The Round Room - Part III
Written for the 2014 kurt_bigbang, featuring cover art and illustations by Riverance.
Please find full headers with warnings here.
Note: I had to cut part III in half for length. Sorry!
[ Prologue - Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Epilogue - And in the end ]
A burning throb in his hand and the fine metallic tinkle of a chain falling roused Kurt. He found himself seated upright. There was a rustle of fabric, a dull thunk, and silence in his head. No pressure or gnawing irritation or pain, nothing but a tender ache near his temple where he must have bumped it. Gingerly, he opened his eyes.
The chair in which he was seated was Mme Tibideaux's comfortable armchair in The Round Room. She sat cross-legged on the floor, his great grandmother's pendant dangled from one hand, blackened and dull, and some unfamiliar metallic object sat on the floor in front of her. Kurt pushed himself to sit up straight and winced. He looked at his injured hand, found it wrapped in the silk scarf he'd had tucked in his bag. It was damp, and the palm of his hand stung. It felt like a burn, but not too bad. On the chair next to him rested his first aid kit and bottle of water. His satchel sat, open, against the leg of the chair.
The ache in his hand from his locket overheating connected to the bright light and the weird implosion in the hall. And somehow they were safe. When he found his voice, Kurt asked, "Is it... my necklace broken?"
"Possibly," she replied, and she looked up at him. "Probably," she amended, no trace of a smile on her face. "How do you feel, Mr. Hummel?"
There wasn't a word that came to him sufficient to encompass the present strangeness. He was not entirely sure he was even awake. He settled on, "Sore and confused."
She nodded. "Where did you get this pendant?"
"It belonged to my great grandmother. My Aunt Mildred gave it to me I was little." Mme Tibideaux just kept nodding, and Kurt realized he would have to ask the obvious question. "What happened out there?"
She sighed and looked up at him. "What did it look like?" she asked, not in a mocking or disparaging way, but as if she genuinely needed to know the answer. "To you?"
"Um?" Kurt squirmed in the chair, brought his feet back under the chair so he didn't feel so off kilter. "It looked like a... hole? Something was coming through. I know that sounds impossible—"
"Not impossible," she said. "That is what you saw," she confirmed. "And you heard it, too?"
Kurt nodded slowly, unblinking. "I've been hearing it for weeks, on and off."
"Have you?" she measured Kurt with an impenetrable gaze. "Since that night?"
All the odd occurrences had begun then. "That wasn't a gas leak."
"No, Mr. Hummel, that was not a gas leak." Her smile was thin and tired, but there was warmth in it.
"Is it still out there?" Kurt asked. "Are people in danger?"
"No," she said, "thanks to you and your great grandmother's necklace. Although, it's not gone entirely. It's not occupying the same... dimension presently. We're safe in this room. It can't manifest itself in here."
Dimension? Manifest? Kurt sat, unmoving, and he closed his eyes. "This can't be real," he said. "I'm going to wake up soon."
"I'm truly sorry," Mme Tibideaux said. "I was afraid something like this would happen. I didn't want to involve anyone else in this, but you...?"
The inquisitive way in which she trailed off, prompted Kurt to open his eyes again. Nothing had changed. "What about me?"
"I suspect you have some interesting family history," she said. "The hound is hunting only me, you shouldn't have been able to hear it, and I don't know why it would have been following you, unless—" She looked down at her hand, the one Kurt recalled bandaging the night of the 'gas leak'. "I had wondered," she said more softly.
"Did I show the scar from where I cut my hand that night?"
"No," Kurt said,
"There isn't one," Mme Tibideaux said. "It healed completely within a day. It should have left some mark, but there's nothing. It's as if it never happened."
"I don't understand anything right now," Kurt admitted. And he turned his attention to the wet scarf around his own hand. Carefully, he unwound it. His palm was red and inflamed, and certainly sore, but there were no blisters or broken skin. He exhaled in relief. "What happened? What was that... thing ? Did you all it a hound?"
Mme Tibideaux smiled at him, almost fondly, and she got to her feet. She pulled another chair near and sat down, facing him. "Hound is not entirely accurate, but it is descriptive enough," she said. "The creature you glimpsed doesn't dwell in the same space or time that we do."
"So it's..." Kurt paused and rubbed his hands over his face. Saying the word felt like committing himself to an outrageous idea. "...an alien?"
"Yes, in a manner of speaking. They inhabit the..." Mme Tibideaux pursed her lips. "Angles of time, we live in the curves. They are as old as time itself. Older than either of us. Normally our worlds would never intersect, but sometimes, someone draws their ire. They can follow the angles we build, we make it possible for them to enter our space, in certain places."
"The Hounds of Tindalos."
"Tindalos?" Kurt desperately wished this were something from which he would wake up.
"I don't know the origin, only that that is how they are called here."
"And one of these hounds is hunting you?"
"It has its reasons, but my understanding of them is limited. Once one begins to hunt someone, they are unwavering in their pursuit, and said to be single-minded in their goal, until they catch their prey. They are attracted to hunt those who use what you would think of as magic and those who travel in time. "
Kurt raised an eyebrow. "So are you telling me you're a wizard or a witch? Shouldn't you be teaching at Hogwarts instead of NYADA?"
Mme Tibideaux laughed. Actually laughed, full-throated and rich. It filled the space wonderfully, and it made Kurt feel better immediately. He managed a smile of his own.
"No, Mr. Hummel, I am neither a wizard nor a witch, but I have been close to those who have traveled in time. I have been, myself, caught out of time. I have seen things and been places that few would believe or understand."
"I think right now, I'd believe nearly anything."
"I had hoped I'd lost the hound when I came here, but, as you know, it found me. That was what happened that night. I wasn't as well prepared as I had hoped to be. It had been long enough since I'd seen it that I became complacent."
With a frown, Kurt struggled to believe the incomprehensible. He had seen what he had seen, and since this wasn't a dream, then Mme Tibideaux's corroboration made this not a hallucination either, but something real. Unless she were somehow trying to trick him. And that honestly seemed to be a far more paranoid and crazy option than the existence of some monstrous alien inhabiting 'the angles of time'.
There was so much he didn't understand, things he wasn't sure he could understand, things he didn't want to understand. But he was involved in this bizarre drama whether he liked it or not. Perhaps knowing what was happening would help stop it from continuing to happen and he could get back to a more normal life. "So what do we do now?"
Mme Tibideaux turned over the hand in which she held the metallic object. "I want to ensure your safety Mr. Hummel, and I realize that, to accomplish that goal, I will need to find a way to depart, to draw the hound away from you. But, sadly, I am not sure how to accomplish this. As far as I can tell, this requires some kind of recharging," she said. "But I haven't discovered how to do that."
"What is it?"
"It's a device," she said. "Made by a race older and more advanced than either of us. It allows for the manipulation of the membranes separating universes and dimensions." She paused for a moment. "It's how I came to be here, in your universe."
With a frown, Kurt closed his eyes. He had no energy left for incredulity. He opened his eyes again. "So you're not... local?"
That earned Kurt another smile. "I attracted the hound's attention, and in an attempt to escape it, used this device to move to a different, but similar, universe. This one. I knew the hound might find me again, so I made some accommodations.
"For example," she continued. "I commissioned the construction of this room, which—in addition to its perfect acoustics—has no angles or corners, only curves, and therefore remains impenetrable to the hound. And this device I acquired, which not only let me travel here, but can also block its ability to cross into this dimension for a brief while." Mme Tibideaux looked at the device with regret. "Unfortunately, the travel between universes drained it of much of its power, and the span time for which it can stabilize our spacetime against intrusion is growing shorter each time I use it. The person who sold it to me, assured me it was rechargeable, but they failed to provide an instruction manual. I thought I'd have time to work it out."
"Ah, well, that's not helpful," Kurt said, for he didn't know what else to say. He felt pressed to offer help, but had little idea of what he could offer.
"I thought perhaps your pendant might provide some insight when I saw what it did, but it seems to be terrestrial in origin, and not as old. I'm not sure they function in the same way."
"May I look at them?" Kurt asked, and Mme Tibideaux handed him both the necklace and her device.
"Just don't touch the top of it. The symbols there activate its different modes, and I'm trying to save what energy it has left."
"I understand," Kurt says. He set the device in his lap and looked at the locket first. Inside, the glass was shattered and the surface black with soot. The hair had burned up when the locket did whatever it did to banish the hound. The metal remained the same shape as always, but felt both colder and heavier in his hand.
"Stopping the hound seems to have used up whatever power it had," Mme Tibideaux said. "I'm grateful you had it and thought to use it."
"It was protecting me," Kurt says with a shake of his head. "I think... I think it was a ward of some kind. It... when the hound was watching me, it blocked out the sound of it in my head." He still felt outside himself saying such a thing, as if he were mired in a surreal dreamscape, but it was a relief to finally put into words some of the peculiarity of his life in recent week—and to have someone look at him like he was speaking truth.
He slipped the pendant back into his pocket and picked up Mme Tibideaux's device. It was surprisingly light in his hand, had a rounded pentagonal shape, and a smooth metallic surface, though it felt in his hand softer, like worn stone. He couldn't identify it as anything familiar, not even when he tried to recall ninth grade geology class. Into the top of it were inscribed five glyphs whose lines were comprised of a series of tiny, depressed dots. The shape of them could almost be a different font face of the same symbolic language on the necropants and his locket, though he didn't recognize any particular shape. He wondered if Daphne would.
"Do you know what these symbols mean?" Kurt asked, as he realized perhaps he could help, even if only as a proxy between Mme Tibideaux and Daphne.
Mme Tibideaux shook her head. "Unfortunately not."
"I know someone," Kurt said. "Who might."
"I don't know," Kurt said, "But if you need to recharge it, we need to know more." He considered options. "And you can't leave this room for very long, can you? Unless it's working?"
"That is the unfortunate truth of the situation. The device currently allows me less than ten minutes of free movement before I need to return to somewhere safe."
"Will it attack me if I leave the room?"
"I don't think so. If it were hunting you, you would not be sitting here with me now. You have its attention, but perhaps, let us hope, only its curiosity. My best guess is that it's working out your relation to me and whether you may provide it information or opportunity to catch me. But you should be careful, I can't guarantee your safety."
"No time travel or magic, I promise," Kurt said and forced his tone to be light even though the knowledge of what lurked outside this room, what had been following him, chilled his heart, turned his bones to jelly, and made him wish for the days of simpler, kinder magics: a night light, an open closet door, and his father double-checking behind the dresser mirror.
But Mme Tibideaux was serious when she replied, "Something about you has drawn its interest, Mr. Hummel. It may be more than your association with me. At least, I am not aware of it observing any of my other students. First of all, you could hear it, which is a rare ability, for the hounds have no voice. But even before you caught its attention, your aunt had given you a very special family item, one that has served to protect you now. You need to take care."
In the meantime, Kurt wondered what he could do to help that was more immediate, perhaps even more mundane and practical. There were, and Mme Tibideaux was clearly relieved by his offer. She needed clean clothes from her apartment, and could he please bring her a hot breakfast the next morning?
Part III continued »