“There was a valley, enormous, and I stood in the middle of it,” Ismene explained, rubbing her arms for warmth and comfort. “Everything was red – the sky, the soil, the mountains in the distance. It was a hellish place, and it was just as real as you all are now.” Roger appeared to want to say something, but thought better of it, letting her continue. “There were humans, or at least human-like, running, screaming in agony and despiration. They were trying to get away from the wasps, but there were so many, the sky seemed to darken as they flew. I could hear a sound,” she shivered unconsciously, prompting Seth to put his arms around her. “It was the sound of death, approaching on a thousand clawed legs.
“I saw it – the specific demon, not just a demon,” she emphasized. “It had a brand, dozens of feet high, emblazoned in the side of its terrible head. It was waiting for an opening, pacing, biding its time. And then it saw me.”
“You actually saw–” gasped a wide-eyed Tammy.
“Yes, the lord of the swarm,” Ismene cut her off, not willing to risk anyone saying the entity’s true name, not this close to its place of power. “It saw me and it knew we were close. We’re in danger, but I think for the first time, so is it. We can do this.”
Tommy frowned deeply as Ismene finished retelling her vision, shaking his head. “We need to hurry.” There weren’t any opinions to the contrary – whatever, wherever she had witnessed was far too close for anyone’s comfort.
The airlock to level three stood unbarred, and looked far more maintained than the floors above them. “Does this mean there are more people down here?” Tammy asked, noting the lack of the orange goo on the floor. A small metal bin stood next to the door to the stairs, marked “Disposal.” Tossing a small tissue into the box caused a brief, soundless flash, and more ash was added to the pile at the bottom, without any hint of smoke.
“Fascinating,” remarked Roger, trying unsuccessfully to identify its ignition mechanism.
The walls beyond the airlock were thick, crawling almost, with terrible and otherworldly script, similar to that which they had seen in Paul Vega’s house before Ismene’s original studio was firebombed. She nearly fell to her knees as she entered the corridor, Seth catching her with deep concern. “I see it again,” she whispered, stretching her fingers toward the terrible markings. “It’s calling for me.” Tammy visibly paled, shutting her eyes tight against some sort of mental onslaught brought on by the symbols. Roger appeared to vibrate, the edges of his form blurring as if in a haze, his features growing indistinct and vague. Tommy winced and rubbed at his temples, as if reacting to a terrible noise the rest couldn’t hear. Only Seth stood unaffected, whether due to some internal mental fortitude or his simple childlike wonder at the adventure. He reached out to Ismene and Tammy, trying to console and center them both in the real world.
The far door was framed by oversized, thickly-painted runes, layered on top of the almost-constant pattern of lines, swirls, and dots that intensified as the hall descended toward the third basement. “Only the prepared will enter,” Tammy read aloud, able to transcribe the markings with effort. “The door is sealed, locked.”
“I don’t want to know what ‘prepared’ means to these things,” Seth added, his frown deepening as he continued caring for the distraught Ismene. Tommy prayed under his breath, channeling the mantras and teachings of his order as he reached out and placed two fingers on each of her temples. With a gasp Ismene fell backward, caught by Seth, her eyes returning to the present.
“The demons are crafty,” explained Tommy. “The wasps were after our bodies, the runes here after our minds.”
“The door is hot,” warned Tammy from the other end, brushing her fingers against its handle, still rattled by the intense unease evoked by the runes. Pulling on it with all of her might, and ignoring the sharp pain in her hands, she managed to strain it open no more than an inch. “It’s not moving any more,” she reported, sucking on her singed fingers.
Seth, leaving Ismene in Tommy’s care, tried to peer through the crack in the door. “There’s another airlock, with another trashcan.” Scrunching up his face, he looked back to the group. “I think it’s the same room we just left, like we’re on a big hamster ball.”
Ismene joined Seth at the door and, holding tightly the mystical coin held around her neck, attempted to swing wide the door, finding that it moved almost effortlessly. Opening her hand, she found the hole in the coin had closed, severing the thin chain she used to keep it around her neck. “Is it used up?” Seth asked innocently.
“I’m keeping it just in case it isn’t,” she shrugged, returning the now-unified coin to her pocket.
The airlock beyond the door was dark, but in the dim lighting spilling in from the stairwell the investigators could see that there was sparse writing on the walls – not fully demonic like in the previous room, but more warding and protective spells like had been found in several of the labs on the floor above. Cautiously the group moved into the new airlock, closing the door behind them, and using pocket flashlights to read the script.
“These symbols are to keep something inside, not out,” Tommy surmised. “There’s something truly awful on the other side of this door.” He drew his shotgun, checking to make sure shells were loaded and ready to go. Seth pulled back the hammer on his revolver, nodding to signal his readiness.
Roger stepped forward, taking the lead, confirming that the rest of the team were much-improved from the conditions of the prior room. Many hairs still stood on edge and heads throbbed, but visions and voices of otherworldly places and beings had largely faded from their consciousness. “It’s probably waiting for us,” Tommy added. “They, or it, knows we’re here.”
Tommy, Roger, and Seth stood facing the door, prepared for whatever may come at them, as Ismene and Tammy held up the rear.
“Let’s make some friends,” Tommy sneered.