Chapter 16a


"Desperate times call for desperate measures."
-Captain G. E. Pickett


I faced Aahz. This was something else I had thought about while hanging on the wall. I may had already lost that moment of clarity, but my resolve had not wavered.

"Thatís right. We go down."

Aahz stared at me like he'd never seen me before.

"What?"

"I said, Iím going with you. All the way. I don't care what you said, or how powerful this Penbrius is, I'm not letting you ship me back to Deva. If he's destroyed this dimension, he may destroy others. We can't let that happen."

"Penbrius built all of this?" Gus finally got a word in edgewise. "Wasnít he the one who..."

"Yes to both questions." Aahz interrupted shortly. He directed his next comment at me. "You are going back to Deva. At the first opportunity. If I have to slug you and take you back unconscious, I will. From the little I saw of Penbrius, he was as powerful as Isstvan, if not more, and he wasn't as nutty as a fruitcake."

"Well," Gus again interceded with his usual calmness. "The whole question's academic at the moment. Nobody's going to Deva, or anywhere else." He pointed a stone talon at the tunnel mouth. "Aahz, as weíve all just learned so vividly, those symbols have auras. If we're going to get off Chirosovo, we have to go down this tunnel. There's magik down there."

Aahz fumed silently for a long moment, then growled:

"All right. But kid, you're staying up here until Gus and I check this out. "

"Aahz! You might need me!"

It was Gus who replied. "Skeeve, I'm going to be blunt. For the moment, Aahz is right. The only use you'd be against Penbrius would be magikally. There appears to be magik down there, but until we confirm it, if there's trouble, you'll just be in the way, especially in your weakened condition. So, you should stay here."

I looked at them both for a long moment, then silently sat down on a nearby pile of rubble.

It was just as well, since my legs were about to give out on me anyway.

Since they couldn't use magik to make a light, they fashioned a crude torch from a broken timber and a ragged strip of cloth. Gus started the fire by striking his arm briskly against a nearby chunk of rock, filling the air with a shower of sparks and an odd burnt smell. Despite my foul mood, I was impressed.

"Say, Gus! That's a neat trick!"

He grinned.

"Learned that in the Pebble Scouts. It was my first merit badge."

"Huh?"

"Later, kid. C'mon, Gus. Let's get this over with." Aahz thrust the torch ahead of him, and they started down the passage. The torch light faded, leaving me with only the grim red glow of the auras for light.

Those moments sitting alone in that chilly, dark, room were among the longest I have ever spent, waiting for either Aahz, or the hole's occupant to come up to get me. Silence poured mockingly from the tunnel entrance. The runes glowed evilly.

There was the sound of footsteps coming back up the tunnel. I picked up a nearby piece of timber. It probably wouldn't do the slightest bit of good, but..

It was Aahz, still holding the make-shift torch.

"It looks OK, kid. Strange, but OK. C'mon." I rose and flipped away my makeshift club.

After sloping smoothly down for what seemed like an eternity, the tunnel ended in a small chamber, apparently carved directly out of the rock of the mountain range. It was bitterly cold.

I looked around the room, and realized that fairly bright light was shining out from some indefinite source, as if patches of the air itself at been somehow lit up for our benefit. Aahz must have seen this as well, but did not discard the torch.

The room was roughly circular, with collections of odd indentions and bulges clustered in the wall at irregular intervals. While many of them appeared to be badly damaged or even burn out entirely, many more glowed not just with auras but from some 'physical' light source. I noted vaguely that there still wasnít enough magik around to tap into. This was not what caught my immediate attention, however.

I said the tunnel ended, but in a sense it went on; there was an enormous hole dominating the middle of the room, ringed with more of the glowing symbols. I inched towards it, and looked in. The pit's black glassy-smooth sides shot straight down, the diameter appearing to slowly grow narrower as it plunged into darkness. An icy wind blew out of it unceasingly. Far, far down the shaft sickly worms of lights glowed and squirmed. Aahz and Gus joined me. Aahz hesitated for a moment, then dropped the smoldering stick into the hole. It fell. And fell. And fell. Suddenly, there was blinding flash, and something that resembled a purplish lightning bolt lanced out from the side of the pit, hitting the torch. The torch, entirely in flames now, continued to drop. Another bolt hit it, and another.

"Well, I think we've confirmed there's magik down there, but I personally vote against going down to tap into it." I commented gravely.

Aahz reluctantly looked away from the hole, first at me, then at Gus.

"Gus.. I don't suppose you can get down there, at least to before those bolts..?"

The gargoyle knelt for a moment and studied the hole, tested it with his fingers. Finally, he shook his head.

"Whatever this stuff is, itís virtually frictionless. And I canít dig into it with my talons. Donít touch it, either of you. Something tells me it might not be real healthy for flesh." He straightened up. ďAnd as you may have guessed from my general lack of aerodynamics, my flying is a magikal ability. I'm grounded until we get off Chirosovo. I could jump in, and fall, and maybe survive long enough to accumulate enough magik to dimension hop, but if you came with me..." He didn't bother to finish the sentence.

Aahz sighed, and then said, grimly. "Gus. It may come to that anyway. If it does, you'll have to go without us. Someone has to get out of here and get word back to.."

"The Deveels?"

Aahz sighed again. "I suppose. I can't think of anyone better offhand."

Gus nodded silently but firmly. Aahz clapped him on the shoulder, and then clapped his hands together, briskly. "But let's see what else we've got here before we start really panicking. Spread out and check everything. Anything that looks interesting, give a holler."

I wandered slowly along the wall, studying the various surfaces. It was all completely incomprehensible. With some of the still-active lights, small, black, needle-like objects quivered slowly back and forth behind sheets of glass. In other holes, symbols shaped like the auras flickered and changed. I shivered, suddenly realizing how cold I was getting. I couldn't stay down here for very long.

Then I saw something both interesting and vaguely within my frame of reference. It appeared to be a narrow crack running up one of the walls, neatly splitting the stones in two as if someone had whacked each with a large axe. There was something about it that seemed to pull at me... I took a step closer...

"Check this out." Gus's voice came from across the room,, and I jerked in surprise, losing my concentration. Aahz and I crossed the room, carefully skirting the central hole and joining the gargoyle in front of a... I wasn't sure what it was. It was a flat metal plate bolted firmly into the wall and covered with both more of the squiggly symbols and other, more geometric, shapes.

"What is it?" I rubbed my arms with my hands, and stomped my feet. The cold was really beginning to bite into me. Even so, after what I had just gone through it still felt almost pleasant.

"I think it's a map." Aahz replied after a moment's frowning consideration. "I could be wrong, but it looks like a map of Chirosovo. Or a large chunk of it, anyway. Here's the mountain range we're currently... uh... under. Looks about right, anyway."

"And that." Gus pointed. "That glowing circle. That must be where we are right now."

"Yeah... and..." Aahz frowned. "Look. There's at least... what? A dozen more circles just like it scattered around the map. Assuming they're all buildings like this one, whatever Penbrius is doing here, it's a big operation."

"Is..." I muttered thoughtfully.

"What is it, kid?"

"Well, Gus said earlier that the Deveels must have built their lodge on top of an abandoned building. And it makes sense. If Penbrius was still using this place, would he have allowed them to do that? Judging from what you said, it sounds like that's just the sort of thing that would set him off."

"Maybe that's exactly what happened. Maybe that's why this place got blasted."

I immediately turned back on myself. "But the whole dimension? Isn't that a little bit of overkill? Even for someone like Penbrius?"

Aahz was silent.

"I think Skeeve's right." Gus said. "But since we don't even know for what purpose this place was originally built, we' re probably not going to get any definitive answers. The lodge up top looked to be fairly new, and its construction may very well be why Penbrius sent a blast of magik through here. But on the other hand the Deveels ran a thriving skiing industry here on Chirosovo for what.. 3-400 years? before this happened. Something's changed. Recently. Once we find out what, we'll be a long way towards solving this mystery."

"This is all terribly fascinating, but we still need to find a way out of here."

This comment reminded me of what I had been looking at.

"Um.. guys? Would you come look at something I found?"


"A crack?" It was abundantly clear that Aahz was less than impressed.

"There's something there. I can feel it. Gus? Can you maybe..." I blew into my hands. "...pry out a few of those blocks?"

"Sure thing. Itís just that tunnel I canít grip." Gus shrugged, dug his talons into the crack and pulled. Clearly much more easily than he had anticipated, two or three of them tumbled free. He ripped out a few more.

Behind them was a hollow, tube-shaped space, running up and down out of sight, as if we'd cut our way into the middle of a chimney. That's exactly what we had done, for all I knew.

Except...

There was something in the middle of the tube, glowing faintly. A thin, pale thread of color, running down the tube like an anemic fangworm. It almost looked like...

"A force line!" I yelled.

"Where?" The comment came from Gus and Aahz simultaneously, both automatically looking skyward.

"Right there! In the tube! Can't you see it?"

Aahz looked at Gus, who peered into the tube more closely, squinting.

"Nnno... I don't." My heart dropped, squishing into the mud in my boots. "But Skeeve, you're a real magician. I just know the basics; Dimension hopping. Disguise spells. Aura reading. That stuff. If there's a really weak force line running through there, it's very possible you can see it, and I can't." My heart rebounded, at least part of the way.

"Well, kid, don't just stand there! Try and draw some power from it!"

I took a step closer, and reached out my hand, more than half-expecting something to come lunging out of the darkness and chomp onto me.

I felt it. Not a set of jaws, but magik flowing into me. Well... trickling into me. A little drop at a time. It didn't feel like either a sky or a ground force line, but... somehow... somewhere in between. It was to a normal force line what thin gruel is to real food; life-sustaining, but little more. I grinned over at the other two as my heart zoomed the rest of the way back into place.

"It's real. It's there!" I looked around the room in surprise. With the flow of magik coming into me, I could now see something even more strange. The room was ringed with similar 'force lines', running up and down just behind the walls, exactly as this one was. They seemed to spread out rapidly as they neared the ceiling, and passed out of 'view'. I reported this fact to my companions, and then asked: "What does it mean, Aahz?"

"I dunno, kid. We'll discuss it later. After we get out of here. And now we have a way to leave." He reached inside his garments somewhere, and fumbled out the D-Hopper. "And since I don't think we're going to learn anything more than we have, let's do just that before we all get frostbite." Gus and I stepped next to him. Aahz spun the dials on the device seemingly at random, held it as close to the tube as possible, and again punched the button.

Nothing happened. Aahz punched the button once again. Still nothing.

"There's still not enough power. It's not going to work. We're back to square one." Aahz's voice was expressionless.

"No we're not." Gus immediately spoke up. "There's another way."

"What's that?"

"We teach Skeeve how to dimension travel."

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

 

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All Contents ©1999 Robert M. Cook