This should be my last late post for a while. My thanks to all of you for your patience.
In our first book, The Order of the Four Sons, what brings our heroes together in the first place is a search for Fernando Rios. Rios vanished years ago, but a telephone call reaches the Order as if it were yesterday, warning of a reality-twisting terror that could threaten the entire world. He must be found, rescued if possible. And the threat he discovered must be eliminated.
The team follows a trail of clues, some recent, some ancient, until finally they find their way into their enemy's own lair . . .
“Wait,” Cecil said, “I’ve got power.”
They stopped. Shining his flashlight around, the Colonel asked, “Well? Got anything?”
“Rebooting,” Cecil said. This time, just over a minute passed before he spoke again. “Okay, we’re back up. No movement ahead. But this is a high-energy area, so it would take a major spike to register on my equipment right now.”
“You just keep me appraised of any fuckin’ spikes.”
The stone walls had been almost completely replaced by brick, and they, too, had closed in, forcing the team to proceed single-file. It appeared that the walls had once been plaster, but that had long-since crumbled away to reveal, here and there, expanses of stone of a less impressive masonry, with powdery mortar and chicken wire. In other places there was relatively modern looking cinderblock.
Their passage was slow, impeded by heaps of moldering furniture: chairs, headboards, tables, a writing desk, a piano bench, stacks of rotting timber. The floor was also littered with old doors, ‘70’s style wood paneling, and scraps of material so filthy as to defy analysis. Occasionally there would be a bare window, bricked up somehow from the other side of the glass.
After they had gone about fifteen feet, they found a gaping hole in the floor, almost the entire width of the hallway.
JD shined his flashlight down into it. They couldn’t see anything. He reached into one of the pockets of his duster and produced a flare.
“Did they teach you that in the marines?” Murphy asked.
“Nope,” the Colonel replied. “Boy Scouts, Mister Murphy.” He pulled the tab. “Be prepared.” He dropped the flare into the hole.
It tumbled end over end to a bare dirt floor.
“Oubliette,” Doug murmured.
“Whaddaya reckon, forty feet?” the Colonel asked.
“I didn’t expect it to have a bottom,” Kate remarked, looking pale in the flashlight’s glare.
“Deep enough to kill ya, though,” the Colonel said. “That’s all that matters. Everybody, watch your step.”
The Colonel led the way around the pit, pressing himself against the wall, gingerly testing the floorboards with his boots for loose areas.
They could make out the end of the hallway. There was a very narrow door, perhaps three feet wide, set into a cinderblock wall.
The Colonel paused, shining a flashlight into the doorway. It led into a corridor even more narrow than the one they’d just been in, a hairpin turn taking them off to the right.
They all passed into the corridor.
“Everybody still with me?” the Colonel called over his shoulder. “Murphy-Kate-Doc-Cecil?”
There was a chorus of affirmations.
“Just checkin’,” the Colonel grunted. “Tighter’n a bull’s ass in fly season in here. Can’t turn around to look for ya. Everybody stay right behind me.”
The flashlights revealed wooden walls here—some of that ‘70’s style paneling they’d seen in the scrap heaps behind them. There were also--
“Colonel, we’ve got doors,” Murphy said.
“After you, sir.”
“All right, then,” the Colonel drew himself up and then opened the first door. It led to another corridor full of doors. “Well, shit again,” he muttered.
“No go?” Murphy asked.
Shaking his head, JD shut the door.
“Well, then, Colonel, if I may . . .?” Murphy pulled a small plastic doorstop from one of his jacket pockets.
“You’re carrying doorstops?” Kate asked, incredulous.
“Standard SWAT issue,” he dropped it onto the floor and kicked it firmly under the door.
She looked dumbfounded. “I mean . . . really?”
“Really.” He jiggled the door handle to demonstrate. It wouldn’t budge. “Simple physics. Nobody’s coming through that door.” For the second time, Kate looked impressed. “Don’t applaud,” he said dryly. “Just throw money.” They continued on.
The ceiling here was wooden beams, just skeletons in some places, with gaps leaving squares of darkness over their heads.
“Anybody else smell that?” Kate asked, wrinkling up her nose. “Smells like—”
“Burnt hair,” Cecil finished.
“And burning flesh,” Doug added. “You realize what that means.”
“Eretics,” grunted JD. “Looks like we’re in the right place.”
“What the hell is wrong with our lifestyle, that the smell of roasted undead means that we’re in the right place—and, oh look. Blood,” Murphy shined his flashlight down.
There were dots of it on the floor—not a lot. But enough.
Murphy knelt down and touched one of the dots. “Still sticky.”
He shined his flashlight along the floor. There were more splashes of blood further ahead—larger splashes.
No one said anything as they continued to creep along the hallway. They tried two more doors—one led to a room barely bigger than a closet, stacked with a few wooden crates. The second led to yet another hallway. Murphy used another doorstop to block it.
At last, their flashlights landed on an old black telephone mounted on the wall.
The whole section of the wall around it was awash in blood. Beneath it, there was more blood, and drag marks going down the hall away from them.
“Movement, down the hall,” Cecil said quickly. He immediately raised his gun, but couldn’t fire because everyone else was in front of him. Kate, following where his gun was pointed, swung her flashlight from the phone to the end of the corridor.
“Get that damn thing out of my face,” the Colonel snarled, throwing up his hand to shield his eyes.
As he spoke, the phone rang abruptly, piercingly.
Kate shrieked, leaping back against the wall.
“Movement!” Cecil shouted.
“I can’t see shit!”
“There it goes—” Cecil said.
“Colonel, down!” Murphy blared, raising his shotgun.
The Colonel dropped to the floor and Murphy fired.
The creature at the end of the hallway was too quick. It disappeared around the corner, and Murphy’s shot tore out a section of wood paneling in the far wall.
“Fuck,” Murphy pumped the action. “I guess now we know what happened to Fernando.”
“Could he still be alive?” Kate asked.
Murphy looked at the massive blood stain. “Maybe.”
“They’ve dragged him off!” she cried, pointing to the marks on the floor.
“And we’re goin’ after him, Katie. Just hold your horses,” the Colonel picked himself up off the floor, blinking away the rest of the after-glare as best he could. “Nice shootin’, Murphy.”
“Thank you. We’re going after him?”
“We’re sure as shit not leavin’ him behind. Not when he could still be alive.”
Murphy hesitated for several seconds. “Okay.”
They followed the blood-stained trail. No one spoke. It went around the corner—the direction in which the eretic had gone.
More hallway. More doors. More blood.
“It’s on the ceiling,” Kate marveled.
“Major arterial damage,” Murphy said evenly.
The trail led into a doorway on the left. The door had been torn off.
“Cecil, any movement?” the Colonel asked.
“Neg—” Cecil began. “Wait. Yes . . . very slight. And some heat.”
Kate looked hopefully from Cecil to the Colonel.
“Murphy,” JD said simply. Murphy nodded. The two of them went into the room and checked it.
Fernando Rios was lying on the floor on the right wall. He was on his right side, his back to the wall. His eyes were open.
“Socorro,” he whispered.
(Canopic Jars image courtesy of http://egyencient.wordpress.com; The Dying Gaul is a Roman replication of a lost Hellenic sculpture, original artist unknown.)