The Horror of Innsbrook
by Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org


Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney
and used here without their creators' knowledge or consent.

#37 in an ongoing saga.



There was, for instance, the belief that a legion of batwinged
devils kept witches' sabbath each night at the priory ... ( Lovecraft,
"The Rats in the Walls." )

Once a specimen was seen flying -- launching itself from the
top of a bald, lonely hill at night and vanishing in the sky after its
great flapping wings had been silhouetted an instant against the full
moon. ( Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness." )


FROM THE PAPERS WRITTEN BY ONE H.M. :

An Accounting of Events in Innsbrook --

I never imagined, though I passed the great gates several
times a week during my course of study at the university, that I would
one day see those gates from within. Not briefly and from the cobbled
path, either, but from behind the barred and narrow window of my
room, and for an undetermined amount of time.
It is at the behest of my doctors that I write this. I swear
before the heavens that it is the truth, yet they will think it only further
proof of the ravings that brought me back to Arkham, this time not as
a student but as an inmate of the very asylum that I passed frequently
as I went between the university and the house in which I had taken a
fifth-floor room.
It was over my mother's protests that I attended Miskatonic.
She, having fled New England in favour of the languid South
following the tragic accident that claimed the life of my father and
very nearly taken mine as well when I was but a child, could not deter
me once I had come of age.
At Miskatonic, I studied literature and mathematics, and now
free of my mother's watchful eye, renewed correspondance with my
cousin Phillip in Innsbrook.
Innsbrook! Memories of my childhood there haunted me. The
house, perched atop its hill like some brooding stone beast, overlooked
the empty cluster of buildings below -- for the town of Innsbrook had
been deserted since well before my time. The nearest town was ten
miles away, and even there they shunned us, having heard and
believed the mad rumours of Innsbrook, and of the Mosswell family.
I remembered the house, its rooms so large and grand seen
through young eyes. It had been a strange house, a quiet house, where
ancestors stared down from the walls and the rooms never seemed
quite to fit together.
Even so, I had been happy there. Phillip, older than me, had
always and jestingly referred to our uncle as Richard III. This although
his resemblance to Shakespeare's character was in body only, as he
was of a gentle and kindly nature.
Infirmities had abounded in our family, that also I
remembered. Uncle Richard, with his hunched back and his
malformed hand that had but three fingers. My infrequently-seen
great-grandfather, whose skin was so averse to the sun that he would
only emerge from his windowless rooms on the cloudiest of days. Even
my father, whose strange lassitude during daylight hours was
something that I, in small part, shared.
My mother had come to hate that house, located as it was so
far from what she termed civilization. The village stood empty and
had for many years, with only our family remaining. It must have
come as quite a shock to my mother when she found that her new life
as a married woman would be one of isolation, with only my father's
family for company. Even when she attempted to strike up friendships
with women from the neighbouring townships, she was not welcomed,
due in part to the unsavoury reputation of Innsbrook.
The path alongside the brook eventually met the road by the
river, which led to Innsmouth by the sea, but even Uncle Richard
admitted that queer things went on in Innsmouth. While we Mosswells
were not precisely ostracized there, neither were we quite welcomed.
There was a _look_ to the Innsmouth people that had frightened me as
a child, and Phillip delighted in telling me tales of sea creatures and
sacrifices.
Suffice to say, when my father died, my mother quickly left
Innsbrook. She took me with her, though I had not recovered from my
injuries, and very much over my uncle's objections. It was his wish
that Phillip and I, the last of the Mosswells, stay in our ancestral
home.
Phillip stayed; I did not. But thoughts of the house on the hill
were never far from my mind, especially on those hot days when I
could not bear to set foot outside of my room, and kept the blinds
drawn. On those days, my mother would become frightfully upset and
worried, but never brought doctors around to see me. In fact, she had
always shown a great reluctance when it came to physicians, and even
went so far as to falsify my school records to show that I had gotten the
requisite examinations and injections, when I had not.
I escaped to Miskatonic's somber halls over her tearful
protests. She would thereafter call me at odd hours, begging me to
leave New England. I was most disturbed by one of the last things she
said to me, proof of how far her madness had progressed.
"He has found me," she told me in that final call. "I hear him
flapping in the night. He's found me, Howard, but it's _you_ that he
wants."
I dismissed her fears with a laugh, to my shame; days later I
received word that she was dead. She had hanged herself in the attic,
leaving a note filled with the same incoherent ramblings she had said
to me.
In the months following her death, I achieved a respect and
obedience for her wishes that I had not been able to accomplish while
she lived. I returned to the South and lived there for a time, but found
that my intolerance for the long days had increased. When the
summers came, there would seem to settle over the land a damp and
droning blanket of heat and insects, and I would yearn for the cool and
shadowed woods around Innsbrook.
It was another death that gave me reason to go there. My
cousin Phillip, who had inherited the house from Uncle Richard, had
in turn left it to me. I had received a letter from him in the weeks
preceding his death, a letter which seemed in retrospect both suicidal
and weirdly jubilant, in which he wrote of joining our ancestors and
embracing the family heritage.
I knew little of our ancestors, and only that there seemed to be
a family heritage of dying by one's own hand, which I did not much
desire to undertake for myself. Yet there was never a question of not
going.
I had some money left to me from my mother, and though it
would have been her death all over again if she knew for what use I
intended it, I used it to settle my affairs in the South and move to
Innsbrook.
I shall never forget that first adult sight of the house, which
came after a drive along the narrow and overgrown road through the
town itself and past the still, nameless lake-spring which was the
source of the brook for which Innsbrook was named.
It would have been easy to believe that I was driving not only
across a distance but time itself. A foreboding rose within me, mingled
with what I later came to know as exhileration.
The house had fallen into disrepair, the high stone walls
crumbling under the tendrils of creeping ivy and moss that seemed in
the dusk to glow with some strange phosphoresence. It seemed smaller
than I remembered, only reasonable as it had been now some twenty-
eight years since I had laid eyes upon it. More, it seemed _wrong_
somehow, as if the angles of the roof defied geometry.
To some, the vast and empty house might have been
forbidding, as a silent city of the dead where only rats and carrion
birds move among the weathered bones and onyx sepulchures. As I
stood in the grand hall where the twin staircases swept upward and the
mullioned windows were dimmed with dirt but unbroken, I felt only a
sense of homecoming at long last.
In a fit of nostalgia, I took the room that had been mine as a
child, although it was small and had a peaked roof that necessitated
stooping should I wish to look out the window.
I devoted myself to the cleaning and restoration of the house,
again using my mother's money to do so. I found I had to go three
towns over to find the help I needed for carpentry and masonry
repairs, for in the nearer villages, they closed their doors in my face
when I introduced myself. Even the men I eventually hired were
persuaded only by a generous sum, for they had heard of the Mosswell
family, and Innsbrook.
I recalled the stories with which Phillip had so delighted in
tormenting me as a boy, he never knowing that I did not find them
frightening but oddly comforting. A boy of my tender years should
have been left wakeful and terrified by the thought of monstrous
creatures dwelling in secret cellars below the house, emerging on
moonless nights to feed on the villagers.
I did find it strange, however, that the locals believed those
old tales. Believed them to the point that they shunned honest work
and honest pay.
Of particular note was one old shawl-wrapped beldame who
drove me from her stoop with threats of a licking from her walking-
stick, when I came to inquire after the chance of hiring her strong but
thickwitted son, who, I hoped, would lack the imagination to believe
such wild stories. This woman declared that I had the look and stench
of evil about me, and even went so far as to fork the sign of the evil
eye.
For a time, the house was a place of noise and activity, but the
work was left unfinished when accidents began to befall the men. One
fell from the roof and broke his neck, another severed his hand when
he claimed some hideous thing startled him as he sawed. Those were
the most serious, but it seemed each of the men either cut himself on
some jagged piece of ironwork or stumbled on the stairs or somesuch.
The last straw was the man who became lost in the sub-cellar
and wandered there a whole night before he was found -- and when he
was, his hair had gone mostly grey and he spoke in a hushed tone of
eyes that glowed at him from the darkness.
This all struck me as nonsense. I myself had spent long hours
in the sub-cellar, for it was there my cousin Phillip had taken it into
his head to store his vast library of old books. His collection put even
the library at Miskatonic to shame, and although I had not previously
shared his interest in esoteric lore, I soon found myself captivated by
the passages in von Junzt's and Alhazred's works.
Some nights, I stayed in the sub-cellar until well past dawn,
when I would then stumble up to my room and fall into a deep,
dreamlike, almost deathly sleep. In all that time, I had heard nothing
untoward. The scuffling of rats in the walls, perhaps, although I had
not seen any other sign of rodent infestation. And if I once saw a brief
eldritch marshfire-green glow that might have looked like that which
came from two eyes, eyes that would have stood a full six feet off the
floor, what of it? Here and there along Phillip's bookshelves were set
various objects which could have caught and thrown back the light of
my single lantern.
Nonetheless, the workmen departed, even leaving behind
their tools and their final paycheques. I undertook myself what of the
repairs I could, and soon had the house habitable. While it was not
luxurious, and there remained a faint mouldering scent throughout
that no amount of cleaning could remove, I found it quite comfortable.
Now that I felt I had earned my place in this house, I moved
my personal effects to the large suite that had once belonged to my
uncle. The rooms had wide, shuttered windows which gave onto a
small balcony facing westward.
I soon found myself with a new habit. Each dusk, I would feel
a restlessness within myself and stop whatever I might be doing, to
climb the stairs and open the shutters so that I might step out onto the
balcony. From here, I could see the abandoned village below, and the
spring like a mirror of polished obsidian.
I would stand upon the balcony, motionless, watching the sun
sink behind the mountains. As it vanished, I always felt a curious
lightening within myself, and when the first cool evening's breeze
touched me, I felt as refreshed as if I had just woken from a long sleep.
Sometimes I would stand there for hours, looking out over the
countryside with a strange and nameless urge burning in me.
What was I to make of it when I found among my cousin
Phillip's letters and correspondance a mention that he himself had
often done just as I was now doing? When, by all indications, he had
jumped to his death from this very balcony?
This, I recognized, was the very same urge that I felt. To
clamber upon the cast-iron railing, its posts and finials shaped into
leering demon's faces, and then to leap. But the urge was weak, or
perhaps my madness was not yet as strong as that of Phillip -- or my
grandfather, who had drowned himself in the black spring and whose
body had never been found.
I put these things from my mind, and went on about my
business. My investments did well, and I lived for some time the quiet
life of a not-unhappy recluse. I had Phillip's books to keep me
company, and I had never been one for the idle chatter of friends. Of
the rats in the walls, or whatever caused the occasional sounds in the
cellar, I had no complaints.
I am now to the point of reaching the events that so interest
my doctors, although it is not an interest born of belief but one born of
awe at the complex delusions and hallucinations the mind can devise.
Of late, I had felt an increase in restlessness. I had always
been a night owl, but now I had begun sleeping the day through, and
going about the quiet house at night with the feeling that strange
events of momentous importance were afoot, events that I did not
comprehend but was aware of, just as a primitive man might not have
understood the signs of impending thunderstorms but still felt the
heaviness and expectance in the air.
It was as if there was another world over which mine was
laid, a world of far greater complexities and power than I could
possibly comprehend. A world where vast and unspeakable forms
moved through unimaginable inky voids. I began to be troubled by
unsettling dreams of abysses and caverns, of hideous winged shapes,
and most alarming of all, of a disk of fire. It was this last image that
often caused me to awaken in a sudden terror.
I also became aware of sounds in the cellar. I found myself
often looking up from some yellowed and crumbling tome, disturbed
from my reading by what I first thought to be gutteral chantings in a
language that I could not identify, though it seemed at times ancient
and pre-Druidic, and at other times the timbre of it was such that
might have been made by a reptilian beast taught to speak.
It was on one of these occasions that I was impelled by
curiosity to investigate. I had never found the sounds anything other
than comforting, though I suppose another in my position might have
been alarmed by the suggestion of peculiar chantings seemingly
coming up through the floor.
The local rumours did cross my mind, as did the thought of
my cousin Phillip and his interest in esoteric arts. Yet even that, the
prospect of interrupting a demonic rite or sabbat, did not cause so
much as a single stirring of fear in my breast.
My investigation turned up nothing out of the ordinary -- no
secret passages or concealed doors. The only thing of note was a
portion of the flagstones in one antechamber to the subcellar, that
seemed not to fit quite flush with their neighbours. There were several
of them, forming a circle a dozen paces wide. These stones were of a
slightly different colour and texture, raised a fraction. Looking upon it,
I had the sudden impression that they formed a wellcap, sealing off a
circular shaft in the floor of the subcellar.
A well, perhaps? Given the preponderance of damp moss that
lined the antechamber, combined with the ancestral family name of
Mosswell, it was not so unlikely as to conclude that there had been at
one time a well beneath the very house.
I was most intrigued by this discovery, and contemplated
having the flagstones taken up to see what was hidden beneath. But,
given the manner in which the workmen had resisted hiring on and
departed with undue haste, I doubted my ability to find any assistance
in such a project.
Once I had become aware of it, I found that thoughts of the
well would not leave my mind. It took to haunting my dreams, dreams
in which I descended a lengthy circular stairway into a darkness as
cold and hollow as that which lies between the stars.
I resolved to settle this matter myself. Armed with pickaxe
and tools, I set about attempting to loosen the flagstones and lift them
clear. As I opened the first crevice between the stones, the chipped-
away mortar having fallen away into some unseen depth, I felt a breath
of cold and moist air upon my face. There was an odour to it that put
me in mind of my dreams of cyclopean tombs beneath the earth.
I succeeded in freeing several flagstones, and shined a light
into the hole I had made. I saw before me exactly that which I had
expected to see, a moss-lined throat of a well with stairs curving away
into blackness. If there was water at the bottom, my light could not
reveal it.
Weariness from my labours had nearly overwhelmed me. I
looked at my watch, the antique pocket-watch that had belonged to
Uncle Richard and then to Phillip, and then to me -- it had been
enclosed with the will, and had upon its gold casing a design that at
first look seemed Celtic but upon closer examination looked almost
like monstrous figures engaged in unholy deeds.
My watch showed the hour to be well past dawn. I had taken
to sleeping during the day, finding it more restful. Now I set aside my
tools and climbed from the cellar to my room, where I fell upon the
bed without even changing from my rumpled and foul-smelling
clothes, and slept like a stone.
I slept the whole day through, awakening to find the evening
star winking through the shutters. I rose, my muscles protesting from
their exertion of the previous night, and went to the window. As was
my habit, I opened it and stepped onto the small balcony, welcoming
the night wind.
The skies were clear, the stars bright points. Yet I saw that
the village below was nearly lost in a thick fog that centered around
the spring.
Even as I watched, the fog came apart and I saw the normally
placid surface of the spring rippling. It looked like a sheet of black
satin with a breeze blowing across it.
To my astonishment, there was a boat upon the water. I had
never seen a single living thing in the town, not even a bird or animal.
The men who had come to work on the restoration of the house had
always given Innsbrook Village a wide berth. I had not even gone
there myself, meaning to do so once the house was in order but then
becoming involved with my cousin's library and lately with my
excavation in the cellar.
This boat, therefore, took me utterly by surprise. It was unlike
any boat I might reasonably expect to see crossing the spring. Its prow
rose into a high, carved figure not unlike that of a Viking longboat,
and seemed to be steered by means of a pole in the hands of one of the
passengers.
A strange chill ran through me at the sight of that large,
hulking figure. I could not see clearly, for although I have always had
excellent night-vision, it was dark and far and there were wisps of fog
still surrounding the boat. Clinging to it, as if the boat had brought the
fog rather than come through it.
I told myself that they would soon see that the village was
deserted -- but this was an odd thought to have, for surely they had
come from the village -- where else would they have come from? Yet I
could not shake the feeling that they had come from somewhere else
entirely, that the mist itself had brought them here on a voyage across
mysterious space.
I leaned over the rail, trying to see more clearly, and instead
of making out more details as to the identity of these sudden visitors, I
saw to my alarm that I had left lights burning in the front room all the
previous night and day. They glowed from behind the shutters, giving
every indication that the house was inhabited.
I thought of trying to douse the lights, but before I could even
begin to do so, I saw one of the figures below raise an arm and point
toward the house. And then all three of them began heading for the
road which curved up the hill.
Angry at myself for inviting this unwelcome intrusion, I
quickly made myself presentable -- my clothes all the worse for having
been slept in -- and hurried downstairs.
Something Phillip had mentioned in one of his many letters
came back to me now as I glanced around to be sure that nothing was
amiss. "I fully uphold, dear Howard," the letter had read, "the
importance of keeping up appearances."
The doorbell rang, and I waited until it rang a second time
before moving to open the door.
Two people stood on my porch. Of the third, the large and
hulking one I had seen earlier, there was no sign. Only these two.
The first was a man in a worn and wrinkled tuxedo more
fitting a dinner in a fine restaurant than unfathomable boat-rides in
abandoned villages. His hair was an indifferent blond and brown
colour, and there was a peculiar look to his eyes. They were the eyes of
a man who is caught in a reality that he wishes is a dream from which
he earnestly wishes to awaken.
The other was a woman in an overcoat and galoshes many
sizes too big for her. I did not at first notice the oddness of her apparel,
however, because I was almost forcibly struck by something about her
face.
There was a quality to her that, bewilderingly, seemed
familiar to me. She reminded me almost of my cousin Phillip. Though,
to my knowledge, there had not been a female born to the Mosswell
line since my great-great-grandmother. As her portrait in the upstairs
hall attested, she had been a woman of striking beauty, with none of
the evident illnesses and deformities that would plague her
descendants.
From family and local lore, I knew what had been thought of
that. My great-grandfather had been born out of wedlock, given his
mother's surname in lack of another. The villagers believed his poor
health to be either a punishment for his mother's affair, or proof of her
reputed practicing of witchcraft.
The man in the tuxedo spoke, startling me from my thoughts
just when they had seemed on the verge of bringing me some great
revelation.
It seemed he, a Mr. Vandermere of Boston, and his cousin,
Elektra, had been on their way to visit relatives when they'd taken a
wrong turn. Their car -- he lied, for I had seen the boat with my own
eyes -- was at the bottom of the hill, because he hadn't wanted to
chance driving it up the steep road.
The importance of keeping up appearances. I could not turn
them away and risk them spreading tales about the Mosswells. I don't
know why that seemed so urgent to me, but I felt that especially now
that I was on the verge of what I knew would be a discovery of
tremendous worth in the cellar, I could ill afford stirring up the
curiosity and malice of the locals.
And so I greeted them warmly, introducing myself, and
invited them in. I made no mention of their third companion, and
neither did they.
The phone, of course, did not work. What use did I have for
it? My few friends were content with the occasional letter. When this
man, who insisted on being called Brendan, lifted the reciever, he did
not even hear the hiss of a dead line. I apologized, remarking on how
poor the service was this far out, and he accepted my story with glum
disappointment.
I was curious about these two, and more curious about their
unseen third. But I was most of all interested in returning to my
labours in the cellar. I could feel the urge to explore that dark stair
rising within me, like a blind but seeking sea creature from
unimaginable depths.
Upon discovering that the phone was of no use, and when I
failed to offer the hospitality of a room for the night, the two strangers
said farewell. I closed the door behind them but stood listening to them
as they talked for a moment on the porch, though what they said made
little sense to me.
The woman had not spoken in my presence, but now she
spoke of islands and quests, and hinted that they had been sent here on
some unnamed _purpose_. There was a timbre to her voice, a tone, an
indescribable element that seemed at once familiar and alien.
They walked off, and as I saw they seemed to be heading for
the road, I considered myself shut of them. I turned the bolt, switched
off the light, and descended to the subcellar library.
It was not as I had left it.
The books had been moved about, and there were markings
on the floor, a trail of greenish-black ichor spread about in such a
fashion that it could not have been left by foot-tracks. Breathless, with
lantern in hand, I followed the trail though I knew where it would
lead.
It led as I knew it would, to the well. More stones had been
loosened and removed, in such a manner that led me to think they had
been _pushed_ upward from below.
What mould-reeking visitor had risen from that timeless
darkness? What form did it have?
I set aside my lantern, for its light did little against the
stygian blackness that lurked at the bottom of the moss-lined well. I
now had an opening more than big enough to admit myself, and set
my foot upon the first of the stairs.
The stairs were narrow and steep, necessitating that I keep
one hand on the wall. The moss was slick and loathesome beneath my
touch. It crept over the stone as if possessed of some sinister life
beyond that of vegetation. Spongy tendrils of it curled over my fingers,
as if in greeting.
I had descended a full turn, so that the opening was no longer
visible by looking straight up, only the underside of the winding stair
above me, and dangling ropes of moss where tiny white worms
crawled.
At one point I leaned out over the well itself. It plunged into
fathomless distance, smelling of sour earth and dampness. A
movement of air, too much like the breath of a corpse to be called a
breeze or even a draft, chilled my face.
I kept on, down and down, until the dim glow of my lantern
in the cellar above was as small and distant as an unfamiliar star. But
now there was new light, a sickly pulsing phosphorescence that came
from spores and pustules in the moss. These broke open as I touched
them, smearing my hands with their pallid glow.
This new light, faint though it was, let me see clearly. The
first thing I saw was that I had drawn near the bottom of the well, or at
the very least, the bottom of the stairs. The final step gave onto a wide
ledge which skirted a pool of water as oil-black and still as the
Innsbrook spring.
I walked onto the ledge, and a colossal space opened before
me. The pool which rested at the bottom of the well was only a part of
a vast subterranean lake which spread amoeboid through a vaulted
cavern.
At the center of the cavern, rising from the stagnant surface,
was an islandlike prominence fully twice as large as the house above.
It was pock-marked with caves and hideous excrecenses of moss-slick
limestone. At the very pinnacle of it was a wide flat column, black
stone flecked with yellow. The column was carved all about with
symbols and glyphs.
This was the landscape of my half-remembered dreams!
As I stared, the chanting began anew. The voices, now
unmuffled by the wellcap's flagstones, were deep and echoey.
Although I had up until now been more fascinated than frightened,
fear took sudden hold.
I shrank against the wall, my back pressing against the moss.
Pain flashed across my shoulderblades, a souvenir of that childhood
injury when I had been no more than four years of age.
I suddenly recalled my father ranting fiercely at my mother,
as if it had somehow been her fault. Yet that had to be a false
recollection, for my father had died in that accident.
It had been many years since I had given thought to those
twisting, gnarled scars. Now they ached and burned as if the injury
was fresh.
The water began to move, not rippling as the spring had but
churning.
All thoughts of my back were forgotten as I stared at the
roiling water. Dark forms breached and descended, affording me brief
glimpses of glistening skin that seemed neither scaled nor ridged, akin
to an alligator's hide yet different. Flickers of luminesence, the same
hue as the pallid moss-light, glimmered beneath the surface.
A tentacle slithered over the edge near to where I stood. It
was of roughly the thickness of my leg at the furthest point, tapering to
a fingerwidth at the tip. Its colour was a dark olive-green covered with
black wartlike nodules. The underside was a pale pinkish yellow, with
grasping suckers that walked the tentacle along the stone ledge in a
humped rippling series of movements.
The questing tip of it brushed against my shoe, then rose with
quivering obscene eagerness to caress my calf. I envisioned it cinching
tight and dragging me into that oily water, and a weak cry escaped me
as I stumbled away in horror and loathing.
More tentacles now joined the first, and with a great
convulsive heave, they pulled a dripping foam-streaked body onto the
ledge.
It was just over the height of a man, its muscular trunk
resting upon four tentacles that each branched where the knee might
have been, these all forming a writhing next beneath its body. The
arms were normal enough except that short, thin tentacles sprouted
from the backs of the elbows, and the hands were wide and webbed
with three thick fingers. Each ended in a blunt claw that resembled the
carapace of a crustacean.
The head was a bulbous knob with a chitinous sharp beak
similar to that of a squid. The beak was ringed with small lidless eyes,
a dozen or more of them, that glowed with the same green radiance I
had noticed earlier. From above each eye grew a long thin fleshy
tendril, forming a Medusa's corona around this unspeakably hideous
face.
It shambled toward me, the facial tentacles waving delicately
in my direction like a forest of undersea grasses stirred by a suboceanic
current. I backed away, unable to scream, seeing beyond it still more of
the creatures pulling themselves from the lake.
Some of them unfurled wings from their backs, wings that
looked like a cross between those of a bat and a manta ray. On these
clumsy things, they glided through the chill air with unusual grace.
My terror became unbearable and I turned to flee. As I did so,
I encountered a figure blocking my path. A figure I knew, and yet I did
not know. It was my uncle, who Phillip had called Richard III as a jest
against his hunched back and deformities.
I now saw the reason for that, in a burst of horrific
understanding that blotted out any delight I might have felt at seeing
him alive, horror because I now saw what he had concealed between
his heavy shirts and coats!
With the strength born of fear, I threw myself past him and
ran toward the stairs. But it was not even the unimaginable scene in
the cavern that I was fleeing now, but a shattering memory that
insisted on forcing its way into my mind.
Now I remembered! Now I remembered the truth of my
father's death, how he had raged and threatened my mother until she
buried in his head the bloodied cleaver that she had just used to sever
the **malformed and vestigial wings from my back!**
The stairs seemed as endless as the road to hell. Although
they rose instead of descending, it made no difference, for the hell I
had found could not be escaped no matter how far I fled. The hell was
in me, the proof of my monstrous heritage!
I understood it all now. My great-grandfather's nameless sire
had been one of those beasts from beneath the cellar! Though his
descendants had all bred with humans -- or had they? were there yet
other Mosswells of which I knew nothing? -- ** the mark of that
horrendous race had not been eradicated!**
What had it been, for my mother? Had my father concealed
the truth from her? Had she been reconciled to it, but in the years
following my birth found it preying more and more upon her mind,
until she could bear it no longer and set out to cut away the outward
signs of her son's inhumanity?
Endless as the stairs had seemed, I soon realized that I could
see the light from my lantern. I also realized that I was uttering lung-
bursting screams, and raving aloud all my terrible suppositions and
certainties about my family.
I knew now what Phillip's last letter had meant -- joining our
ancestors. If I had lingered a moment longer, would I have seen my
cousin's face coming at me out of the shadows? Or had he really leapt
from the high balcony, trusting to wings that could not support his
weight? Was that why the coroner had been so evasive with me about
his death?
And my mother's final words to me -- flapping in the night.
She imagined them seeking us out, to make her pay for the murder of
my father, to bring me home.
Yes, that was what they wanted. What they had always
wanted. To bring me home. To take me down into the darkness, down
into the depths. To make me one of them.
Mounting the stairs, lurching upward on their tentacles,
graceless but purposeful. Any moment now, and I would feel the
stealthy slick curl of their touch around my legs, dragging me with
slow inexorable strength away from the light.
I risked a glance back, unable to stop my own screaming long
enough to hear the fetid slopping of their bodies on the steps, but
knowing they were coming. The glow, was it the glow of the moss or
of their rings of eyes?
The light above and ahead of me was blotted out.
They had somehow gotten past me!
I stumbled, barely avoiding a headlong plunge into the well,
my hands clutching for purchase on the moss-slick stone.
A huge three-fingered hand clamped over my wrist. The
colouring was different, a paler blue-green, and the skin was dry and
somehow leathery. I looked up into eyes that shone frost-white.
I sucked in breath for a new shriek, readying myself to leap
into the well rather than be taken back to the cavern.
The creature spoke. "Take it easy, buddy. We're here to help."
And that was the last that I knew until much later, when I
came to my senses and found myself in Dunhill's modest hospital,
where they had somehow been persuaded to care for me until such
time as the psychiatrists could arrive from Arkham.
They tell me I was in a state of catatonia. They tell me that I
have been suffering delusions.
But they have sent for other doctors, medical doctors,
scientists. They've drawn my blood. They've examined the scars on my
back.
When I ask them what their tests show, they avert their eyes.

* *

"Brendan, gimme that blanket. He's going into shock or
something."
"Here you go. Should we elevate his head?"
"His feet," Broadway corrected, doing just that with a round
horsehide bolster that had a tuft of yarn at each end. He tucked the
blanket -- a really ugly plaid -- around the man.
"He doesn't look good." Brendan tried the phone again,
jiggling the cutoff button. "Still nothing. We can't call for help."
"The first thing we have to do is see what's down --"
"The first thing you've got to do," Brendan interrupted softly,
"is see if she's all right."
Broadway turned and looked. Elektra had backed steadily
away from Mosswell as he babbled, and she was now standing at the
window, facing away from them. Her arms were crossed tightly, hands
cupping her elbows, wings wrapped snugly around herself. Even from
here, he could see how badly she was shaking.
"Go on," Brendan urged. "I'll keep an eye on him."
"Yeah, okay. Thanks." Broadway hemmed and hawed a little,
then went to her. "Elektra?" He tentatively touched her shoulder. "Hey,
don't worry. We'll get out of here."
"You heard him, Broadway," she said tremulously.
"Gargoyles and humans cross-bred, for generations. Deformed, insane,
hated! Behold what his own mother did to him when he was barely
more than a hatchling! And I all but _pleaded_ with Elisa to carry
Goliath's seed! Suppose she does, Broadway? And suppose she comes
then to detest her own offspring?"
"Aw, hey. Not Elisa. This place doesn't have anything to do
with her." He put his arms gingerly around her. "Or with you."
"It _does_!" she sobbed, embracing him and weeping against
his chest. "Avalon sent us here, and like Goliath on his quest, we've
found a new clan of gargoyles, gargoyles who _have_ lived and mated
with humans. Look what they've come to! 'Tis a warning!"
"We don't know there are really gargoyles here. This guy, he's
an enchilada shy of a combo plate. Gargoyles living in caves under a
house? I mean, when the fog parted and we saw this house sitting up
here, we both thought it would be the perfect place to find more
gargoyles. But on the roof, on the balconies. Not underground. That's
nuts."
She leaned trustingly against him, her tears subsiding a little.
"Yet his back ... you saw his back."
He nodded, remembering how Mosswell had tried to jump
into the pit. Broadway had caught him, but torn his shirt clean in half,
revealing the bumpy, ropy scrawls of tissue. "Well, they were about
where you'd expect ... but, nah! Maybe his folks beat on him, and he ...
you know, incorporated it into his ... uh, delusions."
"Yes, that could be."
"We do have to check it out, though."
She sighed. "I know, we must. When first we came to his
door, I saw at once that he needed our help. He seemed so pale, so
drawn. Haunted, mayhap. Haunted, by whatever lies in that darkness
at the bottom of the stair."
"Come on," he chuckled. "Tone down the doom and gloom
voice, okay? You're creeping me out."
"I do not mean to. It is but that I am so afraid, Broadway, so
very afraid of what we may find."
"You can wait up here if you'd rather."
"I would rather, but I will not." She turned her lovely eyes up
to him. "We are all in this together, are we not?"
Kiss her, he thought. One nice gentle kiss, nothing
demanding, a kiss for comfort and friendship.
Instead, he grinned ruefully. "Non-refundable round-trip
tickets, courtesy of the Avalon travel agency."
"And one stowaway," she added with a slight smile of her
own, motioning toward Brendan.
"You're the one who said we had to bring him," Broadway
reminded her. "Though I gotta admit, he's handled it a heck of a lot
better than I expected."
She released him with what he fancied was reluctance,
though why she'd feel that way when her dream male was the
handsome and well-built Jericho was beyond him. He knew there was
plenty of reluctance on his part at letting go of her, but that was beside
the point.
"If we're to go below, then," she said, "we'd best do it soon.
The night wanes, and I would not care to spend the day under the
earth."
They went back over to Brendan and Mosswell. The former
was peering into the latter's fixed, staring eyes.
"I think he's catatonic, or comatose," Brendan said. "Either
way, he's not going anywhere."
"We are," Broadway said.
"You're really going down there? Do you think that's a good
idea?"
"No, but we're doing it anyway."
"Wait for me, then."
Broadway's brow ridges went up. "Excuse me?"
"You wish to join us?" Elektra asked.
"Not particularly, given the way this fellow was screaming,"
Brendan said. "But if I wait up here, and then I hear the two of _you_
screaming, I'll have to go down there all by myself. Which is
something I'm even less wild about."
Broadway and Elektra exchanged a surprised glance.
"Sure, okay," Broadway said. He checked over Mosswell one
more time. "No change. You're right. He needs a doctor, but he's not
going to die on us in the meantime. So we've just got to come back up
and take him to the next town. Let's go."
With Broadway in the lead, Elektra at his elbow, and
Brendan bringing up the rear, they proceeded through the brooding
old house and into the cellar.
"Hard to believe we could hear him all the way in the front
yard," Brendan said, thunking his knuckles on the thick walls. He
looked at Elektra. "You were right to have us wait around. You said
something would happen, and sure enough ..."
"I've ne'er heard such terror." Elektra shivered, and her hand
stole down to clasp Broadway's for reassurance as they descended still
further, into the book-lined library in the subcellar. "Nor been in such
a close and dark place as this. Tomblike, it is. As if the walls might
collapse and bury us, bury us alive."
Brendan paused to look at some of the books, and frowned.
"This isn't good."
"What?" In the rush to find Mosswell, spurred on by that
horrible gut-wrenching screaming, he had barely noticed that there
were books down here at all.
"Well, I'm no expert, but 'Unaussprechlichen Kulten' isn't
something you're going to find in the Literary Guild Book-of-the-
Month club. These are occult books."
"Daemonic grimoires?" Elektra drew even closer to
Broadway. Under other circumstances, he would have really enjoyed
it, but his concentration was elsewhere. Specifically, on the archway
leading into the round room littered with broken stones around the
hole in the floor. The deep, black shaft where they'd found Mosswell.
"Come on," he said.
"Perhaps we should but seal it over again," Elektra
whispered. "Seal it and let it keep its secrets. 'Tis too narrow. We'd
have no room to spread our wings, should we fall. Nary a cupful of air
to breathe!"
"She's claustrophobic," Brendan said. "Fear of enclosed
spaces. She shouldn't go down there."
"Maybe he's right ..." Broadway began.
"Nay. Frightened I may be, but I'll not stay behind. Lead on,
brave Broadway, and I shall follow."
He folded his wings tight and started down, minding his
talons on the steep, slippery stones. Elektra was right, closetphobia or
not -- if he fell, he would only be able to spread his wings halfway.
Down, down, down. He could feel Elektra's soft breath, rapid
on the back of his neck. She was trying not to crowd him, he knew, but
didn't want him to get more than a few steps ahead. Brendan picked
up Mosswell's lantern, and the swinging shadows made ogre's faces on
the walls.
What seemed like forever later, the lantern's light was
supplemented by the weird pale glow of the spores. And the stairs were
sticky with some sort of slime. Broadway groaned in disgust as it
sucked and squelched at his toes. Elektra fared better, having not taken
off her galoshes.
"What _is_ this?" Brendan muttered. His glossy black dress
shoes weren't in the best shape anyway, but he peeled one of them off
the floor and balanced on the other while he tried to examine the
sludge.
Broadway looked too. It was foamy and frothy, clammy. Most
of all, it looked _fresh_, like a snail's trail.
The sort of trail that might have been left by slimy monsters
from the deep?
They reached the bottom, and found the cavern that Mosswell
had described. It was as big as an airplane hangar, with dribbly
formations hanging from the ceiling and blobby congealed islands
poking up out of the water. The biggest of these was out in the middle,
looking like a half-melted birthday cake, dotted with caves and
openings.
Nothing moved. There were no sounds but their own.
"Amazing," Brendan said quietly. He set down the lantern,
since the entire cathedral-sized space was ghostly-lit by the moss.
"There is magic here." Elektra closed her eyes and her body
swiveled slightly, like a radar dish. "Not of Avalon. Not fae. It seems
strongest toward that largest isle."
"Maybe we should check it out."
Brendan gestured to the expanse of inky water. "After you."
"Here. Hold on." Broadway held out one hand and Elektra
held out another.
He took them dubiously. "Kind of hard to have happy
thoughts in a place like this, isn't it? Don't drop me."
"It's not like it could mess up your suit any more," Broadway
pointed out.
"True enough, but I don't like the looks of that lake."
"At least there's an updraft coming off of it. Don't swoop too
low," he cautioned Elektra, and she nodded. "Right. On three. One ...
two ... three!"
There was a scary moment when Broadway thought they
weren't going to make it. But they corrected for Brendan's added
weight and skimmed the surface, a few inches above. It was all too
easy to imagine a gross green tentacle snapping up and snaring them.
At last, they got a little altitude and soared toward the top of the large
island formation, where they could see a squat black column.
With one final glance to make sure they weren't about to
touch down in the gaping drooling maw of a monster cleverly
disguised as a heap of limestone slag, they landed at the top. The stone
felt moist and somehow sweaty.
"There!" Elektra gasped. "The magic is there!"
She pointed to the column, which had a concave hollow in
the top. Resting within was something that Broadway thought looked
like an entertainment award. It was a tall skinny pyramid-shape made
of yellow-glazed clay, set into a white marble base. At the tip of the
pyramid was a disk of beaten gold with wavy rays straggling out from
it to form a sun.
The marble base had gold letters inlaid into it, and the clay
pyramid was covered with weird stick figures and drawings. Broadway
couldn't make heads or tails of either.
"So what is it?" he wondered. "Elektra, can you read that?"
"These words are ..."
"Latin," Brendan finished. "And those others are heiroglyphs.
Egyptian. 18th Dynasty, maybe 19th. Approximately 1550-1300 B.C."
"Yeah?" Broadway packed a paragraph of questions into one.
"My grandfather was an archaeologist. He was on Carter's
expedition back in the 1920's, the one in the Valley of the Kings that
discovered Tutankhamen's tomb. I could listen to him for hours when I
was a kid. I went on a dig outside of Cairo during college, and I've
collected a few items. Mostly museum-quality reproductions, but a few
geniune pieces. Margot thinks it's a waste of time, of course --"
He broke off and grinned a self-conscious little grin, realizing
that they were both staring at him in astonishment. "Bet you didn't
think there was more to me than BMWs and champagne, did you?"
"So you can read this?" Elektra asked. "Translate it?"
"Well, I'm a little rusty," he chuckled. "Let me get a better
look." He leaned closer, reaching for the pyramid.
"'Ware!" Elektra cried.
As his hand crossed the edge of the column, it was gloved
briefly in rot-green light. There was a puff of smoke that stank like
spoiled meat. Brendan jerked back, slipped, and Broadway continued
his unbroken record of catching people just before they plunged over
the side.
"My _hand_!" Brendan held it up, gaping at it as if it
belonged to a stranger. The flesh was bloated and spongy, and as they
watched, oozing blisters erupted on it. He flexed his fingers and the
skin over his knuckles split.
Brendan's eyes bugged, and his chest began to hitch. Before
he could freak out completely, Elektra grabbed his forearm.
"Brendan, no! 'Tis only illusion!"
The effect -- leprosy, gangrene, whatever the heck it was,
spread down to his wrist. When it touched his cuffs, the fabric
withered and tattered. His gold and onyx cufflinks tarnished and
flaked.
"Illusion!" Elektra insisted. "Deny it! Disbelieve it! Only you
can counter this foul spell!"
When the effect reached the spot where her slim fingers were
clamped around his sleeve, it stopped spreading. But above her grip,
the splits in his skin were widening, trickling fluid that teemed with
black parasites.
Brendan closed his eyes tight. His brow furrowed in
concentration.
"Good," Elektra said. "It's fading -- nay, look not, not yet.
Fading. And neither does it hurt, remember? You felt no pain. You felt
nothing. Illusion to trick the eyes and mind only."
Broadway saw that she was right, it was fading. His own
stomach stopped the slow forward roll it had begun at the prospect of
watching a man rot away before his very eyes.
But they now had worse things to worry about. The lake was
rippling, a thick, slow undulation that made it look more like syrup
than water. And he saw a definite wake as something moved swiftly
toward them.
"That's better," Brendan was saying, turning his hand back
and forth with undisguised relief. "Thank you!"
Elektra shrugged modestly. "I was the Magus' pupil, and
while I never did learn to weild magic myself --"
"We've got trouble." Broadway moved protectively in front of
Elektra.
The fast-moving shape reached the edge of the island and
thrust itself upward, propelled by powerful muscles. It flopped onto a
low outcropping.
"He wasn't crazy," Broadway said.
"Oh, he was crazy," Brendan corrected. "Point is, he wasn't
_wrong!_"
The thing below them, now rising from the wet splotch where
it had beached itself walrus-like on the rock, was a gargoyle. But not
like any gargoyle Broadway had ever seen. Nothing like his clan,
nothing like Griff's. Even Goliath's description of Zafiro from
Guatamala was not within shouting distance of this creature.
Tentacles. Webbed hands. Wings that had been tucked
against its back and sides as it swam, probably squirting itself along in
a jellyfish motion. And its face ... its face ... that was the worst of all.
No, the worst of all was that there were more of them.
Emerging from the water and from the caves on the island. Not
identical; that might have made it easier to accept. Most were of the
same basic shape, but a few were hugely different. Rugose creatures
with spiraled prehistoric-mollusk shells and a bristle of spindly legs,
their wings buzzing with a dragonfly drone.
How would Goliath handle this one? Broadway wondered.
But Goliath wasn't here; it was up to him. He stepped forward.
"Hello!" he called.
An eerie gelatinous cry emerged from their throats. Whether
this was meant as threat or greeting was anybody's guess.
Then another one came into view, and Broadway heard
Elektra's startled intake of breath behind him. He could guess why.
Richard Mosswell. Had to be. He walked on normal-looking
legs that each ended in four wide, flat stubby tentacles. A loincloth of
what looked like black kelp was slung around his waist. His shoulders
were hunched, his wings full-sized but misshapen. One hand was
human, the other webbed and three-fingered.
Elektra moaned, a pathetic trapped-animal sound.
"Get away from the column!" Richard Mosswell ordered.
"Don't worry." Broadway raised his own wings a little. "We're
gargoyles, like you. See?"
"Gargoyles ... but not like us! Surface dwellers! Protectors!"
He spat out the last word like it tasted bad.
Broadway frowned, puzzled, until he realized that the whole
clan, except Mosswell, submurged periodically before resurfacing.
Gills yawned and puckered.
"They don't breathe the air," he murmured. "Gargoyles
protect like they breathe, but they don't breathe!"
"I said get away from there!" Richard Mosswell repeated.
"They're afraid." Elektra came forward and touched
Broadway's arm. "Afraid ... of us?"
He noticed they were all keeping a prudent distance, even
though the clan seemed to be dozens strong. Their multitudes of eyes
flickered with hatred, but they did not attack.
"We're not going to break your magic whatsis," Broadway
said.
Mosswell's laugh sounded like a straw at the bottom of a
milkshake. "If only!"
"They're not afraid we're going to break it," Brendan said in
an undertone. After his initial shock, he had actually managed to turn
away from the approaching monstrous clan to keep studying the
pyramid. "They're afraid we're going to use it."
"Take them!" Mosswell roared.
"Here we go." Broadway doubled his fists as the gargoyles
obeyed Mosswell and came at them.
It was a deadly-serious game of King of the Hill, with him
and Elektra leaping back and forth trying to repel what Broadway had
mentally dubbed the Squid Clan.
One of them tackled him, and it was like wrestling with an
armful of giant worms. The tentacles snaked around his neck, the
suckers leaving stinging round welts on his skin. He couldn't get
puchase on that warty, slippery hide to tear it away from him, so he
pounded on it until it let go and fell away from him, squirting him
with smelly, gluey ink.
He saw Elektra go down under a seething mass of tentacles,
and Brendan seized. Within moments, the two of them were restrained
and the rest of the clan were converging on him.
He put up the best fight he could, and thought Goliath and
Hudson would have been proud of him, but the sheer numbers
overwhelmed him. Before long, he was lined up right alongside his
friends, aching in a hundred places and bleeding in a dozen or two.
"Oh, Broadway!" Elektra tried to reach for him, but her
guards had her wrapped in so many tentacles (and some of those were
sliding over her in what could only be construed as a lascivious caress)
that she could barely move.
"Once every five hundred years, the conditions are right,"
Mosswell said, looking them over with approval.
Cryptic remarks, great. "What are you talking about?"
Broadway asked with as much bravado as he could muster.
"Stars that have no meaning to the astronomers of this age
form a pattern of power. Twice a millenium, this world spins into
place. The ancients knew of this. Our ancestors knew of this."
Elektra, who knew a little about the conjunction of stars from
her use of the Magus' Seeing Stone, was nodding. She focused on
Mosswell, ignoring the tentacles that slithered over her hips and
breasts, as if understanding that showing her revulsion would only
invite worse treatment.
Broadway wasn't handling it nearly so well. He wanted to rip
those defiling things out by the roots and strangle their owners with
them.
Mosswell continued, and now Broadway realized that this
was the classic scene in which the villain explains his plan before
putting the good guys' deathtrap into motion. "When the time grew
near, our clan made itself known to the humans. Made _pacts_ with
them. Provided them with treasures and fortunes, and they in turn
provided access to the upper world. Not so different from the fish-folk
of Innsmouth. And, like the fish-folk, some of this clan desired a more
intimate contact with the humans. Which is how my own illustrious
line came about."
"Illustrious, certainly." Brendan had just the right amount of
bored-at-the-cocktail-party disdain, and it sure set Mosswell back a
step. "Your nephew's nutty as a squirrel, you know."
"Blame his mother for that!" Mosswell snarled. "If she'd left
him, he wouldn't be having such a hard time adjusting! He'll soon see
that he belongs, that he's needed!"
"Needed for what?" Broadway tried to emulate Brendan's tone
but couldn't quite manage.
"To gather the sacrifices," Elektra said softly. "Do you not see
it? He alone is in appearance human enough. Recall the empty village.
We thought they fled, and mayhap some did, but most were brought
here. Brought, and slain, on behalf of those distant stars."
Mosswell's smile was ghastly. "Phillip did his duty for a
while, but his wings could not hold him. I expect better things of
Howard. Who has already, unintentionally, brought us his first
victims."
"You sacrifice humans? You're supposed to _protect_ them!"
Broadway was more appalled by this notion than any of the other
things he'd so far learned on this long, hellish night.
A sludgey ripple of laughter -- the Squid Clan might not have
been able to speak the language, but they understood it well enough.
"I really don't think I care for the direction this is going,"
Brendan murmured.
"As well you shouldn't ... _human_!" Mosswell sneered in his
face. "Yours will be the first, and worst, death. And you, fat
_protector_, if our god is kind, will follow thereafter."
None of them asked about Elektra's fate. Did they really have
to?
Mosswell turned to his clan and raised his arms, slightly
spreading his misshapen wings as if it hurt him to do so. "Raise
Nargoth!"
"I don't like the sound of that!" Brendan no longer looked like
he was dealing with a tedious bore at a society party.
The conical ones clustered together and began a deep guttural
chant that resonated through their shells. There were words in the
chant, but they were in a language that only made sense on a buried,
racial-memory level. No understanding, only a hollow aching dread.
"If you are kind, my friend," Elektra whispered to Broadway,
"slay me now."
"Avalon sent us here to stop this," he replied grimly. "That's
what we're gonna do."
The chant had intensified until the stone cathedral rang with
it. Even their captors had joined in, swaying back and forth absurdly,
their facial tendrils stroking the air in rapturous gestures.
A series of enormous bubbles rose from the depths, making
blisters on the black surface.
Broadway felt the cold fear sweep over him. With the fear
came understanding, more of those racial memories clawing their way
into awareness.
Something was rising, rising from a trench that made the
Marianis look like a little dip in the seabed. Something that should
explode from the difference in pressure, but did not. Something that no
one, human or gargoyle, should ever have to see.
The lake bulged upward, then sluiced apart as the god of the
Squid Clan came up.
Broadway felt a tiny fuse in his mind sizzle and snap, and
then he was able to look at the thing more or less objectively.
It was shaped like Bronx, a Bronx the size of a DC-10. Rivers
of displaced water coursed over its scaly hide, between the folded
manta/bat/draconian wings. Barnacles and growths speckled its sides.
The trunklike legs ended in wide flippers that curved into cups and
each ended in a single scything claw more than a dozen feet long. One
swipe by one of those babies, and you'd never order takeout again.
Its head was a backswept torpedo with a big Creature of the
Black Lagoon fin. Gills, a livid fever-pink against its dark scales,
pulsed rhythmically. Broadway figured he could squeeze even his bulk
through one of those slitlike openings, if he cared to. Not that he cared
to.
At the front of the torpedo-head, a brow ridge with nubs fully
six feet high shadowed the place where eyes would have been if this
thing had eyes. Instead, there was just a broad, hollow depression lined
with something that looked like the bottom of a starfish.
If there was anything about this that was even remotely
comical, it was the way the long feelers around the things unseen-but-
presumably-there mouth drooped like a moustache. Those feelers,
though, weren't anything so benign as hair but wavered and coiled and
curled and uncurled, a blind clot of worms dripping slime.
"I can cope with magic boat rides," Brendan was saying. "I
can cope with gargoyles in New York and even with this bunch -- to
me, it's just a differing degree of weirdness. But I _cannot_ cope with
being eaten alive by some cthulhoid monster from the deeps!!" He
screamed this last bit, after starting off in a nice polite tone.
His scream went pretty much unnoticed, since the Squid Clan
were in raptures over the appearance of their god.
Okay, Broadway thought, operating with a cool detachment
that was probably the early stages of totally going crackers. Brendan's
lost it. Elektra?
A quick glance showed that she hadn't fainted yet but was on
the verge. Her lovely ivory-hued skin had gone chalky grey.
The tentacles holding them had loosened, because their
captors were keening worshipfully and swaying. And maybe, probably,
they figured their victims would be too out-to-lunch to even try
anything.
Wrong.
Broadway freed one arm, brought it up and around, and put
his elbow into one's beak hard enough to crack the chitinous stuff into
shards. As that one reeled back, its keen changing to a shrill bleat of
pain, Broadway was already whirling on the other, seizing its gross
facial tendrils in both hands and yanking what passed for its head
briskly forward. The nubby ridge along the top of Broadway's own
head connected with a sound like a clean break on a pool table.
He shoved the limp body away, seeing that three of its
phosphorescent eyes had gone dark and realizing that the goo was
splattered all over his scalp. Yuck. No time to stress about it now.
The rest hadn't noticed yet, but he wasn't going to bank on
their continued ignorace. He went after one of the ones that had ahold
of Elektra, made a pretty good guess about Squid Clan physiology and
went for a field goal.
His foot caught the squidgoyle right between a spot where two
tentacles joined the body and the thing didn't even have time to make a
noise. It scrunched all its tentacles into a ball and collapsed.
Elektra came out of it enough to realize what was going on.
She lay hold of one of the tentacles that had been oozing over her
breasts and smacked it against the wall like a woman weilding a rug-
beater on a particularly dusty carpet.
Her captor uttered a piercing cry that got the attention of
everyone in the room, just as Broadway body-slammed it, sent it flying
backward, and it impaled itself on one of the rock formations.
The only sound or motion in the entire cavern, not counting
the steady rain of water still pattering from the hide of the god-
monster, was the thrashing/squealing of its death throes.
Broadway paused for one horrified moment with the
realization that he'd killed a gargoyle. But he couldn't dwell on it,
because Elektra chose that instant to leap at the ones holding Brendan.
The god of the Squid Clan uttered a displeased grunt that
shook the cavern. His followers roared and slavered with hatred, and
surged toward them. Luckily, they were quite a ways away; unluckily,
they were between Broadway's group and the door.
Elektra raked her dainty claws furiously at a ring of eyes,
popping several of them in quick succession like pomegranate pips.
The half-blinded squidling lashed out at her but missed. Its partner,
unconcerned about Brendan, released him to grab Elektra from
behind.
Tentacles coiled over her. Broadway saw them bunch and
flex, and understood that the squidling was going to tear her apart.
Brendan biffed it in the back of the head, and though to
Broadway the blow looked sissy, there must have been some gumption
to it, because the squidling's head rocked forward. It might not have
hurt a heck of a lot, but it did get its attention.
That distraction proved just long enough for Broadway to
barrell past the other one (knocking it into the water; he barely noticed
the splash) and start ripping tentacles off Elektra with the enthusiasm
of an explorer hacking his way through the jungle vines in search of
fabulous treasure.
"The pyramid!" Brendan said. Broadway didn't even know
what he was talking about, until Brendan jabbed his finger urgently in
the direction of the column atop the island. "It's a weapon!"
No sense debating it. Broadway scooped up Elektra and
tossed her into the air. "Get him to it!"
She swooped around and grabbed Brendan's hands. "What
shall you do?"
"Guess," he replied grimly, and launched himself.
Not at the Squid Clan, no, that would be a short but futile
exercise. Instead, he went for what was likely to be just as short and
just as futile but might impress them with the sheer ballsiness of it,
and attacked the big one.
Worked like a charm. The Squid Clan forgot all about Elektra
and Brendan when they saw Broadway zeroing in on their god. And
best of all, the Squid God himself was evidently only used to doing
actual combat with things a lot bigger than Broadway. Targets that
small were usually presented nicely trussed up and waiting to be eaten.
Broadway landed on the thing's back. His first punch was like
hitting concrete. No good. Maybe there was a soft underbelly, but it
was still submurged if so. The tender-looking expanse beneath the
brow ridge was too close to the grasping feelers for comfort, but
Broadway headed that way anyhow.
As he was scrambling up the back of its neck, he noticed that
the scales here were smaller. He dug his fingers under the edge of one,
just like prying up a manhole cover. It came loose, and he chucked it
at the nearest squidling.
The revealed tissue beneath was more gristle than anything
else, but Broadway plunged both hands into it, digging as fervently as
a dog hot on the trail of a juicy bone.
The Squid God bellowed, and the clan roared in response.
One of the cone-shaped ones with the buzzing wings touched down a
few feet away and began to quiver, emitting some sort of ultrasonic
vibration that made Broadway's teeth ache and vision blur. He felt like
his head was going to explode.
He tackled it, wrestled it off its scuttling crab legs so that the
pointy end was down, and rammed it directly into the Squid God's
wounded neck. It was by no means a death blow, not even a serious
wound. but Broadway'd gotten the notion that this thing wasn't used to
being on the receiving end of any sort of pain, especially not delivered
by a lowly lone gargoyle.
It bucked and thrashed, and Broadway was thrown clear. He
crashed straight through an approaching fan of squidlings, rebounded
off the cavern's wall, and very nearly ended up in the water.
He risked a quick glance to see what Brendan and Elektra
were up to. They had reached the top of the island, and evidently the
illusion hadn't gotten to Brendan this time, because he held the object
in his hands, the clay pyramid on a marble base, topped with a golden
sun. Egyptian markings and Latin words. A weapon, he said.
Broadway sure hoped he was right.
He wasn't the only one who had figured out what was going
on over there. Richard Mosswell was almost on them, looking barely
human at all in his rage and fear.
Brendan raised the artifact, and all of a sudden it occurred to
Broadway that it was up to Brendan of all people to get them out of
this. If anybody'd told him that Avalon had that kind of sense of
humor, he might've stayed home.
His lips moved. Broadway supposed he might be shouting
words in Latin, but over the din of the Squid God and his followers, he
couldn't hear a thing.
He didn't need to hear, as it turned out, because he saw
plenty. The golden sun atop the pyramid blazed forth in a disk of fire.
The sun, Broadway thought as it grew brighter and warmer,
brighter and hotter. The sun, the sun, the sun!
He couldn't see Brendan at all. The man was lost in the fierce
glow. He could just barely see Elektra, who was squinting and had her
arms raised against the light, yet her expression was one of awe and
wonder. Broadway supposed the same look was on his face. It was a
thousand times more radiant and beautiful than it was on tv! No
descriptions did it justice!
And then, though his internal clock was telling him it was
still the middle of the night, he felt it begin to happen. The heaviness
in his muscles, the tightness of his skin.
Not just the light and heat of day, but actual day itself! Here
in this watery cavern beneath the earth, where sunlight had never
touched.
He was turning to stone.

* *

Brendan's hands hummed with power. Though he stood at the
center of the light, it didn't blind him. He could see everything clear as
day.
Clear as day, all right, because that's what it was.
He watched as Elektra, closest to him, solidified into a solid
grey statue. Presumably, Broadway was doing the same thing.
But was this good or bad? Was he going to be on his own in a
cave full of rabid foaming monsters bent on gruesomely sacrificing
him to their hideous god? Or would they turn to stone too?
Neither, as it turned out.
When the blazing sunlight struck them, the gargoyles
shrieked in unimaginable agony as their flesh stiffened, becoming
something that wasn't stone or flesh but some pumicelike substance
inbetween.
Those that were mid-air plunged down. Some of them struck
ledges and stone outcrops. Those ones cracked apart like geodes,
except instead of revealing sparkling crystals, a spongy dark gravel
spilled out. Others went into the lake with plops and splashes like a
handful of pebbles tossed into a puddle.
Looming above it all was the mammoth calcifying form
they'd summoned. It began to sink beneath the surface, but fissures
were forming, chunks were falling off. It was still trying to move, but
that only quickened the process. One whole wing fragmented, and
feelers dropped like crushed stone snakes.
When the water closed over it with a greedy sucking sound,
Brendan slowly lowered the artifact. He was about to set it down when
he heard something behind him.
Richard Mosswell, skin peeling off in parchmenty flakes,
staggered toward him. His face was screwed into a grotesque grimace,
his eyes watering copiously against the searing light. He said
something unintelligible, but Brendan didn't have to be a mindreader
to know that Mosswell sincerely intended that his last act upon earth
would be to crush the skull of one misplaced Bostonian social climber.
The artifact was beginning to dim. Instead of a summer
midday, it now had the quality of a golden late autumn afternoon.
Brendan set it aside, noting that the glow continued even
when he was no longer touching it. He adopted the classic boxer's
stance, not this ear-biting roundhouse stuff that passed for boxing
these days, but boxing the way it was meant to be, a gentlemen's sport,
the way they taught it at Harvard.
Mosswell, evidently lacking the benefits of a formal
education, came at him in a savage charge born of pain and rage and
desperation. Brendan, more cool and collected than he ever would
have believed, easily sidestepped and delivered a quick one-two of his
own.
The first struck Mosswell on his shoulder, his flaking skin
making a crunchy noise like stepped-on popcorn, a noise Brendan
would be happy if he never heard again. It turned Mosswell just
enough for the second punch to land right on his chin.
He wasn't quite knocked out, but he staggered back, slipped in
the gritty rubble of one of his clan, and fell six feet onto an outcrop. He
rolled onto his stomach, crawled toward the edge, and half-dove, half-
tumbled into the water.
"Owww," Brendan said, shaking his fist and examining his
knuckles.
The light went from golden to burnt orange to dusky red to a
translucent rose-purple, and then it was gone.
Gone, leaving Brendan in total darkness because the lantern
had gotten broken during the fight and the moss had been withered to
dry brown fuzz, no longer shedding its weird glow.
Alone on an island, no way out except by swimming, and
damned if he was going to set one foot in that water! He felt around in
the dark and found the sculpted clay of the artifact, but he was too
exhausted to remember the words. He slouched down, his back pressed
against a bulge of stone.
Alone in the dark. He could feel fear seeping in now that
adrenaline had worn off, and new that fear would soon turn to panic,
and panic would send him on a sightless stampede that would most
likely end up with him going in the drink. He'd had enough of that for
one lifetime, thank you, after having to get fished out of the ocean by
gargoyles.
He heard a new sound, alarmingly close, like ice cracking.
This was followed by a brittle series of snaps, then a ticking patter that
reminded him absurdly of the time Margot had broken a pearl
necklace.
The pearls-on-hardwood sound was followed by a gusty sigh
from nearby, and a growling roar from far across the cavern.
"Broadway? Brendan?"
"Elektra, thank God!" Brendan said, and then did the most
sensible thing he could think of -- he blacked out.

* *

EPILOGUE
POSTMARKED DUNHILL, MA:

Dear Everybody,
We are doing fine, and sorry we haven't written before but
there wasn't a post office. If you know about our last stop, you should
know that Brendan V. is with us. He says not to let his wife declare
him dead yet.
Still no Jericho. Elektra says Avalon has some other things
for us to do first, though she hopes we find him soon and she wishes
Avalon would send us to a happier place next time. There are things
maybe men and gargoyles aren't meant to know.
These postcards were a great idea, Goliath. There's a mailbox
right across from the hospital (don't worry, it's another guy we had to
bring to get help). Miss you all. B.

* *

The End.