Episode 10: Welcome to the Hellmouth

 

As Juliet's friends gather to choose a strategy, red flames erupt from the ravine north of town, followed closely by other flames to the east, west and south. Apparently several additional Hellmouths are opening near the main one, filling the sky with smoke and cinders and blotting out the stars. The battle with the Fourth of the Fallen has become more crucial than ever.

 

Diligence does a spell of similarity on the crown worn by Excellence Caldwell, a crown given her by the Fourth of the Fallen. The spell shows the Fourth is definitely at the southern Hellmouth, and it also awakens the silver spider demon who unfolds from the crown into his right shape and tries to bite Diligence and Billy's heads off with claws like giant hedge clippers. But everyone pitches in and smashes the demon to bits.

 

Juliet takes Walker, Miles, Marcus and Dr. Black and heads for the Cobalt Club, where one of the Hellmouths is opening. Diligence takes Alexandra, Billy, the three werewolf cousins, and Dr. Armitage into the spirit world with Quentin's help, to find and defeat the Fourth on his home plane.

 

Juliet runs into Faith, who is throwing Cobalt Club patrons one by one into a narrow crack in the parking lot from which infernal heat, bits of molten brass and screaming wraiths erupt periodically. Juliet tackles her, gets swatted away, then sees Walker attack Faith and get punched right into the Hellmouth! But he's actually hurled over the Hellmouth to the other side, singed and crunched but not seriously hurt.

 

Miles attacks with his axe while Juliet engages Faith from the front using her sword. She disarms Faith with a wrist shot, but Faith then whips out her bullwhip and cracks Miles across the eyes, knocking him out of the fight. Walker hurls a car at her and seemingly wipes her out, but when he lifts the car to see if she's dead, Faith strikes from the shadows and takes him down.

 

The Hellmouth is getting wider, reaching into the street and dropping cars and a lamppost into Hell. So are the others; if they meet and merge, forming a circle, all of Arkham will fall bodily into the Inferno, giving the Fourth of the Fallen another 20,000 souls to barter, and another 20,000 vampires to take over the Earth!

 

Juliet gets in close where the whip is useless and, using the defensive moves Professor Armitage drilled her in and the choreographed attacks Marshal taught her, hits Faith several times until her heartshield is finally torn aside, then gives her a chance to surrender. Faith seems to weaken, and Marcus approaches her, but she then hurls him aside, smashing him through a car windshield, and Juliet stakes her.

 

Dr. Black rebukes the Hellmouth with the power of faith, and it closes up. Walker snickers that it's a good thing THEIR team brought the priest! Dr. Black demurs that he isn't a priest at all, but Walker plain can't see the difference.

 

Meanwhile, in the spirit world, Diligence has previously set his ancestors to work trying to locate Faith's soul and return it to her body, which will make it possible to reason with her. Diligence is a big believer in reasoning with the villains, but recognizes that vampires, being without souls, are inherently unreachable without heroic measures.

 

Between them and the Tunnel of Hands, though, is ANDRAS, a demon prince hired by the Fourth of the Fallen to bar their way. He explains that he won't hurt them unless they try to get past; just head on out of here, says he, and we won't have to get all Uther Pendragon on each other.

 

Diligence has been markedly cool to villains reasoning with him, and with three werewolves on hand, it probably wouldn't have worked anyway. Everyone attacks him, and get thrown in all directions, as he hacks up the wolves with his curved sickle weapon. Billy gets in a good shot with his Assamite dagger, but ANDRAS is still winning, until Billy thinks to fill the Grail with water and splash it on him! This works in spectacular wise, and while ANDRAS is screaming, the werewolves close in and finish him, and then finish the pieces, and then tear them into smaller pieces.

 

Reaching the Tunnel, we find that Orne Peaslee has indeed found Faith's soul, but that for some reason it hasn't returned to its body, nor gone on to another plane of existence. Diligence and Alexandra prepare a summoning spell, calling the Fourth to them, while everyone else stands around ready to pounce. Down from the sky falls a burning throne, and on it sits ASMODEL, the Fourth of the Fallen, sneering over his omnipresent cigarette. He's willing to palaver a bit, since the hard bit's all done and his plan's running on autopilot, but Alexandra, Diligence and Billy are not James Bond villains and don't wait for the explanation; they just attack. The Fourth spreads his four pairs of blood-dripping bat wings, opens his coat to reveal ten pairs of brazen-armored arms, and has at them. Quentin and Bobby C get badly cut up, and everyone is somewhat banged up before Diligence lunges at the Fourth with the Periodic Table of Demons. The Table is constructed of living ink, so that whoever touches the sign of any demon thereon is instantly placed in mental communication with them. So when Diligence slaps the entire bottom half of the chart over the Fourth, he's suddenly wrestling with a majority of Hell's worst princes!

 

The Fourth vanishes, taking the chart with him. A serpent's head with a human mouth, eyeless sockets that weep blood, a furry rill like a squirrel's and scales of chipped green stone remains, regarding them with pitiless patience. This is ZARATHOS, a demon summoned by the Table. Diligence commands him to depart, and he extrudes a long rabbit's tongue and feels Diligence's face, after which he agrees to depart after calling Diligence by name. Diligence worries.

 

In the material world, Julie and company have hurried to the Walled Graveyard in the west. It's on fire, with the ghosts of suicides hanging from trees all over the woods leading up to it; they're harmless, but unnerving. Some predate the Biblical period. Walker feels his pure, clean rage ebbing, invaded by sadness, and that's not good, as only the wild moon-rage can keep him in his powerful wolf form when the full moon isn't there to help. Dr. Black considers taunting the werewolf, but decides against it.

 

Vampires rush out to attack, and they pretty much get dusted in short order, despite their impressive martial arts skills. Dr. Black sees an opening (four heroes, three vamps) and rushes into the Walled Graveyard with his cross and Bible, rebuking the Hellmouth. Once the vamps are gone, Dr. Black calls to his allies, saying he needs help; it's hard to concentrate through the pain of his burns. Walker's about to quip that if faith can move mountains, it should have thought to cool fires, but then Dr. Black seizes Juliet by the throat and takes a bite! He's a vampire now, having fallen into the Hellmouth (or been pulled in) and lost his soul, cross and Bible notwithstanding. The Fourth of the Fallen chuckles in the darkness; the Hellmouth, as an actual physicial channel between the worlds, cares nothing for purity, faith or good intentions, only geometry and gravity. If you're above it, and you have mass, you fall. And Fall.

 

Juliet breaks away from his grasp, slams him off the graveyard wall and finishes him with the stake. Miles points out that she killed the principal, and she says she didn't -- he was already gone. He'd have thanked her.

 

Dr. Black's cross falls out of a human-shaped wisp of smoke, landing at Juliet's feet. But it's Walker who picks it up, and declares,

 

"Hear me, dwellers in darkness. Hear me, craven dogs, cowards, scavengers who fear the light. It is I, a man of the Earth, who rebukes you. Go down, down to the pit that spawned you. Go back, back to the darkness which is your home. You do not deserve my world, of air and water and clean black earth. The merest worm, the smallest germ, the moss and lichen are more powerful than you. You cannot abide my green world, its passion and savor and vitality. The armies of a thousand generations behind me and ten thousand yet to come mock your craven carcasses, dead things, damned things. Through trickery you have come, but to stand on my green Earth for an instant burns you like gall. You cannot win. You cannot stay. Begone."

 

And the Hellmouth closes. Miles grunts, "Guess we still have a priest," which leaves Walker dumbstruck. Also, the effort of closing the Hellmouth has drained him completely, of rage and of strength alike. He can't even stand up, so Miles carries him.

 

On the way to the Hellmouth in the south, centered on the public library, Juliet and Miles pass the Seventh-Day Apostolic Church of the Brethren, which Marshal had characterized as the "best, truest church in town." They leave Walker there, surrounded by townsfolk who drive off vampires with crosses and long poles.

 

Diligence leads the spirit-world contingent back into the real world, near the library. Billy heals the werewolves with the Grail, but every drink he gives them drains some of his own life-force, so he holds back and they're not able to fight. So Alex and Diligence close in, while Billy climbs up on the roof and Juliet and Miles face Marshal on the library steps.

 

Juliet cuts Marshal twice with her Crusader sword, then gets a backhand slash that opens her arm and leg. Doubled over, she lunges, but while she's catching her breath Marshal has turned on Miles and spitted him through the chest. Juliet cuts Marshal, he cuts her, both are barely alive and taking short chops at each other, when Billy reaches the point on the roof right above Marshal. He plans to pour the Grail's waters down on top of him, but suddenly the Fourth of the Fallen is right there behind him on the roof! Billy jumps, falling three stories to land on Marshal with the Grail, and incidentally breaking his neck.

 

Alexandra tries to heal Billy, but her spell won't work on the dead, which Billy now is. But Diligence tries giving him the Grail, which works, although he has to give him his own life instead. Fortunately, the moment Diligence's heart stops, Alexandra can use her spell to heal him, so everyone's alive, although badly worn out.

 

Juliet knocks Marshal out with her sword-hilt, and he fades into nothingness, as he is the opposite of a vampire, a soul without a body. When his mind is knocked out, he has no more shadow on the material world, and disappears to an unknown fate.

 

Diligence tries to use a mind game on the Fourth and asks if heís now the First, and if so, is he claiming to be Lucifer? Diligence holds out his pentacle with all the demonís signs on it; the Fourth says no, Iím not claiming to be the First of the Fallen. Here I am, right here, and points to his own sign. Diligence slips the Yithian ring on the Fourthís finger, allowing one of the Great Race of Yith to invade his body. The Fourth spasms, flips, flops, and fights the creature in his mind, weakening him severely. He overcomes the Yithian, intent on killing Diligence, but by now Juliet is in his way.

 

Juliet is at least half-dead, although a drink from the Grail helps her hold everything together. They duel, with the Fourth being faster but Julie being inspired not only by the Grail but by her dead friends and the others who will surely die if she loses. And inspiration triumphs over matter, with the Fourth's body weakened enough that Alexandra can splash the Grail's waters over him, driving him out of the body. His smoke-like wraith hovers to make a dreadful prophecy, and while he's getting started, Juliet cuts the wraith in two with her sword. The Fourth, sliced in half, falls in pieces into Hell, where his former servants eat the pieces.

 

Having lost Marshal and Dr. Black, the Slayer group gives Miles a sip from the Grail, but it's hard, as they are already starting to forget where the Grail is, as happens after every epic quest in which it is involved. By tomorrow, they won't be able to find it, yet already they don't seem to think it matters very much. And with the air clearing, the Hellmouths extinguished and greater metropolitan Arkham (including the suburban section of Darkwood) saved, perhaps it doesn't matter very much, at that.

 

 

 

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