Hear Them Ring
In the dead of night, the bells of the cathedral pierce the air. The time is precisely 2:22 AM, yet the first chime rings out, in accordance with no discernible calendar or clock.
"One," whispers a woman. She stares up at the cathedral from her place on the Green.
Next to her, a man closes his eyes. He begins to chant, his mouth contorted by bizarre syllables that sound unnatural in the open air.
The woman shivers. She waits impatiently, announcing the next chime in a voice tinged with fear. "Two."
The man beside her continues to chant. He halts abruptly when the woman screams. "Concentrate!" he hisses. "We only have ten or—"
"There's something here!" she hisses back. She clutches at his arm. She tugs to uproot him, but he won't budge.
"That's the point," he says, raising his voice. "The bells bring—"
"No!" she cries. "It's something else! Something's coming!"
The bells chime again. "Four," the man says. "We don't have time for this, Lingua." He begins to chant again.
He's silenced again seconds later, not by the woman pulling frantically at his arm but by a roar that drowns out even the bells.
"We have to leave!" Lingua cries. "Depth, now!"
The bells sound again. "That's six," Depth says. "It's fine. Whatever it is will leave when the portal closes."
Depth shrugs his companion off again. He turns away, chanting in his alien tongue, hurrying the words.
"I'm leaving," Lingua says. "You can— Aaaahhhh!"
The scream freezes the blood in Depth's veins. He turns back and watches in horror as… something drags Lingua across the grass, leaving a thin red streak across the blades.
"Lingua!" Depth rushes forward, swearing under his breath when the bells ring out again. He manages to reach Lingua, clutching at her hands, though his strength proves no match for the thing dragging her toward the shimmering portal a few yards away. He digs in his heels, but it hardly slows the thing down.
"Help me!" Lingua shrieks.
Depth watches in horror as they all draw nearer and nearer to the portal. He locks eyes with Lingua. "I'm so sorry," he whispers, just before he lets go.
"No!" The voice belongs to another man, who rushes toward the thing. He holds out a hand, and a sickle rapidly forms out of nothing. He slashes at the thing, again and again.
"Ten," whispers Depth, as the bells toll once more. "Vital, the portal's closing!"
The thing finally releases its hold on Lingua, who scrambles forward across the grass. Covered now in dark streaks of blood, the new man brandishes his sickle, beating the monster back. He seems to be winning, until the thing lashes out with a razor-like tendril of shadow.
The brave man falls to his knees, clutching at his chest. The thing grabs hold of him, and his body goes limp.
Lingua, watching over her shoulder, breaks out into sobs, trying to crawl back toward the fallen man.
Depth, however, hurries forward to drag her back away from the thing. They watch together as the monster disappears into the vanishing portal, with Vital in its clutches.
Lingua pounds her fists against Depth's chest, her face streaked with tears. "He's gone! He's gone!"
"Shh, shh," Depth whispers. "He'll be fine, ok? We'll just wait for the next portal. He's tough. He probably—"
"He's dead! I heard his thoughts," she insists. "I heard them. I heard them when they just… stopped." She chokes out another sob. "He's dead."
Depth cradles her in his arms, lying on the grass. They don't stay long.
Not far from the scene, another man drops down from his vantage point in a tree. He moves cautiously, approaching the abandoned spot on the Green. He kneels and runs his fingers across a bloody blade of grass. "Foolish humans."