Following Ariadne's Twine.
I spun slowly in a circle. Questing for some sign, some scent. I almost missed that taste of madness as it wafted through the air.
"This way, " I began moving quickly and Renee followed. I blocked most trace of our passage from the constables' conscious perception as we passed by their blockade. The Dark One was standing there and I know he saw us pass, but he said nothing and gave no sign, as he spoke with an older pipe smoking man. Then we were on the asylum's grounds.
"They exited that window, " I pointed, "and crossed the grounds this way."
"Towards the storm drains...They're underground. Can you follow them there?"
"Not easily, the chains of madness and sorrow are almost blinding in the Depths...But I will try."
"Let me tell Kate and Oracle what's up, then we'll go in."
She was speaking rapidly as we ghosted across the blighted turf and under the sullen trees. After hurdling the wall, I saw we we're overlooking the water and the Depth's mouth loomed below.
"Yeah Dru, that's it. Kate'll be here in a second and Oracle let the big man know what's up."
I nodded and began climbing down the rough stone face, Renee following my advance. We arrived at the bottom and we're soon joined by Kate gliding in on her satin wings. This entrance was large enough to allow a full coach and team to enter and was blocked by iron bars as thick as my wrist to prevent the passage of intruders. There was a gate, to allow maintenance I guessed, and though it was obviously normally secured by a very substantial padlock and chain, it had been torn completely from its hinges and remained dangling there dejectedly, by the aforementioned chain.
"Well that's not his M.O." Renee hissed.
"Modus Operandi it means..."
"Ah, Method of Operation. The way he accomplishes his goals. I always did well at Latin and Maths."
"So Kate, any ideas?"
"You're the better detective sweetie."
Renee pulled out a small pocket torch, and shined it at the gate's frame.
"No tool marks or any kind of rub marks really...Gate's torqued like it was pulled up from a corner. Oh shit! There's eight slight depressions near the bottom...spaced like fingers."
"The Joker or Harley's gone meta?"
"Or there was a meta waiting for them here. Dru, can you follow them?"
I nodded and stepped into the depths. The trail was relatively easy to follow at first, as Master Punch's odour of madness and cruelty was of a particularly pungent type. As we moved further in the other sensations of despair and melancholia produced by the normal residents began drowning it out.
By this time however we had descended below the man-made cylinders and into raw cracks in the rock that Kate told me, must have been opened by the earth tremors a few years ago. I couldn't tell, as the areas we were entering, seemed to me, just barely upon the mortal side of the barrier with Gehenna.
We continued on for a half-hour or so, until I began to feel a prickling on the back of my neck that continuously gained strength as we moved forward. When it reached the point of becoming throbbing pain I began to hear low voices punctuated by peals of high pitched laughter.
Renee drew a curious looking pistol from under her coat, while Kate readied one of her strange boomerang-like weapons. We slowed our advance until the faint glow of torch light was visible, then slowed it again till we were almost creeping forward at the speed of a tortoise. The voices were were clearer now.
"We're almost ready Harl. Are you ready?"
"Mmmph! Mmmph MMph!"
"What was that? I couldn't quite catch what you were trying to say."
In the background, three low voices were chanting in Sumerian. I'm not as good at languages as my William was, he had a positive gift for them. But, as so much destruction tends to be stated in Sumerian, one can't help but pick up several useful words and phrases.
"It's a summoning ritual, a beseeching for power in trade for a life," I whispered.
"Like a blood sacrifice?"
"Yes, usually after ritual torture."
"Oh shit! Harley!"