Part 3. Hot Feet
“UH, EXCUSE ME,” Cornmelia tugged gently at Madam Spew’s robes, “is we, me and Lusty, proper married?”
The Black Temple of Grimnir was packed near capacity. Filthy bodies crammed against each other like rats in a meat-pie. Bodies pressed against wall and window, struggling for breadth and breath, for a glimpse of the armored wolves circling the church. Corpses littered the ground outside.
While the wretched farm folk were trying to gather information, tally the dead and living, assess the hopeless situation, identify resources in some effort to cobble together some sort of last ditch effort that might result in mass salvation, Madam Spew was the only one doing the sensible thing. She was panicking.
A total lack of humility and character is required for a true panic, and Madam Spew had been blessed with dual vacuities in trump shades. And it wasn’t a cursory half-assed, stunted white-knuckle panic. This was the true beast of panic, the full grown, three-tusked-monstrosity-snorking-liquid-foaming-fear-out-its-rubbery-black-maw breed of panic.
Madam Spew’s keen instincts of self-preservation had driven her as deep within the inner sanctum of the church as possible. To the late Wrackolyte’s chambers. It was a small chamber. A chamber without windows, doors, or other obvious means of egress. With but a single door’s distance away from the main hall fracas. A thin door. A thin old decrepit door. In short, she was screwed.
Her sole hope lay within a horribly locked trapdoor in the middle of the floor. Possibly it led to a massive deep-earth labyrinth of lower crypts and secret escape routes out into the swamps. But it was equally possible that it was merely the late Wrackolyte geezer’s privy.
“Grimnir damn your hinges!” Madam Spew keened in panic, pounding the trapdoor with her tiny green fists. Pupils constricted to a slit, she squealed as she yanked on the handle. “Arrgh!” She fell back. The trapdoor was locked from the inside, or stuck, or just too damned heavy. Fever-mad, she scoured the Wrackolyte’s den. Tossing the bed, scattering reliquaries, emptying drawers. There had to be some escape. Something. Somewhere. The geezer’s suicide-saw? Anything. But there wasn’t. Only the trapdoor. She recommenced yanking and screaming.
“Um, Madam, is me and Lusty married?” Cornmelia repeated.
“Curse your leg, no!” Madam Spew ceased her fruitless yanking. Cleared her throat. Dabbed jittering tears from her crimson eyes. Her hands were raw. “You didn’t drink that freak’s blood, did you? And I didn’t consecrate the ceremony, did I? So, no, you ain’t married. Course, we’ll both be dead in about five minutes, so what’s it matter?”
“Oh, praise you, Madam.” Cornmelia fell to her knees and grasped Madam Spew in a suffocating embrace. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Ulp!” Madam Spew’s eyes nearly burst. “Put me down.”
“Sorry.” Cornmelia plopped her down. “What do we do now?”
“What do we do?” She adjusted her purple wig. “Are you serious? What happens if we can’t open this trapdoor?” She stomped the trap. “Lord Slaughterhand comes in and kills us along with everyone else in this crap-hole.” The furor in the main hall grew. Madam Spew glanced over. “Lock the door. Hurry.”
Cornmelia clanged over to the chamber door and slid the burglar-bar across it.
“HEY!” a muffled voice yelled from the main hall. “The Slaughterhand’s saying we can all be purified if we bring the croaker-witch to him! To justice! He’ll purify us! All of us! Show us the light! Hooray! We’re saved!”
A great cheer arose in the main hall, all bustle and burble chattering loose. Feet pounded across flagstones, drapery was torn from housings, and pews were overturned in a sacrilegious search for salvation.
“Where is she?!”
“I saw her go into the den!”
Feet pounded outside the door.
Someone pounded on the door. “Open up, ya hear?”
“Bite me, you inbred freakers!” Madam Spew tore at the trapdoor handle, her webbed feet scrabbling for purchase. “Rrrrrrrg!”
“LET US IN!” the mob roared.
“Come on,” Madam Spew slobbered at the trapdoor.
“I can open it.” Cornmelia stood akimbo. “But, then I get to go with you.”
SLAM! Behind them, the chamber door jumped nigh off its hinges as the Sloddergumps attacked it.
“Deal!” Madam Spew cried, hopping back.
Cornmelia plopped down and began unscrewing her leg. “I … I can hear something moving inside.” She looked up. “Oh, Madam, what’s down there?”
Madam Spew stared at the trapdoor. What horrors lay within the sacred sanctum of the Dark Lord? Any horror. Every horror. Slicerpedes? Warped chitterlings? Was it the dead Wrackolyte himself? Had Grimnir blessed his bones with the gift of undeath? His last act in life had been his own murder. What other powers might such a venal act grant? Madam Spew salivated. Was he even now waiting in the darkness, waiting for the warmth of blooded walkers to free him? To satiate his dark thirst? Madam Spew looked Cornmelia in the eye. “It’s, probably nothing. Go ahead.” She hid behind a chair. “Open it.”
Pounding again at the chamber door—
“Open up, froggy!”
The door flexed more with each subsequent strike—
But the burglar-bar held. Somehow.
Cornmelia removed her peg-rake-leg and pounded the tines between the trapdoor and frame. She spit on her palms and rubbed them together, gripping the peg leg two fisted, then tore back with the slow inexorable strength of continental drift. Her back flexed, hide dress ripping, her thick arms bulging, shivering, veins standing up as torrents of blood gushed through them, udders shivering as she grunted like whatever her dress had been made of. “Errrg… Come on!”
The burglar bar cracked at another slam.
Valiantly, Madam Spew sprinted across the room and threw her weight against the peg leg and — CRACK! Something gave, and Madam Spew and Cornmelia scattered across the floor.
“Uh, Madam…” Cornmelia held her snapped peg-leg up in vain.
But the trap door lay agape. Dust swirled from its depths as something within its cryptic bowels stirred.