The Nick of Time (and other abrasions)
Al Bruno III
Amplifiers squawked to life, the feedback underscored the deep voice of Vincent Padre, “Each of us has been drawn here by a greater power. Let us submit ourselves to that divine wisdom.”
Padre had gathered his flock of Apocalypse-hungry followers to the remains of a burnt out mansion on Kliftin Hill. This was a direct defiance of the laws of the city of Olathoe. Audra DiMico climbed in through the gaping, scorched remains of a first floor window and wondered how long it would be before the Constables found this little hideout.
She found herself in what had once been an opulent lavatory but time and fire damage had left it looking no better than the cruddiest of gas station restrooms. The cracked mirror reflected the streetlights’ illumination and cast strange shapes on the walls. Audra eyed her reflection for a moment, just a teenage girl with tangled black hair and overdone makeup dressed in a plaid man’s shirt, dark slacks and old sneakers. She didn’t think she was as pretty as either of her dorm-mates but there were plenty of boys that disagreed.
“I tell you now that I have had a vision. A holy vision of burning skies and cities made of song.” Padre paused so his followers could get a chorus of hallelujahs out of their system.
Audra moved on, it didn’t do for a girl like her to think about love and besides she had a mission. Her dorm-mate Lorelei Miller had called in a favor, and that meant she was in trouble again.
Creeping towards the basement door Audra thought to herself that Lorelei was always in trouble, she seemed drawn to it like other girls were drawn to fancy shoes.
The speakers hanging on the walls of the makeshift chapel Vincent Padre had built on the upper floor went silent and then suddenly hissed to life again, “...The fires of Damocles will sweep aside the old world, the old faiths. But the heretics will not die, oh no. They will be drawn down to the Great Below and they will live as worms. They will linger.”
Audra paused to whisper an incantation and then made her way down the basement stairs. Not a single board squealed under her feet, the old burglars' spell had seen to that. She had a few other spells on hand as well, spells that could call down well-meaning monsters for defense and escape but at a cost. A cost Audra knew all too well. Better to get this done without being seen.
Halfway down to the basement the air became humid and stinking, it smelled like one of the outhouses at her Uncle’s farm.
She thought of cracked sewer mains and backed up septic tank and cursed herself for wearing her good sneakers. She told herself to breathe through her mouth, to forget her nose was even there.
The basement was dark save for the dull glow of the Xenon Splinter. It was lying on a table, a length of crystal, sharp on one end and rounded on the other. It glowed weakly making Audra think of fairy lights and Christmas pranks.
Audra stepped off the lowest step and felt the basement floor squelch under her feet. She wished she had worn socks.
“We will be reborn in smoke and billow towards heaven!”
Drawing close she marveled at the object on the table. The Xenon Splinter! The stuff of legends and bad poetry. It was in the care of Lorelei's boyfriend Jason Magwier but he was forever losing it. That only further reinforced Audra’s suspicion he was a dangerous loon. Still though, he and Lorelei were waiting for her in a safehouse on Route d'Abbaye. Best not to keep them waiting.
When Audra put her hand on the length of red crystal it began to glow more brightly illuminating the room and confirming she was standing in a layer of shit two inches deep. Her stomach heaved and she threw up on her sneakers. So much for them. By the time she got her retching under control she realized she was hearing a thick slithering sound.
And whining groans.
The Xenon Splinter brightened again revealing the shapes making their way to her from the four corners of the basement. Audra screamed.
The shapes had been human once. They crawled. They were naked but the coating of filth, both dry and wet, had rendered them sexless and almost featureless. But still Audra could see enough, she could see the gouged faces, empty eye sockets, toothless mouths, the rotted holes where noses should have been. Their hands and feet had been hacked away as well. Each wound had been brutally cauterized. Audra thought of Vincent Padre's words
“...the unfaithful will not die, oh no. They well be drawn down to the Great Below and they will live as worms.”
The miserable creatures drew closer, drawn by the sound of her screams. What did they want from her? Mercy? Revenge? Audra didn't know, all she knew was that if one touched her she would go mad. She backpedaled to the stairs but Padre was waiting for her. He was nauseatingly handsome.
One of his acolytes peered out from behind him, “How did she get in here?”
Padre smiled knowingly, “She came in through the bathroom window. Didn’t you girl?”
“What happened to these people?” Audra asked, “What did you do to them?”
“Do they disgust you?” he plucked the Xenon Splinter from her hands, “I hope not for you will be joining them. Oh how you shall linger.”
With that her courage broke, she spoke the most difficult of the burglar's spells without even thinking about the consequences. One of the things that dwelt in the Spaces Between heard her plea and plucked her out of angled space. The dweller was not quite and an angel and not quite a nightmare but Audra knew not the be afraid. She knew where the real monsters were.