Michael Tremayne commenced a close perusal of the masonry of ‘the Heloïse wall’. Branston tried to retract his comment about anyone being immured.
“The name was obviously written by someone on this side of the w——
“But what’s that?”
He scurried over with his cane and raised his lantern to a spot in the other corner where a white patina on the stonework (“possibly even saltpetre,” he mused) suggested a markedly damper condition than all the rest of the walls. Kato tapped at the spot with a crow and said it sounded hollow, then took up the huge maul handed to him by Samuel York and with two blows knocked it in. An old culvert of some sort ran a handful of yards and then opened up into a dark space which showed nothing to the light of Geo’s. lantern.
Tremayne borrowed de Winkler’s lantern, drew steel, and fearlessly made down the tunnel. Everyone clustered in to look, Sam. ready to follow him in at need. They saw Tremayne stand up in the space beyond and think to sheathe his rapier, then seemingly change his mind. A moment later he flung out the rapier at full stretch.
“Hold! Hold your place, fiend!” they heard him command.
Sam. launched himself instanter down the tunnel. Kato followed, and the more hesitant were no longer afforded any view. The sounds of fighting played fearsomely upon their imaginings as the strange hunter struggled for his life against an unseen foe. When the tension became too much, Branston gave a grimace and crawled into the hole after the others.
It was only later that Tremayne described to his companions quite what had first befallen there in the chamber.
When he straightened to his full height he remarked that the high-backed abbot’s chair before him was occupied by a figure slumped forward onto a desk. Then as though disturbed by this first intrusion into the chamber in ii centuries, one arm fell from the desk, a puff of dust and rotten garment falling away to expose a dangling limb that was but fleshless bone.
And then the arm moved again, planting its dead hand on the desk and pushing up as the corpse of the dead man lurched to its feet with a creaking of desiccated sinews. Tremayne was momentarily transfixed, dread clutching at his bowels, but he was the master of it. He shouted the alarum to his fellows and attacked. But though he struck true the dead creature appeared to take no discernible hurt from it.
He was vaguely aware of York’s voice at the hither end of the tunnel saying, “Friendly behind, you.” But he gave it no mind as the skeletal monster had turned and now locked eyes with him: eyes burning red like the very flames of Hell. In that heartbeat, pierced by that fiery gaze, he knew the abjected horror of despair that is the lot of the soul damned for all eternity—
But then he remembered his training and recollected himself, broke the gaze and staggered back. His guard was up again before the creature could seek to close, and he beat away the bony grasp that essayed for his throat.
(Snake-eyes on Spirit roll vs. ‘Despair’! Bennied to a normal fail = Shaken. Should’ve looked around the eyes, not into the eyes. Joker next round, goes first and immediately unshakes. You’re back in the room. Skeleton attack misses.)
York was poised on one knee with his weapon braced on his forearm in careful aim. Kato, with the smaller of his strange swords drawn, did a perfect tumbler’s roll through the narrow space beside him. As he rolled to his feet his whole weight came behind the thrust of his outstretched blade, but the living corpse shifted easily out of its path.
Tremayne’s next lunge passed harmlessly between the skeleton’s ribs and struck with a jar upon the wall behind. Only the quality of his fine blade saved it as it flexed mightily and then sprang from his grip to land with its basket hilt clattering loud upon the floor. (Snake-eyes!)
“Zounds and buggeration!" he cursed.
Having come to terms with the monstrous appearance of his target, Sam. York was calm in crisis and had a perfect aim on its skull. The trajectory from his kneeling position was thusly upward and away from the other combatants, and the moment Tremayne and Kato were adequately clear he took the shot. With a flash of powder, a billow of smoke and a massive report resounding about the small space he blew a large part of the monster’s brain-case clean away.
Kato suddenly appreciated the import of the dreadful spectacle he beheld, his adversary still fighting unhindered by the damage York had wreked. He went as pale as Tremayne, his eyes normal-shaped with shock. He was able to give battle with only half a heart, and could not cut down the reeling monster before it regained its footing.
Behind Kato, York produced shot and powder horn and commenced to load anew, and Branston edged awkwardly out of the culvert past him. Then he too saw the risen corpse of the ancient abbot. He was caught off guard by the unnatural horror his companions were fighting. He held out his cane to protect himself as much as to threaten the creature, and edged about the room with his Bohemian snaphaunce pistol aloft crying weakly, “Stand off, you men. Give me the shot!”
At such close quarters Tremayne had more sense than to stand off, and stooped to snatch his rapier fluently from the floor. The evil corpse, in seeking to fall upon him, was met instead by naked steel and thrust bodily away.
Kato’s eyes darted around the iv walls that trapped him in close confines with this horror. Even as it reeled off balance across in front of him he did little more than make a lustreless feint, and seemed glad that it did not come within reach of his sword. The skeleton fetched up against the far wall and turned at bay, the devils’ fires of its eyes flaring with redoubled hatred.
De Winkler called down the tunnel to ask whether there was room for anyone else to help.
“No! No more people!” shrieked Kato in panick.
“No room for that blunderbuss,” added Tremayne darkly.
Branston, reappraising the situation, hobbled forward to take his shot and did not miss, but gasped to see his ball withstood at point-blank range. The skeletal monster turned its attention on him, burning eyes waxing with the force of evil that let ancient bone resist powder and shot. (Monster-benny soaked it)
Existential despair was somehow communicated from that demoniac visage to his own living soul, and his nerveless arm dropped his guard for a moment till he remustered himself. “Spirit! You have no place in the mortal world!”
But the moment was all the opening the monster desired and it grasped his throat with both bony hands… And it leant in upon him… And its jaw wagged and its teeth clacked together as though some surviving part of its deranged mind still thought it was the living Thomas de Grethem, holding converse with its victim.
Tremayne hacked at it, but it did not relinquish its hold.
York stepped smartly up behind Branston, reached over his shoulder to plant his pistol right in the nasal cavity of the monster’s death’s head face, and shot the skull into bony smithereens. Of a sudden the unholy fire of its eyes winked out and the skeleton clattered inert to the floor.
Branston collapsed into the chair at the desk, hands at his damaged throat. But there before him was a mouldering but once fine mediæval Bible. Eagerly turning to the frontispiece, Branston found a series of names of the de Grethem family, the last entry
Tremayne reassured Sam that this creature was of sufficient evil to have moved those other poor dead to false life, and that there was no reason to conceive that any other creature still greater in evil was responsible for this one. It had to be given a proper burial, that the tortured soul could move on.
At this Geo. exploded, painfully rasping voice withal, “He was already dead! That’s normally enough for them to move on. But no, he turned to Satan instead! And we have vanquished only his corporeal body. The spirit which has not passed on could still be here in this chamber for all we know!
“Since our foreign friend, Kato, has seemingly felt the need to go back out into the open air, permit me to explain. Heloïse Randle Holmes was described, in that other family Bible, as having died of a broken heart because her illicit Catholic Abbot lover abandoned her. But it seems he did no such thing. He was clearly imprisoned within this chamber to starve to death.
“You will remember Kato telling us in the Inn that he and that other fellow, Finn, had found a family crypt on the Randle Holmes estate, where Heloïse was laid to rest. God knows I have no sympathy for the twistings this lecherous Abbot’s soul has taken, but I think I can see what might have been at the start of it. If we can, in all secrecy, reunite the mortal remains of these ancient lovers then I think the soul (or more accurately the ‘pneuma physikon’) of de Grethem might go onwards to acceptance of its ultimate fate.”