Clocks and Boxes — Part 46: Cask

The fight was long and hard and, to Donna's supreme annoyance, indecisive. She checked her watch as she swept the legs from under a screaming Barnling minion. An hour! They'd been fighting for an hour. You'd think someone would have won by now. Or at least the police might have shown up?

To make matters worse, the four-way battle kept changing directions. Inevitably, the Pyramid cultists had betrayed the Pavilion to the Barnlings, but Donna had managed to negotiate a deal with Nalda's AI troops. Then the Barnlings had betrayed the Pyramidists, who'd sough help from the AIs, forcing the Pavilion to fight side by side with their old enemies in the Barn. That had been about a quarter of an hour ago, and Donna was no longer certain as to who was fighting whom.

Partly, she noted, the problem was that this battle was a good deal less lethal than the first one. Perhaps because the Barn and the Pavilion had lost too many people that day, this time around they were fighting with fists and sticks, rather than guns and chainsaws. It was probably a good thing in the long run. But seriously, how long does it take to beat someone just by punching? TV made it seem so quick, so efficient, but…

The Barnling that Donna had tripped slowly struggled to his feet. Sighing, Donna punched him in the kidney. He fell over again, but Donna just knew that he was going to be up again in a minute. So unfair!

"You only need to hold the line."

It was Sadie McGregor. Or her ghost. Do dead angels leave ghosts? Donna was unsure, and didn't really care anyway.

"Hold the line? Against the Barn, the Pyramid cultists and the coming of frikkin' Skynet? Fine. We can do it. But to say we 'just' do it?"

"You can fool the others, but you can't fool me," Sadie said.

"What did we agree last time?"

Sadie's ghost rolled its eyes and  started glowing blue. "Better? Okay. Anyway, I saw what you did. What your real plan is. Who you stationed by the Pyramid. I know you're just holding here until he does his job. Well, if you're holding, then hold."

"I'm afraid, Sadie. I'm afraid… Shit. Hold on."

The Barnling was standing again. Donna picked a heavy piece of debris from the ground and dropped it on his head. The Barnling collapsed again.

"Leave your troops to fight a while," Donna said. "You're needed elsewhere. A terrible crime has taken place at Emile's…"

Donna blinked, kicked the stirring Barnling and blinked again. "What? The fate of the world is in the balance!"

"The fate of the world is always in the balance," Sadie said. "Every act of wrongdoing, no matter how small, threatens to hurl us into the abyss."

"Literally?"

"Well, no, I guess… Look, please, go talk to Emile. It'll help the big fight, I promise."

Donna glared her anger at her dead, supernatural mentor and stomped off through the battle to see Emile at Emile's House of Fine Wines. The doors were closed, but a stray piece of spaceship debris had cracked a window. A garbage can had come loose of its single steel leg. Donna picked it up and hurled it through the cracked window, spreading glass everywhere. It should have seemed satisfying. It was anything but.

Behind the counter was a trapdoor leading down to a cellar. Donna paused. This was odd. Emile's liquor store was, like most big-box liquor store, a cellar in name only. There was only a ground floor, and the climate control of the building provided the equivalent of 'cellaring'. And yet, here was a rickety wooden ladder going down between stone walls, coated with damp and nitre.

"For real?"

She took a last look at the battle outside. Emile's storefront was at the edge of the warzone, so all she could see was a Barnling and a Pavilionite trading weary punches while some local teenagers egged the on. Even so, she felt a traitor going down the hole.

There was no light in the cellar. Donna found a candle and a box of matches in a little alcove by the entry. With this small light, she ventured down, past vast wooden shelves full of bottles and casks. At one end of the darkened room, was a newly built wall, and before that sat Emile Montressor.

"Emile? Is that you?"

"Donna?" Emile said. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

"I was warned that there was a crime going on."

"No, not at all. Harry Fortunado left here hours ago, alive and well."

"I didn't mention Harry."

"No, you didn't." Emile tried a little 'how silly!' sort of laugh, but it turned into a mad cackle. He bit down on his lips to silence himself.

"Emile… Is everything alright? I mean, obviously everything is not alright… But is it alright here?"

White faced, Emile nodded  as if he was trying to shake his head off. "Fine, everything is fine."

A muffled voice emanated from behind the wall. "Thufferin' thurfboards, thith ith a predicament!"

"What was that, Emile?"

Donna hadn't thought it possible for Emile to get whiter. "Nothing! It is nothing!"

"That'th a thretch, buthter!" the voice said.

"Ahhh! I have walled the cat up with him!" Emile said. He rushed past Donna for the ladder, and the breeze of his passing extinguished the candle.

Once Donna had relit it, she found Emile gone. She was alone, other than lisped complaints from behind a wall. Searching around, she discovered some building supplies – old cement bags and some tools – hidden behind a wine shelf. She hoped to find a crowbar among them, but the best she could find was a large trowel. Ordinarily, there was little a trowel could do against a wall, but the cement was barely solid between the bricks on this one. She painstakingly cleared the mortar out from around a brick, then pried it out of the wall. The empty space was immediately filled with two large round yellow eyes.

"Thanks, thithter!" the eyes said. Donna removed another brick, and saw that one of those weird cats was there, a black and white one. She'd seen it before, though she'd never noticed that the white patch on the thing's chest was in the shape of a noose. Behind the animal was Harry Fortunato from Harry's House of Ethanol based beverages, looking very pale indeed.

"Is he…" Donna began.

"Ath a doornail," the cat said. "But you have thaved my life. How can I repay you?"

"Do you have an army?" Donna sighed.

"You want the army?" the cat said. "Thure! I'll go get it mobilithed."

Donna's jaw dropped. She shook her head, then looked upwards. "Sorry, Sadie."

"No need to make fun of my voice," the cat said.

Next -- Part 47: Edge

Previously -- Part 45: Friends

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