Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 5, part 2.21

Posted by harmony0stars on February 12, 2010

Climbing to her feet, Glory turned around in a circle, trying to get her bearings. Though she sincerely doubted they’d traveled that far underground, the field reminded her of the Ringing Rocks park of Pennsylvania where she’d once gone on a class trip. There were glacier fields all over the northeast though, so unless there was some weird warp of space time in the tunnels, she didn’t think they’d ended up in another state. Besides, nothing grew in the Ringing Rock fields. The ground was said to be cursed. As barren as the area around the cave entrance was, there was still grass and a few twisted trees poking up through the rocks.

Turning, she saw what could only be the lights of Arkham, barely disguised by the treeline further to the east. Slightly to the left of it, she could see the first blush of sunrise coming. She walked over and sat down between Cindy and the ghoul boy while they waited for the Cinder-man to exit the tunnels. Phoenix was agitated, but he wasn‘t talking. Ignoring him, she said, “We’ll walk till we hit a road. You two can hide in the woods while I go for my car. Then I’ll take you to Sybar City.” She had no way of knowing if the boy even understood her. He sat in the shadow of the boulders, eyeing the coming sunrise with an expression of loathing. She hoped he wouldn’t give her any trouble about getting into the car. Maybe he’d be more comfortable climbing into the trunk…

“No, my daughter…!” Cindy muttered suddenly frantic, rousing herself from her stupor.

“Look, you’re exhausted. You need rest and food. Besides, finding her won’t be easy considering how long she’s been hiding. She may even have made it to Innsmouth on her own. That would explain why Scott hasn’t been able to locate her. I’ll take you to Sybar City. At least I know there are ghouls there, so the boy will hopefully have some place to go, and you’ll have a day or so to recuperate, contact your family in Innsmouth… And I have a foster son who‘ll be leaving for school soon. If I‘m not home by the time he‘s done, well, upset is a mild word for how he‘ll feel.”

Cindy didn’t say anything, but her shoulders slumped in surrender. Scuffling at the crevice made them both look up as the Cinder-man struggled to free himself from the narrow crack. Next to the ghoul, he was probably the thinnest of the group, but he was also the most inflexible, and the tight opening with its unexpected outcroppings was making it difficult. They both winced at the sound of his body scraping against the rock. Someone could have been sliding cardboard or tree bark against the stone, rather than what had once been a human body.

Cindy swallowed, quickly looking away. “It’s disgusting,” she whispered. “We… can’t take that… thing into Sybar City.”

Glory winced, but it was true. Phoenix shifted in her mind, his mood darkening as the Cinder-man finally won free of the murky crevice. He had obviously been hoping his kinsman would not be able to squeeze through the narrow fissure. You are a fool, he hissed at her condemningly.

The Cinder-man turned around and around, finally orienting himself to the South. Then he stood motionless, as if waiting or searching for something. Phoenix did not leave her in suspense of what that might be. If Fomalhaut is above the horizon, Phoenix ranted, he’ll attempt to summon Korvaz here and then you and your little friends will be ash, and I will be dragged back to face my punishment.

“Crap!” she growled, pulling herself to her feet. You couldn’t have warned me of this back when we were still underground? she demanded, but he chose not to respond. Apparently he didn’t feel inclined to give specific warnings until they were ready to bite her in the butt. Maybe it was just that he was unused to communicating in more than dodgy feelings, but Glory was beginning to wonder if he got some perverse pleasure in being a vague portent of doom.

“What? What is it?” Cindy asked anxiously, struggling to get up.

The Cinder-man raised his arms into the air as if preparing to embrace some long lost invisible friend. The crisp autumnal air quickly faded as he began chanting in a barely audible whisper. “You guys run to the trees. It looks like our carbonized friend is about to go nuclear.”

Whether or not he understood her words or simply her tone, the boy took off for the trees like a shot, running on all fours wherever the terrain allowed it. Cindy, stumbled to her feet and tottered off in the same direction, though she had much more difficulty navigating the rock piles in her path.

The Cinder-man seemed completely oblivious to anything but his muttering. As Glory approached, she could hear him wheezing some kind of prayer or spell:

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Korvaz n’gha’ghaa naf’l thagn. Iä! Cthugha! Ch’nog ya stell’bsna Cthugha geb shugg, nog hai mnahn’ gof’n uln. Iä! Cthugha! Iä! Korvaz! Iä!

It sounded ominously similar to the chant Tacita Ruggles had used to summon her child eating toad-god.

Fire, now, she ordered Phoenix as the sweat popped from her skin like broken blisters. Who knew, maybe she was blistering in the intense heat that swiftly filled the rocky depression. The temperature was climbing fast, jumping at least ten degrees a second. It had to be over 100 degrees already. Phoenix did not waste time arguing, swaddling her body in a film of flame. It wasn’t much, but it insulated her from the heat pouring off the Cinder-man. Hopefully her clothing too, as she really didn’t want to jog into Arkham naked.

He was so hot that he rippled like air over tarmac on a hot summer’s day. The small amount of vegetation around the cave entrance had already been reduced to ash, and the tree where Cindy had been sitting less than a minute before was beginning to smoke. Inch by inch, Glory forced her way through the heat, but it had become almost a palpable thing, like a hand trying to shove her away. Even wrapped in her own flame, a desert wind seemed to push her back every time the temperature around the Cinder-man spiked.

Even when she was right on top of him, the Cinder-man paid Glory no heed, chanting the same phrase over and over again. Glory gathered her strength and Phoenix responded, pouring their remaining fire through her hands. They were not even strong enough to form the flames into a sword. Instead, it was more of a bludgeon that struck the Cinder-man between the shoulder blades. As he staggered, she threw her arms around him in a bear hug, screaming and clenching her eyes shut as the heat really did blister her exposed skin.

He weighed next to nothing, little more than an animated shell of charcoal, a swiftly cooling ember that she easily lifted and slammed to the ground. The Cinder-man continued to chant brokenly, but he was weakening even as Phoenix sucked out what little energy remained in his kinsman. As he crumbled beneath her weight, the heat began to fade as well. She held on, even as her brain felt like it was boiling in her skull.

She wasn’t sure how long it took before she regained consciousness. Despite Cindy’s obvious desperation as she tugged at Glory’s shoulder, the woman still gasped in surprise and put her hand over her mouth when Glory sat up on her own and looked around. Wincing, Glory looked down at herself and made an inarticulate cry of agony. It was more mental pain than physical though. Phoenix had drawn enough energy from the Cinder-man to at least insulate her nerve endings as her body healed. Of the Cinder-man there was nothing left but the greasy black ash that coated her clothes and wounds. The rest had drifted away in the frigid autumn wind.

to Book 5, part 3

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