And so it ends.
Now for the most well-deserved cup of coffee I've ever had.
Epilogue - The End of the Beginning
The ferryman hovered above the Black River. It's inky shroud of darkness wrapped tight around its amorphous form. Tendrils of whatever the cloak was made from tickled along the surface of the river as it stood above it, but the river itself gave no outward sign of being disturbed. Not a shimmer, not a reflection, not a ripple. It was as if the creature was not even there. To those who could not see it, it may as well not have been. Much like the creatures it was associated with, everyone knew it was there, a constant presence of death, but it was almost never seen.
A shudder could be felt in the air, a shudder that none could have been able to put a name to. It was not the wind, nor was it an earthquake. What it was like, the closest way to describe it was a soundless thunder rattling the air, shaking the land, and running through the bones of anyone nearby. Many felt it as little more than a shiver, the sensation often described as someone walking over their grave. Others closer to the epicenter, or those more attuned to seeing through the Veil felt it as if their heart skipped a beat, a clear sense of dread, or as if the world itself gave pause.
The only sign the watcher of the Waterways gave that it even affected it, even though the creature was at ground zero itself, was the shifting of its cloak around its head. It looked as if it was being unfolded and refolded to accomodate the movements of whatever was inside. If it felt anything other than the briefest ripple across its body, it gave no indication.
The ferryman watched down the river as the air shimmered and glowed, like the sun on an open pond. A white-clad form stepped out of the rippling air, but did not travel far from the atmospheric anomaly.
"A noble opening gambit, Sarah," it said in its raspy voice. "But it appears you have failed."
The woman spoke with such a voice that would have made men crawl across fire for her, or jump off cliffs, or start a war. If ever there was an embodiment of a siren of myth, then her voice was it. It was lyrical, and soft, and it dripped with honey for the ears. "Come closer, Ferryman, so I may gaze upon your face once more."
"My face has been forever denied to you, Sarah. You know you shall never gaze upon it, just as you know you shall never gaze upon the distant shores of Styx."
"I would not be so sure of that, Ferryman."
"Your minion failed. Alyson Simone Montrose yet lives. In her way. All that effort to bring her here, it was for naught."
Her tone shifted and became more shrewd, "Do not presume to know my goals, Ferryman. The twice born have come, and they will stay. On this very spot, the blood sacrifice has been made, and the first cracks are beginning to show themselves. Tell me now that I have failed."
The woman's words gave the creature pause, and it was unaccustomed to that feeling. "You would dare to do such a thing? We have played our games over time, but this... I never thought you would ever grow so bold, Sarah."
"I don't grow bold, keeper. My time has simply come."
The black form floated closer to the woman. "You are still trapped in your prison. This is as far as you can venture into the world of light."
"It is still more than I used to be able to poke through the Veil. Your seals grow weak around me." She was flush with pride and arrogance. "Someday they shall break, and when they do, I shall be free."
"You spoke those words to me on the day those seals were made, and someday has been a very, very long time coming indeed." The black pillar loomed over the small woman, like a building ready to topple upon her.
She showed no fear, and instead of shrinking away, she stood ever taller, and despite her small stature showed great courage. "And with every passing day, someday comes ever closer. You may deny it all you want, Ferryman, but you know the signs as well as I."
"You have hastened the coming of these signs, Sarah. This is not the natural order of things."
The woman laughed, a melodious trilling laugh that one would normally make when a suitor made a joke. "We are not ones to speak of natural orders. We are the least natural things in any of the worlds. And how do you know that my hastening the signs, bringing about these coming days hasn't been part of the plan all along? We all have our parts to play, do we not?"
"Indeed," the ferryman spoke. It gave a sigh, if such a thing can be said to sigh. "Then it shall be one last game between us."
"One last game. Winner takes all. The seals will crack, they will break, and the flood shall come. None can stop the rising tide."
With her final words, Sarah did not wait for the ferryman to respond. Instead, she turned on the watery surface, and walked back through the shimmering portal hanging in the air. Once she was through it, the world once again shifted to its core. Everyone and everything felt it, in their own way. Most people sensed it as little more than the same shiver as before.
Alyson, sitting in her English class clutched at her chest like it was trying to claw its way out from the inside. The pain was the worst thing she had ever felt, save for her death. Even that was just a memory that she was sure had hurt, more than she had any actual sense of it. The pain soon subsided, and she brushed it aside as heartburn to those who asked what was wrong. Inside though, she knew something was very wrong, and things were only just beginning.
In his chemistry class, Darien felt little more than a headache. He shrugged it off as stress from the weekend, but somehow he knew something was in the wind and blowing his way. Whatever it was, he would face it when it got there. No sense in worrying about what may or may not come.
Brendan was in gym, when his body collapsed to the floor of the basketball court in the middle of running laps. If he had not gotten right back up, it would have almost been mistaken as a siezure. The teacher still insisted Brendan see the nurse, but he felt fine. Just how fine he felt was a lie, as for a moment he could have sworn he was staring into a mirror, surrounded by mirrors, and reflecting himself back upon him in an infinite progression. His mind couldn't handle the strain and gave out. It was like someone had flipped a switch in his head and he was elsewhere, and falling to the ground all at the same time.
Half-asleep in her history class, Rachel was shocked awake from a noise that no one else heard. The blonde was unable to determine just what had happened, but it through her off for the rest of her day, leaving an uneasy sense of dread. Even the least sensitive were touched by Sarah's passage.
Kelly was running an errand for the principal when it felt like someone had rammed a red-hot poker into her eye and through her brain. The girl's legs buckled and she fell to her knees, clutching at her head as the pain shot through her mind and back again. It was a good thing the hallway was clear, and no one saw her, as her eyes went white, all colour bled away from her irises.
She saw the school around her, but then her eyes were flooded with other images, too many to process at once. Visions of things to come. It was like someone was trying to pack the entirety of every television broadcast at once into her eyes. All she knew from them was that the end was coming. The end of everything. And the Montroses were at the center of it all. They had been right to fear them when they arrived. She had been right all along.
"And so it begins," moaned the ferryman as he felt Sarah's hands touch every soul across the globe and inch them all closer to resting in its own clutches beneath the waves and across the shores.
And the beginning.
November 1st, 2009 - December 18th, 2009
Our heroes' adventures will continue in
Black River - Book 2: The Dead of Winter