A couple of hours later, Arnulf, Angelica and Tom were sitting around outside the workshop of Hexane Hall. They could hear cleanup being done inside. They knew to stay out of the way.
Daphne came out and sat down on the ground with a smile on her face. Cloudius came behind and set down a tray with three brass fittings, pieces of metal that looked like slightly complicated Art Deco bend pipes. He stood back as they looked from the tray to him and back. They all looked back at him and he did his little three-clap and giggle.
“I’m sorry,” said Angelica, “but what is it?”
“It’s an air breather,” said Daphne.
“Does it work?” asked Arnulf, picking one up.
“Put that end in your mouth,” said Daphne. “Now let’s go soak your head.”
“How come there’s just three?” asked Angelica.
“I’m just gonna skinny dip,” said Daphne. “You beat me in school and you can clobber me at magic combat, but I’m a much better swimmer than any of you. And Tom’s all set too, I guess.”
“Look,” said Tom, jumping up. He bent forward and a shadow of a cat jumped on his shoulders. He stood up and it clung there. “She keeps a cushion of air around me,” he explained.
“That sounds as daffy as this pipe fitting,” said Arnulf. “Let’s go try it out.”
Cloudius borrowed a Tommy swimsuit and Angelica changed into her one-piece, the one her mom thought was a bit adult for a 13-year-old. Arnulf just took off his tee shirt, stuck the black sword from under the Field Museum through his belt on one side, and his wand on the other side. Daphne waited until they were standing on the big boulder out in the pond to take off all her clothing and then strap on just her belt. She had her sword in her hand.
“But you don’t have your sheath,” said Angelica, while the boys tried to pretend they were trying to ignore Daphne. “Why keep your belt?”
“To string bags of gold onto, silly.” With that, Daphne hopped in—the water was only four feet deep next to the big rock. Then with a wave of her sword, she dove into the square hole. The others watched in dread. About fifteen seconds later, they could see a shape coming up from the hole. Daphne burst through the surface, trod water and said, “You coming?”
“Did you have your eyes open?” asked Cloudius. “Did you see anything?”
“The tunnel goes down about ten feet, then turns that way,” she said, pointing up the fold between two hills. “It’s slightly sloped down, but I didn’t go the whole way.”
“Is it a natural formation?” asked Angelica, congratulating herself for an intelligent and scientific question.
“Yeah, you see perfect squares and straight lines all the time in nature, don’t ya,” said Daphne. “You guys coming?” She dove back in.
“I guess that’s a no,” said Angelica. “Look, is this really a good idea?”
“She’s kind of decided for us,” said Arnulf. He put his brass fitting in his mouth and said, around it, “Troopsh outh.” He jumped in, landing feet first in the square tunnel. He turned deftly—not a bad swimmer he—and disappeared.
“Well, let’s go,” said Cloudius. He dove in beautifully and then came back up. “Thith thing workth!” he called out, around his breather. “It acshually doeth!” He dove back down and disappeared into the hole.
Angelica and Tom shrugged at each other. Ange put her breathing pipe in and took the dive. She plunged faster than she thought she would, and was bumping against the bottom of the tunnel before she knew it. The bump was gentle, but it dislodged her breather, which fell out onto the tunnel floor. She could sort of see it—the mud was stirred up by now, but there was a glint. When she reached for it, she found the distance deceptive, and she missed it. And missed it again, bumping it out of the way and losing it again for a moment.
Angelica began to panic. She was grabbing around as if she were looking for her keys. There—no! Just a gold coin. Darn it! There? No, just a gem of some kind!
Then something grabbed her under the shoulders and began dragging her, freaking out, down the tunnel. It went slightly down, then slightly up, over about a hundred feet of distance, not that Angelica was paying attention to things like that. Suddenly she was no longer weightless—suddenly she was pulled up out of the water, and more hands were helping get her up onto dry stone.
Tom’s wand light went on. The tunnel, now sloping slightly upward, came out of the water and went on a ways. Angelica coughed the water out of her windpipe, rolled onto her knees and stood up. “My breathe under water maker thingy,” she managed to say.
“It fell out,” said Tom. “Hey, Cloud—!”
“I’d be happy to,” said Cloudius. He swam back down the tunnel and soon came back up, holding the brass pipe.
There was Tom, facing him, holding the wand with the light on it. Angelica stood in front of him, looking past him. Beyond them, things were moving down the hall. They were dark and hard to see clearly, but they seemed to be wearing trench coats and hats pulled low, and they seemed to be smoking cigarettes. There seemed to be three of them.
“Shabby nasties,” Angelica breathed.
Cloudius stepped up, his uncle’s sword forward. “Go back, shabby things,” he said, but his voice wavered and they laughed at him.
Then they both jumped. Next to them, someone was speaking in a strange tongue: a ghost tongue. It was Tom.
The shabby nasties became very concerned. And when Eva hopped down, advanced and growled at them—no sissy hissing for her—the ghost things turned tail and flew away, dissipating into evaporating rags of darkness as they ran.
Apprehensive about their friends, Cloudius, Tom and Angelica advanced along the hall. After a hundred more feet, it opened out into a big room, roughly round but with about twenty feet of flat opposite wall. There was a hall, going slightly downward but dry, in the middle of this wall, but there was enough space on either side for, say, a secret door. All the walls, flat and curved, were covered with carvings.
Arnulf and Daphne were standing side by side, nude Amazon and skinny dude in wet cutoffs, equally tall. Arnulf’s wand was out: a yellowish light, not as fancy as Tom could manage but quite sufficient, glowed just above the tip.
“They look like petroglyphs,” said Angelica, coming up behind them.
“They are petroglyphs,” said Daphne, “obviously.”
“Are they really?” asked Cloudius.
“Well,” drawled Arnulf, “since this is rock and these are carvings, that would make them rock carvings, right? And rock carvings are petroglyphs.” He held his wand up toward the ceiling: more of them there. “I wonder what they say. Like, take the hall?”
“You know what?” said Tom. “Xu.” Sure enough, outlines appeared in the flat wall on either side of the hallway: two secret doors. “So which one?”
“Not that door,” said Daphne. They looked where she was looking. Eva was sitting in front of the left door, growling. Daphne took a look at the carvings around that door, and on over the hall to the other door. There seemed to be a carven scene, and what might be people having what might be their heads chopped off, and those heads, or whatever they were, having certain things done to them. “What do you think of this?”
“Hey,” said Cloudius. “That symbol. Yeah. There it is again, and again. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I get it.”
“Is he joking?” asked Angelica.
“No, wait. Look.” Cloudius pointed with his sword. “That’s a sacrifice. There’s another one. And see that thing? That’s the Eater of Men. That’s the god the old Indians used to sacrifice to, not all of them, just the bad ones. Right? Don’t you remember History of Native American Magic? Sear covered that the last month.”
“I got an A in that, dear,” said Angelica. “You only got a B.”
“Well,” said Cloudius with equal hauteur [look it up], “apparently I was paying attention.” He scanned about. “Okay. See that? That’s the Lockup. That petroglyph tells you that this place is locked down. The good guys came up here in force and sealed up the bad things. The evil gods and their stuff are sealed up back there. There’s also something else.”
“See that?” He pointed to an oddly blobby petroglyph. It was a carving into dry rock that managed to look slimy and viscous. They all looked at it, and then they all shuddered. Eva had moved to the other door and was growling at that.
“So, hall,” said Arnulf.
Just then Eva let out a louder growl and hopped back. Daphne came over and stood in front of it. It was starting to open.
“There’s skeletons behind it,” said Tom, holding out his wand and squinting. His wand light appeared to be out; all the visible light was from Arnulf. “And a gem,” Tom added. “A gem.”
“How do you know?” asked Daphne.
“X-rays,” he said vaguely.
The door popped open. Four skeletons came bopping out, straight at Daphne. “Ack!” she cried, but she swung her sword around: they didn’t like that much. They started flanking actions on both sides, perhaps assuming that she was the only threat. She was somewhat of a threat indeed: after giving ground to start with, she stopped with Tom right behind her, and two skeletons tried to get in under her guard. They got their bony fingers on her arms, but she sliced through one of them and managed to bounce the other off the wall. It got up, looked down quizzically at the arm that had broken off it, and went back at Daphne, handcuffing her and making her back Tom up further.
But the other two met grim, if belated, fates: Cloudius busted through one’s skull, and Arnulf pulled the black sword out of his belt and started slicing up the other one’s vertebral column. Once both were reduced to their component parts, the boys turned and found Tom and Daphne stomping on the last wriggling remnants of the one whose arm had come off.
“That was different,” said Daphne. She turned and saw the bony arm groping around behind her. She chopped it up.
“The gem!” said Cloudius, looking into the closet that the skeletons had come from. “The blue gem!”
“No, don’t!” shouted Tom. He ran over and grabbed Cloudius. Then he momentarily lunged for the gem himself, and Cloudius held him back. “Thanks,” said Tom.
“It wants us to take it,” said Cloudius. “I don’t want to take something that wants me to take it.”
“What if Jen Chang wants you to take her to the movies?” asked Angelica.
“Angelica, Jen Chang is not veeeerrrrryyyy eeeevvvviiiiiilllll. That gem is veeeerrrrryyyy, veeeerrrrryyyy eeeevvvviiiiiilllll.”
“Ahem,” said Arnulf, “can we get on down the hall now?”
“Wait,” said Tom, in front of the other door. He was holding the wand up to it, again apparently unlit. “This one has steps behind it. Going up.”
“Can you get radiation poisoning from doing that?” asked Angelica.
“So, you want to go up?” asked Arnulf.
“Just to look,” said Tom.
“It might be nice to have another way out,” Daphne put in. She was already working on prying the door open with her hunting knife. Tom went up and poked the door with his wand, and it popped open. Daphne pulled it all the way open. Sure enough, a very narrow stair went very steeply up.
“Up we go,” said Daphne cheerfully. “We can come back and go the ramp.”