Banish all the World Ch. 04byStultus©
All over town for the last week or so, people had suddenly started to act strangely, as if they were seeing and hearing things that no one else around them could detect. Some began muttering in strange unknown languages and others just went barking insane mad. Mass dementia, some at BMA were calling it.
There had been a peak of this outbreak last weekend, but so far this week things had been relatively quiet with only a few new cases every day. Still, this was much too dangerous to be ignored.
We ate a second bowl of frozen custard and sat down to review the case files to look for a common denominator or event, but we couldn't find one. The victims varied by age, sex and economics; the lawyers, students, housewives, construction workers, carpet layers apparently all did their normal weekend routines. Not all of their past steps could be traced but no single activity or restaurant could be pin-pointed as the root cause.
If someone was drugging bottles of cola, they were covering their steps very thoroughly.
We read more case files that afternoon at the Austin PD and called it a day. We'd try and examine the new cases with a fresh eye starting tomorrow.
Friday we examined six new cases that had broken out over night but again couldn't find any common thread. Two of the victims had been discovered walking aimless around Town Lake Park late at night. Other similar victims had been found this week late at night at Auditorium Shoals, Zilker Park and wandering on Barton Springs Rd. This strongly suggested the southern side of Colorado River 'Town Lake' downtown area as a possible locus. Well, I was certainly very familiar with this area, being next to Sandy's!
Their pocket contents were all non-magical and entirely appropriate for an evening on the town. Various restaurant receipts (different places), a gas station receipt, a movie theater ticket. No smoking gun here.
We chased a few more red herrings and were about to quit for the evening when we got the word that several of our new addled victims had suddenly gone into cardiac arrest and had been taken to the city morgue. As we were out of other more practical ideas, we decided to give these unfortunates a final look over, and I was very glad we did. Also so was the city morgue staff, which was not used to zombies thrashing about in their nice quiet offices.
They weren't kidding. Four very animated but confused nude corpses with toe tags were slowly shuffling about and trying to push their way through a solid wall towards freedom, entirely ignoring the door. Good luck with that, at least they weren't going to be too hard to corral. Zombie wrangling is strictly Magic 101 level stuff and even the weakest Adept knows how to stun a zombie. It's not like they have any brains, unless they're eating the brains of one of the assistants to the Coroner, which one was.
Damn, more paperwork!
It didn't take a moment to stun and subdue each of the undead onto a gurney cart that could be strapped down tight. From the sounds of banging in the several of the closed and locked morgue vaults, it sounded like several more zombies were trying to get out. They weren't likely to escape but we decided that they really couldn't stay there, so we rounded up a few more gurneys, stunned the released zombies and strapped them down good and tight to join their friends.
Now we had some time to figure out exactly what the hell was going on!
Two of the victims seemed to be new, unreported cases that might match our weird dementia epidemic. Both had died in the back of a police patrol car shortly after pickup. According to the paperwork, both victims were alive but confused and unresponsive when first encountered, again in the Barton Creek/Town Lake area, and suffered terminal seizures within minutes after being taken away for medical examination.
Searching their clothing, which was labeled and neatly sorted into a bag, we found more dinner receipts and two more sets of movie ticket stubs that matched the one I'd seen earlier. I suddenly had a very bad feeling about this. I had a theory, but I needed some proof.
I asked for Harriet to find me a good Wizard map of Austin, showing all of the charted Ley lines, color depicted by type and strength. Theories of alien retroviruses excluded, it takes power and specific intent to create a zombie... usually. There are exceptions but they're rare. They don't suddenly self-create themselves, unless they've been in a heck of a magical shit storm beforehand. The people were ill, but alive until their ride in a police car when they suddenly died... and stayed dead until they arrived here and suddenly with little warning reanimated.
It didn't usually work that way, unless there was a new power source to give them another kick start. I looked over Harriet's map (no good Wizard goes around without one) and found the second power source, a geologic fault that channeled a moderately powerful Earth Ley line that ran underground right next to this building.
Our confused and demented victims were fine until they were removed from the range of their original Ley line, and were reanimated when taken within range of another one. This confirmed that whatever had caused this problem involved massively powerful magical energies, with a crossing of a pair of Ley lines at a bare minimum. And a nearby movie theater in the Barton Creek/Town Lake area.
Duh.... the famous El Marvelo fit this bill to a perfect 'T'.
I asked Harriet, as the ranking Wizard in charge, to request some minor assistance from Austin PD and EMS for a small experiment, and to get BMA on 'standby'. Friday night was another very bad night to need emergency assistance, again with just a single team of Wizards on the emergency 'on call' roster.
Whitaker's gripes about a manpower shortage weren't entirely just idle complaints. Once again, the cavalry was very likely to be late arriving at the party.
The test drive worked like a charm. Sandwiched in-between a pair of police cars, we took one of the strapped down zombies with us for a ride in the back of an ambulance and as soon as we travelled about a block away from the morgue Ley line the zombie de-animated. Once we arrived within about two blocks away from the El Marvelo they once again perked up back to life.
No one was the slightest bit surprised when after we released the zombie from its restraints it began to shamble directly towards the open doors of the theater as fast as its feet could shuffle and it disappeared inside. We noticed numerous other people now wandering towards the theater, all apparently new dementia cases and we tried to stop them but we were seriously outnumbered. Looking around we could see more new addled folks arriving each minute.
Harriet and the police officers looked like they had the situation under control for the moment so I ran back to the nearest squad car to call in some more Austin PD. Our two lone officers most certainly needed assistance handling the steady flow of befuddled and demented people, seemingly not in their own minds that were trying to enter the theater in an ever increasing number.
Once I'd put APD on alert, I next gave the BMA another phone call, telling the clerk on duty to forget about the duty roster and just order a full alert and to start phoning everyone, telling them to get their asses down to the El Marvelo before all Hell broke loose!
It wasn't much of an exaggeration. The top spire of the theater was now glowing a soft malevolent yellow color all on its own.
Returning to help the poor beleaguered patrol officers I asked them where Harriet and Henrietta had gone off to and I now didn't see them out in front where they had been just a few minutes ago.
"I think I saw them go inside about a minute ago," one said, "but I'm not entirely sure. I was too busy to notice." The other officer had seen even less.
I took a fast run around the entire building to double-check that they weren't there and didn't see a trace of either of them. When I returned out in front even the two police patrolmen were now gone as well. Even the last confused bewitched arrivals were all now inside apparently as well. In fact I was now quite alone. Sometimes I thought I could hear a voice calling me inside as well, but it was muted as if lost in the static of the power I could feel coursing through me, being so close to the building that was actively feeding now off of the two Ley lines that crossed this site. My right bracer was surging with the power, throbbing now with a life of its own as well.
Now it was time to really panic.
"10-33, 10-33!" I shouted into the police radio microphone. "Officers down at the El Marvelo theater by Town Lake south at of Barton Creek! This is a Code Alpha magical emergency, declared by Adept Zak Zyphyr, license #086524. Cordon off the area around the El Marvelo for at least a two full block radius until the arrival of BMA personnel. I am going to attempt to enter the El Marvelo to recover downed APD and BMA personnel but successful retrieval is now unlikely. Good luck to everyone."
With that I flexed my right fist to enjoy the feel of the power flowing through my bracer and I boldly walked through the gates of Hell.
I need to explain a few things to you right now about the El Marvelo movie theater, perhaps one of the most famous icons of the early Arc Deco magical period.
As I mentioned earlier in my discussion of the Christmas Stalking incident, Arc Deco or rather Arcana Decorum Artem, is the principle that the geometric use of style, via either carefully calculated curves or angles can be just as important to a magical device as sheer power alone. At its simplest, form and artistic beauty are just as essential as function. The El Marvelo was one of the first great public buildings to exemplify this theory.
Built in late 1929, the theater was built to test a new and completely unproven theory, that much like radio waves, magic could be used to broadcast a live program from one place to a dozen other far away remote theaters elsewhere that could all then watch the exact same program, live. Accordingly, an opera performed at the Strand Grand Opera House in Galveston, or the San Francisco Orchestra could be shown to live audiences all over the GWA, or even the entire world, with the right Arc-Tec equipment. Paying customers thousands of miles away could watch and hear the production as if there were there in person. It was a stupendous magical achievement long before the days of television, satellite communications and 3-D holographic entertainment systems.
The proof of concept worked and the builders spared no expense making their chain of theaters the finest works of architecture of the period. About thirty of these interconnected theaters were eventually completed, but the El Marvelo was one of the first... and one of the very finest. Each connected into the magic framework and 'self powering' via elaborate Arc-Tec mechanisms that feed from multiple nearby Ley lines.
No expense was spared on the El Marvelo. The outdoor neon lights were the best and the brightest that could be made and covered the entire front of the façade all the way up to a magnificent tiered spire of silver, crystal and neon. The interior woodwork was all hand-crafted and of the first rate, the curtains the finest silk and the rugs and carpets all finely woven. Even the seats were the most comfortable that could be found. The wall sconce lights all finely gold gilded and the massive chandeliers sparkled with worked silver and crystal. The building was famous as an icon around the world and its photographs can be found in a great many books on the early Arc Deco movement.
This first national theater chain prospered through the economic boom of the 1930's and into the 1940's but slowly the customer demand for these fine art performances began to decline. A new consortium took over in the late 1940's and repurposed the business to become a movie theater chain to show new films at the least possible expense, eliminating the costs of distribution and printing multiple prints of the films. By the early 1960's most of the theaters were in poor physical condition and the expenses of maintaining the vintage Arc-Tec were too expensive. One by one the theaters closed, and by the mid-1960's, the El Marvelo was just another plain ordinary movie theater until it also closed, seemingly for good, in the late 1970's.
Various smalltime operators managed the theater off and on for a few years until its final business operation as a second run economy cinema and weekend midnight cult movie venue in the mid-1980's before it closed for good. For the next decade or so the El Marvelo remained closed and padlocked shut while a minor court battle over inheritance of the valuable real estate raged on for years.
The theater was classified as a protected site by Republic law at the bidding of the Heritage Society of the Daughters of the Texas Republic, so no one could tear the building down to otherwise use this extremely valuable riverfront property, but finding a buyer who would restore and preserve the property took years.
Eventually, Gus Weston, the billionaire cable TV tycoon, got the idea of buying and restoring all of the surviving original linked Arc Deco theaters and restoring them to their original purpose. In this instance, using them for showing special features of classic repertory films, the most famous thrillers, musicals and dramas of film history. The same sort of stuff he showed at on his Weston Classic Movies channel, but in a stylish venue on a super ultra-high definition screen far better than anyone's home theater.
It was going to become the ultimate 'dinner and a movie' experience, complete with champagne service, a fine wine selection and three star quality dining. It was going to be a license to print money. What could possibly go wrong?
The best guess that all of the Monday morning quarterbacks could come up with later on was that Weston's crew of modern Arc-Tec geniuses didn't really understand the way the more elaborate theaters, like the El Marvelo were 'wired' into the magical aether. They ripped out some of what they just didn't quite understand but wired in new Arc-Tec right next to the old and patched everything together and hoped for the best. Then because they distrusted the original and very subtle 1920's powering mechanisms, they tossed in a bunch of Arcana stones at every circuit for good measure.
The end result was a jury-rigged and insanely overpowered mess that not even the Great Wizard Tesla himself could have probably fixed, bless his crazy Renegade soul.
The new system did connect to WCM's headquarters in Tulsa... and leaked or blasted through several thousand other parallel dimensions and loci to an untold number of upper and lower (and probably sideways) Planes of Existence, many only theoretically known. This was bound to attract a lot of unwanted attention, and eventually it came.
They had been running tests for the last week or so getting ready for the big grand reopening next weekend. The first victims had been the maintenance crews and construction workers, like the carpenters and carpet layers, but gradually as the work continued and certain external malign influences discovered this widening breach of space and time, the over-powered runaway train began to look for additional new passengers to collect among Sensitives all over town, and they had come by the hundreds.
The sheer massive power of the El Marvelo was making my wrist bracer throb with ungodly power and frankly was giving me one hell of a hard-on. Whomever said that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac knew exactly what they were talking about.
I marched right inside those doors without a second thought, unconcerned in the least that my odds of coming back out again were worse than one in a million. I was going to die horribly, but I was going to look good while doing it. I was going to try to save Harriet and Henrietta and shut this place down if it was the last thing I ever did... probably a spot on prediction.
Can you say End of The World™ and "Oh, noes we're all going to die!" type of Trouble'?
Yep. Got it in one.