The Creature in the Cellar
+++Observation period has begun. Await my confirmation for action. +++
The fog dulled all the sounds of the City. The clatter of carriage wheels over cobbles sounded far-off. Horse tack barely jingled as a fine pair of mares trotted up in front of a very large town house, whose gas-lit porch made very little difference to the coiling mist. A shape detached itself from the top of the carriage, jumped down to the cobbles, and opened the door, flicking down a folding step and holding a hand out. Gloved digits reached out and grasped the proffered help. From within the carriage emerged a figure, clad in a wide-brimmed, veiled hat, and a long cloak. Dainty buttoned boots were just visible as she trod upon the step and then the street. With a swish of skirts and shadow, they reached the door of the house. One of the horses let out a snort, its breath steaming in the cold air. It bobbed its head nervously, and scraped a hoof against the cobbles. The driver went to attend to the horse, and glanced back just as the last of the shaft of light from inside the house was extinguished by the closing door.
Madame stood in the hallway while the butler took her shawl and umbrella, then showed her to the parlour. She entered, taking in the number of figures seated around the table with a glance, and nodded to each of them, now familiar to her, cigar smoke wafting gently and mixing with the aroma of high quality brandy. She coughed politely, but pointedly. It did not do to keep Madame waiting, especially on matters of urgency.
“Ah, Madame, please do come in and have a seat” A gruff voice, which automatically implied a fine moustache, came out of the gloom “I take it you have news?”
“Thank you, yes. I have good news.” She pulled up a chair and placed her gloves on the table, “I have found a perfect candidate for the task. He is currently in my employ and I have gained his trust. He is a fine choice and should handle the transition perfectly.” She tried to control the excitement in her voice. Things were moving at a good pace now, the plan was coming to fruition and it would be glorious. Glorious!
“Good, good!” His voice boomed. He was called the General by the group, as he had served back in his youth and was used to command… and fine brandy. “It is time to step this jolly show up a bit. I am expecting one more visitor tonight and then we should visit the cellar.”
There was an excited murmuring around the table just as the doorbell sounded. The evening was about to get a touch more thrilling.
The butler appeared at the doorway and motioned to the General, who stood and rubbed his hands together.
“Come, to business, shall we?” he clapped his hands, the sound sudden and harsh, and left the room. There were sounds of muted conversation from outside the door, footsteps disappearing down the hallway, and then the soft click of a door being shut.
The figures around the table rose and filed out of the room into the hallway, each taking a taper from the butler, respectfully one by one moving down the hall and through the door at the end to descend the steps into the cellar. Madame was the last to go through. She turned back for a moment, her eyes meeting the butler’s conspiratorially before she looked away, going through the door and drawing the bolt across with an ominous click.
Once she had joined the rest of the group, they all held their lit tapers up to the candle sconces around the room, which was dank and clammy. The little flickers of candlelight glinted off the odd damp stone here and there. The gloom lifted slowly, and the cellar was revealed before them. Narrow and high-ceilinged, it ran the length of the building; one side being entirely constructed of wine racks, as a gentleman’s cellar should be, light playing off the curves of the many bottles. The Committee stepped into a semi-circle facing away from the racks and their gazes fell on the creature crouched before them.
The General had told them that he had found it when he was out walking on the moors after the meteor strike the year previous; he had never seen anything like it and had thought it would make an excellent talking point for his “collection”. By the time he had had it brought to his home, however, it had shaken off its deathlike stupor and he had felt compelled to try and heal its wounds. The creature had been in terrible shape, almost one whole half of its body a pulpy, tangled mess with limbs indistinguishable among the carnage, and the two long, grasping arms on one side of its lithe body were sheared off just below the elbow. It had the oddest colouring; the carapace was midnight-deep blue, smooth but with a central ridge and pocked with dents and scrapes, its bald pinky-purple head protruding atop a muscled neck. Its visage was initially horrifying, with large, milky-white almond-shaped eyes, two miniscule nostrils, and a wide maw with long pointed teeth. Saliva dripped down its chin, and its enormous prehensile tongue flicked in and out like a reptile, almost like it was tasting the air. When it had looked at the General that first time, its milky gaze stared into his very soul. It was the Leader. It had claimed the General for Itself and the Grand Work had begun.
Looking at the Leader, Madame was reminded of the penny dreadfuls, of late filled with stories of visitors from distant planets. The heavens had been full of signs and portents and everybody, not just the great astronomers, had realised things were amiss, with lights in the sky and stars which moved in rapid and unusual orbits. The ghastly little stories entertained the masses with made-up words and pseudo-science; aimed at a readership with a dull intellect and a fancy for gory tales. If only they knew the truth, they would not dare write it down. Just follow and obey, to further the Glorious Work!
As the Committee stood enthralled, The General pondered that none of the Committee quite understood how it truly worked with the Leader; the spell that they were all under. He himself had known from the first that he needed to heal the creature, felt it so intensely that he went to get the Doctor, who, too, had instantly – upon looking into its eyes – seen that the creature needed to be saved. He had taken the liberty of doing what he could with the salves and balms he had available. It hadn’t vastly improved the creature’s constitution, but neither had it killed it. They had spent time with it, and fed it on fine meat and wine. It had grown slightly in strength, and then the Leader had become a demanding presence within their minds. It needed people for the Grand Work.
Luckily, people were easy to obtain in this City; a few well-placed coins and you could buy anyone’s time. Admittedly, even for well-travelled and experienced gentlemen, the first time the Leader had performed the ritual in front of them they were both violently sick, but the Leader had calmed them, filling them with the knowledge that such seeming horror was vital to the Work.
Knowing they needed to expand their reach, they approached Madame, who then became the third member of the Committee. She was adept at choosing the right candidates from amongst her girls; due to the nature of her ‘business’, she knew people from all levels of society and had plenty of sway, being one of the largest ‘employers’ near the docks. Also, she had an uncanny feeling for when the ritual wouldn’t take, and therefore picked those of the working girls who wouldn’t be missed. The Leader feasted well on the poor creatures who did not survive the ritual. Over the months that followed, the Leader became stronger, and its demands more frequent. It made sure that the Doctor followed the progress of those who completed the ritual, who Madame kept separately from the other girls in an isolated building together. It cared about the outcome. They Committee all knew it cared, they could feel it. They knew they were helping the Leader, and in return the Star Lords it served would come, and the Committee would be well rewarded for their dedication and care.
And so it was time for another ritual, another soul to be blessed with the progeny of the Leader.
The girl had been brought here for a few pennies and she had cried out in terror when she first saw the Leader. By now a peaceful look had settled on her, however, and she approached It as if in a trance. The Leader reached out its arms, and drew her close.
Averting her face, for she still couldn’t watch the ritual happen, Madame remembered the feeling when she had gone through it herself, the realisation of what it had meant only following weeks later. This was a sacred ritual, and now she herself carried the next generation of the Leader’s chosen people.
As the current ritual finished, and the girl collapsed on the floor, the Doctor scooped her up and carried her to an upstairs room. She would be right as ninepence in a short time, having neither any fear nor any detailed memory of tonight’s events, but she would fiercely protect what had been given to her, as did the other girls. The Leader’s progeny were increasing now at a good rate.
The Committee knew the Leader was pleased; the sensations arrived directly in their minds. It had been another perfect ritual. They all sighed together, caught up in its satisfaction, then they turned to file away, retrieving their tapers, and went up the stairs.
The Leader also repeated its demand for a strong body for a special task, not just another impregnation ritual, something particular and unique. It had made it known that It wanted someone who was robust mentally and physically, a man who could act as a conduit to contact the Star Lords It served. What a great honour!
The butler was waiting with the coats and saw to everyone as they left. The General caught Madame’s arm and drew her back into the parlour.
“Did you feel It just then? We need to move this forward. We need to get the conduit here as soon as we can.” The General had a determined expression showing under all his facial hair. “I’ve never felt such insistence from the Leader as It showed down there tonight.”
“I understand completely.” She briefly patted her stomach. How she dreamed of her child being able to meet others of his people. “I will have things arranged. I will send a message to you directly.” She swept out, down the hall and through the door. Her driver had the coach ready for her and helped her in, and they set off through the thickening gloom.
The next morning was particularly bright, considering the fog of the previous night. Madame took a stroll down to the docks to speak to the ‘boy’ (he was a grown man of course, but her status in society allowed her the use of boy). It would definitely be an idea to introduce him to the General so they could have him close to the Leader to see if It, too, saw the potential. The gentle sea breeze lifted her hair a little, and it tried to escape from her bonnet. She tucked an errant curl out of the way as she looked up, realising the boy was watching her. She smiled at him, and started to walk towards him. He was very fit for her intended purpose; tall, broad, used to hard work and, surprisingly for a dock ganger, very erudite.
“Good morning, my Lady!” he boomed cheerfully, executing quite a theatrical bow. “I trust the day finds you well? You are looking radiant in this sun.” He smiled at her.
“Good morning boy, yes it is a particularly fine day, thank you.” She walked up to him and placed a gloved hand on his arm, and, with a slightly hushed tone of voice, said “I must say, you have made quite an impression round here. I have mentioned you to one of my friends who would be delighted to meet you. He has a very exciting employment prospect which I think you would be very interested in. How does that sound?” She kept her voice level, belying her inner giddy turmoil. The boy simply must agree. She squeezed his arm persuasively.
“Well, my Lady, that is certainly unexpected. I thank you.” He bowed low again and swept an invisible hat at her. “I appreciate the opportunity,” he said as he stood upright “I do feel sometimes that I have missed my calling in life, stuck here in this dock. I dream of far-flung travel and adventures, with maybe some derring-do thrown in!”
She giggled. “I can take that as a yes then? Perfect. Take this card, and we shall see you tonight for a light supper and discussion about your future. Oh, this will be fun! If you make the right decision, forever it will dominate your destiny!” She turned and walked away.
The boy smiled after her.
+++Validation of Xenos presence will be confirmed at 2100 local+++
+++Received and understood. Standing by.+++
The day passed in a subdued way. Madame found it hard to concentrate on any one particular task. The child was moving around a lot, and she was quite uncomfortable in her corsets and layers of clothes. Not to mention, of course, her excitement for the supper meeting with her chosen soul.
Her maid helped her choose a suitable outfit; dark blue to match the leader’s colour but with more forgiving seams so she could relax a little and give the growing child some more room. He was eager to get into the world and meet the extended family. She smiled at the thought. She checked the clock once more and rang for her coach to be readied. It was time.
She sat in the General’s parlour. The pair simply looked at each other, excitement radiating from the both of them. When the doorbell finally rang, they both jumped. They listened at the sounds of the main door being answered. The parlour door opened and the butler produced the card that Madame had given to the boy earlier that day. The General beamed. “Jolly good, do show our guest in, Blythe,” he said before rising.
The boy was shown in. He had made an effort; he was looking dapper in what looked like a pawn-shop suit, shirt, and tie. He had obtained a tie pin too, which shone in the lamp-glow.
He offered his hand to the General who took it and gave a firm and manly shake. “Good to see you boy, good to see you. Madame has told me much about you.”
“It’s very good to meet you sir, thank you for inviting me. Any friend of Madame’s is a friend of mine, if I may be so bold, sir” he said honestly.
As the boy kissed Madame’s hand she said, “Your tie pin is simply lovely, boy, where did you get it?” She was half-expecting a tale of thievery and dodging the police, or possibly toshing down in the sewers.
He looked down shyly. “Oh, this was from my brothers when I moved to the city. It’s a bit of a joke, a good luck charm. Keeps us connected even though we are apart.” He looked almost wistful for a moment.
Madame smiled at him; he would become part of something so connected, so amazing.
She caught the General’s gaze. “I understand this is most unusual, but could we take supper and talk business at the same time? I am feeling slightly out of sorts this evening.” She blushed for even alluding to her condition.
The General, blustering with male awkwardness when discussing unborn children and all those female mysteries, rang for the butler, and demanded the evening meal, then they all made their way into the dining room and sat down at the table.
Just as the wine was being poured for the first course, both Madame and the General heard the Leader speak. BRING HIM NOW. WE FEEL HIS MIND.
The boy looked at Madame. “Did you hear something?” he said, panicked. His gaze wavered between the two other occupants of the table.
Madame stood up. She took a deep breath. “Now, this may seem incredible, but we have something amazing to show you. Follow us. And don’t be scared, everything is perfectly alright.”
The General went to protest, but she just held up a hand. “He heard him. What more do you want?” she enquired, which silenced the old man sufficiently.
The butler had candles ready and opened the cellar door for the trio to walk down the stairs.
“Now, remember,” Madame said, as they ushered the boy into the Leader’s presence. “Don’t be scared.”
The boy stood, apparently transfixed for a moment. She looked at him as he took in all the detail of the glorious creature in front of them. She remembered how it had felt, that first time the leader had entered her mind. She prepared to welcome the boy in. However, within seconds her mind filled with the scream of the Leader.
KILL HIM! TRAITORS! INQUISITOR! KILL HIM!
Its ferocity forced both her and the General to their knees.
Utterly confused, she looked over to the boy, who stood with a stony face. He was holding his tie pin and speaking in a calm and level voice.
“Xenos threat confirmed. Activate kill team. Transport on this signal”
The General was the first to recover. Pushing himself to his feet, he made a mad dash towards the boy, brandishing the first thing he found to hand; a wine bottle. He swung it forcefully, but as he brought it down on the boy it seemed to shatter against the clear air, the wine cascading down some sort of invisible shell. The General’s arm sprang back and he gasped in pain, dropping the neck of the bottle and clutching at his wrist.
Madame was watching the scene unfold before her whilst all the time her mind was full of the Leader’s ranting. It had even made an effort to get up and was trying to claw lopsidedly towards the boy.
WE SEE HIS MIND! DEATH AND DESTRUCTION! GET OUT! RUN! SAVE THE CHILDREN! It screamed in her mind.
As Madame struggled off her knees and prepared to run, there was a blinding flash of light. Her path was suddenly blocked by a towering figure in glossy black armour, a winged skull emblazoned across his breast plate. She took a step back as glowing red eyes looked down at her. The giant stood at least ten feet tall, massive in the suddenly cramped space of the cellar, and his left hand was encased in an armoured gauntlet which was glowing blue in the semi-darkness. Another flash of light, and another figure appeared out of nowhere next to the first. The first turned and motioned towards the newcomer, although she heard not a sound.
+++Brother Andronus, secure the perimeter. Eliminate all targets+++
+++At once, Brother+++
The second figure stormed up the stairs, dust and plaster falling away under the weight of the mighty giant as he crashed through the doorway. It was easy to follow his progress on the floor above as floorboards cracked and bowed, then the sound of cannon fire sounded throughout the house.
These armoured things were stranger than any steam-automaton that had ever been written about in those penny dreadfuls, truly frightening. She screamed incoherently up at the mask of the figure in front of her and struck it on its armoured chest. In response, it pulled its arm back. The giant gauntlet whined, then snapped forward with a deafening crack to punch her full in the stomach, sending her flying back into the wine racks, which she hit with enormous force. She slid down the racks, hit the floor like a sack of potatoes, every bone cracked, as her world exploded in pain and blood. She gulped for air and looked over to the General who, screaming, flung himself, hands clawed like a feral beast at a third figure who had appeared holding a very, very large silver device. It fired twice, the room bathed with light momentarily. She wept weakly as she saw her friend ripped in two by the sheer power of the strange weapon. His legs crumpled as ragged chunks of his torso slapped wetly against every surface, blood spurting up the walls and rapidly pooling on the floor.
As shock finally started to overtake her, sitting in a pool of her own blood and a widening puddle of wine, consciousness waning, she was aware of yet another figure, this one holding a long-barrelled weapon, with a small flame at one end and some form of tank at the other. This one turned to the Leader and callously set it ablaze in a stream of fire that burnt the image into her retinas. The smell of burning flesh and carapace overwhelmed her senses even as the Leader’s death-screams filled her mind and her very being. She imagined she could feel the whole city screaming with her. She could hardly keep her wits about her but raised her gaze when the boy walked up to her.
“Don’t ever talk to ME of destiny, you dirty Xenos-loving scum. You and your degenerate cultist obscenities will all die, and this planet will be purified for the Emperor. You disgust me, soiling the planet with your filth!” he spat.
She closed her eyes. Her mind was empty, no Leader urging her on, controlling her movements and driving the enthusiasm to protect it. Everything around her lay in ruins as her life ebbed away, her alien child still and dead within her.
The Inquisitor watched the life drain out of her. He spat on the floor and reached for his tie pin.
“Captain, Xenos source eradication is confirmed. You may begin Exterminatus of the planet under authority of the Inquisition.”
+++Acknowledged, my lord Inquisitor, bombardment to commence in T-5. Implement evacuation+++