Billy stumbled up the spiral stair case after Julie and Angela. The talon wounds from the imps throbbed in both his legs and arms, but he found he could grit his teeth and limp along well enough. He crested the top of the steps and made the landing to rejoin the rest of the party who seemed to be taking a moment to regroup from the previous battle.
The landing at the top of the spiral stairs was small. The hallway leading off of it headed in one direction, away from the party. It seemed to stretch on into the distance with no end, twist, or side passage in view. Each side of the passageway had closed doors with large brass doorknobs. Hugh de Paynes and Planche both raised their visors for a moment.
“Mademoiselle, young William has taken a wound or two,” Hugh said, as Billy joined them. Angela moved to Billy’s side and began running her light-infused hands over each bloody point on his limbs. Where she touched a soothing warmth spread, setting his tense muscles at ease.
“Now what?” Billy asked as he relaxed into the embrace of the healing light. Each of them seemed to standing in front of a different door.
“Each of us keeps the people we meet in our coer, our heart, here,” Hugh said, thrusting his sword at one of the doors. “It is inside the heart where we keep what we truly think about a person.”
“These doors represent the most recent of this man’s acquaintances but as we get further in these rooms will hold those closest to him until we get to that door which contains his own self-image,” Planche added, dropping his visor. “Nous devons nous dépêcher mon seigneur.”
“But the hall doesn’t end, how do we get to the end?” Angela asked from within her scintillating nimbus of crackling light.
“You will be safer in the hallway as we press the attack. You will know when this man is distracted enough to escape and will have little time to do it. Be ready, and do not open any of the doors. The occupants will not take kindly to your presence” Hugh said, nodding at the door across from him.
“I can handle myself,” Julie said, staring at the closed visor.
“Your pride will be your downfall,” Planche said. He did not wait for a reply. He simply bowed his head and vanished. Hugh de Paynes continued to return the silent stare for a moment longer then he too bowed his head and vanished as well, leaving the hallway empty.
Julie took one look at Angela and Billy then stepped to the nearest door. She stood there a moment as if contemplating something before taking hold of the handle. Both Angela and Billy started to react but she opened the door before either could voice a protest.
The room was about ten or fifteen feet square, Billy wasn’t sure. It seemed like it was as large as any bedroom he’d ever had. The walls were a sterile white without blemish or embellishment. One single light fixture sat in the middle of the ceiling and the tile floor seemed completely clear of debris or dirt. No other doors lead out of the room.
Julie moved from the door to the one opposite it on the hallway and opened it. Billy and Angela turned to peer around the door as it swung open. The second room appeared just as the first, empty and devoid of anything at all.
Julie moved to a third room, and a fourth. Each open door revealed the same empty room. The fifth room caught them a little by surprise.
The fifth room looked just like a hotel room set from an old noir detective movie. A large queen bed sat against the left wall with two night stands. Each nightstand held a lamp, both of which were on. A cigarette burned on the far nightstand, sending a thin tendril of smoke up into and through the lamp shade. A bottle of a dark amber liquid sat next to the ashtray with the label turned just enough away that Billy couldn’t make out what brand it was. A woman with curly brunette hair reclined on the bed holding a highball of the liquid with ice that clinked as she pulled on the drink.
“Oh, hi,” she slurred. This was obviously not her first drink. “Is Robert done freshening up out there?”
“Uh, I haven’t seen him,” Billy responded. He felt Angela tighten her grip on his hand, but she said nothing.
“Ma’am, we’re here to get you out of here,” Julie said, stepping into the room. Billy thought she sounded very official as she moved around the bed to try and assist the woman.
“Out of here? But we just got here, and Robert promised me a good time,” she said, running her free hand along the curve of her hip as she slid one leg down the other.
“You’ve had enough of this,” Julie said, picking up the bottle from the nightstand and reaching for the glass the woman held. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here before you do something you’ll regret.”
“You’re not with Robert, are you?” the woman asked as she tried to move the glass out of Julie’s reach. Julie ignored her protests and placed a knee on the bed so she could extend her reach enough to get the glass.
“Julie I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Angela said.
“No, we’re not with Robert,” Julie said adding a note of sarcasm to the name and taking hold of the glass and snatching it from the woman’s grasp. “Give me that.”
“Give it back!” the woman screeched as she came to her knees on the bed and lunged at Julie.
Julie expected the move but had to push off the bed, which gave more than she expected. The woman got a hold of her arm and throwing her further off balance and she dropped the drink to get a defensive grip on the arm. The glass hit the bed and tumbled to the floor, spilling the liquor and rolling across the carpet.
“Party foul! You have to be punished for that one,” the woman said as she began to smile, only her smile didn’t seem to stop where it should have. As her lips elongated, they seemed to continue to stretch and force her cheeks to widen. Suddenly, white spots appeared on her top and bottom lips which stretched out and extended both up and down into long teeth. Her eyes slanted and elongated into ovals as her hair seemed to slick down into an almost light absorbing black. She cackled and latched her free hand onto Julie’s other arm as she bounced up onto wiry legs made almost entirely of sinew and tendon which shone through an almost translucent alabaster skin.
“Where in the Hell did you come from?” Julie asked as she dropped the liquor bottle to take a hold of the other arm.
“Hell? No, but it is a suburb,” the woman said as she lifted Julie off the ground and over her head. Julie reacted instantly as a red glow surrounded her hands and flashed in an explosion of light. The arms of the bestial woman severed just behind each wrist and Julie fell to the floor as arterial blood spurted from the stumps. The woman seemed unfazed as she leapt off the bed, maw agape, intent on mauling Julie as she lay on the floor. Julie reacted with another set of blasts of red that caught the woman in the head and throat, punching fists sized holes where they struck. Julie rolled expertly out of the way as the body dropped heavily to the floor and lay still.
“Let’s get out of here,” Billy said, as Julie regained her feet and crossed the room to stand with them.
“Good advice Cherry. Let’s get a good image of one of those doors and try this trick the Frogs mentioned,” Julie said, exiting the room. Angela and Billy made no protest moving back into the hallway with her. “You first, Cherry, then you, and I’ll bring up the rear.”
Billy nodded and faced a door. He concentrated on the image of wood that made up the surface, on the highly polished brass knob. He closed his eyes and created a picture of the hallway with doors on either side and one at the end just like the one he had just looked at, and then placed himself in that image. He felt a slight tingle and when he opened his eyes he stood at the exact spot he’d just been picturing in his mind. A moment later Angela appeared, followed closely by Julie.
“Planche said we keep our closest people in these rooms. Maybe we can find someone else we can use to locate Dante behind one of these doors,” Julie suggested.
“That didn’t go so well last time,” Angela responded.
“We know it’s coming this time. We just go in prepared,” she answered, moving to the left door. “Besides, this is valuable intel we can’t just leave behind.”
Once again, before anyone could move she opened the door. Billy raised his hands and tried to concentrate hard on the image of Hugh de Paynes’ kite shield. Angela likewise had her hands raised but she seemed to be holding crackling balls of white light. Julie’s hands were also bathed in the now familiar red glow.
The door swung open and revealed a familiar scene. A small room with a hospital bed at one end and television on a table at the other lay before them. The woman in the bed was the same woman they’d visited when the entire encounter began, only this time an elderly man and woman sat beside her bedside. They rose as the door opened.
“Is Robert with you?” the woman asked.
“It’s about time he visited his mother,” the man said frowning.
“Robert’s not with them, father. He never was a very good boy anyway,” the woman in the bed said.
The elderly couple began transforming into the monstrous humanoids the drunken woman had become and scrambled over the bed toward the trio. Julie and Angela unleashed their bolts of light but missed their targets. Billy couldn’t seem to manifest anything of use so he did the only thing that came to mind. He closed the door. A heavy thud and pounding announced the arrival of the monsters on the other side, but the door stood solid otherwise. Julie spun and without a word opened the opposite door.
“Wait,” Angela shouted trying to grab the handle.
“No don’t,” Billy yelled, grabbing her left arm as she prepared to open the door.
“We got this. Just prep your light blasts,” Julie said, wrenching her arm away from Billy. Angela put her hands out, crackling with white light as the red glow surrounded Julie’s free hand. Billy looked at the two women and then at his own, bare hands. Angela stared back, patiently waiting while Julie held him with a look of annoyed contempt.
Suddenly, a soft voice spoke in the back of his mind, “Above all, taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Instantly, a large kite shield just like Hugh and Planche’s appeared on Billy’s right arm. Before he could react, Julie nodded and opened the door.
As the door swung opened they saw a very different scene. This time the sky was black filled with sooty clouds. A barren plain of stone stretched out before them. A line of naked and emaciated men and women traveled from a quarry pit across the plain to the tower, carrying stones. They moved up the tower and handed their burden to little hunched men with stone-like skin covered in horns and protrusions. Task masters wielding flaming axes stood guard over the laboring people, and standing not ten feet away, in the middle of the scene stood Rabdos the Strangler with his flaming axe leveled right at Julie Payne.
“He was right you know. Your pride did kill you,” he said as a flaming shaft launched from the axe. Billy’s arm moved before his brain registered the threat, and the shield caught the brunt of the blast on the right edge. Some of the hellfire got through and caught Julie on the right shoulder and arm.
She screamed and fell away to the right, slamming the door shut as she dropped. Angela tried to launch her blasts but Billy was in the way and then the door shut, cutting off her field of fire. Billy and Angela moved and knelt to see to Julie as she lay on the floor on her left side moaning in pain. The light around Angela’s hands shifted from the hard crackling white light to the soft sunlit glow as she began to run her hands over the burns covering most of Julie’s right shoulder. At that exact moment every door on the hallway snapped open and the corridor was suddenly filled with men and women, all looking at them.
“It’s the signal!” Billy shouted and grabbed Angela’s shoulder. Every single person in the corridor looking at them shifted into monstrous caricatures of themselves, screamed, and ran at them. Billy shut his eyes, pictured the store room with the neat burlap bags and earthy smell, and shoved every ounce of inner strength he had at the thought of getting out of that mansion.
Guardians of the Herald is live on Kickstarter to fund the production of Angels and Demons as a real book! Go to this address to get involved and see the nifty rewards available to backers of the project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thecavalier/angels-and-demons-guardians-of-the-herald-issues-1
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 45 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation, Guardians of the Herald Issues 1-45: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY.
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