The wind tore at his coat, and the rain pummelled his hunched shoulders. Behind him, the swirling darkness consumed his car, but ahead lay the grey monolith of the ancient church.
The amulet hung heavy in his pocket as he trudged through the mud, one foot then the next. Behind the sand dunes to his right, waves slammed against the shore, salting the sodden atmosphere.
But he wouldn’t be deterred. He was the Wielder, the last of the five, and the power would be his.
He approached the church in the sand, the dwelling-place of the force, the one that had lain dormant for centuries, awaiting a night like this one, when axis aligned.
Simmons had unlocked the calendar, through once-hidden scrolls and computer algorithms. He’d studied star charts, scoured old records, and discovered the opportune moment.
And then he’d been hit by an unregistered car, the driver never found. Died by the side of the road, the first of the five to perish.
Erickson was next. She’d crossed the globe, using her gift of languages and intense research in distant libraries to translate the prophecy—that only the true Wielder could survive contact with the amulet. She’d protected herself, taken only a replica—but still she died, a knife in her stomach as she lay in a filthy Parisian back-way. Opportunistic muggers, the police said.
He could see the outline of the church now, rising from the dunes. But he must enter through the arched gate—prophecy and ritual in unity.
Fallon had uncovered the ritual after a year-long search. He’d joined so many cults, spouting their deranged beliefs with a sincerity that was dangerously seductive. He recruited others, made himself useful, and infiltrated their inner circles. There, he sifted through the lies and distortions for the tiny fragments of truth, pieced them together, and divined the true rituals.
There was a wooden gate under the arch, a plaque to one side giving some nonsense to please the tourists. The gate opened with ease, and he stepped through.
The force slammed into him, pushing the breath from his lungs.
The Keeper called on the wind and the rain and the storm. Icy blasts burnt his cheeks, and he felt his skull tighten. The Keeper did all it could to keep him from approaching, fulfilled its part of the ritual.
He reached into his pocket, felt the time-smoothed edges of the amulet, curled his fingers round, the pulse in his thumb vibrating the object. And he recited the words Fallon had passed on.
“You shall not stop me,” he said, his voice lost in the tempest. “I wield the amulet, and I have dominion over you. You shall let me pass!”
He gripped the amulet tighter, the gem-stone pressing into his palm, and the force retreated. He stepped forward to retain his balance. Then he walked down the side of the church, a stone wall barely holding back the grass-covered dune, black and slippery.
When they found Fallon, he was nailed to an inverted cross, stomach sliced open and his guts coiled around his head. According to the coroner’s report, he took hours to die. And on the ground, directly beneath him, lay the shattered remains of the replica.
The entrance to the old church was at the rear, protected from the angry sea by the highest dune, and sand stung his eyes as he pushed against the door. It creaked open, and he stepped into the darkness.
But he could see. The shadows formed edges, tinged luminescent green. The rows of pews descended like waves, rushing to the altar, the lectern to the left. By the door, the table was adorned with tourist pamphlets. And in the alcove to the right, beneath the bowl overflowing with flowers that would be dead by morning, was the indentation—a mark so insignificant that it could have been through natural erosion of the rock.
He knew different, though. Fallon had shown him ancient carvings and sketches, had shown him how the scratches in the rock aligned perfectly with the ridges in the amulet.
All that was required of the Wielder, once past the Keeper, was to return the amulet to its proper place. Then, all power would flow. The True Wielder would be free to perform miracles, would have the power to call down death and to heal the sick., the power to raise nations and to initiate wars. The True Wielder could be the saviour of the planet, or the herald of the apocalypse.
The power didn’t care how it was used—it was enough simply to be unleashed.
The amulet, tarnished metal and dulled ruby-red stone, sat in his palm. He reached out, held it over the indentation and felt the pull, the yearning to be reunited. The force outside the church cried out for the True Wielder to perform his part of the ritual.
All power could be his. The other four were no more. All who sought to fulfil the prophecy over the ages had perished. Only he remained to wield unimaginable power.
The muscles in his forearm twitched. A bead of sweat ran down the side of his face. Then he withdrew his hand, returned the amulet to his pocket.
Waves crashed in anger, salty spray coating him as he stepped from the church. Wind whipped around him, as if trying to drag him back. But he pushed on, through the metal gate, along the muddy path, found the car-park, opened his car.
The amulet pulled in his pocket, and he felt its desperation, felt its yearning for finality.
And he was its master. While he held the amulet, his potential was incredible, intoxicatingly so. Why should he ever give that up?
The roar of the engine drowned out the storm, and he drove away, the True Wielder.
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