Hiero's Journey, Chapter Twelve:
(For the previous installment in this series, take yourself via hyperlink here.)
You and your companions have reached the bottom of the stairs, and are on a platform overlooking a massive pentagonal cavern. The shadowy shapes of giant machines cluster thickly on the cavern floor below. In the distance, tunnels lead out of the cavern to the east and south. At the far end of the platform stands a box-like machine with a set of controls.
> ENTER BOX
You walk into the box. Aldo follows you, examines the controls, and says he thinks this is an ancient machine called an “elevator.”
> USE ELEVATOR
I'm not sure how you would do that.
> GO DOWN
It's a long way to the floor of the cavern.
> ASK ALDO TO OPERATE ELEVATOR
Your companions join you and Aldo on the elevator. Aldo presses some buttons and, with a creaking of metal, the platform descends to the floor of the cavern, carrying you with it. Some grinding noises suggest that this will be its last trip. After it touches bottom, Aldo confirms that the controls no longer work.
> LEAVE ELEVATOR. GO EAST
You leave the elevator.
It is very dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
> I'M HIERO FRICKIN' DESTEEN. I EAT GRUES FOR BREAKFAST
Indeed you are!
You reach into the darkness and seize a grue, which cries out in terror. You break the grue's back over your knee and feast on its carcass.
> YOU KNOW IT.
So Hiero and his companions make it to the climactic setting of the novel, a gigantic artificial cave filled with machines. It is at this point, rather late in the game, that Per Desteen briefs his friends and fiancee, who have already helped save his life several times, on the secret mission his Abbey entrusted to him (namely, find a Computer). Aldo, Gorm, and Luchare seem nonplussed, and one suspects they may have been a bit let down. Hiero's goal probably struck them as a bit pedestrian, given the epic fights and ordeals the party has endured to reach it.
The compadres begin working their way to the center of the cavern, examining machinery as they go. Whoever built this underground lair was thoughtful enough to protect all the equipment with dust covers before leaving, but the covers themselves bear several millennia of dust, and Hiero and co. quickly become covered with it. Gorm, in particular, turns into “a furry ghost” (285), which I think a nice bit of comic relief during this tense chapter. Aldo and Hiero can read the old labels on the machines, and determine that those nearest the edge of the cave are HVAC units, while a control board near the cave's center bears words like “gantry” and “missile launch.” Apparently, the sojourners have discovered an old nuclear missile silo, a discovery which horrifies the Elevener Brother Aldo. Hiero is equally alarmed by signs that several of the machines and control boards have been disturbed recently; apparently, someone or something has been down here within the last few years or months.
Gorm, meanwhile, reports two alarming developments in the psychosphere: several of the caverns adjoining this one contain servant creatures (stationary ones, for now) of The House, and he has received a mental distress call from Captain Gimp and his merry men, back on the surface. The Captain, Hiero learns via his own mental link, has captured a scout from the Evil Unclean Mutant conspiracy, who told his captors that a massive Unclean Mutant army is on its way to the silo. Apparently, the EUM priests detected the psychic energy discharge released by Hiero and Luchare and Aldo's recent battle with The House. “Kill the prisoner and skedaddle,” Hiero tells Captain Gimp (if not in so many words), and, after Aldo and Luchare offer a little vague encouragement, he begins to develop a plan, involving one of his former adversaries.
In pursuit of that plan, Per Desteen follows The House's spoor into the tunnels adjoining the eastern side of the missile cavern. Eventually he locates the mutant hive-creature's refuge: a giant, slime-strewn underground tarn surrounded by glowing fungus trees, the latter related in some way to The House's breeding cycle. “Totally alien and awful were the purposes of the House,” writes Lanier, “but it could still create an eldritch beauty” (305). I'll bet Gary Gygax borrowed some of these images for an early D&D adventure or two.
Since The House's fungus-tree “concubines” block the eastern tunnels, Hiero realizes that the approaching Evil Unclean Mutant army must be planning to enter the silo through the only other set of tunnels leading to it, from the south. Our hero also guesses that neither The House nor the EUMs are aware of one another's presence, or impending presence, in the cavern system. Since the elevator is broken and the other exits are blocked, there's only one thing left for Hiero, Luchare, Aldo, and Gorm to do: put on their own impromptu version of Yojimbo. Fortunately, if there's anyone in this post-apocalyptic wasteland who resembles Toshiro Mifune, it's Hiero Desteen, Senior Killman.
Coming Next: The Massed Forces of the Unclean give battle, and Hiero's quest comes to a surprising end.