Hundreds of years ago after hundreds of years below, he came to you. He pulled you from your prison, eyes like fire and hair like ink and he gave you a choice: return to the ground forever, or give yourself over to him and live again. It was no choice for you. You eagerly reached out and took it, you struck the bargain and you joined with him. But he did not tell you this was a lesson. He did not tell you you would wake with no memory of yourself. He did not tell you you would not be able to touch the power that had been so much a part of you. He did not tell you that this was a test.
If you had your memories, you would be angry. But you do not. So you can only live the life he gave you to live.
The ship stutters on the surface of the sea, bringing itself to a halt despite a fair wind. Bobbart, the ship's Captain, stops his pacing on the forecastle and stares out at the dark night. His sea is gone, its ghostly projection erased, leaving him and his men trapped once more on Lake Eerie. Land locked again, their illusion shattered.
"Sir?" his first mate appears at his shoulder.
Bobbart shakes his head. "Nothing we can do, Riles, it's already begun."
Together, they gaze across the lake at Eerie's dim glow, wondering how this moment in history will end. How will the land lubbers fare? How many new members will join their crew? It's a question that was inevitable, a war that was always meant to come, but Bobbart never really thought he'd see the day. He always thought he'd have passed over by now.
Maybe after this, maybe after the war, he will finally find peace.
There's a copy of Abominable Science on Marshall's bookshelf. Well thumbed, thick with print outs and personal notes. He remembers when he bought it - saw it sitting unassuming on a bookstore shelf as he walked through to the table set up for his first meet-the-author event. He'd paused, looking at the cover, thinking back to his years in Eerie and his hunt for the weird and the strange. He'd called it "battling the forces of weirdness" but really it was just a lonely thirteen year old trying to find his place in a new environment. He knows that now, but he still remembers fondly all of the nights he and Simon had stayed up late searching the skies for UFOs, the plaster casts of Big Foot's footprints he'd taken, all of the adventures he wrote about in his files and journals. He's scavenged plots from most of them, used bits and pieces to forge his career, finally putting his overactive imagination to good use.
So he'd bought Abominable Science not because he still believed in all of that cryptozoology stuff, but because it brought back memories. That and it was an actual scientific and historical study of cryptids and their development, which he finds exceedingly fascinating and very helpful in his writing. He's actually glad that the authors are suitably skeptical, he's not sure he could take seriously anyone who's been through college and still believes that Nessie and Big Foot are real or that aliens regularly visit the Earth. His own writing and the occasional X-Files binge watch aside, Marshall Teller's feet are firmly planted solidly in reality.
Still, every once in awhile he takes the book down from the shelf and rereads it, looks over his own notes, and remembers the times he spent in Eerie.
Today it's sitting on the desk beside his computer, open to the chapter on sea serpents as he sits staring at a blank word document, trying to decide how to start this story.
"The pH levels are all wrong," Simon says, standing up with the test tube in his hand, shaking it gently back and forth and holding it up to the light. His red hair takes on a soft glow in the morning sun. He's back-lit like an angel, like there's a spotlight shining down on him as he studies his evidence, eyes squinted against the glare from the lake.
It had surprised Dash X that Simon, who dreamt of happy endings, had wound up being the scientist while Marshall, who had hunted for evidence, became a writer. He supposes environment played a pivotal role - Simon had stayed in Eerie and attended community college while Marshall had gone all the way to NYU. Somewhere along the way, Marshall's belief had waned, turning fact into fiction for a paycheck, while Simon had taken up the mantel of paranormal investigator. It had surprised him, yes, but he isn't sure if he'd change it. Simon doesn't raise his blood pressure like Marshall did, and together they've managed to compile a lot of compelling information about Eerie.
They still haven't solved the question of Dash himself, but he doesn't mind as much as he used to.
"What does that mean besides don't go swimming?" Syndi asks, breaking Dash out of his thoughts. She's the reason they're here. Her boss had given her a long leash to look into calls about strange lights under the surface of Lake Eerie. She was fairly skeptical until she came out and found what looked like half a fish washed up on shore - half a fish with blue-green scales that, upon further investigation, she discovered glowed in the dark. That was when she'd called Simon.
Because while her younger brother had grown out of the weirdness, Syndi Teller had grown into it. Another surprise for Dash. Her journalism projects throughout high school and college had taught her to look closely at everything, which had brought the supernatural elements of the town to her attention more effectively than any insistence on Marshall's part ever could have when they were kids. So after college she had come back to Eerie, determined to bring to light exactly what was going on there.
As the only paranormal investigators in town, Simon and Dash crossed paths with her frequently.
"If this weren't Lake Eerie," Simon says, tucking the test tube with some of the lake's water in it back in his sample case - which Dash is holding with some glaring but little verbal complaint - "I'd say nothing." He looks down at the larger case, clear glass, half filled with lake water, with the strange fish tail inside.
"But since this is Lake Eerie, Shrimpenstein?" Dash asks. It's become habit, the nickname. Dash had been calling Simon variations on Shrimp for years when a summer growth spurt left the then sixteen year old not towering over Dash, but definitely taller. It's become more a term of affection than the exasperated insult it started as, which Dash tries not to think about too hard since that'd mean examining the different directions his relationship with Simon could veer off in.
Simon glances from Dash to Syndi, then looks out over the lake. "It means we've got work to do," he says.
He's gotten really good at the ominous one-liners, and if this were a TV show Dash is positive they'd fade to black here, maybe go to a commercial break. But this isn't a TV show so Dash closes Simon's sample case with a loud snap, startling the red-head out of his formulaic reverie. "Then let's get to work," he says, nudging the case with the fish tail with the toe of his boot.
Simon shoots him a glare, but it's more playful than annoyed, then stoops and picks up the fish tail. "We'd better get to the lab," he says. "Did you want to come?" he asks Syndi.
She shakes her head. "No, I'm going to go over my notes and develop my pictures," she pats the camera hanging by her side. "Just don't forget to call if you find anything."
Simon smiles. "Of course not," he says. "You'll be the first."
Normally it's true, but they'll soon find that this time...this time it's a lie.
"The sample is bioluminescent," Simon says into his voice recorder. He's got a sample of the fin's scale under the microscope and besides vocal notes he also has a notebook open in front of him, covered in his tiny, precise handwriting.
It's something to watch, Simon at work. Dash is supposed to be setting up dinner on the table off to the side (Chinese take out with extra fortune cookies, as usual, they need all the clues they can get), but he's a little distracted just standing there, watching Simon work. He's run his hands through his hair so many times the curls are a mess. His face is flushed - partly because he keeps the lab at a constant temperature and doesn't think to take off his sweater while he's working, partly because he gets so invested in what he's doing, so excited, that he works himself up. It's kind of beautiful.
Which Dash has said out loud numerous times. It's amazing what happens when Teller isn't around to be a constant thorn in Dash's side - he opens up, he reaches out, he's falling in love and he's doing nothing to try to stop it.
He clears his throat, turning his eyes down to the bags of food he hasn't unpacked yet. "Uh," he says, "dinner's ready."
There's no answer from Simon. There's a long moment of heavy silence, then a clatter, then a thud.
Dash whirls around. Simon has fallen from his chair, landing in a heap on the floor. Dash hurries over to him, reaching out without thinking, but he stops himself when he sees a blue sheen has started to spread up Simon's hand. He was wearing gloves when he handled the sample, Dash knows he was, so it makes no sense for this to happen.
Or about as much sense as anything ever makes in Eerie, which means it is happening.
Dash makes sure nothing's broken, then tucks his coat under Simon's head and reaches for the phone. There's only one call he can think to make - loathe as he is to dial the number Simon made him memorize. He just hopes the big important author can make time for old friends.
Marshall is asleep when the phone rings. He's snuggled down under the covers - hogging them, Jason would say - and he's warm and cozy and there's an arm around his waist and a body pressing against his back and it's all rather idyllic and perfect. Until the phone rings, shrill and insistent and even before Jason groans and rolls away from him, Marshall is wider awake than he'd like to be.
Marshall sighs and slides out of bed. Because it's probably for him. Because it's usually for him. Jason only ever gets calls at normal hours, as he puts it, you know. During the day when the sun is up and people are actually doing things. Not at god awful hours of the night. Though it's been a long time since even Mars got any calls at bizarre times. Early in his career, sure, they happened fairly regularly - his agent keeping tabs on him, his parents checking up on him while they were on vacation and had forgotten the time differences, occasional late night calls from Simon to update him on the situation in Eerie...
Those had petered out fairly quickly until the only times Marshall heard from Simon were holidays. It makes him sad, not knowing how his best friend is doing, but he guesses they drifted apart, like people do.
He rubs at his eyes, trying to wake himself up enough for whatever this is, and lifts the phone from the cradle. "Hello?" he asks, hoping he doesn't sound as groggy as he feels.
The voice on the other end is a voice he hasn't thought about in years, a voice he never thought he'd have to hear again. It's low and gruff and angry. It's a voice that taunts him in his nightmares and now as he stands in his dark bedroom trying not to wake up his boyfriend, it sends a chill down his spine.
"Story time's over, Slick," Dash X says. "Get your ass back here. Quick."
The next thing Marshall hears is a dial tone.
Jason looks smug as they sit side by side on the plane. Mars is trying not to notice, but it's hard. Jason has a very noticeable face - very expressive - and Mars can't help but glance at him. "What?" he finally asks, more to get Jason to stop looking at him than for want of an actual answer.
"You're finally taking me home," Jason says, and gives Marshall a cheeky grin. Mars tries to smile back, but it's strained.
Jason has met his parents. He's met Syndi. But they always came out to New York. He and Jason have never gone to Eerie. He's never gone back to Eerie. He isn't sure why - there's plenty of reason to go back, plenty of people he misses - he just hasn't. Never even thought of going back until he heard that voice on the phone. Until all the memories he'd told himself were childish fantasies had a voice and a face and a name:
The basement of the World O'Stuff isn't so much a basement as it is a bunker. Or a hideout. Or a...Dash isn't entirely sure what to call it. There are rooms upon rooms to the point where it most certainly stretches out beyond the store and off under the rest of Eerie. He wonders how far it goes...but he doesn't ask because there's kind of more pressing business. When he carried Simon into the World O'Stuff Radford seemed to know exactly what was needed - he closed up the store and hurried to lead Dash downstairs, through a series of twisting hallways, into what looked like a clinic. There were a few hospital beds, some machines for monitoring...whatever it is those machines monitor besides heart rate. Simon's the one with all the science. Dash is better at the heavy lifting.
Now Simon is hooked up to those machines, lying motionless on one of the beds, while Dash is stuck standing off to the side feeling useless. Radford's in the next room with samples of Simon's blood and scrapings of the new blue skin that's spread even further now. The only helpful thing Dash has done was to call Marshall and he's not even sure whether that was a good idea or not, but it was all he could think of - Teller's the one who got them all into this shit, he may as well come and get them out of it.
If he comes.
Marshall Teller put Eerie in his rearview mirror and never looked back. He stayed in touch with Simon and his family through college, but he never came to visit. Simon owns all of his books, much to Dash's chagrin, and insists that they are evidence that Marshall hasn't forgotten. "He's arming future generations," Simon said once when Dash asked why he keeps buying Marshall's work. Dash isn't so sure on that one, but he'll let Simon have it - he might not be a kid anymore, but the hero worship hasn't died down much.
Sometimes Dash gets a little jealous with how much Simon looks up to Marshall, even now when they haven't seen him in years. Even after all the work he and Simon have done together, all the late nights at the library researching or out stalking suspicious entities. Dash has come a long way, he and Simon have come a long way together, but the way Simon tells it Marshall Teller may as well walk on air. Dash usually tries not to let it bother him, but right now? Right now it bothers him because he can't help but think that if it weren't for Teller and his crusade against the strange, Simon would be fine.
Maybe they wouldn't be together, maybe Dash never would have woken up in Eerie in the first place (he's undecided on whether that would be a "better" or a "worse"), but at least Simon would be safer. He wouldn't be lying unconscious in a secret underground bunker turning blue. And that, that would make it worth it - would make never having met Simon worth it for Dash. Because as long as Simon's safe, nothing else matters. Not even knowing his own name or where he came from and...he's not sure when the shift happened, when things stopped being all about him and his own personal mystery and started being about Simon and him and their life together, but he's glad of it.
He likes himself better now.
Radford comes back from his...lab, his brow furrowed in concern. Dash straightens up immediately, watching Radford closely as he stops by Simon's bed, checking his vitals again, checking the spread of the blue. When he looks up at Dash, Dash knows the news isn't good, but he waits for it anyway. He has to hear it. "They're scales," Radford says, gesturing at Simon's arms. "At this rate, I'd say his torso and arms will be completely covered before the end of the day, his legs probably within 48 hours."
Dash pulls in a breath, resisting the urge to rush to Simon's side and grab his hand - Radford's warned him not to touch Simon's skin directly, but damn if he doesn't want to throw caution to the wind just so he can feel Simon's touch one more time before whatever this is takes him away. He shakes his head, pushing the thought away. Simon's going to make it through this, if it's the last thing Dash does he will keep Simon safe.
His cell phone rings, the chipper tune chosen by Simon, and he reaches into his pocket and pulls it out. It's Marshall - whose number Dash only has because of Simon, and vice-versa - "We're at the World O'Stuff," Mars says the minute Dash picks up, "where are you?"
"I'll be right there," Dash growls, then hangs up, because if Mars is here it means he doesn't have to satisfy himself with just chewing Teller out over the phone, he can punch the smug little fuck in the face like he deserves.
Jason is entirely too interested in the World O'Stuff. It's a pain trying to keep him from wandering off into the aisles and possibly getting lost - it doesn't happen often, but when it does it happens to tourists and people just passing through, which pretty much sums up Jason. Mars hopes Dash and Simon get here soon so he can find out what the hell this is about and get out of here. His skin feels weird, like he's being watched or like he developed an allergy to Eerie in his time away or something.
A door towards the back opens and Marshall sees a tell tale shock of gray hair for a moment before it disappears again behind the shelves. Dash. He keeps his eyes on the door, wondering where Simon is, but the door never opens again and soon Dash is standing in front of Marshall and Jason and...he's staring at Jason like he's never seen anything so disturbing. It takes Marshall a moment to figure out why - his first response is to get angry, but Jason is staring at Dash looking equally freaked out, so Mars takes a second to survey the scene...and sees what he never noticed before: aside from the hair color, Jason looks like he could be Dash's twin.
Dash slowly turns his head from Jason to look at Marshall, his brows drawn down in that glare Marshall remembers very well. Then Dash steps closer and, before Mars can think of anything to say, draws his arm back and lands a punch solidly on Marshall's jaw. Mars stumbles into Jason, who starts forward, but Mars holds him back. "It's highly probably I deserved that," Marshall says, hand on his cheek, gaze fixed on Dash, and he asks the question he's been dreading since Dash appeared, "Where's Simon?"
Marshall's only memory of the World O'Stuff basement is of the day Radford was found in it, trapped there by Fred Suggs. Now that he's seeing the basement, he can understand why it took so long for them to realize anyone was imprisoned down there. It's almost like a building in and of itself. Like an in-law addition on a house, except underground. When they reach what looks like an infirmary with a lab off of it, Mars wonders if maybe Fred Suggs had done more than just tied Radford up in the basement. Maybe he'd conducted weird experiments on him or maybe he was the experiment.
Mars dismisses the thought quickly. Eerie is no different than any other small town and his obsession with the paranormal was a defense mechanism brought on by being forcibly removed from a familiar environment and taken away from his friends and placed in a strange new place against his wishes.
Still, as they walk into the infirmary, he nearly jumps when Jason taps his arm. "They don't ease people in around here, do they?" Jason asks and it's mostly a joke but there's a worried line between Jason's eyebrows that, normally, Marshall would kiss and ease away with reassurances, but this time he has nothing he can say because Jason has a point. He doesn't remember being eased into the weirdness of Eerie when he was a kid, either.
There is no weirdness, he reminds himself as he follows Dash up to the bed Simon's lying on and stares down at the blue scales that are creeping across his skin.
"What the hell?" Jason asks, stepping back.
Marshall just stares. "No," he says after a minute, shaking his head. "No, this isn't. This isn't possible this isn't a thing," he looks up and meets Dash gaze. "This can't be real. None of it was real."
Dash reaches out and Mars flinches back but Dash just shows him the backs of his hands, the too familiar plus and minus signs. "It was all real, Slick," he growls.
Mars shakes his head again, steps backwards, and feels a hand on his shoulder, solid and warm. "One black cow with a nip of java?" a familiar voice asks. "Or two?" Mars glances over at Jason, who's staring from him to Radford to Dash, clearly expecting something to start making sense. Marshall hopes he'll let them all know when he figures it out. For his part, he only nods and lets Radford lead them out of the infirmary and back up the World O'Stuff's ice cream counter.
"What the hell is this place?" Jason asks as he and Mars sit side by side waiting for Radford to make their milkshakes. "What was happening to that kid?"
Mars bristles at the use of 'kid' - he knows it's just how Jason talks, anyone obviously younger than them is a kid - but Simon was dismissed as just a kid for so long that it renews an ache in Marshall's chest to hear the term applied to him as an adult.
But now isn't the time the focus on that.
"I don't know what's happening to Simon," Mars says, watching Radford's shoulders as he works. "But. But this town. It's." He swallows, forcing himself to admit what he's been denying to himself for entirely too long. "You know my books?" he asks, catches Jason's wary nod out of the corner of his eye, and sucks in a deep breath so he can keep going. "Everything I've written, it's all based on...on journals from when I lived here, a record of all the strange things that happened."
"I know that," Jason says, nodding slowly. "You took what life here was like and expanded on it, right?"
Marshall shakes his head. "No. Everything happened. If anything, I softened it all up, made it less bizarre."
"Mars, that's impossible," Jason says in a low, quiet voice, like he's trying to talk someone down.
Radford whirls around then and sets their milkshakes in front of them with a thunk that sounds louder than it should. He looks at Jason and grins that cheeky grin of his that Marshall almost but not quite forgot. "Nothing is impossible, my friend!" he declares, leaning back against the counter behind him and crossing his arms over his chest. He lets his gaze wander over Jason, sizing him up. "You look familiar," he says, tapping his chin. Then he shrugs and shakes his head. "Not that it matters, what matters is this." His expression slips quickly to one that is deadly serious and Marshall's breath catches as he leans towards both of them, palms down on the counter. "This," he says, his eyes growing wide, "is very much real and very much happening and whatever else you believe about Eerie doesn't matter in the face of your friend downstairs turning into a mercreature."
Simon's eyes blink open for a moment, and he stares up at Dash, and he smiles. Smiles. As if nothing's wrong. As if he isn't growing scales. As if Radford didn't have to set up a system to cycle water over his skin to keep it hydrated. As if. As if Eerie hasn't finally gotten him.
Then his eyes close again and he drifts back off to sleep and Dash has no idea what else to do so he figures he may as well go take out his anger and frustration on Teller.
"You realize how insane all of this is?"
They're back at his parents house - they still live in that same house, which both astonishes and terrifies Mars - and Marshall is packing up Jason's things. "I know, I know, but I have to deal with it."
"Yeah, you do, you have to deal with the fact that your friends are insane," Jason pulls one of his button down shirts from Marshall's hands and catches Marshall's gaze. "Call someone, get them some help, whatever you need to do and then we can go home."
Marshall bites his tongue as he almost stumbles and says This is home because it isn't, it can't be. Home is away from here, away from this. Home is where dogs don't talk and heart transplants don't drastically change your personality. Home is in their city apartment, spending their days and nights together. Home is with Jason, not here. Not with Simon and Dash X. Especially not with Dash X and...
"I think he blames me," Marshall whispers, sitting down on his bed. Jason kneels down in front of him, setting his shirt aside and taking Marshall's hands. He doesn't say anything, just waits for Marshall to continue. After a few hard swallows around a heavy block that's formed in his throat, he manages to go on. "Dash," he says, "I think he blames me for what happened to Simon."
"Simon looks like he ran afoul of some hair dye," Jason says. He's trying to keep it light, but his voice is serious and quiet. He knows that joking won't help Marshall now. "He was probably allergic or something and now he needs proper care. None of that is your fault."
Marshall shakes his head. "No, you don't understand, all that stuff that I write about? I'm the reason Simon got into investigating it." He closes his eyes, memories of all that he and Simon looked into and the evidence they worked to gather flashing through his mind. He forces his eyes open, forces himself to meet Jason's gaze, but it isn't helping like it used to because now that he's seen them together he can't stop seeing Dash every time he looks at Jason. "I think," he swallows again, "I think Dash thinks that if I hadn't gotten Simon into all that, then he might be okay now."
Jason shakes his head and pulls away, hands slipping from Marshall's as he stands up and paces across the room. He turns back, running a hand through his hair. "You're not listening to me, Mars," he says, "none of that can possibly be real, so none of your investigations could have put Simon at risk, so it's not your fault that he's turned blue."
Jason stops pacing and stares. "Excuse me?"
"Before we left, when I went down to see him again? More of him was blue than before."
Jason blows out a breath. "It's a prank, then," he says. "They're dying him blue to mess with you and after you have your nice little freak out they'll all laugh about it and tell you what an idiot you were for thinking it was real."
Mars is on his feet, fists clenched at his side, fingernails digging into his palms. "Simon would never do that," he says, his voice louder than he expects. "Dash, sure, maybe, but Simon would never agree to it. This is serious, Jason, something is wrong with Simon. Something is wrong in Eerie and I have to help figure out what it is, but you don't so...," he picks up Jason's shirt from the bed and throws it at him. "Go home, Jason, I'll fly back when I figure this out." He walks purposefully past Jason and out the door, up the steps that are familiar but creakier than he remembers, and into the Secret Spot where he sinks down onto the dusty floor, pulling his legs up to his chest and pressing his face against his knees as he finally, finally, lets himself cry.
They feel him. They feel him and they reach for him but they cannot touch him, not yet. They cannot leave their kingdom. Not yet. It is he who will draw them up from the depths. It is he who will make their triumph possible. They can feel him and they know that victory draws near.
Mars isn't in his room. But that guy is. Jason, Dash thinks Marshall said, he wasn't really paying attention. It's still unnerving to see that face staring back at him without the gray hair. He wonders where Mars dug him up and if he's reading too much into it to assume that, on some subconscious level, Mars is dating the guy because he looks so much like Dash.
But that isn't really a problem for right now. He'll figure it out and mercilessly torment Teller later.
Right now he needs to find Teller so he can put his investigating hat back on and get his ass in gear on helping Simon. He leans in the doorway and watches Jason pack for a few minutes before clearing his throat. The guy jumps, actually and honestly jumps, and whirls around to face Dash, glaring at him. Dash rolls his eyes - he's used to being glared at. "Where's Teller?" he asks.
Jason shakes his head. "No, no that's not the conversation we're having," he says.
"It's the only conversation I'm interested in having right now," Dash growls. "I need to know where Teller is so you're going to tell me."
"Leave him alone," Jason says, slowly advancing on Dash. "Whatever prank you're trying to pull, however funny you think it is? It isn't. Just leave him alone and let him live his life."
"News flash," Dash says, leaning further into Jason's personal space, "this is his life."
Jason looks like he's about to protest, but freezes at the sight of something behind Dash. Dash glances casually over his shoulder and meets Marshall's eye. "Let's go," Mars says, gesturing towards the stairs. "Tell me everything and I'll see what I can do to help."
Dash thinks about trying to irritate Marshall or Jason or both of them some more, but Simon's more important than any of that, so he just follows Marshall down the stairs.
"This is crazy, Mars," Jason calls after them, but Marshall doesn't seem to hear and just keeps going, leading Dash out into Eerie.
Sara Sue has been back in Eerie for a few years now. She left Paris shortly after finishing her masters degree and traveled across the rest of the world on her way back to a not-so-sleepy little town. Now she works as an art teacher at the high school, coaxing the profound out of kids with varying levels of talent and enthusiasm. Today, however, she's relishing a weekend for the first time since she crossed the town line. She and Melanie - reconnected by their jobs, as Melanie started teaching English a few years before Sara Sue swooped in and breathed new life into the school's art department - have started a tentative relationship. Melanie hasn't had a relationship last longer than a month since Devon Wilde's death, and she's wary about starting something new, so it's been a slow process. But Sara doesn't mind. She's never been good at connecting with others. Her childhood was largely spent on her own and her examples of family were awful, so slow works for her, too.
Today they've settled on a little hill that's the perfect distance between Lake Eerie and the Eerie woods, overlooking both, so that Sara Sue can sketch while Melanie just relaxes and reads a book that she won't have to discuss to death with unenthusiastic teenagers. Today's choice is some romance with a ridiculous title and an even more ridiculous cover. Sara Sue tries not to look at them because they make her cringe - really, not even the slightest attempt at proper perspective. It's laughable. Melanie, however, tends to glare when Sara Sue starts criticizing the covers of her books, so Sara Sue only complains about them to people who don't really care but will listen anyway - Simon Holmes, mostly, during their weekly lunches. Dash came to one once and Sara Sue had brought an example and the two of them had spent the entire hour tearing the book apart - first the cover, then Dash started doing dramatic readings.
Sara Sue is glad Simon's found someone, and that that he has a good sense of humor.
And, she thinks, glancing at Melanie out of the corner of her eye, she's glad she found someone, too. She never thought, with all the baggage she came with, that she'd ever have a chance at anything approaching a stable relationship, but here she sits in quiet companionship with one of the most beautiful people she's ever met. A person who chose her over all the better equipped possibilities. It's heartwarming.
Sara Sue shakes her head, banishing the sappy thoughts before they can bog her down, and turns her attention back to Lake Eerie and her sketch of the shoreline. But her hand freezes, pencil poised for the next line, as she stares down at the water. "Melanie," she whispers. Clears her throat, tries again. "Melanie."
"Hmm?" Melanie asks, glancing up. She, too, freezes there, staring at the lake. "What the hell?" she asks. "You didn't," she glances at Sara Sue's picture, but then shakes her head. "Of course you didn't, sorry."
When Sara Sue had told Melanie Monroe about her Eerie experience, she had expected disbelief and derision. Instead, Melanie had listened, and then told Sara Sue about her years of being controlled romantically by the heart that saved her life. It hurts a little that Melanie would even think that Sara Sue caused this, but given everything she went through in Paris and everything she did to Marshall Teller, she supposes it's a little bit fair.
But she hasn't signed a picture in years, not since a botched attempt to escape from police over a misunderstanding that was most likely caused by her signing a picture. It was a mess and Sara Sue doesn't like to think about it.
And she definitely didn't do anything on her picture that would cause this, let alone sign it afterwards.
The Lake looks like there's been an oil spill. Black spreads out from the center towards the shore, reaching tendrils of darkness towards the unsuspecting citizens of Eerie.
Sara Sue sets her sketchbook aside with shaking hands and pulls out her phone. "I'm calling Simon," she says.
She catches Melanie's nod out of the corner of her eye.
"I'll call Syndi," Melanie says, shifting to reach for her own phone. Sara Sue only feels it, doesn't see, because she cannot look away from the lake, cannot stop watching the blackness spread.
Dash actually jumps when Simon's phone rings. He has his own cell, but he doesn't usually have it with him, and the only reason he grabbed Simon's is because Simon wasn't going to be answering it and Simon's is the business line. He's usually with Simon when it rings, but the phone isn't usually in his pocket, so when it rings he jumps and scrambles to pull it out, ignoring Marshall's amused expression - he doesn't have time for Teller right now.
After a quick glance at the caller ID, Dash picks up the call. "Hey, Sara," he says.
He can hear Sara gritting her teeth. "It's Sara Sue," she says. Dash shrugs, even though she can't see him. "Where's Simon?"
"Incapacitated, what's up?"
"Sleeping off a vigorous fuck does not count as incapacitated, X," Sara says.
Dash has always been impressed that Sara is more foulmouthed than he is. Particularly since she can out cuss a sailor in, he thinks, at least six languages. Possibly more. Now isn't the time to admire her proclivity for making hardened criminals blush, though. "I'm hurt that you think all we do is fuck and sleep," he says, forcing himself to keep up their usual banter despite his worry and fear. He does enjoy the expression that crosses Marshall's face, though - clearly Teller wasn't expecting that. Good.
"Isn't that what all men do?" Sara counters.
"Now we're getting into generalities and stereotyping," Dash replies, late night conversations with Simon about societal expectations running through his head and making his heart ache. "Did you need something or did you just call to disparage our love life?"
"Something's wrong with the Lake," Sara says.
Dash glances at Marshall, then looks down at his boots, scuffing the toes against the sidewalk as he shifts his weight. "Don't go near it," he says, "we'll be right there."
"I thought you said Simon was incapacitated?"
"Then who's 'we'?"
"Just an old friend." Dash hangs up before Sara can ask anything more. He's heard all the stories about Eerie before he arrived, mostly from Simon, but Sara told him her story herself. He doesn't want to be the one to tell her Marshall is in town, or that he's helping. She'll probably hit him for keeping it from her, but he's also pretty sure she'll hit Marshall, too, so that's a silver lining. "We have to get to the lake," he says, walking past Marshall and heading off up the street towards the lake.
"Why?" Marshall asks, jogging to catch up.
"I don't know, Slick, we'll find out when we get there."
"You could have asked why."
Dash stops, turning to Marshall, glaring up at him, wishing he were taller so he could loom. Still, Teller takes a step back, which is a victory. "You're a guest this time, Teller," he growls, "we do things my way. I didn't want Sara and Melanie getting any closer to the lake, so we can find out what the hell is going on when we get there. Understood?" Mars nods. "Good." Dash turns away and starts walking again, faster this time, maybe hoping just a little that Marshall won't follow.
But soon his pace is being matched again, and they walk together towards another unknown.
Under normal circumstances, Dash X would have relished seeing the reunion of Marshall, Sara, and Melanie. The awkwardness. The very probably well deserved slap he received from Sara. The second slap that was probably equally well deserved that Melanie bestowed upon him after only a slight moment of hesitation. Dash isn't sure if it's the heart or her girlfriend, but either way he lets himself enjoy a grin at Teller's expense.
But he can't dwell on it, not with the lake that's now more ink black than blue below them. He starts slowly down the hillside, not sure he should get any closer but knowing full-well that he has to in order to figure out what the hell is going on here.
"Dash, what the hell?" Teller calls after him, but Dash doesn't respond. Doesn't even acknowledge. Let Teller stay up where it's safe if he wants, let him worry about the dangers Dash is blindly walking into. Dash doesn't have time.
On the shore, Syndi is crouched down by another strange fish tail, camera out as she carefully photographs it from every angle.
"Don't let your brother see you," Dash says, crouching down beside her, being careful not to touch. "He'll think you're being rash and irresponsible."
Syndi lowers her camera just a bit and glances at Dash from under the fringe of hair that's fallen over her face. "What's he doing here?" she asks.
Dash shrugs. "I called him," he says. "Something's happened to Simon.
Syndi lowers the camera to her knee and stares at Dash, waiting. Dash stands and slips his hands into his coat pocket, scuffing his boots against the sand beneath his feet. He thinks about just shrugging it off, but Syndi has gotten to know him disturbingly well over the years - he's pretty sure it's a skill she picked up from her mom, one that passed Mars over entirely. Dash used to find it unnerving, but now he kind of likes it. It's nice to know people care enough about him to know him. Or know him well enough to care.
He clears his throat, forces the words out in a harsh whisper. "Something happened when we were in the lab. Some of the," he gestures at the fish tail. "Somehow the sample we brought back started affecting him. He's, he's got scales now." He looks up at the sky because at least then if he starts crying he can just blame the sun. "He's growing scales and he's out cold and." His voice cracks and he clears his throat. "I'm scared, Syndi," he finishes, slowly looking back down and meeting Syndi's gaze. She stands up and strides over to him, pulling him into a tight hug.
They both hear Marshall's "What the hell is that?!" but neither of them deigns to respond.
"Why are you back?" Sara Sue asks. Again. She's been asking it since he and Dash walked up to her and Melanie. Marshall still hasn't responded because honestly he's not sure himself. He's still not sure he believes that what's happening is happening. He keeps going back and forth, vacillating between thinking he's hallucinating all this and thinking that yes, in fact, Eerie is this weird and he needs to help stop whatever this is.
Mars keeps his gaze fixed on Dash because Dash is an unknown he's used to, but when Syndi appears from an outcropping that was shielding her from view and gives Dash a hug, things are just getting too far out of hand. Mars starts down the hill, calling out, "What the hell is that?!" but no one answers him. He's almost down to the sandy beach when a hand grabs him by the wrist and he's pulled around and thrown onto his back, gasping as the air whooshes out of his lungs.
Melanie is looming over him. She crosses her arms over her chest and glares down at him. She has, he realizes, found a balance between herself and Devon's heart and it's absolutely terrifying. He doesn't dare get up, doesn't even dare move, just waits.
"You were gone for a long time, Marshall," she says, "and I think it's only fair you accept that things have changed."
"Things like my sister dating my arch nemesis?"
Melanie rolls her eyes. "You're not thirteen anymore, Mars, no one's your arch nemesis." She cocks an eyebrow. "Except maybe you?" She holds out a hand and, after a moment's hesitation, Marshall accepts it and she helps him back to his feet, whispering in his ear as she does, "Besides, not that it's your business, but Dash is dating Simon, not Syndi. Wrong S." When she pulls away she winks at Marshall like this is some cute middle school secret and not the complete destruction of everything Marshall Teller understood about his best friend and that weird gray haired kid when he left for college.
He looks over Melanie's shoulder at Dash and Syndi. Syndi's photographing the lake while Dash has procured a silver sample case from somewhere and has it open on the ground while he inches carefully forward so he can take a sample of the lake water. Marshall glances at Melanie and Sara Sue again. Melanie's looking at him with a soft, sad expression that makes him much more uncomfortable than the all out glare Sara Sue has had fixed on him from the first, so Mars decides it's time for a tactical retreat.
Unfortunately a tactical retreat from Melanie and Sara Sue means approaching Dash X, Syndi, and whatever the hell is happening to the lake.
He's not sure which of those things scares him more.
The sigh through the phone echoes heavily in Radford's ear. "Of course it has, was it ever not going to?" the man on the other end says.
Radford looks behind him, studying Simon's still form for a moment before he can continue. "I didn't think it would be so soon."
"Didn't you? You studied the prophecies longer than any of us. Hell, you locked yourself away for months just to make sure you fully understood them!"
Radford is quiet for a moment, he can hear the sounds of impatience from his old friend, taps of fingers on a desk, the click of his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It'd be like old times, if Simon wasn't turning. If the lake... "Do you know if anything else has happened out on the lake?" he asks.
"Yup. I've had surveillance on it since you told me about the boy. The ink's rising to the surface."
"Damn it!" Radford slams his fist against the wall, shaking it out after, both regretting and relishing the pain. "The prophecies made it seem like as soon as Dash appeared we'd have to deal with this, why did they wait this long to start?"
"Maybe there was an unforseen complication."
"They're prophecies, Winston, the entire point is that they're forseen."
"Not my problem. I'm not the record keeper, Bartholomew."
Radford blows out a breath. "I'll check," he says. "Just. Just don't let it get out of hand, all right?"
"Hey, this one's not on me," Chisel says. He actually has the gall to sound offended and under any other circumstances Radford might find it laughable. But not today.
"I'm aware, but you can at least keep tabs on it, yes?" Radford asks. He doesn't wait for an answer before hanging up. He walks slowly to Simon's bedside, checking the spread of the scales and the EKG readings before he slips through a side door hidden in the shadows. It looks like it should just lead to a supply closet and, in a way, it does.
But it's a supply closet that spans most of the country, full of the lost and the misplaced and the secret.
With Marshall's help, Dash has managed to get three separate samples of lake water. Some are already black, others are more of a murky gray, and thanks to Syndi's sharp eyes they found a patch that was still blue and clear like the lake is supposed to be. Dash is kind of impressed that they managed to get so many samples for Radford to study, but he's not about to admit that to Marshall. Teller's already taken it upon himself to lecture Dash about the fact that 'cradle robbing' is creepy and doesn't he think Simon should be dating someone closer to his own age?
No question about whether or not Dash should be dating someone closer to his own age, but he never really expected Marshall to actually care that much about him. Or about him at all. Ever. He'd just rather that Marshall do the whole not caring thing silently, not loudly and right in his ear as they walk back towards town and the World O'Stuff with Melanie, Sara, and Syndi.
When Dash had packed up the sample case and tucked it back into the secret pocket in his coat - added by Simon after they'd discovered interdimensional fabric - Sara and Melanie were down at the edge of the beach, waiting. And Syndi agreed with them when they insisted they be included in all of this.
"This is their home, too, Dash," she'd said, "and we're all adults."
He couldn't argue with her logic.
Besides a fearless girl and an artist who's drawings can come to life might come in handy.
He just hopes none of them get killed in the process, a likelihood that's increased now that he's in charge rather than Simon. He's never really been responsible for anyone's life but his own and Simon's and he's still not sure he'd trust himself, let alone why Simon seems to trust him.
He glances back at Syndi, Sara, and Melanie, walking along together, talking. They all look very serious, so he figures they're still talking about the lake.
He's glad for their help, he really is, he just hopes they make it out of this alive.
He looks forward again, his glance sliding slowly over Teller - who is still lecturing him on dating people too young for him - and he blows out a sigh. He hopes they all make it out of this alive.
Yes, he admits to himself, even Slick.
He will not, however, ever admit it to anyone else. Not even Simon. Not even on his death bed.
He glances over at Marshall again and rolls his eyes. "Will you shut up, Teller?" he snaps, "I haven't been listening to you since you started talking so you may as well save you breath."
Marshall glares at him but, mercifully, stops talking and Dash allows himself a smirk.
The sun is setting over Eerie and it is beautiful and it is perfect.
The ghost ship is anchored as close to shore as it dares, the crew slowly lowering their longboats into the water before crowding into them. They are the advanced guard. They will lead the strike. They will begin the assault that will clear the way for those to come after. They hear the orders in their heads, not from their captain but from something much deeper and darker and far more sinister.
Beneath the surface, in the darkest depths, the creature shifts, writhes. Its people march across the rocky lake bed. Soon they will take what is due them. Soon they will emerge from the water to lay claim to what was always meant to be theirs. Soon the land dwellers will fall and Eerie, Indiana will belong to the deep one's children.
Soon they will seize their victory.
He knows what he has to do. He's known since Dash brought Simon in. He's known since he looked closely at the scales. But now, sitting in the Bureau of Lost's prophecy section, staring down at the words he so hoped were never going to come true, he finally has to accept it. Simon has to go to the lake.
With a sigh, Radford closes the tome before him. The cover is leather with a gilt sea creature on the cover, shining in the dim light of the bureau. He wonders as he looks around at the collection of manuscripts what would happen if he stayed here. If he, too, became lost rather than going back to Eerie and facing what comes next. Simon Holmes has been through so much in his life, the last thing Radford wants to do is bring anything more down on him.
It would be so easy to just...stay. To sit and open the next codex. Unroll the next scroll. Begin to read all of the prophecies from all of the ages and just. Never stop. Never leave again. He has thought about becoming Lost before. After Marshall Teller's night on Wolf Mountain he thought perhaps being Lost would make up for all he'd done. But he decided then that it was better to stay and actually make up for his actions - both those that had already happened and those that were yet to come.
Now. Now he longs to just be Lost. To just stay here in this room that was his home for those long months while Fred Suggs operated his store - damn fine salesman, but crazier than that old English Magician who...
He trails his fingers over the gilt decoration on the tome and thinks of another prophecy, one he read years ago when he was looking into the history of magic on Earth and in Eerie in particular. The prophecy had come and gone long ago, but there were others, written on the skin of a man who never seemed to die. All of them recorded and studied by English Magicians.
Many of them about two men who rose to greatness before falling into darkness. Neither forgotten, but both gone forever.
They are in the Bureau somewhere, Radford knows. The section in the Other Worlds. He's traveled through them before and he wonders if perhaps he ought to go there now, see if he can't find those two English magicians - the mad one in particular. Though both could be of help, he thinks. Or is it only wishing?
He blows out a breath and stands, pushing the book across the wooden table. The curator of this section will take care of it later. He stares at the door that leads to the rest of the bureau for a moment before turning and slipping back through into his own basement lair.
There is work to be done.
Simon is gone when they reach the infirmary and Dash X is livid. He stands in the doorway, staring at the empty bed, his fists clenched so tight at his side Marshall is surprised blood isn't dripping from his palms.
"What the hell?" Dash asks. He storms forward, looks into Radford's lab, then whirls around to glare at the others as if this is somehow their fault.
Since Marshall is fairly certain Dash wouldn't hesitate to pin this one on him, he figures it's in his best interest to diffuse the situation before it can get out of hand. "Maybe he's doing better," Marshall suggests, forcing himself not to shrug. He doesn't even move. Dash X is like a wild animal and Marshall does not want to spook him.
"He had scales, Teller, you don't just get better from that," Dash snaps.
"How would you know? Have you ever spontaneously grown scales?" Mars counters. He's getting fed up with Dash acting like he somehow knows better how Eerie works than Mars does. Mars was the one who started investigating all of this shit. Mars is the one who first recorded all of the weird and paranormal events in this town. Mars is the reason Dash and Simon have a business in the first place because if it weren't for Mars then Simon never would have started looking into the weirdness. Because Simon was a kid with a shitty home life who needed a friend and Mars was a kid who missed his own friends and was looking for something to hold onto. So he and Simon bonded over the parabelievable and came up with theories about what was going on in Eerie but...
Nothing was going on in Eerie. Nothing had ever been going on in Eerie. Nothing is going on in Eerie now.
"There's something over here," Melanie says, breaking into Marshall's thoughts. There's a small table by the door, under the phone, and Melanie is looking down at a notebook there. "It's some kind of poem." She picks up the notebook and, in her clear, quiet voice, reads:
"When will the lost come home again?
When the ancient creatures rise.
When will the nameless know himself?
When the broken men arrive.
When will he who forgot remember?
When the waters take the shore.
When will the questions all be answered?
When ends the kraken war."
She looks up, meets Marshall's gaze, and shrugs.
"What does that even mean?" Dash growls, striding forward. He takes the notebook from Melanie with a little more violence than Mars thinks is strictly necessary, glaring down at the words as if sheer force of anger will make them reveal more. "What is this supposed to be?" he finally asks, his voice is softer now. He sounds...empty. Like he's used up all his anger and now he's just a shell.
"I think it's a prophecy," Melanie says, "it reads like one, anyway."
Dash pushes a hand through his hair. "This town was already weird, we didn't need prophecies, too."
Melanie reaches out, settles a hand on Dash's shoulder and he breaks. He steps forward and Mars thinks he's going to get violent but instead he just sort of collapses into Melanie's arms, his body shaking with harsh, silent sobs. Melanie wraps him up in a tight hug, holding him, stroking his hair. Sara Sue settles a hand on his elbow, offering her support, too. And Syndi carefully takes the notebook from Dash's fingers and looks over the words again.
Mars just stands there, staring at these people he thought he knew, wondering how his life brought him to this moment. To watching Dash X cry while Sara Sue and Melanie comfort him. To his sister believing in the paranormal more than he does.
He lowers his gaze, removing himself from this private moment because he does not belong here.
Has he ever belonged here?
The word is long and low, a hiss rising up after it in their minds. The pirates halt. They can see the edge of town through the trees, shining with streetlights and porch lights in the night. A beacon drawing them forwards.
The creature cries again and again and again, waves of pressure rushing through the minds of its slaves.
Something has gone wrong. They do not know if they should continue. They do not know if the others will come or if it will draw them back to the safety of the deeps. They stand frozen on the road, staring ahead, its indecision their indecision.
Take the town, it finally cries out, we are coming.
When Radford places Simon in the water, the blackness recedes. He knew it would, but he can't help but stare at the shift. Its as though the blackness is recoiling from Simon. He floats on his back out of the shallows and into the deeper section of the lake, pushing the blackness further back as he goes. Merpeople bob up from beneath, they smile at Radford with their eerie sharp teeth, thank him in their ghostly language, then take their new brother down into the water with them.
Radford stares for a long time at the line of blue in the black, remember how still Simon was, how slow his breathing. He hopes he didn't come too late.
"What the hell?" Dash snaps. It seems to be all he's saying lately. He rounds on Mars. "Did you know about this?" he asks, pointing down at the lake. The walk here has been strangely cold and Mars is shivering and thinking of Jason and how nice it would be to be curled up in bed with a warm body beside him. Instead, he has to just glare down at Dash, daring him to keep up his accusation.
Down by the lake, Radford stands gazing out at a spot in the water where, a moment before, Simon had floated before being taken beneath the surface by merpeople.
Mars isn't sure how, but he thinks Eerie has only gotten weirder since he left.
"I've been here for less than a day, Dash," Mars finally says, "how could I possibly have known about this."
"I don't know, I thought you and Radford were partners in all this," Dash says. He throws up his hands and whirls away, running down towards Radford. "Yo, Radford, what did you do?" he cries out before grabbing the old man by the shoulder and pulling him around. Mars is afraid Dash is going to strike him, but he just stands there, glaring up at Radford, shoulders heaving with his breaths.
Mars doesn't hear what Radford says, but it sends Dash running into the water. Radford reaches for him, but he isn't fast enough and Dash just runs through the shallows into the lake, his coat dragging him down, shouting Simon's name over and over again.
Once again, Marshall has to look away.
The cry is stronger this time but instead of pulling the pirates to a halt it sends them surging forward. They can do little against the corporeal, but they will weaken the minds and prepare the way and soon the children will come and take what has been promised them.
But they must hurry because things are not going according to plan.
Sara Sue opens her sketchbook and begins to draw. It's a familiar shape, one she's seen a hundred times during grudging viewings of Melanie's favorite movie: Ghostbusters. When it's done, after a moment's hesitation, she scrawls her signature across the bottom and a moment later she is holding the spirit containment unit. She looks over at Melanie. "If you ever use this to get me to watch Ghostbusters again, we're through," she says. Melanie nods. "I'm going back. I don't like this cold."
Melanie reaches out her hands and takes the machine from Sara Sue. "Draw up another one," she says, "because I'm coming with you." She grabs Sara Sue's shirt collar and pulls her into a fast, furious kiss before turning and heading back into the forest. With a goofy grin on her face that is completely inappropriate, Sara Sue draws another of the containment units before she follows Melanie into the night.
Beneath the surface of the lake, Simon Holmes wakes. He feels energized. He feels healthy. He is no longer tired and empty; he is awake and ready. He stirs the water around him as he shifts, looking to his left and right and above and below and seeing the merpeople.
They speak to him in a tongue he should not know yet somehow understands.
"We must stop them before they reach the shore," one says, the biggest one, his green hair long and flowing around his thick shoulders. "They would take Eerie and mold it to their own purposes."
"Who?" Simon asks, and though he swears he speaks in English it sounds different to his ears. Perhaps it is the feel of the words in the water. Perhaps it is the gills he feels at his throat, slowly opening and closing, filtering oxygen from the water so that he can breathe.
There's a sudden splash above them and the water churns.
The merman who spoke before grabs Simon's shoulder, gazing into his eyes. "Send him back to shore," he says, "the land walkers will fail without him." He pushes Simon up towards the surface, then leads his people further down. "Join us when you are done," he calls out over his shoulder.
Simon grits his teeth and swims up, breaking the surface right in front of Dash X who is struggling to stay above the water. His eyes widen at the sight of Simon and Simon wonders what he looks like now. If he's that terrifying. That grotesque, perhaps.
Except Dash doesn't look scared or disgusted. He reaches out a slow, tentative hand and brushes his fingers over Simon's cheek. "I thought," his voice chokes and he clears his throat. "I thought you were dead," he whispers. He leans in and kisses Simon, and only when they begin to sink does he pull away.
"I would have been," Simon says, "I think. If Radford hadn't brought me here." He lifts his hands, fingers now webbed, and he and Dash both stare at them. "I think," he can't meet Dash's gaze and stares instead at his shoulder, "I think I'm meant to be here."
"No, no you're meant to be with me."
Dash is pleading now and Simon forces himself to meet Dash's gaze.
"I have to go," he says, "and so do you." He pushes Dash towards the shore. "Go. They'll need you."
Dash stares at him and it's all he can do to dive back into the water and start swimming down, his heart aching as he leaves his love behind.
When Dash gets back to shore, Syndi fills him in on where Sara and Melanie have gone. He nods. Those two'll be fine. And Melanie's attune to ghosts, so she's the best one to send after them. He glances over Syndi's shoulder at Marshall who is standing uselessly on the slope of the hill. Radford is beside him, gaze fixed on Dash.
Dash clears his throat. "Sorry," he manages. Then he looks at Syndi. "What have we got to defend against an assault?" he asks.
Syndi looks up at the cloudy sky. "If the moon comes out we have half a werewolf and our bare hands," she says, "that's about it."
Dash nods, looks back at Radford. "Do you have anything we could use?" he asks.
Radford nods. "I have just the thing," he says with a half-hearted wink. He turns to go and Mars starts to follow. "Not you, Mr. Teller, I believe you're services will be needed here. Otherwise," he glances at Syndi and Dash, "if it starts before I get back, they'd only have their bare hands."
Dash turns to the lake, leaving Mars to sort that one out for himself. "They're not going to come out here," he says, pointing to the blue. "They're going to come from the black."
"There's a lot of black," Syndi says, coming up beside him.
"But this is the lowest shoreline," Dash says, "and it's the only section that points directly to town."
Syndi nods. "So they'll come up along the beach," she says. Dash nods and Syndi blows out a breath. "The three of us aren't going to be much against whatever it is, are we?"
Dash shakes his head. He doesn't want to think about it, but she's right. The three of them against whatever's coming is probably not going to go well.
"But," he says, meeting Syndi's gaze and giving her his best shit-eating grin, "at least we'll go down fighting."
Simon is brought up short by the carnage. There is an army beneath the lake, marching across the bed towards the beach. They are dressed in old Greek armor that has rusted and is falling apart but they hold their heads up high and meet the merepeople's own army head on. Their weapons are little more than hilts and staffs now, but they put up quite a fight. Blood drifts slowly up around Simon and he's not sure which army has the most casualties right now.
All he knows is that he cannot let these people reach the shore.
He takes a deep breath and starts to swim down to join the fray, but he does not make it. Something snakes out of the darkness, wraps around his middle, and pulls him away from the fight. Something does not want him here. He struggles but its hold is too strong and soon he is looking at the dark, faceless mass that is the Kraken.
The clouds shift and Marshall's body itches. He'd forgotten this feeling. He'd never had to deal with it after he left Eerie, which should be weird, but at this point he's just accepted that Eerie is Eerie and it's disconnected from the rest of the world in some way he'll never understand.
He feels the hair sprouting over his body. His fingernails grow a bit, sharpening before his eyes into claws, and his teeth shift. It hurts and soon they're too big for his mouth but he can handle that. He can handle this. Because right now he's the only weapon they've got.
He strides forward and joins Dash and Syndi in staring at the lake, waiting for what comes next.
Marshall's boyfriend - what was his name? J something. James? Jared? Ah, Radford remembers, Jason - is waiting outside the World O'Stuff when Radford arrives. He looks a little like a lost puppy and it's a strange sight on a face that looks so much like Dash X's. Dash X usually looks angry and fed up, so seeing that face look so vulnerable and open is a little disconcerting. Not for the first time, Radford wonders where Marshall dug this young man up and what drew them together.
It is, however, none of his business.
"Store's closed," Radford says, unlocking the door and opening it to slip inside. But Jason catches the door before he can close it behind him. "Can I help you?" Radford asks, not turning back, just waiting to hear what this young man wants - most likely he wants to take Marshall home with him so he can forget about this place.
But Eerie hasn't forgotten about Marshall Teller and it never will.
"I want to help," Jason says. Now Radford turns around, meets Jason's determined gaze.
"It will be dangerous," Radford says.
"I don't care, I want to help."
Radford only hesitates a moment before stepping into the store and waving for Jason to follow. He leads the way to the back of the store where the weapons are displayed and begins grabbing anything he thinks will come in handy. He loads up Jason's arms with them, muttering to himself, making sure they're things that the untrained group he's working with will be able to use.
When he thinks they have enough, he leads Jason back out into the night and starts back towards the lake.
To his credit, Jason has not said one word, not asked one question, since Radford agreed to bring him along. Maybe there's hope for him yet.
And maybe there's hope for Eerie.
There's a voice in Simon's head and it hurts.
You will fail, small creature, it says. It's full of rage and hatred. You will fail and my children shall take your home and make me king and god.
It is, Simon knows, the Kraken, but he's having trouble reconciling the voice with the creature that's holding him fast. He's given up trying to struggle and is staring at that black impassive mass. It never moves, just its tentacles undulating in the water around them, yet its anger is so clear, projecting loudly from its mind to Simon's. Simon feels like it should be shaking or turning or something.
But, he reminds himself, it isn't a creature he's used to. Clearly horrors of the deep express themselves differently than those on land.
The tentacle squeezes and Simon cries out.
There's laughter in his head.
Yes, puny thing, you will fail!
When Chisel arrives on the beach, Syndi has to physically restrain both Marshall and Dash. It's kind of terrifying that she's able to. They all glare at the former mayor as he strides up to stand with them. He surveys their looks of anger and rolls his eyes.
"This is my town, too," he says, "if anyone is going to stage a military coup and take over it's going to be me, not...whatever's down there." He gestures vaguely at the water before setting down a long black case and opening it up, swiftly and efficiently putting together a rifle.
"The enemy of my enemy, guys," Syndi says. "We have bigger things to worry about."
The words are barely out of her mouth before a huge squid breaks the surface of the water, sending a massive wave crashing down on the beach, soaking Dash, Syndi, and Mars. Somehow, Chisel and his gun remain completely dry. Dash figures this probably has something to do with making deals with devils. It's hard to get wet when your soul is burning so hot.
The Kraken raises a tentacle high into the air. There's something there, writing in its grip.
Dash squints up, trying to see... "No," he breathes out, "Simon!"
A harsh, angry laugh echoes in Dash's mind.
Chisel takes a shot, but it doesn't affect that Kraken at all and Dash dives for the man. "Don't you dare," he yells. "You might hit Simon."
"Casualty of war, friend," Chisel replies, preparing for another shot.
Dash grabs the rifle by the barrel and points it up into the air, glaring down at Chisel. "I said," he grits out through clenched teeth, "don't you dare."
Cower before me! a voice cries out. Cower before my children!
The surface breaks and an army dressed as warriors from ancient Greece begins to emerge, walking purposefully towards the beach, their sad excuse for weapons up and at the ready. Merpeople grab at their legs, pulling some of them back into the water. But more keep coming.
Dash stares, lets go of the rifle, and steps back.
He hopes Chisel has enough bullets.
Melanie leads the way through the forest, she can feel the ghosts. Devon is there, too, helping her when it all gets to be too much and their spirits start overwhelming her. She and Sara Sue slowly make their way back towards town, collecting ghosts as they go. She has no way of knowing if any got away. If they're already in houses - if that's where they were going - they're too far for her to sense. But they get quite a few and after, Melanie slumps against a tree, looking up at Sara Sue with a tired smile.
"What now?" Sara Sue asks.
Melanie shrugs. "I thought we could just take them back to the lake," she says, "I'm pretty sure they came from there." She glances at Devon, bobbing beside her, looking down at the containment unit.
He meets her gaze. "That can't be comfortable," he says and Melanie doesn't even try to fight the laugh. Sara Sue nods and reaches out a hand and Melanie takes it and together, with Devon coming along behind, they start back towards the lake.
Everything changes when Sara Sue and Melanie return to the lake shore. The battle is raging, but it's only six against an army and there is no way they'll win. Until Melanie and Sara Sue open the spirit containment units and empty their incorporeal contents back into the Eerie lake. A thick fog rises up over the dark lake, slowly writhing and shifting and for a moment Melanie worries they've made the wrong decision.
Until the fog forms into a ship, populated by pirates. Melanie hadn't seen the ghosts before, only felt them and followed Devon's instructions. Now she sees them standing tall and proud on their ship. And she sees a familiar form joining them.
"No," she cries out, reaching towards the ship, trying to catch Devon before it's too late. But the ship is already pulling out into the lake, the captain bellowing orders, pointing towards the Kraken with his ghostly saber. Sara Sue sets a hand on Melanie's shoulder, holding out a sword in the other hand. Melanie nods, takes the sword, and wipes the unshed tears from her eyes before she joins the fray.
Sara Sue beside her all the way.
Devon Wilde stands solid on a ship that isn't. For the first time since his death he feels whole. Real. Standing on a ghost ship, surrounded by ghost pirates, sailing towards an enemy he never once dreamed of in his life or in his death.
For the first time in a long time, Devon Wilde feels alive.
The pirate ship barrels into the Kraken, exploding in a puff of white. It seems as ineffectual as bouncing a nerfball off a stone giant's head, except the Kraken screams. Not the angry war cry of before, but a chilling shriek of pain. Its tentacle opens and Simon splashes back into the water. He think she hears Dash crying out for him, but he isn't certain and he doesn't have time to find out now. The Kraken may be fighting the pirates, but Eerie is still in danger.
Simon dives down into the depths, joining his fellows, trying to stem the flood of warriors marching towards the shore.
A power floods through Dash X's hands. It is hot and it surges up his arms and he tries to ignore it but it's too much. He drops the crossbow that Jason had thrust into his hands earlier and drops to his knees, pressing his hands into the wet sand, trying to stop the burning there.
Around him, the sand shifts. Forms rise up. He feels them and sees them as he himself pulls them from the sand, sends them forward, creating an army to fight an army. He screams.
The Kraken screams.
The dying men scream.
And a wall falls down in Dash X's mind and he lets out a long, low peal of laughter. He shouts to the night sky, words he never dreamt of before this day, and the lake begins to churn. He will destroy everything in it, every threat to his new home. This is his kingdom now and he shall have it and nothing shall stop him. He will boil the water if that is what it takes, kill every living thing beneath the surface.
Because he is the one who followed the roads through the faerie realms to Eerie. He is the one who found the way from Hell to here. He is a King! He is the Raven King and he will be thwarted by no one - not man nor beast nor...
He pulls his hands from the sand, screaming again, fighting with himself. The flood of memories is tearing his mind apart. He is both a scared boy with nowhere to go and a powerful magician who combined with a fae and has been biding his time. He wants to destroy the enemies that flood his shores, but he will not sacrifice the allies down below.
He will not sacrifice Simon Holmes.
He collapses onto his side, shaking, his hands still hot, cold sweat prickling over his body. Tears run hot down his cheeks and he clenches his eyes shut. Ashamed. Afraid.
The Kraken screams again and Dash recoils, rolls away.
There is a moment of quiet before he hears its voice again.
It laughs. Uskglass is weak! the Kraken cries out. Victory is mine!
The name echoes in Dash X's head. Dash X. John Uskglass. The Raven King. The Gentleman with Thistledown Hair. He opens his eyes and looks down at the markings on the back of his hands. They are glowing, generating the heat that pains him so. Around him, sand covers his friends - friends? - and the water in the lake is slowly turning from black to blue. All of it. Yet still the Kraken thinks it has won. Still the kraken thinks it has succeded. Still the kraken thinks that it could ever defeat the Raven King.
Dash X smiles and stands up slowly. A hand at his elbow steadies him when he stumbles. He does not shake it off - he needs his allies now more than ever - but stands straight and tall with Marshall Teller to one side and Syndi Teller to the other. Behind him he can feel Melanie and Sara Sue - he can feel the magic in them. He can feel Mayor Chisel's dark aura to his left and Radford's gray one to his right. Jason he feels as a hollow. The only one among them without magic.
But an ally nonetheless.
He faces the Kraken and he knows his name.
Simon doesn't know how, but he hears Dash's voice echoing through the water. The tide of soldiers has slowed and some have even begun retreating. Simon can still hear the Kraken's laugh - pained though it is as it continues to fight the pirates - but he thinks perhaps they are winning, despite the kraken's own belief that it is.
It's hard to tell, so far down in the lake, surrounded by blood and darkness.
And then Dash X speaks. With certainty, and authority, and power.
"I am more than just the Raven King," he cries out. "I am man and I am fae. The powers of both worlds run through my veins. There is nothing on this earth that can stand before me. And nothing in its waters with any hope of being my equal. Surrender, return to the depths from whence you came, and give me back my damn boyfriend!"
The water explodes around Simon. He surges upwards and out into the cold night air. He should, he thinks, be afraid. But he is not. He is calm and prepared and ready. The tentacles reach out for him, but water slams into the kraken, forcing it backwards. It writhes and cries and Simon lands gently in the sand at Dash's feet, his body already shifting back to human.
Mars kneels beside him, brow furrowed with worry. Dash's hands are raised, glowing bright in the darkness, his angry gaze fixed on the Kraken.
"You will never take Eerie," he shouts. The water surges and shifts and lake-weed reaches up, wrapping itself around the screaming kraken and pulling it back beneath the surface.
Soon the lake is a still mirror on a cool night once more. In the distance, Simon thinks he sees the ghostly after image of a ship, but he's too tired to give it much credence. He blows out a breath and leans his head against Marshall's shoulder, closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep.
They're sitting in the World O'Stuff. They are bruised and broken and cold and still wet and it's been a long hard night. Radford's whipped up a slew of black cows with nips of java - heavy on the java - for them, but Simon and Dash passed. They're downstairs now, in the infirmary. Marshall wants to go down and see how they're doing - how Simon's doing, he admits to himself - but he knows he won't be welcome down there.
He leans into Jason, savoring the solidity of a body beside him. He's tired and cold and wants to just go home and sleep but he's also completely wired as his mind tries to sort through everything that happened.
It's a lot to think about, and he wishes he could just walk away from it. But he already walked away from Eerie once, he's not doing so again. He sits up, turning to look at Jason, but before he can speak Jason takes his hand and squeezes it tight. "I know," he says, "we're staying here. Fine by me." He leans in and presses a quick kiss to Marshall's cheek.
Syndi makes a gagging noise, but Mars doesn't care. She's sitting fiddling with her camera, looking through the footage she got of the before and after - she was a little busy during. On her other side, Melanie and Sara Sue have fallen asleep using each other as pillows, their black cows half finished.
Radford, Mars notices, sips his own milkshake slowly while he studies the group before him. He gives Mars a wink when they're eyes meet, but Marshall has no idea what it means this time.
"So you're half faerie?"
"And I'm half merman."
"Seems so." Dash looks down at Simon's still webbed hands. He's not sure he'll ever get used to those, or to the fact that the love of his life can shift into a sea creature at will - or will be able to when he gets the hang of it - but he'll manage.
"Should I call you John?"
"Only if you hate me."
Simon smiles and leans against Dash, who presses a kiss to his temple. They made it this time. They're tired and there's a lot they still don't understand, but this time they made it.
Which, Dash reflects with a shallow sigh, means it's time to start preparing for whatever Eerie, Indiana decides to throw at them next.
He looks down at his hands, the marks there glowing softly as he curls them into loose fists. He leans his head against Simon's and closes his eyes.
Whatever it is, they'll make it through. They always do.