This singleton fantasy was my third published novel, in 2005. It's a strange story, I'm willing to admit that...people either love or hate it.
Lost Myths Ink LLC
Chapter Twenty: Inferno
"Where are we?" Hero waved his hand in front of his eyes to try to clear the smoke. "I thought you were gonna get us outside!"
"I tried -- I told you, I'm not that good a sorcerer."
"Help! Help us, please!" The woman's voice came from somewhere nearby, but Hero was still having trouble seeing, and now he was beginning to cough from the accumulating smoke. He realized they were in what appeared to be a stone basement.
"You've put us under the building! How are we supposed to get out, now? And who was that calling us?" Hero was able to discern the walls of the basement; the chamber was huge, and must cover the entire square footage of the first floor of the building.
"Over there!" Mayne started across the chamber to the far wall, waving the thickening smoke out of his way as he went. "Ouch! What in Hades was that?" He bent down and picked something up. "What is this place? This is pretty strange, for a gardening tool."
Hero came up beside him and took the metal object out of his hand. "Gardening tool? It looks more like a giant pair of tweezers. What would that be good for?"
"Help!" The woman's voice came from the corner of the chamber. "If you don't get over here right now, my friends are goners!"
"That doesn't sound much like anyone from this side of reality, Mayne...I think we've found our prisoners!" Heedless of the smoke or possible obstacles, Hero dashed across the basement to the far wall. There he was met by a horrifying sight. People were chained all along it, lying in filth on the stone floor, half-clothed and with raw wounds covering their bodies. Some of them seemed half-alive, and there were many no older than the students from Morgana la Fay high school.
The one young woman who seemed to be fully coherent turned to regard him. "Help us, please! You've got to get us away from these madmen!"
"We came for that very purpose, but I don't see how..." his gaze rested on niches carved into the stone wall. There were small, green glass statuettes..."Mayne! Stay back! This place is full of tanterines!"
Mayne staggered back from his side and fell to his knees. "Aaah! I can feel their power!"
"Crawl back the other way until I smash them, then you'll have to get all of us out of here." Mayne shot him a wild-eyed look, but didn't argue, just crawled away from him. Hero looked around and spotted what appeared to be some kind of a strange leverage device with nails studding one end. That should do as well as anything else. He picked it up, and swung it at the first statuette, which shattered with a satisfying crash. The smoke wasn't as bad at this end of the chamber, and the heat didn't seem to be penetrating the room. Just as he had this cheering thought, the ceiling at the other end caved in, and the burning floorboards crashed onto the stone.
Running through the haze and smoke, Hero smashed all the statuettes. When the last of the glass had fallen to the stone floor, Mayne staggered to his feet. Making his way to the first person chained to the wall, he reached out to grasp her arm. Then he signalled to the person beside to reach to him and take his hand. "Two at a time is all I can manage -- try to keep the flames from over here, and I'll be back in a minute."
Hero nodded, and they disappeared. It was a little more than a minute when Mayne returned, and he was panting. Hero had been trying unsuccessfully to free some of the unconscious prisoners. "You won't be able to get the gyves out," the young woman told him. We've been trying for months."
"But you were weakened by the power of the tanterines. I'm a null," Hero grunted, hacking at the rock with a piece of jagged metal.
She frowned. "They affect everyone, even nulls. I mean, they're magical -- that's why the people who work here are forced to obey their master, the sorceror."
"I'm a null with special powers."
"Isn't that an oxymoron?"
Hero glanced over at her. "You seem to have suffered the least of these people. Why is that?"
"I just arrived two days ago, and they were trying to convince me to service them in exchange for more lenient treatment. I'm glad you arrived -- I was about to give in, because they promised to feed everyone."
"Service them how?"
"With sex, what else. You probably haven't realized it yet, but this world is very sexually repressed. They have some kind of weird religion that teaches them sex is bad. At least, that's what I picked up from talking to the others, and from what some of the men said. There don't seem to be any women here, which is possibly why they have so much trouble over sex."
Mayne came racing to the girl, and grabbed her unceremoniously. "Hey!" She protested, "Take the others first -- I'm ok!"
He ignored her, and carried her over to where one of the men lay unconscious. "Take his hand," he instructed her. "I need your added power -- this is starting to drain me."
"Oh, ok. I was at the top of my class; I'm a senior. I've got a scholarship to Olympia University..." her voice was cut off abruptly as they vanished.
It took a few more trips to get them all out, and by that time Mayne was nearly unconscious himself. The place was an inferno, and Hero was nearly trapped inside when the whole structure collapsed on top of him. Mayne found his foot underneath a pile of rubble and transported him to safety just as the basement exploded.
"Did we get everybody out?"
"Yes, but I'm not sure they'll all make it. And I hate to tell you this, but I think our problems here are just beginning."
"What now?" Hero glanced around and realized that there was a crowd of people watching them, and they didn't look as if they were in a pleasant mood. However, perhaps it was difficult to tell if these people were ever in a good mood. "Uh...greetings to you, friends. Perhaps you could help us. We just rescued these children from this building, which somehow caught fire. Is there a hospital in the area?"
As soon as he spoke, Hero knew he had said the wrong thing. The townspeople exchanged glances and shook their heads. One burly man who looked like a farmer or a butcher stepped forward. "Horspital? There ain't no horspital here -- ye'd havta ta go up ta Boston. And what we're ya doin' in the Town Hall, that ye were caught inside when it went up?"
"We were rescuing them!" Mayne stated indignantly. "That's what we went in for, in the first place."
"Aye...I reckoned as much. Ye'd best not move 'til the Constable arrives."
"What are you blathering about?" Mayne was becoming angrier and angrier, and Hero wished he had just a little more experience as a policeman. "What do we need a constable for? Just fetch us a doctor!"
"I'm a doctor," a quiet voice at the back of the crowd stated. "I'll look at your friends. They are very young, aren't they?" A tall, slender man with silver hair made his way through the crowd, which seemed reluctant to allow him access. The farmer/butcher frowned at him.
"Best leave this be, doc -- wait for the constable. You know what these people are; our own died in that blaze."
"And they were keeping these children prisoner and torturing them. The more shame on their souls," the doctor replied, circling around the man and coming up beside Mayne. "Let me see what I can do for them here, but they really should be brought to my surgery."
"I can do that for you, doctor."
"Aye, he's a witch!" One woman yelled. "I saw him bring those girls outta the burning house, and he just appeared there! He's a witch, just like they are! We should kill them all!"
This sentiment was echoed through the crowd, and the doctor turned on them impatiently. "You're talking the same insane blather those men did, the ones who kept the children in the hall. There's no such thing as witches, and it has been scientifically proven. You're not a witch, are you?" He asked Mayne.
The young policeman grinned. "No, I'm a policeman. And a sorceror," he added at the end.
Hero groaned. Now we're in for it, he thought. The crowd started to mutter again, and the farmer/butcher pulled something out of his pocket. It was a smaller version of a tanterine, and he held it up in front of him. "I reckon this'll stop the pair o' you, then."
Mayne paled at sight of the small statuette, and the man cackled malevolently. "Yep, I thought so. Takes away yer power, doesn't it, Witch? How else do ye think we were able to control this lot? I've got the pair o' ye now."
Hero was so quick the man didn't realize the statuette had been wrenched from his hands. As he smashed it he yelled, "He said he wasn't a witch! Now shall I break your nose, or will you shut the fuck up and let the doc work?"
The man stepped back, obviously stunned. "It didn' stop you...what are you?"
"Just a man, who isn't affected by your stupid toys."
"There're still a deal more o' us than there are of you." The mutterings of the crowd reinforced the threat.
"Not exactly." The woman's voice came from the edge of the crowd, and Hero had never been so glad to see anyone in his life, when Mallecyne made her way through to his side, accompanied by a young woman with very blond hair. "Now, about that broken nose..." The farmer clutched his nose with a scream, his hands suddenly covered in blood.
"She's one of 'em!" He screamed. "Doesn't anybody else have one o' the power-takers?"
People in the crowd shook their heads. The tanterines were scarce, and given mostly to those who came into daily contact with the people from the other dimension. "Go home," Mallecyne told the man contemptuously. "And remember what happened to your friends in the hall." She jerked her head back towards the now-smoking ruin.
"You did that! You killed them -- you killed my husband, Nate! You're a murderer!" A woman screamed from the crowd. She approached Mallecyne, driven beyond the limits of common sense by her grief.
"I am sorry for your grief, but your husband was an evil man. He killed many of my people, some of them little more than children."
The woman spat at her. "They were witches! The bible says, 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'! What Natee did was right and proper; the reverand said so. Now he is dead, also..." The thought that their mentor had also died in the fire seemed to subdue the woman, who backed away, muttering. "He left me with four children to raise; how am I to do that on my own?"
"Perhaps these will help." Mallecyne waved an arm and the woman was suddenly bedecked in ropes of pearls and jewels. She stared down at herself in amazement. "I don't suppose Lord Tynedale bothered to inform you that he is also a Sorceror, and could have provided you with untold wealth, simply for the asking. In truth, he has been using you for his own ends."
But none of the people in the crowd seemed to know who Tynedale was. They watched the widow with covetous eyes, as she wonderingly gathered the strings of gems closer to her worn dress. "Then you give us what you gave her, and we'll leave you be," the farmer said, still nursing his broken nose.
"You will get nothing from me, and neither will any other man in this world. You have made your women into slaves and treated them as little better than cattle. I will only help women left on their own by this tragedy. You men might as well return to your work and your fields; you get nothing from me."
The men were muttering amongst themselves again, but none of them seemed willing to make a move against Mallecyne, who was now an unknown quality. They realized that what they needed was another of the glass statuettes, and began to disperse in search of one. Several of the men clustered around the farmer, whose nose had stopped bleeding, and surreptitiously questioned him about the tanterine.
Mayne frowned. "Aren't you worried that they'll find another tanterine? The ones in the basement nearly knocked me out -- I couldn't even move until Hero smashed 'em."
Mallecyne shook her head, smiling. "I've put a glamour on them. By the time they get home, they won't even remember what happened here. That stupid farmer will think he injured himself in an accident or a fight, and wonder why he can't recall the incident."
"I hope I'm as clever as you are one day. I'd never even aspire to be as proficient; just as clever would do."
"The day a man could be as clever as a woman won't ever see the sun rise on it," Hero said, grinning. Then he turned to the doctor, who was trying to treat the people lying on the ground.
"You people have some novel ideas concerning men and women. I wonder if they aren't more accurate than the ones we've been taught all our lives. Certainly more humane. If I could only get them to my surgery, I might be able to save at least some of them..."
"No problem, doc, now that our friends are gone and won't be distracting me with their stupidity. Mayne, you can help me on this."
The young policeman seemed inordinately pleased that Mallecyne would want his help. They linked hands, and Mallecyne took the hand of the doctor. Then Mayne and the doctor both took the hands of two patients, and they were gone. Hero stood to guard the remaining patients until their return, which was only about a minute later. There was only the one girl left, the one who had suffered the fewest injuries, and Chastity, when Tynedale arrived on the scene.
He came in as a wizard should, with a swirling cape and brandishing one of the tanterines in one hand. Hero, wondering just how Tynedale had managed to overcome the effects of the statue, wasn't about to give his rival another chance to best him -- especially since this time, the wizard was alone. Apparently he was so confident in his ability to recapture Mallecyne and subdue the locals that he didn't bring any backup.
All of Hero's family were trained in the martial arts of the East. Adepts rarely bothered with these disciplines; after all, what did they need them for? The result was that only nulls were taught the skills that would enable them to defend themselves; but most nulls were still vulnerable to magic. Hero, however, was a formidable force -- he could fight anyone to the death (not his, however), and not be affected by their power.
The first thing he did was to snatch the tanterine out of Tynedale's grasp and hurl it as far away as he could, where it landed in the road and cracked open, leaking its' strange, flourescent liquid onto the packed dirt.
Stunned, Tynedale jumped back. Hero spun and kicked him in the face, sending him flying after the statue. When he hit the dirt, he didn't move again. Hero walked over and looked down at him, feeling supremely satisfied with himself.
"How about that...got it in one. Now, the only problem is that I don't know what to do with the bugger. I may not be affected by his tricks, but nearly everyone else will be. Do I kill 'im now, or wait for Mallecyne to deal with it? And if I do, will she be able to? Decisions, decisions."
Chastity and the girl were watching him wide-eyed. The girl trailed her ragged dress behind her and came to stand beside him. "If he's the one who caused all this, my suggestion would be to kill 'im now. I've never been through so much shit in my life."
"Wait; you're young yet. What's your name, by the way?"
"Ariadne. I can imagine my parents have already gone into major freak over this."
"Yours and everybody else's. The problem is, my dear young thing, that this isn't the only portal and you weren't the only prisoners. They're all over this world, and I haven't a clue how to rescue them all."
She frowned. "Couldn't we get some help from our side? You know, like an invasion force?"
"What good is that, if Tynedale here has a bunch more statues just waiting to be activated?"
"I told you, kill 'im now."
"You kids are sure bloodthirsty nowadays."
Her face hardened. "How many of my generation has he killed, or arranged to be killed, in the most brutal fashion? I watched two girls die of terrible injuries the first day I was here. You have no idea..." She started to cry, and kicked Tynedale viciously in the side. "I hope I broke a couple of ribs, the bastard."
Hero put his arms around her and let her cry on him. He wished Chastity wouldn't stand off by herself, looking as if she might bolt at any second. The last thing he wanted to be doing after escaping from a burning building was comforting an hysterical, murderous teenager.
"I hate this place," Guinevere remarked as they made their way down the street in Hibernia. It really gives me the creeps."
"I'm sure there aren't a lot of people who'd choose it for a vacation spot," Hero replied caustically.
"Surely these people could improve their lives if they really wanted to, even without our help," she said irritably, avoiding the piles of garbage that lined the streets. "Phew -- it stinks!"
"They don't want to help themselves," Nathaniel told them. "These people are just like the ones in my world -- the ones from the early days of Christianity. They believed all kinds of strange things, like dirt being holy, and suffering being the surest way to reach Heaven."
Guinevere glanced over at him. "Refresh my memory, lover. Heaven is the place where the good people go, so they can sit around on clouds and play harps."
Mallecyne wrinkled her nose. "But why would anyone think being dirty would bring them closer to their god? Surely the gods have sensibilities too, probably finer than ours."
"Once I've done some research, perhaps I can answer your question."