I arrived at the location given to me by Monsieur Françios. I really hope Raven’s judgment of François is accurate. I have put my most precious thing this world in his care. And, Raven and the others have also bestowed him with many of our intentions and secrets.
My friends were waiting at the entrance to the catacombs. The smell of sewage wafted from the dank cave-like tunnel which we would be entering. Dai Junbo shuttered at its scent.
They stood in front of a steel gate underneath a carved stone sign above that entrance that read in French “Arrete! C’est ici l’Empire de la Mort”. I could not speak French, but could still decipher the warning. “Stop! This here is the Kingdom of the Dead”.
‘’What the hell is that? Niko, get down!’’ Willie shouted pulling out his renowned purple-handled semi-automatic pistols and firing a shot at Junbo before I could respond.
I quickly turned to the dog to see if he was hurt. To protect myself from his dangerous temperance, I made sure my ring given to me by Father Pie was visible, just as Master Fuzhou’s note he had left in Penelope’s pocket had instructed. I also wielded the staff that the dog was trained to obey, hence the origin of his name, “Great One who Obeys the Staff”. It sounded kind of childish, yes (especially when I called him Junchi). But, when a huge beast is running at you ready to rip your head off your fragile neck with one bite of its massive jaws in one moment, then turns into the most docile creature the next moment all because of the sight of a ring or staff, it leaves a lasting impression. So it was with the incorrigible Junbo. As I turned to him after being shot, he was not enraged. It was as if he was not even hurt. Yet, clearly we could all see (and smell) the flow of blood issuing from his shoulder where the bullet had entered and exited out the posterior side. He simply sat there panting with his tongue hanging out in the heat of the Parisian summer evening. At that moment I knew this dog was more than meets the eye.
A big oaf behind Kylar, who must have been near 8 foot in height, began becoming uncontrollable at the sight of the blood. He pled with Kylar, whether he could eat my dog! I took it at that moment that Kylar had created an abomination while I was gone. I had a vile taste in my mouth in that instance of thought.
“Kylar what is this that you have done?” I asked in too angry of a tone. “You have created a wretch? And now he remains in a tormented stupor wanting nothing more that to feed on this dog. Would not death had been a more liberating choice? Who is this giant?”
‘’Niko meet Buddy; Buddy say hello to our friend Niko.’’ Kylar said with a gleeful hint behind his voice.
“Hello 2 R fwend Knee Coat?” The giant parroted his masters words clearly struggling to comprehend its simple meaning. I placed my hand on my head and shook it in unconscious disapproval.
Not wanting to say the wrong thing and offend my new friend Kylar, I asked nonchalantly, “Right! So are we ready to enter the Catacombs?”
“Whoa, whoa, ‘Knee Coat’ my ‘fwend’ " Willie demanded mimicking Buddy. “You haven’t told us what that freak is behind you, why it hasn’t attacked you, and WHERE the HELL have you been?! We ain’t goin’ no where tills you tellin’ us what’s you been up to.”
“Umm, I-I”, I began hesitantly. I did not wish to destroy another alliance. “I have been dealing with matters of a personal nature.”
“What kinda ‘personal matters’?” Willie shot back. ‘’You ain’t been clottin’ ‘round with the pickled-blooded vanilla-livered son of bloodletter, Remmy have you?’’
Willie’s look was serious. Despite his over the top antics and drawl, Willie really was looking out for me. It was that look and the final tone in his voice that allowed me to trust him.
“Willie, I swear to you that I have had no further dealings with Remmy.”
“Well, its all good ‘slong as you can say you ain’t clottin’ around no more with Remmy. So what’s this beast behind ya, then?” Willie point again to Junbo with one of his pistols tilted sideways. Junbo began to growl a deep dragonian rumble.
“Willie, put the gun away. This is Dai Junbo. He was a gift from a friend. My friend said he might be able to help us. I found him while traveling to the Temple of the Rising Sun high in Tibet-Nepal border. I went there to check on a friend of my…a dear friend. I found her but she was not well. I have left her in the care of Monsieur Françios, here in Paris just before I came here to you. Her name is Penelope, you might have heard me talk of her once or twice. I owe her a great debt and my trip was of the nature of repaying that debt.” My voice trailed off in the end. I turned toward the cave once more.
“Are we ready for the ”/characters/anjelika" class=“wiki-content-link”>Mistress Anjelika?" I asked changing the subject.
“Buddy, hungry. When we eat? I eat him?” Buddy asked pointing to a fear-free thrall subdued by one of my companions (most likely Raven given his exceptional skill in deceiving the weak-minded) into guiding us through the catacombs.
“Fool! There will be plenty to feed on as we press into the catacombs, my simpleton servant.”
“Okay, Master.” Buddy grumbled.
Once Buddy received his scolding we were off into the dark and dank tunnels. Bones layered the walls. Even I was a bit intrigued how the humans had used the dead bodies of family and friend alike to build these walls. Femur bones had been stacked like bricks and mortared together with a limestone base mixture, much like concrete. Human skulls were used to break up the monotony of the protruding tuberosities of femurs. As we came to the first corner, I noted how the macabre masons had stacked a pillar of skulls to hedge the joining of two skewed walls. In fact, every corner was designed with stacked skulls. It must have taken thousands of bodies to make these tunnels.
My mind was flooded with visions of how and why so many bodies were used in such a fashion. I had heard that the monks who build these catacombs were peaceful, spiritual people. Yet, as I stared at their work, I could only think that there must have occurred a great catastrophe anciently to bring about this many dead bodies to supply this many bones. I could only logically concluded that the monks had seized the bodies after a great war. And yet, the story of peaceful monks still persists, despite the stark evidenced bleached upon every wall I was viewing.
I was in this state of wonder when we chanced upon our first door. It was an iron door to the right of the main corridor. Our guide believed that it may provide a short cut to the main tomb where he believed would be the best place for a base of operations. We tried the handle but it seemed to be locked from the other side. I quickly turned into mist form and was about to pass underneath the door, when I froze to deafening sound of Buddy’s fist smashing into the middle of the iron door. So much for stealth. But if Anjelika didn’t hear that first “knock” she definitely heard the second, and third smashing knocks.
Frustrated that the door had not budged yet, Willie took a swing at it making the most boisterous knock of all. The door came crashing in revealing a forgotten tunnel that appeared to be partially caved in. As the dust settled, Willie quipped, “That’s how you bust a door down.” He brushed Buddy with his shoulder to complete the taunt as he passed by him entering the cavern to inspect his earned reward more closely.
Buddy retorted, “Buddy made door weak for Willie.”
I returned to corporal form again. “Honestly, Kylar and Raven. Can you control your children?” I said under my breath. I don’t think they really heard this anyway, since the ringing echoing in our ears had not yet dissipated. But, the expressions on their faces revealed they agreed with me.
After all that noise, we found that the tunnel was impassable. The cave-in barred our way. Raven believed it had happened late in the 19th century in the year 1881. He said it would have been a few years after these catacombs were built. He informed us that the earthquake had originated near the border of France outside of the German town of Aachen. The quake had spread throughout the Alps and decimated several Belgium and French country towns. Its magnitude was never recorded, as Raven educated us that seismology was just a budding science back then only starting after the Great Lisbon Quake of 1755. He told us that he believes it probably started as an 8.5, maybe even a 9.0. And ended in Paris as a 5.0 judging by the damage he remembered.
Needless to say, that tunnel was not the way we were to go.
We turned around and continued down the main corridor passing more macabre murals. Until we came to next door. It was hard to even recognize that this was a passage because it just looked like a massive slab of stone. The stone door was mortared with a layer of bones and skulls. In the center of the door was a slightly larger skull. The canines were clearly longer and predominately sharper. A limestone sign hung above this peculiar skull. Carved lettering had been etched in the stone. I recognized it as French. Raven instinctively read it first in French, “Le sang, c’est la vie…et il sera mien!”
“The blood is life…and it shall be mine.” He translated. “This is a passage from the infamous Bram Stoker’s Dracula if I am not mistaken. A favorite of my vile mistress. As a cruel twist of irony, she thought it blithesome that she enthralled the novelist early in the turn of the Century. She drove him mad until he suffered from a stroke. Poor wretch!”
“What is behind this door, guide?” I asked the enthralled guide.
“No one knows for sure it was sealed centuries ago. Though, legend says that it was the final tomb of Countess Elizabeth Báthory.”
“La Comtesse de Sang?!” Raven interjected. “She was known as…how do you say, the Blood Countess.”
“Oui, the same.” Answered the guide in his Parisian accent.
“But I thought she was buried in her castle in Hungry?”
“Oui, she was. Her enemies sealed her in her own room behind a brick wall. But after they believed she was dead they allowed for her followers to break down the wall and take her remains. They did not wish for a civil war to come about because of political tears. It is believed that they took the remains to a young French aristocrat, one of her many lovers. He is believed to have placed her remains in his stone mine beneath today’s Paris. Later, these mines were turned into these catacombs.”
“Fascinating!” Raven reveled.
Willie knelt down close to the base of the door. “For neva’ been opened. Why’s there a trail in da dirt like this door been opened recen’ly? See, look ya’ll. Even footprints be leadin’ right here.” Willie pointed to the right base of the door.
“All this is leads to Anjelika’s treachery.” I concluded. “She must be hiding out in her old tomb. See if we can open this door.”
We all joined Willie to get a better look at the stone door. As we got closer we could clearly feel an edge where the door met the jam. Yet, from afar one could hardly tell it was a door. Even with more of our party investigating the door, no one could see anything to open it with. There seemed to be no knobs, handle ot hinges.
“The door must be opened by some hidden counter weights behind the door.” I suggested. “There must be some lever on this side of the door to activate this mechanism.”
“Buddy make lever!” Without permission, he had got some distance from the door while we had been searching for a lever. “Aaagh!” He roared as he charged at the stone slab. We all cleared out of the way just in time before being crushed by the big brute charging headlong at the door. His body peeled down the door front like something you would see on a Wiley E. Coyote gag. We all sort of chuckled at Buddy’s epic fail. All except, Kylar, who was infuriated that his ghoul had almost smashed him up against the door without thinking his action out thoroughly first.
“Buddy not feel good.” He said while bringing himself up to a sitting position. “Uh-oh! Buddy have bleedy nose. Ooo! It tasted yummy!” Buddy didn’t have just a bloody nose. His whole face looked crushed. Blood began pouring from his nostrils and from a broken lip. Buddy began lapping up the oozing blood trying to get every drop back in his body through his large gullet of a mouth. Kylar’s look was of shear embarrassment.
“It ain’t even budged, you lousy Clot!” Willie went back to the door. He put his finger into the stain of Buddy’s blood left as an imprint on the door. “See, alls you done is get yo’r blood all ozer the place.”
Willie was about to lick the blood off his finger when he paused staring at the stone message. “Whoa! I’z an idea! What if its not be a mechaniggal leva’, but a magit one? You suppose this is a clue? Raves, you said this here say, ’The blood is life, and it shall be mine?”
“Oui, mon ami. What do you have in mind, Willie?”
“Follow me, follow me, brotha.” Willie continued. “What if this message is tellin’ us how wheeze gitten in? You followin’? You see? Right on! It the damn skull, man! He be jammin’ at us. You follow me? He whisperin’ his clotting picking song.”
We all looked at Willie a bit lost. We knew that Willie had been losing it over the last few weeks, getting progressively worse. But, he had always had his moments of craziness away from us when he went off on his own. This was the reason Raven mandated that someone always be with Willie. Raven was afraid he would crack if left alone. But this was highly irregular from his usual patterns. Furthermore, he usually started getting crazy after moments of intense stress. He was neither alone, nor in a state of stress. Logically, I concluded he must be trying to make sense.
“Clot, brothas! Ya’ll not followin’! Its the skull. HE want the blood! He sayin’ ‘its mine’. ‘Give it to me’. You know like those fine girls at François’ pad were sayin’ to Willie. It wants it an’ it want it bad. An’ Willie never turn nothin’ down when it wan’ it BAD!”
With that he turned back towards the turn, took the blood on his finger tip, and smeared it across the skull’s bleach white teeth. The door began to rumble. Clicking ratchet sounds could be heard coming from inside the walls on either side of the door. The skull began to turn clockwise and recede inward. Stone on stone sounds came from the slab as the door opened swinging outward traveling the same path as pointed out earlier by Willie. He had done it!.
“Willie two; Big Oaf Z-Row! Right on!”