They arrived back at the winery nice and early. Too early in fact; the winery wasn’t scheduled to open for a solid hour after they got there.
“Think we should just head on out?” Jenny suggested. There was no one else even parked at the winery. Granted, serving only sandwiches, wine, and cheese meant they didn’t have to do much so far as setting up.
Andi considered. She didn’t want to head out there without Laura. Just in case they didn’t find anything demonic, the situation was going to be all sorts of awkward. But on the other hand, if Laura wasn’t here, they didn’t have to figure out how to get her to look the other way when they just walked through the walls…
“Let’s do it.”
The shed looked exactly the same as it had the day before. They couldn’t tell any better today if the lights were on or if anyone was home than they could the day before. The door was still shut, the windows still blacked out.
“Want to try knocking?” Andi asked.
She thought that Jenny would pick up on the smile in her voice, but the momentary glare she got was certainly evidence to the contrary. She smoothed her expression out quickly enough, but if Andi hadn’t known her for years, that expression would have been downright terrifying.
“Thought not,” she said. “The mirror then?”
Jenny nodded then, her face still carefully smooth.
Andi thought about confronting her, but it just wasn’t worth it. Not at the moment. If they were going to break into the shed before Laura showed up, they were going to have to do it soon. She pulled out the mirror.
Just as it had the day before, the surface of the mirror wavered and shifted back to solid. She was looking down at the ground as she did it and felt herself start to tip forward with an intense sense of vertigo.
Looking through the mirror, the ground seemed to vanish. In many directions, there just wasn’t anything deep below and after some unknown amount of distance her sight just went dark and she couldn’t see anything more. But down directly underneath the shed, she could see a vast underground complex.
“What in the world…”
She couldn’t see into any of the rooms, but she could see a smooth central shaft descending into the earth. Deep down into the ground, there was a layer of blocky rooms, linked together in a series of short radial hallways. From her vantage point, she couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like there were at least three or four stories of rooms down there.
“What do you see?”
She’d honestly forgotten that Jenny was standing there right next to her and that she didn’t have the benefit of the mirror to look through the soil beneath their feet.
Without a word, she handed over the mirror.
Taking it hesitantly, Jenny gave Andi a strange expression, then looked down. After a moment, she whistled softly.
“What did we get ourselves into?”
Andi was asking herself the very same question.
Both were looking down–even though Andi could no longer see through the ground, she still knew what was down there now; she couldn’t very well unsee it–when suddenly a voice came from right behind them.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to see you again.”
Andi spun, seeing Jenny do the same out of the corner of her eye. She thought she saw her pull the mirror behind her. A good thought that.
They both turned to see Laura standing only a few feet behind them.
How long had she been standing there?
“After yesterday I mean. You left in rather a hurry.”
Andi didn’t quite remember it that way–they had gone to get supplies, not to abandon her–but she supposed she could see how she saw it that way. “Well,” she said, “we’re back.” Obvious statement is obvious.
She just nodded though. “And you come with a plan.”
Andi and Jenny shared a quick look. They hadn’t really discussed exactly how they were going to go about breaking into the shed without revealing too much to Laura. Time to improvise.
“Sure,” Andi said, nodding to Jenny. “She’s going to pick the lock.”
Andi nodded more, hoping Jenny would catch her drift.
“I … am.”
Still not quite as confident as she would have hoped, but it would have to do. “Why don’t you go take a look.”
She was thinking that–theoretically–the mirror would let her reach right through either the door or the wall beside it and disengage the locking mechanism. If things went well, it wouldn’t even shock her, since she was passing right through it. The problem would be if the door or wall had multiple distinct layers–she hadn’t quite figured out how that worked, but it seemed pretty smart about dealing with connectivity.
Jenny still looked a bit puzzled, but at least she started wondering towards the door. She still had the active mirror, so Andi hoped that she would get the idea. While she was going that though, Andi was going to have to keep Laura distracted.
“You know, I already tried that,” Laura said as Andi walked over to join her, positioning herself most of the way between her and the door.
Andi nodded absently. She hadn’t considered that option, but it made sense. Still…
That caught her attention a bit better. “The shock again?” She nodded. “I think we’ve worked around that.”
She heard Jenny quietly cursing at the door and hoped that she was right.
“Some sort of grounding wire?” Laura suddenly said.
“Is that how you’re dealing with the extra charge?”
Andi hadn’t considered that. It wasn’t a terrible idea. She wondered if Laura had already tried it and was testing her.
Laura just nodded. Perhaps it had been nothing more than idle speculation after all.
Another curse, louder this time, came from behind Andi towards the shed door. She resisted the urge to turn around. If she did that, they’d lose what little distraction she was providing in the first place.
Finally. Not a curse. Andi turned; Laura was already looking around her shoulder with interest. It would have to be long enough a wait.
Jenny was standing in front of the now open shed door, mirror nowhere to be seen. Andi was going to have to ask her at some point exactly how she had managed that one. But for the moment, it was irrelevant. They were in.
The top of the shed was disappointingly pedestrian. Laura followed them right in and they couldn’t very well turn her down, but they needn’t have bothered. It looked like nothing more than a cozy little den. There was a mini fridge and small kitchenette on one side of the room and a projector screen and thick plush couch on the other.
The one thing that they didn’t see though, was a way down.
Andi and Jenny both knew that there was something more here, but Laura didn’t say anything, so neither did they. Andi saw Jenny carefully looking at the floor and walls though, so she did the same.
Without the mirror, she couldn’t quite mentally picture where what she assumed had to have been an elevator shaft went down and they couldn’t very well bring out the mirror just now. She actually smiled a bit thinking of how they would try to explain that to Laura. ‘Yeah, I’m just going to check out my makeup now. With this antique looking hand mirror. Yup.’
Yeah, not quite what they were looking for.
“This isn’t right.” Laura sounded confused. “I know he’s doing something here.”
After seeing the vast underground complex, Andi knew she was completely correct. She had an even better question though. “Is he here?”
The moment she opened her mouth, Andi realized that she could have worded that better. “No…” She said, looking around the room with an obvious expression on her face.
“No, I mean…”
“I know what you mean. And I don’t know. I didn’t see him this morning. But that could mean that he’s out and about just as easily as him being here.”
“Doesn’t he have a car or something?” Jenny cut in.
“He does and it’s still home. But that doesn’t really mean anything. He could have gone out with his friends.”
“Does he do that often?”
She just nodded.
So we don’t know if the man we don’t even know for sure is a sorcerer is here or not. Great.
“Got it,” Jenny said suddenly.
Andi and Laura both turned. “Got what?” Laura said.
Jenny gestured towards a throw rug in the middle of the floor right between the couch and projector screen. The corner was upturned–Andi guessed Jenny was the culprit there–and there was a circular edge inlaid almost perfectly smooth into the floor.
As she walked over, Laura asked, “What is it?”
“A way down.”
Andi tried to catch Jenny’s eye. They were getting to the point of no return now. Either they were going to leave now or they were going to have to take Laura down with them. Who knew how that would turn out…
Either she was a better liar than Andi expected or she really didn’t know.
Too late to lie about knowing now. “There’s a basement.” Andi said. “If your brother is here, he’ll be downstairs.”
It took them almost ten minutes to even figure out how to open the way down. The circular opening was perfectly smooth and set so well into the floor that none of them could even get a knife blade in edgewise–and Laura tried.
Finally, Andi made the break through. There was a smile pile of remotes sitting right next to the couch. In today’s day and age, Andi would have expected a single universal remote, but in this case the remotes did dual purpose. One of them actually controlled the door.
She would have loved to take the credit for it, but really it was nothing more than an accident. After searching for a few minutes, she sat down on the couch to think. As she did, she knocked over the pile of remotes and the one in question must have landed on the button.
There was a perfect science fiction door sound as the circular opening irised open. It was pure luck that neither Laura nor Jenny was standing on the opening–as it was, Jenny jumped back at the sound.
A moment after that, a smooth silver tube wooshed out of the floor, reaching standing height after a few moments. A few moments more after that, there was another whirring sound and a door opened.
Andi whistled softly.
She couldn’t even begin to imagine how much that had to have cost. Just the fact that he had a completely hidden underground facility that his sister was apparently unaware of was crazy enough. Add to that a fancy elevator…
She had only to take a look at the expression on Laura’s face to confirm what she’d already strong suspected.
She didn’t know anything about this.
She’d likely been expecting a run down, back alley drug cooking workshop. She’d been okay with a man-cave. But this… this was too much.
“What are you doing?” Andi heard Laura say softly.
Jenny didn’t seem to have heard her. “Shall we?” She gestured at the opening. There was only a single button inside. It didn’t look there would be particularly many options down below.
Andi looked askance at the opening before them. It wasn’t that large. The circle hadn’t been terribly huge to start out with and when you included the need for the tube heading downwards and the shell of the elevator car, it wouldn’t be spacious even for one.
Two could fit… barely. If you were really good friends.
Three? No way.
“We’re not all going to fit.” Trust it to Laura to state the obvious.
Her pronouncement was met with silence all around. Andi knew full well that the best option was for herself and Jenny to go first. If Maxwell was a sorcerer, she thought that between the two of them, they could deal with him.
If he wasn’t, then it might make more sense for Laura to come with them. At the very least, she could offer a bit of an explanation for why they’d come down. Really, Andi was actually curious what excuse she’d even use.
Not curious enough to risk going down with her alone though.
“So what do you think?” Laura said.
That gave her the edge. She could see what they thought and could sound all sorts of reasonable if she wanted to turn them down.
“How about you and me?” Jenny said.
Andi turned to stare at her.
What was she going to do? It wasn’t a conversation that Jenny and her had actually had yet, but one that she was increasingly sure that they were going to have to have at some point. Andi was the original sorcerer–Jenny was just riding her coattails. That should mean something when it come to potentially demonic activity, shouldn’t it?
“Can we talk?” Andi said.
Laura looked at her a bit oddly but just shrugged and stepped back. Andi gestured to Jenny and the two of them crossed over to the other side of the room.
When she was sure–or sure as could be–that Laura wouldn’t over heard, she hissed at Jenny. “What if he’s the sorcerer?”
“I thought about that.”
“You can jump down the shaft after us.”
Andi just blinked. And the blinked again.
Was she mental?
She considered a moment longer though, especially when Jenny lifted a hand and vaguely pantomimed pulling off a ring.
Would that even work?
She’d put a fair bit of strain on it a few times fighting demons, but this was something else entirely. This was jumping down a hundred or more feet of elevator shaft–keeping herself stable as she fell–and land without breaking her legs.
It sounded insane.
Jenny was looking at her expectantly.
“You’re sure that this is going to work?”
The pause was barely even perceptible, but it was there. Not that Andi really thought that Jenny would know any better than her the full extents of her ring’s powers. It was just that she would have rather her be confident about it at the very least.
Perhaps she could just climb down.
It would be better than jumping at least. And unlike jumping, she was certain that the ring would give her enough of a grip on the walls and enough upper body strength to lower herself down–just so long as there was something to hold onto.
“Fine.” At least she kept herself from hissing the words this time around. Barely.
If Laura was perturbed by the exchange, she didn’t show anything. When they got back, she was standing half in the elevator inspecting the button. Really, it shouldn’t have taken so long–the single button was literally the only feature in the entire elevator–but she supposed it gave her an excuse not to listen in.
“Just send the elevator back up when you get there. I’ll be down in a bit.” Andi said.
Jenny of course would know that she’d head down more quickly than that, but Laura didn’t need to. Andi had faith that Jenny could get her out of the way and just pretend to send the elevator car back up.
They both nodded.
When both Jenny and Laura got into the elevator, Andi was suddenly glad that she was the one being left behind. Laura wasn’t a particularly large person and Jenny was absolutely tiny, but put the two of them together into that elevator car and they were practically touching. Andi with either of them would have just been asking for trouble.
Without another word–what was there to say?–Laura pushed the button. The door closed with that same perfect science fiction sound, and they were gone.
Andi realized her mistake just in time.
As soon as the door was closed, the elevator immediately started to slide back into the floor.
Crap, she thought, a moment before shouting out the activation for her ring. “Stärken!”
With a quick burst of speed and strength–albeit nowhere near what Jenny’s watch could provide–Andi reached out latched onto the door. She immediately felt the strain. Her muscles were being pushed beyond what should have been possible, well beyond what was smart. But the demon in the ring took the brunt of the blow, leaving little more than a few pounds worth weight for Andi to take.
Now that she had her hands on the shell, she considered for a moment. In just the moments before she reacted, it had already dropped a few feet. Whatever she was going to do, she was only going to get one chance.
At least she heard the elevator heading down. She had been worried for a second that stopping the top from going down was going to stop the car–that would have been fun to explain to Laura–but it didn’t appear to be the case.
“I’m just going to have to do it,” Andi said to no one in particular.
With one last huge gulp of breath, she heaved. She only lifted the shell by a few inches, but it was enough. She had the time to shift her hands to either side of the main door and to brace herself more aptly against the floor. Between the two, she was in the perfect position to not only hold it up but also wedge the door open.
At first though, she didn’t think she was going to be able to do it. The door stayed stubbornly shut. She couldn’t adjust again and she could feel the beginning of shakes in her arms. She didn’t have terribly much longer.
Just that first bit was all it took. Moments later and she had the gate pried open. That actually made holding the shaft up much easier. She could wedge herself in to the door and trust in the ring to support her body and keep her from being crushed. For the time being, it seemed to work well enough. She was honestly a little surprised that there was no sort of safety mechanism in place.
She could see that whoever had designed it wouldn’t have thought anyone would ever get the door open, but what if it didn’t close correctly in the first place yet still tried to descend?
Then again, if Maxwell really was a sorcerer and really had gone bad as Percy seemed to believe, then that seemed exactly the sadistic sort of thing that he might do. Case in point: the electrified door.
Still, she had the door open.
The shaft itself was the next problem. Or worse yet, the next two problems. First, it was dark. There was enough light at the top where she was and far down–much further than she thought it should be–there was a faint blinking red light. She guessed that would be the elevator with Laura and Jenny. It was still descending, growing fainter as she watched.
The second problem was the that elevator shaft was completely smooth.
No corners, no ledges, not even a cable to raise and lower the car. She supposed that it must have been running on some more exotic sort of system. But that didn’t help her out one bit. She neededsomething to hold on to, but there was absolutely nothing there.
Was she going to have to jump after all?
She considered just waiting for the car to come back up. The problem with that was that Jenny likely would actually not send it back up. She could summon it back with the button on the remote, but there was no telling exactly how long that would take or what effect she was having on the system by holding the shaft open.
Really, it was the perfect lesser of two evils.
There was a sound from deep below like letting out a breath. She couldn’t quite picture what might be making such a sound, but she could guess that that meant the elevator car was down on the ground.
Time to make a choice.
Without taking the time to think about how bad an idea this likely was, Andi hurled herself forward and started to fall.
A second later and moving at a frightening speed, Andi realized that there was a middle ground between trusting in the ring to break her fall and waiting all alone. Throwing her arms and legs out to the sides, she did what she could to let friction at least slow her fall.
She knew that she must have looked ridiculous, but what did that matter? There was no one watching. And this way she might actually survive the fall in one piece.
She was still falling at an alarming speed, but at least she wasn’t going any faster.
She looked down–bad idea–and saw the blinking red light rushing up at her.
She braced for impact, praying that the ring would do its job.
A split second before she hit the ground, she felt her muscles flexing and tensing without even thinking about it. She barely stopped herself from jerking control of her own limbs back, realizing almost too late that the demon in her ring was doing its job and keeping her alive.
The landing made surprisingly little noise. She took most of the blow in her legs, flexing downwards as she did. If the demon weren’t boosting her bones and muscles, she doubted it would have gone quite so well, but as it was it felt little different from dropping out of a particularly tall truck.
She froze for a moment, hoping that she’d timed things correctly and that Laura hadn’t just heard her hit the top of the car.
That would be fun to explain.
But instead, she heard the sound of the door closing right beneath her. She thought she heard Jenny saying something out towards what she thought was the front of the car, but between her likely whispering and the walls between them, she couldn’t quite make out the words.
The next problem–problems on top of problems–was how exactly she was supposed to get into the car and out into the underground area. Her intuition had been that the car would have a ceiling hatch.
But of course it couldn’t be quite that easy.
The top of the car was a faint dome, curving upwards with a red, slowly blinking light the only feature. The dome of the light was completely flush with the rest of the top, not even the tiniest edge between the two. So far as she could tell, there was nothing to get a grip.
She kept feeling her way around the top of the car, around and around, growing increasingly frantic. Each moment that she spent trying to get into the car was another where she should just have rode the car down like normal.
Worse yet, if Jenny didn’t actually send the car back up–as was apparently the case–and she couldn’t very well use the remote from all of the way down here. Since the resting state of the car was apparently down here, it wouldn’t be going back up that way anyways. So what in the world was she to do?
A roar from the other side of the wall made that particular decision for her.
She felt the top of the car beneath her vibrating from the sound of it, even through a wall. If she still had her sense of direction oriented correctly, than that was right where Laura and Jenny should be.
Another road and a scream of pain.
She couldn’t say whether it was Jenny or Laura, but in the end that really didn’t matter one bit.
She didn’t even think. She just balled her hand into a fist and punched the floor beneath her feet.
Even with the ring, she felt the sting of the blow. It could help to lesson the impact, but if she were doing something stupid–like punching a solid metal frame–there was only so much that she could do.
But she felt the roof of the car move beneath her fist.
Another roar and another scream just motivated her to try harder.
She felt like she was just about to break her hand if she were to hit it even a bit harder, but she had to try.
She felt the roof beneath her buckling.
The roof didn’t act at all like she was expecting. She had thought that she was pounding on a metal sheet. Best case then, she could have bent it out of the way far enough to possibly fracture it.
But the car wasn’t metal at all. Not at all.
When she hit it the forth time, the entire roof gave away, shattering into a thousand pieces. She suddenly found herself in a glittering shower, the sounds of tinkling filling the air.
What in the…
Another roar, closer this time.
She could figure out what in the world the elevator was made out some other time. Right now, she had work to do.
She reached up to bash open the door as well… Just in time catching sight of the button out of the corner of her eye.
She paused, fist raised.
Would it send the elevator back up or open the door?
What sort of elevator had only one button?
Another roar, this time punctuated with a solid thud against the wall just in front of her.
The elevator door slid open.
Out of the corner of one eye, she saw Jenny sliding down the wall just beside the elevator. She must have been thrown against the wall.
The the bigger problem caught her attention–bigger being the key.
She had thought Big Red was big.
This one was bigger.
She hadn’t quite gotten a sense of scale back when they were up top looking down at the underground facility. She’d estimated it to be a few stories tall, but that was based on a more or less standard height to the ceilings.
Instead though, the ceiling was nearly twenty feet overhead. The demon standing right in front of her took up a good bit of that. Worse still, it was nearly as wide as it was tall, looking completely out of proportion standing there as it was.
When the elevator doors open, the beast paused. In its hands, it held a massive silver hammer, the head almost a yard long and the shaft even longer. That must have been what had knocked Jenny across the room–it was a miracle that she hadn’t been outright crushed.
The respite gained by her appearance was short lived however. With another roar, even louder without even a wall between the two of them, the demon charged.
She had no weapons.
She had nothing more than the boosted strength and reflexes of the demon ring.
In normal circumstances, that might have been plenty, but she had a feeling that the demon standing in front of her had far more at least strength than her if not for the reflexes.
And it was coming right for her.