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Authors: Randy Ryan C.; Chandler Gregory L.; Thomas David T.; Norris Wilbanks

MalContents (24 page)

BOOK: MalContents
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“There’s a door at the far end. Let’s hope it’s open.”

It was.

The room on the other side of the door had a row of windows, and through them large fields of muted sunlight slanted into the space. They saw ghosts here, but their images weren’t as strong as before. Malcolm assumed the tea’s effect was wearing off.

Across the room, fresh footprints tracked back and forth between a door in the opposite wall and a wall-mounted metal staircase, which led to another door at its top.

Nearby stood a dented metal cabinet. Malcolm heaved against its side, tipping it over with a loud crash and blocking the door they had just emerged from. “It won’t hold for long but maybe it will buy us a few more seconds.”

“Look there!” Heinrich said, pointing up the stairs.

Malcolm looked, but didn’t see anything except the closed door at the top.

“I saw someone peeking out at us from behind that door. Let’s go.”

Heinrich ran for the staircase with Malcolm close behind. The stairs were made of metal grating and the two men’s feet banged noisily against them as they climbed.

When Heinrich reached the top, he worked the knob. “It’s locked, damn it.”

“What do we do now?”

“Do you know how to pick locks?”

Malcolm shook his head in frustration. He paused to listen but didn’t hear the creature approaching from the lower level. Maybe the monster had gone.

“We have to get in,” Heinrich said. “Or I fear Cyrus will move on and take Violet along with him, assuming she is here.”

“Don’t you have any magic in your bag for this situation?”

“Nothing I can do in the few minutes we have before either the monster arrives or Cyrus Venice flees the building, assuming he was the one peering from behind this door.”

“Let’s go back downstairs. I feel like a sitting duck up here. We can break a window and see if there’s another way to get in from outside.”

The men rushed back down the stairs. When they’d reached the bottom, Malcolm grabbed a loose two-by-four from the floor and struck it against a window. He then used the piece of wood as a tool to knock away the remaining glass shards from the frame.

They hauled themselves out the window and dropped onto a sidewalk which ran along an unfamiliar street. A sheet of yellowed newspaper twirled past them, riding a wind gust. Somewhere far away, someone honked a car horn. To their right, alongside the warehouse’s outer wall, a staircase led to a door.

“That door leads to the same room as the one inside,” Malcolm said, beginning to climb.

Panting now from exertion, Heinrich followed Malcolm up the stairs.

Malcolm stopped and looked down at the cellist. “Are you going to be all right?”

Heinrich nodded and waved his hand, shooing him on.

He continued to the top of the stairs. The door wasn’t closed because it was rusted and too warped to fit into its frame properly. Malcolm swung it open and entered.

The room was nine feet on a side and empty except for a broken folding chair which sat in a corner. Besides the one they had entered, they counted two other doors. One to the right and one straight ahead.

Malcolm said: “The one to the right is at the top of those stairs inside. Whoever was spying on us must have escaped through the third door because we didn’t see anyone outside.”

“Or he could have run down the street before we spotted him.”

Malcolm shook his head. “I don’t think he had enough time. We would have seen or heard something out there.”

“Let’s try the other door then. It looks like it’s closed tight and I’ll wager it’s locked.”

They crossed the room together but before Heinrich had time to grasp the door knob, the door swung wide open.

As did the one to their right, simultaneously.

Lowering its head so it could fit into the room, the black monster squeezed its bulk through the doorway.

Heinrich stepped back from the door in front of him as a well-dressed, gaunt man with a black and silver goatee entered the now-crowded room. In his hand he held a .38 revolver.

Malcolm turned to run back outside but the green-eyed demon now blocked his path. He glanced up into those glowing, blank eyes and his legs turned to rubber. He fell to his hands and knees, the silver dagger clanging against the concrete floor. He stared at the ground to avoid looking at the horrible creature towering over him. But even out of sight, the beast’s presence radiated menace—and worse.

Heinrich stood his ground, holding the silver dagger before him, his bag of magic clutched in the other hand.

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” the gaunt man said. He had a foreign accent but Malcolm couldn’t place it.

“Cyrus Venice. What have you done with Violet DuFresne?”

As Heinrich spoke the man’s name, Malcolm’s head lifted. He glared at their captor who, in turn, was sneering back at them.

“So, Mr. Dunkle. You brought a friend along with you this time, the same someone who was asking too many questions back at Henning Hall I presume. Look there; the poor man seems to have lost his footing.”

Malcolm gritted his teeth and got to his feet even though his mind was rebelling against the whole situation. A sudden wave of dizziness swept over him, but he focused and somehow remained conscious. Leaning a shoulder against the wall, he continued glaring at Cyrus Venice. “Take us to her,” he muttered.

“I don’t think you’re in any position to make demands, Mr. Ehrlich.”

“What are you going to do with us?” Heinrich said, backing up nearer to Malcolm.


Do
with you? You make me sound like some b-movie villain. What did you think? I would have the star-golem over there tear you apart? Yet now that I think about it, maybe that’s an idea worthy of contemplation.”

“A star-golem?” Heinrich said in horror, turning to gaze at the beast hunched beneath the room’s ceiling.

“He serves me as a guardian. You two put him through his paces today. I’ll grant you that.”

“But how are you able to control such a thing?” Heinrich said, his voice barely above an awed whisper. “It requires
unthinkable
power!”

“Unthinkable to you, maybe. But to me, there will never be enough power.” Venice stood away from the door through which he had entered. “Enough small talk. Go through here and don’t try anything funny because my friend and I will be right behind you. By the way, did you know that if the golem so much as taps you with its finger, it would instantly drive you mad? Or perhaps you’d even drop dead from fear?”

Malcolm shuddered. The black beast was a product of nightmares he couldn’t possibly conceive of. As they walked down another hallway, panic threatened to push Malcolm over the edge but he resisted it again, conjuring Violet into his thoughts; the memory of her was the only thing keeping him sane for the moment.

“Go through that door up ahead and all your questions will be answered. Not that you’ll
like
the answers very much.” Cyrus Venice said and laughed.

Despite his fear of the star-golem, Malcolm felt the urge to strangle Venice.

Heinrich opened the specified door and they entered into a long room.

Luxurious scarlet carpeting and oak paneling covered the space. Expensive leather furniture was distributed throughout beneath glowing, crystal chandeliers. All the walls were bare save for a door far across the room and a purple velvet curtain in the middle of one wall.

“Why don’t you set those useless daggers on the table, and your little bag too, Mr. Dunkle.”

They did as they were told.

Now Malcolm felt entirely defenseless and any hope he entertained of escaping had drained away.

“Now sit on the sofa across from the curtain. My friend here will stand at your backs to ensure neither one of you try anything stupid.”

“You claim not to be a cheap villain,” Heinrich said as he sat. “Yet you sound like one to me, Venice.”

“Remember what I told you about the star-golem, Dunkle? I’d keep it in mind before making any more smart comments.”

Malcolm kept his eyes on Venice, relieved he didn’t have to look at the star-beast but still scared as hell with it standing right behind them. Its looming presence made him want to scream but he’d not allow Venice to see him squirm anymore; he’d die first.

“Are you comfortable?”

Neither one replied.

“For people who are gathering information, you two aren’t being very cooperative.”

Venice tucked the revolver in his pants and walked over to a small table against the wall. On the table sat a violin case. The occultist snapped opened the case, which was lined with red velvet, and removed a black violin and its matching bow. Beneath the case was a small stack of sheet music which he pulled free. Then he approached the purple curtain.

“Bring me the music stand,” commanded Venice.

At first Malcolm wasn’t sure who their captor was speaking to, but then he heard sounds from behind him. As the beast circled the sofa to obey its master’s command, Malcolm averted his gaze, staring off at the room’s far wall, wishing he could reach the door—which now seemed far, far away—and be gone from this place. But he knew he would not depart as long as Violet was in this madman’s clutches.

“You can open your eyes now, Mr. Ehrlich. The star-golem has returned to his former position. I’m sorry that he makes you nervous but I can assure you he won’t harm a hair on your head—unless I instruct him to. Perhaps if you behave, you might leave in one piece and with sanity intact.”

“Get on with it,” Heinrich said, anger coloring his voice. “Where’s the woman?”

“A fine question, Mr. Dunkle. Where is the woman?” Venice placed the sheet music on the stand. Holding the violin and bow in one hand, he fished out a thin rope from behind the purple drapes with the other. “She’s behind this curtain.”

Venice pulled down on the rope and the heavy curtain slid aside. Behind it was a large, rectangular black frame surrounding an opaque, black surface. The occultist lifted the violin to his cheek and played a quick succession of notes.

The men on the sofa drew in their breaths as the black surface vanished and they were suddenly gazing through the frame into another room. It was a circular room with a plain stone wall, its design entirely different from the rest of the warehouse. Everything about the scene within the black frame seemed dull, the room there containing no paintings or decorations whatsoever, yet in the wall was a single window. And through the window, far in the distance, could be seen a dilapidated house which stood alone on a gray and barren hilltop.

Violet wasn’t there.

“Where is she?” Malcolm said, bewildered.

Venice looked through the frame. “Well, what do you know? She’s missing. Perhaps she decided to take a walk. Though I doubt that, since it would be dangerous to leave the tower and she has been instructed not to do so.”

“Tower?” Malcolm said.

“Malcolm,” Heinrich said. “What you are seeing through the frame is not of this Earth. He has Violet trapped in another dimension. For what purpose, perhaps he will let us know if he ever gets to the point.”

“Another . . .?”

“Dunkle is correct in his crude way. You are looking at a place that exists beyond this reality, a place which also happens to be a conduit of unimaginable power. A station between here and a third place, which is the ultimate source of this great power. Great power that shall soon be mine.”

“What are you planning?” Heinrich said, gripping the arm of the leather couch. “What madness is this?”

“The search for power is madness? This is news to me. Mankind has sought the like since its humble origins.”

Malcolm felt numb. Here he sat, in a room with a sorcerer, a monster from who-knows-where and a cellist, waiting to discover the fate of a woman he hasn’t seen in years. It seemed the nearer to Violet he got, the more surreal the situation became. He wondered if he would ever return to his nice, normal life.

“Perhaps you do not understand yet, Dunkle, so let me explain it to you: I am to become a
god
.”

“You are out of your mind,” Heinrich said, standing. “Give us the girl this instant, and let us leave this asylum, and you to your outrageous scheme.”

“I’m afraid it cannot be done, Dunkle. You see, she plays an important part in my ‘scheme.’ I need her to remain right where she is—in that tower. But don’t worry; she is being well cared for by the tall fellow you met yesterday. By the way, he is very angry with you two. If he ever meets you or Mr. Ehrlich again, I’m not sure I could stop him from harming you.”

Without forethought, Malcolm launched himself from the couch and found himself running toward the room on the other side of the frame.

Cyrus Venice’s eyes widened. He raised the violin to his shoulder and readied the bow.

Malcolm heard the violin begin to sound as he dove through the opening into another world.

Great pain shot up his leg as he fell onto the stone floor of the tower room, his momentum sending him across the room until he struck the opposite wall. He cried out and stared down at his left leg in horror.

BOOK: MalContents
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