21st of Septimus, 1669 AV
The third axe blow drives Hugo to his knees, blood seeping from the corner of his mouth. Isabela readies herself to again try pulling the large man to safety, but the detective roars a nearly incoherent challenge and charges across the room.
“PASSAVANT LI MEILLOR!”
Grabbing the green crystal shard as he passes Alex’s prone form, the Montaigne man throws himself at the great iron doors, the glowing fragment leading the way. The impact is deafening as the already weakened portal creaks briefly before flying open with a flare of red-black energy. His impressive momentum spent, Hugo drops to the stone dais, the green crystal clattering to the steps.
Beyond the portal, a roiling mass of black-red mist momentarily remains contained on the other side. The crystal has bounced a second time when the fog bursts outward, accompanied by a hideous, screaming laughter. As the wave of energy passes over Francisco, the glowing dagger flares blindingly bright then winks out as he doubles over and retches, overcome by waves of fear and nausea – a response mirrored by Isabela as the cloud rolls outward down the passage. As the mist touches the minotaurs, they instantly crumble into piles of glass-like shards. Within seconds, the mist has disappeared down the passageway, horrific laughter echoing from the distance.
Deeper, more resonant mirth sounds from the portal as a massive horned figure steps through, looking like a larger and more twisted version of the Magog from beneath Athena’s shrine. The paradoxical vision of the massive creature emerging from an opening too small to fit sends more waves of nausea through Francisco and Isabela. The creature reaches down and grabs Hugo by the ankle, effortless lifting the large man to dangle before its face.
You have opened the portal early, gluttonous one. Allow me to offer you a reward.
Hugo screams as the monstrosity lifts him high above its gaping, tooth-filled maw. The screams continue for a disturbingly long time as the writhing lump slowly worms its way down the creature’s gullet and into its belly. The demonic being raises one of its huge black swords, about to swing at Francisco and Alex when its gaze falls on Captain Mason.
Mammon, my old friend. I should have known you would have succeeded in finding weak-willed fools to serve your purpose. I shall leave you to destroy these worthless worms while I make preparations for The Host.
The massive being collapses into a column of red-black mist that snakes its way out of the passageway, disappearing into the darkness. Moments later, the sound of booted feet approaching from the hallway causes George and Isabela to ready themselves even as Francisco begins frantically working to staunch Alex’s bleeding. Keman, Juan and Josephine emerge from the darkness, wary fear replaced by relief upon seeing their friends. Sighs of relief and expressions of confusion are cut short by the young Montaigne woman’s question.
“Mon Dieu! Where is my uncle?”
Silence drops over the room, broken only by the rapid clicking of the stone clock set into the dais floor.