(PLAYED BY RIK:) Michael Ezekiel Tremayne hastened in despite of his wounds to take up the mace and half-carry, half-drag the inert form of Sam York towards safety.
Two of the devil-monster’s tentacles snaked through the air after him, and others writhed about the berserkly dodging Kato as the great slimy mass of its body forced its way forward through the breach in the dungeon wall.
It tumbled several more blocks from the edge of the breach and then, suddenly lacking support, a mass of grinding masonry collapsed in upon the beast in a great commotion of sucking squelches. The nearest gaol cell was filled with rubble, instantly killing the several poor souls trapped there.
Kato whirled about and dashed pell-mell from the dungeon chamber as everyone ahead of him struggled their way down the corridor. The echoes of the collapse subsided, but the screams of the girls in the cells behind us continued. Nevertheless, I also made out a clatter of movement from the other direction.
“Soldiers coming down the stair!” I cried. “Don’t attack them straightways,” I added, but to judge by Kato’s murderous visage I misdoubted me that he even heard my words. Outdistancing everyone, he dove into the shadow beside the foot of the stair.
Tremayne carefully set Sam York down against the wall and stood forth. “The Lady has been killed by her vile demon!” he called loudly in the soldiers’ own Polish tongue. “It turned on her and we were lucky to escape with our lives. Afford us passage from this hell and the forces of the Crown may forgive your black behaviour in this gród.” (CASTLE)
The first soldier to reach the foot of the stairs saw beyond us the abomination slapping its biting tentacles down upon the bodies of the fallen and sucking. “Oh my God! Satan is among us!” he screamed, trying to force his way through the body of men still filing down. “Flee for your lives!” Evidently the account we had first heard was true, and only the hardest-hearted of the castle’s soldiery were privy to the secret of the dungeon.
Nicholas Hat tried a different tack. “You’re in the nick of time!” he declared. “The spawn of Satan is come and we need your aid to fight it back and rescue the girls.” I gave this in the Polish, avoiding contradicting Tremayne’s command by phrasing it that the brave of heart must help us, and the rest must depart and clear the stairs.
Kato remained still, his features contorted with an effort of control. Several more soldiers stepped out, glimpsed the monster and reacted with the same panic as the first. Confusion turned to a rout, soldiers seeking to thrust themselves ahead of one another in the desperate bid to escape. Then Kato abandoned restraint and charged up the stairs to take the hindmost brutally from behind, ramming his torturer’s knife into the man’s neck with a great gush of blood. He disregarded the matchlock musket that clattered to the stair but slid his victim’s sword from its scabbard and charged out of sight after the others.
Nick sprang forward and seized up the dead man’s musket and powder flask.
Back in the dungeon, the monster continued its hideous feeding upon the half-smothered corpse of Jonas de Winkler and the fallen guards. Fighting the urge to gag, I asked, “What about the mace? It must be the means by which… she… cowed the monster.”
“Unless it is itself of the Devil, and its destruction might harm the thing,” posited Tremayne. Looking down at the black, forged-steel weapon, he relented of that and acceded to Nick’s direction to carry Sam after Kato up the stairs.
Nick inspected the matchlock musket, tucked it to his shoulder and used its smouldering match to fire it right at the monster in the middle of the dungeon. There was a small burst of crimson blood and other sickly fluids as the shot struck, but the thing was not moved to any reaction.
Kato emerged into chaos in the Great Hall. Fleeing soldiers clustered at the doors crying, The Devil is in the castle! and He attacks as one possessed! and The cellars are collapsing! But a handful of new-come veterans knelt and readied muskets to hold the doorway, and now glared across the hall at the fierce outlander warrior with his red-dripping blades.
“Wha’ you thin’ you doin’?” Kato demanded. But seeing the grim set of their eyes he turned right about and sprinted berserkly back to the stairs.
At the stairhead he was met by Tremayne, who passed Sam York’s body to the momentarily nonplussed Nipponese. Tremayne stepped forth and delivered his instructions once again. “The Devil Incarnate is in that dungeon. He has despatched your mistress, and we need you down here!”
Much impressed by his manner, four of the musketeers stood up to come to his aid.
“You must defend the doorway whilst we rescue the maidens from the dungeon itself,” he instructed them.
“You girls,” I called loudly, hoping some would hear me over the screams of their sisters, “where are the keys to your cells?”
“The mistress has them,” came the reply. “She keeps the only keys upon her girdle.” But the body of the szlachcianka lay fatally close to the hideous mass of her monster.
“Did any of you ever see this devilish Thing before?” I asked, hoping that if it ever issued from its lair by any other egress, we might ourselves use that to come at the keys from a safer angle. “Did you ever see the mistress command it? Or strike it? Perchance with her mace?” But alas, none had e’er witnessed the creature before, so it seemed to have been utterly immured in the space behind the iron maiden. No more did I glean any suggestion that the mace might afford its wielder mastery over the monster.
As the four stalwarts preceded Tremayne down the stairs to join us, Nick finished reloading his musket, and demonstrated that the monster could be shot with impunity. He put the match to the pan, but cursed the foreign gun-powder as it gave only a soft report and his shot plopped into the monster’s mucilaginous bulk with no more force than a pebble falling into a pond. Regardless of Nick’s display of bravado, when the musketeers beheld the thing that Tremayne had bade them face they quailed and ran in blind terror, retaining only the wit not to drop their muskets in their flight.
By the time Nick had his fire-arm re-charged once more, we had been rejoined by Kato and Tremayne. Kato seemed to have mastered his outburst and to be compos mentis once more. Tremayne’s face was now hidden in the great helm of a Teutonic knight, he wore steel gauntlets upon his hands and brandished an ancient broadsword. Nick, regarding him, commented with gallows humour that given the monster’s aim, a codpiece might offer more protection than a steel bucket on one’s head. Then turning back he fired his third, better-packed, shot into the foe. Still the monster failed so much as to twitch in response to his attacks, and Nick dashed the musket to the floor in frustration.
“Whatever can we do? We must save these innocent girls,” he insisted. “And we cannot leave Jonas to that Thing.”
The monster fed on heedless, gorging itself on the blood of the fallen, but it would certes turn soon enough to the captive girls, and for all the iron strength of their cell doors we knew that it could pull down the very walls to get to them.
We four formed another plan. I would call down the wrath of the angels to scourge the monster’s soul, and the fearless Nicholas Hat would steal forth into the dungeon chamber as it cowered or fled, to retrieve the keys from the szlachcianka’s body. I recharged the musket, and Kato and Michael stood ready to come to Nick’s aid at need.
Having drawn me a circle of sanctified chalk and with blessèd candles lit, I o’ermastered the pain of my injuries and with a strong voice declaimed my supplication of the angels. “Sit timor Domini super eos qui contemnens. Sint autem commareantur iudicio iusti Angeli Domini.”
The unseen wind of the angels swept forth, intimating to the monster the agony of eternal damnation, but it was unmoved; nary a flinch of a tentacle betrayed any reaction. Though thwarted, I gave silent thanks that this proved the so-called ‘Devil’ to be a mindless, even a soulless, brute.
And undeterred by my set-back, Nick Hat stole bravely forth into the chamber. Breath bated, we three watched his progress as he painstakingly crouched along behind the torturer’s table and right up to the corpse of the szlachcianka. Reaching down, he retrieved the ring of keys without so much as a clink, and silently stole back without raising the monster’s attention.
Nick turned the key in the cell door nearest the exit, opened it and slipped within. Long moments passed as he must needs have been calming the timorous souls within, but at length two young women emerged and on the tips of their toes made their way to us and salvation. Riding his luck, Nick moved to open the next cell, slipped within to calm the panic-stricken girls and repeat his whispered instructions to them. Crawling, such that no part of them would be show above the table, Nick and the three girls made their bid for safety. Alas! one girl could not but steal a glance over her shoulder at the Thing they so feared and her sudden gasp of horror was fatally audible.
“Flee for your lives!” Nick shouted, his meaning clear without need of translation. Half the tentacles of the monstrous form writhed through the air to assail these four. Nick tried his trademark counter-attack upon a fang-mawed tentacle before it could strike him. It twitched aside and evaded his blow, but as it thrust forward Nick himself was gone. Two of the girls were up and taking to their heels, tentacle-bites closing on thin air behind them, but the third was not so swift. A tentacle smacked its biting attack onto the back of her neck and with a sickening crunch of bone she fell dead to the floor.
Now roused from its feeding, the thing began to move. Tentacles straining towards we living souls just beyond its reach, its main body began to move by corpulent convulsions across the floor.
Nick Hat seized me up and threw me over his shoulder, more concerned with the wounds of my body than with wounding my dignity, and followed our fleeing companions to the stair. As we gained the Great Hall I heard a further crash of masonry from below, and then the walls of that chamber began to grind like a hundred millstones at the loss of their foundations below.
We made it clear to the courtyard of the castle, where Exeter Bob bestrode the cart, warning off all comers with Jonas’ blunderbuss in one hand and one of Sam York’s fine wheellocks in the other.
By the time Tremayne was in the saddle of York’s steed and the rest of us were aboard the cart with Kato whipping the mule towards the gatehouse and safety, half the keep caved in upon itself. A screaming and a roaring that offended our very ears was emitted by the mistress’ Devil amid the wreck of the Great Hall. And then a bartizan tower collapsed away from a wall to land not ten paces from us, and we were away and passing through the abandoned gatehouse thanking the Lord for our deliverance from evil.