Soon: somewhere near the coasts of the 5th dimension, adrift betwixt light and shadow, science and superstition…
The massive air-cooled turbine goes “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa”, powered by the massive pulsating ova of the slumbering world snake. The deck of the Shiftship shudders violently, and I catch hold of a guy-wire leading from the bowsprit. The spinnaker flares out wildly in the muted light, all Halloween orange and chimney red.
“The fuck was that?” I growl through yellowed teeth clenched around the soggy end of a cigar.
“It’s just the Mitty Effect! The turbine should blow clear in a sec!” shouts Miss Twist over the roar of the World-Vent the Shiftship is slowly circling. She has lashed herself to the helm atop the stern deck. We don’t call it a poop deck. That is just immature. And taken from the French, so: doubly immature.
The Shiftship jolts again, the spinnaker folds and collapses on itself and the browspit retracts. Wearing a bright yellow rain slicker, Dr. Hands stands stoically upright in the lashing spray of dreams and nightmares frothing below us. He bellows something to me, no doubt punctuated by a slurpy “brains!” but I can’t hear him: between the roar of the engines, the shrill throb of the Crawl and the rasping crackle of the massive Vent that has opened into another world off our port bow, I can’t hear shit. The deck jolts again, and I stumble, slip, stagger. Maybe cowboy boots aren’t the best footwear for this sort of thing.
The open deck of the Shiftship doesn’t feel very safe in these world storms that roil through the Crawl from time to time. There is a good chance of being tossed clear, and once adrift in the Crawl- who knows where or when you might end up? Indeed. The Crawl; that strangely eldritch and eerie spooky-space that exists between worlds, space, time, and thought. Possibly also smell, though we’re still not sure about that one.
Where or When, or even Who? That is what we think happened to beloved Nora, the Mrs. Reverend Doctor Syn. After disappearing in a mysterious lab explosion involving the Ourobourus Eggs, some part of her memories -less her personality- have been implanted into a twenty-four year old pacifistic opera singer named Urbania Cordwainer Spurlock. The Gunwytch, for that is what she has become, is standing near me, arms crossed over her incredible décolletage. She is sort of like a bodyguard/nanny who sings Wagner and dresses like Aeon Flux. It’s a long story.
“Nanner nanner weeblo?” bleats The Boy, stumbling from the open hatch of the cabin. It wasn’t easy, retrieving him from the tomb of the Convergence Generals. But retrieve him we had, at great cost…
Then: Deep beneath the plasma wells of Bohemian Grove
The exit-wound from a Vent into any world heals quickly, with a hiss and a wet sound like a sack of underdone pot roast being dragged over a damp floor. For a few moments as the Vent closes, the weird glow of the Crawl can be seen through the tear in the fabric of reality.
This exit-wound won’t completely seal over: the microscopic fibers of a Fortean lifeline woven from fate-worm silk and encased in plastic keeps the dimensional doorway just open enough for communications to go back and forth.
It’s quiet down here; in the subterranean caves far below the gathering place of the most powerful men of this island Earth. The steady wet splat of a mineral drip is slowly forming a stalagmite over the calcified corpse of some sort of bipedal skeleton with saurian features: one of the legendry lizard men, no doubt.
“Neenoo nawo?” comes a plantive voice from somewhere in the caverns. I feel the muscles in my jaw tense and my teeth grind together. I drop my hand reflexively towards the weapons on my waist: but this isn’t the time for combat.
This is a stealth mission. To rescue my son. You have been following the plot, right?
“Shhhhh!” stage whispers Professor Victory on my left. “We should be quiet. Lizard Men have really, really good hearing!”
I fix a glare on his beaming visage and shift my glance to Mr. E. I can’t read his expression, ’cause he’s wearing that damn mask. He must have realized this, because he shrugs.
“I thought bringing him would allay the risk of unnecessary sound: like his slurping ex-roomie,” hisses the diminutive killer.
It’s my turn to shrug. I dig a finger under my clerical collar and adjust it: I need to shave. It’s hot down here, and we can hear the roiling sounds of the plasma pools even through the rock. We didn’t bring Dr. Hands because of the uncontrollable drooling, or Gunwytch because of the singing. We’re an undermanned rescue attempt: rarely a good idea. But sometimes, a few men can silently pull off what a shitload singing can’t, if you know what I mean. If you do, let me know?
Suddenly we hear another sound, a tea-kettle his: a cadaverous, filthy creature stands in the entrance to a smaller cave, branching off the main chamber, ahead: its back is to us, we might have a chance-
But no, the thing must have smelled the booze in my sweat, or the capiscum in Victory’s. Mr. E does not sweat, he says.
Its luminous yellow eyes fix on us, and it bares its unnaturally savage fangs as it hisses again, it’s long greasy hair dangles over its tortured face and i’s talon-like hands reach towards us as it’s vulpine gait covers the floor of the cave and brings the undead scavenger into range…
A new hiss fills the chamber as Mr. E draws the short-bladed sword from a sheath at the small of his back and steps into a defensive crouch. As the hissing beast rushes us, he sidesteps and the headless body lands into a pool of condensation at his feet. The head-still hissing and gnashing its yellow fangs, lands near my cowboy boot. I step down, hard, the steel-shank and reinforced toe crushes the razor-sharp fangs as the undead thing ceases to be.
“Shit, I thought you said you killed all the vampires!” gasps Professor Victory, wiping sweat from his brow.
“Gwai lo, I said he killed all the vampires in Malibu!” whispers Mr. E, cleaning the wide blade of his Wakizashi on the dead creature’s clothes. He returns the weapon to its sheath and pulls his coat around him tightly.
We continue through the twisted caverns, carefully, quietly. We come across no other vampires, nor reptile men. And of course we don’t find any of the latter: the vampires were imported by the Convergence Generals to wipe out the reptile men, in preparation for their takeover of Crux Society at the next gathering at the Bohemian Grove..
“I thought it was the Order of the Black Circle who were resting power from the Scottish Rite Masons?” whispers Prof Victory, sotto voce. I glance at him.
“Was I thinking out loud?”
How long we wander through the weird, antediluvian chambers I cannot say.
At one point we come across a strange, batrachian, half-mad albino thing… that had once been a man.
“Hey, do you guys have any idea how to get out of these caves?” it asks us, hoarse voiced, through a mouthful of broken teeth. We point back whence we came. It thanks us and leaves.
“Weeyoowatcha?” echoed the sad voice of my lonely son, from somewhere in the maze.
“Shit. I feel like we’re going in circles…” I hiss.
Professor Victory shakes his head and points to the hex paper he has been maping our progress on.
“Nope, see? West, south, down, west, north, west, west. We came-“ Suddenly, the air is displaced and there is a whirring sound: Mr. E has spun into a brutally efficient crouch and produced a collapsible metal-mesh bag on a chain. Hurling it through the air, the bag closes over the head of an insect-like thing standing immediately behind Prof Victory with open mandibles and quivering poison- then Mr. E yanks, and the monster’s head, in the bag, flies back across the room into the martial artist’s hands.
“Xue di zi, bitches” rasps my assassin friend.
His victory chuckle is cut short: A snarling War Wolf leaps from the shadows behind him. My hand drops to my side and whips the heavy Walker Colt from its custom holster. The massive blackpowder handgun roars once and the War Wolf goes down, a smoking crater in its chest. Even as it lands, I see the thin-bladed Stiletto sticking out from under its chin.
“I haven’t lost my edge!” chuckles the masked killer.
“Or your point!” I say. We both laugh, nod at each other.
I keep the 12 pound pistol in my hand. The original weapon only weighed 10 pounds, but we welded a scythe blade under the barrel.
Professor Victory holsters the silenced .22 he’s been carrying and un-slings a short-barreled Remington shotgun.
“You guys always show off,” he says, managing to not quite whine. “I was totally gonna cap it, all silent and shit.”
Professor Victory is not a small man. Easily 6’2’’, his broad shoulders fill out his loose fitting Safari style shirt, pockets bulging with shells, maps and chemlights, flares and wax pencils, all sorts of survival gear, like polyhedral dice…
“So much for stealth. The rest of the pack will have felt that one’s death spasms,” he nods towards the dead War Wolf, product of the Fenris Project. He pumps the weapon, chambering a round, and pulls down his dust-wind goggles.
“Let’s do this shit,” snarls Professor Victory.
“Yeah, fuck all that ‘brain trust’ stuff,” says Mr. E, pulling a collapsible polearm out from under his trenchcoat and locking the sections into place. “Let’s get our kicks dirty,”
I replace the load in my Colt, cross myself, and take a slug of Bushmill’s holy water from my trusty flask. My hands are sweating.
There ahead of us, a thick wooden door. Big enough for a man to fit through easily, for a War Wolf or one of those Insectoids it’ll be a tight fit. I nod at Victory, he aims the shotgun at the top hinge, blows it. I hit the door with all two hundred and ten pounds of angry preacher-man, and we spill into the Tomb.
A large room, with a wooden scaffolding of some kind inlaid with arcane symbols and surrounded by clear crystal rock formations. A series of grooves on the scaffolding, or really an altar, seem to need a human being’s extremities in it. You know, the kind of thing people are always getting to strapped into in preternatural situations in cavern complexes beneath places of great power.
There, strapped to some nefarious device of unimaginable arcane power, despite not being tall or long enough to fit into the grooves, is my Son.
“Weewoodah?” he asks, smiling, as I come into view.
“Clyde!” I rush forward and cut him loose, embracing him. He starts rummaging in the pocket of my leather butcher’s apron for a snack.
“Cyril?” he asks. “Cyril? Daddy, cyril?”I turn apologetically to my co-rescuers.
“He wants cereal, you see. But his pronounc-“
It is never good to see a friend pointing a shotgun at you. Sometimes you just need to trust.
I do as Victory suggested, and can feel the boom of the scattergun and the passage of the buckshot overhead. I am rained upon by War Wolf innards as it flails back wildly, disemboweled by the Professor’s shotgun. We are swarmed as the minions of the Convergence Generals pour through the huge double door at the other end of the chamber- the creatures outnumber us by a lot.
“Twenty to one!” roars Mr. E, as he dances through their ranks, cutting and dicing and glaiving and being all stabbity-stabby on a pack of War Wolves bearing the Crimson Sigil. We are between the enemy and our escape, so it’s a fall-back combat pattern. Of course, there is the out-numbered and under-armed aspect…
A huge, hulking, bulky, tall, really big Vampire stalks towards me, pointing a pointy finger at my son.
“Fresssshh meaaat.” it hisses.
I fuckin’ hate hissing vampires. Why do they hiss? Are vampires part snake or something? Lame.
My Walker Colt is empty; four War Wolves writing on the floor and two Insectoids with shattered carapaces can attest for this. I hold my son in my left arm, the massive weapon in my right fist is dripping blood: I buried the scythe deep into the skull of the last War Wolf to rush me.
I swing the blade at the side of the Vamp’s neck: he casually slaps the weapon aside and growls. Growling I can understand. It’s an apex predator thing. But hissing?
I turn and gently place my son atop a colorful geode.
“Honey, you stay here and play for a second, okay? Not with the monsters!” I caution, yanking the thick bladed Roman style short sword from my belt. The fire-hardened, sharp-pointed wooden sheath it rests in comes with it.
The Vamp laughs: “Can’t even pull-” and I lunge.
The wooden sheath penetrates the monster’s chest as it roars. I trigger the release switch and pull backwards, leaving the sheath imbedded between the bloodsucker’s ribs and my arm is whipping back and around, bringing the keen edge of the heavy cutting blade into the side of the muscular Vampire’s neck, cleanly decapitating the chupa fuck.
It doesn’t go poof into a pile of dust, sadly. It does stumble a bit, hands waving around at the blood-spurting stump: I love it when they do that.
I retrieve my weapons, grab my son.“We gotta go!” I roar, kicking a snarling War Wolf in the nards as my son giggles and points.
“Yeah, yeah, wolfman’s got nards, come on, boys!”
I start towards the cavern entrance, Mr. E by my side.
Behind us, we hear a human shout of pain, Professor Victory’s shotgun booms again, and then is silent. We both turn to check, and see him, struggling towards the infernal device, several Insectoid Enforcers hanging from him. He shoves his fist into one’s open mandible and grabs something, yanks it out: the Insectoid goes down like a marionette with the strings cut. A second rakes it’s talons across his back, and the Prof shrieks, snatches the long-barreled hushpuppy from it’s shoulder holster and jams the barrel into one of the creatures multi-faceted eyes, pulling the trigger of the silenced .22 twice. It may not have stopping power, but a .22 rattling around inside a hardened carapace does a lot of damage. The Insectoid drops, greenish gore dribbling from its ruined skull.
“Go!” roars Professor Victory, dervishing his way through the crushing press of demonic creatures.
“GTFO! I’ll keep ’em busy!”
He staggers under a barrage of War Wolves leaping on him, seems to sag under their weight, then throws them off, squaring his mighty shoulders and stumbling forward. Blood from a dozenish wounds spackle his clothing and the ground around him. Victory swings the empty twelve-gauge like a club, snapping the carapace of a chittering Insectoid. He’s a monster-killing Davy Crockett, sans goofy hat.
He blanches as an Insectoid’s stinger jams into the big muscle of his thigh, shudders, and slams the stock of the shotgun down hard on the creature’s skull, smashing it into chitinous pulp. He staggers forward, still moving under some vicious destructive glorious last-stand kind of motivation…
A half dozen rounds whispering from the barrel of his .22 drop a pair of War Wolves in furry piles of bloody dead nasty. He dumps the empty handgun, headbutts a snarling vampire, and jams the barrel of his shotgun down through its snarling mouth, the barrel protruding from the rear of it’s skull and pinning the writhing creature to the scaffolding.
I struggle to reload my Walker Colt: it takes a while even under good circumstances.
“No!” says Mr. E, putting his hand on my arm.
“He’s buying us time. Save the boy; save the world.”
I turn to him. “Huh?”
Mr. E shrugs. “Well, when we find yer Missus, she’ll be less likely to kill you if you have the boy…”
We run towards the exit and Professor Victory makes his last stand against the waves of Insectoids, War Wolves, Vampires, Winged Lampreys and Shit Monkeys that pour through the cavern entrance.
“This is an arcane power generator!” shouts Professor Victory, standing atop the weird altar with its steam and piston machinery.
“If I plug myself in, the thing’ll overload, take out the entire cave system!”
I stop, panting, and our eyes meet over the hordes of beasties.
“Go then!” He says bravely. “There are other worlds than these!”
“What?” I call. “What does that mean?”
“I’m blowing the horn of Gondor, motherfuckers!” Victory roars, kicking back a pair of monsters and decapitating one with his M9 bayonet. He’s fighting like a guy from one of those 80’s movies, only cooler.
I look at Mr. E who looks as blank as a guy wearing a mask can look.
“What?” we both turn to Victory, dancing atop the eldritch alter, kicking monster ass.
“This is Super Six-Two, requesting permission to defend the crash site!” he screams at me, backhanding a vampire into a jar of acid, kneeing a War Wolf into unconsciousness, and drop kicking an Insectoid so that is is flung up and impaled upon a stalactite.
“Tonight, I’m dinin’ in hell!” and Professor Victory plugs himself into the Eldritch Engine, and the mystical powers began to tear the caverns apart.
“Oh, shit! We gotta bail!” I shout.
“Now I know why humans cry!” screams Victory.
“He’s really stretching the heroic sacrifice thing, now, isn’t he?” asks Mr. E as we run for the lifeline, hitting the transmitters on our rings to warn the Shiftship of our emergence.
The ground is shaking; a weird low-pitch humming makes the fillings in my teeth ache. My son is clutching his hands to his ears.
“Good night, sweet fucking prince!” hollers Victory from behind us.
“That one didn’t even make sense!” I say to Clyde.
Clyde, eyes wide, as the Cavern begins to disintegrate into multi-colored waves of discordant reality.
With Mr. E leading, we leap through the throbbing Vent, away from the cataclysm behind us, sliding over to the Shiftship on zip-lines.
“wheeeeeee!” shouts my boy. But my eyes are downcast, for Professor Victory is not with us.
Soon: drifting around the crackling World Vent amidst a World Storm in The Crawl, aboard the Shiftship…
As soon as the storm abates, we’ll all lift a glass for Professor Victory. For a brave man who joins the ranks of Boromir, Shugart & Gordon, and all those half-nekkid Greeks.
I look fondly at my son, being held up by his strange bodyguard who, despite being a virgin, has memories of giving birth to him. My son stares at the reinforced glass dome that covers the pulsating egg sac that powers the Shiftship.
Mr. E stands by himself, hands tucked in the pockets of his gore-stained coat, implacable, unseen eyes staring over the rail into the near-distant nothingness of the great streaming empty between here and now. He might feel my glance upon his shoulder, he must, because turns to me and he draws his right hand from his pocket, gloved fingers crossed.
“Heng Dai, RevDoc,” he rasps at me. “We’ll see this through.”
Indeed. All the way.
Soon enough, there will be time for grief and memories and-
“Three O’Clock high! Slurrrrrrrrrp- movement!“ cries Dr. Israel Hands, the half-zombie master healer.
We all look, even Viv, the poison lady, climbs up from the belly blister where she manipulates the directional thrusters of the Ourobourus spawn-powered Shiftship.
“D’aw, hell,” I say, wearily walking towards the weapons locker.
“Get the boy below, perky-tits,” I say to the Gunwytch. “We got incoming monsters.”
“DEVIL BATS!” yells Toxic Viv, pointing.
Indeed: A swarm of man-sized winged monsters, hundreds of them, are diving towards the Shiftship as it circles the pulsating Vent that leads- home? We might not find out…