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Authors: Chet Williamson

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BOOK: Siege of Stone
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He leaned forward, and arms like pistons cracked the lead over his legs and hips. He raised his knees, jerked his flesh from the clinging metal, and stood naked before them, his body superbly muscled. His chest did not rise and fall, and Joseph realized that he probably didn't have to breathe at all, or he would have suffocated inside the lead.

"'To the destructive element submit yourself,'" he cried triumphantly, "'and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water, make the deep, deep sea keep you up.' That's from a book given to me by one of my more sympathetic jailers, who thought that I was human enough to appreciate a good book other than the Good Book. He was correct. And I not only appreciated it, I learned from it. The trick, you see, is just to stay near the surface, and let your strength return!

"Now, where should I start?" he asked, looking from one person to the next, as if feeling them out mentally. "So many lives . . ." He looked past Joseph, and seemed to intensify his gaze upon someone behind him. ". . . So . . . little . . . time . . ."

Joseph couldn't take his eyes off the creature. Fear shot through him at the prospect of becoming Mulcifer's puppet once more, and at the thought of being forced to attack his friends. He noticed movement out of the corner of his eye, and thought that someone might be running away, and then it was gone, and his concentration was centered solely on Mulcifer, who was walking across the surface of lead toward him, closer and closer.

And then Mulcifer stopped, and for the first time Joseph saw something that might have been fear on his face. He became aware of a high-pitched sound, faint at first, then growing louder. It was the same sound Joseph had heard in the castle when they had seen the apparition on the road.

Mulcifer looked down at the lead, and it seemed for an instant as though he might have wanted to envelop himself in it again. Then he looked up, and his eyes widened and his mouth opened in terror and protest.

The area in which they stood was shadowed by the walls of the castle, but now it was as if the sun stood directly overhead, beaming down fully upon the well. Joseph looked up toward the source of the intense and powerful glow and saw a cone of what appeared to be pure light descending toward them. He could make out no surface features or texture on the cone as it drew nearer.

The base widened as it reached Mulcifer, and seemed to drop over and enclose him in light, hiding him from view. Then that light increased until it blinded Joseph and he could see no more.

He could not see, and yet he saw, and knew.

Then, so loud and piercing that it seemed to come from inside Joseph's head, pushing outward from his brain against his skull, came a scream more fierce, more filled with regret and loss and tenor than any he had ever known. It was Mulcifer screaming, and the sound of it held all the power of a mind so strong that it could make men kill what they loved. It screamed of hatred and madness and self, of all the things that, unchecked, damned the species he had sought to enslave and destroy. But it screamed of something else.

It screamed of captivity.

Mulcifer was bound, and this time he would not escape.

Then the light began to fade, and the world started to reappear. Joseph could see the cone rising into the air, and the empty place where Mulcifer, the prideful and demonic, the failed architect of a hell that he had planned for the world, had stood.

As the light rose and dimmed, becoming one with the sunlight, blending into the blue sky until it vanished utterly, a sense of peace that he had seldom known before filled Joseph, peace and comfort in the newfound knowledge granted him by these other searchers, who had at last brought Joseph the truth he had sought.

Chapter 53
 

"W
hat," said Martin Leech, still in awe of what they had just seen, "was
that
all about?"

"I think," said Joseph, "that it was about all we'll ever see of that sonofabitch."

"Oh, Christ," said one of Molly Fraser's DIs. They all turned around to look at him, and Laika noticed immediately that James Menzies was no longer there. "Menzies," said the man. "He's gone, he's run off—we were just looking at what was happening, didn't even know he'd left."

Molly Fraser grasped Rob Lindsay's shoulder. "Where is he? Where would he have gone?"

Lindsay looked around, disoriented, as if finally realizing that his fellow prisoner was no longer there. "I saw him—Mulcifer—looking at James, but then everything started with the light, and—"

"What would he have had him do?" asked Laika. "
Think
, man! Mulcifer told Menzies to
do
something. What?"

Lindsay's face suddenly looked more shocked than before. "Oh God, the
explosives
. . ."

"There are explosives in the castle?" Laika asked. She felt the tension that had subsided with the disappearance of Mulcifer surging to the fore again.

"Aye! Three hundred pounds of C-4. Colin planted them down under in case the police found us out, set them to blow the castle apart!"

"All right, lead us to them now. Tony, you know explosives." She looked at the soldiers. "Any of you trained?" Two raised their hands. "Let's go then. Everybody else evacuate right away."

"Now, just hang on, Agent Harris," said Leech. "We can't just run off and—"

"Do you know," Laika interrupted softly, "what three hundred pounds of C-4 can do? There won't be a stone on top of a stone here. I'm giving you a chance to live, Mr. Leech. Take it. Besides, somebody's got to explain this to your government."

Leech thought for only a moment, then nodded briskly. "You two men," he said to the soldiers who had volunteered. "Go with these agents. The rest of you, evacuate this castle immediately!"

"I'm coming with you," Joseph told Laika, but she shook her head firmly.

"I saw your face," she said. "I don't want whatever you know to disappear if that bomb goes off. Out, now." Laika turned back to Lindsay, knowing that Joseph would obey her. "Lead the way."

The Scot led Laika, Tony, and the two soldiers inside the castle, down a hall, and into a room where cardboard boxes were strewn near an open closet door. "I was here before," said Tony, helping Lindsay kick the boxes aside. "There's a secret door to the cellars."

They went down the revealed staircase, and at the bottom, in a huge room filled with pillars that, Laika surmised, held up the castle, was the C-4 against the wall. Sitting on the stone floor next to it, beneath a large wooden coat of arms, was James Menzies. He looked as though he had been drugged, undoubtedly Mulcifer's influence, Laika thought. On the floor next to him was a small, black metal box with wires leading to a detonator lodged in the C-4.

Tony knelt by Menzies and looked at the box. "Shit," he muttered. "He set it off. It's rolling. Five-minute timer, down to three thirty-four." He shook Menzies by the shoulder, but the man's face did not grow any more alert. "You know any way to cancel this? You?" he asked Lindsay when Menzies did not respond, but the Scot shook his head.

The soldiers knelt near Tony and examined the device. "Any ideas?" he asked them.

One of them hissed a breath through his teeth. "Jerk the fuse out of the plastic and it'll go off right away. Can't stop it."

"Unless," Tony said, trying to take the cover off the box, "we cut one of the wires inside. One of them's got to be . . . oh shit."

"What?" asked Laika.

"It's soldered shut. Forget it."

"Let's go. Now," Laika said. They had already spent twenty-five seconds talking. That left a little over three minutes to clear the castle. The soldiers started running toward the stairs.

"What about them?" Tony asked, nodding toward the soporific Menzies, with Lindsay by his side, trying to shake his friend into consciousness.

"I'll take him," Lindsay said, leaning over and lifting Menzies in a fireman's carry.

"I'll help you," Tony said.

"You'll
go
!" Laika cried, striking him on the arm with a fist. She wasn't about to let him die for a man the British government would imprison for life, if he didn't wind up dead first.

Tony nodded and ran, and Laika followed. She did not look back. She owed these two men nothing.

 

R
ob Lindsay staggered up the stairs toward the ground floor of the castle. James Menzies was two hundred pounds of dead weight on his shoulders, but he would not leave him there. They were the only two left, out of all of brave Colin Mackay's lads, and they would not be parted now, at the end.

"That . . . prison food'll thin you down some," Rob told James, not knowing if he could hear him or not. It was just like that bastard Mulcifer to have the last laugh, wasn't it? Sending James down like that to set off the bomb was a rotten thing to do, but that was what Mulcifer had always been, rotten. To the core.

Rob had suspected it the first time they'd met him over in the States, and the piece of scum had never done a thing to disprove that first impression. Rob didn't know where that light had taken him, but he hoped it was far away from this land that he had always loved, and that now he never would leave, unless the blast blew his body out into the Minch and floated him away.

"Nae," he growled to himself. "That's nae way to think. We'll make it yet . . ."

He had been trying to count the seconds in his head, and he had just come out into the inner ward to the count of
nineteen
. . .
eighteen
. . . when the stones had erupted beneath his feet, tossing him and his burden and most of Castle Dirk into the air. His last thought was that he must have been counting too slowly, for he had always been prey to wishful thinking.

 

E
ven though Laika, Tony, and the two soldiers were a hundred yards from the castle when Colin Mackay's explosives went off, the force of it knocked them off their feet. They lay where they had fallen, the wind knocked out of them. Then the stones began to fall.

One of the soldiers was unlucky. Laika saw a heavy stone fall directly on his head as he struggled to get to his feet, killing him instantly. Other stones rained down around them, but none found a target, and they managed to join the others who had safely gone beyond the range of the flying debris.

When Laika looked back, she saw that Castle Dirk had nearly disappeared from the earth. Only part of the inner curtain was still standing, and while she looked, that too slowly collapsed in a cloud of gray dust.

Chapter 54
 

"I
felt relief, that was the first thing," Joseph said, in response to Laika's question. He was standing with her and Tony at the edge of the ridge from which they had observed the castle for so long.

Molly Fraser was below with Martin Leech in the ruins, helping him oversee the cleanup by directing the large number of vehicles, MI5 personnel, and soldiers, as well as keeping out the snooping eyes of the media. The official story would be that the Scot nationalist terrorists who had been responsible for the freeing of the IRA prisoners and the attacks upon London and Stirling had blown themselves up in their own arsenal, after having been tracked down by MI5. It was a scenario highly favored by Leech when Laika had suggested it.

"I felt relief," Joseph repeated, looking at the calming waters of the Minch rather than the frenzied activity at the former site of the castle. "There were . . . emotions that I could sense from the light—or the beings who had sent it. It was like, I don't know, an instant download, all this data pouring into my brain in one fell swoop."

"Why relief, though?" asked Laika.

"Because I just felt the greatest calm and wisdom, the greatest
sanity
exuding from this thing. Indescribable. I mentioned to you a dream I had when we first came here, remember? Now I know it was no dream. I think it was the same intelligence then—trying to reach me. I had the same feeling then, only not as strong. But this time it seemed as if nothing could ever be wrong again, as though it had come from some far more highly advanced civilization than our own, so much so that it might easily be thought—or
misinterpreted
—as a god.

"But there was more, too. I felt that it was concerned for humanity, deeply. I felt its dismay over what had happened. And its need to . . . restore order. Somehow I knew that it had brought Mulcifer here—and Mulcifer's not its real name any more than that body was its true form. But the being had intended Mulcifer to be contained, held somewhere, somehow, and not ever loosed upon the world."

BOOK: Siege of Stone
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