. So I suggest that Belvoir castle might be ideal.'
'Really? Former residence of a saint of the church, and the site of our victory over a different form of evil, that monster Josseran. Not a bad idea at all, though it's remote and the logistics will be a bit complicated. Still, not beyond our people, and any collateral damage to non-combatants will be limited. What do you think, Ed?'
'Brilliant idea. I'd support it, sir. Who do we take?'
'Everyone here who can fight, I would say. The rest will be under heavy army and RSS protection.'
'Some will complain, sir.'
'What, Damien for instance?'
'I'd thought of that, so it's bad news for you, Justy.'
'Aww no, Rudi!'
'Yup. You stay here and take command of the defence of Wenzelsberh. Look at it this way: two of the three Peacher brothers will be in the house. Your job is to head PeacherCorp security. Besides, your son is here with his friends. You have a responsibility to Damien and the parents of Reggie and Mattie to protect the boys.'
'People always talk about me "responsibility" when they wants me to do sumfink I'd rather not. Okay, but Nate stays too.'
'He's already agreed.'
Justin grumbled but capitulated.
'That's sorted at least.' Rudi heaved a sigh. 'Time to do the sums, I think. Justy, you had better stay for this; we need to see what's needed for the defence of Wenzelsberh.'
'Er... does that mean I'm not needed?' Henry was a little miffed at the implied dismissal.
Rudi gave a private smile. He was not as insensitive as some of his friends assumed. 'Yes, Colonel Atwood, you are dismissed. But perhaps you might think of using your powers to go get me a grande freshly-brewed from the Rodolferplaz Starbucks - that's skimmed milk but no sugar.'
'Capuccino for me, taa!'
'Skinny latte - well, you know the way I like it. They'll give you a tray if you ask. Need some krone?'
When Henry goggled at them, they collapsed in hysterics. 'You bastards! You fucking deserve smiting badly, you do. I hate you!' He vanished.
Justin jumped convulsively. 'Wow! I'll never get used to that.'
Rudi raised an eyebrow at Ed. 'Think he's annoyed?'
'You never know. We may suffer for that wind-up.'
The three boys were still out on the moor when Henry arrived at Biscofshalch. Finding the common room empty, he cast his mind around until he detected them and something else besides. He made another hop.
'Jesus, Henry! You'll give me a heart attack,' Max yelped.
Gavin smiled and went over for a kiss, while Lije leaned on the spear he'd just retrieved from the stone. Gavin explained their new acquisition.
'Give it to Henry, Lije.'
Henry took the shaft. 'And it was half a metre deep in that granite boulder?' They nodded. 'Must have been a strain to pull it out again.'
Lije grinned. 'Nearly did my back in.'
Henry was immediately aware of the spear's personality. This was no simple weapon. It was more than just alive. Unlike Rudi's sword, this spear was actually sentient. He dropped it in alarm as its mind reached out eagerly to meet his.
'Henry! You've gone white! Are you okay?'
'Couldn't you feel it when you touched it?'
'No. Feel what?'
Henry sat on the rock the spear had just vacated. 'It's not a spear, I'll tell you that much. It might look like one, but it's something else altogether.'
The three stared at him expectantly. Gavin reached down to retrieve the weapon and handle it curiously.
'Well?' asked Henry.
'I can feel the power in it but nothing else. What did you feel, Henry?'
'It belongs outside, baby. It's from Tobias's place. That's probably why I can sense it the way you can't. Okay, it's time to test what I'm really capable of. Hand it to me and stand well back.'
Henry seized the shaft grimly and was prepared to meet the mind that leapt to greet his. It was undoubtedly friendly. He felt around it. The personality was contained - even imprisoned - by the spear and could not communicate with him while it was thus confined.
There was only one solution that occurred to Henry, the one he realised Tobias had already provided him with. He cast back into his own past to reach a quiet place in an ancient world older than the universe, a place where a pebble could become a rather refreshing gin and tonic. It was open to him. He leapt.
It was the same late morning in Eden he had experienced before; perhaps it was always late morning there. He immediately discovered he was not alone, for a faun-like child about Damien's age was sitting cross-legged on a rock. He was beautiful, naked and tanned brown all over, with an Italian cast of face. He had small and delicate blue horns in his forehead. He seemed rather pleased about something.
'Er... do you have a name, or do I have to think one up for you?'
The boy stretched his slim arms, the muscles in his flat, corded belly moving with him. 'Hiya, Mendamero. Name? No. I mean, I do have lots but I gotta keep 'em to myself. People tend to judge ya by names, donchya think?'
'Riddles, again.' Henry sighed. 'Very well, kid. I take it you know Tobias?'
'Sure, he's a sorta colleague.'
'And you know all about the Antichrist.'
'So what are you? Another seraph?'
'Nah! Nowhere near as high up as that. I don't do the executive stuff, more of a functionary really.'
'And your function is...?'
'Sorta like... what wouldya call it? A policeman maybe? Nah... that don't work. A doctor? Sorry Mendamero, I can't suss that one.'
'Helpful sort of kid, aren't you.'
'Okay. It's like this. I'm the Destroyer - kinda cute for that sorta function, wouldunchya say? But people don't understand me. Never have. I mean, if you fear death, Death becomes a monster.'
'No. The Destroyer. Not the same thing. And see, the deal is this: we destroy to rebuild, so I could be the Renewer. People are so negative, donchya think?'
Henry was beginning to get used to discourse with a partner who seemed not to share his basic assumptions about the universe. It was pointless pressing the boy. Time to get to the essentials. 'Why have you entered the universe, then?'
'I've come to collect the traitor. One of my jobs... not the nicest one, I have to say.' The boy grimaced.
'You mean the Antichrist?'
'Course not. He's your problem.'
'So you're not a weapon for use in the final battle?'
'I'll be used as a weapon. But my purpose is to renew. I'm sorta like the weapon that breaks in your hand; the blade that cuts both ways. I hope you don't blame me for that.'
'And the traitor?'
'Him I will destroy. It's okay, he knows I'll do it, or he soon will.'
'What?' This was getting way beyond Henry.
'Ya see, I have to kill him. Anyone else does and it'll be a disaster, and I do mean cosmic.'
'And who is this traitor.'
The boy smirked slyly. 'Sorry Mendamero. The Great Council said it'd be best you don't know. You'll find out in due time anyway.' The boy hopped off his stone, jumped in the stream and splashed around a bit.
Heaving a sigh, Henry watched him play. 'Nice to be out of the spear, eh?'
'You bet! I mean, it's not for long, but I'm not used to being pinned down like that.'
'Was that a joke?'
'Yeah, sorta. I'm better at it than Tobias. You wanna get back to your friends?'
'I suppose. Nice to meet you, despite the ominous nature of our conversation.'
The boy looked up earnestly into his eyes. 'I am one of the good guys, believe me. And maybe I shouldn't tell ya this, Mendamero, but it'll all be okay if you remember your promises to Tobias. Just trust me. Oh, and be careful what you say to the others.'
Henry gathered himself and felt for his own present moment. The way was clear. He jumped and landed in the common room with spear in hand.
His friends looked at him expectantly. 'How long have I been gone?'
'Bout three hours,' Max replied, as the only one with a watch. 'What happened?'
'I just had an away-day in paradise.'
'Now be careful of this thing, it's sharp.' He passed the spear to Lije. The troubled faces that met his gaze demanded more than a throwaway comment. 'It's okay, really babes. It's a force for good. I gotta go.'
'Will we see you before... y'know?'
'Sweethearts, I have no idea. But I guess it's time for the big hug.' One by one, Max first, they embraced and kissed Henry, even Lije, and there were tears on the straight boy's cheeks as he did it.
'I love you all, you know that.'
They nodded mutely.
'I know you'll be brave. I'll be proud of you. We'll meet again, I'm sure of it.'
Gavin took Henry's hand and kissed it. 'Is that a prophecy from Mendamero?' he asked, looking at Henry through wet eyes.
'I hope so,' Henry said softly. Then, sadder than at any parting he had ever made, he vanished.
There was a sombre silence in the tower of Biscofshalch after Henry left. No one seemed to want to speak.
Eventually Max blurted, 'I could do with a cup of tea.'
'No kettle, sweets,' Gavin replied with a wan smile.
Lije mastered himself. 'Guys, let's acknowledge the fact that we're fucked. But we're guys, we're young, and it's Friday. I think we're owed this much. Tonight we'll hit the Wejg in style and have the most dissolute time of our lives, or afterlives in the case of two of us. No holds barred and no limits. We on?'
Max and Gavin stared at each other before nodding. Max decided he'd better be pragmatic. 'Money?'
'Oh, yeah.' Lije considered the problem. 'When I died, I had about £300 in my bank account. So far as I know, it's still there. Not only that, but the bank now owes me interest, or would, if I weren't dead. So, er... time to be imaginative.'
He was gone for about twenty minutes. When he returned, his pockets were crammed with sterling banknotes.
'Let me guess, there's an ATM in Essex that'll never be the same again.'
'Fraid so. Ready for Strelzen, boys? Wanna get changed, Max?'
'Me? Oh, sure. I've got the party gear Davey bought me. Won't be long.'
Max was back in minutes, grinning. All three held hands and instantly found themselves in an empty alley just off Strelzen's Wejg. Max and Gavin kept hold of each other as they strolled out on to the busy, noisy street. Evening was closing in and the neon lights were flashing brightly. They stopped off at a kiosk marked WECHSEL to change the sterling into Rothenian krone.
Lije led them to the Irish sports bar, where they occupied a table while planning the evening ahead. Max trotted off to get himself his usual snakebite. Lije and Gavin looked askance at the red litre glass he returned with.
Gavin frowned at Lije. 'Course there's a big problem with the fact you're straight. We won't end up in the same place.'
Lije shrugged noncommittally. 'Maybe. We'll see how it pans out. The problem we have to face first is that intoxication won't be easy, at least for me and you, and I so want to be drunk. How do we do this?'
'I tried drinking years ago to find out what happened. I just sicked it up, not nice, so alcohol is out. We can't even pee!'
'Which leaves the option of... substances! Poppers work, I know, I sniffed up the best part of a bottle one night. Though it takes a lot to have an effect.'
Gavin looked dubious. 'Mmm... not sure I'm happy with that, but we gotta keep up with Max somehow. What d'you think, Max?'
'You're certain about this?'
'Then I guess GBL might be the best option. But I don't know how to get any.'
Lije stood up. 'Wait here, lads, leave this one to me.' He disappeared into the loos, and did not emerge for half an hour. Gavin and Max in the meantime watched the TV, looked at the other groups and made subdued chat. Gavin, noticing some free-access computer terminals, went over curiously to play around on the Internet for a while. 'Don't often get the chance,' he commented when Max joined him to see what he was doing.
Max was on his second drink before Lije returned from the toilets. He sat down with a smirk and flashed two full plastic bottles. He quickly thrust one into his jacket pocket before slipping the other under the table to Gavin.
Max was intrigued. 'So how did you...?'
'Oh, I scouted the minds of the hustlers outside and located the Wejg suppliers. It didn't take long. I paid for the big size! Ready to move on?'
They nodded. When they reached the bustling street with people elbowing past them, they dithered but eventually headed north to the Gay Village. Max cheered up when they began to encounter more and more men holding hands or embracing. He shot a glance at Lije, who gave him a tight grin back. They opted to go into the dark spaces of Bar Melmoth.
'It says it's mixed,' Gavin informed Lije apologetically. 'And did you see the sign outside? It's an O'Brien Enterprises pub. It's one of Terry's places.''
It took two more drinks to explain Terry to Max. While they did so, Lije and Gavin occasionally took loo breaks to have a secret swig of the drug, leaving glasses of coke untouched in front of them. It had a rapid effect on Gavin, who was progressively more outgoing and funny than Max had ever seen him before. If Lije felt anything, it was not immediately visible on the surface.
Max too was brightening under the influence of alcohol. The impending battle receded into a future he could not control. For now, he was young, alive and in love with a man who sat close up against him and whose scent was excitement in his nostrils. Only the presence of Lije stopped him from taking advantage of their situation and necking away, as another couple was doing in a dark alcove opposite them.
After an hour or two of desultory chatting and some very funny stories from Gavin about Henry Atwood as a student, they began working out where to go next.
'A straight strip joint,' Gavin announced.
'I agree,' affirmed Max.
Lije chuckled. 'You're good mates. I've never been in a place like that. Now's the time, I guess, if at all.'
So an hour and a half later they were much farther south on the Wejg, in a shadowy dive going by the name of Club LA. It was full of Rothenians. 'How could you tell this was the best place?' Max was intrigued as he watched naked women gyrating round poles on high stages.
Gavin giggled a little nervously. 'I just needed to sense out where all the locals went. They know the best value. Wow! Look at her!'
A stunning topless blonde was heading directly to their table. With a very sultry smile she leaned down to kiss a red-faced Lije and then settled into his lap, rubbing her buttocks provocatively against his crotch. Men cheered and winked round them. Gavin caught her eye and - behind Lije's back - pushed some very-large-denomination krone notes into the hand she had draped over Lije's shoulder. She and Gavin exchanged meaningful glances.
The lap dancer took Lije's hand and placed it on her left breast. He was beetroot red by then but didn't take it away. Meanwhile, her own hand had found its way under his clothing and down the front of his trousers. He all but yelped with shock.
'Time to go, Max,' Gavin whispered, tugging him rapidly towards a corner of the bar, where they melted away into the thick atmosphere. In the meantime, the dancer pulled Lije upright, kissed him thoroughly and led him off in the direction of a side door opening on to some stairs.
Max and Gavin reappeared in a place where the sun had just gone down, and where they could see in the distance a formidable urban skyline. A big concert hall was open, its lights pouring out into the dusky streets while young people flooded in.
'Where are we?'
'The United States, sweets.'
'There's a gig I want us to see. I found it back in the Irish bar when I looked on the web. Amazing how Google Earth can help me teleport to just the right place.'
'Will Lije be okay? I mean, we abandoned him back in Strelzen.'
'I hope so. She was up for it, according to her mind. She thought he was amazingly hot and cute, and she wanted him; the money just sealed the deal. She's his for the night.'
'How do you know he'll go through with it?'
'I don't, but at least he'll have had the chance this once to have sex with a woman.'
'You mean Lije is a virgin?'
'He was too fucked up by sexual abuse as a boy, and topped himself before he sorted his head. He's never slept with a woman despite always wanting to. This is the last gift I can give him. But it's his choice. All I can say is, she'll have the ride of her life if he makes the most of his opportunity.
'Come on, this way. We'll sneak in the back of the hall... you know how.'
'Why, what gig is this?'
Gavin laughed and picked up a flier from the sidewalk gutter. He thrust it at Max. Tonight live in Boston: The Feeling.
Mark Tolmie gathered his clothes from odd corners of the girl's flat where they had been flung. Her name was Karla and she was Czech. He must remember that; she had been the first and would probably be the only woman with whom he had shared a bed. She slept now, utterly exhausted. Her excitement had slowly turned to amazement as he took her again and again, at first frantically, then with more deliberation and care for her enjoyment. The second time she was screaming and gripping the bed posts while he entered her vigorously from behind. The third time she had been almost mindless as orgasm after orgasm shuddered through her body. The fourth time had also been from behind; she had been upright against a wall impaled on his sizeable cock, her breasts gripped in his hands as he just held and fucked her deeply.
There had possibly been six times in all. He had lost count. The orgasms had been powerful for him too, so powerful he was almost insensible at the end, gasping and bewildered with lust. His dick was sore.
Mark grinned as he found a can of diet coke in her fridge and drained it. It was time to become Elijah again. He emptied his pockets of all the cash he had left and piled it on the breakfast counter. Although not much, it was the only way he could think of to show his thanks.
It was early in the morning. He was not at all sleepy, but then the sex he and Karla enjoyed had not had the mystical content of Gavin's with Max. Yet she had changed him too in her way. He felt fulfilled as a man at last. Somehow he was readier to go into the dark now, the dark he knew awaited him.
He took one last look at the sleeping girl and thought sadly of all the other things he would never know: romance, home-making, a family wedding, fatherhood. None would be his, but at least he now was sure he could have played the man's part had his life been different - had Clive Dressner not abducted and raped him.
Once more Lije, he kissed Karla's hair lightly and was gone.
He found Biscofshalch empty and could catch no resonance of his friends, who he supposed were far away. Noticing the spear leaning in a corner, he grasped it curiously, then sat down to inspect it more closely. Trying hard to commune with it the way he knew Henry had done, he received no response beyond a barely tangible vibration in the reality around it, a sign of power he had come to recognise. He followed the incised patterns with his finger, wondering idly if there was a sequence to tracing the lines which would unlock this weapon's secret.
As Lije stood to return the spear to its corner, he stumbled over a ridge in the carpet. The spear clattered on the floor and he fell to his knees over it, splaying his hands. He hissed as he realised the blade had sliced the ball of his right thumb. Although the pain was not much and would soon be gone when his body healed itself, a fair amount of blood had spilled over the shining blade to collect in the incised pattern and run along the small channels.
The hum of power suddenly grew louder in Lije's head while the pattern on the blade flared into dazzling golden light. The whole spear glowed briefly until, after a further burst of brilliance, it went dead.
At that instant Lije's senses warned him of an alien presence in the common room. He spun around. There, sitting on the other sofa, hugging his knees to his chin, was a small, naked child with blue horns on either side of his forehead and a very mischievous grin on his handsome face.
'Important stuff, blood, donchya think?'
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