|Thaumaturjekyll: Book One chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7||Book Two chapter 8 9 10 11|
Spelunking for Spooks
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, -- he cried
out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath -- "The horror!
-- Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski
"Wrong now, what is?" Akcuanrut was getting annoyed.
"No bottom," Sonja cursed. "The damn thing's got no bottom.
"Fly us all to the ground, I can."
"I think not," Dr. Lanyon rejoined the conversation. "Can you fly us and also respond to any magical threats?"
"But try, I can."
"You don't sound very certain, and that's all right as I don't think you need to do both."
"Huh?" Hastie's ears perked up. "Whaddya mean?"
"I mean, your mother and I can float us to a soft landing."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Sonja stood and brushed off her hands. "I can't find any more traps so let's go."
With a sly smile at Hastie she continued, "I call dibs on riding with D'lon-ra."
"What? No way."
"Hey you got to cuddle with the big guy when the darts were falling. It's my turn."
"Children. Stop," Mrs. Lanyon gently pushed between the two before swords were drawn and spoke with his "it's final and that's it" voice. "D'lon-ra and Sonja will ride on my back while Akcuanrut and Hastie will ride on Herbert."
Grumbling, the girls took their places. Dr. Lanyon crossed her fingers. Mrs. Lanyon silently mouthed, "I love you." Taking each other's hands they walked to the edge and leaped.
When they realized they were still alive and floating everyone exhaled in unison. Slowly, like a glider, the two centaurs circled each other as they drifted lower and lower down the dank stone well. They descended hundreds of feet.
The bottom was still lost in darkness and the portal through which they had jumped was a pinpoint above them when D'lon-ra espied the tunnel, a roughly circular section of greater darkness. As Akcuanrut frantically braced himself to react instantaneously to any magical attack, Sonja squinted intently as she examined the fast approaching entrance for any mechanical traps. One last circle and they were in and skidding to a stop as everyone cheered.
"The tunnel ahead is quite straight," D'lon-ra observed. "It too seems to go on forever."
"The Caves of Despair, they are," Akcuanrut intoned solemnly. "The waves of dolor, can you feel them not?" The others paused to examine their surroundings and themselves and slowly, unwillingly nodded in agreement.
"No stinkin' 'feeling' is gonna get to me." And with that, Hastie turned and stormed down the tunnel.
"Wait a minute moron," Sonja shouted as she bolted after her twin and grabbed the girl by the shoulder. "There are too many risks for you to be wondering off by yourself."
"Like you're gonna stop me?" Hastie sneered and drew her dagger.
"Hastie! Think! We've got to work together." But that didn't stop a dagger from also appearing in Sonja's hand.
They danced about as each made exploratory feints, not realizing that the others had caught up to them until they found that they could not move. Frozen by Akcuanrut's magic, both struggled helplessly as their faces turned bright red. Tears began to trickle from Hastie's eyes.
"Agitated depression," Dr. Lanyon spoke with clinical detachment. "Sometimes when people are depressed, they fight against it producing what appears to be a state of agitation, usually including aggression. Hold them while I look for something in my backpack."
D'lon-ra moved behind Hastie while Emily Lanyon moved behind Sonja. Each took a firm grip on the barbarian woman before him and held tight as Akcuanrut released his hold on them.
At last able to move, each gave a tremendous shriek and began kicking and scratching at the restraining arms as if possessed, but their captors merely waited stoically until they were spent. By that time, Dr. Lanyon had finished digging in his backpack and was holding a whispered conversation with Akcuanrut. The wizard muttered something and waved a finger at something in the doctor's hand and then they both turned back to the still struggling girls.
"Akcuanrut has enhanced the effect of this St. John's Wort. It should be more than strong enough to counteract any of the depressive effects of this benighted place." The girls had stopped brawling as Dr. Lanyon spoke, although they continued to glare at each other.
"I want each of you, in fact every one of us, to take one," Hatie's father offered small pieces of dried, whitish root to each girl. "You two first. If we release you will you take it?"
It took a few moments, but eventually each agreed, and when released took the proffered root, swallowed quickly, and gagged at its bitter taste. "Yuck. That stuff tastes terrible."
"True," Dr. Lanyon agreed grimacing as she swallowed a piece herself. "But it will help us. Now, do you still feel angry?"
Hastie and Sonja examined themselves. "No," they spoke in unison again. "No. We feel fine."
"Then," Dr. Lanyon used her best imitation of John Wayne, "lets roll them wagons pilgrims."
"How long have we been marching?" Mrs. Lanyon grumped. "My hooves are getting sore."
"It does seem like a long time," Dr. Lanyon agreed. "Maybe we should take a break." The chorus of cheers made it clear everyone was in agreement.
"How long does this thing go on for?"
"Good question Sonja," Hastie seconded her.
"Know not, I do," Akcuanrut slid to the ground and groaned, "but much longer, we can not go on."
"So what do we do?" the ever practical Mrs. Lanyon asked.
"Try something, we do. Thought of it earlier, I should have." Akcuanrut asked D'lon-ra for an arrow from his quiver. Next he took a small ball of twine from his own backpack and tied it to the back of the arrow, just in front of the feathers. Balancing the arrow chest high on one finger he muttered and the arrow began to vibrate. Akcuanrut dropped his finger and the arrow remained floating in the air. One last word and it shot forward to the limits of the attached line and then hung there like a dog straining at the end of its leash.
"Follow this, we do." With more groans, everyone stood and slogged off behind the overeager arrow.
"Break time." Hastie didn't wait for anyone to disagree as she slid to the ground.
"Who wants the last of the water?" Sonja sloshed the waterskin and everyone listened as it barely made any sound.
"We can't go on like this," Emily Lanyon observed, legs trembling from fatigue.
"Still ahead the arrow points."
"True, but why does it wobble every hundred feet or so?" Dr. Lanyon wondered aloud as she watched it wobble again.
"No idea do I have. Currents of magic there may be."
"Maybe... maybe... may... mo..." Dr. Lanyon began digging frantically through her backpack. Shortly she had the laser pointer in her hand and assumed her lecturer's stance.
"Aw geez Pop," Hastie groaned. Can't ya just tell us? I'm too tired for a lecture."
"Hush Hastie. Listen to your father," Mrs. Lanyon's deep voice boomed.
"Thank you dear," Dr. Lanyon smiled appreciatively at her wife. "I am unsure of the accuracy of my speculations. I would prefer to explain my thoughts on the chance that even if I am incorrect, they will jog someone else so that the correct solution presents itself.
"Does everyone know what a Mobius strip is? Anyone? Anyone?"
Emily Lanyon cleared his voice to remind his husband to keep to the point.
"Ah, yes. Well, a Mobius strip is basically a one sided shape. You can make a representation of one by taking a strip of paper and making it into a loop. If you trace it there are two sides, a top and a bottom, but if you take one edge and twist it once, it only has one side."
"Dear. You're lecturing."
Sorry, the smaller centaur cleared her throat. "If my premise is correct, this laser pointer should help prove it." With that she turned it on and aimed it at the wall. Slowly she moved the bright red dot further and further along the wall until it was just a pinpoint in the distance, and then it was gone.
"Look." D'lon-ra pointed excitedly behind the group at a red dot that had appeared. Dr. Lanyon carefully, holding it very still, turned the pointer off and the dot disappeared. She turned it back on and the dot reappeared.
"That's what I was afraid of, we've been walking in circles."
"Come on Pop. We never turned once."
"That's true Hastie, but think of the Mobius strip. You can walk in a straight line forever." The laser pointer was replaced by the piece of paper and her finger traced its way around the strip several times without stopping.
"But how does this explain the wobble, dear?"
"I think the wobble is where we loop back. Before the wobble the arrow correctly points forward and after the wobble it also correctly points forward, but just at the wobble, where we loop back to the beginning again, the arrow is confused. It doesn't know where to point so it wobbles."
"So it wobbles, Pop. So what?"
"Hastie. Think carefully. It's the weak point. It's where we get out."
"That's the part I haven't figured out yet."
"Great Pop. Build us up and drop us flat, why dontcha?"
"Herbert Lanyon the Fifth, you apologize immediately," Mrs. Lanyon roared.
"But," then Hastie looked at the angry expression on her mother's face, "I'm sorry Pop. But how do we get out?"
"The answer to that, I may have," Akcuanrut chimed in. "Observe."
"Great." Hastie poked Sonja in the ribs and muttered, "Just what we need another lecture."
But instead of a lecture, Akcuanrut merely tugged gently at the arrow, pulling it back toward the group until it began to wobble again. Ever so slowly he continued to reel it in. The wobble grew more pronounced and suddenly the arrow veered off to the left flying rapidly towards the wall -- and through it.
"Akcuanrut, you've done it." Dr. Lanyon cheered.
"Sinister. The way of evil, of course," but the wizard smiled as he spoke.
"But there's no door there, just wall." Mrs. Lanyon was confused.
"No dear, it just looks like a wall. Think of it as an optical illusion."
"Okay folks, rest period is over. Let's go kick some evil ass." But Hastie's groan belied the enthusiasm in her voice as she slowly rose.
It was a matter of moments Sonja to check for traps and when she looked back, Akcuanrut nodded to indicate that he too had finished his examination of the unseen door.
One by one the group stepped through the wall and into a cavernous room. Every inch of the room's circular wall was covered with images of depravity, each worse than the one before. The center of the room was a sand pit about thirty feet wide and beyond that was a huge throne composed entirely of human bones. Sitting on the throne, and by no means dwarfed by it, was a leathery winged muscle-bound humanoid with ruddy skin and horns. Fangs grew from its lower jaw and the eyes shone with a yellow glow that seemed to pierce the soul.
The creature's voice was deep and melodious, but with a gravelly undertone that reached to the very marrow and made the bones shiver. "Greetings D'lon-ra. It's been a long time, old friend."
"How wonderful. You remember your old teacher," the creature rumbled.
Hastie nudged Sonja, "Teacher?" and Sonja shrugged in return.
"Not my friend and honored teacher, are you vile thing," D'lon-ra spat.
"True," the creature's smile showed more teeth than should ever be seen. "I was your sad, tired old friend, resting on his laurels and the table scraps of an uncaring liege, but I'm feeling much better now."
"None of those things Na-Noc was. Defile his memory, you do, creature of evil."
"Oh D'lon-ra, D'lon-ra old friend. You are so so wrong, but worry not, soon you will join with me and understand."
"To me come, spawn of evil," sword drawn, the huge hero moved warily out into the center of the sandy circle. "To end your torture, allow me. So that you may die honorably and be remembered for your glorious accomplishments, allow me to kill the evil in you."
"Jeez," Hastie whispered to Sonja, "he's wordy all of a sudden."
"Yeah," Sonja was staring intently at the tableau before them. "Something's wrong."
Both women nodded imperceptibly to each, silently drew their swords and began circling in opposite directions around the edge of sand pit as Na-Noc flowed to his feet and languidly ambled out onto the sand. He stopped about ten feet from D'lon-ra. The Emperor's hero was huge, but the creature dwarfed him, easily twice as large with muscles on his muscles.
"Come to me little boy," Na-Noc beckoned, his grin showing yet more teeth. "Come to me if you dare."
"D'LON-RA! NO!" Akcuanrut screamed. "A TRAP, IT IS."
"Of course it's a trap incompetent one," Na-Noc laughed. With that he lunged with superhuman speed, not at D'lon-ra, but over his head in a flip using his wings to end up facing the hero's back. One quick slice and D'lon-ra's leathers were lying on the sand.
With a roar of anger D'lon-ra spun to face the creature. A short sword appeared in his left hand and sliced a wide swath at stomach height while his long sword swung out in a higher arc toward the demon's neck.
Na-Noc stood immobile as the gleaming blades approached and made contact with solid thwacking sounds, imbedding them selves a good half a foot in the creature's body exactly where D'lon-ra and aimed. But rather than crumble to the ground, Na-Noc laughed again. Then his flesh closed around the blades and began flowing rapidly toward the hilt.
Before a surprised D'lon-ra could react the fast flowing flesh reached his hand and he froze. Within seconds the red flesh had encompassed the smaller man and then the two masses combined, leaving an even larger Na-Noc shaking the walls with his peals of hideous laughter.
"It's not there little ones." Sonja had reached the throne and was examining it, looking for the Heart of Virtue while Hastie stood by as lookout.
In the meantime, Akcuanrut had been gesturing and muttering frantically. Suddenly he refocused on the events about him and stared in disbelief at Na-Noc. "Of course," he shouted to the others. "Nowhere else could it be. Within him, the Heart must be. Within him is the Heart of Virtue."
Oh great," Hastie groaned. "Not only do we need to beat 'Big Red,' we've got to get that damned Heart from inside his jello mold body."
"You take the right side and I'll take the left." Sonja matched her words with actions. Still not sure how to help, but worried about the girls, Dr. and Mrs. Lanyon also stepped onto the sand and uncertainly moved toward the great beast.
They were graceful yet blindingly fast as they parried and sliced in perfect unison like two sides of a mirror. Na-Noc was hard pressed but managing to hold his own; the fact that his injuries healed over within seconds helping greatly. It was clear to everyone there that the current stalemate would slowly turn to his favor as the girls were beginning to tire, yet Na-Noc seemed indefatigable.
Off on the sidelines, Akcuanrut was still chanting and gesturing frantically but to no avail. No spell he could throw seemed to effect the great red creature.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lanyon had been watching the struggle with that detached look on her face that she always used when concentrating on a problem. As her wife yelped in fear at a close call for Hastie, she withdrew from her reverie and trotted off towards Akcuanrut to whisper for a moment.
When the wizard nodded she quickly trotted around the circle to her wife and whispered to her. She too nodded and she resumed hers original position opposite her wife. Both centaurs unstrung the thick ropes hanging from their saddlebags and held large loops as if preparing to jump rope.
As Na-Noc extended himself on both sides to thrust at the swordswomen, Dr. Lanyon shouted, "Now!"
On cue, Akcuanrut threw a spell to freeze the air around Na-Noc to create a foot thick slab of ice encasing his extended form. At the same time, the two centaurs flipped their ropes over his outstretched arms, twisted the ropes like garrotes around each arm, and reared back to pull them tight. Seeing an opening, Sonja and Hastie began hacking away at his huge limbs, as the ice began to melt away as if dropped into a blast furnace.
The advantage was theirs however. On the third roundhouse chop the demon's arms separated causing the centaurs to stumble.
As the last of the ice began to melt, the barbarian women attacked Na-Noc's legs and by the time a smaller set of replacement arms had formed, the legs too were gone. The centaurs quickly tossed their ropes around the falling legs and dragged them to yet another corner of the sand pit, far enough from the arms, that had become rippling puddles of red, that they could not easily or quickly reunite.
As a much smaller Na-Noc reformed, Hastie and Sonja started hacking away at the arms again. Now that a system had been developed things moved quickly and shortly the once huge beast was little more than a quivering red blob about one foot in diameter. Akcuanrut's magic was much easier to focus and he carefully levitated the quivering mass while Dr. Lanyon pulled a plastic tablecloth from one of his wife's saddlebags.
The two girls kept hacking away more and more until they could see a small lump of something shiny beneath the viscous red goo. At that point Dr. Lanyon tossed the plastic over the stone, gathered the ends together and tied a bulky knot to seal the Heart inside.
The group cautiously moved off the sand, carefully avoiding all the clumps of red. At the edge of the sand pit the humans collapsed to the ground while all five gave a heartfelt sigh of relief.
"Is it finally over?" Emily Lanyon asked Akcuanrut.
"Over at last, it is. The journey back, all that remains is. After this, easy it should be."
"So we can go home now?"
"Of course you may return home." The voice boomed deafeningly, coming from everywhere and nowhere. The others jerked in surprise as Akcuanrut struggled back to his feet and resumed a defensive posture.
"Your presence here has served as an amusing diversion, but all diversions must eventually come to an end. You may even take the Heart of Virtue with you."