CHAPTER 23: THE CHAMBER
Thomas had been five years old when he had seen the blackbird. It had been summer, and the black haired child had been watching it singing on a fence. He had stood there, mesmerised, listening to it chant to itself for no other reason than that it was glad to be alive. Then he had seen, out of the corner of his eye, his father pick up a stone to kill the bird, so that they could eat it for breakfast. The child, not knowing any better, had cried out and the bird had taken to the air on shining, ebony wings.
After his father had given him a good few blows for his impudence, he had lain on the grass, nursing his swollen jaw, and dreaming about what it would be like to be able to fly, to follow the bird and never come back.
I’m flying, Thomas thought as he lay on the floor of the black helicopter and looked out the open hatch at the tents and campfires as they flew past hundreds of feet below.
And he smiled to himself, and drifted back into unconsciousness.
“Really Scorpion, couldn’t you have been a little more gentle?”
“What! I barely touched him!”
“Then where’s his nose?”
“Right here! I put it on ice and everything!”
“Ah. We’ll make a nurse out of you yet. I’d better re-attach that before he wakes up. Pass me the dermal regenerator please.”
“The long one, thank you…..there. Good as new.”
“It looks crooked to me.”
“It’s not crooked. And if it is, it’s because you bent it.”
“I’m just sayin’ I think it looks crooked. I’m just sayin’.”
Thomas woke up. He screamed good and hearty.
“Ah.” said Groethuis “Weren’t expecting to see me again, were you Monsieur Hieronimo?”
“What…I killed you!”
“Please. A minor stabbing is hardly lethal when you’ve undergone as much genetic modification as I have. If you want to kill me you’re going to have to apply yourself with a little more effort than that, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t recommend it though, otherwise you’d have no one to patch you up the next time you got into a fight with a Temporal Adept or got your nose punched off by Cole here. You enjoy an active life, don’t you Monsieur Hieronimo?”
Thomas did not answer, and instead struggled against his restraints. He was strapped firmly to a chair, and there was a small tray of medical instruments beside it (no scalpels, regrettably).
Thomas took his eyes away from the man he had killed and scanned the room. It was cavernous, a great black cathedral of a room. And if it was a cathedral, then the tabernacle, the focus and the centre of the room was a great cylindrical tank of green water, seven foot tall and four feet in diameter.
“Where am I?” he asked.
A voice that was not human answered him.
It seemed to come from everywhere, from every corner of the cave. It rasped like grinding metal. It sighed like a nearly dead man.
“You are in the belly of the beast. You are at the head of the serpent. You are in the war room of the last general. The chamber of the last sinner. You abide in the eye of the coming storm. You stand at destiny’s prow.”
There was silence.
“Does that answer your question?” Groethuis asked.
“Scorpion, bring him closer to me. I want to see him.” came the inhuman voice.
And before Thomas knew what was happening, Cole had pulled the cords off him like they were made of cotton and had grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him towards the tank, squashing his face up against the glass. The water was bubbling like a witch’s cauldron and as he gazed into it, Thomas realised that there was something in the tank. A great grey shape, more than six feet long, and with a start he realised that it was a man. He could see nothing in detail, except a single glimpse of an eye, ancient and milky white. And then it was gone, melted back into the formless grey mass and obscured by the bubbles.
“Hello Thomas.” the voice hissed “Hello there.”
“Who are you?” Thomas asked.
“How very polite of you. Most, when brought before me simply say “What are you?” My name is Mabus and you owe me your life.”
“Oh really.” said Thomas “How so?”
“It was I who brought you here, spirited you away the very nanosecond before the lightening struck. You should have died then, Thomas. History thinks you did. God Himself thinks you did. Only we know better.”
“You…brought me here.”
“Yes, yes. I brought you here. I thought it, and you were here. That is my power.”
“I don’t believe you.” said Thomas simply.
There was a deathly silence.
“What did you say?” Mabus hissed.
“I said: “I don’t believe you.” This is all impossible.”
“You want I should bash his head in, boss?” the Golden Scorpion asked matter-of-factly.
“No, thank you, Cole. That shall not be necessary. If Thomas does not believe me then I shall have to prove my honest nature.”
For a second nothing happened.
Then, Thomas felt the stone beneath his feet being pulled away, the very air around him being sucked out of his lungs. He could feel nothing, he was slipping away, free falling. His knees gave out from under him and he began to retch, vomiting onto the…
He stood up shakily. He was standing in a desert, and the sun over his head was so hot that his vomit had already fizzled and become rock hard.
The heat was unbearable, it lanced through his scalp and into his brain. He was baking to death, another few minutes…
Then yellow turned to white and he was standing in a snow drift while in the distance a herd of hairy elephants ambled along oblivious to his presence. The cold, so soon after the searing heat, was so severe he actually screamed in agony, and then…
…just as he felt his fingers dying in the cold, he roared as he suddenly found himself standing on the very lip of a volcano, looking into a lake of molten rock. Then, he slipped and fell headlong into the smoke and fire…
…and landed screaming on the cold floor of Mabus’ chamber.
“Are we convinced, Thomas, or is more proof needed?” Mabus asked.
Thomas did not answer, and simply lay shivering on the floor.
“Help him up.” Mabus whispered, and Cole took a grip and roughly hauled him to his feet.
“You see Thomas, I am what some call a Temporal Adept. It is within my power to travel through space and time at will. I can also bring objects or people to me. I plucked you out of the air just before the lightening struck. That is why you owe your life to me. That is why you are going to serve me, or I will put you back where I found you and let you fry.”
“What, what do you want me to do?” Thomas asked, his teeth chattering from the sudden cold.
“I am forming an army, Thomas. An army greater than any ever seen, comprised of the fiercest warriors history has to offer. I want you to be part of it.”
“Because you are a young man of exceptional skill. That is enough.”
“What do I get in return?” Thomas asked, and received a vicious blow from the Golden Scorpion.
“Now, now, Cole. It was a reasonable question. What you will get Thomas, is a chance to escape your destiny. It is a prize well worth risking everything for.”
“There’s only two things I want. If you can give them to me, I’ll fight for you.”
“Ah yes. You want the Hangman’s Daughter. And you want your sister.”
“How do you know…?”
“Please. Done. I shall turn them both over to you.”
“When the time is right. You will have to be patient. You aren’t the only one with a stake in Marie Dashonde. She has a very important role to play in the coming legend. Even greater than your own, Thomas.”
“This army you’re raising. Who is your enemy?”
“The only enemy worth fighting , boy.”
The form seemed to sigh with exhaustion.
“Later. I am weary. Groethuis will tell you everything you need to know. Let me rest now.”
And the voice gave a great sigh, and Thomas saw the grey body twitch slightly behind the thick glass.
“Come along now, Thomas.” said Groethuis.
“Where are we going?” Thomas asked.
“To my lab. I’m going to show you how to kill angels.”