His Take, Her Take

It is my pleasure and a privilege to be joining acclaimed author and writer James LaFond in the launch of Gender in Fiction: His Take/Her Take, where we will be examining gender and sexuality in classical and contemporary literature.

Visit jameslafond.com to share in reviews of works that continue to shape how gender is portrayed -- our newest joint review will be a fun look at Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard (author of Conan). Join us for masterpieces and mistakes.

Rabbit Hole

In the wake of tragedy and loss, Caspian Hythe has returned to his family’s ancestral home in England. But home is not as it should be.

No longer a place of safety or peace, home is now a place of horror and fear. For an ancient mystery has re-awakened – bloodthirsty and unimaginable – something is killing in the town of Guildford. And the trail of blood is just the beginning.

From the creator of the award-winning SciFi Fantasy novels TAU4 and HAMMERSPACE, comes a new Fantasy and Dark Sorcery series. Now a young man will pit himself against an ageless evil as he travels a deadly path toward the ultimate mystery of all.

Love ….. Hate.
Life ….. Death.
What lies between them is a RABBITHOLE.

 


Sample Rabbit Hole

Try out these four of the 30 chapters.

Chapter 1 - The Mount

Chapter 1 - THE MOUNT

“I hate it here.
I’m sorry, Abby, but I do. Nothing connects
me here – not anymore. There’s just one place in the
entire town that I don’t hate. And everyone in there
is dead.”
The young man sprang up from his chair.
Anger fueled the rapid-fire strides that
brought him to the library’s high windows. Like a
tethered beast, there Caspian Hythe stood and glared
out onto the gardens as if at a mortal enemy. Then,
as it had done repeatedly since his arrival here weeks
ago, his gaze flew skyward. Once more, circling high
above the Hythe house and the town – there was the
bird of prey.


There he is – who can go when and where he
pleases.
Here am I – who cannot.
The bird seemed aware of his thoughts. Its
flight immediately canted; now it wheeled away
hard, east, across the river, drawing his eyes after.
To Castle Hill.
Rays of late day sun pushed through the
curtain’s lace; they danced in bright turbulence
across the face of Mrs. Hythe’s only nephew.
Deceptively calm, Abigail studied the young man at
the window, seeing in her mind the father as well.
How very like Randolph, when he was just
that age. It was a revelation simple and still too
personal. After a year’s worth of counting out the
days, she had never told Cass how very much she
still missed the late Randolph Hythe. She sat back in
her chair, surrounded by the common threads that
family and shared tragedy wear.
Sprawling, majestically high with its facing of
hoary stone hung with ivy and moss, this house in
Guildford had always been her brother’s favourite.
How quickly it had become just as beloved to
his new wife and bright- eyed little boy, a little boy


who here had spent his very first English Christmas.
He had grown with every visit, marveling each
Yuletide as frost had worked a subtle magic on the
windows, as the season had opened a deeper sorcery
in the expansive gardens that stretched around the
house. Sharp eyed and questing, Caspian Hythe had
listened, rapt, as carolers in the streets brought the
old songs right to their doors.
The season was turning; the carolers would
come again soon. Guildford was a modern, industrial
town. But, the old ways were still cherished here
and as another winter neared, the past tugged at
Abby’s heart – Yuletide, the old ways, the old
legends.
At the same windows that had lent such
fascination before, the boy that had been stood now
as a young man; empty of peace, bitter, hating the
place.
The place he despised was nonetheless
remarkable. The town’s lazy river still wended in
cool greenness along its towpath. A profitable
market town since the Middle Ages, Guildford had
steadily grown about the Wye’s golden sands, adding
tidy houses and tourism. Abigail Hythe’s love for the

town and the family house had never faltered. That
family had diminished suddenly, without warning,
as death had claimed first Cass’ mother and then all
too soon – his father.
One of the last, oldest Victorian mansions on
the Guilddown Road, this house remained a marvel.
East, its terraced gardens faced the river. But it was
at its northern boundary that the house whetted true
fascination, sweeping up high to touch the very feet
of Guildford’s famous cemetery – the wind- swept
burial ground of the Mount.
And everyone there is dead….
For those with a very particular kind of
leaning, the vista to the east might have held a
deeper fascination. If one stood in the Hythe garden
and looked across the Wye, one would actually see it
– there on the eastern shore, on its own high hill–
the Castle. Old before the coming of the Saxons, the
Castle’s ancient pile had awakened something in her
brother’s only child. It had been Cass himself who,
pointing wildly with a then pudgy digit, had named
the place.
‘Gasties, Papa. Gasties!’ he had cried, dragging
his father after him. It was as close as a very young,

very bright boy could get to a very old word; his
own childish rendering for ‘gaistaz’ – the archaic
word for ‘ghost’.
Ghost.
A strange word to teach a child – perhaps the
father thought the child would forget it.
The child did not forget it.
The boy soon made regular beelines for the
gate that led under the trees and out of the garden
where one of the many footbridges would take him
over the Wye – from there, into the Castle’s ruins,
where he would lose himself for hours, hidden
under the tree’s shadows, summer after summer.
Until last year; when the visits abruptly
ceased.
“You never used to hate it here,” she
reminded him. “You are connected to me. And you
are connected to this place, in ways you can’t
imagine – as was your father and his father as well.”
Cass tore his eyes from the sky, from the
vistas of wet, grey trees, their leaves scattering
explosively in a brisk, early autumn wind. His
fingers ran through hair as full and black as had been
his father’s. When he looked back at her, confusion


and pain filled the bright blue eyes that had been
sharp with anger moments ago.
“I’m .. I have to go out, Abby,” he said. She
nodded.
“It gets dark so early now, Cass, do be careful.
We’re still having a bit of nastiness around here.”
“The ‘mad dog’ thing again?”
Her grey eyes darkened with a look that
made him pause, but she went on.
“It must be a dog – mustn’t it?”
“This makes it – ten – doesn’t it?” Cass
wondered.
“It does indeed. This time it was a cat – but
closer this time, Cass, very close, just across the lane.
They found it in pieces this morning. It has to be the
work of someone’s pet, gone monstrously wrong.”
Someone’s pet – gone monstrously wrong.
Monstrously wrong.
He saw in his own mind the bloody events of
the day before. He’d been right there when it had
happened, right before his eyes – in the village main
street, where a man had viciously attacked and tried
to kill his neighbor’s dog – a hound – because he


thought the animal savage enough to be the killer
that, in panicked desperation – all were seeking.
Who are the monsters here?
“I’ll keep my eyes open,” Cass said.
He took up his jacket and moved to the
library doors that led out onto the grounds. With his
long fingers poised over the ornate metal knob, Cass
looked back at his aunt again; then he was gone.
When she rose, Abby’s face and demeanor
had lost all vestiges of calm.
She, too, stopped before the windows. For the
space of several long moments, she looked out,
marking her nephew’s progress as he walked quickly
across the lawns.
Beside the windows on her desk, the morning
paper lay open. Its headlines blaring, inescapable; its
front page was a lurid mockery, bloated with the
grisly details of yet one more slaughter.
‘Another Surrey Puma? Has the Mystery
Beast from the ‘60’s Returned to Kill Again?’
Reaching across the desk, she opened its
drawer and took out once more the small journal.


Brown and stained, with its worn leather
cover and yellowed pages, the journal stayed in her
hand.
Abigail Hythe was no longer in doubt.
Her nephew was not there to see. Had he
been, it would not have been the look of dread
flashing momentarily across her face that would
have caused him uncertainty – and alarm.
It would have been the look on her face now
– one of cold, merciless, implacable resolve.

You are the world’s consummate ass.
That woman treats you like gold.
You’ve been here a fortnight.
Who haven’t you managed to piss off?
You need to grow up.
He crossed the wide lawns, then bent low,
passing under curling tree limbs. The old gate’s rusty
hinges moaned sadly as he went through.
From here, one could go many ways: down,
into the Town – or up.


Somehow before he’d set foot out of the
house, his way seemed chosen. He drove himself to
run up the rough path that coursed higher and
higher. When he looked up, he found the hawk over
him again, high, circling, its scream distant but
strident, a spectral censure tearing across the sky.
Stung, culpable – he redoubled his pace, reaching
the tangled hillside at the top, where the land ended,
merging precipitously into grey, open sky – at the
Mount.
This is what I need.
What I need….
Catching his breath, he filled his lungs with
damp, cold air, caught up by near silence. Here, as if
in fealty to the place, the sounds of birds, the
rustling of leaves in the breeze, all seemed muted.
Thin fog began to drift among the monuments as he
made his way across the hill, deeper into Guildford’s
oldest cemetery. The mist was a chill, wet soothing
blanket, in perfect keeping with a place laden with
antiquity and unplumbed mystery. The air grew
colder; tendrils of white swirled down as he picked
his way past the mossy head stones, somber
requiems to a vastly different age.


A better age. Far better than this one.
As he walked here, toward the border where
tall trees still remained, his thoughts were not on the
tombs about him, but elsewhere.
He stopped finally at the very top of the
Mount. Then, as he had done countless times before,
all of his life – he looked east. The tops of the
Castle’s broken stone walls, skeletal and grey,
reached skyward like fingers pushing up from a
forgotten grave. The ruins caught the sun’s last rays
as true dusk began to fall.
The ruins looked down upon the town; under
that mindful gaze, time turned backward. Once,
lush, deep woods had reigned there; the trees had
not surrendered easily to the insistent centuries.
Scattered across the site, proud bits of forest held
calm, imperious sway. Plaintive and demanding in
his mind were the memories of his visits. For, rising
from the relic’s earth under the trees had come to a
young, very willing mind the faded essence of
unremembered years, the strange, rich aroma of
loam and deep, unquiet earth.
The ancient Lords walked upon that same
earth.


Before the horse drawn carriages, the buses,
the hollow noise of this misbegotten, modern age –
long, long ago – there was majesty.
There was wonder.
It lay there still, like the perfume of blooms
long dead, the lingering scent of petals pressed in an
old book. The sunlight failed to penetrate the shade
below those remaining trees, retreating instead
before the sentinels of the past.
A past replete with death – just like mine.
United by bonds forged in time and blood –
they faced each other, the Castle and the Mount.
The young man was still, yet not at peace – he
breathed in air that was bitter and keen with loss,
his vision dimmed by the past and his own tears. In
his mind were the words he could not have told to
Abby, words she must have known, that haunted
him still.
That last summer.
We never made it back there, did we, Dad?
I couldn’t save you.
I can’t save anyone, I can’t even save myself.
Long lines of graves were at his back.
One of them belonged to Randolph Hythe.


It was a grave still new, still fresh after a
year’s rough, climactic passage – waiting for homage,
for pardon that had not yet come. The dead man’s
only son tried to turn away from it, to put it from his
mind, but the mood of the place claimed him. He
saw, yet did not see that the sun had begun to sink
below the lip of encroaching cloud.
Surrounded by death and the dead and the
dark memories that the place had stirred, Cass was
suddenly spent.
Why had he come here? Here, to claim him,
was every memory, every phantom….
There’s nothing left for me to lose.
The wind rose suddenly. Like a physical
blow, it struck him full in the face.
With it, from the midst of turmoil, a strange
penetrating calm suddenly descended, miraculously
taking hold, for from outside him the thread of other
thoughts was rising, in a voice not his own, distant
yet not unfamiliar.
There is no escape from what we have known
and been.
Do not seek escape. Here in this place is what
you seek, what will bridge past and future, what will


unite what you have been with what you will
become.
Find it. Then return. Return and begin.
Compass the task that must be done.
It is at hand.
What dost thou desire?
He was stunned – mystified and confused by
his need to listen, to heed what could only be
imagination. But, cold and blinding, clutching at him
like so many icy fingers, fog was now everywhere.
He pulled away from its grip; he had to find his way
down, now, while he could still do so.
It was then that the first sound reached him.
My God, what was that?
It was the cry of an animal; only a cry. But it
was shocking – short, piercing, nothing less than a
fatal cry, terrible in its final, throbbing brevity.
Mist curled about him but torn between the
need to get off the Mount while he could yet see –
and an unexpectedly overpowering need to know –
Cass froze in his tracks. Reason calmed him. It had to
be the work of a fox. Foxes still came here; a fox
must have killed something. Here was prey. The
occasional badger and innumerable cats roamed


freely through the cemetery’s grounds, unhindered,
virtually untouched by the nearby press of noisy,
modern humanity.
There was nothing to hear now but the thin
voice of the wind in the grasses. Still he stood,
unmoving, listening – waiting.
Then it came – floating in the air, at first
from everywhere at once, then from one direction
alone – more frightful than the death cry of any
animal.
Horrifying, an echo that fell slowly away –
this was what galvanised him to run – not away from
that last uncanny resonance – but towards it.
It was like nothing he had ever heard in his
life – a warble, low, rasping yet melodious. Snarling,
musical, utterly unnatural, it had come from a thick
stand of bushes ahead. Cass moved closer to them.
His steps slowed and he stopped again, mere paces
away from the small grove, his mind racing.
Are you crazy? What are you doing?
Well, you’re here and whatever it was, it
must be gone by now.
You hope.


He picked his way forward until he stood
directly before the thicket. There, he knelt and
slowly parted the stems and twigs with his bare
hands.
A fox had not been the perpetrator.
It had been the victim.
The body was still warm. Steam rose from the
crumpled form under the bush. Blood was
everywhere; the fox’s throat had been torn open.
The split breastbone showed white and jagged, and
blood streaked the snowy breast fur. Rich and red,
more blood lay smeared over forelimbs that still
twitched spasmodically.
What did this?
So quickly – in broad daylight?
Where did it go?
Even in the gloom, he had seen nothing leave
the thicket. A light rain pattered down but Cass
studied the ground, painstakingly working over the
area around the fox. Finally he stopped. Stunned and
fearful, he sat back on his heels.
Caspian Hythe looked about him – suddenly
needing to be sure, very sure, that whatever had just
been here and had just done this – was truly gone.


For it had left other evidence of its eagerness to kill,
if not to eat.
There in the damp soil, he had found the
tracks of what had killed the fox.
They coursed across the wet ground, bloodstained,
splayed, each greater than the length of his
fingers – they were the indents of horrific digits.
It was clear that those digits were tipped with
claws.
Deep enough to see in the failing light, the
prints resembled those of no animal he knew.
Like nothing I have ever seen before.

Chapter 4 - First, Light

Chapter 4 - FIRST, LIGHT

Bright over Guildford hung the full moon; brightly it
shone on the Mount.
There, the clear air rang with the calls of
night birds and the barely sensed trills of the bats as
they wheeled over Cass.
Concealed by the tall shrubs and trees that
ringed the southern edge of the graveyard, he
waited. A restless wind played across the grasses.
Above him, the moon circled as the slow hours crept
by.
There.
Near the Mount’s border closest to the river –
a glimmer of light in the pale mist moved from
headstone to headstone, weaving around the graves.
Finally, it passed right before him then, still cloaked
in mist, it started further up the hill.
No magic here.
Just a flashlight, like mine.
He untangled his cramped legs; he followed.
It didn’t take long.

Everything came to a halt in a natural
culvert, where tall trees nearly eclipsed the moon.
He drew closer. The massive down-swept arms of a
stone angel curved over him as he crouched, hidden
– and watched.
Not thirty paces away was a simple
monument. Its flat ivory marker was surmounted by
a high, white cross and there, the one that had
carried the light now stood.
That light was now extinguished.
There was no longer any need for it. The
flashlight hung limp in the watcher’s hand as both
he and the visitor by the grave stared, rapt and
amazed.
There were more than two visitors to this
grave that night.
For light there still was. A pulsing, soft aura
of radiance danced impossibly in the space before
the tomb.
At the very heart of the light, unnatural and
spectral, there stood clearly another figure. Small it
was, and thin, but it stood in plain sight, just as if it
were day – as if it were alive.
It’s a child. It’s a little girl.

She wore a white dress, thin and clinging.
Her arms and legs were bare in the night’s chill, a
chill that was penetrating, pervasive, one emanating
from the figure itself. And without warning, the
child that could not be a child, not in this place nor
in this time, finished its own regard of the tomb and
the white cross rising above it.
It turned. It stared directly back at the
motionless watcher standing mere steps away, and
Cass, hidden, transfixed, could see for himself the
face of the thing that waited at the grave. Lovely and
pale, with straight, smooth dark hair, the small face
turned again. A wave of vertigo flooded through
Cass for, this time – the dark, unseeing eyes, like
bottomless black pools – stared directly into his own.
The child’s pale hands shone with light. One
of them rose to the white skin of her chest just above
her dress – and the fingernails that passed across that
skin came away dark with blood. The spirit knelt
down. Its fingers dabbed back and forth over and
across the cold, flat stone before the monument, in a
grim parody of a quill being charged with ink.
Again, and again, the nails went back and forth,
from cold marble to colder flesh.

Close, too close, was the owl that passed
overhead and Cass flinched, clutching at the short
grass to steady himself.
When his eyes flew back to the grave, the
unearthly glowing form was gone – and with its
torch slipping from senseless fingers, the watcher at
the tomb stumbled forward and fell to the ground.
He leapt up. He reached the figure; his hands
went to the tumbled mass of limbs, shoes, coat and
small bag. He was relieved beyond words that what
he felt beneath his fingers seemed made of flesh and
blood.
He pushed aside the jacket’s hood to expose
the watcher’s face.
It’s her. It’s the girl I saw, it’s her.
He raised her off the ground, spilling her red
hair over his shoulder. The young woman roused,
clutching at him with white fingers and her eyes and
face were wild with fear.
That fear quickly changed to desperate relief,
then doubt. The girl lay in his arms, her eyes
searching his face, her voice low and plaintive.
“Did you see her? Did you see her, too?”

He nodded. He hauled her up onto her feet,
then followed her to the grave itself.
On the flat white marble plate at the foot of
the monument were lines of blood – words, written
in blood dark with age, dried and black as blood
could only be after long years had slipped away. A
pale cold mist, unnatural and moving as if alive hung
over the letters that even now were beginning to
fade, lifting away in an icy spume. But before they
did, before they vanished utterly from the cold
white slab, both he and the girl read the words that
had been scrawled there by a hand that no longer
existed, had not existed as human for more than
three quarters of a century.
Find the Servant, turn the Key.
Soul and Sorrow – set us free.
Cass studied the grave with its tall
monument, with its simple white cross and its name
writ there – the grave of Lewis Carroll – that had
somehow drawn this apparition. On the frigid flat
stone, now cleansed of its infernal message, the
moon shone on the inscription that living men had
carved into the bleak, white face.
“Where I am, there shall thy Servant be also.”

“Drink it. Drink all of it. Don’t move until you do.”
He replaced the brandy in the high cabinet.
Seated on the den sofa was the young woman with
hair like flame. Her hands were steady. With sudden
resolve, she set down her glass and looked at him.
“Say it again,” she demanded.
“I saw her too.”
“What did you see? What exactly did you
see?”
He made a restless circuit of the room,
struggling to force into some kind of accord what he
had seen, with its insufficiency to natural law.
“What I saw was a child; the figure of a girl.
Ten, maybe – in white, something pale, short, some
kind of dress that hung close to her body.”
“Like petals across her,” she offered.
“Yes.”
Somewhere between grey and green, his
guest’s eyes brightened.
“Her face?” she prompted.

“Pale – but her eyes…” The memory of those
eyes, moving but black and empty of life came again
and he swallowed hard. “Her eyes were dark, like
her hair. Her hair was short and straight.”
From outside, somewhere in the woods, there
floated up the muted, cry of an animal – in pain.
There were woods out there and the sound
came from far off. It was just a cry coming from out
of the night. Yet both of them flinched, together
they stared at the dark window; Cass broke the
breathless silence.
“Maybe more work of ‘The Surrey Puma.’”
That drew a look from his guest.
“The Surrey Puma,” he continued. “What the
papers suggest has been killing animals; again. First
accounts started in the sixties; folks claim to have
seen a cat-like thing hunting around the village.
Same as then; things died.”
She stared at the window again, as though
she might see something there. She shook her head.
Her voice was low in the room.
“It’s not the Surrey Puma. It’s not a puma at
all.”
He stared at her. “How do you know that?”

“It’s not what they think. It’s not what you
think. It’s nothing you have ever seen before.”
His jaw dropped. To hear her say that, his
very thoughts – but coming from a stranger, from
someone he had just met, and under such horrific
circumstances – in his own mind, he was
immediately back up at the Mount in an icy wind,
standing over the body of a viciously mangled fox.
“What’s your name,” he asked, wishing his
voice were steadier.
“Ava. Ava Fitzalan.”
“Caspian Hythe. My friends call me Cass. Ava
Fitzalan, there’s something you need to see.”

Chapter 7 - Wonder

Chapter 7 -WONDER

His aunt said nothing about that night, not about the
lateness of the hour of his return to the house or
about what had absorbed his time until then.
Much, much later, Cass would wonder at
this.
The next morning he found Abby in the
solarium; his aunt would always tend her plants
before her morning walks. Here, she fostered a
formidable collection of orchids and exotic plants,
whose fragile needs were at odds with the typical
English winter.
He stepped inside, met by a wave of warmth
and wet, the heat and high humidity at once
soothing and disturbing. He recalled coming here,
wandering happily as a child would; it seemed
lifetimes ago. Abby looked up and motioned him
nearer.
“Look at this, Cass. The orchids are finally
blooming – this one is ‘Casablanca.’ That one is
called ‘Black Eye Pea’ – it’s quite lovely. And this

bromeliad is the Royal’s Tears, or something like
that, I think – just look at how the pink stems end in
bright blue flowers, such a perfect blue.”
Her admiring gaze ranged across the tables
with their rich flowers and glossy foliage and she
took up her smallest pruning shears, busily engaged
in removing dry leaves from the stem of an
enormous bloom. Even in this place of safety, held
close in an embrace of soft light and warmth, Cass’
mind was elsewhere – he was back under dark trees
where some kind of hellish mouth had opened
nearly under his feet.
He finally spoke, stepping irrevocably across
the line that separated doubt from resolution.
“Abby. There’s something I need to know.
What does our family have to do – with Lewis
Carroll?”
Hovering above the orchid, her shears froze
in midair.
She did not turn to look at him. Slowly, the
shears were lowered, and returned to their place on
the long wooden table.

Pale late morning light filled the library. Beside the
low table near the couch, Abby poured a cup of tea.
Her nephew sat beside her, silent, expectant.
For some moments, she studied the cup’s
gilded edge and the nearly transparent porcelain
catching the light. In the amber liquid at the cup’s
bottom, tea leaves revolved, taking on fantastic
shapes.
Without speaking, she looked straight at
Cass, holding his eyes with hers. She rose and
walked to the library windows, and once more,
Abigail Hythe looked out onto her gardens. Once
more, as if in final assent, her eyes were drawn to
the old gate that led up to the Mount.
The Mount.
Where he lies.
She turned to her nephew.
“I’ll tell you; on one condition. First, that you
tell me the truth – what is on the Mount that has so
absorbed you, these last few days? The truth, Cass.”

“The truth?” he wondered. “The truth is
something I can no longer presume with certainty. I
doubt that you would believe me, Abby. No one
would.”
Something was in her gaze – in its directness,
its steadiness – he hurried on.
“Alright. I found something up there. I
learned something that has to do with the killings,
here in Guildford. The killings….”
His aunt’s hand came up.
“No! That’s quite enough.” She turned away,
struggling for a moment, it seemed.
Is she angry? No. She’s afraid of something.
She went to the desk, taking the old journal
from the drawer. She returned to him, putting it into
his hands.
“This was my father’s journal – your
grandfather’s, Cass. I’ve marked the pages for you.”
“Marked the pages? What pages?”
She sat beside him. She motioned to the
book; Cass began to read. Page after page turned. A
stream of widely varied emotions crossed his face,
from wonder, through doubt, to stupefaction.

Finally, slowly, he closed the book. He
studied its cover. His long fingers played over the
age- softened leather. He placed the book on the
table before him, looking up to find that his aunt
was gazing at him appraisingly.
“Is that the writing of a mad man, Cass? Do
you think he was mad?”
“No. No; I remember grandfather. He wasn’t
mad; I know he was young when he wrote this, but
he wasn’t mad. I’m not mad, either. I found its
tracks, up on the Mount, Abby. I found what it
killed up there. I haven’t actually seen the thing –
but, I have seen the grave. I’ve seen a little girl. And
now – the hole, itself. There’s no doubt in my mind.
What’s in that journal, what grandfather was trying
to relate about what his own father had told him – I
haven’t a doubt in the world, anymore. I believe it. I
think that Carroll actually went below.”
She let out a long breath.
“There have been times, Cass, when I
questioned my own sanity. It was so long ago, it
seemed like a dream. When the call came to my
grandfather – to come to the house, to listen to a
dying man – that was the day my father was writing

about. Carroll told him about his – journey – under.
That book, that children’s story – that ‘thing’ he
concocted for the Liddell children, it was nothing
more than that. A concoction. I find it amusing,
amazing even – that what entertained those
children, and has delighted all the world, since, it
seems – actually kept the man from completely
losing his mind. He turned it into a fairy tale; it was
very clearly anything but. Carroll exacted a promise
from my grandfather, that he would do what was
necessary – when the time came.”
“Do what was necessary? You mean, go there
himself? But my grandfather didn’t go under, either,
did he?”
“No, he didn’t. I think he was afraid, too
afraid. You see, he believed the story, too.”
“But Abby …...”
She rose and paced.
“I know, I know – and it was a deathbed
promise. My father never kept it. Neither did your
father. It wasn’t kept in your father’s time either,
even though Randolph knew it had been promised.
Cass, your father read that journal himself; I can say
with certainty that he believed it. But he had a

family, he had responsibilities; he thought – I don’t
know what he thought. He made a choice, he chose
not to go. Then it began all over again, the killings
started again, in your own father’s time.”
“My God,” said Cass.
The grandfather wouldn’t, the father – he
couldn’t…..
In his mind, he saw a playing card with all its
hearts jet-black, as black as the eyes that had stared
out, greedily, tauntingly into his. “It’s really back,
Abby, the gryphon is back. It’s come back up, the
proof was there, up on the Mount. I found it again,
just last night – at the portal itself.”
Her head lowered, and her voice went down
to whisper.
“I had so wished … but, no. Now I wonder; I
wonder.”
Taking up the journal, Cass rose and went to
the windows. He, too, looked out at the gardens –
and at the little gate.
“I know what you’re wondering, Abby. It’s
what I’m wondering. Can it be any more necessary
– than now? If someone doesn’t go – what happens

next? What gets killed next – if ‘what’s necessary’
isn’t finally done?”
She went to him and took the book from his
hands.
“I can’t answer this for you. You’re a man
now. It’s no longer for me to tell you what to do,
what must be done. But, I can tell you I’m afraid,
Cass. I’m afraid for us all – but how very much more
afraid I am – for you.”

“I have to do this.”
“No. You don’t,” he insisted.
“Yes, I do. What else can I do? What other
course of action is possible, Cass? I’m listening.”
He had no answer for the young woman
sitting across from him at the pub, with her hair
gleaming in the thin autumn sunshine.
Earlier that afternoon, when she had
returned from her walk, Abby had found her
nephew once more in the library. This time, he had
not been alone; the aunt had smiled at seeing the
stunning, red haired beauty with him. That aunt had

unexpectedly embraced the nephew and, with bright
eyes, had eagerly shaken hands with his visitor,
again asking no question – other than to enquire
after the fair guest’s birth date. It seemed no great
surprise that the two young people were going out to
the pub. Neither had she raised an eyebrow at his
request for an early dinner. But she had watched
them from the open door as they had made their
way toward the village – and the smile had gone
from her face.
The pub was crowded, and noisy and happy.
The two at the corner table were wholly oblivious to
all of it. Ava tapped restless fingers on her glass. She
was waiting to hear the plan, the real plan, the plan
other than the obvious one, the one that Cass or any
other sane person under normal circumstances
might justify offering.
No plan came.
“Think for a minute, Cass. What would the
police say, what would anyone say, if we presented
them with this?”
He made a vague, non-committal snort about
long therapy sessions.
“I’m going in,” she repeated.

“Ava …”
“No, I’m going to do this. I’m going
underground. I think I have to. I’m supposed to.
That thing does it – it clearly goes in and out. Why
not me? I’m going in, and I’m going to get to the
bottom of this.”
He finished his drink.
“Bad pun, Fitzalan. But, no – you’re not going
in. We are.”
They spoke for a long time; there was a lot to
say and even more not to say, for suddenly things
seemed to have changed. Then, they parted, in a
perverse kind of grim accord as to what must happen
next. Cass left the pub, so absorbed in what was
going through his mind that he had no clear
recollection of taking the long way home, crossing
the Wye, turning up the Guilddown Road to finally
reach the lawns and wide stone porch of the Hythe
residence.
It was all a whirl – the events of the past few
days; a fox ripped apart, a face impossibly alive on a
laptop screen, an altar stone with an awful and
uncanny secret beneath it. Finally, there was now
the insane prospect of attempting to penetrate the

mystery firsthand. Yet he was a reasonable man and
therefore torn – to proceed or not proceed? It was
madness, either way. At no point in his journey did
he stop vacillating; at least not until he had the
house in sight and started up the leaf strewn stone
path leading to the door.
It was there that his indecision vanished.
Like a man struck by lightning, Cass stared
down. He stood on dirt as familiar, as ordinary as
common dirt could be. Across the yard, a cold wind
blew more dry leaves, lifting those on the path; they
rustled, skittering like so many sere, brown hands
clutching at his shoes. Yet, when the wind had died
down and the walk itself was cleared, his heart
hammered in his chest.
His purpose might still be in doubt, but his
resolve was clear.
There, below him, at the very door of the
place where his only existing family lived in
suddenly tenuous safety – lay a present, the token of
a recent visitor.
It was wet, glistening, as simple and as grimly
mocking as might be a thrown gauntlet – with a
newly severed hand still inside. It lay in plain sight,

as disdainfully in plain sight as had been a face that
had stared out of some innocent foliage, captured in
an archaic, time-worn photograph, still animated by
dreadful life.
A pretty little present; freshly torn from yet
another hapless victim – there in the dirt lay a heart.
It lay at his very door, and beside it, as foully
crimson as was the heart itself – was the track of the
gryphon.

It started as well as it could.
While Cass was out, Ava had appeared early
at their doorstep for supper; with her was a light
knapsack, uncannily similar to the one that, with
some difficulty, he had returned to leave readied by
the front door.
How do you prepare for something like this?
What do you bring?
What do you bring with you if – just possibly
– you might be going to Hell?

Dinner was finally finished. Abby’s nephew
unexpectedly held her close, and she herself did not
let Ava leave without an embrace. However, there
was a strange look in her eyes as she watched them
wordlessly prepare to leave the house, looking more
like burglars than lovers.
This was a woman grounded, skilled and
faithful. Yet a sensation had been growing since the
early part of the day. Now, at the last, again it had
hit her – a feeling of dread promptly overtook the
mistress of the house just as the door had closed
behind them.
So overpowering was the feeling of portent
that she rushed after them, flinging the door open in
a mad attempt to call them back.
The light of the full moon, at once sobering
and ominous, cascaded across the stone paved porch,
and leaves pranced in the breeze. But Abigail Hythe
stood in her doorway, trembling for no reason that
she could name, seeking a solace that might now
never come.
Except for the moon above and the mournful
sound of the wind in the trees, she stood there alone.
It was too late.

They were already gone.

“Are you sure about the phone?”
“I tried,” she said. “More than once; the closer
you get to this thing, the faster the signal goes
haywire.”
She extinguished her torch. Awash in ribbons
of moonlight, with her hair ruffled by the wind and
her cheeks flushed, Cass regarded Ava as she stood
by the altar stone.
Anywhere but here – in just this kind of
moonlight – I want to see her just like this.
Anywhere but here.
She took her eyes off the altar stone and
looked at him suddenly.
“Cass – what do you think it is – really? I’ve
been going over in my mind what you said earlier; it
does make some crazy kind of sense.”
“I hear a ‘but’ hanging there somewhere,” he
said.
“You know it,” she said, and shivered.

He shivered too; both of them were warmly
dressed. But they stood before the altar stone; again,
the earth seemed to pull at them. He, too,
extinguished his light and they waited for their eyes
to meet the dark.
“I think it’s some kind of spatial rift. A hole
that can somehow open, that has opened into our
own world. It must be a portal. For the rest of it –
what actually controls the thing, why you seem to
be able to make it do this, and what I have to bring
to the table – I haven’t a clue. Why the gryphon can
go in and out of that hole is beyond me.”
She knelt down, scrutinising the stone’s moss
encrusted edge.
“And gryphons do not exist? Maybe they do
exist – down there,” she said.
Laughter burst from him. The idea of the two
of them deliberately crawling into some kind of
unpredictably unstable hyperspace was suddenly
ludicrous, as mad as the possibility – the real
probability – that imaginary animals might also be
able to exist in that space.
There was no chance to argue the absurdity
of any of it. Without warning – Ava leaned forward

– her bare hand reached into the space below the
stone.
It came instantaneously this time.
Eagerly, voraciously, from deep within the
cobweb – limned space beneath the massive altar, it
rose. As if in welcome answer to a dreadful
summons – pale blue light welled up.
This time it was torrential, billowing like a
stream. Pulsing and swirling, now it coursed toward
them, up past the lip of the stone and before Cass
could move, the fingers of the girl at his feet were
bathed in sapphire. With a cry, Ava plunged in her
other hand; it, too, floated in luminescence.
The portal responded – icy now, the air itself
bent, moving in his sight, crackling and roaring.
In a sudden surge, radiance erupted up and
outward from the space beneath the looming altar.
Then, growing out of its very heart – a chasm less
black than the utter absence of light ripped open,
gaping steadily wider and deeper.
He tumbled down beside her and seized her
arm. At his contact with the girl, the light spilled
forward, enfolding him as well and the iridescent air

rippled and tore. His flesh crawled, stinging, as
though raked by icy claws.
Cass’ hair lifted in a frigid wind, one that
moaned, for now surely, there was a kind of voice
there, under the deafening resonance of chaos. Her
own hair floating, the face of the girl beside him
convulsed in terror.
He could no longer see anything. His senses
were torn, as wildly uncontrollable as the fear that
lashed at him – as above the lip of the stone, a
symbol, as clear as if carved from glacial ice,
coalesced, taking on awful life seemingly out of the
tortured air itself. One by one, five shadowy squares
took form. Joined at the center, a square that was not
a square floated, measureless, ever changing. The
sides were innumerable now and the quincunx in all
its parts began to rotate, its sides folding and
unfolding in upon themselves, and words began to
form in Cass’ mind.
And in the twelfth part, there shall I be, and
there shall Thy Sign be also.
He fell forward into a vacuum, a nothingness
that was limitless, without dimension. A searing
blast of heat and cold and voices howling in anger

curled over him – then both the light and girl were
swept from his sight.

Chapter 11 - Undine

Chapter 11 - UNDINE

Nothing happened. Ava turned the knob hard,
repeatedly – the door remained firmly locked.
“Damn,” she cried and in a rage, she struck
the door with her gloved fist. This time it rattled
mightily in its jamb – it did not open, but where her
blow had landed, a deep crack had now appeared in
the wood’s fine surface.
It wasn’t enough; from the far end of the
corridor, the wall of water advanced.
“The Key,” he cried. “Try the Key!”
She pulled it from her pocket. Yet at the
approach of the Key to the keyhole, a great arc of
sparks now erupted and floated angrily around the
golden thing. Ava dropped it; steam rose from the
Key on the floor where it lay in a sheer puddle of
water; the girl retrieved it.
“It doesn’t work, why doesn’t it work? Cass,
don’t you have anything that would open a door?”
There came a nerve jolting crash of water and
then an eerie silence and they stared down the hall.

The wave, massive, still mounting, impossibly
like a tidal wave that roiled and surged had paused,
hovering in mid air – now suddenly, it swept rapidly
forward and Cass stared at it as it thundered toward
them.
“Water doesn’t move like that!” he insisted
angrily.
“It does here,” she cried. “And here – it can
kill us!”
“Screw the Key,” he shouted. With his booted
foot, he landed a mighty kick directly on the door’s
face.
The wooden surface held, but with a crashing
sound, the entire door sprang open, away from
them, and they bolted into the dark space just
seconds before the wave began to crest fully and fall
in the hall behind them.

“Where in Hell are we now?”
The door had slammed shut behind them,
blocking most of the corridor’s light.

“Another hall, I think,” Ava replied. “It’s a
hallway in a house.”
Nearly obscured by shadows, windows lined
the walls – but whatever lay outside the large, many
chambered house could not be seen.
Is it night out there?
Or is there something out there that makes
the dark?
“This way!” she called, and now he, too, saw
the immense stairway just ahead. Deeply fashioned
in dark wood, it curved high, leading to the floors
above and from at least that first landing – pale light
came down.
There was no choice; water had begun to
pool at their feet. From the closed door at their
backs, a faint creaking was heard, low but growing
louder. They took to their heels, taking the stairs
two at once.
“How did Alice get out of this?” he gasped.
They had halted on a landing, having raced many
floors up. The stairs seemed endless, rising upward
interminably, at least four or five levels higher than
where they stood. Yet up was the only way out –
from far below, the sound of slowly splintering

wood reached them, and Ava panted out Carroll’s
solution as they ran upward.
“She swam – out of the lake of tears she
herself had cried. That was after she changed size
from huge to three inches tall. And I don’t see that
option here!”
She was right; below them, water was
creeping up, slowly submerging the stairs one by
one, landing by landing. A breach must have opened
far below, the door might hold completely only
moments more.
They flew upward level after level, nearly
colliding with one another at the very top – for the
stairs and stairwell ended abruptly at a blind landing
– with no exit.
At least not one they could use. There, at the
top of the landing, one wall held a large window.
It was a plain, ordinary window. One that
might appear in any house you might happen to
have, if you lived in a castle. The window was wide,
but barred; heavy iron bars filled the frame, top to
bottom. The space between those bars was less than
a foot across – far too narrow to allow them to
escape.

“What now?” Cass cried, as he tried and
failed to budge even one of the bars from the
window’s frame.
The Knight pulled her dagger. Fiercely she
began to whittle away the wood that held the
nearest bar in place. The blade tore away chunk after
chunk of frame, but not enough to free the bar. She
renewed her assault. Perspiration soon matted the
red hair and the bar she worked on loosened in its
place – but only that. He joined her at the window.
They yanked at the bar, striking it, tearing at it,
while it steadfastly resisted every effort to dislodge it
from its place.
Then both drew back in horror – within the
wall, the window – bars and all – had begun to
move. A low slithering, groaning sound came from
the area about the window as slowly but steadily the
window rose higher and higher in the wall’s surface.
In moments it would be above their heads. In
moments any hope of using the window as an exit
would be lost.
Dark water now swirled in the stairwell less
than a landing below them. The Knight turned to
him, and shouted in desperation.

“Cass! Do something!”
Use what you have – or die.
It was there in his head – the Gryphon’s
words, its warning.
A strange calm descended over him. The
Knave was filled with sudden need, an urge, potent,
overwhelming. His mind went utterly blank; still
without thinking, with only the vision of their
struggling out their last moments, choking under
water – he tore open the bag at his belt and thrust in
his hand.
His hand came out – a card lay across his
palm.
The Queen of Cups.
Ava stood motionless. She watched as the
face of the young man at her side paled, and his eyes
focused on something infinitely far in the distance.
A light shone about him and Caspian Hythe spoke,
and the Chevalière, with her hand still reaching for
the bar that could not be freed, was silent, rapt.
The Joker’s voice, low yet penetrating, was
unlike anything she had ever heard before, as if it
came from another time, another realm. The voice
seemed everywhere at once, imperious, charged

with a dark, terrible power. A chanting song,
commanding and irresistible, came to stirring life in
the stairwell.
“I call the West …..
I call the West …
….of Cups – the Queen.
Her heart unknown, Her face unseen.
From the waters – UNDINE rise!
Drownéd land, and nimbus skies.
Mistress of the sea-washed sand,
Hearken Ye at my command!
Hear my Call! To All below!
Stay the waters – halt the flow!
I call… the West….”
From deep below them, a low pounding
came, as of the crashing of waves as they rolled over
a beach, a beach infinitely distant, made of countless
small stones, whose whisper rose up, even as the
waves receded. Then, from those very depths, came
something that stopped the breath of the girl with
the dagger still in her hand.

It was a song, it could be little else, and it
grew, echoing up from far down the drowned
stairwell whose flights were now flooded with dark,
deep emerald tides.
It rose from the water itself. There were
words in the song, pure and sweet and ethereal, full
of the story of water – of liquid rising and falling, of
water dropping as rain, pattering from ice daggers as
they melted into life giving streams, as rivulets that
sparkled and rippled with the music of the earth
itself.
And throughout the song streamed colour.
Sapphire, royal blue, opal, the light- filled shades of
every sea on earth were in the melody that rose, and
Ava stared down at the water that now slowed in its
ascent. The water’s surface moved, for something
was crawling up the flooded stairs, taking them one
by one, as it made its way up through the water,
drawing closer and closer to them.
Finally, she beheld it clearly – the creature
with hair long and streaming, hair that floated about
a face half maiden and half fish, a woman whose
wide eyes were so nearly human, whose gills
fluttered, opening and closing softly, in time with

the tide that was heard and felt, yet was utterly
unseen. Her body, nearly at the surface now, was
clothed in sheer fabric that sparkled – or was it Her
skin, covered with countless scales, minute and
trembling, like scintillating sparks of rainbow- hued
droplets catching a hidden moon’s iridescent light?
The Undine’s head reached and broke the
water’s surface. As Her form passed above it, and as
She rose to stand, Her feet remained bathed in dark,
flowing water, and words came to float in the air,
even as Her hair lifted and swirled about the face of
the Elemental.
Gazing at Her, Cass slowly went down upon
his knees. The being looked down upon him. Like
the faint, irresistible murmur of wind over water,
Her speech echoed in the stairwell, even as his had
done.
“The West replies…
The Key is played and turned and cast,
Its power fled while moments passed.
UNDINE risen! See them fall!
Fates of men, and waters – All!
Beware! The Woods hold golden eyes.

Sweetest tongue hides deadly size!
You have but single passage won,
The Card is played – the Key is gone!”
On his knees, the Joker turned Mage stared
up at Her.
Beautiful, She was, pure as sunlight playing
over the waves, powerful as the thundering surf that
foams, disguising the deadly thrall of the seas on
every shore. The card slipped from his shaking
fingers – before it touched the waters curling about
the Undine’s feet, the paper had folded, and
shriveled and vanished into a wisp of pale, verdant
smoke.
The creature stepped forward.
Then She bent low, before the Mage.
Drawing his face to Hers, She kissed the young man
on his knees at Her feet.
She rose. Sea-green eyes now held those of
the Knight. The Undine stepped back, away, down
into waters that were slowly sinking, dissolving into
them even as sand, freed from its earthly prison,
explodes into wild, surging freedom in the
welcoming surf.

Down, down the water sank, unveiling stair
after stair, a waterfall in reverse – in moments it
would be a trickle, soon it would utterly disappear,
out of sight far below.
With his face and hair drenched with sweat,
Cass rose unsteadily to his feet. A small line of blood
showed at his nostril. Ava spoke his name.
He did not move.
He could not hear her.
To him, both the landing and the stairwell
seemed to grow dim, darkening – what he saw and
still heard in his mind was the sea, the soft, soothing
sound of waves, of water eternal and irresistible –
and a sweet song that lingered, inviting, alluring –
urging him to come, to follow.
Blind to everything about him, oblivious to
the girl at his side, his hand reached out, reached out
longingly, hungrily, down – toward dark water that
still swirled, receding below them. The Knight cried
out. The Mage stumbled then, nearly losing his
footing, lurching hard against the wall.
Suddenly he felt strong arms about him,
gripping him tightly.

Holding him up by sheer force, steadying
him, with legs spread wide to pinion him against the
wall, Ava’s hands were over him, on his chest, his
face, touching his cheek, his lips, and she called his
name, over, and over. When his vision finally
cleared, her face was beside his, her eyes searching
his.
He was still breathing hard but now he could
see her clearly. She was close, her body pressed
against his, her red hair blazing, her lips moist,
parted. So close was she to him, that he was aware of
her scent, full and sweet about him.
Full, and sweet – and human. Fitz.
“Hey. Welcome back,” she murmured. Her
hand rose to his forehead, pushing aside a lock of his
wet hair.
She released him then. She watched the
water as it drained away, stair by stair, taking with it
the Undine’s spell. Amazed, her hands dropped to
her side – even as, from the window once more
stationary and at eye level with their heads, the iron
bar she had sought to free slid loose from its place
and clattered to the floor at their feet.

Cass rose. He looked into the mist that
seethed and furled around him – and a form
appeared, drawing closer and closer to him until,
finally, when the last vestiges of vapor had peeled
away at last – there, just steps away – stood the
Knight.
Her sword was in its sheath; her gloved hands
hanging free at her side. She drew closer and halted.
A warm smile lit the features of Ava Fitzalan – her
eyes were still bright as the mist swelled, covering
her again. Yet before she vanished, before he lost
sight of her utterly, he heard her voice as it might
come from a great distance.
Return.
The Knight was gone.
Caspian Hythe turned.
He walked away, finally taking the path that
led to the tomb of his father; the haze began to close
around the young man as he walked across the
Mount.
From the tall grass near the path, with no
more than a rustle – a head rose up.