As he saw the horror revealed, Ben stepped back and cried out in terror.
â€œBoth of you will stop right there and turn around slowly,â€ ordered Gymer, â€œand you, Doctor, will drop that pistol to the ground and-â€
He never completed the sentence. With a boom louder than thunder and a flash brighter than lightning, there was a sudden violent uprising of the street for fifty yards in all directions. Everyone in the immediate vicinity was knocked off his feet and stunned by the force of the detonation.
Ben could see nothing but blackness, nor hear a sound and for a moment he thought Gabriel had used his flash-bang attack again, though this time the smell was different: a pungent, acrid stench that caught in his throat and made him cough and retch at the same time. Finally, his vision began to clear and blinking he looked about him. To his side Tobias was pulling himself to his feet and clearing dust from his eyes. Gabriel was lying on his back and groaning. Gymer appeared to be knocked out and his three companions were staring blankly about them. Walton was the first to recover. He took a few steps towards the source of the explosion, his dark eyes wide and agitated. Still numb, Ben turned to follow his gaze.
The cracked and blackened cobbles of the street about ten yards from where Ben stood suddenly exploded upwards, sending chunks of stone high up into the air, from where they came spinning back to earth to smash into fragments on the street. One hit Walton on the shin and with a yelp of pain he collapsed again.
The eruption had thrown up a cloud of dust and released thick fumes from the cellars beneath the street. As a result, Ben could not see much for a few moments, but gradually the dust cloud settled and the smoke dispersed to join the black clouds given off by the fires around them. Through this smog, Ben perceived a dark shape standing in the lane. It was indistinct and hazy at first but, as visibility improved, its features came sharply into view. As he saw the horror revealed, Ben stepped back and cried out in terror.
Seven feet tall, the creature stood upright on two legs, but otherwise was utterly inhuman in appearance. Ben saw that its limbs, thorax and abdomen were covered in a hideous black-green external skeleton, much like an insect or spider. Behind it flapped bat-like wings, the skin stretched between thick ridges of bone that ended in long sharp spines. Its monstrous head bore needle-sharp teeth that were black, as was the tongue, which now flicked in and out. Its jaws were open and from them a brown liquid drooled and dripped on to the ground. Pale, pupil-less eyes gazed around the lane and fixed themselves upon Ben. From its mouth an ear-piercing screech emerged as it advanced upon him, claws snapping open as the beast prepared to attack.
Numb with shock and disbelief, Ben was rooted to the spot. As the creature took three steps towards him he knew he should run, but was incapable of movement. Then, from the alleyway behind Ben, Artemas barked out three words at the creature and it paused before giving another screech, which this time sounded like frustrated anger. Artemas spoke again and the creature tilted its head as if in acknowledgment. It threw Ben a hungry glare and then, with a single leap and beat of its wings, it passed over his head and landed at the entrance to the alleyway.
Gabriel was suddenly at Benâ€™s side and was rapidly reciting Words of Power and spinning his hands about each other until at last he had what seemed to be a ball of spitting, fizzing energy. With a grunt of effort, he threw it at the creature.
What happens next? ReadÂ The Last Seal to find out.
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