|Thaumaturjekyll: Book One chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7||Book Two chapter 8 9 10 11|
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
We must travel in the direction of our fears.
-- John Berryman
"What the hell's the drill?" It had been touch and go for a while but now that the blonde woman had decided to go, she was impatient to get started and stood fidgeting with her sword hilt as they stood about in the throne room. She wasn't alone as no one seemed to be eating the expansive breakfast that had been set out.
"Understand young lady, I do not. In a marching contest, we be not participating." Akcuanrut was confused.
"Hastie means tell us what we need to do and what kind of problems can we expect along the way." Over the course of the night Dr. Lanyon had emerged as the group's spokesman.
"Oh. Well. Ah. As earlier I said, recover the Heart of Virtue we must. Discover the location of the Portal of Death and figure out how to pass through it without dying, we must.
"Then pass through the Caves of Despair we must. Returned no one has ever done, so no idea what horrors await, have I.
"Finally, fight the Guardian of the Heart, we must. Probably Na-Noc, ex-Emperor's Champion."
"Yeah, yeah." Hastie interrupted. "Go on. What else? I want to get this over with."
"All there is, that be. Except get the Heart back to the College of Wizards, we must. Use all their available resources to stop us during the trip back, the Dark Gods will."
"Whoa." Hastie tapped her foot in exasperation. "We agreed to help get the damned thing. Surely once you have it you can get it back to the College, can't you?"
The wizard's response was so quiet that it was almost missed by the others. "We must."
"Yeah, right. So where's the portal?"
"Take care woman. D'lon-ra placed a hand on Hastie's shoulder but she brushed it off. "Your undoing, your haste may be."
"Hey. Funny," Sonja smirked as she changed to an atrocious French accent. "Hastie's haste eez likely to be her undoing," she paraphrased the huge man beside her, smiling even more. "I like that."
"Shut up you dumb broad."
"Who's a dumb broad you..."
"CHILDREN!" Emily Lanyon's bellow shook dust from the stone ceiling. All eyes turned to the stallion who looked as shocked as the rest. In a normal speaking volume he continued, "I think we need to focus on the problem at hand. Hastie actually asked an excellent question." Hastie stuck her tongue out at Sonja, but did little else for fear of another deafening bellow. "How do we locate the Portal?"
"Know not, I do." Now the faces turned to the wizard who actually squirmed a bit under their scrutiny.
"You don't know?" Dr. Lanyon spoke over Hastie's laughter.
"Hastie you stop that this instant," Emily chimed in.
"Here in the Lost Temple of Zampulus, the Portal of Death is said to be. But unknown be its exact location and to magically detect it, I be unable."
Herbert and Emily both glared at the two women in a preemptive attempt to avoid another snide comment. "So how do we find it?" Herbert asked for everyone.
"I know not, Dr. Lanyon. Checking every room, my apprentices be doing. Amazingly devious evil be. Anywhere it could be."
"Just how big is this place?" Dr. Lanyon had a thoughtful look on her face.
"Know not, I do. Infinite it be said to be, but not possible that of course be. Over a hundred rooms so far without finding the portal, we have checked."
"That's the third time you've called this place the Lost Temple of Whozits. Why the hell do you keep calling it 'lost' when you obviously knew where it was?" Hastie's question brought another smile to Sonja's face, but she did not make the snide retort everyone expected. Emily Lanyon, however, made shushing gestures anyway, pointing to his husband who was obviously deep in thought.
Dr. Lanyon noticed them all staring at her and holding their breath. "Don't mind me folks. I'm just trying to figure something out." With that she wandered off toward a corner of the throne room muttering to herself. The others watched for a moment before the urgency of their situation brought them back to the task at hand.
"Ignore her. She's concentrating on a problem. An atomic bomb could explode without her noticing," Mrs. Lanyon sighed at his husband's poor timing.
"So why's this dump called the Lost Temple already?" Hastie wasn't giving up on her question.
"Nothing can we do until we find the Portal." Akcuanrut settled himself more comfortably on the throne. "Always been called 'lost,' the Temple of Zampulus has been. Constructed before recorded history and abandoned millennia ago, of our historians at the College it is the opinion that the term referred to the fact that a place of such intense evil this was that all who entered lost their souls.
"That's it," Herbert Lanyon shouted with gleeful enthusiasm.
"What's 'it' dear?" the stallion asked.
"'It' is the Portal. I know where the Portal has to be."
"Where?" D'lon-ra, who had been silent the whole time, was suddenly before Dr. Lanyon, nearly jumping up and down in excitement. Hastie absently noted that the Champion was nearly as tall as the female centaur. She took the precaution of surreptitiously drawing her dagger and hiding it in her palm just in case when she saw her mother charging protectively between the two.
"Friends, please. Speak, let him." Akcuanrut too rose and gestured. Suddenly D'lon-ra uttered a surprised yelp as his feet left the ground and he floated gently to the side of the throne. "At ease be, D'lon-ra. Speak, let him."
"The answer," Dr. Lanyon could not resist pontificating, "was simple once deductive reasoning was applied." She paused and beamed down at her waiting students.
"So what's the answer already?"
With a annoyed glance at Hastie she continued. "What is evil? It is the absence of all things good, like love, respect, trust..." Another pause.
"Enough with the classroom lecture Pop. How about the short answer for once."
"Hastie, you be polite to your father," Mrs. Lanyon snorted.
With a hurt look at Hastie and a thank you glance at her wife, Dr. Lanyon continued: "But that was the key. Trust. Evil cannot trust. It must directly control all events because it cannot trust others to love, respect, or fear it enough to do its bidding. In effect, good is unity while evil is dictatorship."
"Pop, some of us are still in high school. Will you please tell us, in simple terms, what the hell you're talking about."
"But I just did. Because evil cannot trust, it must place those things of value to it where it can be certain of its safety. The Portal must be here, in this room, in Evil's throne room."
"But examined first, this room was," Akcuanrut objected. "here, it cannot be."
"Why?" Dr. Lanyon challenged. "Why can it not be in this room. How do you even know what you're looking for if you've never seen it?"
"A wizard I be," Akcuanrut spoke with all the hauteur of someone long used to being deferred to, "and a thing of magic the Portal of Death be, of the Dark Gods a creation. Were it here, aware of it I would be."
"Just because the 'Dark Gods,' as you call them, have the ability to perform magic does not mean that they have to use magic. The best way for a magical being to do the unexpected would be to use other than magic."
Akcuanrut's mouth opened several times before any words came out. "Non-magical. A magical being using other than magic. Brilliant, that be," he effused. "How?"
"That I don't know," Dr. Lanyon responded as the level of excitement in the room plummeted, "but I'll bet Jack does."
"Jack?" Akcuanrut and D'lon-ra spoke in unison. "A Jack is what?"
Dr. Lanyon merely gazed calmly at Sonja, joined by her husband and Hastie. The other two followed their gaze to Sonja.
"Sonja, I thought her name be?" D'lon-ra missed the wizard's question as he examined the barbarian woman carefully trying to discover what a 'Jack' was.
"It is now. It was Jack when she was a male on our world." Sonja crossed her arms and glared at Dr. Lanyon in a snit as she noticed D'lon-ra staring at her confusedly. "She was an amateur magician on our world where magic doesn't really exist. That means she knows all sorts of illusions; tricks for making things seem magical when they really aren't. I'll bet she can find a hidden mechanism of some sort."
Sonja used her most exaggerated strut as she walked to the throne. Passing Dr. Lanyon she hissed "I'll get you for that," which served to momentarily confuse the centauress.
She muttered aloud as she roughly pulled Akcuanrut from the throne and examined it; feeling each crevice. "Close to evil. Probably the throne. Somewhere it can be reached easily and unobtrusively."
Her hands moved lightly but slowly along one arm rest and then the other, feeling for lumps, bumps, and anything moveable. At the gnarled handrest on the left side of the elaborate seat her frown of concentration turned to a smile. "I think I've found it."
"Devious dear," Mrs. Lanyon worriedly called out to his wife. "You said they were devious. It might be a..."
"There." Sonja cried out in triumph and stood back waiting. Suddenly there was a whooshing sound. Hastie instantly crouched back to back as D'lon-ra's jerked his shield above them both. At the same time Dr. Lanyon screamed and cowered behind her wife, who put his arms protectively about her as hundreds of small darts whistled down on the troupe from holes in the ceiling covering every inch of the large room except a small area immediately around the throne.
Inches from Emily's head the darts stopped, suspended in mid air close enough to see a strangely colored stain on the otherwise shiny tips. As they watched in awe, the hovering darts slowly began to float in mass towards the corner farthest from everyone, bunching into a tight clump like a swirling swarm of bees. When they were no longer likely to strike anyone they fell with multiple pings to the floor.
Sonja was the first to recover. "Sorry."
"A little more warning, next time give," Akcuanrut fumed, slowly lowering his hands and then slumping to the floor by the throne. "To control so many objects at once be not easy."
"Sorry," Sonja again called over her shoulder as she returned to her examination of the throne. I'll be more careful next time."
Several more minutes passed as Sonja carefully examined the throne and its pedestal. Fingers gently caressed the hard stone surfaces as the others watched warily. Finally, she stood and turned to the group. "I found two loose segments that might be switches. One is by this fluted hand rest on the right," she pointed, " and the other is on the left inside leg. If you folks are ready, I'll try the one on the arm rest."
The barbarian woman waited as each assumed a defensive or protective position like before. Mrs. Lanyon surveyed the others and then nodded. They all held their breath and waited for they knew not what as Sonja pushed the button.
And pushed it again.
And pushed it yet a third time.
"So push it already."
"I did Hastie. Three times now."
"So what the hell happened? Did we die and I missed it, or what?"
"Mind your tongue Hastie," Mrs. Lanyon quickly interjected before turning back to Sonja. "You're the expert here dear. What does it mean?"
"I think it means that it was just a loose setting and not a hidden switch. If everyone's ready, I'll try the other one."
Once again everyone braced themselves. Akcuanrut grumbled, "Do it already."
Sonja pushed the button. Then she pushed it again, but nothing happened.
"Damn it, work!" She kicked the throne and heard a faint click. Kicking it again, she was rewarded with a deep scraping sound as the throne and its pedestal began creeping backward, revealing a gaping, stygian pit.
"Yes!" Sonja did a brief victory dance and Hastie joined in as Akcuanrut and D'lon-ra watched in confusion.
"Is it the Portal of Death?" asked the ever practical Emily.
"From the waves of evil magic emanating from yon pit, must be I suspect," was Akcuanrut's response. "Well then, go let us. Collect my apprentices first, let me."
"Wrong." Hastie's and Sonja's reponses was in unison again, but then Hastie elaborated. "D'lon-ra and I will lead as there may be ambushes. The Mom and Da will flank you, wizard, and Sonja will cover our backs.
"There's no time for apprentices," Sonja explained. "We need to travel light and fast to surprise whatever might be waiting for us in there."
"But... but..." Akcuanrut sputtered until D'lon-ra intervened.
"Correct, she be. Sonja at point with me and Hastie as rear guard, I recommend instead. Proven her ability to identify and deal with mechanical," he spoke each syllable separately, as if the word was unfamiliar to him, "traps, she be."
"Very well," Akcuanrut grudgingly conceded. "Of the essence, time be."
"Fine," Hastie grumped rather than argue. "Now that that's resolved, shall we go?" She moved with Sonja to the food table and each stuffed several pieces of fruit into the other's backpack. The two centaurs transferred their possessions to saddlebags provided by D'lon-ra.
"A question, before we depart," Emily interjected. "How do Herbert and I get down there?"
"Why float, of course." Akcuanrut was surprised by the question. "Familiar with the inherent magic of centaurs, are you not?"
"We've only been centaurs a couple of days. Until then we weren't even aware that centaurs really existed. We have no idea what centaurs can do."
"Oh my, we must remedy that immediately. You can..."
D'lon-ra interrupted. "For the trip Master, save that. Get moving now, we must."
"A hunch, you have?" D'lon-ra nodded.
"Very well. Nearly as good as a seeming, D'lon-ra's hunches are. On the way speak we will." With that he also took several fruits and headed for the entrance to the pit.
"Yes?" the wizard turned back to the centaurs.
"How do we float?"
"Oh, of course. All volitional, centaur magic be. To happen, if you want it, it will." When both centaurs looked at him in confusion, he continued. "Try it here. Jump and will yourselves to float."
"Okay?" But it was clear they were not convinced. Herbert and Emily separated a few feet as they moved to one side of the huge room. Turning Emily jumped first -- and found himself protecting his face from scraping against the ceiling, easily 30 feet above the others.
Landing as lightly as a feather at the other side of the room, he called enthusiastically back to Herbert, "Herbert! You must try this! It feels fantastic."
Before Herbert could leap, he was in the air again, landing lightly beside his husband and slapping her on the rump. The centauress gave a surprised leap and then realized that she too could float.
Landing she quickly turned and jumped again, only to be met in mid air by her wife who "high fived" her. As each landed they turned and prepared to jump again, when Sonja interrupted, "Enough fun kids. Lets go."
One more leap and they were at the pit and ready to leap in. Only Akcuanrut's stiff warning prevented it. "Wait. That there are no magical traps, I need to be certain." He stood concentrating for several seconds and then made an abrupt up and down gesture.
"Of magical traps it be free, at least for the first hundred feet or so. Make a similar check for mechanical traps Sonja, would you please ?"
Without a word, Sonja knelt beside the entry and examined the edges. As if anticipating her thoughts, Hastie brought over a wall torch and dropped it into the pit.
Sonja watched the torch drop, and drop, and eventually disappear without landing. "I think we've got a problem."