The Blood Dimmed Tide by Kevin Eric Sheridan

There is a price on anything that you want.

Looking out over the balcony of his penthouse apartment, Kenneth Armitage couldn't help but feel a certain sense of exhilaration at the drama unfolding beneath him. It was a modern Miltonian masterpiece. The smoke. The burning towers. The screams. The sirens. And of course, the guns. Oh yes, the unrelenting staccato bursts of gunfire. More today than there had ever been in the city's history (or ever would be).

Several times Ken felt like recoiling from the astounding spectacle. If not from the heat, then from the unsettling implications of being this excited (no, not just excited, exuberant) over this much madness and death. After all, aren't human beings supposed to feel angry, indignant, and horrified at such things? Isn't that what they're programmed to think and feel?

But no, Ken stayed on the balcony.

He stayed because it was those very feelings that Ken actively sought to destroy. Not confront. Not understand. To forever annihilate. The violent immolation of New York City was to Ken an antinomian purification rite on a grand scale. It was a mighty cleansing.

So he stayed on the balcony, watching a few million people reduce themselves to so much blackened carrion, and their city along with them.

But how long would this take? And how would he know the proper time? Would the skyline, once black, but now gray with the rising of untold tons of ash and smoke and orange with the glare of god knows how much incendiary grandeur, split asunder and dilate like a woman giving birth and spew forth Saint John the Baptist onto Ken's balcony, holding his severed head while it incessantly jabbered, "Now, Now?" The longer he waited, the more impatient Ken grew. The more uncertain.

Finally, he decided. He would set things in motion now. There was no point in second guessing his decision.

Ken turned from his vigil on the balcony to the large table just inside the door to the outside. Upon it sat a small, ornate metal box. Within the box, resting on a copper pedestal, was an intricate crystal of unearthly quality and enormous power. Heaving a sigh of excitement at the coming transcendence, Ken gently pushed the lid of the box closed, sealing the crystal from the dim light of his living room. Not expecting any immediate effects (and not getting any), Ken returned to his view of the carnage, wanting to stir his soul in the crucible a little while longer.

Ken was sunk so far into enrapture that he did not notice the stranger entering his apartment two minutes later.

* * *

"You know Ken, I don't think that I've ever actually been in your apartment before."

Ken turned from his view, startled by the voice. He looked straight into the eyes of the stranger.

The stranger smiled. "Nice place."

While Ken knew the Shining Trapezohedron would bring this one with its immersion in darkness, he was unsure just what form He would take. Ken was fairly sure it would be that of the Blake account. But what stood before him was certainly far from that. Standing about six feet tall, garbed in an urbane enough accompaniment of jeans, tee-shirt and leather jacket, this figure could have easily passed as any one of the citizens of the suicidal metropolis they currently stood in. Of course, to someone with Ken's knowledge, the stranger bore the marks that clearly distinguished Him as an infinitely older being.

"I take whatever form is most appropriate at the time," He said, as if sensing Ken's thoughts. "I am bound by far fewer rules than is commonly believed. Besides, I just love to keep 'em guessing!"

Ken took a step towards the dark-haired, Egyptian-looking man. The stranger held up his hand as if to stop him.

"No, not just yet," He said. "I've got to make sure that your viable material, Ken. Got to make sure you can stand on your own."

Ken froze in place, unsure of what was next. "What do you need me to do?" he asked.

The stranger swept a handful of jet black hair from his face. "First, you will ask me a question. The only one you can think of at the moment. If it's the right kind of question, I'll answer it. Then, after you've thought through the answer I've given you, I'll ask you a question. If I like your answer, then we're off! Sound good?"

Ken didn't quite know what to say. He merely nodded.

"Well then," Nyarlathotep said, "ask your question."

"This," Ken said, motioning to the holocaust outside, "is this the end? I mean, are the Others coming back now? Today even?"

The Herald shook his head. "No. No, things aren't quite right just yet. Believe me, though, when the time is right that little bonfire outside is going to pale in comparison to the culling that's ahead. No, you see, Ken, what's been happening for the past few days, both here and all over the world, has been for you?"

Ken's eyes widened.

"Yeah, that's right, Ken, for you. For your benefit. If you really intend to go through with what you proposed to me two years ago, if you really want to transcend this plane and dance to the piping music that I do, then you cannot be a human being any more. You can't think like one, feel like one, or act like one. That was the whole point of the past week's events. You've come this far. You've gone through the Suffering Nights. You've drank Kv'Onsr's Venom and survived. Now you have one last step to take."

"I know that," Ken said, his tone belying any sense of horror. "But was all of it really part of the Path? I mean, 23 cities worldwide?"

"There is a time and a place for subtlety, Ken," Nyarlathotep replied. "This is neither. Now tell me, how does it feel?"

Ken looked confused.

"How does it feel to know that your ambition and your desire brought on the worst onslaught of death and mass hysteria your puny little race has ever known? What do you think of the fact that upon your request I sent my dark agents to spur on an orgy of death that will eventually consume over a million of your kind?"

Ken turned his eyes to the floor, not wanting to look into the suddenly angry and accusing visage of his god. As he slowly turned toward the balcony again, he thought of the homeless shelter that he had volunteered at and donated money to. He thought of the children's hospital with a ward that bore his name, thanks to a donation he made to help fund AIDS research in children. What happened to all those people he helped? The sick? The homeless? The helpless? What happened to them in the inferno below?

In the 22 other infernos all over the world?

"Come on you idiot," the Herald said. "I want to know what's bouncing around in that tiny skull of yours!"

Ken looked out over the burning city. Over one million dead, he thought, just for me.

Nyarlathotep was screaming. "Ken! Say something! Now!"

And Kenneth Armitage said the only thing he could think of.

"I love you."

He turned from the balcony, toward the Old One. The look of mocking anger was completely gone from His face, replaced with a soft, peaceful look of understanding. Ken spoke his heart again, "I love you."

"I know Ken," the God replied. "I know you do. Now take my hand."

Without fear, Kenneth Armitage stepped forward and took his master's hand. Within seconds, the God That Is and the God That Was To Be had faded from the world that lived in pain. The world that needed pain to live.

The world whose pain destroyed Kenneth Armitage.

And brought forth new life.

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© 1998 Edward P. Berglund
"The Blood Dimmed Tide": © 1998 Kevin Eric Sheridan. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998 Old Arkham Graphics Design. All rights reserved. Email to: Corey T. Whitworth.

Created: April 10, 1998