The city’s buildings are shattered and crumbling. Bodies lie everywhere, and slavering feral dogs prowl the streets. Distant choruses of screams seem to suggest that these dead are the fortunate ones. Fire is everywhere; consuming the buildings, guttering out of open manholes, rippling the sky, painting the city blood red.
There’s more. But Mark blanks it out.
“Mister! Hey! Wake up!”
The vision fades—mostly. It’s dark. It’s foggy. Things are lit by a faint, flickering red light. There’s a tall, athletic, light-haired man in a black sweater slapping Mark gently on the cheek. He seems to be an architect, for some reason; maybe the black cylinder slung across his back holds blueprints.
“Is this him, Cassie?” He seems to be talking to someone else.
“I don’t know,” comes a reply; a woman’s voice, with an old world accent. Her face leans into view; she’s got long black hair in ringlets. “There’s nobody else here, and this is where I lost track of him.”
“How could you have lost track?”
“I don’t know. It’s never happened before.”
The man turns his attention back to Mark. “The Rabbi sent us. Does that mean anything to you?”
Mark seems to be lying on the ramp leading into the Weaver building. He is still transformed. The building’s walls seem to flicker when you don’t look directly at them—flicker faintly, like fire. Thick mist blocks the view even as far as the street. But far, almost directly overhead, there seems to be an irregular flashing light; purpleish-white, almost like lightning, but the only thunder is an ominous shuddering in your bones.
Mark groggily thinks, “A creep who just looks at you, and clobbers your soul. Wonderful. Gotta pull yourself together. It’s not good for the image.”
Out loud: “The Rabbi? Perhaps. Do you see that light up there?” He points towards the irregular flashing light.
The man looks up. “Oh. That’s not good.”
“Third, maybe fourth order ectoplasmic energy,” says the woman. “I think we’re in the right place.”
“Look, mister,” the man says, polite but anxious. “I’m Arthur, this is Cassie. The Rabbi sent us after a man going up against an entity who’s probably trying to break the plane during tonight’s conjunction. He thought the man might need help. We’ve been searching all evening. Did he mean you? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?”
Mark: “Yes, that would be me. While not looking like much more than a disheveled man, with one glance he seemed to send my soul screaming into Hell. I presume he’s the one we’re looking for. I believe he went inside.” Mark stands up and faces the building.
“Fifth order,” says Cassie. She swallows, hard. Then “Arthur! Look out!” and a heavy thump-crunch sound.
Turning around, Mark sees Arthur under the paws of one of the two stone lions, now somehow come to life. The other leaps for Cassie, but she steps out of the way, almost absently.
Mark steps up to the stone lion pinning Arthur and swings! It’s like hitting a rock, but the lion’s head snaps back. It shakes its head and paws at its nose.
Arthur takes advantage of the distraction to get a leg between him and the stone lion. He heaves, and the lion lifts just enough for Arthur to roll out of its grasp. He comes up standing, and the architect’s tube rolls away, leaving him holding a long, bejeweled sword.
The other lion pounces at Cassie again, and she absently steps aside. She swings at it with an outflung fist, but doesn’t seem to have any effect on it.
“Thanks, mister,” he says. “I owe you one. Now let’s teach these cats a lesson!”
The three humans stand side by side between the lions and the door. The lion you attacked has shaken off its disorientation, and they are both sizing up their prey.
One leaps at Mark, the other at Cassie. Mark connects to the jaw while Arthur cuts deep into its stone shoulder and rebar tendons. The lion goes down. Cassie avoids the the other one with typical awkward grace, and it lands, barring the way to the door.
The arcs of the Spirit Sign spin and lock into the Sign of Light, pulsing red and gray. As the lion leaps again, red and gray energy bursts from the sign, but the burst misses and splashes against the glass doors. Arthur chops a chunk out of the lion’s foreleg, but it knocks Arthur with a heavy paw, spinning him around. The sword drops to the ground with a clatter, followed by a splash of blood. Cassie steps to Arthur’s side, touching him on the shoulder. Her ring glows a gentle green.
“I’ve stopped the bleeding, but he’s stunned for a second. Distract that lion!”
Mark steps up and plants one on the lions nose. Snarling, it clamps its teeth on Mark’s shoulder. The teeth don’t pierce his magic aura, but force of the bite shakes him up a bit.
Arthur recovers his balance, and Cassie touches Mark with her ring, restoring him. The active lion looks rather strained and cracked.
Mark gives the lion a left to go with the last right. He slips on the misty pavement, but connects anyway. The lion falls under his brutal pummeling.
“Take this, foul demonspawn!” Arthur picks up his sword and drives it between the lion’s shoulderblades. “Well fought, my friend!”
“No time for that,” says Cassie. “We have to get to the top. It’s getting close to midnight.”
Arthur retrieves the fallen cylinder that was carrying his sword and straps it to his back. He gives one end of the cylinder an odd twist. With a clatter, bright metal pieces appear fasten themselves on various parts of his body; gauntlets, elbow, knee, and shoulder pads, breastplate, greaves. “Much better,” he says.
A wide hallway leads from the outer doors to the main lobby of the Weaver building. The lobby is a round room located at the center. It is a vaulted study in brass and marble, with gargoyle faces in unexpected places. The floor is a mosaic of abstract yet slightly disturbing patterns. Passages lead off northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest, presumably to the outer towers. Between these four passages are four elevators to the north, south, east and west.
“What do you think, Cassie?” says Arthur. “Elevators? or stairs?” There are doors around the corner from each elevator that presumably lead to stairs.
“Hmm.” Cassie concentrates a moment. “Elevators are faster and it is a long way to the roof, but I sense that the stairs are safer. Either way, the outcome is uncertain. We may die in the elevator, or take the stairs and be perhaps be too late.”
“What do you think, Mister…um…mister? I’m for risking the elevator.”
Elevators again. Great. The spirit of justice imbued in Mark says, “Danger should not deter us from thwarting evil. Let us take risks to ensure we arrive on time.”
Mark adds, “It would be nice to have a plan in case the elevator falls while we’re in it, though.”
There are eight passages leading from the lobby. Four broad passages lead in the cardinal directions to main doorways on Elm, Hudson 6th, and 7th. Four narrower ones lead to the four corner towers. The eight elevators are on the walls between each pair of adjacent passages.
Arthur pushes the call button on the nearest elevator. Cassie taps her chin, thinking.
“Plan for the elevator falling…I wonder whether we could stand on—”
There is a sudden sound of glass shattering and metal tearing. Animal roars echo through the lobby. From each of the passages leading from the main entrances on 6th, 7th, and Hudson, two more stone lions burst into the lobby.
Six snarling lions face the Gatekeepers.
The elevator door opens. Arthur shoves Mark through the door into the elevator. “Go! We’ll hold them off!”
Mark presses the button for the top floor. He’s not particularly happy about it though.
As the doors close Mark turns and pushes the button for the top floor. He’s not particularly happy about it thought. He briefly sees Arthur and Cassie swarmed by the lions, then hears grinding shrieks of metal on stone and stone on metal, roars, and thuds against the door. But the car goes up.
The elevator is a fairly typical if high class model, all brass and black marble tile. Tiny faces reminiscent of the gargoyles in the lobby appear on some of the fixturing. Their eyes follow Mark—except when he looks at them, in which case they’re just normal inanimate objects. As the noises of fighting quickly fade, the elevator music continues to play. It might be slightly out of tune.
In any case, there is clearly a hint of evil. Not exactly surprising.
Mark punches the ceiling emergency hatch off its bolts. The clanking and the creaking of the elevator machinery is louder now, with a subliminal suggestion of shrieks and moans beneath it.
The elevator passes the tenth floor, on it’s way up to the 70th.
Mark hears a faint sound of metal scraping rhythmically against metal in the space above the escape hatch, like a file, or a hacksaw. The sound doesn’t seem to be getting any closer as the elevator rises.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I wonder why elevators don’t like me?
Mark jumps up out of the elevator to see what might be cutting through the elevator cable.
It’s dark up here, in the elevator shaft—except for a dim, red light emanating from nowhere. Guided by the rasping sound, you see a black shape about 25’ up the elevator cable. The shape suggests a small, gnarled, evil monkey, dead black in the dimness, clinging to the cable, busily sawing away with some kind of tool. Small sparks occasionally fly from where he’s working.
I thought gremlins were supposed to attack airplanes, not elevators.
Mark shifts the Spirit Sign to the Sign of Pain sending waves of pain into the little creature. The Sign and Mark’s eyes flash red and green in a machine gun staccato. The creature’s body is outlined in flashing green and red. It shrieks—a monkey-like shriek, with bass undertones and a touch of reverb—and drops to the elevator roof.
Its body remains a twisted, humanoid silhouette about 2 feet tall, dead black except for its yellow eyegashes and needle teeth. It is carrying what looks like a perfectly normal metal file, about a foot long and covered in rust.
Mark will run up to it and punch the thing into the wall of the elevator shaft!
Here’s the snap…the set…the impact of Mark’s foot releases a small cloud of smoke; it feels like kicking a body of soft, black flour, or soot. The creature smashes into the wall (not that far away; you can just about stretch out and touch the elevator shaft walls on each side) in another burst of soot. It drops, disappearing into the gap between elevator and shaft. The rusty file clatters away.
The shaft continues to flow down from the darkness overhead. Unheard cries and screams echo through the bones of the building. Shadows play cruel games just out of eyeshot.
With a sharp rumble the building shakes. The tremor passes. The malevolent darkness stares at the living intruder, watching as the floor numbers slide by.
Then from above comes a deep, raging bellow, full of dissonant overtones and infernal reverb. The darkness seems to spit out two hulking forms, which drop and crash onto the elevator roof. They seem
similar to the small creature, but are as tall as a person and thick in proportion. Yellow gashes in what must be their faces stand in for eyes, and when they howl their needle-sharp teeth are plain to see. Otherwise they are gnarled black humanoid silhouettes against the dim shaft walls.
Mark decides to fight a little more defensively, being outnumbered.
He sends a right jab to the face of the nearest abomination ns hits it square, but it somehow seems to shift under his fist, like he was punching loose soot. Still, the fist connects and bounces the creature off the elevator shaft wall. It manages to keep its feet and retaliates!
Mark ducks under the first creatures unnaturally large fist, and steps away from the second’s.
Mark’s next puncjh grazes the sooty beast. It stumbles and bounces off the wall a little. It’s not very fazed.
They try to mangle Mark again with their fearsome black fists but still can’t seem to connect.
This is taking too long. These things keep popping back up like a fighter who doesn’t know how to quit. What can I do to speed up the process? I could blind them, but I’m already connecting with them enough, and they’re not hitting me. The sign of pain? That doesn’t do much, usually. They’re shadowy; maybe they’re hurt by light? It’s worth a try.
Mark shifts the circles of the Spirit Sign spin to the Sign of Light. Red and gray flames erupt from Mark’s eyes, briefly illuminating the elevator shaft. The shadows of the violent creatures are as absolute black as their bodies.
The black and red flames tunnel into one of the creature’s eyes. It claws at them, screeching its echoing bellow. It seems to be a bellow of rage rather than pain, as near as Mark can tell.
One of the beasts attacks with characteristic fury. Its smoky fist thuds against Mark’s magically reinforced trench coat with a puff of soot. The blinded one flails at random, easily avoided.
Mark hits something other than smoke; something that feels thin and bonelike cracks under his punch. The creature’s eyes flash, and it groans in an echoing, multiharmonic voice. It seems unbalanced.
Mark follows up with a right cross and the creature falls to the roof of the elevator. The second creature flies into a rage! His eyes glow bright red and his fists seem to double in size. The massive smoky fist blurs by as Mark ducks under it.
The elevator is continuing to move. Between the dim light and the violence, it’s hard to read the floor numbers, but Mark guesses he’s somewhere between 30 and 60.
Mark stamps at the wounded, fallen creature. His foot scatters the creature’s body as if stomping on a bag of soft, black flour, leaving only a sparse skeleton of splintered bone. Mark barely steps to the side in time to avoid the other creature’s enlarged fist.
Mark winds up—-and connects with a giant roundhouse! He feels splintering under his fist and is briefly blinded by the cloud of smoke. The creature is laid out flat on the elevator roof. A sharp follow-up kick leaves nothing but an evaporating cloud and scattered brittle bones.
Mark takes a breath in the suddenly quiet elevator shaft. He sees floor 63 go past. The elevator still seems to be rising steadily. He looks up to the top, but sees only darkness.
As his heart stops pounding from adrenaline, he hears a rhythmic muttering, each delicate echoing chitter similar to, but not exactly like, the last. As if someone were counting the floors in a blasphemous tongue.
Mark looks up again. A dozen small glowing eyes look back, clustered around the elevator cable about 20 feet up. Six shiny new hacksaws appear, held by small black hands. Six spine-toothed grins cackle out chalkboard-scrape laughter.
These things just don’t stop coming. And how do I stop six of them at once? Maybe it’s time to pull out the sign of motion …
The Spirit Sign spins and realigns to the Sign of Motion. Ghostly, blue-gray whorls form from its aura and reach. The spinning shapes reach out and pluck a gremlin from the elevator cable. They slam the gremlin against one of the others still clinging on. There’s a double squeak and a puff of sooty smoke. One gremlin falls to the elevator roof.
A deafening elevenfold high-pitched shriek erupts, unearthly toothy screeches in disharmony with triumphant metal-on-metal screams. Red sparks shower as sawblades bite and chew metal with blurred diabolic speed.
Almost in slow motion, the cable parts in five places. The titanic backsnap flicks the gremlins against the shaft walls, scattering them into five clouds of black dust and twigs. Twenty feet of cable twists free in the air.
Mark feels the weight leave his body as the roof drops beneath him. He notices with the sharp senses of the doomed the number 69 on the elevator shaft wall.
The gremlins had waited until almost the last floor.