Chapter 74: Hell in the Pantry
We left our heroes preparing to do vampire clean-up at a nearby house,
on the request of the residents. The party going out the door includes
Kate, Dafnord, Daphne (disguised as a human), Markel and his dragon
(disguised as a mastiff), Corrian the Gargoyle (disguised as a bulldog),
Robbie (disguised as a human), and Brunalf (disguised by keeping his
mouth shut). At the last minute, Salimar decides to go, too.
Oh, yes, and our newly-acquired lookout and adviser, Mr. Chassan. We ask him what he thinks of holy water as a counter-measure to vampires. He reiterates that his favorite counter-measure is running away, but holy water is worth a try. Accordingly, Robbie rezzes up a large squirt gun and a bucket. On the way to Southwick House, we stop at a church, St. Baltalf's, where, prior to the last vampire hunt at Carlfax Abbey, Tom got some holy water.
Chassan doesn't think much of a garden-variety Anglican church, without so much as a holy of holies, and he cringes as Robbie and Dafnord head for the door. When asked, he expresses misgivings about Robbie going into a holy place -- even a second-stringer like this -- with his new djinn-magic body. Robbie isn't worried, but Dafnord is, so Robbie tries sending one of his eyes in ahead of Dafnord.
The eye floats through the entryway, but goes poof in a colorful display of unraveling rainbows as soon as it enters the nave. (Over the telepathy net, Tom recalls to Robbie an occasion when Robbie said he wasn't very interested in religion. Tom advises him to get interested.)
A cleric comes fluttering in, wondering what the funny lights were about. He finds a giant with a bucket and thing like a garden sprayer, who tries to tell him that the light was a reflection off a passing cab. He doesn't seem convinced, but drops the issue. This fellow turns out to be a deacon, not the vicar, but he's heard about Tom's prior use of holy water, and seems to think we had very good results. So he is willing to provide Dafnord with some.
While Dafnord, coached by Tom via net, squeezes into a pew and simulates an attitude of prayer, the deacon busies himself. Dafnord was expecting something like a birdbath, but the baptismal font turns out to be a stout eight-sided wooden pillar with a pyramidal lid, capped by a descending bird (dove). When the deacon finishes his procedures -- which look to Dafnord like a curious mixture of chemistry (or cookery) and meditation -- he presents Dafnord with two small bottles. The larger has the actual holy water in it, and the smaller contains a surprise bonus, chrism, holy oil.
Both together would rattle freely in the bucket Dafnord brought. The deacon has been studiously ignoring it. Dafnord still accepts them gratefully. Once back in the cab, he compares notes with Tom and finds Tom only got a few ounces to work with, too. It is also worth noting that, although Robbie's eye unraveled, the bucket and the squirt gun he created survived.
As we get closer to Southwick House, Mr. Chassan gets more and more uneasy. "Very bad neighborhood," he says, though we're still near Regent's Park. Salimar feels around herself and registers Something Big and Nasty a bit south of our destination. About now, the cabbie begins having trouble with the horses, who are feeling jittery, as a bit of telepathy establishes.
Chassan really doesn't want to get out of the cab. And then he recommends moving again. Say, three blocks away. He seems to be able to feel the exact border of the, well, accursed ground and keeps taking care to step off it. "They have all these problems and vampires?" he asks. When we ask him what other problems he means, he says that the Veil between worlds is being rent here.
Tom now recalls a previous adventure in this city, fighting back demons that were attacking through some kind of interdimensional gulf. It was, he thought, all a side-effect of meddling with the Eye of Dalgroom, which he thought was over with. After some consideration, we determine that this happened a little south of here, where Salimar feels the Disturbance in the Force.
Curious, Salimar takes out the Map of Here. There's a big black blot over the area, centered on the Braithwaite house, but now extending to right about here at our feet. Chassan is very impressed by the Map, and gives it his own once-over. But then he offers to wait in this little park over here, across the street. Fine. He retreats and begins telling something like a rosary.
We ring the bell and hand our letter of introduction to a butler who is taken aback at our sheer numbers. Markel, a steamer-trunk full of weaponry, the cat, and the "dogs" stay outside, and are shown round to the back by a couple of footmen. The rest of us are shown into a parlor, where Lady Southwick greets us. She's in her early 30s, and wears very "modern" (Edwardian) dress. She serves us lemonade and tells us "It's been dreadful here." There are horrid sounds, and a slimy ooze is coming out of the wall. There's been poltergeist activity, and all the bigger mirrors are broken. And a strange new crack has appeared in the pantry wall.
Dafnord asks how long this has been going on. Hard to say; it sort of crept up on them. It started to be hard getting to sleep. The first real crisis was three weeks ago, and the first mirror shattered 16 days ago.
Salimar asks to see the pantry. She looks at the crack in the wall and sends in a clairvoyant viewpoint, exercising her interdimensional perceptions.
The crack seems to yawn vastly, twist sideways, and turn into a pair of dark, rough plains, occupied by whirling nebulosities.
The bit about cracking mirrors intrigues Robbie. By telepathy, he asks Tom to pass him a mirror from the house. Tom fetches a small hand mirror, goes into the pantope, and tries to open a little door over Robbie's hand, but--
Something dives at Robbie out of thin air. It's vaguely humanoid, with wings for arms and a huge mouth, with which it engulfs Robbie's head.
At the same time, Salimar finds her viewpoint being sucked deeper into the crack. She ignores this and lobs one of her telepathic brain cocktails at Robbie's attacker.
Back in the pantope, Tom sees his attempted little door tear open into a huge, irregular crack in the air. Meanwhile, the ceiling and floor fall up and down, respectively, leaving him in mid-air.
At the tradesman's entrance, both "dogs" were climbing the back stairs when the house was rocked by the explosion. Both fall down the stairs, shredding their glamour all to ... um. At the same time, Robbie summons his mobile gun platforms. These were in the steamer trunk, so that goes sailing into the air, followed by Markel and the cat, scrambling madly up the stair, through the door, and down the hall to join their friends in battle. Around now, one of the footmen faints.
Back in the pantry, Dafnord grabs up Lady Southwick in an effective if undignified fireman's character and rushes her away to safety, leaving his place in the battle line in Daphne's capable hands. Unfortunately, the way to safety is through the pantry, so he has a traffic jam with the flying steamer-trunk, Markel, and the cat. (Back at the bottom of the stairs, the Gargoyle is trying to get off of a prone footman without inflicting too much damage. This one is conscious but probably wishes he weren't.)
Markel tries to slap the cat out of the way. The cat uses this opportunity to climb Markel's arm and jump off his fist. By the time the steamer trunk reaches Robbie, the cat is riding on it. He jumps off, onto a shelf, and readies his helmet (which has a nifty little gun in it, perfect for the well-equipped battle-cat).
Kate, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how to use her stun-gun on Robbie's attacker without using it on Robbie, since the former has the latter's head in its mouth. Also, her aim is spoiled by flying luggage, cats, etc. Also, a pot comes in from an odd quarter and hits the trunk. This is not poltergeist activity; it's the cook, who reacts vigorously to supernatural incursions in her pantry.
Robbie forces the monster off his head by brute force, collecting some tooth tears and shredding his glamour, too, thus looking considerably less human. (Between him, the gargoyle, and the dragon, now on hover in the back yard, the Southwick household may have a hard time telling the attackers from the defenders.)
Meanwhile, a ghostlike empty robe, nonetheless equipped with talons, has oozed out of the crack. It attacks Salimar, who retaliates with a brain cocktail. The phantom is blown to shreds, but Salimar took her own blast at point-blank range and wobbles considerably, like a statue of jelly salad.
Robbie slams his attacker into the wall, where it sticks. His vision clear, he draws a plasma gun and starts firing. He crisps the walls, but it also appears to work on the various demons. More Things have started showing up. Three heads are sticking out of the crack, where Salimar is trying to pull herself together -- a reptile, a blob, and a skeleton. A thing like a cat-snake hybrid slithers down out of the ceiling and attacks Robbie. Brunalf notes there is now a hole in the ceiling. He takes aim up it.
Back in the back yard, Dafnord drops Lady Southwick and dashes back in, followed by the Gargoyle.
Back in the pantope, Tom hovers in mid-air and is alarmed to note taloned fingers apparently at work pulling open the rip in the air. He wills it shut. It slams, leaving wiggling demonic fingers sticking out of a crack in the air.
Our cat blasts away the cat-snake, which lands wriggling in two parts on the floor. The pantry floor is getting oozy, now. Robbie decides he'd rather hover over it. He and Brunalf reduce the pieces of the cat-snake to dust.
Dafnord dashes by, extracts his sword Umbra from the flying steamer-trunk, and turns to help Salimar at the pantry wall. She is lobbing telepathic blasts at the beasties squirming out of the crack. Dafnord starts hacking chunks of ectoplasm off them. They roar. The Gargoyle dashes in past Daphne's shoulders and Dafnord's knees, and starts taking apart the skeleton.
Robbie, Kate, and the cat continue to clean up the floor and ceiling in the pantry hall, which is squirming with bits of various demons.
Back in the pantope, Tom forces the crack back into a basic omniport in "off" position -- a ping-pong ball of green light. The crack snaps shut. The floor and ceiling of the pantope swing back into position. Some demonic fingertips land on the deck. The deck, Tom notes, is bright emerald green again; moments before, they had been turning jade-colored.
Back in the pantry, the blobby monster is about gone. Markel tries to beat the reptilian monster on the gargoyle. He breaks his own wrist, but the reptile is traumatized enough to start melting into the ooze on the floor. The gargoyle steps on it. Dafnord cleaves the phantom skeleton from cranium to breastbone, just as Salimar uses glamour to force the crack shut.
After the last blaster-bolt rings out, there's silence, except for people panting. All the monsters are reduced to slime on the floor. But Dafnord's sword is stuck in the now-closed crack.
Dafnord heaves on Umbra, Sword of Chaos. The crack opens. It runs up the wall and into the ceiling, and down into the floor. The whole house, in fact, cracks open on infinite darkness. Dafnord is straddling the crack. Markel and the Gargoyle fall into it.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.