At the top of the steps they caught up with the others, who were debating the way to go. “The hall turns left, right?” asked Arnulf.
“No, left,” said Cloudius and when Arnulf started to reply, he giggled.
“No giggling,” said Angelica. “Yeah, it seems like the only way to go—no secret doors here.”
“So?” He looked through. “Oh. Statues.”
“Yeah,” she replied dramatically. “Statues.”
They all stood at the entrance. The room was perhaps sixty feet long and thirty wide, with a narrowing in the very middle. Twelve statues stood in the room, six along each side, a total of four sets of three, so that it was only possible to move up the middle. The hallway continued out the other side.
“Gotta be something in there,” said Cloudius.
“Stinks of undead,” said Angelica.
After a moment, Daphne stepped out into the room. She stood still.
Nothing happened, and then nothing happened some more. Daphne shrugged. She turned to the others, waiting on the steps.
They all seemed a little perturbed. “What?” she asked.
“Turn around,” said Arnulf.
There were two things there, shambling wrecks really, grey skin, ragged clothes, running sores. They wanted to bite Daphne. With a grossed-out curse, she pulled out her sword and slashed diagonally down, then up and down and up and down again. She looked down on two ghouls, who now were in several pieces each.
“Ugh. Ugh, ugh! I need to wipe my sword, anyone got a rag?”
The others came into the room, looking around her and looking down at the remains. the blobs of wrapped flesh had not bled, and in fact were still moving weakly. Given a few hours’ rest, they might be okay. “How do you kill them if they’re dead?” asked Cloudius, offering her the old towel he had hanging from his belt.
“I just keep killing them,” said Daphne. “I figure they’ll stay down at some point. These guys didn’t need much.” She stepped over them and moved through the narrow middle of the room and into the further half.
“I can’t believe you just whacked those things,” said Tom. “Whack. It was impressive.”
Cloudius took a whack at the head of one of them, splitting it with a rotten sound. “It was up to something,” he explained.
“Can’t be too careful,” said Arnulf. They stepped over the mess, following the other three.
“Smells awful,” said Daphne. “Let’s go.” She was into the next hall, Tom and Eva right with her.
“Not so fast, Amazon Warrior Girl,” said Angelica. Daphne looked back. Ange smiled at her, then advanced on the last statue on the right, a rather severe looking queen with quite the cleavage. Angelica ignored the look the queen was giving her, climbing up on her pedestal and reaching into the cleavage of the life-size but definitely lifeless and motionless monarch. Then Angelica dropped back to stand in front of the queen, smiling at her. Angelica turned to Daphne and Tom. She held
a ruby. “She kept it down the front of her dress. I wonder what else she kept down there.”
“Goes with the sapphire, I bet,” said Tom.
“You know, I bet it does,” Ange replied.
“I’ll carry it,” said Daphne. “I think not,” said Angelica.
They headed onward through a couple of small square rooms masking ninety degree left turns. The second one had secret doors—one of them, well hidden visually, was given away by the sound of comforting voices through the wall. “Come in, join us,” they said. “We’d love to have you in for a nice meal. Come in, rest, you must be so weary!” There was much more like that: it was something like the Magic Eight Ball of Lies. “It’s not working for me,” said Daphne, “is it working for you?”
“Here’s another door,” said Tom, opening a panel and peering through. “Huh. Just the wide hall.”
“We don’t want the public route,” said Cloud. “Didja notice there’s a stair?”
“By Jove, you’re right,” said Arnulf. The left wall of the room they were in opened in a narrow hall that dropped away down steep steps. At the bottom, the narrow hall opened into a wider one, which dead ended to the right and generally seemed more a basement than a hall. They turned to the left and ended in a T intersection with a crossing hallway.
“Smells of water this way,” said Angelica, facing into the hallway to the right.
“Smells of hellhound this way,” said Cloud, drawing his uncle’s sword. Daphne had hers out already. There was a chorus of howls, which might have induced terror except that most of the five were already as scared as they could possibly get. Five black dogs came around the far corner and accelerated toward the five kids, barking with joy at the feast they would soon have. Eva hissed and seemed to grow real: perhaps she was the second line of defense.
They did not get to find out, fortunately. The hounds were disturbing to say the least, especially the way their saliva glowed and burst into flames as they drooled in their hunger for kid meat. Up went the two swords, then down, and two of the creatures had their heads sliced open in mid-leap. The two swords-kids fell back under the weight, then stood together to slice a third hound into three roughly equal pieces. Two others leaped past them.
Cloud and Daph turned and saw one of the hell doggies jump Arnulf, and the other take Tom down. Tom’s predicament looked worse than Arnulf’s, but then the wolf rolled off and there lay Tom, grinning, covered in horrible ichor, his spear point stuck forward. Angelica jumped to him and began cleaning him up.
Arnulf was rolling around fighting off the fifth dog. It bit him and its flaming drool got all over him, lighting holes in his tee shirt and jeans. His hair was on fire on places. But it couldn’t get a hold of his wand, and he finally concentrated enough raw magic combat power in one place that he blew its evil little mind.
“Ow, ow,” said Nulf, “put me out, will you?”
Daphne dumped her canteen on him, making sure to hit all the major blazes. Then she and Cloudius dragged Arnulf back into the dead end, and propped him up against a pile of cloth sacks. Daphne checked Arnulf’s wounds, mostly burns, and then looked at Cloudius. “What are you doing? Oh, is that—?”
“Timms Special,” said Cloudius. “You know it works.” He was mixing up a salve out of a few ingredients they already had, with a base of the lamb wax they used as a hand lotion. He began dabbing it on Arnulf’s wounds, which were conveniently located in holes burned in his clothes. Daphne pitched in.
“Oh, man,” said Arnulf. “That stings so good.”
“Nothing permanent,” said Daphne.
“Nothing permanent,” Arnulf said to his left palm.
“What?” asked Cloudius.
“Say hi to Ahir for me, Arn,” said Daphne.
“Daph says hi.”
“Hey, guys,” said Angelica, coming up with Tom. “You have to come look. Hey, is he okay?”
“Yeah, he’s fine,” said Daphne.
“Get up, Arnulf,” Angelica exhorted. “Stuff to see. Way down under the Field Museum. Don’t want to hang about.”
“All things considered,” said Arnulf, getting to his feet like an old man, “that seems preferable to waiting for more hell doggies to catch our scent. Thing had bad breath.”
They got around the corner to the right, and around it again, and they could see they were at the top of a ramp. The bottom of the ramp was under water all the way up to the ceiling. Angelica stood at the very edge of the water, which at first look appeared black as oil.
Once they stood around her—there was just enough room for all five to stand side by side across the water’s edge—they could see something gleaming on the floor perhaps ten feet out and five feet deep in what was actually clear cold water.
“Well,” said Angelica, “one of us should—!”
There was a splash as Daphne strode into the water. Soon she was up to her waist, but before she was up to her shoulders, she stopped. She bent, then straightened, wet; she did it again, going all the way under, and came up, clutching something and grinning.
She came running ashore, and stood there shaking and grinning. She held a large and slightly glowing emerald.
“Refreshing, huh?” asked Cloudius.
“Bleep refreshing,” said the Amazon, “it’s bleeping cold.”
“And I wonder where it goes,” said Angelica, “this water tunnel.”
“And I wonder what lives in it,” said Arnulf.
“And I wonder where we put these three stones,” said Tom.