It was dark. The front room was a disaster area, with debris scattered all around, and a wall was missing, allowing the only light in the room to come from the streetlights. I had a body laying on top of me, which I found to be rather startling, in and of itself. I shoved the body off of me, and sat up to get a better look at who this person used to be. It was a Ten's delivery guy. Even stranger. What was he doing here?
There was a gurgling sound behind me, and I turned to find Allendriel laying on one of the remaining walls, about halfway up, at a precarious angle that didn't make sense at first, until I noticed that he'd been pinned there by a piece of wood that protruded just beneath his ribcage that normally was never meant to be seen, hidden behind a wall. I swallowed hard.
"Al-Allendriel? What happened?" I looked around the room some more. "Where's Sal? Diego?"
The Fallen opened his mouth and immediately vomited dark, inky stomach bile. It cascaded down the front of his sweater-vest. It reeked of limestone, blood, and something rotten. I gagged almost instantly. He raised an arm and pointed out to the street.
"Sal and Diego are out there? Why did they just leave me? And what happened to you? Will you survive this? Jesus, what the fuck happened while we were, what, asleep?"
"Go," he barely managed to rasp out. More of what I assumed to be blood poured out of his mouth as a pained expression overcame him. He reached into one of his pockets and slowly pulled out a pen, feebly passing it to me.
"Uh..." I began, but he gave me as stern of a look as he could muster and clicked the pen before throwing it at me. Somehow, it landed neatly tucked behind my ear. Allendriel looked momentarily exasperated, then sighed. "Go!" he barely shouted, spraying me with his blood.
I grabbed then pen from my ear and looked from it to him and back again several times. Each time my glance turned his way, he looked more and more angry. Deciding to not incur his wrath, I instead figured I would work out the significance of the pen as I went along. I wasn't positive, but I didn't think I had ever been as unsure of anything as I was of going into a fight armed with nothing but a pen.
"As far as bad plans go, I suppose it's kind of comforting to know that they can't get any worse than this. I mean, if they expect you to be armed to the teeth, they'll act accordingly. If they expect nothing, you'll have the element of surprise, at least."
At that, I broke into a run and leapt through the hole where my wall used to be into my writhing lawn.
"Shit!" I never slowed down once my feet hit the dirt. I just kept on running, hoping that my momentum would keep me safe. A gash appeared on my cheek as one of the tangles of thistle vines thrashed at me.
Don't stop! Keep moving!
Once I made it to the sidewalk is when I came to a stop. I was bleeding, but not too bad. I had certainly suffered worse wounds before, so I wasn't going to let this little scratch slow me down. However, now that I was out of the house, I had to find Diego and Sal, find out why they just left me, do something about my lawn, and possibly do some fighting.
Luckily for me, the biggest clue I would need was the sound of voices coming from the bottom of the hill, near Cliff's guard post. I wondered where he was in all this. I hadn't seen him since the fire, and I never did thank him for the tip about it, as well as helping to try and put it out. Either way, the voices were in unison and seemed to all be in tune with one another.
"Chanting? I think I'm going to need a bigger pen...." I sighed to myself, starting down the hill.
I didn't really get very far before I realized that time may be of the essence, so I juked to the left, towards my yard, to find my Tank sitting at the curb, ready to be ridden into battle. I stopped short, to assess my situation. Fantastic. I was riding into a confrontation with something that could take out Allendriel with a golf cart as my steed, and a pen as my weapon.
"Here goes nothing, I suppose." Mindlessly, like one does with a clicky-top pen, I clicked it a couple times and slid it into my pocket before bounding over to the Tank and hopping into the driver's seat, and saw something in the passenger seat that made my night so much better.
"Bug bombs and a gas mask! Kick ass!" There was hope for me yet. I might last six seconds instead of three, but it was something, and my friends needed me to try. Maybe I could reenact the thrilling heroics of the garden gnome incident.
"I wonder what Tilly would say if she could see me now," I sighed.
"I think I would ask you what you're doing in your...uh...tank at three in the morning. Also, I would ask about all the noise. What's going on?" I spun to see Tilly standing just a few feet away from me, looking drop-dead sexy in her lacy silk nightgown with the split up to just above mid-thigh on both sides.
The things I would do to this woman if I had the time.
"Um, well, Til, I don't rightly know. I woke up to find Diego gone, a hole in my front wall, and chanting down by Cliff's. I'd offer to keep me company, but I think it might be dangerous." She looked at me and pouted. Here we go...
"Yeah? And a li'l ol' girl like me can't take of herself, huh? Oh, please. I can probably handle myself better 'n you can! Move over, let me drive." There was no stopping her when she got this way. As she went around the Tank, I moved into the passenger seat, and got a second gas mask ready. When she came around the truck, I handed her the mask.
"Here, put this on, darling." She eyed it bemusedly before looking back to me.
"You're joking, right?"
"Sorry, Til, it looks like there are more bad gasses floating about."
"Well, not yet. That's what these are for." I held up the fumigation bombs. "Something big is going on. Really big. Most likely bigger than the gnome debacle."
"That was, quite possibly, the dumbest caper I've ever heard of." She crossed her arms and blew her bangs out of her face.
"Looking back on it, I think it's probably one of the most hilarious stories I've ever heard, but, back to this: I have a feeling I'm going to have to save Sal and Diego. The scope of this trouble, this danger, just feels...bigger, somehow."
"Oh, don't be so dramatic, Jim. How bad could is possibly be?" Her visage was so very innocuous.
"Really, Til? 'How bad could it be?'" I slumped in my seat. "Do you own a gun?"
"You just uttered one of the few statements that should never be said, along with 'It can't get any worse than this,' or 'I'll be right back!' In the first example, it always gets worse immediately after saying that, and in the latter, whomever says that is never heard from again. You've just doomed us to face...." I just stared in the direction of the bottom of the hill as the pieces fell into place.
"Fuck. Tandamum. That's why Allendriel showed us that. Tandamum is imprisoned here. Wait." I closed my eyes and pictured the scene again. The village where Pacifi made her last stand. It was this neighborhood, but where did the final act take place? Then, without warning, it clicked. "We're so screwed, Tilly. We are so very, very fucked."
"Why? What's tantamount to what? What, or who, is Allendriel? Jim, what's going on?" The streetlights, and the lights in every single window in the neighborhood, all simultaneously winked out, bathing us in the light of the full moon. Of course.
"Okay, time's up, Til." I started the Tank, and put it into Drive, pointing down the hill. "Short version: There's a demon buried here, and this part's a little fuzzy to me, but I'm keeping it asleep by doing the lawncare gig. When Sal and Diego went on strike, it began waking up. Now...I think we may have to kill something unbeatable."
Tilly's eyes went wide and her jaw dropped.
Some time later, I had snuck down close to Cliff's guard house. Crouched behind several large Tatarian Honeysuckle shrubs in the first lawn of the community, Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Judy Danforth, I could, very clearly, see what was going on. It still hadn't fully sunk in.
Literally everyone in the neighborhood, except "Mr. Marsailles," Tilly, and myself, plus Sal, Cliff (he couldn't afford one of the houses, and refused to move his wife and daughters into our flop house), and some guy I couldn't recognize, was in the torchlight around the grass clipping dumpster. They were all wearing grey robes. Fucking cultists! Son of a bitch, goddamnit.
I hate dealing with hive-minded sheeple under normal circumstances when they weren't trying to kill my friends, so I was practically seething now.
The only people not in grey robes were Cliff, Sal, Diego, and the stranger; they wore white robes, and they were all tied to posts roughly nine feet in length. Diego was ranting about the indignity involved with being stripped and redressed by the other denizens of the community. Mrs. Shea succinctly balled up his boxer shorts and shoved them in his mouth. Diego only redoubled his rabble-rousing efforts.
Sal looked like he was trying to get the stranger's attention, but the item that upset me the most was that it looked like someone had beat the shit out of Cliff. Why would a group of thirty- and forty-somethings need to rough up a man who was easily well into his sixties? It almost literally made me sick.
I toyed with the fumigation bombs on my improvised bandolier, waiting to see what, exactly, was going on here. Common sense told me not to wait, to just pull the daisy-chained pins, run in, grab my friends (and the stranger), and vamoose, but something nagged at the back of my mind. I didn't have all the pieces of this puzzle, just most of them.
One hooded individual stood up and began barking out that same heavily accented English that Allendriel and Tandamum had spoken in. I had to strain to make out what was being said, but it was something about either waking or not waking someone who was resting. I wasn't sure which it was, as the tenses sounded odd, almost as though this booming male voice was misspeaking the language. I was practically offended by the very idea. Why, though, I wasn't sure.
"Prepare thyself, weakling, to embrace your ultimate fate!" roared the leader at Sal, the closest to both the crowd and the dumpster. Several members of the congregation moved forward and lifted his post to bring him toward that fucking bizarre dumpster.
I had no real opening to attack, but I couldn't let them do anything to Sal, but while I was busy being paralyzed by indecision, they hefted Sal's post up over the lip of the dumpster and he hung as though from a spit roast. The leader began chanting random, seemingly nonsense words.
I had no choice, I needed to do something NOW!