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Friday, 23 January 2015 00:00

Netherrealm by Kim Ross

Within moments the silvery maelstrom settled, and Beth saw they had been encased inside a crystalline sphere as high as two tall men. At the centre stood a curious, perfectly circular wall, much allied to a tranquil pond, except it was in an abnormally upright position. The wall had split the henge's sphere into two separate sections. Beth could see through to the other side, but not too clearly, as the wall gently wavered, much like slow-rising, choppy water.

"How can this be ...?" Beth said, and her strangled whisper rebounded in the noiseless cocoon.

 

She was unsure if Elena or Alice were fully aware of their surroundings, as they still cowered together with eyes shut tight — but she could see a shadowy figure. Beth couldn't make out the unknown's features, but she could tell it was a young man. She held her breath, fearing the nearness of the unbidden presence, and she prayed and hoped that they had opened the gates to the underworld.

A baffling hum began vibrating inside her ears. Her dismay escalated. Could the unknown be a demon? She could see his mouth moving and then the hum faded, the second his mouth ceased moving. Suddenly his words followed. She was shocked to her core that she could understand what he had said! It wasn't so much the words he used; it was the same foreign tongue Gerrat had spoken in her dream. Even more fantastical, the stranger's voice was so tender that it eased her internal dread.

And in that precise moment Beth's usual shyness simply fell away. She listened to his odd, yet smoothly spoken words, for as they flowed over her they seemed to bathe her in waves of pure love. Her eyes widened as an unexpected warmth grazed her cheek. She savoured the gentle touch, for it was akin to a soft kiss. The ripples ceased wavering and Beth could see him clearly. It was Gerrat — but yet, not Gerrat de Ashbore. However, there was no doubt that the lad looked exactly like Gerrat. He was also dressed as he had appeared in her dream: the odd red 'V' shirt inlaid with an embroidered mounted knight and dragon, and loose blue leggings.

Without thinking, Beth cried, "I dreamed of you, last eve." She was stunned, for as her words leaped from her lips they too were accompanied by a freakish hum.

He stared back.

Then her delayed speech was altered into the foreign tongue.

He nodded and smiled. He spoke again, but this time the enchanted ball echoed with a resounding buzz of excitement before his words followed.

"Beth, I dreamed of you, too!"

She tingled from head to toe. How did he know her name?

"Who are you?" she cried.

Instinctively she wanted to go to him, but she first needed to free her hand from the tightness of Alice's numbingly firm grip. The young man drew nearer and they simultaneously reached towards one another. As Beth's fingertips touched the otherworldly surface, she thought she heard him say, "I'm Jared." Then, as she pressed her palm onto the cold wall, intense pain burned and she had to draw away. It was then she noticed something even odder: the uncanny lad was but an arm's length away in the same henge, yet the world on his side differed greatly from hers. Beyond Arbor Low lay mile upon mile of a continuous stone wall. In the far distance she saw a farmhouse and many thick hedges surrounding multiple patchworks of lush grassy meadowland in varying shades of green, and there was a track where the woodlands should have been.

The young man appeared to grow desperate: the hum throbbed loudly, he yelled, "Beth!" and he was pounding his shoulder against the transparent wall that separated them. The strange wall rippled as if a rock had been thrown, disturbing the pond's serenity, but instead of ever-increasing-circles flowing to the outer rim, the waves decreased from the outer fringe to the middle. The central point changed into a cone-like shape and started to rapidly lengthen into a swirling grey tunnel that was hurtling towards a black pinpoint. The young man remained standing in the centre as Beth saw an unending corridor open behind him and bizarre visions rallying about him. Beth saw flashes of the-yet-to-be within the circling cloudiness. Smaller portals opened along the tunnel and then continued to stretch across many other lifetimes.

The young man reached for her again and her ears vibrated painfully. "Beth!" he screamed, "I love you —"

But an unearthly shriek drowned out his voice. "Be gone, foolish wench — Netherrealm is mine to command!" The piercing screech intensified into a deafening crescendo. The girls automatically protected their ears. Hidden forces amassed at the watery epicentre, gathering strength until it formed a powerful whirlpool. Suddenly it erupted!

The slipstream threw the girls backwards.

The sphere shattered and the lad disappeared from Beth's sight. The tunnel kept lengthening. The concealed presence's noxious scream persisted: it was as though the unknown being was attempting to increase its unearthly life-force. For a brief moment Bethany sighted a ghostly shadow — just before it catapulted itself into the mystic vortex and ruptured the membrane that had separated the two worlds.

© Kim Ross

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