Morning brought Gelman a bit of a dilemma… What was he going to report “Lord Sanwell” for? Parakeet abuse? Turning people who wouldn’t cooperate in proving that they were people into squirrels? Employing underage animals?
Drat. He might have to come up with a way to get them de-programmed first, so that they’d help him get the warrant.
Well, he’d think of something. He had to come up with a way to overthrow the tyranny of the accounting department anyway.
What had Marty gotten himself involved in? How could there be a massive cultist compound, or a gate between places – or even between worlds if that bit was true – hidden in a tree? Wouldn’t the numbers come down on such a thing like a ton of red tape? Oy vey, what a day.
On the one hand, he wanted to inform Jenkins of that last point. On the other, he had no desire to have a naginata blade thrust into his head… Send her an anonymous note? What if the Numbers told her anyway though? He didn’t think they’d completely left his head.
Would they even care? Kadia actually seemed more like their sort of world anyway.
He sent her a message. Hopefully she wouldn’t smash up Abigail’s entire gated community in the process of investigating.
When he got to Amarant Solutions, the building was under siege by the Mongol Hordes. They hadn’t quit since the days of the Great Wall. No matter how hard the national governments tried to stamp them out, they always came back.
(Sigh…) Work was work. He’d have to try to sneak past them. Marty would probably have walked up and announced “I bet I can outdrink ALL of you!”. (It was embarrassing to admit that he’d done it once too).
They had a new battle cry though… they were chanting something about “low rates” and “easy credit” as they swung battering ram against the main door.
Oh no! They’d switched from selling fermented mare’s milk to credit cards!
Up above, Jenkins was shrieking… something about… “NEVER! The books shall remain balanced! No Interest Payments! Everything kept under budget! No risky expansion without a solid business plan! Who put this laptop on they payroll!”
Laptop? He’d heard something about a mysterious laptop during the failed attack. It had saved some of the devices by transforming them. Was it connected to the squirrels and this Sanwell character? Never mind, he had to get to work!
Unfortunately, Gelman wasn’t all that good at stealth. The mongols spotted him and tackled him on the way in. A dozen or more, each with a pre-approved credit card application!
Gelman fell back on his natural strength, attempting to wrest himself free from the dogpile.
“Easy credit! Low, Low, Interest! Dilithium Express!”
“Dammit! They’ve got another one! Fire!”
Was that Lou? What was he saying? Something about “Dispensing Diatomic Hydrogen Bombs”?!?! Where had Lou gotten something like that? It would get rid of the horde, but Gelman didn’t want to be blown to next morning with it!
He managed to wrench his head free, just as a soda can hit the mongol holding his feet… It ignited with a “Whoomph”, and went up in a ball of flame about four feet across, leaving a puff of steam. The raider cursed loudly and let go while he attempted to extinguish his paperwork! His feet were free! That only left the two on his arms!
If he could get free, he’d try to get inside without letting anyone join him in the building. They had a NO SOLICITORS sign up for a reason!
Gelman promptly lifted the two holding him off the ground and slammed them together – taking care to ensure that they were only unconscious and not actually dead. He just want to go to work – and Mongols usually left after a few hours to go and solicit elsewhere. A good thing he worked out regularly…
Whatever Lou meant by “Diatomic”, it didn’t mean “Atomic”. Whatever was in Lou’s exploding cans had to be pretty low-grade; they were more annoying than destructive. Still, the provided plenty of cover to make a run for it.
Where was Lou anyway? He owed him today’s salary, and he deserved a “thank you” at a bare minimum.
Lou was firing from one of the upper floors. The lower levels were barricaded, but the mongols were setting up a catapult.
Gelman yelled up “Thank you Lou!” as he made a mad dash for the building. That might expose his presence to Jenkins, if she was listening, but he would not let hostile situations get in the way of civility!
As he came up on the door, the barricade was lifted bodily out of the way by a huge flaming fist. It struck him again just how wrong that was… Once he was inside, and really took a look at “Mr Balrog”, it was like blinders coming off. This was all just so WRONG!
Flaming fists? Children transforming into squirrels? DRAGONS? What was happening to his city?
He busied himself doing his standard BlackBerry checks – making sure that it hadn’t awakened and checking his email. It was practically a sixth kid.
(The Balrog) “Blast them Mr Leland! Why can’t I incinerate this foolish horde with unholy fire? Not since the foolish elves did battle during the wars between the Dark Lord and the Vala have I been so affronted by mortals!”
Wait… Mortals? Unholy fire? Why hadn’t he noticed that one of the new hires was twelve feet tall and on fire? Wait; he had mentioned it to the fellow in passing, but he’d said that the maintenance department was on it to make sure that the sprinklers wouldn’t go off. It had been more productive than mentioning it to Corrigan; all he’d gotten out of him was : “Flaming?” and a meaningful look.
Why hadn’t he really paid attention to the fact that a twelve-foot demonic horror was walking the halls? Was he just too used to no one noticing that the maintenance man was a thinly disguised woman, or that the spy thinks that a bunny suit helps with stealth? He usually dropped subjects like that after the first mention; it never did any good.
Oh dear, the vein was already popping out on his head. He’d only been at work for what, ten minutes? Today was not going to go well. Still, the flaming thing had been helpful – and the force of polite habit was strong.
OK, it was a bit shaky.The theological implications of working with demons and soul-bonded children were a bit much to handle in a sudden realization. The kids were bad enough, but DEMONS? He had to work with DEMONS?
(Balrog) “Good morning! This miserable siege is scheduled for the next three hours; then they’ve got an appointment with another company. Selling business credit cards… I used to think I was evil!”
Gelman was all for diversity, but this… this was inconceivable. At least he (it?) seemed to be a non-maneating demon. He forced a smile.
“Ah, you must be Mr. Balrog. I’m Fred Gelman, the procurement manager.”
Perhaps he should have taken an executive title like everyone else when the company expanded? “Ah! Formal Introductions! I am Ashkyron, Dark Flame of the Underworld, Fifth among the servants of Melkor, Lord of Moria, Slayer of Many Gandalfs, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Men!”
Gelman really wanted to get to his office and sit down.
“That sounds… impressive…”
He was setting the ceiling hangings on fire! WHAT WAS GOING ON HERE? Was he going to have to call a rabbi? He should have taken his chances with the Mongol Horde!
“Impressive?! I was a terror of the Elder World, a fallen Maia, with Melkor I turned from the Light and bestrode the earth before the sun burned bright in heaven! What faint praise!”
Urkk… How could he ask a rabbi to deal with this thing? They were TEACHERS! Even the most combative ones would balk at this!
What if he allied with Jenkins? Would it be better or worse if it wanted to ally with HIM? Or the Mongol Horde? The creature could obviously be a threat to the entire Accounting department, but he just couldn’t bring himself to work with a DEMON! Why didn’t anyone else seem to notice the flames? They all just seemed to ignore them! Except for Mr Leland (who just seemed to take it in stride) and Jenkins (who kept complaining about the expenses of scorched ceilings).
Upstairs, he could hear Lou looking for more cans.
“Well, it’s good to have you here.”
And not rampaging through downtown Manhattan. Lord protect them all. What was in Leland’s head right now? He had always seemed so rational. Had this “Sanwell” character gotten to him too?
“Yes it is… Once I learn the secrets of this realm, and of walking among men, I will seek out the knowledge of how to turn the powers of the light to my own use, and none will be able to stop me from claiming Melkors Iron Crown!”
Had this thing just proclaimed it’s ambition to become overlord of Sheol? He couldn’t let that happen!
He did the “trading contact information” bit = although shaking hands wasproblematic because 1) he was on fire, and 2) he was a demon!
He didn’t even consider putting the creature’s “hell phone number” into his poor BlackBerry. He wasn’t going to defile the poor thing that way… Still, the thing’s office number and title and so on were all on the organizational chart. He was the new Operations Executive. Marty’s old position. Great. They’d traded a drunk, lecher, and all-around wastrel for a flaming demon. He’d never thought that he’d miss having Tabard around. He’d help build the company from the ground up. There was no way he’d allow a demon to destroy it.
Marty had been promoted… above a major demon… for working with this “Lord Sanwell” guy… who kept young slaves and collected kids who said he owned them and bound their souls… This was not good. If it wasn’t for iron strength of will, he would have been one enormous twitch. Leland had told him that this would be a good company. He couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t end like this. He’d invested too much time. He’d known that hiring that drunken Brooklynite was a bad idea!
The demon stalked off, muttering something about Lou getting to throw balls of fire and not him, just because HE was genuinely competent about it.
How could he break this to Leland? He might be in on it! But if he didn’t, and it blew up in his face like trying to change the Accounting Database specs did, he could lose his job!
He planned to talk to Jim Corrigan, the head of Human Resources – despite the fact that he hadn’t noticed a blasted thing about the Balrog except that it was tall, dark, and handsome, with smoldering charisma. He and his pharmacy expertise might be an ally in this (despite the fact that his beauty and barely veiled homosexuality scared Gelman nearly as much as accounting and the Balrog).
Before that, he noted some “urgent business” – unlikely with his department virtually shut down by accounting, but that also made it unlikely that anyone would notice his absence – and went to see his Rabbi. Slipping out the back to head over to the synagogue was fairly easy.
(Rabbi) “Yes? May I help you? Such a mess the children make, you would think they had no teaching in manners at all, crayons and such everywhere… Admittedly, this one is drawing nice pictures of Jerusalem, and it being besieged by an army from hell is really quite appropriate, but I think it’s really too advanced for his age – and why he has it being defended by knights is quite another matter – but he is only eight.”
“Rabbi, I have a terrible problem.” (I explain the situation.) “And he claims to be THE Balrog. The Tolkien one!”
“Oh, now that seems like cosplay gone entirely overboard. We shall look at the network and see! There should be some stills from the movie… And I can quite guarantee, that the actual Balrog is quite fictional! Ah, here we go: does it look like this?”
Gelman examined the picture closely… it was actually an excellent match.
“Y-yes, it does.”
“Perhaps someone who’s taking too much medication?”
“That is a possibility.”
Surely it COULDN’T be the actual Balrog. But the flames . . . even for Manhattan, that was too much.
“But surely the medicine would wear off.”
“Oh, some people keep taking it you know! We’ve had a few cases, some of the new medicines produce fantasy-based side effects…”
The rabbi had a point.
“I suppose I’m being a little paranoid. Thank you, Rabbi.”
Still… He went to do some more internet research, extending it to those medicines. There were a few, but the reactions to them were even more idiosyncratic than to most medicine. One thing: the Balrog’s dialogue seemed to be straight from Tolkien.
Of course, if anything, that made the “cosplayer” case a bit stronger. After all, which was more likely; a kooky fan on something, an escapee from a fictional universe, or a supernatural being in disguise as an escapee from a fictional universe?
The visit to the Rabbi had been only partially comforting. He needed an opinion from a professional pharmacist. It looked like a trip to Human Resources was unavoidable… Hopefully he could get through it without being dosed with Proma-17.