Bryan Beal

Last Touch

The wind whistled through the cracked windows and played with the flames of the candles at the altar. With wax infused with the bile of a gorgon, there was no danger of the lights going out until the appointed time. He stood there and surveyed the setting before him. A smile flickered across his haggard features just as brief as the candlelight. The plants were a nice touch, he thought.

High Archon Graham Fernandez, a distant descendent of Spanish immigrants to the New World, felt ready. He turned to look with a certain arrogant magnanimous visage upon the first arrivals. He stepped over to one of the pillars at the side of the altar and waited in its shadow. The congregants would find it hard to see him there, even with his dimly red eyes.

Fernandez was always surprised how hungry people were for something...anything...beyond themselves. Some sought a cause, no matter the futility, while others sank themselves into the fortunes and woes of their local sports team. Thankfully for him and the Creeping Chaos, a good part of society hungered after something much deeper and much more significant. Many of those were entering the temple as he ruminated on their lot.

It was surprising how easy it had been to use the opposition of the local churches against them. Fernandez was no Machiavellian genius, by any stretch of the imagination, so he was more surprised than any. When the temple took over a church property, somehow sold cheap to them because the church owners did not want a different denomination to get it, there was an outcry.

“Come and see for yourselves.”, was the only comment the High Archon had said to a local reporter.

The mystery did the rest.

Fernandez fed some more wood into the twin braziers, a wildly flickering light radiating into the temple. The congregants fell silent as they stood and faced him. He rose his arms and began to chant in ancient languages terrible and forgotten by most of humanity. Todd Pinkers, right on cue, began to play soulful, ethereal notes on his synthesiser. The High Archon's voice fell into its harmonious rhythm, soothing and calming the spirits and hearts of the group. Worming its way into their psyches and souls. Fernandez could feel his own portals open up to the other side and to those who would greet them that night.

He felt it more than saw anything. A chill that pierced through his heart. It was real. It was physical. He felt a finger of ice touch the skin above his heart and push its way through to his spine, on a slight angle. It touched the spinal column and Fernandez went rigid. His arms straightened up at forty-five degrees. His face froze in its fixed stare of uncomprehending terror. His chant was strangled in the failure of his muscles, ice tearing up his spine into his head and face. He did not fall, but remained a statue. The congregation stopped and stared at him. Todd kept playing.

At the rear of the temple, next to the double doors, Fernandez saw it. A dark shadow with dark skin, looking at him with cold, blue eyes. Its bony, blackened fingers were outstretched making odd signs in the air. Its unnaturally long face was pointed straight at the bound High Archon. The dark robes hid the rest of the abomination that everyone else appeared ignorant of.

Twin flames leapt at Fernandez, one from each of the braziers. Tongues of fire touched and caressed his legs. Soon, his own robes were alight. He felt nothing. He soon choked to get some air into his lungs, but the fire sucked all the oxygen away for itself. Fernandez's tongue danced in and out of his mouth in a desperate bid for air. Nothing came. His lungs raged and howled their protest, silent to all but the High Archon.

The dark visitor stood and looked at Fernandez, right into his eyes. Despite the shimmering haze from the fire, those pits of ice were clear and sharp. The visitor made one last gesture and exited the temple. Fernandez could not even cry out.