What Lies Beneath
At the apex of Deadbeat Sky’s extendable staircase, before the door flanked on either side by armored angels, a familiar figure reclined in what was unmistakably a fold-out chair.
While made of period materials, chiefly wood and leather, its construction spoke of a hint from the far-flung future, at least as far as the more medieval-themed Armada was concerned. If the furniture’s style suggested any sort of incongruity, however, its occupant seemed unaware. Clad in leather, bandages, a poncho, and his signature wide-brimmed hat, Mr. Solomon Screed embodied everything stylish –or, perhaps, quaint- about the Wild West. This, of course, made for yet another anachronism, not that the mummified gunman seemed to care.
When Lily, Brucie, and their doggy companion approached, he rose from his comfortable portable to give his master’s guests a bow. “G’mornin’,” he greeted, his voice rather less raspy than how the others might remember. A half-full mug of black liquid situated beneath his chair provided the reason why. “Ah hope, even in this here dismal cavern, yew lot slept well through the night.” Straightening up, he moved to the side, dragging the chair out of the way as he did. “I.O. and Egon are en route. As for Marotte…”
The mummy’s cracked lips broke into a smile, then began to change. Screed’s entire body shifted, not with a flash of magic or puff of smoke, but in a rather horrifically organic matter. Bandages unwrapped themselves, becoming tendrils that then receded; his hat shrunk and thickened, sliding down over his face as its top gathered together into an uncanny mockery of human features. Bright colors appeared as seams split apart to reveal eyes, and in another second a gaudy jester of flesh stood before Lily.
After the speedy transformation finished, the creature took yet another bow, though one more reminiscent of a performer than a servant. ” I̸ ̷am̀ here, M̡ada͠m̶e̸, to̶ ͏fight ͘at y̕o͟ur̨ ͘sid́e.”
A moment later, the ground began to shake. From the rightmost of the five paths leading out from the main door, a colossal, bipedal stag beetle approached, his shell a brilliant metallic green that sent motes of light rippling off the walls. A gray beard stretched down from the bottom of his greathorned helmet, overlooked by round, friendly black eyes. Around him a thick eddy of smoke swirled, and as the titan came near the fumes resolved them into the shape of a diminutive, besuited specter.
The brawny bug spoke first. “Hello, Ms. Lily,” he rumbled. “I am Immovable Object, but please call me I.O. I look forward to lending you my strength.”
“Ya know who I am.” Egon took a deep breath through his cigar, then puffed out a plume of smoke that molded itself into accusatory finger at Marotte. “But you oughta know betta than to pull off some kinda stunt like that wit’ some ‘n who don’t trust us yet.” His smoldering, fiery eyes regarded Lily’s trio. “So what’ll it be, chief?” The other two joined the ash specter in gazing expectantly at Lily, ready to proceed at her command.
Beneath a nigh-cloudless sky, tousled by a cool breeze, stroked by the morning sun’s gentle rays, Oldtown was at peace. One could almost forget the lethal, ongoing trial-by-combat and the ominous mystique that permeated it, but like a stormy horizon it lay in the distance, threatening to surge in and wash the City away.
Though brimming with optimistic hope, Runch’s inquiry went unanswered by the limp knight. Still, his heart beat on, pumping blood throughout the body restored by the pirate’s supernatural cereal. Even the impression left in the side of his head behind the temple appeared to be mended, and the ripped flesh on his ear scabbed over. When Runch checked his former opponent’s eyes, he found no glaze in their murky brown depths, yet still something about them troubled him. When had he opened the Knight Sylvestre’s eyes?
A few moments passed before those inexplicably open peepers fell closed, then opened again with conscious slowness.