“Archrhyder… for everything that my life has thrown at me, never have I heard about such creature. A teleporting one, even… I have no advice for you, gentlemen. This one is all yours.”
Pat was thinking.
“That’s one mystery down, I guess… But another is still up. Sweet Lady has told me what happened to her and the island, but there are some details missing.”
Ghost nodded and removed legs from the table. Lady Fox’s expression became intense.
“As I told your companion, it just happened one night. The workers have already left to sleep, as did we. No one expected anything to go wrong. Then news came that someone didn’t come back from the mine. That has never happened before, outside of small incidents during the shift. I send two of my bodyguards and five guards on a rescue mission. None of them came back. I was asleep by then, and only learned about it from the head brigadier. And while we were discussing our next action, mansion was attacked by… something. Shades of some kind. Ghosts, if you will, not the ones like me, but more… alien. I have only seen one up close…”
Lade Edna closed her eyes. She was shacking.
“I… I have never seen anything like that. It was something purple, with black on the outside… walking like human, slowly…”
She shook her head.
“My bodyguard was standing close to it, he tried to hit it with a sword. But then he fell down and was clutching his throat. The second one met the same fate. And me too… When I inhaled, I was burning me from the inside. It was… a very agonizing death.”
She was shuddering, hugging herself. Irfan tried to gently pat her on the shoulder, but his hand went right through.
Joseph still had a lot of questions.
“What about the forest? You haven’t seen the beast, but do you have any clue why this land feels like the dead were dancing a parade right down there?”
The corners of her lips slightly went up. She stood up.
“I have a good idea. There is a chance that the forest was destroyed by the mine.”
“What kind of mine could kill an entire ecosystem?”
Lady Edna hesitated. She was preparing to give an answer, but then closed her mouth.
While she was gathering her thoughts, Pat looked outside. He turned around. His expression didn't promise anything good.
“We have a crowd outside!”
Irfan and Joe dashed to the window. In the moonlight they saw human silhouettes, slowly walking towards the mansion from the far side of the square. They weren’t armed.
These figures creeped Joseph out, when he realised just how unnatural their movements were - not a stumbling, bobbling, weight-shifting walk, but the straight and static, almost floating one. They were moving their legs, but they clearly had no need for them.
And all of them were going straight for the mansion.
Shots rang out through the stillness of the night.
Not a single figure fell.
“Bullets are useless! Shit, now what?!”
Neither of them had any answer. The crowd was slowly, but surely crossing the fence line.
Joseph pulled out the shrapnel bomb.
“Well, if that doesn’t work…”
He pulled a pin and threw it as far as he could.
He didn’t quite reach the middle of the crowd, as the garden between them and shades was huge. The bomb landed right at the front of them.
The explosion sound cut through the night air like a thunder.
“My garden! You scoundrels!!”
“Lady, better the dead garden, then us!”
She scowled, but kept her answer to herself.
Smoke has cleared. Bomb was somewhat effective, as the crowd now had a small gap in front. None of the figures expressed any concern, silently closing in.
Joseph could see them better now. Wavy, purple-blue human shaped shades with a black outline. Smoke was coming from them, same color as the outline. Same color as the substance back then.
“Do you have any torches?!” Pat was shouting to the Lady.
She was startled, but managed to answer.
“Storage, on the other side of the floor…”
Irfan sprinted out of the room before Pat even turned around.
Joseph desperately pulled the liquid fire bomb and tossed it right into the middle of the crowd, that was already approaching the entrance.
It was the best mistake of his life.
The hell itself erupted in front of the mansion. The resulting explosion shattered all windows on the front side. Joseph was completely deafened and collapsed to the floor. Pat was swearing, forgetting any clever words from his vocabulary. The entire building was shacking, vibrating right down to the core.
“What the hell just happened?!”
“No… clue… what did you even do?!..”
Joseph leaned on the wall and, wincing because of still ringing head, looked outside.
Not a single shade was there. Instead, the land in the garden was deformed by a chain of huge craters, going all the way to the fence. The beautiful chiseled stone stairs were reduced to a mere dust.
Despite the situation, the sight of the carnage he brought upon this land has inspired Joseph.
“The fire! They explode from a fire! And blasts of air too!”
Doctor crawled to the window and glanced outside.
“Void devour me… what a ruin… That was only one bomb, right?”
“We should get something ranged then. If the explosion is this powerful, we have no chance at close distance.”
“You send Irfan for torches, did you not?’
“Yes, and he didn’t come back yet.”
The familiar voice grumbled from behind them.
“Lies. I was back when you got the entire building shacking like a hoe on a winter day. Got you some torches. Seems like they will be handy as a throwing weapon.”
Six of them, made out of metal with wicks on the inside. Pat looked disappointed.
“Wooden open torches would work much better, but I guess we have to make them ourselves. Thanks for delivering, Irfan.”
Hunter nodded, acknowledging doctor’s gratitude. Pat took his backpack off and rummaged through it, before pulling out a familiar item. He then used it to light three torches.
Joseph’s mind went back to the brick shack. A reckless idea has formed.
“Remind me, Pat, Irfan - next time we go back to that brick shack, I want to try something out. I will need the lighter, too.”
His companions exchanged glances.
“Of course, but what is the idea?”
“Oh, I just saw one device back there…”
“Would you like to tell me? We are fighting for our lives right now, and you’re keeping secrets from me?!”
He had a point.
“Sorry, Pat. It might not work in the first place. Basically, it we manage to get it to work, we might be able to turn lighter into a weapon against those things.”
Doctor lift the lighter up to his eyes and looked at it.
“This thing? Alright, I hope you know what you are doing…”
No, he wasn’t. But Joe was going to try anyway.
The night was not over just yet.
“More of them! Less in quantity, though.”
Irfan stood up. He was holding a long piece of wood in his hands, enveloped in cloth. And in the other hand he was holding his new improvised weapon.
Joseph was shocked.
“I still can’t believe you’ve managed to craft the bow out of piece of metal and strings of an instrument. And make it work.”
“Humans are not strong enough for that.” Hunter put a torch on a bow as an arrow and concentrated. “You can’t bend a piece of thick metal like arid can. Maybe you can if you are Xander.”
The shades were gathering in front of a destroyed gate.
“You said all of them blew up?”
“Yes - so wait for a bit.”
Few shades were already inside the garden, walking among the craters.
“Light it up!”
Pat pulled a trigger on a lighter. Irfan let the string go.
Flaming piece of wood cut through the air, impaling a shadowy parody of a human. The firework afterwards was quite a sight. Joseph wished he had his phone with him.
“We can do this as long as we have wood. Any more stools or chairs around?”
“Ah, sure, destroy my property all you like.” Lady Edna was pouting. It was quite adorable, but there was nothing Joseph could have done about the damage they were causing to the mansion. But he could try to get her to cooperate.
“Lady Edna, I am very, very sorry about the damage to your estate, but if any of them gets inside, then the garden will not be the only area that resembles a war zone. You saw the damage they cause. What do you think happens if one of them gets to the hall and blows up? Or three of them? Or twenty? You know the result yourself.”
Ghost crossed her hands on a chest.
“You could leave and fight them outside.”
“If we do that, then we attract the Archrhyder to the estate itself. I am pretty sure this beast was the one who ripped your front gate off its hinges. Imagine what it does when it gets inside to look for food, for water… especially with the dead forest around.”
Lady Edna frowned. It was clear that words of Joseph were getting to her.
“There is no guarantee, young man, that the beast or those abominations will enter the interior of the mansion. I do not appreciate your attempts to ruin it to the ground.”
Joseph was looking for solution. Something. Anything!
“Then what about your husband Alexander?”
Ghost raised her eyebrows.
“If we survive, we can send your husband a message. You are married and he didn’t send a rescue, right? So he has no idea what happened to… you…”
As he was talking, Joseph realised that his train of thought could spit out a completely different conclusion, depending on a person.
And he was right.
Lady Edna floated right to his face, and grabbed his shoulders. It felt surprisingly normal, like any human’s touch.
“My husband left me five years ago, when his dear daddy sold me this land! He promised me that we will leave prosperously on this beautiful land, he promised me riches and family! He sold me out, abandoned me here, and still… still…”
She suddenly released Joe, turned around and fell down onto the chair.
“And still… Still I got riches from it. That part was true. What wasn’t true is this… thing… in the mines. Jack was calling it some sort of gas. That’s not what a gas can do. Gas can’t destroy an entire island. Can it?”
Joseph only shook his head. If Lady Edna only saw what his world’s weapons were capable of…
But then he repeated the name is his mind. Could it be…
“How did that Jack look?”
She lifted her tired eyes.
“I am sorry?”
“This Jack. Who was he? How did he look?”
The explosion rang out on the background. Pat brought some more stools and they were counting the number of shades destroyed.
“Twenty one! We are doing great! Irfan!”
“I love me some fires tonight.”
They both high-fived.
Joseph turned back to Lady.
“Jack was a researcher. Hektor sent him with me. Told me to rely on him, that he will do everything himself and I only needed to listen to him. Well, what do you know, his first request was to build a concrete wall on a shore to cover our side of the river! Along the entire length!! Did he even realise how much money that would take?! We were extremely lucky, that we found a quarry in the north and excavated most of necessary materials for a concrete from it. If it wasn’t for that quarry, I would have sent him back post-haste! But as much as it pains me to admit, seeing what happened in the next few years, after all and any preparations were already done, he knew what he was doing. The forest was corrupted, then animals started dying all around us. Then the night attack followed.”
Concrete wall to block off the river?… They have never seen a river. But he still had the second question unanswered.