Chapter 21: Epilog in Maine (Pit of the What?)

XXI. Epilog in Maine: Pit of the What?

In early July, the four kids who were not so lucky as to be from Maine took magical trains to visit Tom Hexane and his parents, in a truly cool house on a lake no one else can see.

Angelica hopped on the train in the Quad Cities. She missed Arnulf, who had been on the same train the day before; he had met up with Daphne and Cloudius at Union Station. They’d grabbed a pizza in the public, normal part of Giordano’s, and then gone on to Albany, where they met up with Daphne. Then they waited a whole day for Ange, sleeping on the special enchanted train and eating enchanted meals and wandering the weird buildings of Albany. The train ride across New England set off at 4 pm, but the entire trip was under starry night skies. It was full of wizards—and other things, like the shadow figures and tentacle-faced businessmen and a couple of small dragons playing poker in the observation car, on and on and on, smoking cigars and drinking what appeared to be gasoline.

The Hexane House was a fully lived-in dwelling of people who were openly wizards at home, and also scholars of wizardry. It stretched on and on, arches leading into courtyards opening onto vast kitchens with starry ceilings and dining rooms for all sixteen seasons and a library that inspired lust in all the non-Hexanes and a suite of bedrooms, spelled into existence where Tom’s bedroom had stood alone, looking as if they’d been well lived-in and just recently cleaned up.

The house was inhabited by K. C. and P. J. Hexane, teachers of science and math at Littleton State, teachers of magic (pentonics and transfiguration) at the Littleton Academy. P. J. looked very plain but always had a little smile on his face; K. C. seemed brooding and dark, and was rumored (a) to have once been a nude dancer, and (b) to have once killed a man with that look. “She nearly killed me with it,” said Tom, as they sat around in (of course) his room, Eva in the window looking very real. “Any number of times. But I don’t believe the dance story.”

“She’d kill too many men,” said Angelica.

“Yeah,” said Cloudius. “But my mom just said, they’re awfully nice and brilliant and are so generous to, um, how’d she put it, actually let four unrelated teenagers into their house through the front door.”

“That is pretty amazing,” said Daphne. “But we’re amazing, right?”

“Besides,” said Cloudius, lying back on Tom’s bed, “we have two weeks of relaxation, right? It’s not like we’re gonna go look for hell doggies under the Field Museum.”

“Why don’t you just say it, and get it over with,” said Arnulf. “We’re going to stay out of trouble. Say it.”

“We’re going to stay out of trouble.”

“Thanks. Because now I know. Something’s going to come up.”

“Feel free to explore the new wing,” P. J. had said, with a twinkle in his eye. When Arnulf did, he found that they had built it just to house the magic items they had bought or made that they weren’t currently using. Three rooms seemed to be full of broken things that needed fixing. Arnulf picked up a gadget that was broken into two unequal parts with a wire between them. He couldn’t figure out how it went together, much less what it did. He put it down: he could hear arguing. In ancient Egyptian.

He rushed out and found that Tom himself had run afoul of two life-size dolls, an Aztec priest and a Pilgrim woman, who had guard duty in the new wing. “Hey, I belong here, I really do,” Tom was saying to the Pilgrim in English. The priest cursed him in Nahuatl, and then all three started arguing in Egyptian.

“Hey, hey, hey,” said Arnulf. They all stopped. “This happens to be the son of your master and mistress, the honorable KC and PJ. Got that?”

The priest asked something of the pilgrim, who answered in Egyptian. “So he’s their son,” she said to Arnulf. He nodded. “So he lives here,” she said. He nodded. “Yes, I do remember someone like that. I don’t recall he was especially nice to me.”

“You’ve got all your stuffing, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry,” said Tom, “I really am. I’m so sorry.”

After a little more debate with the priest, the pilgrim informed them that they had the run of the place. “Thank you,” said Tom as they moved onwards.

They got back to their combined room, and there was Angelica in bed reading.

“Novel?” asked Arnulf.

“No,” said Angelica. “It’s a secret biography of Mme Lacante, actually. It’s fascinating.”

“Learned anything juicy?” asked Tom.

“No, she wouldn’t have anything juicy,” said Angelica, “though she’s had a lot of lovers, did you know she slept with Perez Zerak? Later she had him whacked. Or he had himself whacked to cast a curse on her. Or something.” She wrinkled her forehead. “So leave me alone, I want to finish this tonight.”

Tom and Arnulf shrugged and went outside. “Girls,” said Tom, “studying during summer vacation.” Arnulf appeared to have missed Tom’s remark. He was talking romantically to a circle drawn in red lipstick on a piece of parchment.

Daphne burst into the middle of the next day’s Tom’s Room conference to announce, “Amazons used to live here!”

“My mom’s family’s kinda rural,” said Tom, “but I don’t think many of them are Amazons, other than Aunt Nady and Aunt Nancine.”

“No, no, older than that. Behind that waterfall. Just up the lake? There’s a cave and it’s full of Amazon painting.”

“Wow,” said Tom, “I didn’t even know about that. But—!”

“We were talking about a pond ourselves, as a matter of fact,” said Cloudius with an evil grin.

“Yes, we were,” said Arnulf. “Cloudius is trying to talk us into diving into a pond with a tunnel underwater that goes straight down to the abyss.”

“It doesn’t go to the abyss,” said Cloudius. “It just goes down. Wonder where to?”

“I’ve seen ghost things come and go from that pond,” said Tom. “I’ve seen things I can’t even tell you about. Indescribable things—horribly unformed things, half-seen things that if seen would leave one howling in gibbering terror, things that should exist in no known universe. Let’s do it.”

“That’s very convincing,” said Angelica with a yawn.

“There’s treasure!” giggled Cloudius.

“What treasure.”

“There’s supposed to some Indian stash under there,” said Tom. “I made the mistake of mentioning it to Cloudius, and look how he got.”

“What?” said Cloudius, grinning. He picked up his uncle’s sword from the floor and started polishing it with a rag.

“Well,” said Daphne, “I hate to disappoint you guys, but I’m with Cloud on this one. Let’s go out tomorrow and have a look.”

The next morning after breakfast, the Hexanes had to go into town to do some academic business. “I doubt we’ll be back till afternoon,” KC said. “Tom will know what’s available for lunch.”

“Sure,” said all five teenagers. They smiled and waved until the little red Escort (with a magical engine that gave it the performance of a Porsche) went out of the drive and around a bend in the highway. They all looked at each other. “What do we need to take?” asked Angelica.

“Nothing much this time,” said Daphne. “We’re just looking for now.”

“Right,” said Cloudius, “we’re saving the actual mission for this afternoon. Your mom and dad will just think we’ve gone for a hike.”

“And it’s true,” said Tom. “Just a hike underwater.”

“I’m still not agreeing to do anything more than look,” said Arnulf. “Me either,” said Angelica.

“More treasure for us, eh Dapher?” said Cloudius.

Tom led them out the back door of the garden wing, and down through the vegetable and flower gardens, and around the fish pond, and back into the woods. The fish pond flowed out in a little stream into a little lake in the woods, at the upper end of which another stream, a small river almost, entered by a ten-foot waterfall.

“Preeettty,” said Angelica. All the others said something like gosh.

“You mean there’s something behind that waterfall?” asked Tom. “I didn’t know that!” Eva, very vague in the forest shadow, looked at him like he was crazy.

“Yeah, in fact,” said Daphne. “I was jogging up here yesterday and I saw this waterfall and I sort of smelled Amazons.” She grinned at Arnulf.

“What?”

“Follow me and you’ll smell them too, maybe.” Daphne led them single file along the cliff bottoms and then up over some wet rocks to where the out-thrust plank of rock ten feet above poured out the waterfall. Behind it, they could see now, there was a narrow but tall crack in the rock.

Daphne went through first, stepping across the jagged edge of rock below and managing not to bump her head on the diagonal edge of a rock propped up above her. Tom went through carefully, shining his light around, and it was Arnulf who banged his head, hard.

“Oh, you big clutz,” said Angelica.

“You’re in good company, Arnulf,” said Daphne, checking the cut on his head. “You can see where Amazons of centuries past banged their heads on that.”

Arnulf looked back at the rock and grimaced. He pushed his hair over the wound and said, “I’m okay to go. Where are we?”

“Cool place,” said Cloudius. They walked up a little hall and into a long room, carved out of rocks that were not all that stable. It was richly painted; a forest of pretty pillars with Amazon battles and feasts, dances and great debates, oh, and some more battles, and some heroic duels, and some more of those, and more fights, covered the walls; the ceilings were painted in stars, or tree boughs, or storm clouds. At the far end, there was a sort of minhir set up, two huge flat rocks with another huge rock across it, but the crossing rock was polished flat and shiny on top. “What did they do on the altar?”

“How old is this?” asked Angelica.

“My people,” said Daphne, “came over from Norway and Ireland. We came when Leif Erikson came. The Vikings left Newfoundland, but we stayed. When the white people came from Europe, we were in the forest, and we met them as equals.”

“And that’s why you’re in charge of the country,” said Arnulf.

“Give us time.”

“Not gonna argue with you, Dapher.”

They wandered around the cave going Wow! but it was soon clear to all, as Daphne had already known, that there was no treasure here. “Okay,” said Daphne, “ready?”

“Ready,” they all said. “Troops out,” said Arnulf. “Cloud, you lead,” said Daphne.

Cloudius pulled out his sword and set off at a jaunty pace. He took them uphill on a faint trail, along a piny ridge top, and then down into a fold, and following a stream they came to a pond in the gap between three hills.

Walking along the edge of the pond, they crossed the stream, then crossed another stream, and then found a series of boulders out into the lake, perhaps two dozen of them, close enough to one another for easy jumps. So they started jumping, Cloudius in front, sword in hand. He slid off the third rock, crawled back onto it and made it out to the big one maybe thirty feet out into the lake. The others joined him: Angelica had one wet foot and Arnulf’s boots were muddy up to an inch below the tops.

“Okay, look there,” said Cloudius. They all gathered on the deep side of the rock, which was just wide enough for all five of them. Shaded by a few opportune clouds, they could see, almost below them, the floor of the lake—and a square opening downward, a dark square in the darkness of the deep. “See it?!”

“You want us to go there??” said Angelica.

“Yeah.”

She looked at Tom. “Didn’t you say something about ghosts?”

“And cultists,” said Tom. “Some nights cultists come here. So we go during the day.”

She looked at Arnulf, who looked impassive. He was waiting to see what she wanted to do. He wasn’t unwise in dealing with her kind. Angelica looked down into the hole. “You’d think,” she said softly, “there would have to be money down there.” She looked at Cloudius. “You’re an item guy. You could cook up something to make a breather for each of us?”

Cloudius laughed and coughed. “Oh, yeah, sure,” he said. “Is that all?”

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.”

“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.”

**

So up they went: Tom, Daphne, Angelica, Cloudius, Arnulf, lit wands in front and in back. After a hundred steps—they must by now be inside one of the hills, maybe near the top—the stair came to a small landing with a low door.

“Rok,” said Daphne.

“Aren’t you going to wait and find out what’s inside?” asked Tom. But Eva just went right through, and Daphne, with a grin, followed her.

Inside there was a small room with several big desks, all covered with papers and books. A little bald bespectacled ghost sat doing paperwork. He didn’t seem to notice them, especially after Eva jumped up on the ledger he was working on. He started petting her, and when Tom joined him and Eva got a four-handed pet, he looked at Tom and smiled, apparently thinking Tom was also a ghost.

Meanwhile Angelica, Arnulf, Cloudius and Daphne were looking at those books and papers, apparently unnoticed.

“Hey,” said Angelica, “check these. These symbols aren’t hieroglyphs, they’re not runes, and—!”

“Prehuman,” said Daphne. “Um, Pnakotic, I think. Yeah. That’s bad.”

“Can you read them?”

“Goddess no. You don’t want them read.”

“And this,” said Arnulf, unpiling papers off a book, “it’s bound in skin. Yeah, I do believe that’s human skin. That means this is a—!”

“Necronomicon,” said Cloudius.

“Mad Arab,” said Angelica.

“Abdul Alhazred. Yeah.” Cloudius bent down to look and absent-mindedly began mouthing the words, notwithstanding that they were Arabic and written in Greek letters. Then he stopped himself. He looked sideways at Angelica. “Gotta be careful what you read aloud.”

“What’s it say?”

“Um, this says, call not up what you can put not down. Yeah.”

“How do you know that?” she asked. He mouthed kla. “That works??” she replied.

“How about this,” said Daphne. “It’s a Phantasmagoria. And looky here, it’s bookmarked. Tom, keep petting that cat, keep that ghost occupied.”

“No prob.”

Daphne opened the Phantasmagoria to the marked page. “Yes! English! Sort of.” She scanned the page, then the facing page, then stopped. “Moste recentlie foundd in ye Pitte beneathe that Ponde which lyeth amongst the hills beyonde the River Kennebecke…”

“Keep reading,” said Arnulf.

“Ye Shoggothes are without Forme untilll such Tyme as they are Taught Formme by their Mastres… yett some of them havve lernt howe to Forme them Selfs and no longer serve ye eville mastres whom they once did Serve, but rather Serve onlie them selfs, the whiche be no Betttter but in facte mucche ye Worse for ye Worlde!” She looked down the rest of the page and onto the next page. “Well, that’s plenty, don’t you think?”

“Pond that lyeth in the hills beyond the Kennebec,” said Arnulf. “That has to be this.”

“Shoggoths,” said Cloudius. “That doesn’t sound so good.”

“It’s not,” said Arnulf.

“Just wait,” said Daphne. She was a few pages on. “And in ye Pittt wherein ye Great Pig of Demonkind dwelleth, ye thinges grow and playe and waitte their Tyme when Foode shal be broucht unto them!”

“Food brought unto them?” Angelica repeated. “What??”

“Guarding as their kinde will, one boon ye lyke of which there be but Eleven in toto in ye entyre Worlde! Whoa, what could that be about?”

“Eleven,” said Tom, still petting, “got to be a segment.”

“Whatever,” said Angelica, “I don’t want to be Foode.”

“I don’t like Great Pig of Demonkind,” said Arnulf.

“There’s a lot I don’t like,” said Angelica. “Look at this little tome. It was face down next to that one, open to: let’s see. Latin. Medieval Latin.”

“Oh, too bad,” said Cloudius. “I got Arabic at home, but not Latin.”

“You got Arabic at home?” asked Arnulf.

“Some people stayed with us back in Philly, hiding from the Magick Law. Interesting people.”

“Well, I have Latin,” said Angelica. “And listen. Senices alieni, in terra antipodale, in quintessimis divisi… magistri Schoggothorum, qui…” She looked ahead a page or two, then back. “There were these elder things, old aliens or maybe foreign old guys. No, old aliens. In Antarctica, that has to be terra antipodale. They had fivefold symmetry and kind of spongy bodies. They looked like root beer barrels with five legs and arms and little starfish kind of heads. They were the masters of the shoggoths. But they got loose, the shoggoths did.” She looked at the old ghost. “What’s he think of all this?”

The old ghost smiled vaguely in her direction. “He knows you’re there but he can’t see you,” said Tom. “He can see me because of Eva. He’s just a keeper of books.”

“Can we take any of the books?” asked Cloudius.

“I wouldn’t.”

“I wouldn’t want to,” said Arnulf. “Especially the, uh, N book.”

“Let’s try making an illusion of the elder things,” Cloudius suggested. “We might freak them out if we meet them. Then we’d be less likely to be Foode. Can you do it, Ange?”

“I can illusion anything,” said Ange. She waved her wand. “Poj!”

The ghost burst out laughing. Then the other kids did. Then Angelica did. The five-fold symmetry was right, but everything else looked exactly like Bozo the Clown.

“Okay, okay,” she said, flipping her wand backward and sucking back the Fivefold Bozo. She tried again: “Poj!!” Now a much scarier and more realistic fivefold alien appeared, a little taller than Daphne, waving claws around and making hissing, whistling sounds. “Good?” Ange asked.

“Great,” said Arnulf, Cloud and Tom. Even the ghost seemed worried. Eva was staring straight through the thing. Ange untwisted the spell and it dissipated.

“That’s a one word spell?” Arn asked.

“Yeah, so pay attention in Illusions from now on,” said Angelica. “Tom, we need to borrow one or two of these books. Can you ask—?”

“O Librarian,” said Tom, “may I introduce my friends, Angelica and Arnulf and Daphne and Cloudius? They’re Eva’s friends as well.”

“Ah,” said the ghost, “I knew more living were here than just you, little Tomkin. So, you like my library? You can’t have the Necronomicon, no you can’t!”

“We don’t want it,” said Angelica, “no offense. But it would be handy to have—!”

“This one,” said Arnulf.

“Yeah, and this one too,” said Daphne.

Angelica, Daphne and Arnulf decided on three books to ask the ghost for, and, truly a librarian, the ghost wrote them down on a page of one of his ledgers. They took leave of the ghost and headed back downstairs. The big room was still quiet, and the broken bones were still lying around. They started down the sloping ramp, which was wide enough to go two abreast: Tom and Daphne, then Ange and Cloud, then Arnulf in back.

Then they stopped. In front of them was a gate, a complex web of interesting metals. They could see through it that the hall sloped on down at least for a little way. In the middle was a half-spherical cup facing straight at them.

“It’s the exact shape of that blue gem,” said Tom.

“Great,” said Cloud and Arnulf.

“Are you saying we should pick it up?” asked Angelica. “I thought you said we shouldn’t.”

“I did,” said Tom. “I haven’t changed my mind at all.”

“So how—?” Tom and Arnulf just looked at each other and grinned.

Two minutes later, they were coming back down the ramp, Tom and Angelica in front, and behind them Cloudius, Arnulf and Daphne, balancing the blue gem on their three swords, and doing no better at it than they had a right to expect. They dropped it twice, which did it no damage; they themselves were experiencing feelings ranging from desire for the gem to despair to panic to nausea. They were spared the pain of bringing it any closer when it suddenly began to float off their swords and drift, then fly, toward the gate, where the gem clanged as it landed square in its hole.

“Whoops,” said Cloudius.

“Great,” said Arnulf and Daphne. They were looking back up the hall: they could make out figures moving down it toward them.

The gate swung wide open. The five charged toward it with no particular plan other than not meeting those figures.

When they got to the gate, Tom and Angelica looked at each other, and then immediately set about prying the gem out of the holder. Meanwhile, Arnulf got knocked down by an onrushing pedestrian—a perfectly human, and somewhat wet, cultist. But the two behind that one both went down with hard slaps from the flats of Daph’s and Cloud’s swords. Others were behind them, but held back. Arnulf rolled his over and just started wailing on him. Cloudius gave the unfortunate cultist a swift kick and ran on through the door, Arnulf behind him. Daphne stepped in between Tom and Ange and used her sword to pry the gem out. It fell and rolled through and on down the passage past Arn and Cloud.

The gate immediately started to shut. Before its inexorable swing, Daphne threw the other two through and then followed. With one last look back at the delayed cultists, Daph turned to follow the others.

The passage from there went on and on, miles perhaps. When they stopped for a rest they had a look at the walls. They were all covered in bas-reliefs, and now they had a chance to inspect them closely, they weren’t sure they wanted to be near those walls.

On they went, ignoring the surrounding decor or the culture or species that could have created it. In front were Angelica and Daphne, both thinking how little they had wanted to go this way after all. Behind them, Tom and Arn carried the light, set low; last came Cloudius, keeping an eye and an ear behind them in case the gate got opened again.

Then they were out in the open, in a level, and evidently enormous, cavern of pillars. Limitless avenues of black night there were, shadows that have never been penetrated by even a photon of light, dirt indescribable, grime of ages, and a thin stench that nonetheless seeped deep into their souls.

“Ha ha,” said Daphne, “I don’t have a soul.”

Far ahead the floors sloped and then dropped toward a ragged, wide, dirty pit, darker even than the darkness. Minute by minute, hour by hour perhaps, the five walked across the open space. The floor was interrupted now and again by a sort of triple-size manhole; verily, a dismal moaning under several of these did seem to alternate with a sort of slippery thumping.

And then they got to the wide drainage into the central hole. The steep part of it was perhaps ten feet across. There was no manhole cover over it. The five teens lined up right along the edge where moderate slope turned to plummet. Thingges moving downe therre… blacke blobs movinge…

“Blacke blobs,” said Cloudius.

“Movinge,” said Tom.

“Illusion!” said Arnulf. “Ange!”

“I was hoping those things were the illusion,” said Daphne.

“Mraaow,” said Eva softly. They looked down. She looked completely real here.

“Where do you want it? Down there, or up here?” asked Ange.

“Up here,” said Arnulf. “I read some of those reliefs on the walls. Those things down there were slaves, but they rebelled. Up here, that illusion’s scary to them down there. Down there, they mob it and pull its head off, until they notice it’s not real.”

“Okay,” said Ange, “you got it. Poj!”

“Yipes!” cried Cloudius, diving for the dirt.

“It’s not real, you baby! Is it working?”

“Yeah, I think so,” said Tom. “Uh—!”

“Just glance every now and then,” said Angelica, concentrating on her illusion, which was disturbing enough. She didn’t envy the view Tom was getting.

A flapping sound turned Arnulf and Daphne around. Cloudius jumped up.

“Great,” said Arnulf, wondering how many times he’d said that today.

“When pigs fly,” muttered Daphne. Before them, a twelve-foot-tall thing came down from the darkness above, a sort of giant pig with wings and a huge, fanged maw. It grabbed at Arnulf, who jumped out of the way and brought the black sword down on its paw. Owie, a paper cut. It kicked out and knocked Arnulf sliding; he stopped a foot or so before the edge of ye Hole.

Daphne stabbed it deep and hard and it bled green ichor, but it wasn’t much fazed. Cloudius joined the fray, getting in a nice stab under the arm before being kicked back into the pillars. Daphne kept whacking away, and it turned its attention to her, until Arnulf jumped on its back leg and started in on some Canadian bacon. It tried to kick him again, but he fell off first; then it tried to grab him, but he rolled out of the way. He found himself right under its fat belly, which he drove the black sword straight up into. It finally tried to sit on him, but he swung around and it more or less stabbed itself in the heart with his sword.

The demon started glowing. Its eyes popped out and blew up like little firecrackers. Its back spines shot off like bottle rockets and blew up in the dark among the pillars. Daphne and Cloudius pulled each other back out of the way; Tom and Ange fell back too, leaving the illusion Elder One on its own. It managed nicely, until the demon actually blew up.

“Arnulf,” said Daphne. “Arnulf was in there!”

“He can’t have survived,” said Angelica.

“Sure he can,” said Cloudius. “Look.”

And there, where the demon had been, stood a glowing figure. It was glowing in the sense that it was covered in green ichor, which was swiftly burning off in a cool fire. Under it all was Arnulf, give or take a few burned parts. He was holding a big egg-shaped milky pink stone.

“Amulet of demon, anyone?”

“Arnulf,” said Daphne, grabbing him in a hug. Before he could really enjoy being hugged by a naked girl, she let him go and walked past him, saying, “Pick up your bleeping sword and let’s get the bleep out of here.”

“Over there,” said Tom. There was indeed, in the spotlight he shone on it, a narrow crack in the wall and a narrow stair upward. They all headed that way, bone tired and dirty but basically unscathed—physically, anyway. Inside, they would never be the same. Arnulf was scarred. Cloudius had been scared out of his skin. Tom had been forced to look down the hole at the progress of things he didn’t want to know even existed. On his property.

“I kind of like the fighting naked thing,” said Daphne. Arnulf was thinking of other ways in which he would never be the same. He imagined Ahir taking up Daphne’s hobby. He smiled.

Angelica was running to catch up with them when she saw a glint off to the side. She slowed and looked. Down the wall a hundred feet, maybe, from the crack, there was a little set of steps leading up to a golden pedestal. On top of it was a faintly gleaming square. Angelica jogged over to it and looked. The altar was not the sort of thing she wanted to go near. And on top of it was what she could best describe as a sort of evil Scrabble tile.

A minute later, Angelica came through the crack. “Oh, thank goddess,” said Daphne, “we thought you’d fallen in Ye Hole.”

“I found this,” said Angelica.

Up the steps, up and up they went, Tom in front with the light, Arnulf in back with the other light. Behind them they began to hear sounds of weird music—piping, perhaps, and a sort of rhythm. They also heard distant screaming, or possibly a kind of singing.

Presently they came out into a large room. It was an Indian barrow, inside, and the dead Indians were mulling about drinking tea and reading what appeared to be a newspaper in petroglyphs. The shades shied away from the teenagers, until Eva went over and rubbed among their legs.

Meanwhile Daphne and Arnulf went up the rungs cut in the stone wall and wrestled the stone on top out of the way. They crawled out. It was well into the evening. Beautiful stars were overhead. Around them was a ring of standing stones: they were on top of the tallest of the three hills surrounding the pond.

They all got through, even Eva, and they pushed the stone back into place and covered it over with leaf litter. Then they stood there in awe.

Finally, Cloudius asked, “So what is it?”

“It’s one of the Great Glyphs,” said Angelica. “There’s eleven of them too. And they have their own powers. You know, spells? You can literally spell things by arranging them.” She looked at it in her palm, and then she closed her hand on it and giggled. “We have a Segment and a Great Glyph! We are officially in the big leagues.”

“Loving it,” said Arnulf. “Because our enemies will also be in the big leagues.”

“So what is a Glyph?” asked Tom.

“Check your Glyph Notes,” said Daphne.

“So,” said Cloudius, “wasn’t there supposed to be treasure or something?”

“Well, we got this Glyph,” said Angelica. “And we borrowed, um, some books. Knowledge is treasure.”

“Yeah, sure. What about gold and gems and stuff?”

“Amulet?” said Arnulf.

“Wait,” said Angelica. “Gold. Cloudius, you may be in luck.”

“What?”

“I’ll tell you in the morning.”

The kids talked their way back into the house and into the good graces of KC Hexane, who was understandably miffed that they had not been home when she and PJ returned. But they explained that they had gone hiking and fallen in the mud, and that was why Daphne wasn’t wearing her clothes, and that they would clean the house tomorrow and cook dinner, and everything was okay. Daph put on a tee shirt and shorts, and everyone had a nice game of Munchkin: Papers and Paychecks Edition and turned in.

The next two weeks they went to Acadia, down to the Maine Mall, had real lobster at a real lobster place, hiked on the Appalachian Trail, and went up Tumbledown, where Daphne skinny dipped and found an Amazon cave under a little island in Tumbledown Pond.

And Angelica and Cloudius went out, early the morning after the journey to the Pit of the Shoggoths, took off their outer clothes to reveal their swimsuits, and dove into the square hole. They didn’t turn down the tunnel, but groped around, breathing with the brass tubes for half an hour or more while they piled up their loot.

“Two hundred and seven,” Cloudius told Arnulf and Daphne on the train home. They were in a private compartment, somehow taken from British Rail, on an Amtrak train.

“Who minted them?” asked Daphne.

“Leo VI,” said Angelica. “Leo the Wise.”

“Oh,” said Daphne.

“Yeah,” said Angelica. After a moment she added, “The one after Basil I. The one in whose reign Ignatius and Photius disappeared from history.”

“Who cares, it’s gold,” said Cloudius. “We’re rich.”

“We can’t spend this,” said Angelica.

“We’re wizards, anyway,” said Arnulf. “That’s better than being rich.”

“No doubt!” Cloud grinned at Daphne. “Ready to be back at school?”

“Not as much as Arnulf,” said Daphne. They looked at Nulf, who was muttering sweet nothings into a circle drawn on his hand.

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