Castling, Part 6

APRIL 9, 2000

"Daddy!" shouted Alice.

"I'm fine," said Kilroy, brushing himself off as he rose. "Little jerk got away with my wallet, though." He sounded more annoyed than concerned, which was mostly the truth. Kilroy knew that the contents of the wallet would be largely useless to the mugger; all of his IDs were forgeries, after all, and God help the kid if he tried to use his MC&D credit card. More importantly, not having the card would make things a little more difficult for them, though not impossible. Kilroy looked his daughter over. "How 'bout you? You okay?"

"I'm okay," said Alice, but she was shaking a little. "He didn't touch me."

"Good," said Kilroy, "good, you did good. Always get away from the danger first." He looked up at the hole in the ceiling, sunlight streaming through into the secret catacombs. "We'd better hustle and find the scalpel before someone notices that."

They began to move. Kilroy hissed as he inhaled sharply. "Daddy?" said Alice. "Are you okay?"

"Little jerk hit me harder than I thought," said Kilroy. "I'll be fine, it's just some joint pain. I'll put some Ben Gay on it when we get back to civilization."

They wove their way deeper into the tunnels, Kilroy limping slightly. After an hour of slow and steady descent, they came to a room lined with a number of holes in the wall. Kilroy squinted, humming in thought. "These may be traps," he mused aloud. "Then again, they may just be cubbyholes."

"I don't think we should take the chance," said Alice.

"I'd be inclined to agree," said Kilroy. He mulled the room over for a long moment. "Let me see your purse," he said. Alice handed the Hello Kitty bag to her father. He opened it up, taking out the receipt that was still in it. One by one, he held the thin piece of paper in front of the holes. Finally, after a number of tries, the receipt began to blow back towards him from a slight breeze.

"The breath of God," murmured Kilroy.

He reached into the cubbyhole, feeling around. His hand found a wrapped object, solid at the center. Rapidly he snatched the object, unrolling the crumbling, mummified wrappings from the small, precise blade. It was simple in its form, unadorned with flourish, a dated but clean and shiny gutting knife, as would be used by a fish butcher. Kilroy smiled. "Time to go," he said to Alice.

There was a low humming from behind them. They spun around, hearing it whip around the labyrinth's corners in the darkness, coming for them. "Run!" yelled Kilroy.

They ran. The catacombs went deeper down, deeper into the rocky earth, and the humming kept coming for them.

"What is it, daddy?" yelled Alice.

"One of Cog's damned Collector-Neutralizers," shouted Kilroy. "Organic-based, you won't be able to—"

The humming sharply increased, and the floating thing rounded the corner. Seventeen glowing green eyes found them all at once, and Kilroy turned to face it.

"Run, Alice!" he demanded.

"I'm not leaving you, daddy!" she screamed.

"Do as I say, girl!" he screamed back. Brandishing the fish knife, he lunged for the flying thing. It darted around him with ease, homing in on Alice, frozen with fear. Two dozen wasplike syringes extended from its tentacles, sticking Alice at her pressure points and open veins. The girls convulsed violently, her bloodstream filling with phytotoxins, and she spit up blood and phlegm.

"No!" Kilroy screamed in rage-filled defiance, his eyes filling with tears. "No, god damn it to Hell!"

The knife in his hand began to glow with the heat of a hundred thousand stars, and the caverns were filled with a piercing white light.

Interlude: The Path of the Paladin
Concluded in Part 7

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