24. LA CHAMBRE GRISE – Pride

Drowned out, the sound was, by the sheer pandemonium, sound and fury beyond imagination, and beyond every prisoner’s wildest hope.

The moment the first riot guard unlatched the cast-holoiron door to the Brown House Prison, she wished they had brought galoshes. Even from the top of a short stairway, water was at their feet—and rising.

“Alright,” hollered that one in front back to the rest, “we guard this door with our lives!”

“Pfft,” said the one just behind, flippant because they spearheaded a literal chiliad. “No duh.”

“Hey,” cried the nearest prisoner, their echo-voice bending around a wall that disappeared into water at bottom and mist high above. “That the way out?”

The guards flung themselves from the gate screeching, laser pistols in their fingers, knives strapped to their elbows! They entered the water like a mess of a thousand doves: clumsy, but luminous and flapping their sharp edges everywhere. Little did they know they were about to engage the largest congregation of vampires this world has ever known!

All this was observed by The Terminating Robot from his slew of terminals. He had not given the order to send a thousand guards; he had sent an order to Helen, who’d rerouted it to Dan (since he, not she, was the leader of the anti-monster SWAT), and something must have gotten lost in translation because he was sure he had requested galoshes…and boats, and choppers, and marine gear, for the prison had become a marine situation.

He turned on the intercom and cried, “Go back! Back! Get some boats!” Far too late, my man! And drowned out, the sound was, by the sheer pandemonium, sound and fury beyond imagination, and beyond every prisoner’s wildest hope.

The Terminating Robot could not even trust his personal dino-guards to help in the crisis, being land animals. Nor could he activate his traps, his beloved traps: the electrocutable prison bars. In truth, he would not have minded flipping an electric switch a minute ago, when the current would have passed deathlike through the floor entire, when the only casualties on the Brown House’s side would have been four lowly guards. Now those blasted were-curs were swimming here and there and everywhere, and The Terminating Robot could not have valuable dead on his shiny golden hands…

As he could see from his screens, those pinkening waves now covered three-fourths of the highest cells on the first floor. In the middle of waves, still sequestered in its box, The Great Train, too, was becoming a vampire. Amazingly, and without changing its original black painted color, it seemed to grow ashen, to change in texture…and there, unmistakably on the sides, were extending bat wings, sleek, impressive, and clearly not functional. This train would not miss out on the fun.

Chugga chugga chugga, it rumbled, building steam, building volume, storming forward, building speed! It broke the bars! It did not bleed!

“I want to cry,” said The Terminating Robot to himself in a brief solemn moment. Yet when he blinked, he only shed the same blue light, a teardrop’s sorry substitute.

The bars fell crumbling. His life’s new purpose was gone. Yes, his wife still lived, but once he lost this warden job, as he knew he would, their life as they knew it would end, and she, maybe, would walk off to someone else.

In the end, however, he was a robot. He had certain duties to uphold. How to terminate this feeling?

By taking matters into his own beautiful hands.

He cracked his knuckles. They did not make cracking sounds; they were liquimetal. Then he somersaulted into the hole that Adam’s papyrus had drilled and made a beeline for the monster, that genius instigator. So the liquid snake descended on his prey.

Down below, in a first floor utterly submerged, a bevy of vampires swam free! Against their headbutts and the pounding of their fists, so many bars had come away as easily as plastic. Ebullient cries of thanks rang loud! Not all of those cries knew whom they were thanking, and only one among them knew his name, but they all knew his blood, and through that he was made brother!

Adam, who continued to bleed out, had crawled onto his cell mattress; it, like all of the first-floor furniture, was bobbing in the waters. With skillful use of his papyrus, having it take the form of paddles or rudders, he could propel himself to an exit—or, failing that, a wall—or at the very least a safe corner.

For the waters were rapids, and for every swimmer there was a mattress, rock chunk, or makeshift boat-bundle of blanket wound around a prison-bar frame. Were it not for the underground darkness, and were it not for the belligerences happening all around as guards leaped onto sailing prisoners and prisoners swiped at guards, this could easily have been confused with a whimsical river raft scene.

A black mass plopped onto Adam’s mattress, sending it all end-over-end into the water.

Frantic floundering, gasps, an eyeball and a socket burning with water’s sting—

He re-found the mattress, clutched it, pulled himself to the top, and realized that, quite unintentionally, his other arm had grabbed that treacherous black furry mass.

“Trials,” gaped Adam, and he felt not only bewildered but sorry, suspecting her fear of water. She wriggled out from his arm and shook the drips from her feline person. He found it within himself to giggle. “Noah acquires his first animal, eh?”

Trials did not reply, nor did his ghastly appearance seem to have left her spooked. She worked her jaws, making peanut butter-eating sounds.

Adam, perplexed, peeked in her mouth. Old butter—gross—yegads! He flinched!

Trials walked to the edge and slammed her head back into the water—her entire head! Adam, seeing past this quirky image, knew she was using the highly unsanitary water to dissolve the snack.

His shoulder blade, a voice in the mind, piped up: “That treacherous goo in ‘er mouth hints at a knowledgeable outside enemy, and does not bode well, wot. You two stick together, chap.”

“Hear, hear,” Adam murmured aloud to his shoulder.

“Hear what?” said the ungummed Trials. She was raising her cat eyebrow, which, I suppose, would be one of those confounding antenna-whiskers that cats have above their cat eyes.

“Ah, nothing.” And despite all his pains, Adam laughed again, for happiness plain and simple. Not only was prison good as done, but his dear friend the cat was back…an intervening saint could not have done him better!

The mattress gave another startling jolt, for a swimming werewolf had thumped into their mattress, freestyling past—his target was elsewhere. Then from the other side, a “raft” of four prisoners’ beds daisy-chained together made an uncommon rock, such that our heroes’ vessel flew a foot into the air and splashed back down. Adam and Trials held on with tenacious grips; their mattress bobbed and revolved down the hallway, self-directed as a daisy’s windblown petal.

Trials took her first look around. “Mweow,” she commentated. “This flood was you, right?”

He said nothing. The cat snickered; he snickered too; they shared a feeling of pride and power, good fortune, and mounting laughter, of feeling themselves in the heart of the absurd, and they very nearly thought that if this wacky wonder was to be their tomb, nothing could be more perfect—so be it!

Adam pushed himself upright into a crouch. “’Tis about time we try for a way out,” he said, less to Trials than to himself, and to his several inner voices. His red paper strips trickled off from his flesh—and as if to make up for his corporeal weakness, each one glowed with the color of a sunrise sky. The mattress and waters danced with dawnish light. Trials stared at him as if regarding a lantern; Adam only hoped she was not reminded of her blazing namesake.

Her gaze wandered, however, sliding slow as a snail to Adam’s back. Something particularly sunny was shining between his shoulders and neck: a liquimetal smear, expanding and shifting into a man, his hand grasping Adam’s neck.

Adam felt The Terminating Robot upon him and lurched forward—too late! The warden tugged him back and, wrestler-like, wrapped an arm around his head; the hardening metal crushed his eyeholes like a long, forearm-shaped rock. A headlock and, if he should choose to tighten the hand around his throat, a deadlock! Trials arched her back, leaped aside, but the battle was moving too quickly for her to think a spell before—

Papyrus spikes darted out from all over Adam to ward off the warden. A million daggers launched, but from The Terminating Robot sprang a million tiny pairs of golden scissors, there to cut them off. It was an immaculate defense—and a painful one, for the papers were truly part of Adam, like dry veins. Adam screamed before the robot smothered his mouth with a third arm, a third hand!

That automated man, with his mouth close enough to spit in Adam’s single eye, muttered frostily, “Hasta la vista, adult.”

Then Trials magic’d up a rock which flew into the robot’s face! It missed, for The Terminating Robot had pulled both himself and his adversary into the luminant lake…the pond like pink marble now suffused with the light of Adam’s vermillion strips, though they be cut to the root. One golden arm was on Adam’s face, and two strangled him, and they all went speeding through a thicket of bubbles tinted orangey-red by both Adam’s glow and the liquimetal shine.

A gasp from Adam’s chest joined the thicket. His eye rolled. The Terminating Robot fancied he saw Adam’s death— ‘til he realized that the face and limpening form must have been a feint, for the vampmummy’s neck was so maddeningly thick that he knew he could not have choked it out sufficiently.

Interesting…but The Terminating Robot would fain leave his foe without making quite sure he was incapacitated. He simply choked harder, and began to feel the petrific flesh, its density and texture like bone or stone, cracking apart. That sunset glow emanating from his person, which had turned the underwater world into a lava lamp, now dwindled. And the robot smiled. I think. I mean, it was hard to tell, with his face like a skeleton’s and all.

The fingers on Adam’s throat became blades. A lacerated throat—

No! A solar explosion! In one motion and a sunburst that came like a very deep cough from his chest, Adam unbound himself! The Terminating Robot was flung off, covered in what felt to him like burns, though he remained underwater all the while. Was it the steam now rising in golden bubbles that singed him? He concluded yes!

Adam remained struggling, gulping in water, hunting for air, swimming up toward a water’s surface he could not find—paddling—wishing Amun-Ra had been kinder with his strength—until he broke out, gasping the air of a bubble produced by Trials’ own magic.

Crawling through and then onto the bubble’s soapy, wobbling “floor” was an odd, illogical thing. Trials watched him, sitting with elegant poise, and when she knew he was secure, she flung her head upward, commanding the bubble to fly surfaceward.

From the steaming depths of that miniature ocean, a golden hand extended, stretched, stretched impossibly far…not far, not fast enough. There the robot sank.

The bubble went up, up, up—ever higher! Onto the surface and then beyond, into the air of a hundred-foot prison! The waves had reached the second floor now; Adam and Trials saw from bird’s-eye view, in between the rafts, the motionless bodies of dogs and batlike humans that bobbed on the rising tide. And they could see, here and there, when they squinted, grains on rice in the waves, consciously scattered by intelligent guards, for the rice was distracting some of the prisoners, who bent down from their rafts to sift, stupidly, through the kernels.

The bubble burst. They fell. Plummeting into the water and struggling for seconds again, they groped for a mattress or a handhold and, at last, found a divot in a wall. Adam clung to it with one hand; Trials struggled onto his shoulder. Together they panted for half a minute, and during their reprieve, a slightly vampiric raven landed on a ledge ten feet above.

“Trials,” Adam exhaled, “did you see that…that rice over there?”

“No, I didn’t. Heal Wheel Congeal!”

And just like that: Adam restored! Only his eye was still missing.

Trials clicked her tongue. “Well, drats on rats.”

“It is perfect,” he insisted, rubbing his face with the free hand. “Well…no use in further dallying. We must get out of here.”

“Funny; I just broke in.”

“Sir, sir!” Adam cried to a passing mattress, his arm extended as if hailing a taxi. “Mr. Vampire, sir! Any chance you could lead me to the exit?”

“Sorry, mummy, no dice,” said the ad hoc captain with a compassionate shrug. “We all got the same question!” And the bed swam by like a schooner in plague times.

“Don’t ask them,” said Trials with a sly lilt, “ask the raven.”

“Mr. Raven, sir! Where be it, the exit?”

“Nevermore,” it quothed.

Adam pursed his lips.

“Well, I didn’t mean literally.

“Oh, now I see…you mean, take to the skies again. But as this papyrus is not sturdy enough to produce wings, we will have to get creative.”

At that moment, an enormous golden spear pierced through the stone beside Trials and Adam, leaving a sound like a screech and a deep, jagged gash. Adam lost his grip. The duo fell headlong, thrashing, glugging lugs…and then, bobbing in the sea, a foot away from the cat, the mum-man looked over his shoulder just long enough to catch, rising out of the marble lake, that golden demon.

The Terminating Robot fancied this was his moment. He smiled fiendishly and said a second time, “Hasta la vista, adult.” And then he dove forward, his very hands spear-tipped.

Adams’ papyrus flew to his hair, then spidered out, first into a tangle of flat paddles, then into dagger-ends, hooks, teeth, whatever came to mind (anything would do in a pinch) as he reached, then scaled the wall. The golden ender was hot on the trail, his own spider limbs gashunking up the stone. Trials clung to one arm, swinging in and out, dazzlingly fast; she was hardly noticed, for this was the single-minded pursuit of revenge. Indeed, soon she would fall.

The two brawlers skittered up and along the hundred-foot wall, their path erratic, their holey steps worth tens of thousands in damages. Eventually they would ascend to that sky ceiling, turn a vent into a crater, and climb out into…

Into….!!

***

Would it be too abrupt to shift our focus to a certain other vampire? Not the leader of the nominally free, nominally only world, but that leader of something smaller and yet, in the ideological sense, perhaps larger?

Would you forgive me? Or would you begrudge me this?

To fight against this disorientation, to stick by the side of the friend you have known for so many long paragraphs…what could be more natural? Staying with Adam, with a rediscovered friend—how dare I begrudge you that?

Before you watched Adam scale th’imperious wall, you witnessed a different break-out…a fake-out. An opening door, promise of safety, which ended up as no more than a ding-dong ditch. Friends swooped back into another friend’s life, and too soon dipped. The friends could not cling to one another, for circumstances denied their union. Thus this world was proven brave yet unjust. How dare it bring Dracula something so close to saviors, and yet begrudge him that?

How dare the world run on caprice and chance? How dare it consign Dracula to that perishment in flames, in the sunburst chamber!

The werewolf guards stepped tentatively in; their black garb concealed but a fraction of the deadly bright. They saw a figure encased in flame…then a figure disappearing…and then, nothing but the flame itself. And then even that was gone.

And a mist passed between the bodies, freeing itself from prison bright. The mist was not felt, for it moved strategically between shields and heavy fabrics.

Becoming an invisible mist puts the body in a temporary zero-one state. Are you well, or are you unwell? Are you mobile now, or too far gone, and thereby dissipated into nothing? As Dracula was more undead than dead, he felt wonderful now, to the binary extent that mist can “feel.”

As soon as five minutes ran out, however, he would plunge back into that painful body, and lay helpless. If only his allies the fishman, wolfwoman and homebat had stayed in that hall but a few moments longer!

Ah, but old Vlad (he could hear Robert saying), he’s always got a trick up his well-cuffed sleeve…

This bundle of mist felt the best direction to go was up. The safest, no; the most certain road to Igor, certainly not; yet and still, if any two places had a chance of harboring him, they were, in his mind, that oblong office and the Brown House roof.

And so, yearning for an old friend, he drifted up, up at choicest speed, through the nearest air vent.

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Author: Joi

I write, I draw, I do it all

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