The door swung open. Inside was darkness.
Quickly, we ducked inside and closed the door behind us. It wouldn't be
much protection from anything coming in from the outside (especially since
the lock was destroyed) but it was better than nothing.
My gaze darted around, taking in what I could in a fast look; my friends
were doing the same. Directly ahead of us was a wide staircase leading upward.
To my left was a doorway; there was another doorway further down the same hall,
and the hallway disappeared into dimness. On my right was another doorway with a
dim light shining from somewhere inside, and another hallway that extended back
beyond the stairs. The whole area was eerily silent. "Ideas?" I asked 'Hawk.
His hunches were usually worth listening to. This time, he just shook his head.
Jean pulled had pulled out her camera and was holding it in her off hand,
making a sweeping shot of the area. Her Predator was still in her good hand.
Smart. "Okay," I said. "Let's try"
"Shh!" 'Hawk whispered. "I heard"
"What's going on?" came a voice from near the top of the stairs. "Who's here?"
The voice sounded hesitant, frightened.
Swiftly, we ducked to the side of the stairway. I looked up to the stairs.
Standing there was a middle-aged man in pajamas and robe. He held a cane in one
hand, with his other hand grasping the banister. One of the patients. I cursed
myself silentlyone of the corpers. But even I couldn't just shoot him in
cold blood. I looked at 'Hawk for ideas. He shrugged, then started, staring intently
at the man, who was looking around with an expression of confusion.
Jean moved her camera around to get a shot at the guy, and gasped. Almost
simultaneously, she and 'Hawk yelled "Down!"
We hit the ground just as the middle aged patient raised his cane and started
spraying the area with bullets. Several rounds slammed into the wall right
behind where we'd been standing. I raised my assault rifle.
Three other heads appeared above the upstairs railing, followed in quick succession
by three gun barrels. The guy in pajamas seemed to melt, his facial features and
clothing running like wax, and suddenly he was revealed as a gunman in armored
coat and helmet, his cane resolving into a wicked looking shotgun. "Watch the hall!"
I yelled to Jean, as I blew away the would-be patient before he could retreat
to his cover. He went down head-over-heels down the stairway, landing with a
thump at the bottom.
Two of the others were firing. More rounds thudded into the wall behind us.
As I raised up to return fire, a round cut a crease in the shoulder of my
armored coat. These guys were good. My head rang as a spell hit me, but 'Hawk must
have been helping me out because it didn't work. He formed his own spell,
throwing it savagely at two of the gunmen who were too close together. One
screamed and fell over the railing, landing at Jean's feet; the other
one shrugged it off and took a shot at 'Hawk. Fortunately, his efforts at avoiding
the spell's effects threw off his aim, and he missed. Not by much, though.
To my left, I heard Jean pocket her Predator and grab the SMG from the guy
who'd just made a sudden appearance in front of her. She lowered herself to a
crouch and aimed the SMG down the darkened hallway, ready to spray anybody she
saw. Had to assume that was covered; 'Hawk and I couldn't watch every direction
Two gunmen remained. They were fast, but still not as fast as I was. Maybe
fast as 'Hawk, though. One blew off another burst at Winterhawk; he staggered
back, cursing, as the rounds were stopped by his armored coat. That had to hurt.
No blood, though. He was okay. I used my superior speed to take out the third
gunman before he could duck back behind cover.
The fourth gunman moved before we could react. He disappeared behind
the railing, and after the echo of the gunshots settled down, we heard nothing.
"Follow him?" Jean asked.
I shook my head. "Let's check down here first, and then we'll head upstairs
if we need to."
"Keep aware," 'Hawk said, rubbing his shoulder where the gunman's burst had hit
him. "We don't know if there's another way down from the upper floors."
"I gotta know," I said as we started moving. "How did you guys figure that
'Hawk shrugged. "When I saw him out of the corner of my eye, he didn't look
right. He shimmered. Typical indication of a mask spell."
"I saw it through my camera," Jean said. "It was weird. To my eyes, he looked
like a guy in pajamas, but through the camera viewfinder he looked like"
she pointed at the guy at the foot of the stairs. "that."
"Score one for magic and technology," I muttered. "Let's go."
Moving quickly with me in front, Jean in the middle, and 'Hawk bringing up
the rear, we made our way down the right-side hallway. The first doorway at
the front, the one with the dim light, was a large living room. Overstuffed
couches, a cheery-looking (but currently unlit) fireplace, and a baby grand
piano dominated the room, along with a large, curtained picture window.
We scanned the area for any sign of movement or heat traces; finding none,
we moved on.
The remaining rooms on that side of the house were a bathroom, an office,
and an examination room. All were unlocked, and all were empty. Everything, as
far as we could tell, looked like it fit with the idea of a small, exclusive
hospital with no evil secrets. Jean's camera hummed slightly as she continued
filming the area. 'Hawk and I continued to glance nervously around, convinced
that the remaining gunman was going to pop up and open fire at any moment.
The hallway turned left and extended behind the stairs, where it met up
with the hallway on the other side. Looking down there, we could see the body
of the gunman whose SMG Jean had appropriated, still in the position where
we had left it. At the end of this hallway nearest us was another doorway
which led to another small examination room. Also empty. "Let's check out
the rest and then go upstairs," I whispered.
"Odd that we haven't found the stairs down to the basement yet," 'Hawk said.
"Most Victorians have basements, don't they?"
I didn't know, so I didn't answer. We continued down the hall, stepped over
the body, and shoved open the next door, guns drawn.
This room was a large industrial-style kitchen. I flipped the light switch,
and the area was illuminated in bright fluorescents, showing spotless
stainless-steel countertops and modern appliances including a large refrigerator,
two ovens, and an institutional-style stove with six large burners. Nothing
moved in here, either. A swinging door in the kitchen led to the next
room, which I could see through the large pass-through cut into the wall was
a dining room with a long table. On the other side of the kitchen was
another, flimsier-looking door. I flung it open, saw shelves of food and
no lurking gunmen, and closed it again.
"Where is everybody?" Jean asked nervously, still filming. "This is giving
me the creeps. They must have more than four people guarding this place."
"The patients...the real ones, I mean, are probably upstairs," I
said. "Let's check out the dining room and then we'll go find 'em." I didn't
speculate out loud about what I'd do with them when I found them. That was
because I wasn't sure yet myself.
We were heading toward the door to the dining room when Winterhawk stopped
and turned around. "Hmm..." he said, almost to himself.
"What?" I came over and joined him; he was staring at the pantry door.
"What's in there?" he asked, pointing.
"Pantry," I said. "I looked in there. Just food." I pointed toward the dining
room. "Come onlet's go before they come down here and investigate."
He didn't move. Instead, he continued to examine the door. "Isn't
that door a bit...well...wide for a pantry closet?"
Impatiently, I turned back around to look at it, as did Jean. But when I
looked again, I had to admit he was right. The door was a little more than a
meter wide, certainly wider than the standard interior door, unless it had
been upgraded to more easily accommodate trolls. But the door to the kitchen
wasn't that wide; neither was the one to the dining room.
"He's right," Jean said. "But does it matter? I mean, these crazy old
Victorian houses don't measure up to code a lot of the time..."
'Hawk opened the door again, swinging it wide so he could
see clearly inside. This time, I spotted the anomaly. "That sure is a lot of
floor space for a pantry, too." It was: the shelves with the food on them were
very narrow front to back, in most places about fifteen centimeters. It
looked like a lot of food, but only on first glance. Most of the
interior of the pantry closet was nothing but empty floor space. "Watch
the door," I said to Jean. "If anything comes in, shoot it."
She nodded, looking not too happy about it. But she had agreed that we
were in charge, at least until we found what we were looking for.
I stepped into the pantry closet, and 'Hawk got down on his knees near
the door. I wasn't sure what he was looking for, so I concentrated on pulling
down cans of food from the shelves and looking behind them, still half-convinced
that this was a red herring and the real action was upstairs.
"Look here!" Winterhawk said after a few moments. I hunkered down next to
him, and he pointed out a slender seam between the doorway and the kitchen floor.
"If you look carefully," he said, "You can see that there's a very slight
difference between the levels of the two sides of the seams," he said, indicating
it as he spoke.
"Sowhat are you telling me?" I asked. Jean glanced over to see what
we were doing, then returned to her post.
"I think we've just found the way down," he said. "All we have to do is
find the controls."
I stared at him. "An elevator? Hidden in a pantry closet?"
"Sounds like they're taking something down that they don't want anyone to
find out about, doesn't it?" He indicated the shelves full of food. "Keep up
with what you were doing. They've probably hidden the controls behind some of
these cans." He stepped out of the elevator and motioned to Jean. "You'll want
to see this," he said. "I'll keep an eye on things out here."
Gratefully, Jean took 'Hawk's place inside the closet with me, pulling cans
off the shelves and taking shots of the interior as we did so. It only took
us about a minute to discover the two small buttons, unobtrusively marked with an up arrow
and a down arrow, hidden behind two large cans of peaches. "Got it!" I called
to 'Hawk. I was getting nervous about the lack of opposition too. Maybe they
were all downstairs. Great.
Walking backward and keeping his eyes trained on the door to the kitchen,
'Hawk joined us in the pantry closet/elevator. "Going down?" he asked.
His tone was flippant, but his face was grim. I think we all knew that whatever
we had been looking for, we were about to find it. And chances were pretty good
that it knew we were coming.