The stars in the midnight sky blurred and rippled. Once. Quickly. Over in the blink of an eye, the undulation of the firmament disturbed no one. Only the crow roosting in the boughs of the ancient Lebanon Cedar sensed any alteration in the fabric of things; but even it simply ruffled its feathers, and sank back into slumber.
Beneath one of the tree’s gnarled branches lay a rectangular slab of granite, coated in decades of moss, its inscription obliterated by neglect. Another ripple in the atmosphere, and slowly, the slab scraped to one side, the vacant-eyed angel atop it making no protest against this irregularity.
A gaping maw appeared in the ground, blacker than the inky night.
But darker still was the shadow of the man standing before the open grave.
The silence of death is like no other. He paused, savoured it. Grief and longing and despair pulsed in the air; solid, present, but obscured from the senses of men by the gossamer veil that separated the dead from the living. These things could be seen, felt, tasted, if one only knew how to lift that veil.
How to shred it.
An owl screeched. Lispenard smiled.
Then he stepped down into the cold earth and vanished.
Behind the flare of torch light loomed a wall of shadow. Swirling, yet with the density of lead, it completely obscured the rear of the cavernous subterranean chamber. Lispenard’s heels clicked on the stone floor. Reaching the dark perimeter, he dropped to one knee and bowed his head.
The Master’s rasping voice sent a spike of pleasure through him, as always. He had made Lispenard who he was; the doctor’s gratitude was undying, and knew no bounds.
“Master.” Lispenard raised his head. The face of a man hovered in the black mist, pale and wizened, the forehead and eyes hidden by the folds of a dark cowl. Once, the Master had been as powerful of body as he was of mind, but now … Lispenard felt the familiar stab of long held guilt in his gut; pushed it aside, and asked, “What is your wish?”
A pointed tongue flickered over papery lips. “I require sustenance.”
“Of course.” Of course! Lispenard silently cursed his stupidity. Under his care, the Master had grown stronger, but was still far from his full potential. The end was nearing, and the Master would require every iota of nourishment in order to fulfill his destiny.
Lispenard rose. “I will order a demon to –”
“No. No demons. It must be a human who kills for me tonight.”
So soon? Yes. It made sense. When a human took the life of another, the essence release by that act - the alchemy of the killer’s rage and the prey’s terror - was so much more potent than when a mortal was slain by a soulless demon
“Shadow. This will be the last time I ask this of you. It is nearly time.” The serpentine tongue flicked again. “Two of our foes are in our power.”
The Master’s white hands floated upwards in the darkness. They fluttered, a pair of skeletal doves, and a hazy image resolved in the air between his fingertips.
Lispenard gasped. Nemo. Clarissa. On the floor of a dungeon, heads bent, bodies restrained by chains as thick as a man’s arm. Nemo’s red tresses and beard had been hacked off; Clarissa’s face, once a thing of beauty, was now a mask of crusted blood and bruises. Her teeth were smashed.
The Others are breaking. Lispenard’s heart sang.
“And soon we will have their secrets.” The Master clicked his fingers and another figure appeared; a human, a man, spread eagled against a wall and stripped to the waist, his chest scored with bloody welts, a ragged hole the size of a fist cut into his paunch.
The man’s lips constricted as he released a silent, endless, scream.
Another finger snap and the image disappeared. “When I am nourished,” the Master continued, his voice a glacial rumble. “And when I retrieve what was taken from me, what is rightfully mine …” Incandescent rage pulsed from every corner of the chamber. “The Others will wish they had never walked upon this Earth.”
Lispenard stood at the edge of the grave as the slab slid back into place, no different now to the endless rows of graves that claimed every spare inch of the cemetery.
This puny, flimsy world and its pathetic beings, he thought, curling his lip. The Others protected them as if they were something precious, ignoring the bounty that was there to be harvested. The Others were born with their powers; they took them for granted, and failed to make full use of them. Whereas the Master had earned his powers, had paid a price … and look what miracles he could turn.
A soft click, and the granite slab was secured, the stone angel once again contemplating the heavens above the Highgate necropolis.
Lispenard turned, stilled his body, and breathed deeply.
How lucky the Master had seen something in him. The Master had imbued him with the ability to rip time, but other than that, Lispenard’s powers were of the mind only, of suggestion. Nothing compared with the Master’s gifts, but still … he sniffed the air again. If a man’s undisclosed desires were of the right nature, Lispenard could make good use of them. Very good use indeed …
Such as Townsend’s father. A bark of laughter escaped his lips, sending the crow in the cedar fluttering from its roost. Ah, how it must have stuck in Townsend’s craw when Lispenard found the flaw that rendered Francis Tumblety, Townsend’s sire, capable of murdering his wife, Townsend’s mother … and then, at the hands of the Master, Tumblety had been wrought into a cloven-hooved demon, a minion whose only purpose was to kill for the Master, to harvest the essence released by the deaths of pathetic humans, like the Whitechapel whores. A mere servant, to be killed in service to the Master and reanimated at his pleasure, for eternity.
Lispenard felt a twist of exquisite pleasure. Guilt followed quickly on its heels. Lispenard’s manipulation of Tumblety had led to Townsend exacting a terrible revenge upon the Master - the theft of the Master's soul. But, in a balancing of their universes, Townsend had suddenly disappeared, leading to a stalemate these past ten years as the Others searched for their most powerful comrade while Lispenard nursed the Master back to a semblance of health. Oh, Lispenard may have found Townsend before the Others, but to his shame, he had been unable to break open his mind. All the while, skirmishes occurred between the Others and the Fellowship, but neither force had been able to best the other … until now.
Lispenard drew in a final draught of air.
1968. He raised his eyes to the star dusted sky. He had not travelled to that time before, but that was where the scent of latent depravity was strongest tonight.
Beneath the cedar, Lispenard shimmered, and was gone.
A soft knock sounded on the office door.
Seated behind the fake wood, formica topped desk, Lispenard tented his fingers beneath his chin.
The door opened tentatively. A handsome, dark haired young man poked his head in to the room.
“Oh. Sorry,” he mumbled, a red flush sweeping his cheek bones. “I was supposed to see Professor Worth. About my psych paper …” He swallowed, his nerves getting the better of him, and he began to back out.
“Theodore. Please come in.”
Lispenard’s use of his name stopped the young man in his tracks. Smiling genially, Lispenard motioned to a lime green, plastic chair beside the desk. “Sit. Professor Worth is not here, but we have much to discuss.”
It didn’t take long. The young man’s soul was already severely damaged by the circumstances of his life – raised by a violent grandfather; believing until early manhood that his mother was his much older sister; the addiction to pornography of the darkest, most violent nature; the rejection by women; his lack of any natural sense of how to get along with others – but when, in the course of their half hour together, Theodore confessed his earliest memories to Lispenard, it was clear he would have been depraved to the core no matter his upbringing. A three year old boy who took pleasure in surrounding his sleeping aunt with every knife from the kitchen drawer was ample evidence of this truth.
The young man rose from his chair. His bearing had a strength to it now; his confidence had unlocked, just as Lispenard had unlocked the man’s courage to indulge his innate perversities.
Ted would kill tonight.
And the essence released by that act – of death, insanity, rage, terror - captured by a demon and transported back to the necropolis, would be of such a quality it would sustain the Master for weeks. Not that he would need it to last so long. The end was nigh. The Master’s soul would soon be restored. He would destroy the Others. And when the world saw what hell on earth the Master could unleash – the unbridled chaos of humans, both the flawed and the pure, compelled to commit unspeakable acts against each other at a snap of his fingers– they would bow down at the Master’s feet, and the world would be his for the taking.
“Thank you, sir.” The young man's handshake was warm and firm.
Lispenard gracefully inclined his head. “My pleasure. Good luck, Mr Bundy.”