Agnar woke with a start. Something was in the hallway -- something with more than two feet. And it wasn't breathing.
Squinting into the darkness of the tenement room, Agnar checked for exits, then foes, then weapons. The door was locked, and the window was closed and fifty feet above the street below. No intruders hid in the shadows of the tiny room. His gun was under his pillow, already in his hand. His sword was in his duffel bag at the foot of the bed. The trumpet case was on the bed next to him.
Agnar tentatively lifted one leg, but grimaced and gently set it down when the creaking bedsprings announced his shifting weight. I'm stuck, unless I want to announce that I'm awake.
Unbroken light shone under the tenement door. When they step in front of the door, I'll see the shadows of their feet and get a second or two of warning. Two shots to the center of the door, then I grab the case, the duffel bag, then . . .
The light shining under the doorway gradually dimmed, then went out with a feeble flicker. Supernatural, then, thought Agnar. To hell with the bedsprings. Now!
Agnar was against the far wall, with the case and the bag in hand when the door broke into splinters. The city lights through the window revealed a bulky shape beyond. Then dozens of red eyes blinked into bright fury, limning a greenish gray mass of hooks and tentacles in a fiery glow.
The creature didn't enter the room so much as it extruded itself into it. Tentacles gripped the doorframe, then the mass wriggled inside, flailing eyestalks in every direction, illuminating the room with dozens of red flashlight beams.
A shoggoth, Agnar thought. Then he spied locks of long dark hair amid the tentacles and eyestalks. No, there's something else in there -- it's an abomination.
Agnar ducked as tentacles whipped over his head. The door is out of the question, which leaves the window. Holding bag and case in one hand, Agnar used the other to empty his gun into the abomination. Tentacles flexed in response, and Agnar found himself bathed in the red light of a dozen eyestalks.
Agnar dropped the useless gun, then tossed the bag and trumpet case away from the window. Most of the abomination's eyestalks followed, so Agnar leapt in the other direction. Three desperate steps brought Agnar to the window. Covering his face with one arm, he sprang out of the window, shattering the glass and twisting in midair. He scrabbled for the ledge with his other hand as his feet whipped over his head. Barbed tentacles stabbed at empty air in the middle of the window frame.
A painful yank on every joint of his arm told Agnar that he'd found a grip on the windowsill. Then he uncovered his face to see more tentacles flapping through the window. With a roar and the tinkling of more glass, the abomination wriggled through the window, leaping into midair in pursuit of Agnar. Even as it fell to the street below, several eyestalks turned to illuminate Agnar, hanging outside the window by one hand.
The tentacle-beast landed on the sidewalk with a wet slap. Its tentacles lolled out, and a wine-red pool of blood grew beneath it. But then the tentacles flexed themselves tentatively and the eyestalks all gazed upward.
A five-story drop didn't do it, Agnar thought. Humans just don't beat abominations. But I won't die easy. He hoisted himself back in through the window. Ignoring the bleeding from the glass cuts, he grabbed the broadsword from the duffel bag and the trumpet case by its handle.
Seconds later, the first tentacle curled around the windowsill, followed by an eyestalk that lit the room in baleful red. Agnar heard screams from the street outside. At least I can get people away from the building. Agnar waited until most of the abomination's bulk was accumulating outside the window frame, then he dashed across the room, dodging more tentacles as he made for the hallway. Find a fire alarm!
The first tentacle constricted around Agnar's ankle as he turned the corner in the hallway, within sight of the red pull-handle of the fire alarm. He felt a gentle tug backward, as if the creature was testing the strength of what it had caught. Then the tug became a constant pull, and Agnar charged forward with all the might in his other leg, trying to reach the far end of the hallway. He hugged a fire extinguisher box in the hallway with both arms as the tentacle pulled harder and harder.
My grip is slipping -- I can't outmuscle even one tentacle. Agnar suddenly let go and allowed himself to be pulled back down the hallway. Then he wrenched his captured leg up and slashed his sword just above it. Three more hacks from the sword, and the tentacle detached, spraying purple ichor across the hallway walls. Agnar got up and ran, pulling the handle on the fire alarm. Six more tentacles and an eyestalk emerged from Agnar's room, slithering like snakes down the hallway. Everyone evacuating will use the stairs, so I'll use the elevator. I want it to know where I'm going.
Agnar grabbed the trumpet case and staggered to the elevator, one foot flopping uselessly on the end of his leg. Some sort of paralytic poison. I can feel a tingle from the foot, but nothing else, Agnar thought. Well, I'll be dead before it paralyzes me completely.
Agnar pushed the basement button. As the elevator began its achingly slow descent, he gave himself the once over. Minor lacerations from the glass, plus the paralysis in the lower leg. I'm bleeding like a stuck pig, but that's good -- I'm leaving an easy trail to follow.
Reaching the basement, Agnar hit the emergency stop on the elevator. I'll leave it down here so the tentacle thing absolutely knows where I've gone. He limped into a spider web of steam-pipes and heating ducts. The boiler room. Good place for a last stand.
Spying a mallet, Agnar dropped his sword and started hunting around the room, smashing whatever valves he could find and twisting every wheel into the off position. All that heat with nowhere to go. The dials on the tenement building's boiler slowly began to quiver upward.
Then the steel stairway door flew across the room and tentacles went everywhere. Agnar tried to leap and dodge, but his ankle gave way with a pop that Agnar could hear but not feel. Tentacles wrapped around his limbs, then his torso, then his neck. Across his body, Agnar could feel the cool, tingling of the poison, like gasoline evaporating on his skin. Then the tentacles started squeezing as the abomination's bulk drew near.
The red eyestalks hovered over Agnar, examining him from all angles. Then one thick tentacle emerged from the wriggling mass, the distorted face of a woman carried on its tip. Kristen Bauer! Agnar thought.
Like a mask, the skin of the face and the hair on her scalp were all that remained. As Agnar watched, wormlike tentacles slithered out of the face's eyeholes.
The face spoke. "Dr. Gilman said you were looking for me. He says you should enjoy the irony of your success being directly responsible for your death. But how's it going to happen? Shall I let the ichor do its work and wait until your paralyzed lungs stop breathing? I can grow teeth -- should this be a bloodletting? Or shall I just squeeze?"
Agnar tried to speak, but found himself gasping for air. The fingers of one hand tried to work the latch on the trumpet case, but then they too started tingling, and Agnar could only flex them feebly.
"What's in the case, Agnar? Obviously not a trumpet. Another gun, perhaps?" Agnar vaguely felt the case wrested from his grasp. No!
Small tentacles flipped open the latch. "Oh, Dr. Gilman can definitely use . . ."
The shrill whistle drowned out the abomination's words. Then the whistle became a scream, then a roar as the boiler exploded. Agnar felt himself lifted and buffeted as everything went hot and white.
Before falling unconscious, Agnar had time for one more thought. I wonder if the Gjallerhorn can survive a brick building falling on it.
To be continued...
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