We managed to scrounge up passage on a DC-3 out of Cairo to Rome, and from there to Paris. It was a charter flight, just us in the back with a pilot up front who knew not to ask too many questions. Still, Templeman proved a tough nut to crack, even with the persuasive means of an open door 750 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. Fanatics, they don’t crack for anyone. We couldn’t get much more out of Fritzie than name, rank and serial number. Seeing as he was pretty much a dry well, Alpha dropped him off with some friends in the State department in Paris while we secured a roomy touring car to ferry us out to the countryside and the Castle of Notre Dame de Miséricorde.
Turns out the castle was not so hard to storm, open to the public as it was. Still, when you’re walking around in public it’s a little harder to go in armed for bear…or ibis headed monstrosity as the case may be. Still, with Nora under my left arm and a couple of nice derringers up my sleeves, I was still in pretty good spirits, and felt more than capable for anything the French fortress could throw at us.
We found a musty back staircase, and as my experience has been, musty back staircases lead to adventure…or wine cellars, the latter is also acceptable, especially with a fine scullery maid to help occupy your time down there. But I digress. This one led sadly not to lusty French lasses, but to dark, dank corridors mildewed with time and covered in cobwebs. An indentation in a dead end wall behind a mass of cobwebs proved to be a perfect fit to the stone fingers Ms. Barnes produced from her amazing Gladstone. I swear that bag is somehow bigger inside than out, I have no idea how she manages to produce such wonders from such a seemingly innocent piece of luggage.
With a grinding of stone, the wall slid to the side, and I led the way into the dark chamber, the light of Doc Kate’s lantern lighting our way. At the far end of the wall a statue of some saint or another stood hand raised in front in a gesture of benediction. I was just noting the lack of fingers on the blessing hand, amazingly like the stone fingers now clutched in Ms. Barnes’ grasp, when more grinding stone alerted me to four statues lurching to some approximation of life. The stony automatons raised their swords in a threatening salute and moved to intercept our group.
I deftly sidestepped two of the stone blades as they whistled by, with a quick hop back as a sword sliced through the front of my shirt (though missed skin) I brandished Nora and the shotgun barrel boomed, taking a chunk out of the knight statue in front of me, and seeming to slow it as the joints grind against each other less smoothly.
Ms. Barnes is darting between the statues swift as a fawn, the stone fingers clutched in her grasp like a relay runner’s baton. She’s like the wind between the rushes, avoiding the stone swords as golden bullets from Alpha’s gun ping off the statues to little effect. You can see a grin the size of the Amazon basin split across her face as she nears the outstretched arm of the saint statue. The fingers fit perfectly into the broken hand of the statue. Her beaming smile melts away however, as surely, and triumphantly…_nothing_ happens.
Doc Kate rushes to her aid, narrowly avoiding decapitation in the process. As she nears the statue her mien scrunches up as she fixates on some text on the statue.
“Benedictionem meam viam monstrabit.”
“Blessing…um…point…uh…MY BLESSING WILL POINT THE WAY!” I blurt out.
Chalk one up for the Latin profs at St. Ignatius.
Nora is booming out a staccato song in my hands but the bullets are pinging rather harmlessly off the statues. I’m dancing like the stage show at the Cotton Club to avoid swords from what’s probably three directions at this point.
I see Doc Totem attempt to whip past the knights like the ladies did, and get rewarded with a pommel to the gut that doubles him over. I can see Agent Alpha steady his hands and pull off a head shot that shatters the stony helm of one of the statues and renders it inert. The best takeaway from this is that they CAN be stopped. Now it’s just a matter of finding the will.
I can see the ladies wrestling with the saint statue, pushing and pulling every part this way and that. Doc Kate manages to wrench something with one of the hands of the statue and a door behind it slides ominously open. With our luck lately, that’s where the reinforcements for the stone knights will start entering from.
With my focus momentarily on the ladies, one of the swords gets through my defensive dance and flashbulbs go off in my head as a pommel crashes into my temple. Reeling from the blow, I bring up Nora and unleash a desperation burst of fire, miraculously staggering the statue. I watch it stumble, teeter, then ultimately come apart as Doc Totem finishes him off with a blast from his big Webley.
Alpha is plinking away to little avail on the last remaining knight as I bring up Nora, one last time, trying to make the three knights in my vision align as the one knight I know is standing a dozen feet away. Giving up on fighting the triple vision I go ahead and shoot the middle one. Nora shouts one last, glorious time, God bless her, and shatters what remained of a granite pot helm. The statue falls to bits and we collectively stoop to hands on knees, breathing raggedly.
The staircase downward beckons, and from the top we can see another darkened room, lined with stone effigies of knights…