“She said the dog was possessed, not combined with the foreign species,” Isemene advised. “I’d like to avoid hurting it if at all possible.”
“I have an idea,” Seth offered hopefully. “I don’t like spirits, and they tend not to like me. I can use that.” Holding his gun perpendicular to the hallway, he began to mumble and chant in low, indistinct tones. Turning a corner, the team found itself face to face with three snarling, snapping, spike-furred guard dogs. The size of small Arabian horses, crimson eyes stared daggers at the interlopers as their skin literally crawled with thousands of winged insects.
“Leave that creature alone!” Seth screamed, surprised at the dogs’ sudden appearance and falling backwards. A pale yellow light burst forth from the side of his gun, enveloping the first war hound, sending it howling and twitching into the wall, his spell attempting to banish the evil entity within.
“Seth these are too far gone – kill them!” Ismene shrieked with wide eyes, having expected possessed guard dogs rather than animal-demon hybrid monsters. She saw his magic affecting the whole animal, not just a being within it, and knew he wouldn’t be able to separate the spirit from the flesh.
The other two hounds, enraged further by the assault on their packmate, dove into the party. Tommy defended himself as best he could with his sword, spraying the walls with blood, the monster ripping savage wounds in his arm for the trouble. Tammy struck at the same dog with her kopesh, trying to end its assault, but caught a claw across the chest instead.
Beheading the fiendish beast with his katana, the head continued to bite and gnaw at Tommy as he struck, causing terrible harm as the body spasmed and lashed out uncontrollably. Tammy leaped over the creature, aiming for the remaining hound in the back with her sword. Trading blows, she tried to position herself so the monster would have to go through her in order to reach the rest of her group.
Seth continued to focus on the hound he captured with magic, convinced that if he tried just a little harder, he could manage to separate the physical from the supernatural. Ismene stepped beside him, taking her bat to the body of the monster that continued to attack Tommy, knocking it away from potentially hitting Seth. A swift kick lashed out, catching her arm with its sharp claws. She screamed as the razors raked her body, the sound knocking Seth out of his magical reverie. “Ismene!” he yelled, trying to cradle her wound in his hands, the whole of his mystical attention focused on encouraging the wound to heal, at the cost of the harm flowing into his body instead.
Looking up, Roger saw the third beast clamp its jaws on Tammy’s throat, her eyes rolling back in her head from pain and blood loss as she fell unconscious to the sterile white tile of the hallway floor. “Save Tammy!” he bellowed, trying to change the course of battle.
Feeling enlivened from Seth’s touch, Ismene wasted no time in sprinting forward, striking the dog atop Tammy in the face with the a full swing of her bat, knocking it loose from her throat. Blood sprayed from the impact, though whether it came from the dog or Tammy’s neck none were sure. It continued to snap and snarl as Tommy and Ismene moved to protect their friend, the three trading blows as they forced their way down the hallway.
Seth collapsed to the ground, feeling a savage poison enter his veins through the wound he absorbed from Ismene. Watching the aura of magic fade from the beast he first snared, almost all of its skin had been blasted away, formed almost entirely of writhing, crawling creatures. The creature shook once more and was still, its last breath steaming lightly in the corridor.
Ismene and Tommy brought their weapons down on the remaining hound, swinging with all of their might. Dodging its attempts to bite and claw them, their assault continued unabated until the monster’s face was all but unrecognizable. Breathing heavily, the party regrouped around Tammy, her breath shallow and throat savaged by the guard dog. Tommy and Seth quickly moved to stabilize their friend.
“I think I banished that dog,” Seth shrugged, helping Tammy to a more comfortable position. “It took a while, but it’s gone.”
“Its hold on the host is significant,” Tommy offered. “It would take more than just one of us to evict it at once.”
The sound of skin stretching and tearing interrupted any internal conversation — from further down the hallway an enormous, blood-clot extending from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, out of which glared six hateful eyes and three snapping jaws, containing rows and rows of horrible teeth. Tommy stood, leaving Ismene, Roger, and Seth to tend to Tammy. “More than one of us, or one of us with great effort.”
He began chanting, his hands moving in intricate, practiced patterns, standing up to the approaching wall of flesh and blood. Seth, giving Ismene an understanding nod, rose and stood beside Tommy, his hands at the ready and pulsing with energy. One of the three cruel mouths opened and a stream of wasps flew out, immediately targeting the uniformed greaser, stabbing at his face. “Protect Tommy!” he bellowed, trying to swat the terrible devil bugs away from their assault.
“It’s a lot larger than it looks,” Ismene cautioned as she looked through a coin at the approaching mass, seeing a writhing, otherworldly and extraplanar mass being funneled into their physical reality, manifesting as the wall of flesh. She saw Tommy’s attempt spell of banishment, an act of sheer will, as a pinprick of infinite light, pulling at the sinuous attachments the wall had to the real world. “Tommy, keep it up!” Brandishing her bat, she knocked several bugs from Seth, luckily without taking his head off in the process. Taking her place on the other side of Tommy, she moved to ensure his ritual continued uninterrupted.
Roger knelt, tending to Tammy as she struggled into a sitting position against the wall. The epicenter of Tommy’s powerful ritual became visible to the mortal eye, a marble-sized hole in reality that hungrily absorbed the terrible matter surrounding it. Breathing heavily, Tammy closed her eyes and added her will to Tommy’s effort, attempting to sever the links between realities by sheer willpower.
The terrible wall, its jaws snapping and eyes flaring, stopped its advance, feeling the pull of Tommy and Tammy’s efforts to banish it from the earthly plane. Small tendrils of matter began to draw out of the sanguine barrier, toward the small yet growing rift fueled by the minds and conviction of the investigators. With an agonized screech, it began to retreat, attempting to distance itself from the tear in reality. Knowing they were turning the tide, Tommy and Tammy concentrated harder, beads of sweat tracing rivulets down their furrowed brows.
A great, throbbing pulse burst through the corridor air, as if the otherworldly creature was attempting a last stand before its inexorable exile. Ismene was knocked back a step, her eyes widening as she saw a vision of a very different place, a different plane of existence. Seth was able to steel his mind against the powerful force, his body instead taking the full blast of infernal energy. Tammy and Roger were caught unawares, visible scratches and scrapes blossoming on their flesh.
With a final gasp and howl which seemed to emanate from a far-off valley, the blood-wall disappeared, all hint of its eyes and mouths pulled bodily inside the tiny maelstrom of Tommy’s spell, which also disappeared, its task done.
A large bulkhead door labeled “THIRD FLOOR” stood before them.
Ismene, rubbing her temples, began to explain the visual assault she weathered, of the other time and place she witnessed.
Header image by Robert Trieckel