World's End (2000 novel)

World's End (2000 novel)

"World's End" is a novel written by British author Mark Chadbourn and is the first in the Age of Misrule trilogy. It was first published in Great Britain by Millennium on 14 September 2000. An edition collecting all three books in "The Age of Misrule" series ("World's End", "Darkest Hour" and "Always Forever") was published in Great Britain on 14 September 2006.

Plot summary

Jack 'Church' Churchill - a man still tormented by the suicide of his girlfriend Marianne two years previously - and Ruth Gallagher - a lawyer increasingly disillusioned with the way her life has turned out - are brought together early one winter morning by a shared experience: walking by the Thames, they witness a horrific attack. A giant of a man with a face that runs like water attacks a smaller man (Maurice Gibbons) underneath Albert Bridge, and the experience is so horrific that it causes them both to pass out. When Church and Ruth awake, the small man is dead, and the police are reluctant to view the crime as anything other than a simple mugging. While Ruth is suspended from work, Church discovers that similar odd events are happening all across Britain, and finds a mysterious message from a woman called Laura who claims to know how all these events are linked.

Their memories fractured by the experience, Church and Ruth decide to undergo hypnotic regression in an attempt to find out what happened to them; this is only a partial success as the experience is so horrific it terrifies them both, unlocking the memory of the true horror of what they witnessed. Ruth tracks down Maurice's widow and they discover that prior to his death he visited both the local vicar and a UFO enthusiast. Meanwhile, Jack's correspondence with Laura takes an intriguing turn when she mentions Marianne in one of her E-Mails. While Ruth visits the vicar and discovers that Maurice was concerned about demonic possession, Church's visit to the UFO enthusiast frustrates him. Deeper investigation leads them to discover that Maurice was frequently visiting a bedridden man named Kraicow, who claims that there are demons among us and that everyone is in danger. He gives Church and Ruth the key to his studio, where they discover a sculpture of the same horror that they saw under Albert Bridge.

Church and Ruth decide to visit Laura to see what information she has, Church experiencing a series of odd occurrences which make reference to 'one of five'. On the way to Bristol, they stop off at a service station for a break, but on a visit to the toilet Ruth is attacked by one of the creatures and almost taken - rescued only by the intervention of an aging hippie named Tom, who aids Church in her rescue and their eventual escape. On the drive away, Church is contacted by a friend who informs him that his apartment has been gutted by a mysterious fire.

As they continue to drive towards Bristol, their journey takes a horrifying turn - unbelievably, a dragon, referred to by Tom as a Fabulous Beast, attacks the M4, incinerating several vehicles and causing untold damage to many more. Church, Ruth and Tom barely escape, but the Beast follows them as they continue their journey, only abandoning the hunt when Tom ferries them into the ancient stones of Stonehenge - which, according to Tom, offers them protection. They make camp, and Tom explains that once, long ago, the world was full of the creatures of myth and legend. For some reason, they all abandoned this world, but now they are returning in full force. He also explains the secret of Stonehenge: a nexus point of a mysterious energy called the Blue Fire, the lifeblood of the planet, it offers strength and protection. Church and Ruth are startled to learn that they have developed the ability to see this Blue Fire. Later, ignoring Tom's warnings not to step foot outside the stone circle, Church follows a vision of Marianne, and finds a gift - a black rose, called the "Roisin Dubh".

The next morning, they make their way to Salisbury in order to prepare for their meeting with Laura the next day. Splitting up to allow themselves some time to recuperate, both Church and Ruth have odd experiences - Church is stalked by a giant black dog, while Ruth has an encounter with a being who appears as both an old woman, a woman her own age, and a teenage girl, imploring her to find 'him' and then to 'join them'. Tom, attempting to scout the land, is attacked by a being known as a Baobhan Sith, and barely escapes with his life. When they reunite, he is horrified to learn of the black dog - known as Black Shuck, it is the vanguard of the Wild Hunt. Their evening takes a merrier turn when they are joined by a rogue calling himself Callow, who shares several drinks with them and is intrigued by Church's assertion that the world is changing. Having left him in the hotel bar, however, they have a terrifying night in which the Baobhan Sith invade the hotel room and search for them. The next day, they make their meeting with Laura, who explains that she was walking near an industrial estate when she was pulled to 'somewhere else' and told that the world was going to change forever. She offers to take them to the place it happened.

When they arrive, Church and Laura are pulled into a hole in the air; no sooner have they disappeared than Ruth and Tom find themselves surrounded by the same creatures that tried to take Ruth at the service station. In their attempts to escape, Ruth and Tom become separated; Ruth's last glimpse of Tom is as he limps towards her, seconds before an entire warehouse is destroyed by an explosion caused by the lorry they were trying to escape in.

Meanwhile, Church finds himself in what appears to be a tower, floating in space. As he makes his way through its depths, he opens a door and finds his childhood bedroom - he watches as a woman sits on his bed and greets his younger self as Brother of Dragons, and suddenly remembers the dreams which plagued him as a child. He also finds a door which opens on a vision of him sitting on a hillside, holding an ornate sword and watching as a city that looks like London burns, and one which shows him lying dead in a stream. He eventually encounters a beautiful, otherworldly woman, who explains that Church has been brought to the Watchtower, and that her people - the Golden Ones - used to live on Earth, but after a terrible war with the Night Walkers - the creatures that are hunting Church and Ruth - they retreated to a place called the Far Lands in accordance with a 'Covenant' which removed all magic from our world - but the Night Walkers recently unleashed something called a Wish-Hex which scattered or tainted the Golden Ones, before returning to our world. She names Church as one of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, and implores him to gather the five Brothers and Sisters of Dragons and find four mystical items - a stone, a sword, a spear and a cauldron - which will return her people to power and help them fight the Night Walkers, gifting him with a lantern called the Wayfinder that will help point him to the objects he seeks. Laura arrives, and Church realises that she led him here on purpose, under the orders of the mysterious woman, who tells him that he will learn her name in time. Church and Laura return through the hole in the air, and find the industrial estate in ruins in the aftermath of Ruth and Tom's escape attempt. They reunite with Ruth, and reluctantly leave without Tom, who appears to have vanished. Church deduces that Ruth and Laura are both Sisters of Dragons, and they follow the Wayfinder to their next destination.

The Wayfinder leads them to Avebury, where they encounter a man called the Bone Inspector, who tells them that it is his job to guard the old places of the land, keeping their secrets hidden. Although he appears to believe that they are Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, he seems reluctant to help them - but after seeing a man-shaped murder of crows on the horizon, he helps them to unlock the protections around the land and leads them into a cave in the depths of Avebury, where they discover a lake of the Blue Fire, in which lies a sleeping Fabulous Beast. Laura makes her way across the lake, alone - the Bone Inspector warns that the Beast will only allow one person to cross - and after passing a test which traps her in an enclosed space, Laura discovers a smooth, polished Stone. She returns to the others, and they are surprised to discover that while Church sees it as a lump of rock, Ruth instead sees a diamond. The Bone Inspector explains that the items are too powerful to hold a form, and that their minds instead see whatever they want to. He leads them out of the cave - using a different exit to bypass the Night Walkers - and leaves them to continue on their journey alone, telling them that there are other places which need him more.

Their journey is interrupted once again when the car fails. A local mechanic tells them that it's been happening often recently - cars dying for no reason then suddenly starting again. Science is failing as magic returns to the world. Church, Ruth and Laura set up camp nearby while they wait for the car to be fixed, and Church meets a young girl named Marianne, who seems older than her years and helps him to gather some wood. That night, the trio are disturbed when the Stone retrieved from Avebury screams when touched by Ruth - the woman in the Watchtower told Church that it would react to the 'true king of the land'. Shortly afterwards, Ruth, reacting on instinct, walks alone into the woods, where she finds the woman from Salisbury, who once again begs her to find 'him' and then join them as their 'champion'. Although Ruth is scared and disturbed by the conversation, the woman gifts her with an owl, telling Ruth that it will act as her 'familiar' - a word which disturbs Ruth with its various connotations. The next morning, they retrieve the car, but are stopped by Marianne's hysterical father - she has been living with a blood clot on her brain for several years and collapsed that morning while preparing to bring them milk. They rush her to the local hospital, but shortly after she enters the operating theatre, another of the blackouts strikes, cutting power to the hospital. Marianne, filled with light, wakes - despite being halfway through surgery - and walks among the cancer ward, healing the entire ward before collapsing, dead. Although her sacrifice gives Church the realisation that there is good magic as well as bad, he still takes her loss badly - the devastating effect of the power cut on the hospital serving as a reminder of what's truly at stake.

They continue their journey, stopping at a service station - but while they're there, Ruth and Laura encounter Black Shuck in the car park, and are nearly killed, but saved at the last moment by an owl which appears from nowhere and gives them enough time to run into the services. Chased by the dog, they grab Church and lock themselves into the kitchen, where they spend a terrifying night listening to the sounds of the Wild Hunt arriving outside, but the Hunt is forced away at sunrise, allowing them to continue - but they discover that the car has been ransacked in the night. Someone has been searching for the Stone. They continue driving, accompanied the whole way by an owl, before deciding to stop in the midst of a storm at an inn called "The Green Man", run by a gay couple who were forced out of Leeds by homophobic Christian neighbours. They spend a pleasant evening there, but are punished for their reticence when the Wild Hunt attacks the pub in full force, laying waste to the drinkers as they leave. Realising that it's their fault the Hunt has attacked, Church, Laura and Ruth determine to distract it - Church escaping on a dirt bike while Ruth and Laura make a run for the car. Church is pursued across the moors by the Hunt, and manages to evade them for a while, but eventually his luck runs out and he plummets into a mineshaft.

He wakes much later to find that he has been captured by the Night Walkers, who have infested the area under the moors. He is soon joined by a Londoner called Ryan Veitch, who has been held captive for the last week. Veitch is covered in tattoos, visual references to vibrant dreams Veitch has suffered from since childhood. Many of the images speak to Church - particularly one of the Watchtower - and he recognises Veitch as a Brother of Dragons. He fills Veitch in on the current situation, but they are soon interrupted by a thing called Calatin - a Night Walker who is much more beautiful than the others, and much more dangerous. He tortures Church for information on the Stone, but is furious when Church reveals nothing. Church and Veitch are later joined by Tom, who was captured by the Night Walkers shortly after the explosion at the industrial estate and has been held here ever since. He names the Night Walkers as Fomorii, and seems as contemptuous of the Golden Ones - also called the Tuatha dé Danann - as he is of the Night Walkers - partially explained by his revelation that as a young man, he visited the Far Lands, and was horrified by what he found there. He also warns them that Calatin isn't all that's after them - the crow-man, called Mollecht, is also striving to destroy them. Soon after, Church is visited once again by the woman from the Watchtower, who admonishes him for allowing himself to be caught and the Wayfinder taken from him, but offers her assistance by using her power to unlock every door before Church. He wakes Veitch and Tom and they make their escape, stealing back the Wayfinder as they go, and also discovering several barrels filled with a hideous black fluid, and, climbing to safety, wrenching the ladder that helps their escape from the wall to ensure that the Fomorii can't follow, before following the light of the Wayfinder across Dartmoor.

Ruth and Laura, meanwhile, escape in the car, certain that Church is dead, but as they drive, they notice a van on the side of the road. Something instinctive urges them to stop, and they find that the van is driven by an Indian man named Shavi, who they recognise instantly as a Brother of Dragons. He tells them that he has had vivid dreams all his life, and recently one urged him to make his way to this place. As they finish repairs on his van, the Wild Hunt - denied their quarry of Church - appears on the horizon, and they make their escape in Shavi's van, which has several turbo modifications. Although they make good headway, the Hunt has soon caught up to them, ripping the back off the van and nearly killing Laura, but they manage to hold the Hunt off long enough to be saved by the dawn. As the Hunt falls away, they follow Ruth's owl, which leads them to Glastonbury, where they find a peaceful, restful atmosphere that puts them instantly at ease. Resting, they discover that Shavi comes from a Muslim family, but his interest in other religions led to him being forced from the family home. Bisexual, he suffered a tragic loss two years ago - leaving a gay club in London, his boyfriend was brutally murdered. Later that day, they make camp and, although Ruth goes to sleep, Laura and Shavi stay awake and ingest some psychedelic mushrooms, prompting Laura to reveal her darkest secret to Shavi - her fundamentalist mother scarred the words 'Jesus loves you' into Laura's back, and in her desperation to escape, Laura accidentally murdered her mother. The revelation creates a bond between the two, and they sleep together.

Church, Veitch and Tom make their way across the moors, as they go encountering the worst of what the new word has to offer - a desolate farmhouse inhabited by a desperate man who is being mentally tortured by some kind of gremlin. They stay to investigate, and soon enough the creature begins its torment, but Tom reacts confidently, appearing to have some knowledge of the demon. He fights it with iron, and it appears to recognise him, speaking of his 'royal gift'. While Tom distracts it, offering to 'read its future', Church uses the Wayfinder as a weapon, the blue flame burning within terrifying the creature. Tom orders the thing to leave the farmer alone, and it swears to, but leaves each of them with a well-aimed barb - telling Church 'You will never find out why she died', Veitch 'There is no redemption for murder, and Tom "'You" carry your suffering with you.' They leave the next morning, and Veitch explains the creature's barb - in a bungled building society raid where his brothers convinced him to take part, he panicked and accidentally killed a man. His brothers took the blame and are now in prison because of him. Although Church tries to ask Tom what the creature's comment to him meant, Tom doesn't reply - although he works his mouth as though he's trying.

Meanwhile, in Glastonbury, Shavi attempts a communion with the spirits, acting on an instinct which tells him he has the power to talk to them. They reveal that one of the objects the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are looking for is hidden in Glastonbury, and direct him to the Abbey in a search for more clues. He manages to discern a pointer in the broken tiles, that seem to point to Glastonbury Tor. The shadows also seem to spell something: the words "aqua fortis", which Shavi translates to mean 'strong water'. They are approached the following day by a priest, who surmises that they have discovered the message. He introduces himself as James, a member of a group called the Watchmen, a group similar in theory to the Bone Inspectors, but guarding the knowledge of the Church. He helps them to realise they need to take some water from the well to the tor, where he says that the 'Grail' is waiting - which they realise refers to the cauldron that the woman for the Watchtower spoke about. He warns them that where they are going, many dangers await, mentioning in passing that in legend it is spoken of as the home of the leader of the Wild Hunt, but that they must take the water to the tor at first light if they want what they seek.


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