Lola had no recollection of what had happened next. She had doubled over in the most excruciating pain she had ever felt in her entire life. It had felt as if her skin had been set alight. Her intestines had felt as if they were in knots. If she had been conscious any longer, she was certain she would've gone mad from the agony. Mercifully, she had blacked out within seconds.
'Lola…' a voice carried her name softly in the darkness.
Lola began to sense light beneath her closed eyelids. Slowly, she opened them, squinting as light flooded her eyes. It didn't take her long to figure out that she was currently in a hospital. And not just that, but it appeared that she was in her own private room as well. She was admiring the bouquet of fresh flowers on her bedside table when the door to the room opened. Lola couldn't tell whether she should be pleased or worried that it was Charles who walked in, carrying a jug of orange juice and a plate of cookies. He was so excited to see that she was finally awake that he almost dropped both items then and there.
'Lola!' He rushed – practically sprinted – towards her, and quickly set aside the cookies and juice so that his free hands could hold hers.
Lola found herself giggling nervously again, as she had done the first time they'd met. Now that she thought about it, they hadn't met very long ago. She wondered where this familiarity was coming from on his part. She didn't exactly relish the feel of his cold and clammy hands, but at the same time she found a strange sense of comfort in it.
'I'm so glad you're awake. You have no idea how worried we all were.' He began to shake his head. 'When you dropped, Mr. Ergot thought that was the death of you, and so did I, to be honest.'
'Yeah, the dude who wanted you to wear that tentacle suit. He's the Creative Director.'
'Right, well, I guess I'm lucky to be alive. I couldn't imagine being found dead in that dreadful suit.' Lola cringed at the thought of it. And then an even worse thought came unbidden into her mind. She remembered how her skin had started to turn green. With a fearful gasp, she pulled her hands away from Charles' grasp and began to look for any traces of green on her pale skin.
'What happened to me?' She asked, 'I didn't imagine it, did I? My skin turning green?'
'No. It wasn't your imagination. I think your body reacted to the soup.'
Lola frowned. 'Well, has anyone else reacted to the soup? I mean, I know it looked like toxic waste, but surely turning green is still a bit unusual for an allergic reaction.'
Charles looked uneasy. His hands were now buried in his jean pockets and his little sharp teeth were gnawing away at his bottom lip. He had assumed that she was one of them, and he was right; her reaction to the soup confirmed it. What he had failed to realise, however, was that Lola was completely unaware of her true nature. He didn't want to freak her out, and he certainly didn't feel like it was his place to be breaking the news to her.
Lola must have sensed something was wrong because she looked up from her hands and met his eyes dead on. 'What's wrong?'
Charles sighed. It couldn't be helped. He would have to try to shed at least a glimmer of light on her heritage. Just to push her in the right direction. 'That ring around your neck… do you know where it came from?'
Lola's hand came up instinctively to touch it. 'It was my father's. Why?'
'Well, it's sort of a… hmm, how should I put it? It's kind of like a religious symbol. Yeah, that's what it is.'
Lola stared at Charles with wide eyes. The strange feeling that had come over her when he had first mentioned the necklace was back. It seemed to course through her body like a cold poison. She knew that what he was saying was significant, not just mindless chatter to take her mind off tentacle suits and toxic fish soup. It was akin to that feeling you get when you're aware that you've forgotten to do something very important. Her mind searched for what it was, that thing that needed to be remembered before it was too late.
And then, like a burst of sunshine through the gloom, there came an image in her mind's eye that she had hoped never to see again. It was perched precariously on the highest cliff of Little Mowcliff, derelict and almost black, that horrible building that was used as a church. Her mother had kept her away from that place, saying it wasn't safe. That building's going to fall into the sea any minute! Yes, that's what her mother would say.
'What kind of religion?' She could feel beads of sweat forming on her brow.
Charles hesitated, thinking carefully about how he should phrase his answer. 'It's not exactly a quote unquote world religion, but I'm guessing you figured as much. It's very old though, so it's not like one of those New Age belief systems that have popped up in recent history.'
'Okay, but what do they actually believe in? What do they…' Lola paused to find the right word, '…worship?'
Charles gave her toothy smile. 'Does the name Dagon ring any bells?'