Alfred had the manila envelope under his arm as he went into the elevator, took out his key and inserted it into the top most button and turned it after the door closed. The elevator started up as he took the key out and returned it to his pocket. The mid-morning meeting with Lucious had proved interesting even if the information that had been gathered had been scanty.
"No one of that name was born in Oswego County that year," Lucious had said, "and no one by that name appears to be employed in or near Cornell. There is a vacant lot at the given street address."
"Are you saying the man who owns that car doesn't exist?" Alfred had asked and gotten a positive reply.
This was not what he had expected. The witness protection program made sure people had a background, even if it was scanty, it was present and offered a facade that took time to get behind. Not so the man in the pictures taken by Bruce the previous night. That was a bit disturbing to Alfred. Even the Project had a background, albeit one that could only be affirmed by one man, the actions lined up with that background and the final proof was now with Frank Rock. That lacked evidence in a different way, but offered ways to substantiate it that offered a proof all its own. What had been someone who might be looking for a drug drop or trying to find a contact on North Gotham Island last night was turning into someone who had come, almost literally, from nowhere.
The elevator opened to Mr. Wayne's private apartment and Alfred stepped out and walked down the hallway then turned to Wayne's private office area. Behind the desk that he had in his office, Bruce Wayne was dressed in daily business attire, which was a black suit with white shirt and blue tie, with black patent leather shoes and socks, all from Wayne owned businesses. He was reading the paper and sipping a cup of coffee on his desk, and looked up as Alfred entered.
"Is that the information I asked for?"
"Yes it is, Master Bruce. A number of pictures agree with your notes on the Maserati Bora and license plate. We have a name for the man, a Guthrie Lewis who lives outside of Cornell, NY."
Alfred put the envelope on the desk and Bruce undid its red string to open it and fish out its contents. Bruce started to leaf through the pictures and then through the information that had been garnered by a contact in the State Police by the Wayne Security department. Bruce started to spread the papers out and looked at them.
"This is preliminary, yes?" he asked.
"Yes it is," Alfred affirmed, "but the lacks of even basic information is... startling."
"Place of employment... unknown? Address is.... a vacant lot? I assume it has a post box in front of it?"
"Apparently so, Master Bruce. An address with no house and is listed as unimproved property at the end of a relatively long country road."
Bruce picked up two of the pieces of paper and shook his head.
"I thought he might be in one of the families or organizations, but apparently...not. In fact he apparently has no contacts, at all. He had to have a birth certificate to get a license. To get anything... and yet..."
"He was not listed as being born in the county that entire year, Master Bruce. The man Guthrie Lewis was not born that year, does not live at that address and has a phone number that rings to a phone in a bus stop in town."
Bruce put the pieces of paper down and took up one of the pictures of Guthrie Lewis as he stood outside the Maritime Museum run by the Marina. It was the clearest one he could get as the man had to go under two overhead lamps in the parking lot located directly before the entrance to the Museum. He had been on one of the low rise buildings that housed a bakery on the main floor and had apartments on the floors above it. The Maserati Bora stuck out in Gotham City at night outside of anything but the Hotel and Theater districts. If it had been daytime at the Marina, it would have fit in, but not near midnight when no one was there and the Marina closed for the season.
"Mr. Lewis visited a lot of places last night and was hard to keep up with after I spotted him the second time. You would think that someone not from the City would have some trouble navigating it but he..." Bruce shook his head as he looked over the top of the picture at Alfred, "... drove like he had no concerns at all and only had stops at one-way streets where he obviously was about to turn the wrong way. It was like he was driving..." he shook his head.
"Like he had a sense of where to go and yet none of how the streets were laid out?" Alfred ventured.
"Exactly. Only the one-way streets allowed me to keep track of him as he took alleyways I don't normally venture down and disrupted at least one drug transaction as he sped through one of them. I don't think he even knew I was following him and did my best to avoid observation. Driving like that isn't normal for any city."
Alfred put his hands behind his back and walked over to the window on the left side of the room and looked out to the south.
"It is, perhaps, just someone in your social class taking a jaunt for the night, but your instincts do not play you wrong, either. As you noted he was staying at The Pendleton and it has a reputable restaurant, then perhaps lunch there might be appropriate for casual observation?"
Bruce smiled and started putting the papers and photos back into the envelope, and slid it into a drawer in his desk that locked after he closed it.
"I really can't go alone, Alfred. Do we have anyone I can get to go along as cover?"
Alfred turned to look at Bruce.
"There are a few people I can think of, Master Bruce, yes. I will see who I can find that would be appropriate for this foray."
Bruce stood up and smiled.
"Great! I'll be ready in a half-hour as there are a few items I want to retrieve from the archives."
Alfred raised his eyebrow as he watched Bruce walk to the doorway.
"Very well. Let us hope I am not in need of magic to find someone appropriate," he watched as Bruce walked out the door into the hall and then disappear down it.
It was the staccato sound that got through ear protection and rattled the bones. As heard in many movies, it was the unmistakeable sound of one weapon of both fame and infamy. The weapon had sleek, gloved hands grasping the forward and rear grips, and the shoulder stock was pulled up to the shooter's chest just below the collarbone and below the shoulder. Sleek, tight fitting glasses saw one green eye closed and another looking through the rear sight, with red hair tied back into a ponytail. While the arms were also slim, they were well muscled and this was obviously someone who was used to physical activity. The finger lifted off the trigger and the weapon was brought back down on target.
"Try semi-auto," the voice could be heard in the sudden silence as the target turned and raced further down the range and then stopped and turned back to face the shooter.
The shooter grinned.
"But that is just too much fun!" Vivian said trying to find the target in her sights.
"Yes, and one more slightly wild burst and its ceiling repair time again," came another voice into the thin headphones that also served as hearing protection.
"Not fair, I didn't know what to expect, then," Vivian said, her hand slipping back to move the selector switch to semi-auto fire.
"Those L Drums don't last long on full auto, Vivian," Sgt. Rock said from a position behind and to her left, his grumbling voice muffled by her hearing protection, "that is why you do burst fire. But it is a steady platform for placed shots at a distance and you need to learn that, as well."
"All right..." Vivian said trying to gage the distance and moving her hand to slip the ladder sight up a notch, "hot down range."
She fired a shot and smiled.
"Right through the hole in the paper."
Vivian held still for a moment to see if it was a hang fire.
"You're out," came the voice of Tom Octurian.
"Damn!" Vivian said putting the gun on safety and then working the empty drum magazine out and placing it on the table in her booth, and then placing the weapon down beside it. She stepped back and took a bandana from her shirt pocket and wiped her forehead, then started flexing her muscles to work out the kinks she had holding and firing Old Reliable.
"Need another drum, Viv?" came the voice of Loren Seifert through the hearing protection's build in intercom.
"Yeah, need a reload Loren. Gots any sticks sitting back there ready to go? Those drums just weigh a ton."
"Sure, ten of them..."
Vivian heard the phone ring in the background.
"Be with you in a sec, OK?"
"Fine with me! That thing is way too heavy but... damn!"
Frank Rock moved towards her and she smiled as he approached, dropping her hearing protection down around her neck.
"Frank, how the hell did you carry that thing over hell and gone during the war?"
He grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
"Couldn't live with it. Couldn't survive without it. You were tensed up a bit and need to stretch out your upper back, forward and back then some rotation. Muscle fatigue can get you killed as sure as anything else."
"Oh, yeah," she said reaching her hands out as far as they would go and then slowly moving them up and over her head, then continuing the motion with the upper part of her body to show just how sweat stained the front of her shirt was.
Tom was with Loren and walked out of the observation booth for the range with a stick magazine.
"Lean into the Thompson on Full Auto," he said slowly covering the distance with a slight limp that was not pronounced and the effect of needing further frame adjustments and strengthening of the metal on the right side of his body.
"I was after that first long burst, I mean," Vivian said swinging slowly upright and then bending over to touch her toes with her fingertips.
"Who here is up for a lunch with the boss?" Loren asked over the intercom.
Frank turned to look back at the range master's room and then at Tom.
"Is it lunch time already?"
"It is 1:07 PM, Sgt. Rock," Tom said.
Stretching back into a standing position, Vivian put her hands on her hips and twisted from side to side.
"I can do lunch! Just need to run through a shower, first, and grab an outfit in livery. Not in that order."
"So, everyone?" Loren asked.
"Yes, Loren," Frank said.
"Great! I'll tell Alfred."
Vivian clapped her hands together and looked at Frank.
"Gotta run if I wanna get a shower in. See you out front in twenty."
"Right," Frank said, "We can handle clean-up here."
"Thanks! I'd hug ya, but I'm, like, drenched. See ya in a few!" she said, trotting towards the range master's room and was soon through the door and disappeared after turning towards the hallway.
"The convenience store had little of what you wanted," John said handing a plastic bag of items over to Maria.
On the floor the form of Lisa was inside a sleeping bag with a camping stove open next to her with its reflectors sending heat from the one burner lit on low towards her. On her forehead a washcloth sat steaming with green wet paste pressed into it. Maria reached into the bag and took out small brown bottles, boxes, plastic bottles and cans of sardines, which she handed over to Shlasuar.
The cave was a fallen in storage area that Apex Chemicals had put in during the 1920's to store excess material off-loaded from rail cars along one side of the tunnel leading into the larger storage area. After Apex had closed down in 1937 the plant came under bankruptcy proceedings and the main part of the facility was put into use during WWII by the War Dept. to fill primers and load shells before they were shipped off overseas. An unfortunate accident in the rear of the storage area blew out part of the cavern wall and collapsed it, leading to the entire facility being condemned after the war. Toxic waste and the general run-down nature of the facility meant that it went into permanent disuse and it was reclaimed by nature and utilized by the People as a convenient site near the sea and the Gotham River, and not far from the one active rail line that fed into the North Gotham Island's north eastern most point. Old lockers, benches, tables, and shelving was taken from the main plant and used to block off the rear section of the entrance tunnel so that the People would have a secure storage cache site for those who had business either with the surface dwellers or other creatures in the region. As a hazardous site and eyesore the plant got no inspections as the surface and ground water run-off went directly into the Gotham River and then flowed down the Mid and South channels to the sea.
Spring water could be had nearby and a natural set of openings led to the rear surface of the hill the tunnel was in, which was parkland and forest preserve set aside before the post-War construction boomlet. Natural air flow moved smoke out of the fallen in cave, fromthe front area with concrete and brick paving along the side of the old rail bed. There was an old office blockhouse on the interior that gave good cover and concealment, and any that did not know how to get through the jumble of rocks, twisted steel from the interior rescue and salvage, and then later additions put in by the People meant security for those inside. A single lookout at the top of the ridge could see into the Gotham Valley and the roads leading to the facility as well as the abandoned rail line. Both surface dwellers and People had stories of Ghost Trains which would sometimes appeared at the old facility, a train that had finished munitions and personnel still securing them when the explosion caught it and propelled it down the track with a fireball. It was the rarest of Ghost Trains to be encountered as few ventured to the site, but it was also the most fearsome as its appearance was of a red glowing locomotive and its whistle the screams of the doomed.
Shlasuar took the tins and other items handed to him by Maria to a table in the old blockhouse main room, and the lanterns gave off a flickering glow augmented by the glow coming from the camp stove. John went over to the open lockers and started checking through them to go through his old equipment stash and took out a large green backpack with lightweight green frame and dragged it onto the floor. He had broken down his pistol and rifle, coated them in cosmoline grease, and left cleaning fluids in bottles in another area of the cavern. One satchel he had marked with BAR and started to open that to check its contents and nodded to himself before putting it back to take out a smaller satchel that held his pistol.
"Shlasuar, I'll need the other pot and some spring water," Maria said as she started to sort out what she needed on the table.
He nodded and went to another of the open cabinets and pulled down a small metal pot with a tarnished copper bottom and tight fitting cover, and then picked up a gallon jug of water from the many jugs he had collected earlier. He put those on the table and watched as John walked over to the other side of the table, opened up a piece of cloth and then opened the plastic bags that held the pistol components. One by one he started checking them and used a rag to wipe off the pieces.
"Maria, I'll need to get this cleaned and that is best done in the back area because the chemicals are penetrating and need ventilation."
She looked at him and nodded.
"Good. I don't think that we will have any visitors, but it is best to have some surface dweller protection as our own kind..." she nodded to a barrel with wrapped spear guns, tridents, and nets hanging on the wall, "... are unlikely to serve us well in the City. Is the collapsable stretcher still good?"
"Yes, not fully protected, of course, but little eats into nylon down here, so the strapping is good and so is most of the wool blankets."
"Let us know when you are ready to take look-out," Maria said.
John looked from her to Shlasuar.
"Remember, while our weapons may not be that effective in the city, they can be in close quarters here. If you hear anything, use them and remember you see better down here than most surface dwellers."
"Yes, I will remember," the young one said.
As he gathered up his materials he gave a look back at Lisa.
"Keep me informed of any changes here."
"Of course," Maria said looking back at Lisa, "if we have understood things, she may be somnambulant later today."
John pressed his lips together and then turned and left the room, heading towards an area he had cleared in the cavern to allow for fast ventilation of the chemicals he had to use.
Shlasuar went to a metal chair and sat down in it, looking at Maria as she started pouring water into the pot and then opening up containers.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
Maria smiled and looked at him and then started examining the brown bottles and sniffing them.
"As you know we found the swelling of where the Formless Ones had attacked her, just at the back of her neck. Her body was warm, if you remember, and she still needs some warmth here, and more for the head to warm the blood as it goes through her head. With such a slow metabolism she could go into an even deeper state and we might not be able to rouse her from that without help."
He nodded looking at Lisa's form, where she had laid breathing rarely, her heart beating once or twice between those rare breaths.
"But what... she is only nafl f'tagn, isn't she? So how come she doesn't wake up?"
One bottle held cinnamon oil and its smell quickly went into the room and Maria judiciously put a few drops of that into the water.
"She is, yes, not true f'tagn but a state induced by the Formless Ones. They appeared to be so close together that I suspect they were in a meld or mingling, all co-joined together to form one larger creature that had shared experience to draw upon. It has been witnessed with Shoggoth and Shaggoth, and as their cousin is like them, that is fully possible if it was weak and didn't have much power. Together each has a different way to attack in this realm and they would have pooled that experience when hitting this one," Maria took up some previously gathered plant material and started rubbing that between her hands over the pot, "and each would have its own effect on her. We can't treat them all, but we can deal with Shoggoth and Shaggoth in this realm."
"Aren't they the same, though?"
With the rubbing came the smell of mint and she wiped her hands off over the pot to get the crushed mint into the mix. Next came a clear bottle and she read the ingredients and scoweled.
"Not much kelp in this..." she said pouring half the bottle in.
"Close cousins, Shlasuar. Shoggoth are strong, physically and very adept in our realm and know how to deal with all forms of life here. Their toxins range from lethal and digestive to ones that merely stun, but all have the same basic set of components, just composed differently. It is a relatively fast acting set but only in a physical way. The other two, Shaggoth and N'gluioth, have different approaches in our realm, as they each utilize differnt power and affinity here."
"Oh..." he said watching her as she took up a towel and cleaned her hands off before picking up the pot and putting it on the second burner that she started up. She then walked over to the supply cabinet and picked up a percolator and box of filter paper and went back to the table, opening a bag of coffee from the materials John had brought in. With that on the table with the percolator she took off its lid and percolator basket and poured water into it, then added filter paper to the basket and placed that into the pot.
"How are they different? Don't they each want to do the same thing?"
"In general, yes, Shlasuar. Each realm has different components to it, so that each requires a separate approach. While we dream in Shag we are relatively feeble and weak and have a poor understanding of it. And as none of us can be in N'glui without some means beyond our power to get there, if any of us were in a place we could inhabit in N'glui, we would be the weakest of all. Even weak being from there would be impossible for us to deal with as they exist in a realm of power, the power of Chaos suffused from the beginning of all places."
"Azathoth," Shlasuar whispered.
Maria looked at him and hissed, "Do not say it aloud like that, lest Others hear and respond!"
Shlasuar was taken aback and sucked his lips in, turning a greenish gray as he did so.
"I'm sorry...." he whispered.
"Sorry will not help us if the Mindless One has a Minion, or an Old One or Other seeking out the speaker of such things. There are ways to say these things safely, and that is not here without preparation. I am only First Eaten if negotiations require it, these Ones do not negotiate, they take, Shlasuar, and the speaker of such things is the first to go, no matter status as our status is nothing to Them."
He shivered remembering stories and seeing the fate of the previous Priest who had succeeded in negotiations and paid the price for success.
Pouring coffee into the pot she set the lid on it, and placed it on the stove's open burner and turned the other one down as she reached up for the baking soda.
"Those from other realms do different things. Shaggoth would prefer to stun so as to cause sleep, the doorway to their native land open they can then pull the stunned one through their opened portal. Those that disappear in their sleep are taken just like that, when a Shaggoth roams our realm. Because they seek that singular effect, their toxin is leavened with some ability to push at the membrane between sleeping and waking, as that is their ability and lesser power."
As she stood up she went back to the storage units and took out mugs and a large wooden spoon, walking back to put the mugs on the table and then squatting next to the stove to stir the pot.
"And then there are the N'gluioth, their power potent and subtle. As Shoggoth are here, so N'gluioth are in those worlds and spaces between and amongst others. To them toxin is secondary, their main weapon and strongest is power suffused by touch and it is instant. The strongest of them can project power without touch, and that makes them one of the most feared beings known below the Elder, Old and Ancient Ones, plus Others. This surface girl, Lisa, would be pushed by that, first. Stunning, incapacitating, across her whole body in an instant. Her mind then readily pushed in a heartbeat or two by Shaggoth into dream and her body in another two heartbeats rendered as we have it now by Shoggoth toxin. You are right she cannot be true f'tagn. Three types of Formless Ones can, however, create something nearly as strong when combined and applied at one stroke. She is at the Precipice of Forever, put there by them and that strong affinity they were with."
Still frightened he looked from Maria to Lisa and back again.
"But what.... has an affinity there? Nothing is there, right?"
Maria looked up at him and shook her head slowly.
"It is just her and the mountain. There is nothing that I know of that is there, save the Precipice itself and it... no one... nothing knows why it is called that. But it is one of the deadliest places to be for any being and nothing lives there. Except her and she isn't really living just... existing. Alive but nearly dead and asleep, trapped at the Precipice. And from there you cannot fall into Death like that because she is not at the edge of the Precipice. She is trapped there where she cannot live and cannot die."
Shlasuar's eyes widened.
"And her... body wouldn't... could it?"
Standing up to gather some of the towels stacked next to Lisa, Maria took them to the table and started putting ingredients into them from other bottles and containers.
"If her body dies, Shlasuar then she will have done the impossible. She would be true f'tagn. And I cannot think of what the consequences to that are... because our kind, here above and below the surface, are not made to become such a thing. And whatever the power of the Precipice actually is, would manifest itself through her to make that possible. If it were me or John or even you, Slashuar... there are things we are Not Meant To Know, Slashuar, and this is one I do not wish to experience, much less know. So we deal with the Shoggoth toxin first and revive her body and then we just have the forced dreaming and power to place her there to deal with. But with a body working normally, the toxins can be dealt with... and perhaps we may even be able to get some dreamquest responses from her before she awakens."
"Isn't that... dangerous?"
"Extremely, yes, Shlasuar, for almost every other circumstance I can think of. Because of the Precipice, however, she will have its protection as it is where all dare not to tread and she is more than a few steps in. That does not help us who must deal with that, but it may mean less severe penalties lest the impossible be made to happen. And that is something that None Want To Know."
She looked up from her work and gestured to him.
"Come, help me get the compresses together, then we can turn her over and apply them on her back and shoulders, and pour the heated fluid on them to start dealing with the Shoggoth's toxin. We will be safer, then, still not safe, but safer."
"...and this is one of those days, fellow Gothamites, where the high temperature of 38 degrees has already happend at just after 7 AM. That storm that just missed us is sliding to the north and pulling down arctic air shifting from the northwest to west during the afternoon and then to the north this evening. So make sure you have your winter coat on..."
Guthrie sauntered out of the coffee shop at the Pendleton and went through the revolving door and out the walkway heading to the streets of Gotham City at 52nd and Exeter and turned east on Exeter heading towards the Marina side of the Marina District. As he walked he could feel the errant wind trying to work its way from the northwest and being deflected by buildings. He took his time, doing some window shopping with just a light jacket on over his white shirt. Breezes moved strands of his hair up and then down, like it was trying to follow him but couldn't because of all the obstacles. At 54th he turned right to get a better look at the shore facing Long Island Sound directly, and saw that commercial docks and railroad tracks left wide open spaces from Beacon to Avignon, then to the access road that fronted the wharf and warehouses of the few industrial shippers that still worked the Gotham waterfront. After Beacon Street he turned east again and saw the South Point Lighthouse that was on the property of the Maritime Museum which faced onto Beacon Street with the parking lot on the north side facing Cranston and Draper.
The Museum had been open since 10AM and now, just a few minutes after noon, he felt a stillness in the air and nodded.
"And there goes the mercury," he said as he swallowed the last of the coffee and tossed it into a garbage can, and then pulled his gloves out of his pocket and put them on. "Then the shift, coming off of New Jersey from on high then down and across open water, nothing in its way..." He crossed 60th Street and walked down the walkway to the front entrance of the museum. Once he came in he went to the entrance booth and paid the cashier in crisp dollar bills and took his ticket which he put into his jacket pocket.
"Thank you, sir, I hope you enjoy your visit today. We aren't running any tours, but the staff should be able to answer any of your questions."
"I'm sure I can find what I'm looking for, thank you," Guthrie said pushing through the inner doors and looking down the wide expanse of windows along the front of the building. He stood for a moment, and opened his jacket, and let his hand slip into the inner pocket to run his gloved fingertips over the piece of rock that was in a plastic bag. Looking to his left he saw signs for MILITARY VESSELS. He walked amongst the miniature displays of vessels and the artifacts from them, starting with the last modern vessel produced 20 years previously, a Coast Guard Cutter, and then further on past displays for Destroyers, Frigates and Liberty Ships of World War II. As he came to the end of the room and walked out on his right along the back of the building and saw that it had an extension that went out to the east. The semi-circular room was over a large rock that was still set into the ground, with a rail going completely around it so that no one would fall down to the rock.
HERE ON AUGUST 5, 1629 SIR ADRIAN COTSWORTH LANDED AND CLAIMED THESE ISLANDS AS PART OF THE CROWN COLONY. THE MODERN MARINA IS SITUATED ON THE SITE OF THE FIRST PORT OF NORTH GOTHAM ISLAND. THIS ROCK WAS THE MOORING POINT FOR THE SHEDDOW.
Guthrie leaned over the railing to look down at the rock.
"Now isn't that fortuitous? Who would have thought that a Sign would be a mooring point, and not just for ships, either, I believe."
As he walked around the railing he came to another sign, located in front of the eastern bay window.
AT THIS POINT ON MARCH 3, 1778 THE BELL OF THE SCHOONER EURUS FELL WITHIN THE WALLS OF OLD FORT GOTHAM AFTER THE POWDER MAGAZINES DETONATED FROM A SHELL FIRED BY THE HMS LEO REX.
A map showed the outlines of the now dismantled fort that extended from the modern Marina to the South Lighthouse which could be seen through the southeastern side of the chamber. Also there was the bell of the Eurus on its own display platform, which showed that damage with scratches on the bell and the twisted clapper inside of it from the destruction of the ship. Standing next to the bell, Guthrie leaned forward to look at the wood supporting it, which was also from the Eurus, and worked contemporaneously with it. He gathered from a small inscription plate on the pedestal that a small shrine with prayer room was built here after the war and stood within the fort until the fort suffered damage in a late 19th century storm. After that the fort was dismantled, and its stones used to line the courtyard outside the museum which was built over the site. The older stones of the fort supported the bell and served to form the supports around the Gotham Harbor Rock.
Outside the clouds started to shift and the waves in the harbor started to feel the effect of the winds funneled through the named streets of Gotham and into the confined space around the Marina. Tops of waves started to be blown to the point that droplets were driven off and then foam was made. The light chop in Long Island Sound now began to go over three foot waves. No storm was moving in, quite the opposite as the storm was now driving air around its great spiral which reached nearly to Hudson Bay and brought the frigid air from there to the south.
"Now if the Sign is the support, the source, of all of the later works here, then it appears that this bell is the concentrator, the thing that serves as the focal point for using the Sign," reaching into his suit coat pocket he took out the rock in the plastic bag and carefully unsealed it and brought it towards the bell. Outside the building the wind was coming from the west, moving straight through the city picking up dust, leaves and paper as it moved through alleyways and down roads. The large buildings of downtown on the South and North Island funneled the wind which picked up speed. Softly Guthrie whispered.
"y'hai hafh'drn sll'ha'gotha'or nnn-lagl'lloigsothoth nog'ng'wk'hmr vra'lloigsothoth'bthnk'agl," he whispered as the windows of the museum flexed first outwards and then inwards as the piece of rock touched the bell. As they touched the building shook with the wind and Guthrie could feel power gather and shift from the bell to the rock, and yet the plastic bag and glove served their purpose to insulate him so that it was only the pure joining of power from the same maker into one piece. Even with this the air shimmered around him, the building faded and he could feel the deck of a ship under him and see the cloudy sky and hear the report of a cannon and saw the cannon ball arcing towards the ship he was on. It's impact just at the water line put it heading right towards the powder magazine which then exploded and tossed men into the air, propelled broken timbers into the air along with the fireball which vaporized those who were near it.
Then came the sound.
Not of the explosion but the one that started out over the open waters to the west of Gotham City. It was a sound driven by air flow that picked up speed over the open waters and hugged the coastline, intensifying as they moved and pushing wave tops to a white froth. As that froth started to disintegrate into droplets, the sub-zero temperature of the air surrounding them caused them to chill to the point they began to expand and then, on their surface, crystals of ice with salt began to form. It started as a sound of dust over water in motion as a dust storm. Then came the crinkling and tinkling of small crystals fracturing and taking on hard surfaces as they were whipped against each other. This dense air mass was in motion and being pushed by further air behind it that could no longer go as fast as it was supposed to due to the denser mass in front of it. With that pressure came power and when that power whipped into the street canyons of Gotham City the power intensified. It was this quickly moving mass of air with tiny ice shards that whipped into western Gotham City.
Street signs found themselves blasted by the powder, cleaning any rust or scale from exposed surfaces and then taking paint off those signs with messages that faced to the west. Low hills to the south of South Gotham Island funneled the streaming wind but not into the natural low land that would normally accompany such hills as those had been given a surface treatment decades ago to cover over the natural terrain of Gotham City to form the Underworld. Not having low land to run down and lose pressure as it expanded, the streaming force that came into Gotham City concentrated, narrowed by the Northern Ridge Line and the lower ridge escarpment on the north side of South Gotham Island. Acting as funnels the street system then guided this force, this chilling frozen wavefront that picked up items previously stirred up as the wind shifted just minutes before. Now dust was entrained to give a bite to the wind that frozen sea snow never could have, and as it abraded particles off of cars, signs, bricks, and windows the airy blast of cold air turned into a force that could do damage to exposed surfaces, and the only recourse was to be protected by the numbered streets between the named streets not to feel the wrath that flowed into the Gotham Islands.
Through the artificial canyons of Gotham City the wind was forced up the remaining natural rise between the Islands and then directed over the Mid-Gotham Channel by streets, themselves. Now a directed force, a refined force, it shifted over the Mid-Gotham bridges and only at the Interconnector did the lesser side winds get deflected out into Long Island Sound. Great towers of glass and steel did nothing to stop this force and the few that were modern and situated to deflect the wind did so. Unfortunately their positions were near the roads with bridges nearby and while winds were divided and put at cross-purposes along some paths, along others the winds streamed together to head for the bridges between the Islands. Across four bridges the powerful wind force came without hindrance while across other streets only a few offered a direct path of the wind from Island to Island while most let the wind blast spend itself against rock walls and buildings built above the ground surface. Here the first real brunt of this power was felt and any with windows made before glass lamination found themselves in rooms with fragments and shards of glass flying into rooms. Along the main roads the winds still flowed and another natural rise that should have allowed it to lessen along them had also been raised by man to form the Underworld on the North Island.
In the 1930's this sort of wind would never have happened and even if it did the old Warrens and Shops district would have served as a natural barrier to it. That district was gone with the changing of the road pattern, its quaint alley ways and angled streets that would serve to deflect and remove the power from such a wind force was, instead, replaced by roads that hugged what terrain there was which was find with the wind which was slowing but gaining pressure as it did so. Distance and the amount of material now with the wavefront was moving just at gale force and a very slight rise to the north allowed three of the streams to flow together as they naturally would have over Islands with open space and natural formation, if they could have gotten through the depressions and resulting low pressure areas that resulted from them and natural cover. Without those three of four wind streams came together, channeled by nature and assisted by the works of man as they would follow the coastline along the natural cove that served as Gotham's early port and now its Marina District. Along that pathway stood the Maritime Museum in a somewhat lower pressure zone now receiving the directed force of the North Wind shifted to a westerly path by a sub-arctic storm.
Their sound drew Guthrie back from the cunningly devised distraction put in there by its maker, that would let one see the past through the eyes of the dead while something else created by Elder Ones opened up nearby. Elder Ones were powerful and cunning makers as well, craftsmen in stone and flesh, space and metal, and they put up wards, signs and Guardians against those who would perturb beings Old and Ancient.
Interstices of space meant much to the Elder Ones and the formed Guardians of geometry we would call fractal, but that they referred to as sh'sgn'wahl-r'luh'll'geb, and those creatures of fleshly facets and flowing metal were neither alive nor dead, but had function and purpose alone. Not automotons nor robots, nor sentient as we would speak of, they had directive and decision to stop those who would interfere with them and shift the bonds of power that Elder Ones had crafted to, perhaps, hold down things Old and Ancient or at least their minions. The Elder Ones were long gone and nature took its toll on their crafty designs, only a few of which could still be found, while others had long since disintegrated, destroying guardians within them in their ending. Their Sign was built into the very bedrock of Gotham City and visible at one point, the place of containment for a Guardian of the Sign. Their works, made so long ago, had been undercut by igneous intrusion that metamorphised around their designs not destroying it but undercutting it just the same.
Exposed to ancient seas, covered over by land, being stressed by old volcanoes, the rock was, once more, above the waves, but the tiny fractures and inclusions that the Earth had created left the Sign the worst for wear and it was now flaking in some areas, and only a thin covering over the metamorphic inclusion in others. Yet sh'sgn'wahl-r'luh'll'geb was still there and the Guardian of neither dream nor waking, life nor death, had now been awakened by other power near it that signaled a threat to the Sign and its Seal. It slithered and ground its way up from its fractal space which was attached to the Sign but now bringing it out into the realm of Shog so that the Guardian would be fulfilling its function to remove the threat with the power imbued in it. Tentacles spread and formed solid leverage points on the floor and the mass of the thing coming from the blackest of unseen space now grasped Guthrie's left leg as the sound approached.
With the roar of the wind, Guthrie yelled, "ebumnaoth bug'hai yar'shogg'syha'h."
The doors to the Museum had been pushed by the forefront of the wind, the compressed still air before the clear air wavefront, and the metal buckled and glass shattered. The outer doors collapsed and the inner doors flew open as the three joined winds now flew into the Museum running down its main concourse, scouring its way through the lower floor and blowing out glass as it ripped through display cases, artifacts and pulled down ceiling tiles and lighting fixtures. Slowed but now powerful with the weight of moving mass it came relentlessly on as the Guardian turned from Guthrie and looked at a force more Primal than Elder Ones, Old Ones and Ancients. With the broken glass and metal this wind was one that could scour the living and the dead, and rock held together only faintly at the surface to show an Elder Sign was as nought to the North Wind given its westerly flow. First the gentle compression shock of still air rushing to blow out windows and then the force of the wind, channeled by the masonry and concrete building put the main force of the wind to the very back bay area of the building. Emergency doors would blow open, but the bay enclosure, now opened to the freely flowing unrestricted wind force which hit the Guardian, the Sign, took out the metallic frames to the window, blew on the bell of the Eurus which Guthrie was holding on to as it tolled for the first time in over a century and it was the sound of Death.
There was nothing the Guardian could do as its makers had never thought of trying to protect against the Living Wind.
Fractal space anchors eroded, the Guardian disintegrated and the old mooring rock gained a shiny new surface with chips flying off it from metal lighting fixtures hitting it at high rates of speed and lesser materials wearing it down and polishing it clean of those works by long dead Elder Ones.
Guthrie stood watching it all, the wind shifting around him and only touching the bell as he held to its bracing. With the sustaining power of the Guardian now gone, a major anchor point of the created obfuscation diminished and the rock piece safely in his pocket he stood up as the mass of the wavefront left him untouched. Soon it was only the normal wind channeled through Gotham City, the one that everyone knew and respected. The one that lifted up skirts in the summer and would lift up people in the winter if it was strong enough. He gave the bell a light stroke with his gloved hand and then jumped out of the eastern bay overlook and onto the ground. As he walked around the building he heard the wail of sirens, the cries of the injured and the clean sound of the freshly driven wind coming through the upper regions of Gotham City.
"Now, where to go for lunch?" he asked himself as he walked through the parking lot of the Museum, unconcerned with the affairs of man and keeping his mind set on things eternal.
She had been scaling the rock for what seemed like a lifetime, the line and grapnel she started with had long since fallen far below and the treacherous path down looked impossible, lethal without them. She was left with going up without the equipment she needed, her life now depending on years of honed skills. Her suit had long since lost its luster and she had to put the gloves into her belt as she needed to feel the face of the rock and find the few finger holds that allowed her to slowly ascend the cliff. Above it still seemed to stretch on forever, and yet the jutting prominance was now coming within reach.
Working over towards it meant what should be an easier climb once she reached the scree of rock that had fallen from the prominance, and yet as she felt at rock just below the scree it slid from under her fingertips, sliding down and down below her. Knowing better than to look out at the floating clouds above the plains of dust, she started brushing rock shards with fingers until she could find yet another place to put her fingers at the edge of the scree slope. Closer she crept, slowly and with as much silence as she could get up in the emptiness beyond the cliff in a place where no plants grew and no rain would ever fall. Pushing down with her left hand and getting her boots onto the crevices she had used for her fingers, the rock to her left disappeared as she reached the level of the prominance. Carefully she felt out over the smooth rock of it and felt no place to put grab and now wished that her bleeding fingers had gloves on and could figure out no way to do that and still hold on to the cliff. Once more she reached into the scree and felt for some place to dig her fingers in to get a purchase. Painfully she found a rock to grab, pulled herself up and quickly swung her legs up to the surface that was beside her.
Rolling onto it she stopped and looked up at a place few had ever seen. Using her hands to lever her torso up she got her knees under her and then stand to look at the recessed rock face that so many had died in attempting to see. Something had brought her here and compelled her to climb without the promise of riches, glory or fame. Moving forward her lithe frame denied that she was at any height at all and she did not quiver as she took steps towards the face of the rock. With each step she let her eyes wander over the entire face of rock which allowed her to see the way it was formed in patterns that were rank upon rank of smooth, overlapping plates made out of a grey stone speckled with darkness. So intent was she that she nearly slipped on the dark patch of cloth laying on the ground, her only warning was the sensation of her foot touching the fabric and instinctively pulling back. Bending down with one knee to the ground she looked over the fabric which formed a hooded cloak, something that would be much desired at this elevation where the cold was a living thing, trying to steal her warmth and life from her. It was smooth to her touch and thick as well, and only at the near edge did she see redness, that indicated that the cloak was lined with something different. Lifting it carefully she saw the bright red interior and felt it to be warming as she opened it before her.
Surely this must be a trap and yet the fabric gave no hint of that nor anything amiss at all, save for the warmth of the red side.
With whipping wind came bitter cold and yet the cloak did not flap in that wind nor change in any way.
"If I do not put it on I will freeze to death. And maybe I can use it to string myself back down over the smoothest parts of the cliff face. It is all that is here and I will die either frozen or fallen."
With death at every turn she shrugged and flipped the cloak around her and fastened its front hasp and felt it settle on her, warming her, enveloping her. Now the wind posed no threat to her and confidence returned as the threat of one death faded. Slipping off her mask and putting it down to her neck, she brought the hood of the cloak up and used a second hasp to snug it tight. Her arms found the holes that allowed her to reach out and yet still have warmth with her. As she walked the cloak moved with her and just enough fabric shifted with each leg to keep it warm and yet not impede her steps.
Dread moaning came on the wind and she turned to see the clouds and floating things that caused them far below this precipice and a smile came to her lips. Her eyesight became keener and allowed her to see those things in detail and only with that, seeing formless things and people that were unhuman in and amongst those shapes and even on the ground did she recoil in horror. This was no land she was used to, no place where she had ever been, and yet she knew of it and about it without ever knowing even its name. She took one step back. Then two, her mind being unable to understand what it saw of forms and colors that had no place in any natural order and yet creating an order all its own in which she was not a part. They could not get to her, she understood that, and yet the idea of now going down to be amongst them horrified her beyond all reason. She was trapped by something that was beyond any power of any realm she had known. Fear, deep fear of the unknown, far worse than any other fear as this unknown had taken her to someplace no human should ever be. And even as she backed away she saw, in one structure, a man brought into a palace with great riches, a crowned king who was then devoured by his entourage and his screams a sickly crying out in shock. Beyond the dreamless dreams there was death and life, not as she knew it, no, but the necessities of both the eternal constant.
One step brought her back to the rock face and she pressed herself back to it not being able to tear her gaze from the unspeakable horrors she saw.
Then the whisper came.
A woman's voice, yet so soft as to be barely heard even with her now acute hearing that heard the shocks of betrayal of men and women of all ages that had been taken to this land so that they could never return or return with broken minds, having been made the playthings of powerful beings beyond all knowledge.
A simple plea to her and she turned to her right and looked down at what she had thought to be a small boulder. This was no boulder but a woman crouched down next to the rock face, her head bowed down to one knee and her arms clasping that leg. Grey was fading from her form and slowly the head moved up to look at her, eyelids blinking at spider webs formed by some lost specimen of its kind. With a shock she knew the face of that woman, knew what she sounded like, looked like and had to bring her hand up to her mouth not to cry out at this fresh horror.
"They... come...." Lisa Choi said shaking in dread fear looking up at Selina as grey rock eyes turned slowly watery and into brown eyes. Rock tears became molten liquid again, teardrops from the corners that still continued on.
"Lisa! Lisa!" Selina said bending down to try and help the young woman from the diner who had been so kind and smiling on many a late night meal over the years.
"Don't touch..." Lisa whispered as she shivered and rock dust drifted from her hair and off her skin, "...not safe... they come..."
Selina wanted to do something, anything to help but the simple warning was enough to stay her and she then knelt beside Lisa who's hands were transforming back into things of flesh and blood.
"Who is coming, Lisa? Here?"
"Not here... for me... taking me... South..."
Lisa's fingers crackled, rock hard nails now turning into merely fingernails, and yet the lower part of her body was not fully shifted, although grey was fading even on her legs.
"Not.... oh, god... he talked about directions! Ummm... East... ahhhh... god... Dragon! Celestial Dragon!"
"Ahhh..." Lisa cried out softly in pain as the process she was undergoing was not one that any human had ever gone through before.
"Lisa, please, I've got to get you out of here!"
Opening her eyes, Lisa looked at Selina and was able to tilt her head with only a soft crackling of caked dust to be heard.
"East... comes... has me..."
"Has you?" Selina looked around and saw only what there was to see, nothing had changed. "But no one is here, Lisa," she said turning to look at Lisa again.
"Not here... my body... not dead..."
First the hips saw color return, then the thighs, the knees and that freed Lisa's hands, now caked with rock dust she moved them to take down the spider's web and hold it.
"Yes! You were killed by... well... something in the Underworld! But if you aren't dead then... oh... no... your body...."
As Lisa fully transformed to flesh and blood she began to fade.
"What? Lisa! What's happening?"
"Dreaming... save me... please..."
If this was a dream it was unlike any other Selina Kyle had ever experienced and she wanted nothing of this dream that was worse than any nightmare she had ever had.
"But... I'm trapped... Lisa! How do I get out of here?"
As Lisa faded her eyes turned to deepest black with starry depths in them that went on forever.
"Fly... before She claims you, as well..."
What was left was the imprint of where Lisa had sat in the dust, of her body there was no evidence.
"Fly?" Selina asked in a frightened and incredulous tone. "But I can't fly..."
As she spoke the words she knew that was a lie because the warmth that flowed through her told her otherwise. She took a step back, raising her body up and rearing her head back and stretching out her wings which could feel the air around her. Talons gripped the rock and she took two clacking steps and turned to look out over the dusty bowl of dead dreams and let her throat give rise to a cry that shivered the air and rocked all those floating places, spaces and beings, who knew fear as the only thing to come from that precipice. With one thrust she pushed herself in to the air, and wings gave great beats to drive her upwards first slowly and then with greater speed at each wing beat. To the heavens she ascended trying to make out the source of neverending light to the North and then neverending darkness to the South. She faced unmixed grey of the West and flew higher and higher until there was no light nor darkness and even grey faded into nothing save for the single, solitary growling of a Tiger.
She awoke to the howling of the wind, the glass windows softly etched by solid foam and dust and saw that one piece of paper had plastered itself to her window to peer in so long as the living wind wanted it there. Knowing that there were things humans were not meant to know was one thing. Actual knowing them, was something else, entirely.