This is the final story in the Chronicles of Mark Johnson-my award wining book.
THE TALISMAN OF PETROCHIAN
Mark was sitting in his old armchair, when the phone rang.
“Hi, Phil, what's on your mind this lovely day?”
“Hi, Mark, I have just got off the phone and I’m none the wiser. I had a call from someone claiming to hold the Talisman of Petrochian; does that mean anything to you?”
“The Talisman, if it exists, is supposed to control one of the most fearsome demons of these lands.”
“You say ‘if!’”
“Yes, there are a lot of rumours. Some say it doesn’t exist at all, others say it’s buried deep in a volcanic island somewhere.”
“If it does exist, what would this demon be able to do?”
“The demon does exist, Phil, of that I have no doubts. It is the Talisman that is in doubt.”
“How do you know this demon exists?”
“I've been studying the elemental atmospheric changes and something is charging the elementals up with new energy, and that can only be bad news.”
“What do you mean charging them up? Like a battery?”
“Yes. Only this battery has many outlets, all dangerous and some with unknown powers. I’ll put the phone on the speaker so Annette can explain the spiritual reading she's been receiving.”
“Hi, Phil, I have been getting some shapes, sizes and colours that I haven’t seen before as well. That IS worrying me!” Annette said.
“Excuse me for being out of touch here, Annette. Could you explain a bit more, please?”
“Certainly, Phil. All elementals spread a wave of colours around them. That is how I can see them. My guide then tells me which is colour wash and which is form.”
“I partially understand now, thanks.”
“That's how I help Mark. I see without being too involved in the action. The same as a person outside the forest sees the woods and routes out, whereas somebody inside the forest just sees a mass of trees.”
“I couldn't have made it clearer myself,” Mark commented.
Phil asked, not really wanting to know the answer, “So, from these shapes and signals you are getting, just how serious is the situation?”
“This is Olde Earth Magic, Phil, deep rooted in fear and hatred,” Annette answered.
Phil was thinking of more questions as they talked, but not really wanting to ask them. Still, he knew he had to. “If all these powers are building as you say - and I don't doubt you for a moment - is there any chance of beating them?”
Mark replied “There's always a chance. The same as there is always the chance we won’t!”
“As was the case you told me of, in Parleby,” Phil remarked.
“Yes, that's right.” Mark replied.
“Mark, the demon does exist and it's gathering elementals. What is its next move?” Phil asked getting worried.
Mark didn't hesitate as he said, “Normally, we could try to anticipate a move ahead but here, with so many involved, and a variety of scenarios, we are having to react, rather than anticipate moves.”
“Can Annette help you if these demons come out then?”
Annette replied worriedly, “I think I can for a short time but only for a short period at a time, love. This would be a huge battle for us to take the demons on and would take an enormous energy.”
Phil was getting more worried but he to ask, “Have you any idea, when these demons might appear, Mark?”
Mark looked at Annette, and then seeing their worried faces, he said “All I can say for sure is that it won’t happen for at least two to three weeks, Phil.”
“What makes you think that, love?” queried Annette.
“I’ve been watching you paint, love. I can see many colours but as yet, no real shapes although we feel they are coming through. But Phil, I have a question for you now.”
“Go on, Mark.”
“Here we all are, talking of demons, Petrochian and forces. Have you proved the call was genuine?”
“No. I was just checking to see what, if anything, you knew of the Talisman.”
‘For all we know, this is a hoax.”
“I thought because he knew the name, it was real, sorry.”
“Not to worry; it’s an easy mistake to make. Did he mention where or how he got it?”
“All he said was that he was on a cliff face and dived to avoid a landslide. When he got up, there it was in a crevice, a yellow, black and silver amulet.”
“From the description, it sounds real enough, Phil,” Mark replied.
“You said there is NO proof it existed.”
“That’s true, until you described it to me. NOW we have the proof.”
“You say we have two or three weeks. What shall we do?” Phil asked.
Pausing for a short while Annette said, “Mark and I need to get away for a while, to be alone, so we can charge our batteries and get our focus right.”
“Do you have some idea where the attack will start?” Phil asked.
“None for now, that is why we need to reconnect so badly,” Mark replied.
“I always thought you two had a deep spiritual link!” Phil exclaimed.
Looking pale and shaken, Annette said, “At Parleby, we almost lost it. If it hadn’t been for Rachel, Mark would be dead now.”
Phil asked, “You told me how close it was with that thing. Didn’t you think it was a bit odd that such a powerful medium should be at such a little known fair when you wanted her?”
“I didn’t really think too much of it as it was such a gathering of spiritual people. There's always the chance a lady of that power might get drawn to it. It turned out that she knew Mark from their Uni days. She's a psychic reader too,” Annette replied.
“You said ‘drawn to it,’ Annette.” Phil remarked.
“Yes, as iron filings to a magnet. We spirituals can feel the surge of powers from within. It is only a matter of which events we choose to go to,” Annette said.
While the conversation was going on, Mark was lost in thought. Looking out to sea and wondering if he would make it through this battle, as he had never felt such raw powers before. Usually Annette could paint her spirit images at the most in a few hours, but this time, she had been working for weeks. Yet there was no sign of any form appearing, which could only mean one thing: There were so many demons, fighting for dominance, she had great trouble focussing on them.
Annette broke his silence with a question, “Mark, where are your thoughts?”
“I was just wondering if we will get through. We have such a nice life here. I would hate to think of losing it.” Mark said looking worried.
Annette replied, “Think only of the battle or all else is lost. Think only of the thoughts of the guiding spirits, of how they can show the ways.”
“I know to trust in them, I just have doubts about my strength and resilience for the battle ahead!” Mark said.
“You were strong enough to overcome your fears at North Moor, and we know how that haunted you for years,” Annette said, trying to calm his fears.
“That was the difference, though, North Moor was about my demons and I had to fight them off. This is an outside demonic infestation, of what type and in what numbers, we don’t know.”
“Do you have any idea where you will be going? Or for how long?” Phil asked growing more concerned as the talk went on.
Mark replied, “The first part I can answer, as the place is not far from here. Whittley Manor. I went to Wharfemere Abbey when I quit the glam scene to find myself again. As to the second, I have no ideas. Only the spirits can guide me.”
“You said two to three weeks!” Phil remarked.
“That’s an estimate. It won’t be less but could be more,” Mark replied.
“How will I know when you are ready?” Phil asked.
Annette replied next, “I will phone you to say we are back, Phil.”
The next few days passed slowly as Mark gathered his things from around the house and collected his thoughts, hardly speaking and moving like a phantom. At times Annette wondered if he even knew she was still there or if he cared. At the same time, she also knew this was the only way he could prepare for what lay ahead for them.
The drive out to Whittley Manor was a silent one. Annette knew, as much as Mark would have loved to chat, this was not the time or place. He needed total concentration on the job ahead. The bleak abbey stood atop the vast hills, looking down upon the grounds of Whittley Manor, normally a sight to inspire Mark, looking proud as ever, with its majestic walls hidden behind centuries of wooded lands and nestled into the bend of the river Carnmouth. Today, things could not be worse. Not only was the worry over the battle clouding his imagery, but there were also, some threatening thunder clouds on the move.
Mark muttered, “Thank you, Lord, as if I didn't have enough to contend with, now you add your touch.”
Half asleep, Annette muttered, “Did you speak, love?”
“I was just musing about the weather and how the Lord is playing tricks with us now,” Mark replied.
The approach to the abbey was along the river bank. Knowing the area well, Mark took a right turn off the road and circled the hill, slowly getting closer to the abbey as he did.
Seeing what was happening Annette asked, “Is that what I thought it was?”
“That depends what you think, love,” Mark replied.
Noticing the ever closing circle the car was making as it neared the abbey, Annette said, “A psychic defence circle possibly?”
“In that case, yes, you are right. We need all the help we can get, and we need it quickly.”
The car stopped outside the ruined abbey, bare walls protruding above the hill, windows long since fallen through. Mark looked about the ruination, and thought, “I hope to return here. When all this is over.”
Annette climbed out of the car and started the long walk with her lover up the hill. She took in the worldly beauty of the settings, a place she had only heard Mark mention briefly.
The abbey, with its vast panorama of all of Wharfemere, was the ideal setting for a psychic recharge. All around, energies were buzzing, and the lovers could sense the build-up. The 14th century abbey had stood various attempts to destroy it from kings to bombers, from fires to vandals. Yet it had stood firm, battered by the elements, worn with age, but still defiantly standing.
Mark had told Annette that they would have to camp out for the period of the siege, as the nearest village was almost five miles away and they had to be on the site at all times.
“This will be our finest hour or our final hours,” Mark muttered as he walked the area. Every fifty paces, he chanted it; it became his mantra.
Annette had taken a position on the North wall and was meditating, getting her thoughts together as she summoned her guide, all the time hoping she would have the strength to help Mark fight what was coming. As she slowly came out of the trance, she began to paint, slowly, her paintings clearing as she began to see through the mists. Shapes merged into unseen beings as she painted the aural imagery. There were multi-headed beings, beings with spectral form and all around them was a mass of grey energy, so dense it seemed impenetrable.
Mark watched as the various shapes took form, some he recognised, others he had only heard about. There were one or two he had no ideas about. These did worry him, because he did not know what forces could combat them. Unusually for Mark, he did not go into meditation for this battle; he went to the South wall of the abbey and viewed the area. All he saw were the rolling hills but his senses told him that under there was the building of raw energy and whoever took control of it, could turn this battle. With the thunder rolling in and lightning casting eerie shadows over the abbey, it was not hard to imagine a demonic struggle for possession of one’s soul. That is why the abbey had been built here, a fortress to the souls, the same way a fort or castle needs a good defensive position. Wharfemere Abbey predated the forts in the area.
Days passed slowly, the only changes came when Annette went to get food and coffee. All the time Mark stood a vigilant guard, never once flinching despite the driving winds or the thunder from the south. When he had first confirmed the Talisman’s existence, he knew there were only two choices to make, either he would win the day or die. There would be no retreat to lick wounds; the battle would be to the death.
Looking at Mark and seeing his concerned face, Annette asked him, “What is the talisman, love? How is it going to help us?”
Mark said with a sigh, “It acts like a vacuum to attract the essence’s powers and traps them. Once in the talisman, their powers are controlled if not defeated.”
“Do you know who has the talisman?”
“I haven’t got any idea at all. Phil’s caller didn’t reveal his name, so I can’t even take a guess.”
Mark was feeling the build-up of pressures. Annette’s paintings were getting clearer as the mass took shape. Mark saw a fiendish being that he hoped had never existed or if it did, he prayed every day he would not meet it.
Annette looked around to catch him biting his lip. “Darling, what’s up? All the years and battles you fought, I never saw you bite your lip.”
Looking worried Mark replied, “That’s because until now, I always believed I could win. Even if it was going to be close. Here, seeing that creature in the grey, the odds are certainly against me coming through this time.”
“What is that thing?”
“It hasn’t got a name, form or mass. It purely exists in all dimensions, yet at the same time in no dimension.”
“How can it do that?”
“What we see is what we are supposed to know about.”
“Even as a spirit painter, you have lost me now, darling.”
“The best way to explain it is in terms we can understand. It’s like an onion, each dimension is a layer. If you drive a knife through it, which layer is it in? None, as it passes through and does not stop. Yet at the same time, we can see it is in the layer.”
“Is there a way to beat this being?”
“It’s been around for centuries, and nobody has found a way yet. Each time some mystic challenges it, it defeats him or her and devours his or her power.”
As they sat huddled together for warmth, they realised this may be their last time together. The night came in, colder than the previous week. The fire sparked wildly as Mark stood guard over Annette as she lay huddled in a corner out of the wind and driving rains. With eyes dulled with the pains of constantly staring and ears sharpened to listen for any sounds, he paced up and down the walls, never thinking of what was to come, because to think ahead would lessen the fighting zeal and any slight weakness meant a greater chance of defeat. At the dawn of the 15th day, Annette was bringing Mark his morning coffee and a cheese and pickle roll, when she stopped in her tracks and dropped it all.
Wandering over the hill was a man, carrying nothing more than a rucksack. He walked with a limp as he slowly approached the abbey. Even from this far away, Mark knew him not only from his gait but for the times together they had shared.
Annette watched as a smile crossed his lips for the first time in two weeks. “Do you know him, love?”
“Sure, that’s Pat Sammels, ex-pilot, now travelling man. I wonder what he is doing here, though.”
“The same Pat Sammels you went to Uni with?”
“The one and only. His limp is the result of an air crash many years ago; he was lucky to survive.”
As Pat approached the abbey, he stopped, crossed himself and then carried on.
“Still as pious as ever I see, Pat.” Mark called to his friend.
“Never lose your faith, man. Once you do, you’re lost. I found that out in the jungles,” Pat said, his Australian twang coming on strong.
“Pat, I would like you to meet the gorgeous Annette.”
“Good to meet you, Annette. I would love to stay but an old warrior cannot help in this war; it’s for you young ’uns.” Pat laughed, as he went past Mark and handed him the rucksack.
“Do I owe you for this, Pat?”
“No, all you need do is get us a pie and a beer in town when you get back, then we are evens. It was doing nothing in my house, so I figured you might be able to use it.”
Annette called to Pat, just as the old Aussie was about to leave “Pat, how did you find us out here?”
“My old tracker spirits from the aboriginals guided me.”
“Thanks, Pat,” called Mark.
All Pat did as he left was cross himself again and give a smile, then he walked off down the hillside.
With the dew still on the grass, it should have been a beautiful sight for the ever romantic Mark. However, all he could think about was that he had to get in tune with the sounds of the earth spirits, as they shifted, sensing something was coming. Mark called to Annette, “Place Pat’s sack at the north wall, love!”
“What's in it?”
“I can’t explain now, just trust me please!”
Dashing to the north wall, Annette looked around and saw a crevice where she could put the sack. Running back to Mark, she called out, “What do you feel, love?”
“Something is approaching from the northwest, large and fast for its size.”
Before he could answer, there was a thunderous roar as a creature the size of a buffalo with the speed of a deer leapt at the wall, fangs flashing in the morning light, claws ripping at the stonework, the large bricks crumbling as its acidic hands touched them, creating holes, where the light shone through, in the defences around Annette and Mark. Mark leapt at it with all his strength, wrestling against the claws and watching the poisonous fangs and claws, making sure they did not touch his skin. He struggled for his life, finally overcoming his adversary, then flinging him to the floor. As he did, the container in the wall glowed and the creature dispersed.
“I never expected that!” Annette said, with an astonished look on her face.
“Listen carefully,” he whispered.
As they listened, they heard a tiny cry of pain.
“What's that?” she asked.
“First blood to us. The creature of grey has lost a little strength now, but the war is far from done.”
Mark paused to catch a quick breath, then jumped, turned and struck a creature approaching from behind Annette. She turned so her spirit guide could guide his hands, and when they moved around to fight, her guide enveloped them both. With swift blows, they struck at the assailants until all they could hear were the cries of the dead.
As they sat, gasping for breath, and seeing their guides’ spirits slowly fading with the battle, Mark turned, kissed Annette and said “It’s been lovely, being with you, darling. We had great times and great loving, but this is it. Our guides have all but gone, we are dead on our feet and the worst is yet to come. We have no defences left. The spirit rings did all they could, but even they got overwhelmed in the end.”
With tears of love, tiredness and fatigue reddening her eyes, Annette hugged mark, and said “Darling, whatever happens from here, you know I'll always love you. But one question, love!”
“Go on,” Mark replied.
“If they are so close to victory, why have they stopped?”
“They were testing our defences, trying to find a weakness and wearing us down. Now they are waiting for the final massed attack.”
They were standing back to back, not only for protection - now it was the only way they could stand up. Tired bones fighting fatigue and damage, they looked at the edges of the walls and saw a mass of teeth shining with the blood of the bodies it had devoured, with bones still protruding from its sides. There was no head or shape, just a spectral mass. They could see the oozing mass seeping through the holes caused by the many battles, and all they could do was stand and watch as it circled them, slowly filling the cracks as their defensive positions became their grave. Even as the sun shone outside the abbey, the light inside turned a sickly green as the entity closed across the ceiling and all around.
The couple huddled together, praying their end would be swift and yet not really caring anymore. They had fought demons and won; now they would love and die together, doing what they did best, with all their spirits drained, all energy gone, just waiting for the end. There seemed no hope, when suddenly the once calm air was shattered by a shrill sound, and looking at the creature, they could see rips and tears in its spectral planes.
“What’s happening?” Annette cried pitifully.
“I’ve no idea, darling.”
Then a voice called to them, “Throw me the satchel, Mark!”
With all his remaining strength, Mark struggled to the wall, wrenched the satchel out and hurled it up. He did not know if he was even near the target.
“Thanks,” said the stranger. “Now, stand by the East wing as this will rock the foundations.”
Annette was looking up and could see the shape of an eagle showing through the weakening presence of the essence. “Rachel!” she cried out.
“Same as ever was. Now get over with Mark! I am going to drop this down. Where you are standing is the psychic centre of the area.”
Annette and Mark summoned all the strenth they had and dashed to the wall, just as Rachel dropped the satchel down to the ground. It opened up and a blue shaft appeared. The satchel went down and down, and with it slowly went the spectre. As the air cleared and the sky shone down, Annette and Mark saw Rachel astride one of her three large eagles.
“That was close, young Mark!” she said.
“Too close, thanks for saving me AGAIN,” Mark replied.
“Don’t worry about it. Just be grateful that when you prayed, I heard you. Just don’t rely on me, as some days, I might not be there,” Rachel said.
“Rachel, I never count on you, I know you have others in your life and they need you. I am just grateful that today you turned up.”
“And I’m grateful that you found the talisman.”
“I didn’t. It was Pat who had it.”
“That old Aussie still hanging on then?”
“Yes. Seems a little more worn down now, though.”
“I’ll be seeing you kids,” Rachel called as she led her eagle off to its aerie.
“They’re lovely birds, she has, aren’t they” Mark said.
“Yes, did she breed them?” Annette asked.
“Fourth generation those, love.”
The drive back into town was more joyous than their journey out. Stopping at the “Horseman’s” for lunch, Mark saw a face he knew. “Hey! Pat, you ole Aussie wombat, have this pie and pint on me, mate!” he said slapping his friend on the back.
Pat turned, just in time to see Mark as he left pub to go and meet Annette coming back from the church.
“I was just going there myself, to say a prayer of thanks,” he said.
“Ok, I have to call Phil. Then we can go home,” Annette replied.
“Can’t the call wait a day or two, love?”
“Ok, but one condition, Mark Johnson,” Annette demanded.
Head bowed he said “Ok. Go on.”
“I would like some answers please.”
“After today, you deserve some.”
“Did you know where it was going to happen?”
“Yes, love, I did because I set the battleground.”
“How about when you told Phil ‘two to three weeks minimum’?”
“I had a feeling two weeks might be the maximum, but we need the rest days after this, love.”
“Why there, though?”
“As you saw, we had to have a defensive position to give us some hope and that was the only abbey with such an open ground.”
“And this joke you and Phil share?”
“Well, eeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrr, maybe, Phil should answer that for you,” Mark said as he blushed.
“Ok, I shall ask him, then.”
After finishing their sandwiches in the car, the couple had a long cuddle and kiss to share their love. Annette looked at Mark and asked “Was there anything more between you and Rachel?”
“Not as far as I knew. The last I heard she was staying down on the South coast with our old mentor, P A Canella.”