Walking the long way back home from his first day as an official librarian, albeit a trainee assistant librarian, Rob was puzzled. Not by his new job, which he'd finally obtained after rescheduling his interview with Dr Armitage at the Lovecraft Library. And not by the state of Alyson Rosenberg's health, because she had bounced back quite admirably. No, his puzzlement was due to an email he'd received just before he'd left.
It had been from a friend of his, Ryan Marston, who still worked at Knight City Pharmaceuticals - the place where Rob used to work. He'd asked Ryan to run an analysis of the liquid he'd found at the warehouse, back when he'd encountered Feuerkraft. Doing it in his spare time, it had taken his old work colleague a few days to get around to it, but finally he'd emailed him the results. They had been somewhat intriguing.
At first pass the compound appeared to be a derivative of methamphetamine but there was an additional component that Ryan couldn't recognise. Rob did though; it was very similar to the chemical he'd been working on just before he'd been sacked from his old job. It was the chemical that had been due to be shipped to something called KRAKEN. It was also the chemical that had somehow given him superpowers.
The weird thing was that Ryan had run the analysis three times and each time that experimental chemical appeared to change composition. Ryan thought it was unstable or perhaps a glitch in the analysis software. Whereas to Rob it appeared like the formula was mutating.
Whatever it was, it puzzled Rob to distraction. So much so that, as he walked by an alleyway, he almost collided with someone.
Rob looked up to apologise and continue on his way. But then he realised that he recognised the rather scruffy person in front of him. It was the bag lady he'd saved from the collapsing building right at the start of his adventures.
"Oh, erm, sorry..." he began, but the old woman stopped him by waving a wrinkled hand in front of his face.
"Y' don't have t'be sorry, 'Aviator'. Was meant to be. I need t'ave a chat wit' ya", she said, moving into the shadows of the alleyway and beckoning Rob to follow her with a gnarly finger.
"Aviator? I don't know who you mean..." he began, stepping into the alley after the woman.
"I knows who y'are, 'Aviator'. I wuz there, remember? Ya saved me. I woz a bit… fuzzy at the time but it were you. It's important ya listen to wot I 'ave to say. Ya 'ave to help stop 'em!" she implored.
It seemed to Rob there was no point in arguing; she was adamant he was Aviator. So instead he took a moment to study this old woman who seemed to know him. His gaze gained him little in the dim light though. She wore a long, scruffy, patchwork coat that covered most of her short body. On her head, a stained headscarf covered her long silver-white hair and shaded her weathered features which, as Rob watched, appeared to flow and subtly alter. Intrigued, Rob walked a little further into the gloomy depths of the alley.
"Stop who?" he asked, trying to keep his voice low.
"Doesn't matter who”, the strange woman replied. “Call 'em the Black Sun. Yeah, it's as good as any. Y'see it's 'bout that book that was stolen. The one by Baum. That an' other thingies".
"The one from the library?" Rob asked incredulously. "What about it? And what other things?"
“Shuush!” The old woman held a finger to her lips whilst raising her other withered hand. This she moved above her head in a complicated gesture and then quietly incanted some unusual, complicated words. Suddenly, the noise from beyond the entrance of the alleyway cut off whilst the shadows surrounding them appeared to thicken.
“That’s betta”, the woman spoke into the strange silence that now loomed around them. She gazed towards Rob with a withering look in her cloudy eyes.
"Ya don't follow the news much, does ya? That's not the only things' been stolen recently. There were that wardrobe shipped o’er from England and some gateway to the stars in Egypt, t’ name but two. They're pathways to the other places. The book itself were 'bout twisters to other planes and Baum's theories concernin' 'em".
"I'm sorry but who are you?" Rod asked, after a moment of puzzlement.
"Ya can call me Bag Lady. On account that I 'ave a bag, see? And I'm gifted. Able to see wha' others can't and lift veils t’other places. And it's comin', ya hear. Darkness. But before then, they need t'understand".
"I'm sorry but I don't know who 'they' are and I don't understand," pleaded Rob, taking a step back, wondering what this old woman was going on about. She was obviously somewhat crazy or perhaps still drunk (though Rob could not smell alcohol on her breath this time). However, as Rob moved backwards he felt resistance behind him.
"The Black Sun. Kraken. They're studying t’ hieroglyphics on cave walls in Rhudjistan and in pyramid tombs in Egypt. They've a plan t’ merge all the worlds, force ‘em into one. And in the chaos, they'll bring forth t'eternal Reich an’ rule over us all".
At the mention of Kraken, Rob's interest rose. He leaned closer.
"Kraken! You mentioned Kraken" he exclaimed. Perhaps this woman wasn't truly mad after all. "They, or he, were receiving some chemicals from..."
"I know. That'd be the Elixir", Bag Lady interrupted. "T' strengthen 'n' stabilise their legions during the crisis. It holds great power, y'see? 'Course ya do, it's in ya veins. That’s why they haveta be stopped. And you’ve gotta help stop 'em, Aviator".
Rob squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his head. This all seemed somewhat surreal to him.
"Stop them? How?"
"They'll be afta the cross-time configurator next. It’s sorta like a pocket watch. It's... somewhere else right now. But I'll find it, don’tya worry. It’ll jus’ take me a day or two an’ then I’ll be back in touch. First tho’ ya 'ave to deal wit something closer ta home".
The old woman could see that Rob looked confused. She tutted, shook her head, and sighed.
"Like I said, ya don't follows the news much, d'ya? Here..."
The old woman plunged her thin arm into the large, patchwork bag that hung from her shoulder. Scrabbling around she eventually pulled out an old and creased copy of the Herald and threw it at Rob's feet. He looked down and stared at it.
On the front page were three photographs, side by side. The first was what appeared to be a picture of Kathleen Pendergast, his current roommate and lover, whilst next to this was an image of a man and another woman Rob didn't recognise. In the dim light of the alley the man’s features and neck looked oddly-shaped whilst the other woman looked, well, crazy. Turning back to the photograph of Kath, Rob noticed that it didn't do her justice at all. In fact, it made her look very unwell and almost ghostly.
Above the photographs were thick, black words claiming "CRIMINALS ESCAPE DUNWICH". Below this Rob could read the sub-heading that read "Fallen Angel, The Human Snake and Dizz-E Elude Police".
Bending down, Rob hesitantly picked up the paper and read the first few sentences of the article. His hands began to shake by the time he’d finished the second paragraph and realisation began to hit him.
"Dear God, no!" he whispered to himself.
TO BE CONTINUED