LAST EDITED ON Mar-17-16 AT 03:57 PM (EDT)
[Fixing text encoding. --G.]
[I used to get email occasionally, presumably from people who were unaware that Zoner's the one with the Sandman fixation, telling me that I should use more Neil Gaiman characters. But hey, sure, I'm customer-focused, right? So okay, here's one. --G.]
From the Journal of Henry Webster Shipman
June 4, 2410
For twenty years they have laughed at me. Called me a joke. Said I was no kind of mystic, said my spirit was corrupt, said I was unworthy of the Art. Master Terez-Ar. The Circle of the Many. Even that dark-eyed little bitch who works at the bookshop on Strange. She, in particular. Throw me out of her pitiful little establishment, will she!
I have always been cursed with a perfect memory. Every slight, every snub, every sideways look - every time since I was a mere child that someone has tried to stand in the way of my destiny - I remember them all as though they only just happened. I remember Mrs. Eidelen, my first-grade teacher, sending home that snide little note. "Henry has poor powers of concentration even for a child of his age, but his biggest flaw is his unwillingness to invest true effort in anything. He is always looking for the 'quick fix', the easy way out. His work is therefore shoddy and its foundations based on incomplete understanding. I very much fear that unless something is done quickly to change Henry's attitude toward life and learning, this pattern will be set and he will come to no good."
Can you imagine writing that about a six-year-old? Mrs. Eidelen did. I made certain she remembered it, too... before I showed her what I had learned in the ten years since I had been a prisoner of her class. But even with the light fading from her eyes, there was still that dismissive look. As if I hadn't killed her in a creative and clever enough manner to suit her standards.
But that doesn't really matter when she's the one that's dead, now does it?
The fates have smiled upon me at last. Today - purely by chance - while shopping for furniture in an antique shop in Salutown, I discovered an Artifact of Power. I'm not sure what it is yet, but its significance is obvious. It fairly pulses with ancient potency. I will penetrate its secrets soon, and then whatever power it contains, I shall possess.
The man who ran the antique shop clearly had no conception of what he had in that item. Who's the fool now? He obviously felt it was I, for paying his miserable asking price without even asking his ignorant opinion as to what it was for. As I paid he looked through me as if he'd already dismissed the entire encounter from his mind. Unimportant. Forgettable.
I see that same dismissal wherever I go. It is as if people are willfully blind to my importance. That shop girl at Strangefate Books gave me the same look as she told me to leave the shop, as though a teenage retail biscuit has any reason to give anyone a superior look.
Well, she'll learn soon. They'll all learn soon. Because before long...
... the joke will be on them.
Monday, September 6, 2410
Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense Headquarters
Avalon County, Zeta Cygni
A chilly rain was bucketing down outside, and the guard on duty in the lobby of BPRD Headquarters was slightly surprised to see someone open the door and walk inside. It wasn't like the building, perched as it was on a hill out in the woods, miles from anywhere, got a lot of visitors on nice days.
The new arrival was a human girl of about 20, slim and average-height, dressed appropriately in a long yellow rain slicker, sou'wester hat, and big old-fashioned rubber Wellington boots. As the door hissed hydraulically shut behind her, she took off the hat and smoothed back her shoulder-length dark blue hair, blinked at the sudden brightness of the lobby lights, and then smiled and made her way across the wide expanse of marble to the guard's desk. If she was aware of the multitude of hidden weapons that were tracking her every move as she did so, she gave no sign.
"Hi," she said. "I have an appointment to meet with Agent Sapien at 9:30."
The guard looked at his appointment manifest, then back at the girl. "You must be our new hire," he said with a smile.
"That's me," she replied; producing an Avalon County driver's license, she handed it over, adding with a wry grin, "Coraline Jones, paranormal investigator, at your service."
The guard compared the little holo on the card to its owner's face, then handed it back and asked, "You have your paperwork?"
"Right here," Coraline replied. She opened the flap of the battered brown messenger bag she wore slung over one shoulder and held out her hand expectantly over it; a moment later, another hand emerged from within the bag, as though its owner were (quite impossibly) stationed inside it, and handed her a sheaf of documents, which she smoothed on the desk in front of the guard. That was not even slightly the oddest thing the day-shift guard at the BPRD had seen, but it still rated an arched eyebrow.
"That's pretty useful," he observed. "Where'd you get it?"
"What, this?" Coraline asked innocently, lifting the bag by its top handle. "It's just a handbag," she added with a conspiratorial wink.
The guard laughed, thinking, This kid's going to fit in just fine around here. Riffling through the documents, he verified that they were all in order, then handed them back to Coraline, apart from the one that he was expected to keep.
"Welcome to the BPRD, Agent Jones," he said with a grin. "Agent Sapien was unexpectedly called into the field a little while ago, but if you'll go on through into the great hall, I'll let someone know you're here."
Coraline nodded. "Thanks," she said, stuffing the papers back into her handbag. She looked down at the floor, then added apologetically, "Sorry about the floor," and trotted off through the inner doors.
Where the lobby of BPRD HQ was an understated space in dark marble and bright fluorescents, suitable for the headquarters any government agency or biggish bank, the great hall beyond it was the place where the Bureau liked to show off for the benefit of those visitors who were cleared to know what really went on within its walls. It was a much more well-decorated room, with its high vaulted ceiling and golden Art Deco fluting, and its mahogany-paneled walls were lined with trophies and exhibits, like a small art museum - but exhibits that no museum would ever have dared show off.
Coraline walked from one to the other in rapt fascination, taking it all in: a gleaming silver spear with an inscription in ancient Norse runes engraved upon the blade; a small, plain wooden box secured with a hefty black-iron lock; what looked like a funerary mask made of some rough-hewn green wood. There was a hand of glory, and another one that appeared to have been combined with an old-fashioned palmtop computer, and something that looked very much like the Antikythera mechanism, except it was made of glass. The oddest thing in the room, though, was the coffin-shaped piece of equipment standing against the wall between two sets of doors that led off to somewhere deeper in the building. It was supported at a 45-degree angle by a sort of high-tech plinth covered in inscrutable workings and coiled tubing; a thin white vapor wafted off the tubing, heavier than air, sinking slowly toward the floor as it dissipated.
Moving closer, Coraline confirmed her initial suspicion, which was that it was some kind of suspension chamber. She wondered if it were coffin-shaped because its designer had had a perverse sense of humor, or out of some esoteric engineering necessity. It had a little window in it, about where the brass plate would be on a coffin, and above that was a small bracket of bent metal that surrounded a 3x5 card on three sides. The card had a long code number on it, and was otherwise unadorned, except for four letters boldly handwritten in black Sharpie: SAYA.
Coraline leaned toward the window and peered inside, shading away the glare of the overhead lights with one hand. She saw the face of a dark-haired girl in her early teens, too perfectly composed and unmoving to be asleep. The window was near enough to her face that if she were breathing, surely she'd be fogging the glass by her nose.
The sound of a throat being cleared behind her made Coraline abandon her survey of the girl in the capsule and turn. If she found anything out of the ordinary in the sight that confronted her then, she covered it very well. Certainly most people would have, for the man standing just inside the door at the far end of the room was quite preternaturally ugly. He had a completely bald, somewhat misshapen head, prominently pointed ears, and bulging, pale eyes that seemed to stare at everything and nothing simultaneously.
The rest of him was just as remarkable, if less unsettling; he was very tall and lean, and dressed in a crisp and starkly archaic style, like a 19th-century gentleman of some importance.
"Miss Jones?" he said in a clipped, precise German accent, and as he spoke Coraline could see that he had very pronounced canine teeth. She wondered why they didn't interfere with his speech as he continued, "Agent Sapien is in the field. He asked me to conduct your initial orientation." Drawing himself up even straighter, this remarkable figure clicked the heels of his brightly polished shoes smartly together, folded one long, thin hand across his midsection, and gave a short bow. "Maximilian Friedrich Wilhelm Schreck, Graf von Orlock, at your service."
"Hi," said Coraline with a friendly smile. "I'm Coraline Jones and this is Dexter." The hand emerged from her messenger bag, waved, and disappeared again. "I take it this is kind of the Bureau's trophy room, huh?" She gestured to the capsule behind her. "What's with the dead girl in the stasis chamber?"
"Oh, she's not dead," said Orlock, crossing toward her with long, rapid strides that put her in mind of a spider with an urgent appointment. Stopping by the chamber, he turned to her with tilted head and went on, "Or, to be more precise, she's undead. Right now she's in a sort of hibernative state. She's in here so we can more easily monitor her condition. And to answer your first question, no, this isn't a trophy room so much as an observation area. These are among the Bureau's most dangerous, or potentially dangerous, artifacts."
"Then why not lock them up in a vault or something?" Coraline asked. "I mean, here they're practically in the lobby."
"In a sense, all of Headquarters is a vault," Orlock told her. "We keep them here because it's centrally located, easily monitored, and if something does happen, a response team can be here in seconds. This is a lesson we learned the hard way," he added with a somber expression, and Coraline made a mental note to defer further investigation on that point until she'd had a chance to get better established around here.
"Well, if you're my orientation officer, I guess we should get orienting, then," she said. "Abe said there'd be paperwork."
"Isn't there always?" Orlock asked with a philosophical smile. "It's the life's blood of any organization of this size... " He smirked slightly, an expression that looked wholly out of place on his hideous face. "... If you'll pardon the figure of speech. First things first, though: Here is your Bureau identification." He reached into the inside pocket of his cutaway jacket and produced a wallet-like leather item, which he handed to Coraline. She took it from his black-nailed, talon-like fingers and opened it to reveal a gleaming sword-and-fist BPRD badge opposite an ID card. The card had a holo of her face that looked like it had just been taken in the lobby when she arrived.
"For the rest of your equipment, we will need to visit the Technical Services department. The paperwork can wait until - " Orlock was interrupted by the chiming of a communicator. Arching one eyebrow, he muttered, "Ach. Excuse me a moment." He took an old-fashioned flipcomm from another inside pocket. "Orlock."
"Red," a gravelly voice replied. "Is the new girl there yet?"
"Ja, she's right here. I was just about to take her to Tech Services and begin issuing her equipment."
"Have to do that later. We need her down here ASAP. You've got the location. Has she got her ID?"
"Ja, ja, first thing I did, but Hellboy - "
"Good man. Get her on her way. We'll be waiting for her on the lower level. Red out."
Orlock blinked in mixed amazement and annoyance at the now-dead communicator, then closed it, put it away, and turned an apologetic face to Coraline.
"It's not normally our policy to send new agents into the field within 15 minutes of their arrival at Headquarters," he said, "but you heard, ja?" He shook his head. "He's often like that when things develop unexpectedly in the field. Surprise can make him quite insufferable. I'm sorry about this, Agent Jones."
Coraline didn't seem any more fazed by the sudden change of plans than she had by Orlock's appearance. She just grinned and clapped the vampire on the shoulder.
"I better not keep him waiting, then," she said cheerfully. "Where am I going?"
From the Journal of Henry Webster Shipman
August 5, 2410
Two months. Two months it has taken me to unravel the mysteries of this object, but I was determined not to give up, because I could sense its importance as plainly as I know my own. I knew that it would be the key to my future... and it is, albeit not in quite the way I was hoping.
It's an ancient phylactery, designed to house and elicit the life force of a supernatural being. Judging by the carvings, it's of Earth origin. I believe the characters in the inscription are Sumerian cuneiform, though they are too badly eroded to read. No matter. It is merely decorative. The actual ceremony to summon and command the being within is simple enough, and well-documented in numerous sources. I believe the one in Unaussprechliken Külten will be the most suitable, so I have begun preparations. Tomorrow - the summoning! I know not what kind of creature's essence is housed within, but the phylactery itself is clearly the work of a god, so whatever it is, I can only benefit from having it at my command. And from there... who knows?
Who knows indeed?
Monday, September 6, 2410
Millrace North Subway Station
Malden Avenue, New Avalon
It took Coraline a little more than half an hour to drive back into the city from Headquarters and find her way to where she was needed. The rain had tapered off as she approached the city, and it was barely coming down here, though the streets were wet and the gutters awash, testifying to the recent downpour. Spotting the exact place wasn't hard once she got within a block or two; it was the only subway station in the district that was cordoned off with yellow police line tape on both sides of the street. She pulled her old grey Citroën DS to the curb in the space between two NAPD patrol cars and climbed out, her BPRD badge case folded open and hanging badge-side-out around her neck on a lanyard. One of the two uniformed cops standing guard at the top of the station stairs politely asked to see her ID, then told her to go on through.
Below ground, the station's ticket hall was deserted, eerily so, with abandoned newspapers and various detritus giving it an abandoned air that the N's stations usually didn't have even at four in the morning. The electric gate at the end of the turnstile bank automatically opened to let Coraline through - some kind of transponder built into the badge, she suspected - and she went down the escalator to the platform level. This, too, was deserted, except for two figures standing in the middle of the platform, facing toward the southbound tracks. One was slim, bald, greenish, and dressed in snug black tactical gear; the other burly and trenchcoated, with coarse black sidewhiskers and bright red skin. Both turned to look as Coraline reached the bottom of the escalator.
"Hey, Abe," said Coraline. "What's up? I was expecting some kind of emergency."
Abe Sapien smiled. "Hello, Coraline. As a matter of fact, that's just what we're trying to prevent. Come, let me introduce you. Coraline Jones, this is - "
"She knows who I am," Hellboy interrupted gruffly. Turning to Coraline, he said, "Your file says you're a dowser."
"Among other things," Coraline replied.
"Good," said Hellboy. "Get dowsing."
Coraline tilted her head slightly, looking up at him; she wasn't a particularly tall woman, and he towered over her, but she didn't seem to find him intimidating. If anything, his brusqueness seemed faintly to amuse her.
After holding his gaze for a couple of seconds just to demonstrate that she wasn't cowed by him, she reached into an inner pocket of her slicker, took out a pair of white cotton gloves, and carefully, fastidiously pulled them on, making sure they were just so. Then she flipped open the flap of her messenger bag and said, "Dexter, the No. 4, I think, please." The bag's hand - similarly gloved - proffered what appeared to be a Y-shaped twig. Coraline took it, thanked the hand (which withdrew), and closed the bag, then flourished the twig and followed where it led. When this proved to be onto the tracks, she didn't hesitate, but jumped nimbly down into the space between the rails. Abe and Hellboy glanced at each other, then followed. They trailed behind her in silence as she walked steadily into the southbound trains' entrance tunnel, back northward along the tracks.
This went on for about 300 yards, the tip of the divining rod dipping lower and lower, until finally it nudged into the space between two of the ballast stones with a gentle tick and Coraline stopped walking.
"Here you go," she said. "There's an underground lake below here. Feels like it's oblong, more or less at right angles to the tunnel. Not sure how far down... pretty significant amount of water, though." She turned to Abe. "I'm not an expert on the subterranean topography of greater New Avalon," she added, "but I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that that isn't supposed to be here."
He shook his head. "It wasn't here when they did the last general survey of the subway line. Which was last month."
Hellboy regarded the girl for a moment, then asked, "How sure are you?"
"Sure enough," she replied. "It'd be pretty hard to miss."
He thought that over, then grunted, nodding. "Okay. You can take off. Thanks."
Coraline raised her eyebrows. "Take off? Oh, I don't think so." She dropped the divining rod back into her bag and the gloves after it, then went on, "I'm not only a dowser, I'm a full field operative, and I'm on this case now." She folded her arms and gave him a pugnacious look that, given the disparity in their sizes, should've been comical.
Hellboy gazed levelly at her for a few seconds, then smiled slightly and said, "Fine, stick around. But if you get tentacled, don't come crying to me." Then he walked past her and crouched down at the spot she'd indicated, brushing his left hand through the ballast stones and feeling the tunnel floor beneath. Coraline caught Abe's eye and grinned; he smiled back, then went to Hellboy's side.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"I think we need to get to that lake and find out where it came from," Hellboy replied. Then, without warning, he reared back his massive stone right hand and slammed it into the ground, sending ballast flying. Abe recoiled and Coraline held up one side of her slicker like a vampire's cape to shield her face.
"Uh, Red, I'm not sure that's such a good idea," said Abe, but Hellboy took a second swing. Something went crack in the tunnel floor, and the ground subsided slightly, those stones that hadn't been scattered now sliding down the slope and vanishing into the darkness below. A third blow widened the fissure into an actual hole, big enough for Hellboy to climb down through if he so chose; instead, he took a highway flare from one of the pouches on his belt, set it alight, and leaned down with that in hand to have a look.
For a few seconds, there was silence apart from the sputtering of the flare and the slow, steady drip of water from somewhere above them. Then the investigators became aware, slowly at first, of a low vibration, a deep near-subsonic rumble, that seemed to be approaching from a long way away. For a second, Coraline wondered if someone had mistakenly let a train through onto the line.
"Do you see anything?" Abe asked.
"No," said Hellboy, but then his eyes widened and he took on a look of complete disbelief before lurching back from the hole. "Look - " he cried, but the rest of the exclamation was - literally - drowned as water erupted from the hole he'd made, gushing torrentially out with such force and speed that it blew him over backward. The tunnel flooded almost instantly, the water bowling all three investigators back toward the station. Even Abe, whose element this was, found himself hard-pressed to maintain his bearings, much less offer any sort of resistance to the cataract, as it relentlessly swept him and his colleagues southward.
Before any of them really knew what was happening, the wave had cast them all up on the platform at Millrace North and then withdrawn, leaving them dripping and (in Hellboy and Coraline's cases) coughing on the slick tiles of the platform floor. Coraline raised herself up, sputtering, and watched the river that the southbound tracks had become flowing away to the north, bearing with it all the loose papers and random trash that until moments before had littered the platform. Within a few more seconds it had become a placid current, mild reverberations lapping at the edges of the track trench like waves in a bathtub.
Coraline flipped open her bag. "Dexter? Are you okay?" Dexter emerged and gave her a thumbs-up; smiling, she bumped knuckles with him, then closed the bag again and got to her feet, regarding the subway river with growing fascination.
"Well," said Hellboy. "Wasn't expecting that."
"Are you all right, Coraline?" Abe asked, but Coraline didn't answer; she was standing at the platform's edge, water streaming from her clothes, and staring off to the north, watching the trash disappear into the shadows of the tunnel. "Coraline?" Abe asked again.
Coraline shrugged out of the strap of her messenger bag, putting it carefully down on the tiles; then she took off her sou'wester hat, slicked her sodden hair back from her face with an obviously unconscious gesture, and dropped it on top of the bag.
Then she spread her arms wide and toppled forward into the water, her unbuttoned slicker flying open like a pair of bright yellow wings as she fell, then spreading out on the surface for an instant before furling and disappearing with a splash.
"What the - " Hellboy blurted.
"Coraline!" Abe cried. He hit the water after her like an arrow, slicing through the darkened surface, eyes open and searching. With her bright yellow raincoat and boots, she should be easy to see, and the trench was no more than six feet or so deep -
- but she was gone, as utterly gone as if she had never existed at all.
Abe searched the full length of the trench, but when he tried to enter the tunnel to the north, the water churned again, forcing him back. He tried again and again, but was repulsed each time, until finally, exhausted, he had to admit defeat. He surfaced near where he'd gone in, steadying himself against the tiled lip of the platform, and Hellboy hunkered down by the water's edge.
"Well? Where is she?" he asked.
"I don't know," Abe replied.
"You don't know?"
"She's disappeared," said Abe. "Completely disappeared."
"Well, that's just great. I told her to take off." Hellboy sat back on his haunches and blew out a sigh. "I think that's gotta be some kind of record for losing a rookie. What the hell are we dealin' with here?"
"Whatever it is, it has great power over water," Abe said. "Even I can't get anywhere near that tunnel now. It's as if the water itself is against me." He shook his head. "I'll have to check my references. There are a number of entities that could do something like this, but I'm at a loss as to why any of them should suddenly manifest in a New Avalon subway tunnel."
Coraline suddenly surfaced next to him, making both Hellboy and Abe draw back with stereo cries of consternation.
"Her name is Nomia," she said. "She's a naiad. But she won't come out unless you promise not to hurt her."
"A naiad?!" said Hellboy. "What's a naiad doing in the subway? We're not even near the river."
"She'd tell you herself if she dared," Coraline told him, "but you frightened her bashing in the roof of her grotto like that."
"I frightened her? She tried to drown us!"
"Speak for yourself," said Abe.
"You know what I mean."
"If she wanted to drown us, I'd be dead," Coraline pointed out.
"Why aren't you?" Hellboy asked. "Not that I'm complaining."
"Coraline has a special gift for communicating with supernatural entities," Abe put in. "It's the main reason why she came to the Bureau's attention in the first place. I suspect the naiad understood instinctively that she meant it no harm."
Coraline nodded. "And she's hoping for the same assurance from you... because she needs our help."
"Well, I don't make a habit of punching nymphs," said Hellboy. "As long as she means us no harm, she's got nothing to fear from me."
"That goes for me as well," Abe said.
"Okay. I'll see what she says to that. Wait here." Coraline disappeared below the surface again. Abe and Hellboy were kept waiting perhaps a minute... and then the remaining water drained away, disappearing whence it had come and leaving Abe low and dry in the middle of the tracks. A few moments later, Coraline appeared from the darkness at the mouth of the northward tunnel with another, even smaller figure walking hesitantly at her side.
From the Journal of Henry Webster Shipman
August 8, 2410
All is ruin.
The summoning proceeded without flaw. The creature appeared at once: a water elemental, and one of exquisite beauty - its form feminine... perfect. But then - disaster! I could not control her! She refused my simplest command, defied my will, even injured my face before making her escape. Now she is gone. Gone! And I have nothing. I have tried repeating the summoning, hoping that it would drag her back to the phylactery, but apparently the Külten ritual will only serve to make her manifest on this plane. Now that she is so, the ritual does nothing.
There must be a way to compel her to return. There must! I cannot accept that I could come so close to being rewarded for all my patience and hard work simply to have my reward defy me and disappear into this cursed city. I - must - possess her! Iä! Iä! Hgahk'nagh ghanaag'agl fhtagn! Azathoth fhtagn!
But calm, calm, Shipman. Think it through! You have the phylactery still. Even if no ritual exists that can force her back to it, she will return for it of her own will eventually. She must. Her body may be at large somewhere in New Avalon, but her soul still resides in this tube of glass and silver, resting upon my desk. She must try to get it back. She will hold out for a month, perhaps two... but eventually she will come. She will bargain for it. She will try to cloud my mind with her charms and take it away for free... but that will not happen. Now that I know what she is, I will be prepared for her return. It will be Shipman who holds the upper hand.
And then the elemental will be mine... body and soul.
Monday, September 6, 2410
303 Fate Avenue
Claremont, New Avalon
Henry Webster Shipman sat in the garden behind his townhouse, which backed onto the canal that carried Millrace Stream through Claremont. He turned the phylactery over and over in his hand, letting his thumbs trace the complicated silver seals at both ends, occasionally tilting it and watching the little air bubble trapped in the water within race from one end to the other. In the month since the creature he'd summoned from it had escaped, he'd learned more about it. It was not, as he had originally surmised, Sumerian, but Greek. The creature who came from it was no mere elemental, but a naiad - thanks to the old man on New Crete he even knew which one. And he knew that he had been luckier even than he'd thought, for though elementals were powerful, naiads were kin to the gods of old Olympus. To a determined and enterprising enough mortal, they were a path to power in their own right.
He looked up sharply as the water in the silver reflecting bowl at the other end of the garden, left over from the summoning and carefully tended since, began to bubble. His hatchet face brightened into a look of something like glee as he rose from his chair and stepped around the garden table, and a few moments later, the creature rose again from the waters to face him. Hard-hearted though he was, prepared though he was, Shipman had to catch his breath at the sight of her. Petite but perfectly formed, her skin a pale, almost colorless blue, she had hair that looked like whitewater perpetually rolling from her brow back over her scalp and down her slender back, before being lost in a froth of ephemeral foam near her waist, and her eyes were a slightly darker blue than her skin, luminous and liquid. Even the way she moved reminded Shipman of flowing water as she stepped over the rim of the reflecting bowl and stood before him.
"I knew you'd come back," he said, making a conscious effort to shake off the effect of her beauty and assert his upper hand. This was made a little easier by the air of profound exhaustion she had about her, showing through even her otherworldly grace. She was paler now than she had been when she escaped, even slightly transparent. Her time on the run had clearly taxed her few remaining reserves of strength near to their limits.
Shipman tried not to smile as he saw how weary she was. He held up the phylactery and asked on, "Are you ready to do as I say now?"
Nomia glared at him. When she spoke, her voice was like a mountain stream running over rocks, but her words were angry: "You have no right to that. It was made for Daphnis, and he is dead."
Shipman shook the phylactery at her and snapped, "Enough! Do you not understand, creature? I hold your life in my hand! You will do as I command!"
Nomia shook her head. "Do as you will. I shall not submit."
Shipman shook with rage. This wasn't how he'd imagined this scenario playing out at all. She was supposed to be desperate, at the end of her tether. She would wheedle and cajole, and he would then turn her attempt at persuasion back upon her and seize command of her very being. Instead she was forcing his hand, and if he followed through on his threat, he'd be right back where he started, having gained no advantage at all from his miraculous find, all his diligent effort. That wasn't the way it was supposed to work. Unable to think of any way of turning the situation back to his advantage, he found all the desire he'd felt for the nymph transmuted instantly to a vengeful hate.
"So be it!" he spat, seizing the phylactery by both ends. "If perish you would, then perish you shall!" He raised the vial above his head in both hands, intending to bring it down and snap it in two -
The townhouse's back door exploded open upon the application of one of Hellboy's hooves, and the rest of him crowded out into the garden after it, his BPRD sidearm at the ready.
"Hold it!" he roared, leveling his weapon at Shipman's head. "Put that down on the table, nice and easy."
Normally something of a coward, Shipman was far too firmly in the grip of wrath to be intimidated now. Instead of complying, he brandished the phylactery and snapped, "I think not! Come one step closer and it's all over for this creature. Do you realize what I hold here? The water sealed in this vial is all that remains of the lost spring of Neronomeias. If it is spilled, the naiad of that spring dies." He pointed at Nomia, his face a mask of fury. "She dies!"
Hellboy glanced at the nymph with his eyes, keeping his pistol covering Shipman. "Is this true?"
"Yes," Nomia replied, then added, "but I care not. I will not be this mortal's plaything. Better to die."
"You see?" Shipman snarled. "Ungrateful creature! I brought her back from a thousand years of oblivion and she hasn't even the good grace to do as I say."
"Well, then the vial's no good to you anyway," Hellboy reasoned. "So why don't you just hand it over and we'll forget this whole thing happened."
Shipman tore his eyes from Nomia, somehow lovelier still in her infuriating defiance, and gave the investigator a glare that softened into a crafty look as something occurred to him.
"All right," he said. "All right, demon, you win, I'll let you have the phylactery... but you must give me something in return."
Hellboy shook his head. "Nope," he said. "That's not the way this works. You want to file a claim for whatever you paid for the thing, the Bureau will reimburse you, but you're not getting me to agree to some kind of goofball favor-for-a-favor arrangement. This is real life, buddy, not The Thousand and One Nights."
Shipman gritted his teeth and shifted his grip on the phylactery. "Then she dies!"
Hellboy regarded him over the pistol's sights and replied flatly, "You won't be far behind."
As Shipman hesitated, his mind flailing for some way in which he could come out of this situation not only alive but somehow ahead, Hellboy's partner finished climbing up the slick stones of the canal wall and the iron parapet of the garden fence. Sizing up the situation in an instant, Abraham Sapien tensed his lean muscles and leaped from the rail. Shipman spotted the motion out of the corner of his eye and had just begun to turn toward it when Abe hit him high in a flying tackle, nearly bowling him over backward - but the wiry would-be mystic was stronger than he looked and in a towering rage, so he held his ground and began wrestling the fish-man, still clutching the silver-sealed vial in a madman's grip.
Hellboy cursed - with the two of them tottering around like a couple of aggressive drunks, he couldn't get a clear shot - and had just resigned himself to putting his pistol away and wading in with his fists when Shipman managed to twist free of Abe's grasp. Roaring with wrath, he produced a snake-bladed dagger from somewhere inside his robes. If he hadn't been so busy, Hellboy would have palmed his face, so comically typical was the image: a wannabe wizard waving a kris around, straight out of the funny pages.
"Back, merman!" Shipman barked, slashing at the air in front of him. "You'll not have it!"
"Put it down, Shipman!" said Hellboy. "There's no other way out of this for you now."
"Put it down? Put it down? Oh, I'll put it down, all right." So saying, he raised the phylactery above his head again, meaning to dash it to the patio flagstones beneath his feet.
Except that when he brought his hand violently down, it was already empty.
"Wha?" he blurted, looking at his empty hand with disbelief. He whirled - and behind him stood Coraline Jones, a triumphant smirk on her face and the phylactery in her hand.
"Miserable girl!" he barked. "Give that back at once!"
"Nuh-uh," she said, "mine now." She scampered back out of his reach as he lunged for her, shoving the vial into her messenger bag as she went. Abe and Hellboy moved to grab him, but before they could do so Shipman, bug-eyed with rage, had taken his kris and slashed his own wrist, speaking some ancient words as he did so.
It was typical of Henry Webster Shipman's grasp of the eldritch arts that this little trick didn't do what he expected it would. He thought it would call forth an extraplanar being which, though it could not be directly commanded (which, along with the requirement for self-inflicted injury, was why he'd lost interest in the spell after learning it), would wreak havoc on his enemies. And that was true, as far as it went. What he hadn't understood, from his imperfect reading of the ancient text in which it appeared, was that this being would not bring along its own body to our universe from its place of origin.
Rather, it would use his.
The transformation was brief, nauseating to watch, and agonizing to experience, but when it was all over with, some part of Shipman reflected that if he'd known about the feeling of power that would come with a bit of planar possession, he'd have sought out a way to do it years ago. Ignoring the petty annoyances of Abe and Hellboy's gunfire, he turned his newly monstrous form toward Coraline, backing her up against the garden fence. She had nowhere to go now, unless she tried to climb the fence and jump into the canal, and if she tried that, he'd catch her and tear her limb from limb before ever she reached the top rail.
She didn't seem too concerned. Instead, she reached into her bag and removed the phylactery, then stood there regarding it as if there wasn't a ten-foot-tall fungoid horror that, until moments before, had been a man standing there demanding it. Behind it, Hellboy put his regular pistol away and hauled out the Samaritan, but Coraline caught his eye and gave a little shake of her head.
"You know," she said to Shipman, "there's a funny thing about naiads. They personify bodies of fresh water - brooks, ponds, that kind of thing - and if those bodies of water ever dry up, they die."
"I know all that," the thing that had been Shipman slavered, its drool sizzling on the patio flagstones. One of the three mouths he now possessed did not speak along with the other two; rather, it quietly chanted in a language which no one present understood, but all felt a slight chill just hearing it.
"Mm," said Coraline, unconcerned. "But what do you think happens," she went on didactically, "when a naiad's home waters are completely absorbed by another body of water that hasn't got one of its own?"
And having asked that apparently rhetorical question, she snapped the top off the phylactery, turned, and poured the last few ounces of the spring of Neronomeias into the Claremont Canal.
Nomia cried out in horror for a second, until she realized what Coraline's action really meant; then her face went blank and she wobbled on her feet as she felt a fundamental change sweep over her being. With one simple gesture, Coraline Jones had wiped away her dependence on the last fragment of the long-vanished Neronomeias and replaced it with a connection to one of the pseudocontinent's most mystically significant waterways.
As new strength flooded into her, Nomia knew that Millrace Stream was far from the sleepy woodland spring the Neronomeias had been. It was fast-flowing and much-loved, passing through one of the most densely populated, vibrantly alive urban areas in the galaxy. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of beings lived within sight of it, particularly along the length of the Claremont Canal. It was one of the flowing arteries of the city's heart.
And now, in an instant, the naiad called Nomia had become the living personification of all of it.
She opened her eyes to see the monstrously transfigured form of Henry Webster Shipman staring at her with seven bloodshot, bulbous eyes. In those eyes she could see disbelief, dismay, anger... and still, peeping in at the back, the most oblique corner of that covetous lust that had lighted his face when she had first seen him.
That, much more than the twisted inhumanity of his changed body, filled her with disgust and loathing.
"My curse upon you, Henry Shipman," she spat, the bubbling-brook quality of her voice changed to something reminiscent of a catastrophic flood. "Let this form you so desired be the last thing ever you see!"
Shipman recoiled, clutching at his hideous face with his taloned paws and screaming with all three throats. When he lowered his hands, all his eyes stared blankly, their black-centered redness replaced by milky obscurity. His three voices uttering different imprecations, he turned and lurched away, flailing, whether seeking to escape or to have his revenge, no one present really knew. In the event, Coraline jumped out of his way and his massive, shambling form crashed into the garden fence with full force, tearing loose an entire six-foot section from its mountings, and the blinded thing that had been Shipman plunged into the canal.
The water closed in like a live and furious thing, crushing Shipman and dragging him down. He thrashed briefly at the surface, roaring polyphonous hate... and then he vanished, never to be seen again.
Hellboy, Abe, and Coraline stood by the broken fence, looking down at the spot where Shipman disappeared. The surface of the Millrace went placidly by, heading on its unconcerned way to the Oxbow and the lake. Then, slowly, all three turned to regard Nomia. The nymph stood looking back at them for a moment, then walked slowly toward them until she stood at the canal's edge. Turning, she smiled at Coraline.
"Thank you," she said. "I will not forget this." She smiled also at Hellboy and Abe, but her gaze returned to Coraline before she spoke again: "My waters will ever welcome and protect you, my friends. If you have need of my help, seek me out." Her smile becoming slightly wry, she added, "This city is now my home, too."
Then, with the effortless grace of a waterfall, she dove into the canal, vanishing beneath its placid surface without a ripple.
Hellboy and Abe looked at each other, then both looked at Coraline, who grinned back at them. Hellboy cracked a grin of his own.
"You're gonna do all right, kid," he said, thumping her on the shoulder. "C'mon, let's go tell the N it's safe to start repairs on that tunnel."
"Should we leave out the part where you made the hole in the first place?" Coraline asked impishly.
"Uh... yeah, probably just as well," Hellboy agreed.
"Welcome to the BPRD" - a BPRD Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins with Geoff Depew
special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2009 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited