You made it back to John's apartment covered in mud and rust and with streaks of tears running down your face. But it was worth it. You have the book now, and, you hope, are one step closer to finding John. Except for one problem.
You can't read anything inside the book.
It's all gibberish to you, written in some strange language you've never seen before. There are drawings and things that look like maps, maybe, but mostly it's just pages and pages of indecipherable clusters of symbols. You haven't looked through the entire book yet, though, so there might still be some hope. Unfortunately, looking at it for too long gives you a monster fucking migraine, not helped at all by the strange ringing accompanying opening the thing, and you have to take a break.
After an hour of laying on the couch with some Advil miraculously comfortable in your stomach, you feel up to looking at the book again. You force your legs to move themselves, stand up, and walk over to the dining room table; the same one you and John went through the box on. Now, the book has taken the place of the box, and you are still just as confused as you were then.
"Alright, dong muncher, let's open you up," you mutter, eyes narrowed, fucking daring the book to make one wrong move.
You start where you left off, at a picture of something tall and faceless with a collection of tentacles coming from its back. The picture gives you the willies. Turning the page brings you face to face with another picture, this one of something you recognize; the creature that came out of your basement. Looking at it makes your heart race and your stomach drop. You hate this thing.
You turn the page again. It's full of the same weird language, symbols sprawled on the page with no apparent order.
It is thirteen pages later that you find something you can actually read, though these words in particular give you a staggering headache. Written in flowing font, small and in the center of the page, are the words "Hummel Park."
Of. Fucking. Course.
You think to yourself, where else would this stupid book lead me? Where else but the epicenter of all ritualistic sacrifice, satanism, brutal murder and sexual assault, and general other-worldly activity in the Midwest? Fuck this book. Fuck your life. Fuck everything and everyone, Hummel Park in particular.
Good god, do you hate that place. You remember going there with some youth group as a child, having to wait for the camp councilors to clear out mutilated animal carcasses and other ritual goods before you could play capture the flag. You remember being ten when the body of a little girl was discovered in the park a few days after your nature seminar there. You remember sitting by yourself while other kids whispered frantically about haunted staircases and cult scandals.
You remember the cold fear the park brought you, even as a fifth grader.
Unfortunately, whatever deity out there seems to enjoy shitting on your life. You're going to Hummel Park.
The drive to the park is about forty minutes, with you living in the south side of the city and the park being far north. You spend those forty minutes in relative silence, listening to the drum of your heartbeat pounding in your ears.
By the time you get to the dirt clearing located at the bottom of a secluded basin where you know a multitude of murders and years of human trafficking took place, the sun has long since set behind the trees. You sit in your car for a few minutes, just breathing. Every slight movement outside has you jumping and your heart racing just a few beats faster. You squeeze your eyes shut to the point where it hurts, open them, and leave your car.
It's chilly for May, even in the evening. You're glad you wore one of John's giant hoodies, not only because of the warmth it provides, but also because the hunting knife John mysteriously produced from the trunk of your car so many months ago fits perfectly in the pocket. You still have your backpack on, box and book nestled comfortably inside. You don't know whether or not you'll be needing them, but it's best to be prepared.
Leaves and sticks crunch beneath your feet as you walk. Luckily, the sky is cloudless tonight, and you can see well enough in front of you to be able to navigate. You haven't been here in years, though; getting around might be a bit difficult, as the park is fucking gigantic.
Somehow, you find your way to the grand staircase, the so-called 'Morphing Stairs'. Apparently, no one has ever come up with the same number twice when counting the number of steps. When you were little, the kids in your youth group believed that descending the stairs brought you directly to the gates of hell. All you know is that you have a powerful gut feeling that John will be at the bottom.
You start down the narrow stone staircase. It's long and steep, winding so that you can't see the bottom from where you are. You wrap your arms around yourself, shivering. It's cold, yes, but mostly you just know you're not alone.
After several minutes of timid descent, the stone shelter you hid in during capture the flag games, the shelter other kids claimed was a gate to hell, comes into sight. It's different now; decrepit, falling apart, and covered in graffiti. Scrawled in spray paint on the top of the structure is the terribly cliche phrase, 'abandon hope all who enter.' More importantly, there are people beneath it.
Most importantly, John is beneath it.
You break out into a dead sprint, clutching the hilt of the hunting knife still in your pocket with a vice grip. "Let him go, fuckers!" You screech, skidding to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins by the gallon and all you can think is John is here John is here John is here!
"Karkat, run! Hurry, please!" John screams at you before being punched to the ground by one of the hooded, cloaked figures standing around him, only to be dragged to a crouch once again by another.
One of the cloaked bastards steps forward, a mouth becoming visible from under the hood. It looks surprisingly human, with human-toned skin and human-shaped teeth. The mouth opens slightly, allowing a light chuckle to escape.
"This is the Listener? This starving, weak brat has been chosen by our Speaker?" He mocks, followed by the chuckles of the five cultists around him.
"I don't give three god damn quarters of a fuck, okay? Give me John back and I'll give you whatever you want!" You yell, taking a step forward. The hooded figure that has been speaking to you cocks his head.
"Oh?" He outright laughs at you now. "What we want is the glory of our Savior! We want to please him. And to do that, we need you."
You nod. You know what you need to do.
The man beckons you to come closer, and so you walk ever so slowly nearer, mind racing. What if they don't let John go? What if they kill him right in front of you?
A manic grin breaks out on the man's face once you are at an arm's length. Quick as lightning, his hands fly out at you, grabbing around your throat. Your hand flies out of your pocket, knife in your grasp, and you swing blindly at the man's hold on your neck. You hit him somewhere near his wrist and he drops you with a cry of pain.
"John!" You yell, lurching forward just enough to grab his wrist and plunge the knife into the arm holding onto his shoulder. The wounded cultist shrieks, releasing John and allowing you to drag him away at a dead fucking sprint. Just as you reach the stairs, that fucking whispering returns.
"He's here!" One of the hooded men screams in absolute terror. You couldn't give less of a fuck about this stupid fucking monster right now. All that matters is that you and John get back to your car.
You can hear something following you in the trees and bushes around you, but you're too preoccupied with running to figure out what. The whispering never leaves, just changes volume occasionally. Miraculously, you make it to the basin where you parked your car and skid down the steep slope to get to the bottom. You take your keys out of your pocket and violently shove them into the lock, forcing John into the back seat and jumping into the front seat yourself. You turn the ignition and, just as the hooded figures appear at the edge of the drop off into the basin, you shove your stick into reverse and slam on the gas.
A few seconds later, a spindly hand reaches up from under your car, poking holes in the hood with its sharp claws. Another hand joins it. Before you know it, the fleshy, humanoid, faceless thing is on top of your car, somehow screeching viciously at you. You press on the break with just the right amount of force, that is to say, all the fucking force you could possibly muster, and the thing tumbles off of your car and onto the ground behind you. You accelerate at full speed again, yelling at John to brace himself as you hit your personal monster full force, running it over and earning yourselves another horrific screech.
As you drive away, still in reverse, you can see it crumpled on the ground, dislocated joints popping themselves back into place. Your heart racing with you hyperventilating, you step on the break again once you reach the road, skidding until you face the right direction, shift the gears into drive, and ollie the fuck outie. You drive until you're sure nothing's following you.
It is two hours later that you finally stop at a crusty motel two towns over.
You take your wallet out of your backpack (you would never drive without your license, after all) and pay for three nights. The man at the counter looks at you and John funny, probably because you both are covered in mud and scratches, still with looks of terror lingering on your faces. He seems to shrug it off though, and gives you the room key.
"Twenty-three," he says in a gruff voice, pointing up the stairs. You waste no time climbing them, finally feeling the exhaustion in your bones. John follows at your heels.
Once in the room, you slam the door behind you, locking the bolt, the chain, and the knob. You then turn on your heel and grab John roughly by the front of his shirt and bring him down to your height to smash your lips into his in the most desperate kiss of your life. He gasps sharply, then leans down into you, grabbing you around the waist. You throw your arms loosely around his neck and suck on his bottom lip, eliciting a low moan from John. Any remnant of 'just friends' you had lying around in your head is thrown out the window when John pulls your (his) hoodie over your head.
He stops once he sees your naked torso, though, and you realize you're probably hideous right now, not that you weren't to begin with. John reaches down and gingerly brushes his fingertips against your protruding ribs, runs a thumb down the massive scar on your forearm. Suddenly you're too ashamed of your body to get back into whatever mood you were in. You cross your arms over your chest in an attempt to subtly cover yourself up, your face burning.
John leans down and kisses the top of your head, bringing you into a warm hug. "We're safe, for now. You're perfect the way you are, okay?"
You burrow deeper into John's chest. He guides you over to the bed and the two of you just lay there, John with his arms around you and you with your head against his chest.
You fall asleep in each other's arms.
You think you might be okay.