Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 5, part 2.19

Posted by harmony0stars on February 8, 2010

“No!” Glory shouted, scrambling to her feet and launching herself towards the retreating mass. Now that it had a morsel to chew on, it seemed content to let the others pass. Unfortunately for it, Glory wasn’t willing to sacrifice even one of their group after making so much effort to free them all, not that she had any idea of how she might retrieve the cinder-man, if there was even any of him left. On the other hand, she couldn’t just abandon him. If he hadn’t come up behind her, the black slime could just as easily have swallowed her instead.

As she rushed after the creature, she tripped on the uneven flooring. Instinctively, she threw her hands in front of herself as she fell face first towards the quivering, gelid thing. Even as her hands struck the oozing creature, it seemed to flee from the fire licking her fingers. As rapidly as the spawn withdrew from her touch though, it still felt as if her hands were sinking into cold mud, squishing between her fingers and under her nails. Phoenix did not care for the sensation at all and that made two of them, but he greedily lashed out with his flames, consuming every organic bit that did not escape her touch rapidly enough. Despite the creature’s wet, acidic surface, phoenix’s fire hurt it and even prevented it from burning her. Slowed by the creature’s mass, she hit the ground with barely a sense of impact, despite the speed at which she’d been falling.

The spawn continued to retreat as she hurriedly climbed to her feet, but it didn’t go far. The thing attempted to slide into a hole large enough to be a side passage. Before it had even gotten halfway through, it paused and began to shudder. For a moment, even as large blue-black boils began to dot its skin, it seemed that it was still trying to retreat. As the thing swelled and twitched in rage or pain, Glory remembering the heat that had consumed every last bit of Sean. She only had time to duck and cover before the black slime exploded, spattering everything around it like a water balloon full of black ink.

Glory yelped as the gunk spattered her arms and head, searing away bits of her skin and hair even though Phoenix quickly consumed it. She stood, hastily ripping the tattered fabric from her arms to save herself any more icy burns. Even though they healed quickly, they still hurt. It was a good thing she’d ducked or else her wardrobe might have proven awkward once they finally got above ground. Between her tattered shirt and jeans and the black soot that smeared her arms and face, she already looked as if she’d been through a war. Checking the tarnkappe, she was relieved to find no obvious holes, though she’d have to examine it better in the light.

Phoenix was in a nasty mood as the Cinder-man exited the hole down which the spawn had dragged him. He seemed to be moving easier, even if he still looked as if he’d barely made it out of a crematorium with his ash intact. Most of the tarry creature had been consumed by his heat, though the bits nearest him still smoked. This only ticked Phoenix off however, since he’d been hoping to kill it himself and restore some of his tapped out energies. Glory refrained from telling him that his kinsman needed it more, but she wondered about the men who had carried him before her. If he had absorbed their personalities as he said, then had they really been so universally selfish? Luckily he was too incensed to pick up on her inner musings.

The others approached from the far end of the tunnel even as the flames licking Glory’s fingers faded and began to die. “Step carefully,” she warned them as the shadows depended. Keep up the light as long as you can, she told Phoenix, receiving only his wordless irritation in response.

“I don’t think it’s dead,” she announced more sharply as the ghoul approached one of the puddles, nose first. “It’s just regrouping.” The surviving bits of black muck were sliding down the walls and bits that were only inches apart somehow knew enough to find one another. It was only a matter of time before it regrouped enough of itself, much diminished but ready to look for more trouble. Hopefully they would be long gone by then, saving the thing the choice of whether to follow, or retreat to wherever it laired and lick its wounds.

“There’s another passage there,” Mrs Jacoby announced, pointing towards the Cinder-man with a trembling hand. “Sh- should we try that one?”

Ehecatl looked at her with disdain. “If the spawn was using it, then it can only lead deeper, probably to a temple of Tsathoggua,” he practically sneered. “You think one of his spawn are bad, you don’t want to find one of his temples.”

“Well I’m sorry!” the woman spat in an aggravated voice. “The closest I ever came to caverns were the sea caves on Devil’s Reef! I only knew about shoggoths because my grandfather went to Antarctica once!”

“It’s alright, Mrs Jacoby,” Glory said gently, stepping over the puddles of trembling tar. “I wouldn’t have even known what a shoggoth was, let alone a spawn. I was considering the same question before you asked it.”

Somewhat mollified, the woman said with shy embarrassment, “You can call me Cindy. I’m sorry. I should have said before now.” She daintily avoided the puddles as she picked her way past the newly formed bog of acidic slime.

Glory picked up crystals as she found them, but most of them had disappeared into the surrounding gloom. The ghoul scampered through the puddles fearlessly, pausing here and there, but somehow managing to avoid putting his foot in any of the black ichor. He stopped before Glory, startling her by depositing three crystals into her hands before trotting off into the dark tunnel as blithely as any child, apparently comfortable in the blackness now that they’d passed the spawn. Glory hoped that meant there was nothing else waiting for them. Still weak with exhaustion, Cindy offered some of her crystals to Glory as she leaned on her for support. Ehecatl scooped Chusi up into his arms and carried her over any danger. The Cinder-man did not move until they had all passed the scene of their battle, then he followed after at his customary slow and steady pace.

to Book 5, part 2, page 19

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