I am 30 years old, and we are running. Sir Henry Haggard, our household scholar and my mentor, is surprisingly fast. He is 55 and usually library bound, but he sure can run! MacKenzie is right behind him carrying the box we took. Then follows Max, the inventor, and then Cassie and lastly me. I have Cassie’s back, but gods know for how long: the demon is right on our tails. It looks bigger and has more teeth and claws than usual. It is truly one of the bad ones! I suppose we shouldn’t have interrupted the wizard, who was making safety spells around the box. Obviously he knew what he was doing.
Why are we running for our lives here? It started with the phoney plague ship. It came in from Andalusia and was in quarantine triggered by a lot of deaths on board. But they didn’t call for doctors or medicine, and shortly after a sailor from the ship was seen about town. He was treated on one of the hospitals, but for minor injuries, not the plague. We found him in one of the harbour inns. He was one eyed, tattooed and had a bad limb – so easily recognized. He told us there had been a mysterious box on board the ship, and he was certain that the box had caused the deaths and accidents on board. But someone had removed it in the dead of night to a warehouse near the harbour. So we went there and found a bunch of cultist henchmen, a large amount of demon locks and other protective measures. And of course the box and the wizard trying to open it in the safe environment of the demon locks. So we may have gotten a little overly excited and ruined the locks when we stole the box and things went slightly downhill from there.
So here we are, running. We have reached the end of the pathway and race past a doomsday prophet shouting that the end is near. He is more right than he knows. While we yell to disperse the crowds, so that the demon won’t harm them, he is completely run over by the demon. We race across the square and into a very tight alley way. The box barely fits, but Mackenzie and I manage carrying it together. Behind us the alley way seems to come apart. The demon’s reality does not go well with ours and bricks and tiles and dirt seems to disintegrate around it. The alley way ends on the docks where a lot of people are bustling about. We run across the dock and onto a ship and further on to the ship beyond it. The second ship is a navy ship and they seem quite displeased to have us come across. I know that that sort of people just need a good order and then they comply. So I yell ‘Wotcha soldiers! Coming across here. Duck and cover! Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em’. I’m afraid it doesn’t help. Apparently navy sailor soldiers are not called soldiers and take quite a lot offence by it. I don’t get it. Aren’t they all working for the crown doing the same thing on sea and on shore? After a lot of explaining they let us leave, though some of the sailor soldiers scowl quite fiercely at me.
We are back on shore and run into a factory right by the dock. It’s a slaughter house. Pork sides hang on hooks and in great big barrels. We have a moment to catch our breath and then we hear them: cultists coming in the opposite door, looking for us. The first thing they do, when they spot us is shoot at us. I duck behind half a pig hanging on a hook on a conveyer belt. One of the cultists attack me with a baton. I put the pig between us as a shield, and that works quite well. I then hit him back. I hit his arm and hear the crunch of bone and then his screaming starts. I jump from the conveyer belt to another that goes the other way. I have to get back to Cassie. I can see her hiding behind a box in the middle of the mayhem. She sees me and points at the box and the door at the other end. We need to get the box out of here, and fast. The demon might find us any minute, and a dozen cultists AND a demon is a bit too much for us. Though everyone but Cassie are fighting, it is only Mackenzie and I that are real fighters. I see a cultist seeing me coming at him and he frantically starts to reload his gun. He stands against a large waste container, and I reach him just as he raises his loaded firearm. I barely get to touch him, when he steps back and into the waste container that is full of blood and gore and meat. Someone shouts ‘there he is!’ and I see Henry running with the box towards the door. Max and Mackenzie are at his heels and I follow. We race out of the door, just as the demon breaks through on the other side. We can hear loud crashing through the door and screams – terrible screams – and see cultists fleeing the scene. Then I realize: Cassie is not with us! I run to the door, but the other stop me. We have to get the box to safety first. I am conflicted between my orders: Cassie’s order to get the box out of here and my standing order to keep Cassie safe. We decide that the others run with the box and I go get Cassie. We will meet up later.
The factory is in ruins. The walls and roof has caught fire. The remaining cultist are lying dead or dying on the floor. A lot of the machinery are blown to bits, and steam is hissing out of them. One place the steam is rising to a crescendo and I fear that it will blow up. I call her name: ‘Cassie! Cassie, where are you?’. Near the machine close to blowing up I hear a whimper, and I run there, but it is not Cassie. It is one of the cultists and he looks terrible. His skin is gone and he is bleeding profoundly. I can’t help him. I need to find Cassie! Then I hear her. ‘Grace?’ Her voice is shaking and confused, and she comes towards me. I run to her side and see her eyes. They are completely black. Like they were when the darkness overtook her years ago, and she flayed the men trying to hurt me. I grab her. ‘We have to get out of here’ I say. ‘What happened?’ she looks around us at the destruction and the debris. I hesitate ‘I think you had one of your spells again’ I try not to scare her ‘Your eyes are all black’. Slowly they turn their usual blue, and she looks at me with confusion and horror. She grabs my arms, but I grab her first. ‘We have to get out of here, Cassie. We can talk about it later’. She looks normal again and we dash for the door and leave the mayhem behind us. I sure hope I won’t get blamed for the lack of discretion this time!
We meet up in a safe house. Curiously MacKenzie, Max and Henry is in the company of one of the cultists. Apparently he had run with them from the burning building, and when they realized he wasn’t one of us, they took him captive. Hopefully he can shine some light on what is in the box and what all this fuss is about. Henry looks completely white, and I notice the blood drenched left sleeve. He is injured and Cassie gets to work on him. He was struck by a bullet in the factory, and he has lost a lot of blood! Cassie stems the flow, but says that he will need surgery: the bullet is still lodged in his arm. We haven’t time for it just at present, though. The demon is most likely still following the scent of the box and we need to find out what to do. One way to get information is to interrogate the prisoner.
He is clearly not too bright. He claims to be member of the MALS (Median Anarchist Liberation Society) and also claims to be trained to withstand torture and to die rather than talk! He had a suicide pill, but apparently lost it along the way. MacKenzie had struck him in the face at the factory, and the tooth with the pill in it is now lying on the factory floor. His nose look a bit of a mess to, and while MacKenzie and I try to help him set the nose and wipe off the blood, he whines so much that he eventually tells us many useful things. The box is stolen from the Holy Inquisition of Andalusia, where it had been kept safe. The MALS is in cahoots with another group, led by a woman, and was promised that once they had stolen it, it would be turned into a weapon capable of killing many people at once. The MALS had intended to use it to assassinate the king of Media AND the bretonian queen, who is planning a state visit there. Their goal was to take over Median and turn it into some sort of anarchist republic led by the people (that’s what he said). I’m glad we foiled that plan! But much indicated that the MALS has been hoodwinked. The woman leading the group the MALS are in league with, is none other than the bretonian Countess Sybil, presently the third in line to our throne. According to MacKenzie she is quite the socialite, and gives many balls and soirees and what have we, and according to Henry she is the very capable priestess of a titanian cult! Nobody has been able to pin anything on her, and how Henry knows, I don’t know. But he seemed quite sure about it. Our prisoner said that the wizard that investigated the box when we took it, is a member of her cult. He also said that he had witnessed the wizard walking away unscathed from the warehouse we stole the box from – possessed by the demon! So… not so unscathed, I guess.
I check out the box but find nothing magic about it. There are strange signs on the crate, but I can’t read them. Henry can, though. He says that they are protective signs – an invocation of the reborn Uranus to protect the contents of the box. So powerful stuff! And the signs probably prevent me from sensing anything. We decide that we had better be on the move, and that we might find more answers as to what is in the box in the wizard’s possessions, most likely at the warehouse where we first encountered him. I go out to call a cab. The streets are engulfed in a fog thick as peasoup. A large dark something comes out of it towards me, but fortunately it is just a cab. A completely black cab with black horses. The driver has his hood up and covering half his face and his voice is dark and hoarse. There isn’t room for all of us in the cab, so I sit with the driver. It turns out that he has a rather troublesome sore throat, and I recommend him to drink honey in his tea. He drives us straight to the warehouse and we ask him to wait for us outside. The place is trashed. Some of the magic signs are still active, though. I sense it just before it drags Cassie, MacKenzie and the prisoner into the protective circle in quite a brutal manner. They fly through the room, sliding along the floor, and end up in a people pile in the circle. Henry wipes out a bit of the signs and the magic stops. While we were fooling around with the magic, Max found the wizard’s notebook. Apparently the wizard noted down everything for safekeeping, so now we know what he knew: the box contains an archeological find from Atlanthea. It is a piece of a door or a gate, and very old. The door was found in a tempel honoring the gods of the underworld, and is in fact a piece of the Gate to Tartaros… The door opens up into Tartaros and through it demons might come out. To close the opening between dimensions we will have to close the door. To close the door we must bring this fragment of the door to the actual Gate to Tartaros, reinstall it and physically close the door. The door fragment will until then attract demons from all over the place. And I do think that there are an uncommon amount of shadows, rats and crows in this place! I feel very uncomfortable about this whole thing, and Mackenzie backs me up – we are close to hysteria, but the others seem more calm about it. All we have to do is pack our things, find a ship and haul ass to Atlanthea in a great big hurry and put the door fragment bag in place. Pardon me if the magnitude of our mission is scaring me! To travel! To travel to Atlanthea! To travel to Atlanthea to replace a piece of door in the Gate of Tataros! I am not a carpenter, I am not even a traveller, am I even worthy of this quest?
I am packed. I left a letter to Vincent in our room. It said ‘Dear Vincent. We are going to Tataros to return a bit of their door that they are missing. Here are too many demons and this is why. We are sailing to Atlanthea. Find us if you can. I hope I don’t get sea sick. Love, Grace’. Luckily I don’t have much to pack. At the harbour Henry, Cassie and MacKenzie have load of luggage. Max has his toolkit and a carpetbag. I have my carpetbag and it contains pretty much everything I own. We get help to get all the stuff on board. Captain William Bones welcome us on board the Matilda. As soon as I set foot on the deck I get a strange feeling in my gut. The deck is swaying under my feet in a most unpleasant manner and I begin to feel a bit nauseous. I am distracted as Henry faints in front of me. His face is completely white and the bandage on his left arm is bled through. Cassie orders us about and we find a table under deck to place him on, and she performs surgery on him right there. When she is done he actually looks better, and we leave him in his cabin to rest. The cabins are actually just a bunch of hammocks divided by curtains. They swing back and forth and my nausea returns with a vengeance. I crawl back to the deck, and spew over the side. I feel positively sick. I ask the captain if there is always so much movement on a ship and he laugh at me ‘My dear girl’, he says ‘We haven’t left the harbour yet!’
The next couple of days are absolutely horrid. I feel sick constantly. And not just sea sick. I feel like something inside me is missing. As if I have misplaced my heart. Cassie tries to soothe me, but even she cannot make the terrible hollow feeling go away. She and MacKenzie and several of the sailors suggests different cures to my sea sickness: whisky, grog, stew, fresh air, blubber (a joke on the cook’s part) and fresh fruit. Nothing helps. I am just so desperately ill. After three days of eating and drinking almost nothing, spewing up anything I do ingest, and feeling completely beside myself we finally reach Atlanthea. At the first sight of the rocky islands I feel a little better. The water here is unbelievably blue and the houses are built of stone and painted chalk white. It is very lovely here.
The moment I set foot on the stone pier I feel completely fine. Even the nausea is gone. I bend down to pick up a piece of rock. It feels most welcome in my hand. Gods, I love rocks! I put it in my pocket almost without thinking about it, like I used to when I was younger. All the pockets I have ruined over time by the weight of stones. All the beatings I took for ruining my pockets. I am grown up now. I can have all the rocks I want in my pockets now!
I hear someone calling my name. I see Vincent come running towards us. But how?! How could he possibly intercept us? He explains: while we took a slow boat, he has come here by the mail boat (apparently that goes much faster – I know how we get back again: by mail boat!). One of the other passengers was a fine lady, and his description of her matches all too well that of Countess Sybil! So she is here, and she has a head start. Not good!
There are many peddlers here. They crowd around us and I do not like it. MacKenzie buys and buys. She likes everything they have. They sell all sorts of things: blankets, pottery, flutes, painted wooden figures and – oh! – toy sheep. A peddler pushes it into my hand and it is soft and pretty. It smells of real wool. It has painted eyes that seem to look at me pleading me to buy it. I have no money for such things, but it is so pretty! MacKenzie comes to me and she pays the peddler. ‘You keep that one’ she says. I look at her with wonder. I get to keep the little sheep? I am so happy! I thank her. I love the little sheep!
We stay here for the night. We need to buy provisions and to get a guide to take us to the temple of Hades that supposedly is nearby. The inn is called a tratatorium or some such. It may be the worst place I have ever slept. And I have slept some pretty uncomfortable places. They serve us food that looks strange, but smells wonderful! I eat a lot, but my stomach doesn’t like it. Soon I feel sick and I must run to the loo.
We are not the only ones looking for exciting things here: there is another group of people looking for treasure. Most of them are valorian, but some of them are not. They speak bretonian with each other, so we understand what they say. I hear them at night, when I am in the loo: two of them talk of how Lady Sybil has hired all the men with mules, so that there are nothing left for the rest of us. They also talk about how she hired men with guns and other weapons, and that they were all headed the longer and more comfortable way to the temple of Hades. I feel all excited: if we hurry, we might get there first! We just need to take a more direct route.
The next morning we try to find a guide. It turns out that the only guide around is the one who work for the valorian party. Somehow the others persuade him to join our party in stead. We get ready, though it takes much longer than I’d like, not until noon do we get going. It is hot and the road is rocky and difficult. Soon Cassie lags behind, and I offer to carry her things. She is not used to unpaved roads. It is hard for all of us. Even Henry removes his bow tie and unbuttons his top button. I don’t think I have ever seen that before. The air is so hot it almost burns in the lungs. The air is moving, like waves, it is so hot! The sun burns down on us and we suffer. I think we lose our way. We are on a narrow trail along a cliff. We can only walk one at a time sideways. I am scared, but my fingers hold on to the rock and I feel like the rock is holding on to me as well. Henry becomes very scared, and MacKenzie must try to get him to move, as she is behind him. This can’t be right. I don’t think that people had to come this way to come to the temple of Hades. I tear my shirt on the way – right down the back.
Finally we are back on better ground. We have to find water, for we have soon drunk every drop we brought with us. I search, but keep getting distracted by the pretty rock. I find so many kinds I haven’t seen before. One kind is white and dull on the outside, but inside it looks like gems! Beautiful! Cassie finds water. And soon after we find stairs cut into the rock! It leads straight to the temple and we reach it by sunset. There is an old goat herder here. Henry says he is the priest, but he looks like a goat herder. There are even goats here. He speak gobbledegook, but fortunately Henry speaks that too. Henry says that the goat herder/priest says that the lady Sybil was here yesterday – she looked at the statue in the temple and at the frieze that runs all the way around the top of the temple. It is supposed to give directions to the real temple. Vincent and I lean back and take a rest while the rest of them looks at the frieze. We eat olives that practically drops from the tree into our hands. Vincent teaches me to catch the olives with my mouth. It is difficult, but I succeed once! The others come back and says that a piece of the frieze had fallen off, and that the lady Sybil might thus look in the wrong place. Vincent and I go with the others into the temple and Max brings out one of his inventions. It is supposed to be a lamp, but it explodes. I am guessing that it was not supposed to do that. Cassie has a less fancy lamp that works. There is an altar on which to sacrifice and there is a very large statue of Hades with his hand stretched out. The goat herder priest says something and Henry translates that the statue holds the real key to the gates of Tartarus in his hand. I climb up upon MacKenzies shoulders and look into the empty hand of the statue. There is only the imprint the shape of a key in the dust. It has recently been removed. Henry wants us to move along right away, but we deem it imprudent to walk on rocky roads when it is dark. We decide to move on at the very first light tomorrow morning. Henry makes me pack the piece of the frieze that had fallen of.
The sun is not yet up, but the first light is slowly sweeping across the rocky plateau we are walking on. I feel dizzy and find it hard to breathe. We walk and walk and walk. We look ahead and the road we walk on leads straight into a hole by the cliff. It leads straight down. There is a waterfall and the air is moist. We can see two giant figures at the bottom. Max brings out his climbing gear and climbs down. Henry says not to touch the water; it might be the beginning of Styx! I can’t quite the the hang of Max’s gear and get stuck almost at the bottom. It’s a bit tricky to get all the way down. MacKenzie falls and she almost touches the water, and my heart pounds at the thought of what might have happened. The water runs through cracks in the cliff, so it is relatively dry where we stand. The two giant figures stand on each side of an opening into a cave with tiles. Above the opening there are letters, and Henry translates it inot something like ‘He who enters will get in so much trouble with Nemesis!’. We make our sacrifices – or some of us do – and ask for permission to enter without getting into too much trouble. We enter the cave that is lined with beautiful columns and a frieze describing the story of Persephone. At the end of the cave there is a crack in the floor where fumes come up. This is where the Oracles must have sat. I take a deep breath and everything seem very clear and very funny. Stairs lead down, but they are all crooked and weird. The stairs end in a green mist that frankly looks a bit unpleasant. I offer to dive into it if they tie a rope on me first. I hold my breath and climb down. Suddenly my feet slip on the greasy rock and I fall into nothingness. I can hear water, but I can see nothing at all. I feel them tugging at the rope and they pull me back up. Vincent repeats my tricks, which is smarter since he can see in the dark. When he comes back he says that the layer of green mist isn’t very thick. Under it the air is good. There is a part of the path that is very slippery, but after that the road is good again and continues into a sort of hallway. One by one we climb down to it, and we move into some sort of labyrinth. I see bones along the way and soon enough a skull so there can be no doubt that the bones are human. Urgh, I don’t like it! We can hear the sounds of animals or some thing scuddling around in the hallways. I throw one of my rocks in the opposite direction of the one we take, and the sound of animals go to the noise my rock made. We move into an open space and here is the strangest creature I have ever seen: it is smooth and white with blind eyes and an enormous number of teeth! I try to beat it, but it scratches me with it’s long claws. It hurts! We run down a narrow hallway and the animal cannot follow us.
Finally we reach the gate. But everything here is topsy turvy. We seem to come up through the floor, but another of my little rocks fall in the wrong direction. The gigantic gate looms four meters over us. We can clearly see where the piece of door is missing. I climb unto MacKenzies shoulders, and Vincent climb unto mine with the piece of the gate. The others suppert us, so we make a human pyramid. Vincent puts the door piece in it’s place and it fits perfectly! Now all we need to do is lock the door. Which we can’t without the key. Vincent who can unlock practically anything tries to lock the gate, but as he does so he suddenly says ‘Uhoh’ and starts to light up. Ligthing emits from his tattoos – erasing them – and jumps to me and then Cassie and then the others. It seems to linger with Henry. We are all screaming and our pyramid collapses. The room spins and I am hurled around. So are the others. Vincent passes me and we reach out for eachoter. Our fingers barely touch, but we do not get a hold of eachother. I just see his face pass me by and I continue to fall against the walls. I pray to Artemis, and the world slowly stops spinning and we all fall to the floor. Cassie is distraught and I run to her to comfort her. Henry is also hurt. Something with his eyes.
Our light goes out and we can hear the creatures in the dark. MacKenzie managed to turn the light on again, and I almost wish she hadn’t. The room is full of monsters. We fight. I hid them with my stick and knock out some of them. One of them hits back. It hits my stick and my stick hits my head. I see stars and pain blooms behind my eyes. Henry throws a bottle to the ground, and the scent of cologne spreads in the room. The blind monsters find us by sound and smell, and now they can’t smells us. We fight on, and seem to get the upper hand. Everyone are together and we run out of the room and out of the labyrinth as fast as we can. We stop right outside the exit. I pant and try to catch my breath. I look at my feet and they are sunk into the cliff. I lift my feet and put them down on top of the rock. I don’t think the others saw. I was not scared. It seemed almost… pleasant to be part of the rock.
Henry is delirious. He thinks the others look old and strange. Not me, just the others. But he is terrified of the cut on my arm. He says it is festering. He sees the black lines of blood poisoning streaming up my arm. I can’t see it. My arm feels cool and hard as rock, but aside from the cut it looks fine and feels fine. Cassie has tended to it, and I trust that she has done a good job of it. Henry wiped his eyes. Something surely is wrong with them. Can he see into the future? Does he see the others age and my arm fester? Why does he not see me age? Will I die before I am old?
We climb up and away from the entrance to the temple. The plateau beneath us is full of people and we all drop out of sight. I peek over the ledge to see who it is. They are all heavily armed. It is not Lady Sybil, but it might be her men. There are a handfull of gentlemen, and a whole lot of guards and peasants. They are putting on robes. It looks like the robes of priests of Hades. One of them looks very distressed. They seem to have forgotten or misplaces something. They talk loudly about ‘her’ having the key last. We discuss what to do. Vincent volunteer to sneak closer to listen to them, and I offer to have his back. The others hide higher in the mountain. We climb closer to the camp. I climb higher up than Vincent. I see them spot him climbing and I try to howl like an owl to warn him. But I am not very good at it. They catch him, and because of my hooting they catch me too. They bring us into the camp. I cling to Vincent’s arm. I say we are on our honeymoon and that we are lost and won’t they help us, please? They don’t believe a word of it. Our friends come into the camp. They are captured too. The gentlemen discuss what to do with us, and quickly agree to kill us. They want to locals to kill us. Henry tries to bribe the locals not to kill us. Cassie takes over, and with her sweet voice and innocent looks manage to convince the locals not to be barbarians and to think of future turism and to consider the innocence of us, and they agree to escort us back to the fishing village.
Early in the morning in the fishing village we are sailing in a fishing boat to intercept the postal boat that passes further out. I managed to procure som paint, so I can renew Vincent’s tattoos temporarily. I really should have my tattoo kit with me at all time. Pity I don’t. Vincent is in danger – and in deed so are we – as long as so many of his tattoos are inefficient. I hope to paint him when we get aboard. The postal boat is huge! Much bigger than the ship we arrived on. They lower a ladder and I climb up. I dig my hand into my pocket once I am on board and hold my rocks. I feel better. Henry needs a sling to get on board and Cassie needs help up too. Cassie arrange for me to share her cabin, but I get to eat in steerage with Vincent.
We need to find the key that Lady Sybil has. It must either be in the safe in the purser’s office or in Lady Sybil’s cabin. Vincent and I talk to Lady Sybil’s servants. Meanwhile MacKenzie, Cassie and Henry talk to the other passengers. We all hear of Lady Sybil’s early morning seabathing, which is apparently quite a spectacle. Especially since she bathing naked. The purser sells tickets to view the bathing from his window. This is interesting because this is one moment we can be sure that she is not in her cabin, and we can look through it and hopefully find the key. We decide to spy on her the next morning. We need to find out where she goes, and for how long she is gone from her cabin, and whether the cabin is empty or guarded meanwhile.
The next morning I follow lady Sybil from her cabin to steerage where she bathes. I carry towels and look maidlike. Vincent has bought tickets to the purser’s cabin and spys on the lady from there. Henry follows Lady Sybil’s valet/bodyguard, but looses sight of him. MacKenzie and Cassie keps their eyes on the abandoned cabin. I run into the bodyguard/valet near the bathingscene, and he escorts me away. Meanwhile MacKenzie and Cassie tried if the door to Lady Sybil’s cabin was locked or open. It must have been poor craftmanship, for a single nudge to the door practically destroyed the doorframe. The girls had no choice, but to search the cabin now, or forever loose the chance to do so. They found no key, but they did find a journal, which Cassie promptly hid on her person. And just in time! For the Lady returned and got a good look at both Cassie and MacKenzie while they explained how they had found the door open seconds ago, and had entered to see if something was wrong. And the key? The key hung around the lady’s neck…
We decided to back off at that point, and leave it up to the Organization to decide what to do about it.
One thought on “2. The case of the gates of Tartaros”