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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmVAWKfJ4Go

‘Sorab?’ I gasp, utterly, utterly confused.

‘You were looking for Cronus. Did you find him?’ he asks sadly.

‘Your father told me I should be looking for El.’

‘And did you?’

I shake my head. I can’t remember the details. All my thoughts are scattered and ruffled. ‘Only briefly. There was not enough time. It used to be the name of the highest god before it became a generic name for God.’

‘Mmnnn.’ But he is not really listening. He turns away from me, and rests his forehead on the heel of his palm. ‘Remember when my father told you, his father was a banker, he is a banker, and his son will be a banker. Well, here is something he didn’t tell you. My father has a dead brother, I have a dead brother and Sorab’s brother would have had a dead brother too.’

I feel the blood drain away from my face. I grasp his arm and turn him to face me. ‘What are you telling me?’

His eyes. His eyes. I become terrified. Not of him, but for him.

‘What did your Wikipedia tell you was the demand of the highest god?’

My fingers are icy. ‘Sacrifice of the first-born.’ My eyes narrow. ‘Are you trying to tell me that your family are Satanists?’

‘No, that is for the rough and the crude. A show. We are the sons of El.’

I shrink from him, feeling like one of those boys who dive for pearls, get entangled in seaweed, and run out of breath. ‘Wait, just wait for one moment. I can’t take any of this in. I’m sorry I just can’t. It’s making me feel sick.’ And it is too. I feel my stomach heave even though there is nothing in it.

‘We count on people to be incredulous, to turn away because it is too terrible to contemplate. It is our protection. Do you still want the truth, Lana? Do you want to know what a monster I am, or shall we go back to what we were? We can pretend I am your knight in shining armor. That you made the right choice when you accepted my offer over Rupert’s. Your choice.’

I take a deep breath. The shock made me react in that way. I want the truth. The whole truth. No more lies. No more pretenses. If I kick hard enough I will reach the surface and the light.

‘I want the truth, whatever it may be,’ I tell him.

‘People think that they are no different from us, that we are all playing for the same stakes. That by a process of aspiration and hard work, perhaps a lucky break they can become one of us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

‘We are not merely different we are a different species entirely. We are willing to go further than anybody else. Our naked ambition is a cold vise-like clamp around our hearts that causes us to align ourselves to a horrific blackness. And the blackness craves power over others and maintains itself by sucking the innocent energies of others.’

My heart is thudding so hard in my chest I can hear its roar in my ears.

‘A child goes missing every three minutes in the United Kingdom alone, and around the world millions disappear every year. They are never seen, heard of or found. What do you think happens to them?’

I am too stunned to reply.

‘On some days of the year, but especially eight dates, tens of thousands of children are sacrificed, not just by the sons of El, obviously, but by the Satanist and other cults around the world. On the night of the autumn equinox, September 21, three days from today, Sorab would have been ritually murdered. Like my brother, his uncle, and his uncle before him.’

My hands are clasped like a prayer in front of my mouth.

‘I had to stop it,’ he says, his face gray.

‘Why couldn’t we have just run away? Why have his blood on our hands?’

‘There is no place on earth where Sorab, or you, for that matter, would have been safe. Only with me at the helm of the agenda, can the forces be held back.’

‘But I don’t want you at the helm of such a sick and twisted religion,’ I cry.

‘There is no other way. It is not a club. We are chosen to rule. I was born into it and must die in it.’ I shudder visibly. ‘Please,’ he continues, ‘don’t grieve for me. I am reconciled to the knowledge that it shall be for me…a hell for all eternity. It is only important now that Sorab and any other children I father are not initiated. They will be free as my brother Quinn is.’

My skull aches. ‘Is Marcus involved in…your father’s death?’

‘No. I acted alone. To protect what is mine.’

A desperate sob escapes me. ‘Why can’t we run away and let Marcus take over? He’s older than you.’

‘Marcus is not strong. My father always knew that. It was always going to me. At the helm of this empire of dirt.’

‘Why can’t you expose them? Tell the whole world the truth.’

‘Who would I tell, Lana? Over the years hundreds of children who have escaped have told the same story, with the same details of underground chambers, hooded figures, orgies, and sacrificial murders, and they have all been dismissed as unreliable fantasists. Not a single figure of real prominence has ever been brought to justice.’

‘But you are Barrington. You are powerful. You have inside information. You know people. You are not an unreliable witness.’

‘The other families would immediately close ranks. What my father claimed he would do to me will be done. I will be destroyed and you and Sorab will disappear without a trace.’

I am frightened to ask my next question, my throat feels raw. I swallow. ‘Do you also participate in these…rituals?’

‘No, the rituals are not for us. We float above them. They are for the compromised and those who enjoy such perversions. I do not.’

‘Can you not stop the agenda from the inside out?’

‘Can you stop Monday from rolling into Tuesday? No one can stop the agenda, Lana. It will come to pass no matter what I do.’

Thirty-five

I fell into a burning ring of fire

I went down, down, down as the flames went higher

And it burns, burns, burns,

The ring of fire, the ring of fire.

—The Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash

That night we do not make love.

We huddle together like the shell-shocked survivors in the embers of a horrific battlefield. All around us are the dead and the terrible cries and wails of the dying. His hands cling to mine.

His voice is a whisper in my hair. ‘I know I should push you away, but I can’t. Until you came I lived a joyless life. It will be up to you to leave me.’

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