Title: The Great Ancient
Summary: A Scully's old friend re emerges from the past, bringing with him a lot of mess. It also deals with Cthulhu's myth.
Authors note: This story was originally written in Italian. I live in Rome and I'm still learning English at school, so, if someone would read this, he has to be very patient! I've never been in the States and so it's possible that I put some inaccuracies about geographical references in the text. Please forgive any inaccuracies you find.
This is for Patty. Thank you for being a patient teacher, but above all a great friend!
"It isn't died that who can wait forever and with the flow of strange ages also the death dies."
The words continued to stagnate in his mind. Their influence raised day by day, depriving him of himself and of his will to forget them. In the beginning he had tried to fight them like one does an incurable disease, but his determination faded away gradually and finally died, defeated from illness. But the man continued to live.
The little part that he still recognized belonging to his old self ardently desired to believe that his existence was still moved by a far hope, but he knew to live simply because, for the moment, he had not been allowed to die.
Inside the car the silence was broken only by the boring 'vzz-vzz' of the windshield wipers. A handful of meters away there was the rest of the world, bottled in the Wednesday's evening traffic. But at that moment it appeared very far away.
Scully's thoughts were that it would be nice to join that stream of lives, stop at a shop window or enter into a bar and order a cup of hot chocolate. But between her and everything else, was the car window, that allowed her only to be a spectator. She sighed without realizing it and drew the attention of her fellow traveler.
"Uh?" she answered, leaving her thoughts' flow.
"Are you here?"
"I think so."
Mulder nodded. Obviously her partner wasn't in the right mood to talk, but his tongue decided that he had to try again. "You must admit that we wouldn't be the ideal guests for a talk-show."
She smiled. "Sorry, it must be the weather. Anyway, I'll try. What is tonight's subject?"
"Brian Hayes," he answered, while the traffic light allowed him to turn and glance at her.
Scully would have preferred to talk about baseball's championship, but she was aware that Mulder had a right to know. Brian had been her friend. Her best friend. The classic story of the two school fellows that, together, spent the most important moments of adolescence, till they find themselves exceeding the threshold of that adult's society, that, only the day before, was the topic of their contests.
For Brian that step had been particularly hard. He hadn't been able to adapt his nature, complex and creative, at that new life and, at the moment of passage, had abandoned Scully's hand, choosing to live an endless adolescence.
So the two friends stopped seeing each other. They would never again be joined as during their college years, but their friendship probably could have survived for a long time, had he not made the mistake of falling in love with her. His feelings were not returned, so for a short time they tried to ignore what had happened. But it didn't work. Brian had radically changed; he began to neglect his old friends and to frequent people with a bad reputation. But the thing that tore them apart forever happened during the party for Brian's 27th birthday.
"And so?" asked Mulder while their car entered National Airport's parking area.
"End of the first episode." She knew that Mulder was dying with curiosity, but this wasn't really the right time. The ghosts were to materialize.
"But...But it's like interrupting a thriller just before the murderer's name is revealed!" he protested.
"OK, the butler did it," concluded Scully as she shut the car door.
While they were passing through the airport, Scully's thoughts returned again to that phone call of ten days before. Brian needed again her help. He worked with a famous teacher of Chicago; a certain Wagner and they were on the traces of the mythical Necronomicon, the 'Book of Dead' that was made famous by Howard Philips Lowecraft. They had known that the Library of the Congress had important volumes about Necronomicon, but it was necessary to have a special FBI's permission to approach them. And she was supposed to help him by giving him the key of El Dorado.
Of course things went differently. Scully didn't feel like refusing without making an attempt, but when these failed miserably, she made the mistake of talking about it with her partner.
Mulder was immediately enthusiastic about the chance to deepen his knowledge about necromancy and finally succeeded in obtaining that damned permit.
So now she was about to meet Brian for the first time in eight years. She had Mulder to thank for it.
In spite of all, the meeting wasn't too bad. The flight from Chicago arrived punctual and then introductions and regards occupied their way to the car where, upon Mulder's request, Wagner played out an exhaustive summary about the origins of Necronomicon.
"Written about 730 AM, by Abdul Alhazred, best known as the Mad Arab, the Necronomicon is a legendary book, able to evoke dreadful powers and to rip the dead from their eternal sleep through ancient ceremonies of heathen people, whose origin is lost in the mists of time. Nobody knows what happened to the original manuscript, but the legend tells that it's author met a terrible fate. He was assailed and devoured by an invisible creature in a square of Damascus, by day and in front of hundreds of witnesses. From that day all those who were interested in the text seemed to die in mysterious circumstances. The Necronomicon obtained a reputation for work blasphemous and damned; its copies were burned and this prevented the one thing able to throw light on its mystery; a deep study about the phenomenon connected with it. Today our work is still interfered with by those who want to prevent this from happening. Certain, they no longer burn books, but their way of protecting their information is as much secure!"
"Who are you talking about?" asked Mulder.
"The same people who have destroyed hundreds of copies of Necronomicon and of many other books considered dangerous and subversives. Those who want to control the mind and the thoughts of people and that have passed unharmed through the great changes of history."
Scully watched Wagner through the rearview mirror, he seemed so convinced, that he spent his old age in the search of something that was probably only the clever fruit of a horror novelists' mind. Sort of a sacred crusade, whose purpose was to return a great treasure to mankind.
"So, you believe that our Government hides information about Necronomicon?" asked Scully, trying not to give a sarcastic tone to her voice.
Wagner smiled. "Of course! Otherwise why would approaching those texts have been so difficult, even for two FBI agents?"
"Oh, you can't even imagine how many things two FBI agents can't obtain!" This time sarcasm appeared freely through Scully's words.
The morning after, when the foursome stepped into the Congress Library, it was still raining.
The volumes that Wagner and Hayes were interested in were kept in a rather bleak room. The high metallic shelves, the cold neon lamps and the wide desks gave the air of an old provincial college library.
But the books contained in those shelves weren't exactly the kind contained in a school library. Spiritism, necromancy and satanism were the most frequent topics, but, to Scully's great relief, to judge by the dust that covered them, there weren't many people interested in such topics. Nevertheless three of those rare specimens seemed to be just in front of her.
Wagner and Hayes were clearly excited. At first they quickly glanced through the titles on the title pages, then chose four or five texts to consult.
Mulder spent the following three hours desperately trying to make out the dark phrases flowing under his eyes. In spite of his efforts, the enterprise seemed to be impossible for anyone without a fair knowledge of Latin, ancient English, Arabic and of the illegible writings with which many of the texts were draft.
So the two agents were obliged to be content with the excited statements between the two men and with the sporadic information that these decided to give them.
But after a short while, Scully decided to throw up the sponge. She took the first understandable book she found and turned to the last chapter of a treatise about the Brazilian voodoo rites, when, after a few minutes, Brian and the nice poor old man, put the books back on the shelf and, without uttering a word, left the room.
"I bet that this evening they'll offer a dinner at the best Italian restaurant in Washington to apologize," remarked Mulder, puzzled.
"I'm not sure that it is exactly what I wish, Mulder," replied Scully. "I'm afraid that my appetite might disappear."
Unfortunately that evening Anthony Wagner hadn't the chance to offer any dinner.
Scully was awakened just after midnight by a telephone call from Brian. He seemed to be really worried about Wagner because, for more than an hour, he didn't answer his calls. At the reception nobody had seen him go out and, through the din that Brian had made at his door, it was improbable that the man was still sleeping.
"I'm probably just paranoid, but Wagner is not in perfect health and...well, there is also another thing, but perhaps it's better that you and your partner come here."
"Sure, we are coming, but you have to prevent the hotel staff from poking their noses into this."
"OK, and...Thanks, Dana."
"I haven't done anything yet," she concluded and without giving Brian the time to reply, hung up the phone.
Wagner hadn't had a heart attack. But this wasn't enough to console the two agents, because once they had entered the man's room, it seemed to be the only sure thing.
The room was empty, but the door had not been locked. On the floor near the bed there was a circle of still lit candles, in whose center was the head of a black cat, that acted as a base of a heavy iron Celtic cross, laid on a red cloth.
"A dollar to whoever finds the rest of the cat?" asked Mulder, with a voice lightly different from that usually used for his witty remarks.
For her part, Scully was deeply upset. Corpses, violent deaths and autopsies were part of her job. Of course it wasn't particularly pleasant, but she had learned to live with them since her first years at university. But this was something different. The head of that cat, with the eyes rolled back, the skull smashed and the brain pieces stuck to the cross, infused into her a deep fear; an irrational feeling, like when she was a child and was obliged to go down into the cellar. The fear of something unknown and perhaps for this particularly dreadful. Something of evil.
Neither Scully nor Hayes won the dollar bet, in fact, it was Mulder himself that, after a few minutes, found the cat's corpse in the bathroom sink. To the group were still absent all the internal organs, but at the moment no one seemed to be too anxious to find out where they have vanished. In any case there wasn't any trace of Wagner.
"Mulder, I think I found the weapon," said Scully, entering the little bathroom with a table knife in her hand.
"What do you mean, 'I think'?" asked Mulder, happy to have the chance to divert his eyes from the sink.
She hesitated for a moment. "Well...I think that It wouldn't be very simple to behead and then eviscerate a cat using only this knife."
"The blood over the blade is a strong proof, Scully. In any case, I think that we have to take some fingerprints, just in case Wagner doesn't grace us with some clarifications."
"Do you think it was him?"
This time, Mulder had to think before answering. "Sure, he didn't give the impression to be a man that particularly loved cat stew, but for now he's the number one suspect. Unless your friend..."
They both paused to look at the third man present into the room.
With his eyes fixed on the macabre sacrifice, he continued to shake his head imperceptibly, squeezing a brown coat in his hands.
"Mulder, I don't think that Brian would be able to do such a thing." Scully's voice was clearly lowered.
Meanwhile Hayes, realizing he'd be drawing attention to himself, reached the two agents. "He didn't take his coat. I know Wagner very well; he would never go out in this bad weather without it," he said, showing the coat still in his hands.
"Are you sure you didn't notice anything strange before our arrival?" asked Mulder.
"In Wagner's behavior? No, we had taken supper together at the hotel restaurant, had the usual chat and then...I saw him entering this room about at eleven and that's the last thing of which I'm sure," the man answered, shrugging his shoulders.
"Brian, at the phone you told me that there was something worrying you. What about that?" asked Scully.
"I fear that Wagner has been abducted so that he wouldn't divulge the information that he had learned about Necronomicon."
"Are you talking about your search of this morning?"
Hayes hesitated for a while. "I think so. When we were still in Chicago, Wagner had confessed me he received a couple of strange telephone calls. At the moment I didn't give them too much importance, personally I've always been skeptical of his ideas about the attempts made from mysterious conspirators to cover up the information concerning Necronomicon. But now..."
"The information gathered today were about the Cthulhu's myth. Aren't they?" asked Mulder.
"Yes, he's supposed to be one of the Great Ancients, but I don't understand what...Of course! The notes! You want to check the notes took this morning to see if they had been taken away. Right?"
"Exactly. Any idea about where they are?"
In answer to Mulder's question, Hayes looked around; he seemed to be puzzled. "I don't know...As I said, Wagner was very suspicious; I think that he kept them in a place that he considered safe, such as..."
Scully interrupted them. "Such as a night table? It doesn't look like a very smart idea." She was turning over the pages of a black leather agenda found few moments before upon the night table.
Mulder was right; the last ten pages, that included the notes of that day, had been pulled away.
"What are we going to do now?" asked Hayes.
"Nothing. We are all tired and for now nobody can tell us that Wagner isn't gone of his own free will. If we haven't heard any news about him by tomorrow, we'll begin to search for him seriously."
Scully was really surprised. How could Mulder miss the opportunity to draw out one of his theories about satanism and black magic?
The following forenoon passed quietly and only in the early afternoon did Mulder and Scully meet with each other to organize Wagner's search.
Scully started observing that, just for a change, she and Mulder would be alone. Probably Hayes would offer himself to help them; in that case they would become at best two and a half, but nothing more.
"I think that you tend to underestimate your friend," observed Mulder, turning for the thousand times over the pages of the black agenda.
"In any case - He concluded after a short pause - Beside these notes, at the moment he's all we have."
"Mulder, I think that you tend to underestimate those notes," Scully said.
Now Mulder was looking at her with amusement. "You're wrong; I've spent the whole morning with them. Demons, evil spirits and a mass of disgusting creatures that are only waiting to be evoked had been really good company."
"Have you found information about the rite consummated into Wagner's room?" asked Scully.
"No, but I've the impression that those missing pages could help us," he concluded, going toward the door.
"Where are you going now?" she asked.
"Upstairs to see if I'm able to obtain a little favor."
When three quarters of hour later Mulder returned to their office he found his partner together with Hayes.
He explained to him that about one hour ago, while he was sitting at a coffee table, a fellow dressed in black came near him and slid a piece of paper on his table. He had only said: "From Wagner." And then he had left quickly.
Scully showed him a small note, on which was written in block letters:
Mulder examined it carefully and for some minutes the silence took possession of the room.
"He has been abducted, hasn't he?" asked finally Hayes.
Mulder seemed to be puzzled. "This is what that note wants us to believe. But in this way I can't really explain the meaning of what we have seen in the hotel room. I think that Wagner could also be member of a sect bound to Necronomicon's rites."
"This isn't possible," affirmed Hayes.
"Why not?" asked Scully.
"Because I know him. He never would do such a thing."
"Sometimes the people that we think we know, do things that we never would believe them able to do," said Scully, staring at Hayes.
"So Scully, what happened the day of Brian's 27th birthday?" asked Mulder as soon as they were alone again.
"We have to organize ourselves for tonight, Mulder," she answered, annoyed at the question.
But this time her partner hadn't mind to give in. "Oh, that's no problem, your house is definitely better. I've only a couch and there aren't any cushions!" The way Scully glared at him made Mulder wish he had a helmet on his head, but in spite of this he smiled, waiting for an answer. And his stratagem worked.
While talking, Scully was tidying up some papers and this allowed her not to meet her partner's eye. "It was the most terrible party of my life. Brian's house was filled with unknown people and he was filled with ale and beer; so I decided to leave sooner than expected. Of course Brian didn't find my idea very good and, almost without realizing it, I found myself against a wall of his kitchen, in front of the first X- File of my life; my best friend suddenly turned into an octopus - hands everywhere, it felt like.
After the initial astonishment, I gave him one of the best slaps of my career, and that allowed me to free from his grasp, leave his house and never come back. Since that night seven years has passed, during which I and Brian talked to each other scarcely ten times. He asked me to forgive him in the name of our friendship and I think that deeply I wanted to do it, but I wasn't able. I wasn't able to forget his eyes. And I'm not able still today." Now Scully stopped to tidy up the sheets. Her eyes staring at the desk, she seemed to follow for the thousandth time a scene happening long before.
Mulder felt like a complete idiot. He wanted to say something to her, but the words refused to come out.
Thank goodness Scully spoke again. "You really think that Wagner is member of a sect?"
"I'm afraid it's the only explanation. We haven't found fingerprints neither on the knife nor on the cross, but this may prove that everything has been planned with care," replied Mulder.
"So Wagner would have accomplished that ritual using the information obtained yesterday, awakened some terrible creature, and then staged his disappearance in order to hide what he had just done. But then, why make an appointment with Brian?" asked Scully.
"That's what I'm going to find. We'll meet at your home about eleven, OK?" he answered, grabbing his inseparable dark coat.
She followed him with her gaze till the door of their office. "Where are you going?"
"When you were with Hayes, I obtained a sort of permit to give another look at the library."
In another circumstance Scully would have wanted to know exactly what her partner meant by 'a sort of permit' but at that moment the question didn't even cross her mind. "I'll come with you."
The tone of her voice was the one that Mulder had learned to recognize and catalogue as: 'You Just Try to Contradict Me'. Usually that always brought her to the desired result, but with him the game was a little more complex. After a lot of time spent with Scully, Mulder had indeed succeeded in carrying out an effectual trick: 'It's Better That You Remain Here'. "No, it's better that you remain here, just in case news about Wagner comes in."
If someone had asked her, she probably wouldn't be able to explain why this was the straw that broke the camel's back. After months and months of repeating the same script, Scully had simply had enough. "I. ..I believed that besides partners we were also friends, Mulder, and that between us existed a reciprocal trust to get past the different ways we see things, but now I believe I've made a mistake."
Suddenly Mulder felt completely disarmed. "Come on Scully, you know that it isn't true, that I..."
Scully's tone rose. "Please, for once try to look the problem in the face! You can't believe that it is enough that you repeat for the thousandth time that you trust me; because I begin to foster some doubts about it! I'm tired of your behavior, you ignore me whenever it is convenient to you, whenever you don't want to give me explanations. Of course you are too involved in *your* cases to notice such things; you certainly haven't time to count all the time that you left me behind, that you hung up the phone without tell me what was happening, leaving me at the mercy of my imagination!"
Her words hurt; hurt because they were true. In that moment Mulder abhorred himself, in that moment he understood, he felt what Scully was trying to tell him. He relived all the moments of anguish, of disappointment, of frustration from those who claimed they wanted to help him, but betrayed him. And realized that, blinded from his thirst for the truth, he had behaved in the same way to the only person that always remained true to him. "I never considered the X-Files as *my* cases," he whispered, unable to look in her eyes.
"You'll be late at the library, Mulder. We'll see you at eleven at the main entrance of Takoma Park."
Scully uttered those words in her best cold and detached voice; nevertheless Mulder had the clear perception that leaving at that moment would mean acting again in the old way. He rummaged his mind, searching for something to say. As a matter of fact, it wasn't a difficult thing, because something like 'Forgive Me Scully; Lately I Acted Like an Idiot, But I Promise You that It Will Never Happen Again' would be more than enough. But, still plunged in such thoughts, Mulder found himself slamming the door of their office, leaving behind him a piece of their friendship.
There wasn't doubt. Whoever did that gruesome sacrifice wanted to evoke Cthulhu, the Great Ancient and get into his good graces.
It took a lot of time and patience, but in the end, with the help of a couple of good dictionaries, Mulder succeeded in translating one of the extracts that Wagner had analyzed the morning before. The book in question, 'The Great Ancients and Other Demons', originally written in Latin, had been printed in London in 1858 by a certain Joshua Wilson, that in his preface asserted to have only transcribed a manuscript of the fourteenth century, belonging to his family for several generations.
It was almost ten o'clock, outside a storm was coming and in less than an hour he would have the pleasure of a night walk through Takoma Park. *Not bad at all!* Thought Mulder, closing the old book and readied himself to sneak back out of the Library. He was also about to put away his notes when his eyes fell upon, almost unconsciously, Cthulhu's story.
< It is told that the Great Ancient emerged from hell during the Age of Fathers. He brought with him an awful power, that was nourished by the most weak of beings, tearing their bodies and avidly absorbing what little soul they contained. But, among that idle multitude, he also found some braver men, that he chose as his disciples, teaching them things that made them superior beings, or Shuddei, as someone today remembers them. Cthulhu and his army reigned over the earth for many decennia, until one day they were defeated by Ortanch; a Shuddeo that decided to rise against his master. Were so that the Great Ancient plunged down into an abyss, where still today he sleeps a deep sleep. He's waiting for the Age of the New Shuddeo, that will evoke his strength through a feline carrying his insignia, with which he'll be finally able to defeat Karinn, Ortanch's last descendant. Then Cthulhu's terrible power will come back greater than before, sweeping down upon the world.>
"Good evening sir, may I see your pass?"
The voice coming from over his shoulders made Mulder jump. "I'm a federal agent," he explained, showing his badge to a grizzled man and hoping that his voice appeared quiet and measured.
"Agent Mulder, this isn't a pass." The man was looking at him impassively.
*I had hoped he forgot his glasses.* Thought Mulder, giving him his second-hand permit.
"This isn't good, sir. I'm afraid that you'll have to come with me." * My luck, no myopia.*
In few moments the situation became definitely worse. Joining the first man was a second whose portly size, as he shoved Mulder up against the wall, had Mulder thinking he was between two walls, while 'Mr. Pass' deprived him of his gun and his phone.
"Who the hell are you?" asked Mulder, after having been pushed into a blue sedan.
"Two that don't like people poking their nose into things that don't concern them," replied Mr. Pass. As for it seemed his friend wasn't endowed with tongue.
The car silently crossed the city, heading south near Bethesda, where Mr. Pass parked it in front of a crumbling building.
The other man, who had sat near Mulder in the back seat, was the first to get out, dragging Mulder with a jerk. The brusque movement forced the zip-fastener of the man's leather jacket to slack open a little, allowing Mulder to see something that made him understand a lot of things.
Scully was desperately fighting to keep her anger toward Mulder from turning into sadness. Eleven had long passed by then and her partner had once again left her behind. She was here, in a desert park where the orange lights of the street-lamps were unable to light, plunged into an unnatural silence that neither she nor Brian can break. She was there and couldn't help but feel alone. "Mulder won't come," she said finally, unable to stand that static atmosphere.
Brian, sitting on the bench, glanced at her. "He might have had trouble with that false permit," he answered, trying to appear sincerely worried.
"Probably." Scully looked away from Brian for a while, following the graceful movements of a dead leaf that had been liberated, driven by the wind. When she looked again at her old friend, she had the feeling that somehow, the icy wind had gotten inside her.
"Come with me, Dana."
Brian's voice didn't change, but his eyes were exactly the same as *that* night. "Where?" she asked.
"I couldn't speak in front of your partner, but I believe I know where Wagner is."
In uttering those words, Brian's hand squeezed Scully's arm, and she found herself following that man like a leaf at the mercy of the wind. She could have refused to follow him, or ask for further explanations; but she didn't. She didn't because in some remote part of her mind she had continued to consider Brian like the friend of the holidays in camping and of the endless games of poker.
Mr. Pass's friend wore a thick silver necklace with a charm that, casually, represented a Celt cross.
*The same found in Wagner's room. The same symbol that often recurs in the black magic texts. Their insigna.* Mulder ordered his brain to work more quickly, but at that moment, while Mr. Pass was aiming his gun at him and the other one was landing a punch on his back to persuade him to quicken his steps, the only further conclusion that he was able to draw was rather elementary. *These aren't governmental agents.*
The room in which Mulder was enclosed a few minutes later, was the fittest place for thinking one could hope for, since that seemed to be the only possible work. The room - four walls, a window, a chair and a folding table - was lightened only by moonlight.
Mulder remained for a while before the window, hypnotized by that little silver scythe that had challenged and won the great cumuli full of rain; then his eye shifted down, on that only corner of the world he could see. It seemed to be deserted. The street dividing the building from a waste land was visible only when crossed by the headlights of a car.
The night seemed to be penetrated in each corner, no lighted windows, no passers by, nothing at all. The only gleam of artificial light came from under the door, behind which his friends kept a good watch.
What do they wanted from him? The most obvious supposition was that, together with the dear professor Wagner, they were all members of a sect worshipping the Great Ancient and they had taken him prisoner to prevent him from divulging what he had learned about their rites. But there was still something that didn't square. How could they know that he was at the Library? Only Scully knew that. Unless he had been followed, or...or Hayes was a perfect actor and he a perfect idiot.
"Ok Brian, would you like to tell me why you are so sure that Wagner is a prisoner at Rockwille?" asked Scully.
The man in the driver's seat glanced briefly at her, then, hinting at a smile, answered absent: "Intuition."
That, which at the beginning, was only an instinctive sensation was becoming, in Scully's mind, a certainty. Following Brian, trusting in him again, had been stupid; it was obvious. She didn't know how she could have followed him without asking for an explanation, leaving the meeting place, the track that she and Mulder had decided to follow. But she neither understood, or perhaps didn't want to understand, what Brian's idea was. "Stop the car, please," she said.
But this time her technique 'You Just Try to Contradict Me' didn't work.
"We haven't arrived yet, Dana." Brian appeared completely relaxed.
"I want to know where we are going."
"To Wagner's, I told you."
"How do you know where he is?" An idea began to form in Scully's mind.
"Intuition," replied Brian again.
"You've killed him, haven't you?" Their eyes met. Scully searched the depth of his grey eyes, just like she had done long ago, when it was enough to understand his thoughts. *Please Brian, tell me that it isn't true.* But it didn't work this time, either...
All that Scully found was a look that she wasn't able to recognize and she didn't like it at all. It was also one thing she strongly wanted to avoid. Drawing her gun, she aimed it at her once past best friend. "Stop the car."
"You have always been stubborn, haven't you? Well; there you are!" Brian steered the car, then suddenly braked, stopping it just near the guard rail, thereby preventing Scully from getting out. "You know something, Dana?" He said, bringing his face near Scully's. "I bet you won't use this. Because it's unloaded. It happened this evening, when I called on you before coming here. You left the gun on the table and when you went to fetch me that glass of water..."
"But why?" Scully knew that she should be frightened, it would only be wise to be frightened, but at that moment the space inside her only had room for the sadness.
Meanwhile Mulder was intent on turning over the events of the previous days in his mind, in order to build a story that, once ended, seemed to him to be, if not incredible, at least odd enough to be taken into consideration. In any case, whether he was in the right or not, at the moment the most urgent thing to do was to leave that place. Again he looked around.
The only idea that came to his mind didn't raise his enthusiasm at all, but a quick glance to his watch confirmed that he absolutely hadn't the time to make up a better plan of escape. So, hoping that friends wouldn't decide to look in on him just at that moment, he went toward the window and opened it. The 'skreek' produced from the old shutters seemed to him to be terrifying and holding his breath, he hoped not to see the lights of all the other apartments turn on. In the back of his mind was something about nervous tension and autosuggestion that made him feel extremely silly but also a little more relaxed.
He stepped over the tottering window sill and as soon as his weight was moved to the small ledge running on along the building side, an icy wind hastened to welcome him. Of course Mulder well knew, like anyone that had seen at least one time 'The Towering Inferno', the first thing he should do is not look down. And, of course, like everyone except Steve McQueen, that was exactly the first thing he did. Thank goodness the dark of the night under his feet prevented him from realizing the space that divided him from the ground and helped him not to run through that. He crept leaning against the wall of the building until he found as open window, then slipped inside.
It didn't matter whom he would find inside the apartment; at the moment the only thing that seemed to count was the idyllic meeting between his feet and the floor.
After all he was lucky. The only tenant was Sheep; a black youth of about twenty years that, when Mulder entered his room, was studying some boring notes of some university lesson. For some strange reason that Mulder couldn't explain, Sheep believed his story almost immediately. After asking, for a second time, to see Mulder's badge, he consented to lend him the second hand Buick that he'd bought only two months before, having worked the whole summer in a camp.
A few minutes later, as he was driving toward Takoma, Mulder's mind filled with useless thoughts that he knew wouldn't help him at all.
He thought of Sheep again, living in a hole and saving a few dollars each day to buy his first car. He envied his success in reaching that goal. He could almost see him, dealing out sandwiches to dusty children, alluring a girl at the feast of the Assumption or talking to his best friend about that little red Buick he had seen.
In his present mood, Mulder had bartered all that he was still trying to believe for that little and petty but concrete dream on which he was traveling. But he knew that it wasn't possible, and that at the end of the adventure he would have to give the dream back to its owner and continue to chase his ghosts.
The little cottage was clearly empty. Crossing its threshold, Scully recognized the typical smell of rotten wood and mildew from the closed rooms that each country house left empty acquires. Now Brian was aiming the gun at her.
"Sit down," he ordered, glancing at the couple of chairs around an old table.
She sat, then the man took a pair of handcuffs from the table and placed them around her wrists, tying her to the chair back. The whole scene seemed to take place in that unnatural setting typical of dreams and, just as in most of them, seemed not to have a precise meaning. Scully wondered astonished what she was doing in that place far from everyone and everything.
She looked at Brian and for a moment she was sure that it was one of his old tricks. She almost could see him, breaking into one of his sudden laughs. *You are really silly, Dana!* For then turning toward the kitchen and coming back with two iced beers and a huge packet of crisps. *What about a hand of poker? Look, if you refuse I'll leave you tied to that chair and go to the cinema with Mary Ryan!* But the man in front of her wasn't smiling at all. His face was crossed with something very similar to hate.
"You've been very clever at hiding from me everything for so long a time. Playing the role of the devout friend has been definitely a clever move. You know? When I realized the truth, for the first time I was very surprised, but then I told to myself: 'If there was someone able to cheat you, old boy, it would be Dana!' I always knew you were very smart."
"For goodness sake; what are you saying, Brian?" Scully's question passed completely unnoticed.
"Believe me, I never wanted it to end between us in this way, but my mission is more important than any other thing. You are the Last Descendant and I've to conclude the task that had been entrusted to me."
Scully didn't understand. She hated not understanding, feeling stupid and defeated. "Do you want to explain me what the hell are you saying? ! Look at me; I'm I, Dana...What does this story means? Why did you bring me here?"
Brian rose abruptly, knocking over the chair in which he sat. "Hush!" He shouted. Now he was breathless and his fists were clenched. "You don't try to cheat me another time. Now I know who you are, bitch!"
His hands clutched Scully's shoulder, his face, contracted with rage, approached to gaze hers and at that moment Scully caught herself shivering with fear.
A few minutes later, Brian found himself lying over an old folding bed, intently staring at the scraped ceiling of what had once been a bedroom. His anger was slowly appeasing and although he still hated that little bitch with all his being, he was satisfied that he'd been able to control himself, mastering the impulse to put a bullet into her sweet head. Again, it had been Him that gave him the necessary strength, making him feel that he can't put his personal feelings before the fulfillment of the Great Design. It still wasn't the right time. He had to wait until the beginning of the New Day, prepare everything well and then fulfill his duty, getting rid of the last obstacle. *Because she's nothing but this.* Thundered out again the voice in his mind.
Mulder parked the car near the main entrance of the park. Their meeting hour had long passed and his hope to find Scully there was almost nonexistent. But he didn't know what else to do. He'd already stopped at three telephone boxes in the attempt to contact her, without obtaining nothing. He perfectly knew that Scully would never turn off her mobile phone voluntarily and this utterly worried him. *Here is the first proof in support of my theory.*
The place was desolate. Plunged as he was in his thoughts, for some time Mulder didn't notice the woman that were observing him. Then he saw her, sitting on a near bench; blond, slender, with long hair falling to her shoulders. She looked like one of those ethereal maidens sung from some ancient medieval ballads.
Perhaps, with a little of luck, the girl had been there for enough time to have seen Scully and Hayes leaving together and would been able to tell him what direction they had taken. *Of course, princess Guinevre here has the habit of spending the coldest hours of night at Takoma Park and to taking note of all the people passing here.*
"Good evening," said Mulder approaching, hoping not to look like a maniac or something. "My name is Mulder, I'm a federal agent. While you've been sitting here, did you notice a rather tall man with blond hair leaving with a woman?"
The girl gazed at him for a while; then, without lowering her incredibly green eyes, whispered: "No, I'm sorry."
Mulder wanted to ask her what she was doing alone in a place like this, but something about her made him give up. So he remained there, sitting near the girl and watched the moths fluttering around the street lamps. He was again alone. If his suppositions were right, at that moment Scully was in the hands of a man believing himself to be a kind of devils disciple and, at the worst, his partner was Karinn, Ortanch's Last Descendant and his deadly enemy. And he was here, completely useless, completely unable to do anything for her.
"What does the woman you are searching for look like?" The firm but sweet girl's voice seemed to fill the emptiness that night had scattered all around.
Mulder turned again towards her. "Sorry?"
So the girl smiled at him, with the same sympathy and kindness that one shows toward a child that pretends not to understand an elementary concept. "Before, you described to me only the man that was with her."
"Oh. Well, Scully...ehmm...my partner is definitely shorter, redhead, blue eyes. She probably wore a dark coat."
"Her eyes were beautiful, but she had a sad look," said pensive the young woman.
Mulder stood up. "Well; did you seen them?"
"Why did you lie to me before?"
The girl seemed to have lost part of her confidence. Now she was speaking again in a low voice, addressing more to herself than to Mulder. "I'm...I'm making a mistake. Tomorrow morning, everything would be finished, but I'm not able. Your partner is not at fault, it wouldn't be right." Then, addressing him directly, "But we haven't time to stay here chatting. In a couple of hours the sun will rise and then it will be too late. We have to go." The girl rose to her feet and turned toward the Buick.
Mulder followed her, but before stepping into the car, he grasped her arm, forcing her to look at him. "You are Karinn; aren't you?"
When Brian stepped again into the cottage, Scully was somewhere between the world of dreams and that of consciousness. She hadn't the slightest idea of what was happening outside. She only knew that, about a millennium before, Brian had gone out slamming the door and that, after others five hundred years, she had started to hear those low moanings; songs, perhaps prayers, or something of worse. *You are the Last Descendant and I've to conclude the task that had been entrusted to me.*
"Come on," he said, after having untied her hands and obliged her to stand up with a violent push.
Scully would have wanted to cry, to throw against him and the run away, far from that dreadful place. But all the fury remained confined in her mind and few moments later she found herself plunged into the icy wind of an endless night, lightened by a fire crackling in the middle of a glade that compelled her to see things that she would have willingly ignored.
The bonfire was in the center of a wide Celt cross, made with big white stoned on which were traced unknown symbols. At the four sides, among the cross limbs, there was the head of a black cat, with something in its mouth that from time to time reflected a splinter of fire.
A terror suddenly fell over Scully as she immediately understood. "You killed Wagner, didn't you?"
"Of course. He was an extremely bothersome man; he continued to oppose our mission."
"And this mission consists in getting rid of me?" Now Scully's voice was perfectly controlled.
Brian smiled at her. "Why do you still treat me as an idiot?"
"Listen to me Brian; I'm not the woman you think, believe me. You are very confused, you need some help, but..."
But all was useless, he wasn't listening to her at all. He was ravished observing the bonfire crackling in front of them. "Look, oh Glorious Ancient, at these incandescent tongues tearing the shades of the last night of the Age of Men. And when these succeed in driving it away for ever and will let the sun to light your greatness, then my task as your servant will be concluded."
While Brian was talking with his Cthulhu, Scully realized that the moment to try her luck had come. With a sudden movement she succeeded in getting out of his grasp, but just a moment before she started to run across the woods, she felt Brian's hand squeezing again her arm.
The man hurled her to the ground. He was shouting. "Shortly Karinn, when the New Day rise, your blood will wash away the petty men's meanness for ever!" Then he drew out the gun from the pocket of his coat and aimed it at Scully's shoulder.
For a brief few seconds she saw the face of the old Brian.
"It's the best solution, believe me. I can't evade my duty, but I can make it so you suffer as little as possible." Now his voice was little more than a whisper. A moment later the little spark made from his gun joined the great flash of flames.
Meanwhile, in another place, a red Buick was proceeding along a street skirted only by fog. They had been traveling for more than an hour and had scarcely crossed ten other cars. But it was Karinn, as Mulder now considered her, that was driving and the determination he could see in her eyes kept Mulder from questioning the destination. *Me, a quiet passenger, that would be Scully's dream.* He thought, a little bitter smile crossing his lips. Meanwhile, his rational mind, which by the way he was trying hard not to completely lose, had the presence to recognize the woods near Gaithersburg. "Why her?" he suddenly asked.
Mulder's voice broke a silence that had existed from the beginning of the trip and the woman seemed vaguely disturbed by it. "It's my fault. I knew that Hayes would come to Washington to pursue his insane dream and I managed to persuade him that your partner was the Last Descendant. If at dawn I'm still alive, Cthullhu wouldn't restore his hegemony and..."
"And if he kills Scully, wouldn't kill you," concluded Mulder.
She gazed at him and for the first time her imperturbable face was crossed by a really human emotion. "It seems cruel, but sometimes we have to choose the lesser of evils."
"And then? What made the great Karinn change her mind?"
"You. The affection that I read in your eyes convinced me that I had to try."
He smiled bitterly again. "And I was always afraid I appeared a little cynical!"
Not long after, Karinn parked in a little clearing licking a particularly thick tract of brushwood. She got out of the car without a word, but, as soon as they'd gone beyond the first row of oaks, she turned toward Mulder. "They are somewhere near here."
Now that they'd left behind the Buick and the strip of black asphalt, the last strongholds of the twentieth century, the woman appeared to him like a sylvan creature. It was as if the darkness that wrapped everything wasn't able to hide her ethereal beauty. She preceded light and calm, mistress of the wood.
*From somewhere a honeysuckle spread its scent, while beyond the top of the trees the sky was spangled with clusters of star, drawing unknown constellations. Where did the gray clouds go?* Mulder asked himself, while a shiver crossed his back. *And the fog?* "What is this place?" he asked, while his look met a bush of white roses, glittering like pearls in the night.
She was ahead of him a few steps and didn't turn. "I think you already know. It doesn't matter that this place has a name. We could be anywhere, the most important thing is what will happen there. Look", she paused, "We have to go there." She pointed to a flash well visible through the wefts of the trees.
Scully was only partially aware of being wounded. It was as if her conscience would have been dismantled in a lot of little fragments and each fragment would have chosen to dwell obtusely upon a different detail. The pain she felt in her shoulder and the blood that had colored with red the sleeve of her coat were only two of these details, together with the branches of trees moved by wind, the cat heads holding in their mouths their own entrails and Brian's arms that were lifting her again.
Now she was lying over something that had to be a folding bed; around her was only darkness, so somehow she succeeded in putting together enough fragments of consciousness to allow her to look at the fluorescent hands of her watch. It was ten past four; in less than two hours, she will be dead. *Don't you think it's plausible that you'll die from loss of blood before then?* asked what still remained of the rational agent Scully. *I don't know and honestly I don't care a rap.* She replied to herself, sliding again toward the bridge that joins the world of consciousness with that of dreams.
At least one thing was sure, they weren't near Gaithersburg. Darkness prevented him from seeing any further than the end of his nose, but Mulder had all the same tangible feelings of the knot of branches and bushes that extended much further on the horizon line. *They don't have such an expanse of woods in Virginia.* He thought absent mindedly, while the flash in front of them was becoming even more vivid. They were almost there. He didn't know where they were, nor what they would find and least of all, he'd have a titanic fight between Good and Evil whose prize would be mankind's destiny, or perhaps only an encounter between two minds deranged by insane ideals. This uncertainty made him unquiet and anxious, without yet being able completely to engross him as he expected.
The old and falling cottage was just behind the last row of pines that marked the boundary between the woods and the clearing where the bonfire which had led Mulder and Karinn was.
Straight in front of the flames, Brian Hayes was declaiming incomprehensible phrases with a voice that made Mulder's flesh crawl.
"It's the Invocation to the Ancestors, one of the chief passages of Necronomicon. It's used to open the ceremony," explained Karinn.
They were just in front of the man, hidden by pines. The unnatural atmosphere, produced by the strange song and by the fire crackling, exerted a deep influence on Mulder and for a brief moment he was about to yield to that dark and archaic spell. But finally his strong will got the upper hand, allowing him to shift his eye on the little house.
"What are you doing?" Karinn's voice was definitely harsh.
Now he was ahead of her and answered without turning. "It's plain that Scully is inside there. I'm going in the back."
"Not now," she said, grabbing his arm. "I need your help. The invocation is very long and from time to time Hayes needs to read it. If he succeeds in evoking the Great Ancient, then my power would be nothing against him. But if we are able to deprive him of Necronomicon, then I can fight the man at equal."
Mulder didn't need to think it over. "I'll help you, but first I want to take Scully out of there."
Karinn opened her mouth to reply that it was foolish to put a single person's fate before those of the whole mankind, but something in Mulder's determination made her give up.
The place was cold and damp. Mulder turned on his flash light. *Where is Scully?* He called her in a low voice, but didn't get answer. Beginning to fear, *God, don't let that bastard kill her!* he tried again in a louder voice and after what seemed like a century, she replied from somewhere in the dark.
*What's happening out there?* Although the noise reached her ears, deafened from the door of the closet in which she was kept and from the half conscious state in which she was fallen, Scully strove to guess its origin. *Someone is forcing the front door. It's Brian. Now he's coming here; I can hear his step resounding over the old wooden boards on the floor. He's calling me, I can clearly hear his voice, the voice of...Mulder?!*
Mulder found the key of the back door in the lock. It only took a few moments before he crossed the threshold of the closet, while the beam of his flash light lightened a rusty bed, on which lay a terribly pale Scully. His eyes stopped immediately on the red spot that had stained the sleeve of her coat. "Scully! Are you wounded?"
Of course she tried to reassure him. "I'm fine, Mulder. Only a scratch, really." But when she endeavored to sit, her eyes dimmed for a moment.
He gently put his hand on her back. "We have to get out of here. We have a car at the end of the woods." *But the question is: Is there an end to these woods?* Mulder decided that it was better to take one question at a time.
Meanwhile, Scully managed to rise. Although proceeding very slowly, they succeeded in arriving outside without incident.
Karinn came towards them. "I want you to remain here," she said, while a growing wind made her fair hair blow.
"How are you going to face him?" he asked, staring at her.
"Fight him before he succeeds in evoking the demon that's able to sweep away everything you see in a moment's breath."
In the moment of silence that followed, Brian's voice reached again their ears.
"I'll come with you," Mulder finally said.
A feeble smile crossed Karinn's lips. "No, I won't let him know that I'm the real Karinn, so you must stay here to protect your partner."
Suddenly Mulder realized the reason preventing him from really being interested in what was happening around him, Scully. The thought that she was again in danger because of him, *I believed that besides partners we were also friends, Mulder.* occupied, willy-nilly, two thirds of his mind.
Once she was arrived face to face with Hayes, Karinn issued her challenge. She couldn't waste a single moment, for at the end of the Invocation, Cthulhu would come again to snatch men from their world like weeds from a garden. Staring at the man, she slowly approached him, then she would rip the silver celt cross hanging from his neck.
Suddenly the wind considerably rose, Hayes interrupted his rite and Karinn was hurled to the ground by a tongue of fire. "Who are you?" yelled the man.
Well, she had succeeded in hiding her identity. Nevertheless the effort of controlling his mind, of making him believe what that she wanted, was really considerable. The sky was still dark and Karinn couldn't help asking herself if her energies would have held until dawn.
"You have come here to save the Last Descendant; haven't you?" asked Hayes, now just a few steps from her. "Poor na´ve thing!" he continued amused "By now no one can set himself against the Great Ancient's will."
Karinn looked around. The book; Hayes had left the book near the fire. Taking possession of it would be the only way to prevent the madness from bringing his horrible task to an end, for the new day was still far away and she felt unable to play with the man's mind until that moment. With an incredibly agile movement she stood up, then threw herself toward the fire, but another tongue of fire reached her, rebounding for a moment against her body and finally went among the trees. The fire began to crackle over the pine trunks immediately, spreading with astonishing velocity.
The woods were on fire. Mulder felt that this place, whatever it was, belonged to Karinn and the fact that the flames had begun to destroy it had to be an ill omen. Aside from the prophetic thought, there still remained the problem of the fire. The flames were advancing dangerously close to their hideout among the trees. Instinctively, he pressed his arm around Scully's waist.
Mulder's movement roused her from the state of torpor in which she had fallen from when they had left the cottage. With an effort of will, she lifted her head from her partner's shoulder and let her eyes wander about the glade. The blond woman was surrounded by a circle of fire. Brian was in front of her, his head was turned back and with a voice that wasn't his own, he was reciting unknown prayers. The circle was quickly narrowing and in a short time the flames would reach Karinn. "Brian, no!" Scully shouted then, bringing a hand to her wounded shoulder. She was trying to rise, and begged her knees not to bend just at that moment. She absolutely had to prevent Brian from making the mistake of killing that woman. She advanced toward the two, but before getting to the glade, she felt Mulder's arm holding her.
"Don't be stupid, Scully! Hayes isn't the same man you knew, he's convinced you are the Last Descendant, it's you that he wants to kill and if you go there, he won't hesitate to do it!"
Meanwhile, Hayes had noticed them and went toward them.
His eyes met Scully's. She strove to ignore the voice inside her that was saying his stare was of madness and to convince herself that it was possible to make him listen to reason again. "Don't do it" She said, ridding herself from Mulder's grasp "Don't do it, please. You are still in time. Draw yourself back, Brian; say no to who wants to confound you. Believe in yourself, believe to be able to choose with your mind. I know that you don't really want to kill that woman, or to kill me." Scully's voice was turned from harsh to imploring and now a single tear was crossing her cheek.
An insane and bitter smile crossed the man's face. "These are all lies! You are still trying to cheat me. You never cared for me, and now less than ever. But now we stop playing, now is the time for you to die." He closed his eyes and the fire reached a pine branch that broke off and fell near Scully.
Suddenly a wave of heat assailed her and her knees lost their strength. She fell on her knees skimming the flames and the harsh contact with the ground caused her a sudden pain that started from her right shoulder and spread through every part of her body.
For a long moment everything seemed to stop. The wind ceased to blow, the tree tops no longer waved and the flames no longer eluded the laws of physics. The fire was crackling indifferent and a pearly light began to tint the sky.
During that long, indefinite moment dividing the night from the day, while the smell of dew and of wet leaves wrapped him, Mulder found himself unable to move. Soon the early morning azure would have drawn aside the foggy curtain hanging over their heads and the first birds would have begun their warbling; but at that moment each movement, each word would been like a violation of the magic staticity of the place.
But then his eye met his partner's figure that laid motionless on the ground and all the peace that the dawn had tried to infuse in him was deleted. Mulder dropped his gun and rushed to her side. He put his forefinger over her neck and felt a weak but regular throbbing of her blood, the vice that had pinched his stomach slackened a little. But she looked so fragile, so incredibly pale! The scarlet spot on her shoulder had exceedingly spread and the hemorrhage hadn't stopped yet.
For a while he remained still. He felt completely annihilated and feared that by touching her, he could do nothing but cause her further pain. *Stupid, stupid, stupid! You left her alone again and if she never sees the splendor of the morning sky, if she never again sees another dawn, it will be your own fault. Please Scully, don't die...please.* It was only thanks to the soft touch of Karinn's hand over his shoulder that Mulder succeeded in recovering part of his lucidity. *Ok Spooky, make what little brain you still have, work! Scully is wounded, she has lost a lot of blood and has to be immediately taken at hospital. Brilliant deduction! But the two guys from the library took your mobile phone, so you can't call an ambulance. Granting that you would be able to explain to someone where you are! The Buick; you absolutely have to reach that old wreck.
* Mulder surrounded Scully's back with one arm, passed the other under her knees and gently lifted her. "Take us out of here," he said then, turning to Karinn.
She just nodded and then turned to the trees with her firm and vaguely haughty manner.
Less than ten minutes later the three were traveling on Sheep's jewel. Karinn was driving, while Mulder was in the back seat, with Scully's head on his knees.
"How could we have crossed the woods in less time than it took to get here?" he asked at a certain moment.
"A simple short cut."
He wasn't in the right mood to chat, but this didn't prevent Mulder from noticing that improbably even the best short cut couldn't cover the same space in one fifth of the time!
Shortly after the beginning of the trip to the hospital, Scully came to.
Mulder was stroking her hair and seeing her blue eyes open, he strove to joke. "Hey! I wish you wouldn't drive!"
She would have been able to smile, but all that she managed to do was to bite her lower lip in the attempt to repress a moaning.
"It hurts a lot?" Mulder asked then, suddenly serious.
"No, it doesn't," replied her whisper.
"Listen to me, partner," he said, continuing to stroke her hair. "Everything is going to be all right, I promise you, but you have to stay awake. If you want, I'll sing something. I know almost all the Beatles' songs by heart, but you can't fall asleep again. You can't leave me."
Scully fumbled for her friend's hand and squeezed it with what little strength she still had. "Mulder?"
"Please, don't sing."
That day was very long. Once they reached the hospital Scully was immediately brought to the surgery, where she remained for more than one hour. She had lost a lot of blood and a doctor explained to Mulder that the following hours would be crucial for her. How many times had he heard such sentences in movies!
In any case Scully managed quite well. After passing through a difficult night, she woke up the next morning and in a short time she recovered a good part of her old attitude. At least as much as she needed to getting angry with Mulder. "Where's Brian?" She asked, trying to raise her head from the pillow.
Mulder nervously pressed his lips and had the impression that his stomach was doing the same.
"He's dead? Mulder, he's dead?"
"I'm sorry, I had to kill him or he would have killed you. He died quickly, I don't believe he suffered."
Scully turned her head toward the window. Her eyes were filled with tears and she didn't want Mulder to see her in such a state. "And the woman?" she asked, fighting with her own voice.
"Disappeared. Shortly after bringing us here."
"You really believe that she was Karinn?"
"Yes," he simply answered. Then, after taking a deep breath, he added: "Scully...I only want to tell you that during these hours I thought about what you told me and that probably you were right. Well, as a matter of fact I already knew this, but I couldn't help acting like that, I did it without realizing it. You know when..."
Scully smiled. "I believed that the worst thing that could happen to me was to hear you sing 'Help', but I was wrong. Your attempt at an apology is definitely worse."
"But I didn't want to apologize at all. Considering your pitiful state, I was only trying to please you!"
Scully turned toward him and glanced at him for a moment. "You know, Mulder?" she finally said, straining not to laugh "You are a worm."