Chapter 14: Under the Field

XIV. Under the Field

 

“Just sell me on this a little,” said Daphne. “That’s all I ask.” She and Spiny sat on the floor, leaning on each other a little; Angelica, Ahir and Arnulf sat on the bed; Cloudius and Tom took up Tom’s two chairs; Eva sat in the window glaring at them. It was Wednesday the ninth.

“Mac’s looking at the Field Museum again,” said Tom. “He’s not taking a class, just his house. “

“Yeah,” said Angelica, “and Shawytha and Hyacinth and those two from Match’s house are going as guests.”

“What’s Rachel think of all this?” asked Ahir Shaheen.

“Yeah, good question, right? She’s going, of course, but she’s not in on the planning. They’re going at 10 am Saturday. But there’s no house do Saturday night and the inner circle has been oddly negative on dates and invitations. Natalie told me Josh Darling got invited to the Third Floor White party Saturday night and he said no.”

“I asked Emma Curie on a date,” said Cloudius. “She was, uh, evasive about why she couldn’t go out with me Saturday night.”

“Did it occur to you she didn’t want to go out with you?” asked Daphne.

“We’re going out tomorrow night,” said Cloudius. “We’re going to a movie.”

“Not Valentine’s Day?” asked Ahir, smiling.

“No,” laughed Cloudius, “I’m taking Jen Chang out Valentine’s Day.”

“Good job keeping it in the house,” said Arnulf. “I approve.”

“Anyway,” said Daphne, “you’re saying that the day trip is a scouting trip, and the inner circle will go back in at night. Or something?”

“Yeah,” said Tom. “And they shouldn’t be doing that. The Field Museum is our territory.”

“Well, what the heck do you think we’re going to do about it?” asked Arnulf. “Attack them in the museum? I know, let’s try ag on MacMorris himself.”

“Thanks, Arnulf,” said Cloudius. “We were thinking of going there early. Checking it out.” He looked at Angelica. “Weren’t we?”

Angelica was peering at Arnulf through the cylinder.

Everyone watched her for a few moments, and then Arnulf said, “What do you see through that thing, anyway?”

“Nothing,” said Angelica. She turned to look at Ahir Shaheen. “Now I see a ruby. Yes, a ruby. I wonder what it does?”

Ahir smiled mysteriously and extracted a ruby from inside her shirt, which made Arnulf incapable of thinking about anything else for at least a minute. Cloudius said, “We think it sees items.”

“But it doesn’t know what this ruby of mine does?” asked Ahir.

“No. What does it do?”

“It protects against poison,” said Ahir. “My father gave it to me. We all had them. Alas, it does not work against bullets.”

“But you could tell it was magic,” said Daphne. Angelica handed the cylinder to her. “Look through it.”

“You have that ring,” said Daphne. Angelica grinned and pulled her hand out from under her sweater. She held out the hand with the gold magic combat ring on it. “It’s funny,” said Daphne. “It doesn’t stand out. It’s the opposite. It’s as if everything else is real and the ring is only ten percent real. But it also sparkles, like something else is, I don’t know, being seen through it or something.” She looked at the ruby. “How did you even know it was a ruby?”

“It was sort of pink,” said Angelica.

“I can imagine it was the shape of it that gave it away,” said Ahir Shaheen, dangling the little ruby in front of Arnulf. “Doesn’t that just cry out ruby to you, just from the shape? Arnulf?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Arnulf vaguely, smiling.

“So you’re going with us? Tomorrow night?” asked Angelica.

“Sure, yeah,” said Arnulf. “Wait, what?”

“It’s an item finder,” said Angelica. “The cylinder. It’s not just an item finder. It’s a segment finder. And there’s a segment at the Field Museum.”

“Underground,” said Tom. “I’d bet a million dollars.”

“Tomorrow night,” said Daphne. “Well, I don’t know if I believe this thing’s a segment finder, but I don’t see letting them go see something we haven’t got to see. Do we have maps?”

“Well,” said Tom, spreading out several of his maps, “I can get us there underground. Under the museum, all we know,” and he looked at Cloudius, “is it’s under the Egypt exhibit.”

“Follow our noses,” said Cloudius.

“I can’t believe we’re thinking about doing this,” said Daphne. “I just turned thirteen. Tom isn’t even, yet.”

“Arnulf’s still twelve too,” said Ahir, “such a nice young man.”

“I’m going,” said Arnulf.

“So am I,” said Ahir.

“No, no,” said Arnulf, and Angelica said at the same time, “No, Ahir, we need you here. And Spiny, you’re not going, before you ask. You can be here and pretend to be Daphne in her room.”

Jen Spiny Norman got a grin on her face and said, “I can sound like Arn too. I can totally nail his snore. So I can cover for both of you.”

“I swear,” said Ahir, “I am going one of these times.”

 

Thursday the tenth of February was a blur for the five teenagers. They must have gone to classes. They must have eaten dinner at Ash’s table. They must have passed the time before bedtime, and the hours before midnight.

Tom Hexane was woken by the mraowing of Eva. He got up, grabbed his wand and his backpack and opened the door. Angelica was just coming out of the room across the hall. Another door opened and there was Daphne, in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, sword in hand. Steps on the stair, and down came Ahir; she smiled at them, tapped on Arnulf’s door and whispered, “Arn, it’s time, they’re all up.”

The door opened immediately. Arnulf smiled at Ahir and looked at the others. “No, they’re not,” he said.

Angelica knocked on Cloudius’s door, then went in. They heard indeterminate noises, and then she came out smirking, and a minute later, out came Cloudius, buttoning up his shirt. “I’m ready, okay?” he said.

They all looked around at each other, then they all looked down at Eva. She mraowed and walked past, and through, their legs. The others followed, very quietly. Ahir kissed Arnulf and said, “Be careful, okay?”

And they were, for as long as that meant anything. They slipped past Ash’s door and even the house ghost didn’t spot them. Arnulf didn’t mention to the others that, as he passed at the tail end of the line, Ash’s door opened and Ash herself peered out: she gave him the slightest smile and closed her door again. They slipped into the house basement, into the secret passage, and out across the fortunately empty Lyceum cellar. In silence, guided by a light from Tom that was barely on the visible side of the ultraviolet realm, they found their way to the Remediae Medioevales. Daphne pulled it, they went through, she put it back, and she ran through and joined them. In another minute they were headed in the direction of the dock and the castle.

“Still got that packet in your pocket?” Daphne asked Tom.

“Always,” he replied. “I think it’s lost some of its pop, but yeah, I can see real well.”

“So why shouldn’t Ahir come with us?” asked Angelica.

“Because I’ve got enough to worry about with my own butt,” said Arnulf, “not having to worry about her butt too.”

“So,” Cloudius asked, walking just behind Tom and Daphne, a map unfolded in one hand, his uncle’s sword in the other, “where do we turn off?”

Tom stopped a moment and Daphne helped him unfold and hold his own map. They started walking again, studying the map in the bluish light. “Almost to the dock,” he said. “There’s another panel on the left. It’s after the last little set of steps. Yeah. These ones.”

Tom and Daphne walked on carrying the map but not looking at it, and then they were down that last set of six steps. Daphne went on studying the map, by Cloudius’s much less fancy wand light, while Tom studied the walls.

“There,” said Angelica, coming up next to him. She prodded a slight crack with her wand, and it darkened and extended. In a few seconds, she and Arnulf had the secret door open. Tom stepped into it, holding his wand out. Eva went ahead, then turned and gave Tom a look.

“We’re good for a while,” Tom told the others.

Then with a series of twists and steps and intersections that led to a few debates but no wrong turns, Tom and Cloudius and Eva unraveled the path under downtown Chicago. Twice the others had to trust Tom when he told them to walk toward what appeared to be a solid wall, and several times they seemed to be in a fog of utter darkness. Cloudius sheathed his sword and got out his wand; only Daphne didn’t have her wand out, but she was starting to get the hang of using her sword for the same thing. It saved a lot of time.

“Okay,” said Cloudius, “pretty soon we’re going to have to come up in the parking lot. The tunnels don’t connect straight up to the ones under Field.”

“So,” said Angelica, “we still have to break into Chicago’s best protected museum.”

“I wouldn’t put it like that,” said Cloudius, smiling.

“I’ll be careful, I promise,” they could hear Arnulf whispering. Then he kissed his hand. It had a magic circle drawn on the palm—maybe they could see lips through the circle, lips of Iranian origin. He closed his hand into a fist and looked at them with eyebrows up. “What?”

“Nothing. Nothing,” said Angelica.

“It’s here,” said Daphne, a little way ahead with Tom. They were looking up. The others came toward them: the two kids stood in a chamber with a recessed floor and several conical openings in the ceiling, each topped with a man-hole. One of them had a crate under it to stand on. Daphne climbed up, while Tom spotted.

Three shapes materialized out of a shadowy side tunnel. Suddenly Daph and Tom were under attack by magical bolts. They parried and riposted, and in a moment Angelica got involved and the sides were even up, but the kids seemed overmatched. Tom did some damage, Daphne took some damage, and Angelica and her foe fought to a standstill. It looked as though magic kids from the Lyceum were meeting their match in a trio of vagrant winos with wands.

“Ag,” hissed Cloudius, his wand in his left hand shooting slumber. Tom’s foe turned to give him an unhappy look, then slumped and dozed. Beside him, his pal vagrant laughed as he resisted the same spell, turned and aimed his wand. A nasty bolt just missed Cloudius, who stepped up, pulled his sword out and knocked the vagrant’s wand away. The back swing sliced the hobo mage across the shoulder and chest, and he went down without further ceremony.

A bolt hit at Cloudius from the darkness: a fourth vagrant waited there for his chance, and saw it. But this one was perhaps a student of his own sort, weaker than the others: an apprentice mage vagrant? Cloudius literally parried the attack with his sword, then swung his wand. Executing Ash’s favorite 1-2-3 attack in textbook fashion, Cloudius hit his third foe so smart a blow that he joined the other two unconscious on the floor.

Cloudius turned back to the others. Arnulf was standing right below the manhole looking down. Daphne knelt by him, examining Arnulf’s victim, the fourth and strongest of the attackers.

“I hit him kinda hard, actually,” Arn was saying.

“I’ll say,” Daphne replied. “He’s dead, Jim.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. You check.”

Angelica knelt to check for herself: neck, wrist, heart, breath. “She’s right. Man, Arnulf! You are learning something from Ahir.”

“Guess I am,” said Arnulf, with one last remorseless look at his victim.

“Magic combat ring,” said Angelica. “That’s nice, I think I’ll wear it. Keys. Could come in handy. Hey, maps, here, Cloud.”

“Oh, cool.”

“Uh, those keys?” Daphne called. She had dismounted from the crate and gone to the far side of the chamber with Tom. The others joined them, and found a short hall ending in a metal door with a key lock.

“It’ll be the third one,” said Arnulf, as Daphne, Cloudius and Tom went to the door and checked through the keys. There were three interlocked key rings with four keys and a couple of dilapidated nail clippers. Tom took the rings and picked out the third key, which looked very much like the others. He looked at Daphne, who shrugged, and then down at Eva, who mraowed. He tried it. The door creaked outward. They all looked at Arnulf. “Hey,” he said, “I read stories. It’s always the third key.” Blowing a tiny kiss at his palm, he joined the others in the hall.

Daphne and Tom peeked through the door. “It’s a mop closet,” said the Amazon.

Eva pushed on through and passed through the mop closet door. In a moment she was back, giving Tom a stare. “It should be fine,” said Tom, his hand on the door.

“Check we can get back through that door,” said Daphne, as the other three squeezed into the mop closet.

“It’s fine,” said Cloudius, “the same key works on this side too. So, if we go through there, are we committing a crime yet?”

“Oh, you baby,” said Angelica. “We have a key, it must be okay. At least we didn’t kill anyone.”

“Give it a chance,” said Arnulf, “it’s not as bad as you’d think.”

Daphne was peering out. She slipped out of the mop closet, Tom right behind her, his wand unlit: there was enough light to see by and no reason to ask for more. They were on the first floor of the museum, along the south side of the central hall. Up at the west end, they could see a couple of guards talking. Dinosaurs stood about in skeleton form. The five teenagers gathered in the gloom and, almost in chorus, muttered shesh.

“This way,” said Tom, sidling to the left along the shadowy wall. Eva was ahead of him, he thought, and behind him came Daphne, then Cloudius and Angelica, and Arnulf bringing up the rear. He seemed to be whispering to his hand. “Egyptian exhibit,” said Tom to Daphne.

“Your favorite.”

“Yeah, but that’s not why.”

“That’s where the trap door is,” said Cloudius. He looked back over his shoulder. Arnulf was right there, and beyond, the two guards were still cracking jokes by the west entrance.

“Egypt it is, then,” said Daphne.

So they slipped into the Egypt exhibit. Tom stopped everyone just inside and made them take off their shoes. Silently treading, they went into the pyramid, up the stairs, then down into the middle of it in the basement of the museum. It was scary enough just with the empty masks and sarcophagi and mummies, but they knew just enough about things by now that none of them could dismiss the thought that there were other residues of long-dead people about, spirits hiding in the shadows. The five clumped together and stole toward the Ramesses II area.

“Are we gonna see MacMorris people at some point?” asked Tom.

“I’d think so,” Cloudius replied in a whisper.

“Nice stuff, I have to say,” Angelica said to Daphne as they looked over a display of gold ornaments.

“Yeah,” said Daphne, squatting to look. “Think there’s an alarm?”

“Rok,” said Angelica.

Daphne grinned and reached down to unlatch the glass. “You think I’m planning on stealing something, don’t you,” she accused.

“Well, what, then?” In reply, Daphne reached way in under the bottom panel of the display, and after a few moments pulled her hand out. She opened it: there was a ring, clearly in the New Kingdom style, with lapis lazuli inlaid on gold in big interlocking triangles. Stuck in the ring was a scrap of lined paper pulled from a pocket notebook.

“Criminy,” said Angelica, picking them up. “Tom. Can you read this?”

Tom came over and took the note. He mouthed a few letters, and then he said, “Okay. That’s T, Ah, K, then that’s two, two sticks, right? And that owl is M, then K, then M.”

“It’s in pen,” said Daphne. “It’s a Bic ballpoint pen note. In hieroglyphs.”

“Yeah,” said Arnulf. “And it says what—TAK 2 MKM. Talk to… take to. MKM.”

“Maybe it’s someone’s initials,” Angelica suggested.

They looked at it for a few seconds. Then Arnulf said, “Bull. It’s not a K. It’s a C.”

“The Egyptians didn’t have a letter for C,” said Tom.

“That’s why whoever wrote the note used a K. It’s the closest they could get.” He took the note and held it up so they could all gaze on it. “Take 2 MacM.”

“The ring,” said Daphne. “Someone left it there for MacM. What does that mean?”

“It means,” said Arnulf, “that someone thinks MacM has friends who come by here a lot.”

“I think he’s onto something,” said Cloudius. He looked to his side, unable finally to resist looking at the display of the mummy of Ramesses II. He never liked looking at it: the guy had been ninety years old or more when he died, and so he hadn’t been much to look at even then, and by now he’d had three thousand years to rot, in spite of the best efforts of the best morticians of their time. But this time Cloudius couldn’t miss the old desiccated mummy wink at him. The old pharaoh did it twice just to make sure it was seen.

“Cloud,” said Arnulf. “Get your head out of the cloud and get this trap door up.”

A minute later, and still without any alarms to be heard, the five teenagers and the ghost cat had dropped into the room below. It was perhaps twenty feet wide and forty long, with some display cases showing what must have been priceless artifacts of the Mississippian culture. There were vases, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, tiaras of a sort: jade, turquoise, amethyst, tourmaline, with a substrate of gold or silver or ceramic. It was all very old, very cool and very not Egyptian. Large vague objects covered in sheets and cobwebs lurked in the corners. There were several doors.

Arn, Daph, Ange and Cloud were dusting themselves off from the ten-foot drop, and the cloud of grime it tossed up, when they heard Tom addressing someone.

“Good sir,” he said, “do you have any idea which way we should go?”

He was talking to empty space—no, he was talking to an old Indian dressed up as a museum guard, but with beads and a pony tail. The guard grinned and lifted an arm to point to one of the doors. “Safest way,” he said.

Tom went over to the door, then looked back at the Indian, who chuckled quietly. Daphne came over to Tom and took the strap that pulled the door open. She looked back at the others. “Me and Cloudius in front,” she said. “Swords out.”

“Or wands out,” said Arnulf, pulling out JS. Angelica loosened her long knife, but pulled out her wand. Tom did likewise. Cloudius, his uncle’s sword in his hand, came over to Daphne.

“Just like Dungeons and Dragons, right?” he said with a laugh.

“Just like what?” asked Daphne.

“It’s a game,” said Cloudius. “I think you’d like it. I’m ready.”

“What do we think we’re looking for here?” asked Angelica. “Just curious. A segment. What does it look like?”

“Um, you know,” said Daphne impatiently, “a segment. Like—a segment of something.”

“I bet I know,” said Tom. “I bet it looks like—!”

“The letter F,” said Angelica, “in hieroglyphs.”

“Yes! The eared serpent.”

“All right, then,” said Daphne, “if you see something that looks like an eared serpent, grab it unless it really is an eared serpent, because I bet they’re poisonous.”

She pulled open the door. They were out in a narrow hall heading straight away from the room behind them. With a look around, Daphne and Cloudius, with Daphne slightly in front, advanced into the hall. Tom was behind Cloudius with a blue light suspended near the ceiling above his wand. Behind him were Angelica and Arnulf, with the tall boy in back, his own wand held high, lit with a little dancing sko flame.

They came out into a wide hall that wound through the rock, with straight segments of smooth concrete turning at right angles now and then. To the left and around a corner, a cave-in blocked wherever the cave went from there. To the right, it turned right again, ran straight a while, then turned right, then turned left, then turned left again into a room, and as they passed into the room a powerful wind blew across them.

“Oh jeepers, what the—!” said Cloud. “Whoa,” said Tom. “Ware! Give me sight of the foe!” from Daphne. “What the,” said Angelica. “Jeeezus!” Arnulf cried out, as his wand light went out.

“It’s okay,” said Daphne, turning to face the others from the middle of the room, which was about the same size and shape of the one where the Indian ghost stood guard, but was empty and dusty. “It’s just to blow out torches.”

“Yeah,” said Tom, coming up to her and turning to face the others. “The wand light was totally unaffected.”

“Sko,” said Arnulf once he was through. The flame regrew to its usual candle size. “There. No problem.”

“Problem,” said Angelica, waving her long knife past Daphne and Tom. They and Cloudius turned around and found four well-armed silhouettes coming right at them, silhouette sabers drawn. Tom pulled his spear end out of his belt and tried to look formidable, while Daphne and Cloudius went to their preferred first positions. Angelica shoved her wand up her sleeve and moved up to join the other three.

There was an almost, but not quite, electric zap. One of the figures went stiff—it almost looked as if it was turned into a stick figure. Then it crashed to the ground and shattered. Angelica turned to look, and Arnulf was looking at his wand. “Didn’t know magic combat could do that,” he said.

Angelica turned and found the three remaining ghost warriors engaged up and down the line against their tween foes. Cloudius dropped back until the side wall was behind him, and then panicked and attacked: in two sweeps of his uncle’s sword he slashed his foe to bits and then stood, taking a breath. That ghostly sword had come within inches of his face.

Tom and Daphne seemed to be playing with the other two. Whether they could see in the normal sense or not, they sensed that Tom’s weapon was shorter than Daphne’s, and they kept trying to get at him, but Tom and Daphne kept switching back and forth, doubling one and ignoring the other, until one came between them and they both stabbed into its inky essence. It popped with a little screech, and Tom was surprised not to be covered in bits of shadow. He smiled at Cloudius.

The fourth ghost warrior was charging in between them out of nowhere. They both stabbed. It burst with a sad little shriek. The room was empty.

“Wow,” said Cloudius.

“Don’t get a big head,” said Daphne. “There’s got to be stuff down here worse than those.”

Beyond the dusty room was a ramp down, and the odd wide hall went on, around and around, down again and then, ahead, down yet again. They had no idea how deep they were or which direction they were facing.

At the bottom of a second ramp, the five paused for a rest. They caught their breath, and then, all about the same time, they held their breath. The silence was total. Only it wasn’t, because as they listened they began to hear little noises ranging from whispering through fluttering and rustling to rumbling and beyond. Their puny lights barely even lit the floor at their feet, but they didn’t dare ask Tom or Arnulf to turn them up at all.

“Let’s keep going,” said Angelica.

“Just out of curiosity,” Cloudius asked, “how will we know when we get there?”

“The bad guys will be especially big,” said Arnulf. “Let’s go.”

So they wandered around what must have been the third level down from the trapdoor. They came to another ninety degree turn in the wide hall, but this time, ahead, a sudden chorus of howling and barking broke out. At this point not one of them had any interest in seeing what made that sort of racket. Eva took one look around the corner and scrambled out of the way—into a wall.

“Cowardly cat,” said Arnulf, his wand up, “how do we follow her into the rock?”

“It’s got to be a secret door,” said Tom. “Xu!”

The outline of a door appeared on the wall, a panel camouflaged as stone. They got it open and hurried inside.

It was a narrow room with shelves and a cabinet along the walls, and at the far end there was a door on and another door, closet-like, on the side wall next to it. They stood there fidgeting. The howling died away.

“Shall we go back out?” asked Angelica.

“Whatever they are,” Arnulf replied, “they’re just around the corner waiting. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Eva says there’s a way out the far door,” said Tom.

“What is through here?” asked Cloudius, his hand on the side door. He tried the knob, and suddenly the door came off the wall in his hands. A screaming horde of phantoms burst on him and he staggered back as if to hide behind Angelica. Then they faded to empty wisps.

“I wonder how long, um, whatever that was, was trapped in there,” asked Tom.

“It—they?” said Cloudius.

“Just some powerless spirit thing.” Tom peered into the little side room. It looked just like an office: a roll-top desk, a hanging shelf of cubby holes, some enigmatic furniture, an old wood and leather swivel chair.

Arnulf stepped in. He peeked into the cubby holes. He sat down in the chair. He tried the roll-top, but it was locked. He opened the right desk drawer. Under a few papers—a 1944 Chicago Tribune, a folder full of oil receipts, a brochure about swivel chairs—was a thick book. He pulled it out. He looked up. Everyone else was watching him. Eva hopped up into his lap and soundlessly meowed.

He opened the book: Roget’s Thesaurus. “How interesting,” he said. “Intriguing. Curious. Singular. Odd. Peculiar. Quirky.”

“Not the book I’m putting in my office down fifty feet under the Field Museum,” said Daphne.

“It is if you want it for a hiding place,” he replied. They looked down. He was holding the book open halfway through. About two hundred pages had their middles cut out, and in the space sat a blue gem almost too large to actually be a real sapphire.

“Is it a segment?” asked Tom.

“No,” said Arnulf, “no, I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a segment, I’m sure of that.”

“It’s wicked magical,” said Angelica. They looked up at her: she was bending close to look at the sapphire through the cylinder. “But I agree,” she said, standing back up. “I don’t know, it just doesn’t have that kind of vibe.”

“Vibe?” Cloudius repeated.

“I think it’s a key or something,” said Angelica. “Well, is this enough? Shall we go?”

Arnulf sat a moment longer, then grunted and got up. Something jingled to the ground. He bent and picked up a very small key. Grinning at them, he checked the lock on the roll-top: it fit. “The key must have been in the book and I didn’t see it,” he said. “It fell out when I put the book back. The sapphire kinda distracted me.”

With a wooden clatter, the roll-top went up. Inside was a mess from forty years previous. “Anything interesting in here?” asked Daphne. “Or do we wait while you straighten it up just in case there’s, like, a giant ruby under a pile of receipts?”

“I’m grabbing the change,” said Cloudius, reaching for a pile of coins scattered across the desk, on and under the rest of the mess. “Hey, 1933 dime. Cool! Indian nickels! A half dollar! That’s worth more than a half dollar now.”

He and Tom began rooting among the papers and filled their pockets with a small weight of change. The others ahemmed and grunted and fidgeted. “Okay,” said Tom, “I guess that’s enough.” They stepped back and the papers all collapsed on the floor. “Oh mannn. Do we have to clean up?”

“I guess not,” said Angelica, already opening the other door. Tom and Cloud followed her, Tom’s wand showing a way back out into the wide hall—and beyond that, in the corner above a ramp down, Eva sat staring at the wall. “Is she just being a cat?” asked Ange.

“No, no,” said Tom. “Secret door. Shall we?”

“We need to wait for Arnulf, but sure. What’s through it? Does she know?”

“Stairway down,” said Tom. “Secret is probably safer than public, right?”

“Arn,” whispered Daphne, back in the office. He paused in the door, then came back. “Put your wand down here,” she said, “and careful not to ignite the papers.”

“What?” he asked, but he did as he was told. His wand light glowed moon silver among the stationery and small junk. There was a metal desk name plate there, revealed by the fall of a pile of papers. It said, DET. JOSEPHUS J. SHMOKE.

“What the—?” she whispered.

Arnulf put it back, stacked the papers back on the desk, pulled the roll top down and locked it. “Let’s go, they’re waiting,” was all he said.

**

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. “Especially at stupid jokes you made yourself. 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.

 

Out in the wide hall, in the T intersection, there was a shabby door on the straight wall. They tried it, and it almost fell off in their hands. Through it, a narrow hall went into the rock and then turned to the left.

The hall was very dark, but they couldn’t help notice the painted walls. Tom cast a bulb of pale light out, and they could easily see the decorations from floor to ceiling.

“It’s like we’re back in the Egypt exhibit,” said Angelica.

“Except this is—this was done by Indians,” said Tom. “Look! They did a really good job, but that’s Indian stuff, that is.” They looked where he pointed, where the Pharaoh and his court, each with his or her special fancy headdress, sailed a Nile boat among hieroglyphic reeds, arms, half-circles, made-up eyes and crouching figures. But there were petroglyphs all around them. The boat was marked with a Hopi flutist. Fish and stags and shamans that might have been carven on the shores of Gitchee Goomee looked down from a wide golden band just above head level. Beside the Pharaoh were a black babe in an Afro, a pair of shades and a bikini, and a native fellow that looked disturbingly like the one who stood watch on Birch Street.

“Come on, guys,” said Daphne. “Arn, you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“She’s right, though,” said Angelica. “Let’s go see what we see. Unless anyone wants to go back to the wide hall?”

“Nah,” said Arnulf. “Let’s see Egypt.”

So they proceeded, and after a hundred feet or so the hall turned left again. The decor became grander, with gold and silver paints, and then it opened out into a square room.

In the middle of the room, a slightly larger than life Ramesses II statue, not gilt but painted to look as if a particularly handsome version of him stood motionless here, his left hand outstretched. Behind him, a lovely hall led out and then ended in a lovely wall.

“He looks like he wants something,” said Angelica.

“I bet I know what,” said Daphne, walking up to the statue. She held her own left hand back and to the side. “Gems?”

Arnulf put the sapphire in her hand, and Ange put the ruby next to it. Daphne pulled the emerald out of her right pocket and put it with the others in her left hand. She stepped up and reached across her body to put them, all together, in the Pharaoh’s left hand. “For you,” she told him.

His expression did not change. His left hand closed and retracted, and remained by his side, bent at the elbow, the three gems held solidly in his gilded fingers. Then his right arm came up from beside his body, as if it had just fished something out of his pocket. What it was, when he held his right hand out in front of Daphne, was a piece of crystal perhaps four inches long in the shape of a serpent. The crystal seemed to be clear. The serpent had ears, or horns.

“It’s the Egyptian letter F,” said Tom.

“It was what left that shadow on that felt display cushion upstairs,” said Angelica. She got out the cylinder.

“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Daphne in a whisper. “It’s a segment.”

They all looked at Angelica, who was squinting at the crystal through the cylinder. “Well,” she said, “through this, it’s got glows and sparkles and, yeah, flashing arrows pointing at it. So yeah, that seems like what you’d expect from a—!”

“Hey, the gold door opened,” said Cloudius. “Back of the room.”

“Why don’t we just go back the way we came?” asked Arnulf.

“Because someone’s coming along the Egypt hall?” replied Tom.

“Someone’s coming along the Egypt hall,” said Arnulf. “I’ll give you two guesses who. Let’s get moving.”

The golden door opened into a small room, and from that another door of gold opened at a touch into a larger room which was also the far terminus of the wide hall. The door opened into one corner of the room, while the wide hall entered the middle of the wall a little to the left. Straight ahead of the wide hall entrance was an enormous altar of black rock, twenty feet on a side and five feet tall. The ceiling was high enough that the horrid black statue on the altar could stand almost straight up and not come close to hitting its head.

Daphne and Cloudius, in front, did not act surprised when the thing turned its head to look blackly at them. Tom’s wand light flew in over their heads and illuminated the room, but the altar figure was where photons went to die. At its feet was a long, mean-looking black sword. The creature seemed to regard this as an obstacle rather than an asset.

“A Black Guardian,” Arnulf muttered, shutting the door behind them.

“How many hit points does it have?” muttered Cloud.

“I’m thinking, a lot,” said Tom.

With a peculiar sort of silent yowl, the thing came down off the altar and was upon them. But Daphne and Cloudius seemed less than frightened. They whacked it with their magic swords, chipping a bit here and a bit there, while the others tried to work out what to do.

“That black sword,” Tom shouted. “Grab it!”

“I can’t get through,” said Angelica. “Arn!”

“No way!”

But just at that moment, the guardian stepped in between Daphne and Cloud, kicking the latter aside. Cloud slid across the floor and came to rest by banging his head on the base of the altar. He jumped up and looked around: his own sword lay ten feet away. He got a big grin on his face. His hand closed on the hilt of the black sword.

But the effect was not immediately copacetic. The sword seemed intent on flying from his hand, and Cloudius, both hands on the hilt and hand guard now, was not to be denied a nice magical weapon. They danced about, while the guardian battered Daphne’s ripostes as if it was trying to hammer a tent stake into hard ground. Tom stepped in, his onyx spear point out: after a moment’s thought, he turned it downward and started in chipping at the thing’s big black toes.

It didn’t like that. It was hopping now, hopping mad one might say, trying to kick or stomp Tom while using its huge stony fists to beat on Daphne. They were at least holding their own. Arn had his wand out, and Angelica had her long knife, but they both knew those weapons would get them no more than a good laugh.

Then the thing whipped around. There was Cloudius, grinning. He and the black sword had come to some sort of compromise. He raised the sword and the Black Guardian, towering over them, managed to cower: a sort of tower of cower, Tom couldn’t help thinking. That was just before he drove his spear point up into its stone belly; Daphne’s sword was near, coming in from the left, and just above both the tip of a black blade came through.

“Back!” cried Arnulf. “It’s gonna blow!”

But as they stood there, the Black Guardian chose instead to melt, very quickly, into a sort of black wax that pooled in the middle of the floor and flooded down the drain, whose black steel glowed briefly with mystical letters: Neenah Foundry, Neenah Wisconsin.

The five advanced into the room. “Here, Arnulf,” said Cloudius, handing the black sword over. “I can’t switch from my uncle’s sword, obviously.”

“We’ll take that,” came the voice of Josh Hubble from the wide hall. “And the other thing,” added Hardy Vyner’s voice from the door to the room with the statue.

The Friends of Professor MacMorris had come from two directions, in a pincer movement, and now they pinced. But they were outnumbered even worse than they thought. There were four of them: Hardy, who squared off against Arnulf; Josh, who tried to match up against Daphne; Emma Curie, who was up against “Killer” Cloudius, and Rachel Rabat, who smirked at Angelica and threw a magic punch in the gut of Emma Curie.

Two seconds later, Emma, distracted, failed to block Cloudius’s counterpunch and went down hard. Arn quickly overwhelmed Hardy Vyner, who fell backward, her magic power drained away, and disappeared into thin air before she hit the ground.

“Capture,” cried Daphne as she held off Hubble and began beating the galaxy out of him. The next second, Angelica and Tom threw their power into Daphne’s, and the triad that resulted zapped him unconscious. No jump out for him.

Then the five, plus Rachel, were looking around at nothing, just a dusty old altar room. Josh Hubble and Emma Curie lay on their backs, unconscious and definitely not smiling.

“Ransack ‘em,” said Daphne. “Never know when their puppet master is gonna pull on those strings and snap them back.”

“Rachel, hey,” said Angelica. They stood looking at each other, then suddenly hugged. “I think I’ll be sleeping on your floor tonight,” said Rachel. “If we get any sleep tonight,” said Angelica. “At this rate—!”

“At this rate,” said Cloudius, “we ransack the bodies and get the heck out of here and hug later.”

 

In the event, Josh Hubble gave up a saving ring to Cloudius and a pair of strangely fashionable shades to Angelica; Emma’s contribution was a hair band of speed, for Tom, and a ring of magic attack, which Daphne picked up. “Even with this, she couldn’t handle you two,” she said to Cloudius and Rachel. “But I already have one. Tom, you don’t have one of these, do you?”

“No,” said Tom, “but Arnulf hardly has anything.”

“I’m all set,” said Arnulf, admiring the black sword. He swung it a few times, letting it sing through the air. He laughed. The others were ducking.

“But I thought you hated swords,” Angelica pointed out.

“Not this one,” said Arnulf, as Tom put on his new ring.

“Hey, cool shades,” said Rachel. “You look particularly great in those.”

Angelica took them off, then put them on again. “They make me look good?” The others had to admit it was true. “They do something else too—something to the light.”

“Let me see,” said Cloudius. Grudgingly, Angelica handed them to him. “Ultraviolet! You’re seeing ultraviolet shines off things. That’s, like, kinda useful down here.”

“Especially if I do this,” said Tom, waving his wand and saying gao kor. With a twist of the wand, the light darkened to black, except for what Cloudius saw.

“Whoa,” he said. He handed them back to Angelica. “As for the looking good thing,” he said, “you need them more than I do.”

“Ha,” said Arnulf.

“Whoa,” said Angelica. “Cool light. Now make that light of yours head back up.”

 

The six teenagers managed to follow the wide hallway up and up and up, undistracted by passing the other side of the room with the lying friendly voices and then a room full of stinky ghouls. Finally they were passing the old office where they had found the ruby, and then up a stair to the rooms right under the Egypt exhibit. This time the old Indian guard smiled in a fatherly way and indicated a different secret door—one which led into a rough passage that connected to a sewer which connected to a work tunnel which connected to an old Indian tunnel which ended in a little room with a man hole above. They climbed on a crate and had a look.

“Rok!” Daphne said in a low voice, poking her sword at it—her school wand was back in her room. By now, she only used her wand in class. “Hey, I might break it,” she would say whenever one of the others gave her grief.

The manhole popped up in the air, then came back down ajar. Daphne was saying “Shesh!” at it at the moment it landed, and there was absolutely no sound. “Hey, it worked,” she said. She pushed the cover off and they climbed out into a rainy winter night in Chicago.

There was the Birch Street Indian, pony tail and all. He smirked at them. They bowed their heads to him. “Who’s that?” Rachel asked Angelica.

“Don’t worry, he’s on our side,” said Angelica. “You’re coming back and sleeping on my floor, understood?”

“Yeah, I’d kinda hoped so,” said Rachel. They hurried across Birch Street and were soon in the back door of Ash House, only a little wet, only smelling a little like they’d been in the sewer.

Ash was sitting at the big dining table, reading by a wispy magic light. The house ghost was across from her also reading. They looked up warily.

Angelica walked over to stand beside Ash, their eyes locked together. Not looking down, Ange pulled something out of her pocket and set it down on the table. Everyone looked there except Angelica.

“My, my,” said Ash. “What have we here.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s