Episode 18: The City of Dark Towers
Thessaly's coma suggests some disturbance in the spirit world, so Walker leads everyone there through the freshening moon. In the garden maze, Diligence finds his grandfather, Nathaniel, who says Moonfang was abducted by Moon-Beasts and taken in the direction of the city of Ulthar, the city that loves cats.
Indeed, on the way to Ulthar we meet Vad Varo, a hero of the spirit realms who knows Princess Thessaly of Tumissa very well. She's quite the hero of the other side, with numerous colorful adventures to her credit, some in company with Vad, some with other heroes, and a good many by herself. Vad has also heard of Julie, the hero of a series of pulp adventure scrolls much in favor among the young, and those young at heart. He vows to accompany Julie's party and find Thessaly, or avenge her fate!
In the spirit realm, the Runestaff is larger, fancier, and has a mirrored ball on its base in whose reflection people's alternative selves can be seen. The alternative Diligence has a beard and a scar, the alternative Julie wears black leather, mirrorshades and black lipstick, and the alternative Vad looks like a shivering ten-year-old boy sleeping under stacks of fresh newspapers.
In Ulthar, Billy offends a city watchman, who explains that he cannot search the Moon-Beasts' jade barge, because whatever occurs on that ship is none of the King's business. He also adds that were someone to board the ship, kill all the Moon-Beasts, free their prisoners and burn the ship to the waterline, that would be none of the King's business, either. Vad Varo needs no further prompting, and leaps aboard!
Turns out the black tentlike awning that kept the Moon-Beasts' huge eyes from the afternoon sun concealed quite a number of these hard-headed, froglike aliens! Vad Varo kills two in two seconds and then some of the others beat him up with their mahogany staves. Walker leaps in and gets beaten down, too, while Juliet takes a baseball-bat swing to the chin and is knocked out! Alex uses a fire spell to set one Moon-Beast alight, while Diligence tries to club one with his pair of newly silvered bolt cutters. Professor Peaslee, his dream-physique enhanced by his intellect and long tenure in the Dreamlands, leaps aboard and drives off the remaining Moon-Beasts, who sink straight to the bottom and waddle away with pouts on their broad, lipless faces.
Thessaly is indeed held in the hold, and says that Moonfang was here, too, but was sold to a fellow from Dylath-Leen, that sinister metropolis at the mouth of the Aa River whose windowless basalt towers perpetually lean together at the tops, as though engaged in whispered conspiracy. Billy wonders, just outside her hearing, why Thessaly has not returned to her body if the Yithian possessing it has left. Professor Peaslee, the local expert on the Great Race of Yith, suggests the Yith may have "left the window open" so he can return later, or possibly there's some other difficulty preventing Thessaly's return. If she was separated from her body at or near infancy, he says, there would be a tremendous tendency for mind and body to rejoin, like a big rubber band stretched out tight. Freeing her from the Moon-Beasts' slavery may have helped; indeed, as a few hours in the material world sometimes feel like weeks in the spirit world, she might be ready to return as soon as her material body naturally wakes up.
Although Diligence is keen on the whole idea of returning to the material world and dealing with what is expected to be a bumper crop of vampires (there are indications that a vampire werewolf -- supposedly an impossibility -- has in fact been created and is running around Arkham), the gang really wants to see if they can spring Moonfang first. So they appropriate the robes and hoods worn by the Moon-Beasts and sail down to Dylath-Leen aboard their jade barge. There, they use the custom of the Men of Leng to use written intermediaries to send a message alleging that they have another werewolf in captivity and would like to sell him to the same fellow who bought Moonfang. A sinister, dwarfish man of Leng replies, telling us to meet him at a particular temple-tower in two hours.
Naturally, our heroes do not wait two hours, nay, not two minutes, but go to the temple straightaway. It's a black ziggurat of semi-transparent stone with silver hair-thin veins running through it, and the house at the top is guarded only by scribes. Vad Varo kills them with his sword and rushes below, where he discovers a very great number of armed guards.
Meanwhile, Julie and Walker are sneaking in the back way, through a river-level entrance meant to be used only at low tide. They open it anyway, flooding the basement, and steam and smoke come up the steps from the sub-basement; they go there and find a smoking urn and three iron cages, containing Moonfang, a glowing lobster-like alien with a transparent armored hide, and another like a praying mantis chattering away volubly in an unknown tongue. Moonfang is in awful shape, with wounds appearing and closing on his skin, as though his material body, and his spirit as well, are being tortured back in the material world. Werewolves are continually in both worlds at once, which means they have no escape from this sort of torment.
They use all their might to break Moonfang out of his cage and hurl it into the urn, from which the burning skull and curling serpentine spine of the demon Zarathos begin to emerge! Oops.
Brawn slays a great number of the guards (Vad Varo turns out to be almost Slayer-level when it comes to swordplay, and Thessaly's pretty good, too!), but not enough. Then Alexandra uses the Runestaff to create the illusion that her friends are all slave traders. As soon as they can break visual contact with their pursuers, they all lie down and pretend to have been knocked aside by that terrible Thessaly, who went down those stairs right there! The guards run down the stairs, and Thessaly locks the door behind them. One thing a slave-trading tower has is lots of locks and doors. They also free a bunch of bald slaves, who turn out to be Yithians who were captured as they fled the year 2002. Apparently, according to their records, something terrible happened to North America in 2002, and the rest of the world in 2003, so they abandoned their bodies and planned to occupy the bodies of members of the beetle race which will succeed mankind 500 million years from now. They don't know what happened, exactly, but it involved Deliverance Dole doing the seemingly impossible and turning a werewolf into a vampire. The turned werewolf can no longer travel to the spirit world, but is nigh-unbeatable in the material plane. One of the slaves is the Yithian who was occupying Thessaly's body; he confirms it's now free for her to return.
So the Thessaly-Vad-Diligence-Alex-Peaslee-Billy team arrives in the basement just as Walker and Julie and Moonfang are running up the stairs away from Zarathos. They start getting people up to the boat outside, but Zarathos is upon them before everyone's away, and exposes Juliet, Alex and Billy to the Dread Word of Oblivion. From his lips explode forty black arrows of darkness, which spear through their minds and leave them twitching on the stone floor. Walker gets a bite of Zarathos, whose demon blood burns his mouth like acidic liquor, hurting him worse than the bite hurt Zarathos, and collapses, though still snapping at his enemy.
Diligence uses the Spell of Deferred Eventuation to freeze Zarathos' head in time -- not the rest of his body, just his head -- and kicks him out into the canals beyond. The water starts to bubble, then boil, almost at once. Billy tries to do first aid on Moonfang, but Moonfang's body flickers and disappears in patches, a piece at a time, until he's gone. Professor Peaslee suggests that if Dole was torturing Moonfang the same way he did before, he might finally have succeeded in turning him into a vampire, as the Yithians predicted. In which case, Moonfang's spirit-self would disappear. But it's only a theory, and Billy refuses to believe it until and unless he has to.
Everyone else is packed aboard the Moon-Beasts' ship, which sets sail, and leaves Dylath-Leen just before Zarathos escapes from his time-stasis and vents his rage on random bystanders. Walker manages to drag the whole team and part of their ship through the mirrors in the ladies' room of the Miskatonic Chemistry Building, then passes out from the strain.
And in another room of the hospital, Thessaly Soros wakes up. She can't stand, yet, but can talk and see her surroundings, and is thrilled with how detailed and exotic everything is -- nylon-covered furniture, institutional gray walls, linoleum flooring with little gold sparks and black veins running through its cream-colored glossy surface -- this is truly a world of marvels and glories!
Julie calls Chicago and gets the police to find Billy Hudson, an orphan paperboy who sleeps under discarded bundles of yesterday's paper. She suggests Dr. Armitage might want to adopt him, but someone else suggests Diligence's family (mind-exploring Dad and hippie Mom) might find him perfectly normal. We'll see ...