Larry awoke at three in the morning to a noise that he’d never heard before.
His alarm was generally a chorus of gentle tones that built in intensity over thirty minutes prior to his wake up time. It had apparently been designed to make the transition from sleep to wakefulness as easy as scientifically possible.
This was a smaller noise. High pitched, insistent, and repetitive.
Groggily, Larry tried to separate his dreams from reality, but it was like trying to pull apart wet newspaper. The noise was close. Through his sleep-addled thoughts, he tried to make sense of how someone had managed to park a car in his bedroom, and then who had set it’s alarm off.
He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes, his movements slow and heavy. When he realised that the noise was his security alarm, he froze, his body going tense.
The door to his bedroom opened with a blinding light. The silhouette in the doorway was wearing black, light body-armour and carried a submachine gun.
‘Sir?’ said the figure, loud enough to be heard over the alarm.
Larry’s eyes adjusted to the light and he recognised the figure, ‘What the hell is it, Johnson? What’s going on?’
Larry could just see Johnson’s mouth tighten in the darkness. ‘Sir, there’s… there’s been a break in.’
‘Shit!’ Larry said, throwing off the covers and standing up, ‘I’m assuming it’s being dealt with?’
Johnson paused for a fraction of a second, but then moved into practised speech, ‘Sir, we need to get you to a place of safety immediately.’
‘What the fuck are you talking about, Johnson? What kind of break in is this?’
‘Sir, we need to move now,’ said Johnson, his expression strained.
Larry hesitated a second, before sighing heavily. ’Do I have time to put on a dressing gown, or do you want me to come with you in my underwear?’
Johnson’s expression and tone remained stoic. ‘Please be quick.’
Larry got dressed with short sharp movements, as if his clothes were responsible for waking him up. He marched out of the room with as much dignity as an older man in a dressing gown and slippers could muster. With barely a glance at Johnson who was holding the door open for him, Larry confidently walked out into the corridor.
‘Sir, it’s better if I walk ahead.’
Exasperated, Larry allowed Johnson to overtake him. His bodyguard was marching slightly too briskly for his pace, but Larry kept up.
Lights had been turned on all through the mansion, so the corridors were almost blindingly gold. The mansion was haphazardly and incongruously covered in Egyptian, Roman, and Japanese inspired fixtures, all with the same metallic, golden sheen. Golden pillars lined the walls. A red carpet with gold trim covered the floor. White glass hung from small golden chandeliers above them. The whole mansion radiated a gaudy opulence rarely seen outside the tombs of particularly rich kings.
Larry, in his gold-lined dressing gown, seemed entirely at ease and at home in the finery around him. He looked to be no older than sixty, though his hair was greying a little, and his midsection was getting flabby.
Johnson was much more conspicuous. Though he was middle aged, his body was still lean and his face lined. He looked uncomfortable with so much wealth, though even the edges of his uniform were not free from gold embroidery.
‘What are we doing, Johnson?’ said Larry, the irritability of being so recently dragged from sleep heavy in his voice, ‘I’m sure that whatever this attack is, your men can handle it.’
‘As far as we can tell, sir,’ said Johnson, his voice clipped and short, ‘There seems to be several attacks taking place simultaneously. About three minutes ago, an incident occurred in the basement. We’re still struggling to explain the exact nature of it, but it appears as if some kind of entity is tunnelling through into the mansion.’
‘”Tunnelling through?”‘ Larry responded, as if he’d never heard anything so stupid, ‘We’re off the fucking map, aren’t we?’
He could practically hear Johnson’s teeth grind, ‘Yes, we are sir, which is why we are so… apprehensive. We need to get you to the helipad.’
‘The fucking helipad? We’re evacuating?’
‘At this point,’ said Johnson, ‘We believe that it’s the most advisable course of action.’
‘Where’s Cutter – More importantly, where the shitting hell are Breezeblock and Platinum?’
‘Cutter is on site, Mary’s is on her way, and Platinum has not responded.’
Beneath the persistent tone of the alarm, Larry heard other noises. Somewhere in the mansion men were shouting brief, inaudible commands to one another. Distantly, he thought he could hear the crackle of gunfire.
Two other guards rushed past the pair in the opposite direction, barely glancing at them.
Beneath it all was a dull creaking noise, as if the house itself were protesting at what was happening, and something else. A dull, rhythmic sound, barely perceptible.
The two emerged at last into the entrance hall. The room was huge, and the staircase that climbed the far side of it spanned two floors in height, a mountain of ornate gold and mahogany. They had appeared on the second-storey balcony, looking down on the ground floor. Other than the staircase, a permanently flowing fountain dominated the centre of the room, topped with a golden, Greek-inspired statue of a man, twice-scale, in long flowing robes and making a dynamic pose. Artfully placed lights added golden glints to the water and shined off the golden flank of the statue.
About a dozen guards, in the same black and gold uniforms were milling in small groups around the statue, seemingly unsure what they should be doing.
‘In the entrance hall now,’ said Johnson into the radio on his vest, ‘Moving the boss upstairs to the helipad.’
Larry heard the squawk of Johnson’s voice come through on the men’s radios beneath.
The creaking noise was getting louder now, and had been given a direction. It was coming from the ground beneath the entrance hall. As Johnson and Larry walked around the balcony, making their way to the grand staircase, Johnson could even swear that he felt the ground vibrate beneath him.
The rhythmic noise was now resolving itself into an almost human voice. Somewhere beneath them, someone was chanting something. Something loud and lyrical. The words were inaudible, but the rhythm and tone were continuous.
‘Can’t fucking believe this,’ said Larry, ‘Do you know how many meetings I have tomorrow, Johnson? You better get this swept away, asap, or I will fucking-‘
Larry never said what he would do to Johnson. At that moment there was a dull crash. The whole room shook once, then the alarm and every light went out. A second later, the dull, red glow of the emergency lights cast dim illumination through the entrance hall.
Larry had crouched slightly to avoid losing his footing. Johnson’s submachine gun was in his hand, but he clearly was unsure of where to point it.
The men bellow them were shouting orders at one another, moving around the room, trying to find shelter behind the huge gilded pillars, but they too had no idea of where the danger would come from.
The ground shook again. Johnson, who was glancing over the railing at the entrance hall bellow, shouted at the men.
‘The ground! The ground beneath the fountain!’
Larry saw it then. The black and white tiled floor beneath the fountain was buckling outwards. There was the sound of splintering wood and tortured metal, as the fountain shook and cracked. White marble began to crumble, and the floorboards around it began to pull apart.
The men were shouting more now, moving with more purpose to positions that would place them in view of the fountain while shielding them from anything that would come out of it.
A few pipes inside the fountain burst, and began spewing water faster than Larry thought possible. It began pooling on the ground outside the fountain, black in the red light. The pool was twisting aggressively, waves and eddies rising and falling. As Larry watched, the waves grew higher. The movement of the water seemed to have no relation to the shaking of the ground or the fountains spewing into it.
The chanting beneath them was continuing too, louder and more threatening. More insistent. Suddenly, it ended, and there was silence except for the spraying of the water.
‘Brace!’ barked Johnson, in the momentary hush, while in the same moment he pushed Larry behind him.
Then chaos burst forth.
Larry had to orient himself, because what it felt like was that the window to a plane had burst open mid-flight. Wind had erupted out of nowhere to create a swirling, deafening vortex. He just had time to see the fountain explode in a shower of marble and gold. Some of the chunks flew with enough velocity to knock out a three of the men beneath them, scattering them like bowling pins with a sickening thud.
That was all that Larry saw before crouching down and throwing his arm across his face to shield his eyes. Above the roar of the sudden wind, he heard someone speaking. the voice was a horrifyingly amplified whisper, that sounded as if it was emanating from his own head. In a language that he didn’t speak, he heard it chanting.
Distantly, there was the noise of machine guns chattering. They were so muted by the wind, it was hard to believe that they were in the same room as him.
Johnson was not firing. Instead, he called down into his radio. ‘Confirm bullet effect! Confirm bullet effect!’
Nobody was listening.
Water was spraying everywhere now, soaking through Larry’s dressing gown, chilling him instantly. He couldn’t believe that there could be so much water indoors. He dared to move his arm and tried to peer at what was happening in the entrance hall through the rail on the balcony.
Where the fountain once stood, was a mass of twisted metal and marble. Water was exploding violently from multiple burst pipes as if being sprayed from several fire hydrants. All through the room was wind and water, whipped into a frenzy. The entrance hall floor was knee deep in it, and he made out several guards fighting to keep footing while firing at something above the cracked fountain.
Larry looked to where they were firing. In the epicentre of the storm, a mass of smoke and steam, hung a figure suspended in the clouds. Larry could barely make it out through the swirling storm around it. But the dim red light, and the occasional blue flash of lightning from within the storm, illuminated what might have been a human form. The storm seemed to emanate and swirl outwards from it, as if the figure were a portal to a universe of tempests.
Johnson had realised that his radio wasn’t working, so he was now screaming at the top of his lungs over the rail. ‘Confirm bullet effect, or cease fire!’
Still, they didn’t listen, though the gunfire did seem to be slowing.
Johnson turned back to Larry. ‘We have to move, now!’
As they crept around the edge of the balcony, keeping low, Larry was relieved to see that the storm’s attention seemed turned to the figures beneath it. Water swept guard’s feet from under them, dragging them down into the vortex. Pieces of priceless furniture, moved by wind or water, smashed into a few of the men. Larry even saw a few brilliant flashes of lightning hit two of the soldiers, exploding their clothes into flames and shocking those around them through the water.
None of the guards were shooting any more, they were all trying to hide. Still, Larry could hear what was perhaps the echoes of gunfire ringing in his ears.
The pair were just about to shuffle to the stairs, when the figure turned and produced a lash of lightning that tore up the upper half of the grand staircase, making the wood underneath burst into flames. The upper half of the stairs were now rapidly dissolving into burning rubble. The chanting paused for a moment, and was replaced by a mocking, whispered laugh.
Larry had been knocked back by the burst of hot air and splinters when the stairs had gone up. He felt pain in dozens of places, dulled by the white hot adrenaline flushing through his body. Distantly, he thought he still heard gunfire and explosions.
Johnson, walking ahead, had been knocked down by the explosion. He wasn’t moving. Larry turned and faced the wrecked fountain and the storm.
‘You fucker!’ he shouted, dressing gown streaming in the wind, ‘You think you can come into my house with your bullshit magic, and break my stuff! You fuck!’ he raised a hand towards the fountain, and shouted, ‘Aurum Golem, Expergiscere!’
Larry felt the flicker of power rush through him. The words hummed and echoed for a moment longer than they should have done in the wind and chanting.
The golden statue of the robed man was hanging at a sharp angle due to the destruction of the fountain, but it was still whole. In the dim red light, it was possible to make out a ripple pass over it, as if a heat haze had come and gone in less than a second.
Then it moved.
It’s head twisted, and its expression turned to one of rage as it saw the living storm before it. It dived into the mass of clouds and steam. Larry could barely make out what was happening in the dark red light, but he saw the storm stream behind the two as they crashed into the ground.
‘You piece of shit!’ he screamed, as the statue wrestled with the storm, ‘You think you can take what’s mine?!’
The echo of gunfire was more concrete now. Somewhere, someone was still firing, but it was hard to make out beneath the tortured metal noise of the statue.
It seemed as if the statue was struggling to keep ahold of the figure. Every time the statue seemed to have a grip on it, it would loose from its grasp as if it were too slippery to hold. The storm wasn’t fading. If anything, it was growing more intense. Lighting crackled across the body of the golem, leaving a spray of white hot liquid gold that hissed when it hit the water, revealing the red, glowing iron beneath.
The guards were growing bolder now, coming out of hiding, their guns drawn on the two wrestling entities. None of them were firing though, instead waiting for an opening. Three of the guards managed to climb the comparatively undamaged lower half of the grand staircase, joining up with Larry and Johnson, their guns still trained on the fight. Somewhere distant, Larry still heard someone shooting.
Despite losing so much of its mass and form to the lightning, the golem seemed to finally have the storm figure pinned. It drew back one ruined, golden fist to strike down.
In that moment, something made Larry suddenly aware of where the noise of gunfire was coming from. It was a side-door on the ground floor.
Larry looked at the door, just in time to see it explode outwards in a shower of splinters. In the dim red light, he couldn’t make out what had done it, but it was moving fast.
The thing, which made a noise like the buzzing of bees mingled with the sound of an oncoming train, crashed into the statue, knocking it off the storm-figure. The pair slid across the water slick floor in an explosion of spray and steam coming to rest against the opposite wall underneath the balcony. He couldn’t see what it did then, but he saw the flurry of sparks, smoke, and steam. He heard a crackling, ripping noise, interspersed with dull thuds, painfully loud.
Johnson had got to his feet by now. He grabbed Larry’s arm.
‘We need to cut through the library!’
There was a hissing spitting, noise, and the wind picked up again. The storm-figure was rising into the air.
‘Now!’ Johnson said as he dragged Larry towards the doorway, and the three other guards followed
A mangled mass of gold and iron that might have been the legs and pelvis of the statue skittered across the floor. That was the last thing that Larry saw of the entrance hall, before being dragged back into a side door along the balcony.