She narrowed her eyes and stepped inside – and what she saw killed the question forming in her throat.
[Wits + Investigation, dif 7 = 2 successes]
The room was circular – almost a Colosseum with concave, moss-covered walls at least 15 feet high. Three industrial-grade halogen lights had been arranged into an uneven triangle, fat wires snaking away and merging with bundles of ancient cabling that dangled from the ceiling. Karen shuddered to think of the risks the person who set them up must have taken to do it.
[Wits + Investigation, dif 7 = 3 successes]
Detritus was strewn all around and most of it was old – Karen even spotted a Lion wrapper with a design she hadn’t seen since childhood – but against the far left wall there was an electric blue sleeping bag, possibly no older than 12 months. Around it were Tesco carrier bags. As a store only opened in the area two years ago, the bags were unlikely to be any older than that. Those, combined with the sleeping bag, meant that someone had made this their home.
However, it was the object that dominated the tableau that defined any explanation. It was a sculpture of a man, seven feet tall, broad-shouldered and created by someone of obvious talent. Every muscle had been perfectly sculpted so it looked like an anatomist’s model – everything, that is, except the genitals. That space between the legs was left completely smooth. The material used to construct the statue was tan, the colour of the earth. The colour of –
[Intelligence + Science + Willpower = 2 successes]
On a hunch, she reach out and touched the left bicep. The contact confirmed her idea: it was made of clay. She told Ashvin.
“I know,” he said and in doing so, made Karen’s smile fade a little. Seeing this, he added: “Sorry. I was good at pottery…over there, you know?”
“What about the lights? Did you turn them on?”
He nodded. “Yes, but they were already hooked up to the mains. Each has a little switch I simply flicked. You know, after my heart has crawled back inside my chest after seeing that thing.”
“The wires are a professional job – or a very educated amateur. You’d have to know what you were doing otherwise, once bad move and you’d fry. No. Someone made this place their nest. The question is “who?” And, she added to herself, what happened to them? “Who did you think might have made this their hollow?”
“A darkling by the name of Matherson. Arrived in London from Crewe about a year ago. But having thought about it…” he looked around.
Karen caught the unspoken thought. “There’s no way a darkling would have gone to all of this trouble to set up the lights. Darklings like the dark. I mean it’s pretty much their raison d’etre. Another Lost? Maybe but not a darkling. Sorry, Ash.”
He shrugged leisurely. Meh. “No big deal. Now, going back to our friend here,” he said, moving a little closer but Karen noticed he maintained a constant, self-imposed cordon.
[Intelligence + Empathy, dif 7 = 2 successes]
He was afraid of it, she realised. “What I don’t understand is what it’s doing down here.”
Karen shrugged. “Maybe it was a project the artist wanted to keep hidden.”
“He picked one heck of a hiding place. Beside, I don’t think it was left here. I think it walked here.”
She turned on the spot. “You what?”
He pointed at the clay man’s waist. “Take a look at the backside.”
She did and saw a large gouge in the “flesh” of the right buttock, as if it had caught on something.
Ashvin moved closed but still kept a healthy distance. “I found a chunk of clay about 15 foot back down the tunnel and I’m willing to bet the stuff on the railings – ”
“- is clay,” Karen finished, nodding. “So. You say this thing walked itself down here to do…what? Hide?”
Now it was the Constable’s turn to shrug. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
[Intelligence + Occult, dif 9 = 1 success]
Another hunch, the second in 30 minutes. “Golem,” Karen whispered.
“Wasn’t that the guy in Lord of the Rings?”
“Golem,” she repeated. “It’s from Jewish myth. A man created from clay and brought to life.”
“I cant say I’ve heard of it.”
“Few people have. It’s an old story and Hollywood hasn’t made a film about it yet.”
“OK. A golem.” He struggled with the word. “Do you know anyone who could make something like that?”
She shook her head. “In the real world? No, it’s impossible. But out there, beyond the Hedge?” She lifted her arms and then dropped them to her sides in surrender. “No idea. Maybe. Possibly. But if this is a golem though….” She didnt finish.
Ashvin pursed his lips. “The old Constable said you were smart.”
Karen bristled at the mention of her old employer. “She meant I knew to keep quiet about where the bodies were hidden.” Then, seeing the look on his face, she smiled and added: “Joke!”
[Manipulation + Subterfuge, dif 8 = 0 successes]
“Ha ha,” he said with no real humour.
Karen ran a hand through her hair. She’d washed it that morning but being down there made her want to run straight back into a shower. “OK, Ash. You’ve shown me your toy and told me your crazy theory. Now what happens?”
He chuckled. “I, er…I was kinda hoping you would tell me.
She slowly moved around the clay statue in a slow, lazy circle, taking every details. It was truly perfect. There was nothing out of place or incorrectly detailed – bar the missing penis and testes. The face was so lifelike, so handsome it was hard to believe that he wasn’t just sleeping. Karen knew it was her imagination playing tricks on her but she could swear that the muscles around his eyes were twitching as he awoke, that the shoulders were rising ever so gently as he slept.
“Karen? You OK there?”
Ashvin’s voice dragged her back to that foul-smelling place and she tried to hide her embarrassment at having been caught staring. “You want my advice, Ash?” she said, shaking her head and walking over to him. He nodded. “Destroy it. Burn it or brick this place up. I don’t know what that thing is, but I’m not going to lie and tell you I’ve got a good feeling about it.” She rested a hand on his forearm. “Please.”
[Presence + Empathy + Willpower versus Resolve + Intimidation = +2 successes to Karen]
She could almost feel him relent. “Sure, Karen. Maybe you’re right. I’ll, er…take some photos as a record and then sort something out.”
[Q. Is Ash lying? 50/50. A. No]
He sighed and nodded. “You have my word, Karen.”
She smiled her most genuine smile and wasn’t able to remember the last person had she done that to. “Thank you, Constable.”
[Wits + Composure, dif 8 = 2 successes.]
Something caught her eye, something small and white half-hidden under the sleeping bag and amongst a collection of yellowing receipts. Leaving Ashvin to take his photos using his camera phone, Karen made her way quietly to it.
[Dexterity + Stealth, dif 8 = 1 success]
She had only a moment to pocket the mass of paper – the texture of the object suggesting that it was a folded photograph – before Ashvin turned to face her.
“Find anything interesting?” he asked.
“No, not really. Just rubbish mostly.”
[Manipulation + Subterfuge, dif 8 = 1 success]
[Q. Does Ashvin believe Karen? Unlikely. A. Yes]
“Just out of interest,” Karen enquired, standing up. “How many people know about…that?”
He answered immediately. “Just me and you.”
[Q. Is Ash lying? 50/50. A. No]
“Let’s keep it that way, huh? For the moment, at least. People are jumpy at the moment and stories about clay men coming to life may freak people out a little.”
He considered this. “Sure,” he said after a longer time than Karen would have liked. “I understand, but I’m still going to make a note of this.”
[Q. Will Ashvin stay quiet? Unlikely. A. Yes, Exceptionally]
Karen didn’t know if he would but right now she needed air, even the polluted air of the city above. “Well, Ash. Thank you for having me but I’m going to make a move. Would you mind showing me out?”
He smiled. “Of course.”
They made their way back along the tunnel and up the ladder in silence. At the top, Karen paused to inspect the material on the metal and conceded that it most likely was clay. She wasn’t sure if that made her feel better or worse. Outside on the street, it had begun to rain and Karen found herself strangely relieved. Rain, even the greasy, acidic rain of London felt good against her skin especially after the dry, fetid air below. She checked her watch and was surprised to find it was nine-thirty. They’d been down there barely 90 minutes.
“A storm’s coming,” muttered Ashvin, looking at the sky as he came to stand behind her. “Definitely a storm.”
She raised her own eyes to the inky clouds. “Yep,” she said with no real enthusiasm. “Certainly looks that way. You planning on staying here much longer?”
He shook his head. “Nah. I need to think about what to do about…you know.”
She did. “Look, Ash. If you need to talk to someone or if you need help, you give me a call, OK? I don’t want you doing anything stupid.”
“I wont, Karen. Thanks. I’ll call you once I;ve made a decision.” He went to move back into the building and Karen ended up saying “goodnight” to his back. Once she was sure he was gone, she took out scrap of paper and found that it was indeed a photograph of a young family: a middle-aged man and woman with a young boy, maybe no longer than 10 years old. They were sitting in a booth of a restaurant or pub – a place for families in any case. They were happy.
[Wits + Composure, dif 7 = 2 successes]
A chill worked its way down her spine when she realised just how similar the man in the photograph looked to the thing beneath her feet. So. She had a photo and a collection of receipts of when that person might have last done some shopping. That had to be enough to dig something up – for better or for worse?
She sighed and looked again at the sky. The wind was picking up and a storm was indeed on its way – Karen could almost taste it on the air – and if she hurried, she might make it home before it hit. And if she was very lucky, that would be the only storm she had to worry about.