Hypnerdic

You are getting nerdy…

The House of the Grey Circle, Chapters 8, 9 and 10

February 7th, 1935
The Palais Garnier is a truly magnificent opera house.  It’s a shame I haven’t the time to properly enjoy its grandeur, or the fine productions on the stage within.  I do hope my next trip to Paris is not so mired in business, and that I might take the time to enjoy my surroundings a bit more.
A shame about Gaston.  I do wish I could have done more for him.  Hopefully, when I have a bit more freedom, I can return and uphold my end of the bargain.  For now, I shall have to trust his patience, and he shall have to trust my word.

Chapter 8
February 8th, 1935

They sat silently around the table, watching patiently.  All eyes were on Abigail.  She had in front of her a silver bowl, filled with water, and a straight pin with a round black head.  She closed her eyes for three seconds, forehead furrowed with concentration, and then opened them to stare into the water.  She allowed her eyes to lose focus, turning the water into a blur, as she reached for the pin.  The point pierced the skin of her hand, just below the palm, and blood welled in a small, bright red droplet.  Abigail held her hand over the bowl, and allowed three drops of blood to fall from her hand into the water.
The drops spread in the water like tiny red clouds, and Abigail, aided by long practice, focused on the clouded blood, without letting herself focus on the water itself.  She opened herself up, letting her own energy reach out and touch the rippling water.  When her mind touched it, a single ripple spread from the centre of the bowl out to the edge, and then constricted back to the centre.  The water became smooth and calm as glass, even as the blood danced and swirled under the surface.
An image began to form in the water, visible only to Abigail’s eyes.  It was slow to form, taking shape out of the writhing drops of red.  The foreground came first, a human silhouette.  It gradually became more distinct, beginning to take on colours foreign other than that of the blood and the bowl.  The figure was recogniseable, a slim, dark-haired man with silver-rimmed spectacles, but the background, wherever he was, was still an indistinct blur.
The image moved.  Malachi had been visible in profile, but now he turned and seemed to look Abigail directly in the eye.  Even as she wondered if he actually sensed her, the image suddenly became cloudy, as though someone had thrown dirt into the water.  Everything Abigail saw became dark and obscure, and the vision faded away.
Abigail looked up from the bowl at her friends sitting around the table.  Her surprise must have been obvious, judging from the reactions on their own faces.
“What happened?” Selena asked.
“He’s shielded,” Abigail said, “I barely even got to see him before something cut me off.”
“It looks like scrying him out won’t be an option then,” Daniel concluded.
“It seems not,” Abigail agreed. “Maybe if I were more skilled…”
“Don’t be hard on yourself,” Evelyn chided, “we’re all in the same boat there.  We do what we can with what we’ve got.”
“What we’ve got is an opera house in Paris,” Arthur interjected, “an no idea why it’s important.”
“We didn’t know what was important about Ben Mac Dhui,” Daniel pointed out, “or the woods yesterday.”
“We have one lead,” Evelyn said, “that Gaston fellow.  If we can find him, I imagine we’ll get some sort of answers.”
“At least we won’t have to sleep anywhere odd this time,” Selena added. “We can make this one a day trip, leave tomorrow morning and be back by evening.”
“I’ll head back into town then, shall I?” Arthur vaguely rolled his eyes.
“Be sure to rest well,” Abigail admonished, “we needn’t meet at the airport until at least ten.”

Chapter 9
February 9th, 1935

The Palais Garnier, while not as old as it was designed to look, was easily as opulent as any theatre in Europe.  Its façade was all white marble and pillars, and within was a dazzling palace of whites and golds.  A massive stair led from the front lobby, branching out in two directions twenty feet up.  Its banquet halls and ballrooms were the very height of luxury, and the stunning auditorium was equal to the most extravagant productions.
All of this was largely irrelevant to the six young English visitors who stepped through the front doors of the Grand Palais that afternoon.  Guests were unexpected.  There was nothing going on now but rehearsals and stage preparations.  They were greeted at the main stair by a small, slightly nervous-looking man whose pointed features were exaggerated by his thin goatee and even thinner hair.  He offered them a slight bow and a reserved, practiced smile that looked ready to turn sour should these young patrons prove unworthy of his time.
“Bonjour, mes dammes et monsieurs,” he greeted them, ignoring or oblivious to their quiet conversation in English, “bienvenu au Palais Garnier.  Comment est-ce que je peux t’aider?”
“Good day,” Arthur replied, his voice taking that odd tone again, “you speak English, I assume.”
“Yes, of course,” the reserved smile faltered as the man’s voice dulled somewhat.  His accent was thinned by long practice. “Welcome to the Grand Palais.  How may I assist?”
“We’d like a tour,” Arthur kept his gaze steady on the smaller man, “please.”
“A tour,” the frenchman blinked, and then the confusion faded from his face, “of course.  A tour.  I would be delighted to oblige.  I am Monsieur DuPuis, m’aitre d’hospitalité.  And how may I address our fine young guests?”
“That’s not important,” Arthur assured him.
“Of course it isn’t,” DuPuis didn’t skip a beat, even as his voice briefly took that dull tone again. “If you will follow me, it will be my honour to show you the grandeur of our house.”
“I don’t like it when you do that,” Abigail whispered to Arthur as they followed DuPuis.
“Lighten up, Abby,” Arthur replied. “It’s not as if I was controlling him.  I just made a few suggestions is all.”
“Your suggestions are all too difficult to refuse.”
“Would you rather this take longer?  Let’s just keep our eyes open.”
They pretended to listen to DuPuis as he prattled on enthusiastically about the construction of the Palais, its short but grand history as a host of some of the finest operas in Europe, and its reputation among the upper classes the world over.  He showed them the many-chandeliered banquet halls, the cavernous ballroom, and finally the huge auditorium, with a stage that could support an invading army.  As DuPuis droned on, his less-than-rapt audience kept their myriad senses alert for anything out of the ordinary.
Just as they were leaving the auditorium, Warren stopped short, a look of surprised satisfaction on his face.  The others noticed, and watched him as he slowly turned his head to look in the direction of the stage.  To the side of the stage, in front of one of the cleverly camouflaged backstage doors, stood a man perhaps in his mid twenties.  He was dressed in the sort of clothing their grandparents might have worn when they were young.  Certainly not anything that any fashion conscious twentieth-century man of society would wear.
“One of the actors, perhaps?” Selena suggested without sounding convinced.  Warren shook his head.
“I don’t feel a mind there,” Arthur noted, “another illusion?”
“He’s no illusion,” Warren corrected, “he’s an apparition.”
“A ghost?” Abigail verified.
Warren nodded. “Quite dead.”
“Who wants to wager that our deceased friend answers to Gaston?” Arthur mused.
“Why don’t we find out?” Selena suggested. “He’s looking right at us.  We might as well say hello.”
“Arthur, can you keep DuPuis occupied?” Abigail asked.
“I might not have to,” Arthur said. “He hasn’t even noticed that we’re having our own conversation.
Indeed, M. DuPuis was still prattling on about the craftsmanship of the wall sconces.  He wouldn’t keep on under his own power indefinitely though.  That sort of mind control was rather taboo.  If they left him alone, he would eventually notice.  Arthur took a few slow breaths, centring himself and drawing up what power he would need, and then he tapped DuPuis on the shoulder.
“I don’t mean to alarm you,” he said when DuPuis turned, looking him straight in the eye, “but I’ve just heard that someone has vomited in the foyer.”
DuPuis hesitated, expressionless for a moment while Arthur’s words slipped past his rational mind and snuck into his subconscious.  Then his eyes grew wide as the shocking news finally registered.  He half-turned, looking quite agitated.
“I must beg your pardon, Mes Dammes et Monsieurs,” he said quickly, “there is something terribly urgent that I must address.  If you will follow me, I will show you out.”
“Don’t worry about us,” Arthur said smoothly, “we can find our own way out.  You gave us a tour after all.  You do what you need to do.”
“Yes,” DuPuis said dully, “you’ll be all right I think.  Turn left to reach the foyer, but be careful, there is a terrible mess there.”
Without another word, DuPuis turned and hurried out of the theatre, leaving them alone.  Mostly alone.  They descended toward the stage.  The apparition disappeared as they approached, fading into the backstage door.  They paused a moment at the door, pondering the legality of their actions, and then pulled it open and slipped behind the stage.
Whatever preparations were being made for tonight’s production, they apparently didn’t require the use of this portion of the backstage area.  The sound of workmen could be heard not terribly far away, but there was no one in sight.  What they saw were bare walls and a hard wood floor.  The stage itself was to their right, separated by an unfinished wall of wood and plaster.  This was all that kept them out of sight of the workmen possibly just around the corner.
The ghost faded back into sight, staring at them without expression.  Then it faded away again, this time vanishing directly into the wall between them and the stage.
“So much for saying hello,” Daniel murmured.
“He hasn’t gone far,” Warren whispered, “he’s still waiting.”
“Hold on a moment,” Abigail pondered quietly.  She advanced quietly on the spot at which the ghost had disappeared, and examined the wall.  After a second, he knelt, and her hand disappeared about two inches into the wall.  There was a click, followed by a low creak and, without pausing, Abigail crawled through the small recessed door she had just opened and under the stage.  Moving as quickly as they could without making too much noise, the others followed.
It was cramped and dusty under the stage.  Various and sundry props and set pieces were shoved against the walls, enough of them to crowd the limited space available.  The ceiling was low, forcing many of them to stoop to avoid hitting their heads; Warren nearly had to bend double just to walk.  Nearby, the sound of the workers was still audible.  There were at least two beneath the stage as well, and it was mch quieter down here.
The apparition was waiting near the far wall.  More accurately, near an abandoned piece of painted scenery against the wall.  After he had certainly caught their attention, he faded again, back into the set piece.  With a communal shrug, they followed.
The bit of landscape was not right against the wall, it was about two feet out from it.  It was entirely too dark to see what was behind it, so Evelyn, being the smallest of them, slipped into the cramped space, nearly vanishing from sight herself.  A moment later her hand stuck out into the open and beckoned the others to follow.  They too slipped; or in Warren’s case squeezed; in behind the set piece and found what Evelyn had discovered: an old, probably forgotten door, which thankfully opened inward.
They were equally thankful when the door closed quietly behind them.  The corridor on the other side was so dark that they couldn’t even see each other, nevermind where they were going.
“Daniel?” Abigail hinted.
She needn’t have bothered.  Even as she spoke she heard Daniel’s voice whispering briefly in latin, and a small ball of intense flame sprung up in his hand.  It was bright enough to light the passage for few feet on either side of them.  It was quite narrow, no more than five feet across.  The walls were made of bare drywall and wooden beams, and the floor was rough stone.  Daniel’s face betrayed effort, but he started walking, taking the lead.
The floor sloped downward at an easy angle for the first hundred feet or so, and then levelled off.  The passage itself wound around several corners, to the point that they were quickly grateful that they hadn’t seen any divergent paths to confuse them, now or when they were returning.  They walked through the twisting tunnel for roughly five minutes, before it finally branched off in three directions.  In one direction they could see a vague white light.  They followed it, and soon found themselves in a low ceilinged, but quite large room.  Large enough, at least, that the light of Daniel’s fire failed to show them its entirety.
“There are candles on a table ahead of you,” an unseen voice called from somewhere in the room.  It had a light French accent, and sounded oddly distant, like it was coming from back down the tunnel, though it was clearly in their presence.
Daniel walked forward, and the table came into view.  There were indeed several candles on the table, about a dozen in all, ranging from long, unused tapers to thick, squat candles that had seen hours of use.  Daniel passed his hand over the table and whispered again.  Concentrating on new magic broke his hold on what he had already cast, and the ball of fire in his hand flickered and died.  The room was pitch black for what felt like a rather long second, and then the candles sprung suddenly to life.  Daniel took a moment to take a pair of candles to each side of the room, until it was as decently illuminated as it was going to be.
The room was quite bare.  It held only the table at its centre, and a battered, ancient wooden chair.  The candled flickered on the stone floor.  The only difference here was that the wall on the far end of the room was red brick, instead of the stone and earth that the tunnel had eventually become.  A portion of the brick near the middle of the wall was a bit off-colour from the rest.  Standing in that spot, visible the moment Daniel put the candle down and not a second sooner, was the ghostly figure they had been following.
Daniel stifled the urge to jump at finding himself face to face with a ghost, and crossed the room as casually as he could to rejoin his reassuringly alive friends.  The ghost stared at them quietly, with an expectant look to him that suggested that he was waiting for them to speak first.  Warren, who had been looking in that direction even before the candles were lit, spoke:
“You are Gaston?”
The ghost nodded. “I am.  You are friends of Malachi?”
“We are,” Warren affirmed. “We’re looking for him.”
Gaston looked momentarily wary. “He didn’t sent you?”
“Not directly,” Evelyn answered this time. “We’re following his path. We haven’t seen him in more than a year.”
Now Gaston’s face fell. “So you’re not here to free me.”
“That wasn’t our intended purpose,” Abigail said, “but that doesn’t mean that we won’t.  Do you mind if we ask you some questions first, before we discuss that?”
“I don’t see why not,” Gaston shrugged, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Why are you here?” Daniel interjected. “What’s keeping you here?”
“I am here because I died badly enough to prevent me from simply moving on,” Gaston said with a hollow sigh, “and I am kept here by the fact that I’ve never been taken anywhere else.”
“What do you mean?” Selena asked.
“My body,” Gaston explained, “Is behind those bricks.  You see where they look different?  That is where they were removed so new ones could be put in place once I was behind them.”
“You were murdered,” Abigail concluded.
“Most astute.  Yes, I was murdered.  Left to starve or suffocate; whichever came first; by a rival for the affections of my fiancée.  It was an ending right out of the books of that miserable bastard, Monsieur Poe.”
“And,” Arthur continued for him, “if I’m following correctly, your remains need to be taken from here for you to be free.”
“Oui,” the ghost nodded. “I do not suppose I will be able to return to my maker until I am given a proper Catholic burial.  I suspect that even now the authorities would do it willingly, but no one know I’m here.  I’m not a very noisy ghost.”
“We’ll see what we can do,” Abigail said, her eyes betraying the sympathy her voice did not, “but first, how did you come to speak to Malachi?”
“Curiously, he sought me out.  I’ve never had a visitor before, and I certainly didn’t expect any.  Like I said, no one even knows about me.”
“What did he want?” Abigail asked.  Gaston paused a moment before he answered, as though calling up a memory.
“This tunnel connects to the catacombs under the city.  Deeper within, there is a single chamber, only bare stone but for a single plinth holding a stone tablet.  Your friend sought the tablet.  I can only assume he took it, as he asked to be alone.  He claimed he could find his way back on his own.”
“What’s on this tablet?” Daniel asked.
“Nothing I could decipher,” Gaston shrugged. “Old scribbles in some heathen language, some crude pictures.  I never cared to examine it very closely.”
“Can you take us to it?” Evelyn asked.
“I suppose,” Gaston said with a melodramatic sigh. “I haven’t got anything better to do.”
He led them back down the passage, his own form providing enough eerie light for them to see where they were going.  When they reached the fork in the tunnel, they took the side tunnel farthest from the one they had just exited.  This tunnel was much more serpentine, and branched off several times into small side tunnels.  Were it not for their spectral guide, they would have surely gotten lost.  Finally, the tunnel opened into the chamber Gaston spoke of.
It appeared to be a natural chamber.  The walls and floor were the same smooth, rounded stone, and bore the many irregularities of something not carved by human hands.  The room was indeed bare, save for a pedestal on its far side.  That, at least, was clearly manmade.  It appeared to be made entirely of gold, or something that looked like gold.  It was quite dusty, save for its top, where the aforementioned tablet had certainly rested.
“As you can see,” Gaston said, “he has taken it.  Just as I suggested.”
“We ought to give the pedestal a closer look,” Daniel suggested, “if it has any markings, they may give us some clue of the tablet’s origin or purpose.”
Gaston shrugged and walked closer to the plinth, so that his light would more clearly illuminate it.  They all gathered around to examine the golden stand.  It was largely unmarked, smooth gold, save for a symbol carved into the top.  The symbol comprised a set of thirteen concentric circles, about which were scattered small dots, in no apparent pattern.  Daniel pulled paper and charcoal out of his satchel once again and proceeded to capture the image.  None of them fancied trying to sneak a heavy gold pedestal out of the theatre.
Once Daniel was finished, he straightened and nodded.  For a long minute, they all looked at each other silently, save for Arthur, who stared off into space looking somewhat catatonic.  After a minute, Arthur seemed to snap back to reality, and Abigail turned to Gaston.
“Shall we?”
They returned through the passage to the room in which they had met Gaston.  Once there, they crossed immediately to the brick wall.  Gaston stood nearby in quiet confusion over their own silence as they acted.  Evelyn pulled her crystal pendant from beneath her blouse and held it in her hands, whispering softly as she stared at the odd spot on the wall.  Gradually, the mortar between the bricks grew dark with damp, as tiny rivulets of water ran through all over the odd spot.  This continued for a few minutes, and the water gradually began to take bits of the mortar with it.
Finally, Evelyn ceased her whispers and stowed her pendant, nodding to Warren.  The large man took a running start, and kicked the wall hard.  There was a groan and a few bricks shuddered loose.  Warren kicked it again, and the whole section of wall tumbled apart like the bricks weren’t held together at all.  As the bricks fell away, they revealed a quite dessicated corpse; remarkably preserved by the dry air; dressed in an equally ancient version of the suit Gaston wore now and tied about the arms and legs with badly degenerated rope.
Once the body was exposed, they all turned to leave the room.  With a panicked expression, Gaston put himself between them and the doorway.
“Is that all you’ll do?  Break down the wall so I must stare at the thing that traps me?”
“Calm down,” Abigail said firmly. “We can’t very well just walk out of the theatre with a mummified corpse, now can we?  That would raise all sorts of questions, and we haven’t the time to wait around providing the answers, nor the inclination to make them up.”
“And how does breaking the wall and leaving me here help?” Gaston asked with barely-repressed anxiety.
“Relax,” Arthur told him, “we have a plan.  You’ll be out of here by week’s end.”
Reluctantly, Gaston stood aside, and they walked out of the room.  A few seconds later, there was a flare as Daniel relit his fire.  Eventually, that faint light disappeared from Gaston’s view.

They managed to sneak out from under the stage without being noticed, and even managed to get out of the theatre before they were spotted by DuPuis.  He walked quickly up to them, looking quite flustered and a little annoyed.
“I was under the impression that you had left some time ago,” he said, a small hint of accusation in his voice.  Naturally, it was Arthur who answered, with that odd persuasive quality to his voice.
“We took a wrong turn, and managed to get ourselves lost.  We only just made it back to where we started.”
The explanation was, of course, ridiculous.  Big as the Palais Garnier was, one couldn’t get lost for an hour in its corridors.  DuPuis, however, nodded with a sympathetic smile.
“I apologise, my young friends.  I should not have left you alone.  Come, I will show you the way out this time.”
They followed DuPuis as he chattered about the curious circumstances of his prior disappearance.  Apparently there had been no mess in the foyer after all.  He couldn’t imagine why anyone would lie to him like that.  If he ever found…whoever it was who had spun the tale, the consequences would be dire indeed.  One smug corner of Arthur’s mouth turned up slightly.
When finally they reached the foyer, DuPuis offered a small bow and began to turn away.  Arthur stopped him with a touch on the shoulder and looked him in the eye one more time.
“When we got back to the theatre, we heard the workers talking.  They’ve found an old door under the stage that goes underground, and one of them is sure he saw something down there.  The left hand tunnel.”
DuPuis nodded vaguely and turned away, walking off toward the theatre with a vaguely dreamlike look about him, like he had just woken up.  His former charges turned and walked out into the chill February evening.
“You’ve probably done terrible things to that poor man’s brain,” Abigail admonished Arthur.
“I didn’t hear any better ideas,” Arthur shrugged. “And speaking of breaking brains, let’s try and keep things like that little conference we had down there to a minimum.  I have the worst headache now.”
“Quit whining,” Warren growled with a small smirk.

Chapter 10
February 11th, 1935
Daniel was seated alone at the stone table, going over the materials he had collected in Scotland, Romania and Paris, examining everything and carefully noting any correlations he observed.  Abigail stopped behind him, looking over his shoulder for a moment, before she sat down in the chair next to him.  He kept working quietly for a moment before he spoke.
“Something’s been bothering me about Romania.”
“You mean aside from the entire experience?” Abigail joked half-heartedly.
“You’re hilarious,” Daniel deadpanned. “I’m being serious.”
“All right, all right.  So what is it?”
“The cave wall, where the bit of the mural was missing.  Did you notice anything odd about it?”
“No,” Abigail said, “but you got a closer look.”
“I did.  It wasn’t worn away or anything.  I looked kind of like it had been smashed.”
“I’m not sure I’m following.  It’s obviously old.  Someone smashed it.  What’s odd?”
“The way it was smashed,” Daniel explained. “It was too precise, you know?  It looked like someone carefully chiselled away that particular spot, so it would be obscured.”
“That sounds like an awful lot of work,” Abigail observed.
“Not to someone with even a basic grasp of Geomancy.  Crumbling stone is one of the easiest things to learn.  Care to guess who told me that?”
Abigail was quiet for a moment. “Malachi.”
“Right, and why did he know that?”
“Because the last time we saw him, he had a bit more than a basic grasp of Geomancy.”
“Right,” Daniel said. “It was never his speciality or anything, but he certainly knew enough to pull off that little trick.”
“You’re saying he destroyed the mural,” Abigail concluded.  “So that we wouldn’t see it?”
“I can’t think of another reason.  It’s safe to assume he left the journal here on purpose, so he knows we’re following him.  He expected us to go into that cave.”
“Why would he give us the means to follow him, and then try to hide a part of his trail?”
Daniel shrugged. “For whatever reason, he doesn’t want us to know everything he know.  I don’t expect we’ll figure out why until he tells us.”
They heard the library door open, and low voices as the others chatted amongst themselves as they approached.  Daniel gave Abigail a meaningful look.
“Let’s keep this between us for now, okay?”
Abigail nodded, and looked up as their friends came around the stacks and descended the short stair to the common.  Abigail stood and walked around the table to her family’s place, and the others took up their own predesignated positions.  They had never discussed why they held to that particular tradition.  After they were all settled, they looked expectantly at Abigail.  As before, she took up the journal and opened it to the newest entry.

February 11th, 1935
Very few people know the recent history of Peak Cavern.  Of those who do know, fewer still are willing to speak of it.  The unexplained disappearance of the troglodytes and criminals who once occupied it has left the cavern apparently empty.  Just another impressive hole in the ground, as far as anyone is aware.  The truth, of course, is far more disturbing.
The explored sections of the cavern, safe and accessible to the public as far as the Inner Styx, are indeed empty.  Peak Cavern however, is far deeper than any modern explorer knows.  Once you pass the Five Arches, it is neither empty nor safe.  A cult has taken residence in the deeper caves, a group of degenerates and fanatics such as I have never before encountered.  They are flagellants, indoctrinated into the belief that their pain serves some vaguely defined “greater purpose”.
Acolytes have clearly been chosen for their weak wills and suggestible nature.  They have most likely been culled from the downtrodden, such as the lower classes and they very outcasts and criminals that once populated the Cavern, in whom desperation has replaced the sense of entitlement to which the more privileged are accustomed.  They are weak in every sense of the word, but they are numerous.  There are easily a hundred disciples, perhaps more.  I did not have time to count.
They follow a man who calls himself Cardinal Sin, a wholly repugnant and evil individual.  I had precious little time to observe him, but I believe I know his true nature.  He draws power from the pain of his followers, especially those most devoted who are “privileged” with receiving their agony at the Cardinal’s hands.  This suffering is served to fuel the “miracles” which serve as validation for the devotion of the cultists.  In short, Cardinal Sin is a practitioner of the worst sort of Black Magic, and a nauseatingly successful one at that.  In the depths of Peak Cavern he has no rivals, no challengers, and a source of nearly inexhaustible power.  He has taken damaged, miserable people and broken them further, leaving them utterly incapable of resisting him.
I cannot bring him down alone, and I haven’t the time to wait for assistance.  He must be stopped, but one young magician hasn’t the power to do it.  In fact, I barely made it out alive.  If his hidden existence within the cavern is revealed, it can be hoped that someone with the strength to end Cardinal Sin’s despicable reign will take heed and will venture into his dangerous private world and bring him his due judgment.

After Abigail set down the book, they looked nervously one to the other.  Unpleasant images were running through their heads.
“You know he meant us,” Arthur said, “with that last bit I mean.”
“It’s only safe to assume,” Selena agreed.
“Are we going to do it?” Arthur asked, looking at Abigail.
“Not my decision,” Abigail said, “but I think we should.  We need to know what he was doing there anyway.”
“Agreed,” Daniel replied.  Warren nodded along with him.
Evelyn’s face was dark with anger; a most uncommon expression for her; and her voice was carefully quiet when she spoke: “We go.”
Selena looked somewhat askance at Evelyn, and then slowly nodded.  Everyone looked to Arthur, who carefully avoided meeting Evelyn’s gaze.  He was feeling enough of her anger as it was without amplifying it with eye contact.  He nonchalance, unconvincingly.
“I guess we’re going then.  It’s not too late in the day, we should be able to get to Peak Cavern before they close it off to tourists.”

Peak Cavern was just a few hours’ drive north of the manor.  Evening was coming on by the time the cars pulled into the tourist lot.  They had spent a few minutes before they left discussing how they could get past the tour guides and into the restricted parts of the Cavern.  This time, Arthur had advised against using his method.
“It’s not as effective against everyone,” he had explained. “DuPuis was weak-willed and a bit stupid, so he was easy to manipulate.  We can’t rely on everyone we deal with being like that.  I can be persuasive, sure, but I can’t fog up every mind we need to overcome.”
The conversation hadn’t been concluded by the time they had split up into two cars, but when they got out at the cavern, Abigail had a look of resolute satisfaction on her face.
“Arthur,” she said, “we’ll need you to be persuasive after all.  At the very least, you can make it smoother.”
“And if that isn’t enough?” Arthur asked.
“It doesn’t need to be.  You’re just the insurance.  We’ll persuade them the old fashioned way.”
The ticket booth was just outside the entrance to the cavern itself.  It was a somewhat rickety looking wooden shack that was probably not heated nearly well enough for the season.  It was also dark, and clearly abandoned.  There was a wooden sign hung over the shuttered front window that read “Closed for the season”.  They stared at it for a moment.  Arthur scratched his beard.
“So,” he said, “any idea why we didn’t think of this?”
“We’re clearly not very bright,” Daniel replied sullenly.
“I don’t see how this is an issue,” Abigail pointed out. “In the worst case scenario, we deal with security instead of admissions.  The plan remains essentially the same.”
“I haven’t met many weak-willed security guards,” Arthur warned.
“We can work around that,” Abigail assured him, “trust me.  You know what to do.”
The management was apparently not terribly concerned about anyone trying to get into a remote cavern in the dead of winter.  Security consisted of a chain-link gate at the entrance of the cave, and a lone guard in a shack much like the abandoned ticket office, dressed heavily to ward off the cold.  He was a young man, of ginger countenance, looking quite bored and miserable.  His expression changed to one of startled surprise when he saw six people approaching him.  Arthur walked in front, a cheerful smile on his face.
“Hello there!” He called as he came close to the alarmed guard. “Maybe you can help us out. You see, we came out here for the tour and, well, it obviously didn’t occur to us that the place might be closed off in the winter.  But now we’ve come all this way, it would be a terrible thing for us to just turn around and leave.  You think maybe we could just have a quick look around?”
“The Cavern is closed,” the guard said warily, “for your safety.  I don’t even have a key.  I couldn’t let you in if I wanted to.”
“You don’t have to let us in,” Arthur’s voice grew steadier as he placed his hand on the edge of the guard’s window, “you just have to take a break for a little while.”
The guard looked down at Arthur’s hand.  When Arthur pulled it away from the ledge, it left a hundred pound note behind.  The guard boggled at the note, then looked up at Arthur, who stared steadily into his eyes.
“We won’t be long,” Arthur said reassuringly.
The guard took the hundred pounds from the ledge and, in a bit of a daze, stepped out of the shack and walked off through the snow.  When he was out of sight, they moved onto the gate.  It was held shut by a simple padlock.  Warren gave it a quick, firm tug as a test, and it held firm.  He stepped back and Daniel came forward.  He held his hand over the lock and spoke quietly, concentrating.  Everyone could feel the heat as the lock took on a bright red glow.
After a few moments, the loop on the top of the lock grew too soft to hold the padlock’s weight, and the lock fell off.  There was a wet hiss as the red hot metal hit the snow.  Warren pushed open the gate and they ventured into the cavern.
It was fortunate that they had brought torches, as the cavern was utterly dark in the off season.  This was a proper cave, not like the mostly manmade tunnels in Paris.  The air was damp, as were the walls where water seeped through cracks.  Stalactites and stalagmites cropped up randomly around them, and the walls curved and twisted with no apparent logic.  For a while, all they had to do was follow the obvious path left for the tour guides.  Eventually though, they found themselves at the limit of publicly accessible regions, and the unfamiliar cavern stretches off into darkness.
They paused, letting the electric light of their torches play as far as they could.  There were multiple passages that they could take, and no indicator than any one was more viable than the other.  Doubtless many of the tunnels and alcoves in this cavern led to dead ends or dead drops, and they didn’t have enough light to take many risks.
“Lights off,” Warren said, his voice echoing dully off of the stone around them.  The others gathered behind them, and the two torches switched off, leaving them in utter darkness.  Warren, blind as any of the others, knelt on the cave’s stone floor.  Closing his eyes, he placed the tips of his fingers on the damp wall beside him, and put his other hand flat on the ground.  Though they could not see him, the sound of Warren’s tuneless humming reached the others’ ears, quiet though it was.
The quiet pseudomonotone continued uninterrupted for five minutes.  When it finally stopped, the silence itself was cavernous.  After a moment, they heard the soft scraping shuffle as Warren stood.
“Lights on,” his voice was distant, sounding much like Arthur’s did when he manipulated a mind.  The torches flickered back to life, and Warren stood before them, looking strangely calm, and slightly disconnected.
“The spirits here are angered,” he said, “they will lead us to Sin, and in return they expect us to take him and his fanatics from this place.  His magic offends those that rightfully dwell here as surely as it offends us.”
With that last word Warren looked meaningfully at Evelyn.  She had been quieter than normal since they left the manor, and her face was drawn and severe, looking haunted in the dim light.  Warren turned and pointed down a barely visible tunnel. “This way.”
With Warren in the lead they walked steadily as he followed the voices of the spirits in the cavern.  The tunnels wound into a dizzying maze, and frequently sloped downward, taking them ever deeper into the earth.  They followed Warren for an hour, by that point wondering just how far from open air they had come.
They came across a side passage that offered its own meager light.  The flickering orange illumination that staggered from beyond their sight spoke of fire, something that had no place in an empty cave.  Warren nodded an affirmation they did not need, and they started down the tunnel.
The light, it turned out, came from torches set into rudimentary sconces in the walls.  They were spaced ten feet apart, alternating from one wall to the other.  They offered little light, but it was enough to walk by, and so they chose to save the power in their torches for their departure.  They did not speak as they crept through the tunnel, fearing they might be discovered before they found their mark.  Even their breathing seemed too loud, to their ears.
After several more minutes, they saw an opening ahead.  From their current distance, they could see greater light flickering beyond that opening. As they drew closer, they could hear a dull hum of dozens of muttering human voices.  They stopped a moment, and Daniel opened his satchel.  Warren, Arthur and Abigail withdrew pistols from the bag.  After a moment to ensure that the guns were loaded, they continued on.
The tunnel opened into the top of a massive cave chamber, stretching out before and below them.  A sloping path to their left led to the cave floor, thirty feet below.  The cave was nearly filled with people.  Surely a hundred, as Malachi had written, they were clad in tattered robes like filthy monks.  The knelt in rows before a raised stage on which their celebrant stood.  His own robe was dirty and torn, but not the threadbare brown cloth of his followers.  He wore deep red.  His hair was shaved to a dark fuzz atop his head, contrary to his beard, which was overgrown and stretched down nearly to his chest.  His eyes were glittering black pools, and his mouth was twisted into a cruel grimace as he looked down on his flock.
Behind him, seven naked human forms were bound to the wall.  They hung in rusty manacles, exhausted by pain and starvation.  Their eyes were covered with blindfolds, and their necks were bound with metal collars attached to chains that stretched to the ceiling.  From their angle, the magicians of the House could see the pulleys those chains fed into, and the two chains that came out the other side, leading down to the stage on either side of the celebrant, who must surely be Cardinal sin.
They followers’ chant was muddled by their number, and their likely exhaustion, but it quickly became plain what they were repeating over and over:
“Agony is ecstasy, pain will free me.”
A simplistic refrain, but repeated endlessly, with a fervour only a mob could generate.  It was enough to chill the bones.  Daniel shuddered. Selena barely managed to contain a gasp.  Evelyn remained perfectly still, staring directly at the self-proclaimed Cardinal.  Her face was completely without expression, but her eyes danced in the light of the countless torches on the walls.  There was something there none of them had ever seen.
Before they could even consider a plan, the Cardinal suddenly looked up at them, his eyes sweeping across them and taking them in.  The smile that spread across his gaunt face was no less cruel than the grimace that had preceded it.  He offered a raspy chuckle.
“This is what he sends?  I should have known a child would only call on more children.  You’re out of your depth here, magelings.  I can feel your power, and it is wanting.  But if you can make it back to the cavern before my disciples reach you, I might just let you leave alive.”
They were silent.  Arthur and Warren raised their pistols.  Daniel raised his hand, and began to gather his power.  Sin merely laughed again, louder and more horribly.
“Your courage is commendable children,” he called mockingly, “but I’ll tell you what I told your doomed friend: This isn’t your world, it’s mine.  Up there, you’d never know me, but down here, I’m Cardinal Sin.  I’m your worst nightmare made flesh, and down here, I am God!”
With his last word, Sin grabbed the two chains and yanked down on them hard.  The chains attached to the throats along the back wall yanked upward with even greater force, pulling the prisoners viciously to their feet.  The sickening cracks were audible even from the ledge, and rivers of blood gushed from beneath the collars, which must have been spiked on the inside.  The bodies, all surely dying if not already dead, slumped back down in their chains even as the Cardinal raised his hands, cackling.  The air around him began to darken.  His followers stood and began to advance on the slope, bearing slowly down on the six young wizards.
Sin’s cackle had become an indecipherable chant, and shadows began to swirl around him.  Arthur fired a shot, but it reflected harmlessly off of the shaded air around the Cardinal.  Warren dropped to his knees again, touching the earth and closing his eyes.  An inky black thing shot from the air around Sin, narrowly missing Selena as she ducked to the side.  The disciples, three abreast, began their trudging march up the slope.
“We need to break his concentration,” Selena shouted over Sin’s howl.
“I think I can do that,” Daniel called back.
“I can help with that,” Warren added, “what do we do after that?”
“Leave that to me,” Evelyn’s voice cut through the noise like a blade of ice. “Selena, get me down there.”
They all hesitated at the cold anger now almost radiating off of the normally mile Evelyn.  Her hard stare had not left Sin since they entered the cave.  After a moment, Selena nodded, with the same caution as when she had cast her vote earlier that day.  Arthur and Abigail stood side by side at the top of the slope, their pistols trained on the advancing cultists.  There were too many of them to take down, but if enough fell perhaps they would be discouraged.  Neither of them looked as though they believed that.  They held their fire, waiting until they had no other choice.
Selena’s rose in a clear wordless note, ringing across the cavern, and the air around them began to stir.  In a few moments, a small cyclone began to take shape on the cave floor below, dust raised from the earth giving it definition.  As Selena held the note, it grew, until it reached halfway to the ledge.  Even as Selena’s voice sounded like it might tire, Evelyn stepped from the edge, plummeting straight into the miniature whirlwind.  Her fall slowed when she hit the spinning cushion of air, and by the time Selena’s voice finally gave out, she Evelyn was close enough to the ground that the fall would do her no harm.  The cultists, it seemed, failed to notice her descent.  Sin turned his eyes to her, his eyes glittering with malice as he leveled a finger on her and prepared to unleash some torment.
Warren had begun a low chant even as Selena had begun her wind song, and allowed it to grow in volume, so that when Daniel cried out in latin, their voices seemed to merge in the air as two waves of invisible power coalesced in the air.  A burst of flame the size of a man erupted into being in the air mere feet from Sin’s position.  Rather than die out, as it ought to have, it burned only brighter, warping its shape into a vaguely humanoid form.  As Daniel’s voice died, Warren’s chant continued.  The spirit of fire rushed hungrily at Sin, wrapping its fiery arms around his dark shield.
Sin cried out in surprise, and threw up his arms reflexively to ward off the spirit.  It couldn’t have broken through the shield on its own, but the shock of its approach must have rattled Sin’s nerves as they had hoped it would.  The man made of fire exploded in a cacophony of fire and shadow as it sacrificed its own existence to overcome Sin’s defense.
When everyone’s vision cleared, and Sin lowered his arms, Evelyn was standing before him.  He raised his hands again, his mouth opening to unleash some spell, but Evelyn’s hand shot out and grasped his face, ever so gently.  A shuddering gasp was all that escaped the Cardinal’s lips as he went quite still, his eyes wide with horrified surprise.  As she held him in a fragile grip from which he could not break free, Evelyn leaned in and spoke to him softly.
“The great misconception about healers,” she said coldly, “is that all we can do is heal.  A strange myth, as we all know magic is never so arbitrary.  No, our magic governs the state of the living body in a much more general sense.  It is the magic of change.  Healers, like me, use that change to mend what is broken, but we are not so limited.  Do you see?  The same power that heals is the power to kill.”
Sin’s face had drained of all colour. Cold sweat beaded on his forehead as his face grew more gaunt.  His veins stood out and his eyes sunk visibly into bruised sockets.  His lips moved helplessly, as he couldn’t even gasp anymore.  His hands hung limply at his sides, and it seemed his legs only held him up because Evelyn held him near.  The others stared in utter shock as their friend slowly sucked the life out of the Cardinal.
Finally, Evelyn let go, pushing him dismissively away.  Sin stumbled and fell back, sprawling helplessly on the ground.  Barely able to lift his head, he gaped silently up at Evelyn.  She stared down at him, her cold anger no warmer for the punishment she had just inflicted.
“I just took a piece of your life,” she told him. “Be grateful I haven’t the heart to take it all.”
The followers had grown still when the man they worshipped fell before a slip of a girl.  They lacked the will for outrage, fear and confusion the only options available to them. They backed away as the others came down the slope, parting for their conquerors as they joined their comrade.
“Evelyn…” Daniel couldn’t find any words.
“He’s still dangerous,” Evelyn said. “We shouldn’t let him leave alive.”
“Do we have the right to kill him?” Abigail asked uncertainly.
Sin coughed, catching their attention.  A small spark of the mad fire had returned to his eyes as he glared up at them.
“You’re stronger than I thought,” he wheezed, “I guess the little bastard had powerful friends after all.  Not that it’ll really help.  You can’t save him you know.”
“What do you mean?” Abigail asked, her voice hard.
Sin forced himself up onto one elbow. “He’s in deep.  I couldn’t tell you what he thinks he’s playing at, but he’s sure as hell not winning.  Wherever he’s been digging, he’s come up reeking of something even I wouldn’t mess with.  You get too close to him, he’ll bring you down with him.”
“Enough of the cryptic crap,” Daniel snarled. “Be clear.”
“Why should I?” Sin glared up at him. “You’ve left me right fucked here, I don’t see why I should give you anything.”
“Enough,” Evelyn said quietly. “We don’t have time for this.”
She reached out her hand toward the fallen black magician, and he shied away from it, trying to crawl back.  He didn’t have the strength to get away, not yet, but ultimately he didn’t need to.  Warren’s hand closed around Evelyn’s wrist before she could touch Sin.
“You don’t want to do that,” he whispered.
Evelyn stared at Warren for a long moment, her face blank but her eyes a war of emotions.
“Yes I do,” she finally said, pulling her arm away.  She turned and walked away from the Cardinal. “And that’s exactly why I can’t.”
There was a single passage off to one side of the stage.  Warren paused for a moment when the others looked to him, seeming to listen to nothing, and then nodded.  They stopped to check on the poor souls chained to the wall, and were not surprised to find them all dead.  Warren stayed where he was, staring at the throng of pathetic followers milling about in confusion.  Then he looked down at Sin, and his mouth drew into a grim line.  He leveled his pistol at Sin’s head, and fired.
The shot echoed through the silent cavern, ringing off the walls for several seconds.  The followers stared at him in mute shock.  They did not advance or attack.  These people had killed their messiah, surely his humble disciples would be no threat.  Warren left the corpse where it was and joined his friends at the tunnel entrance, handing the pistol to Daniel.  He wiped his now empty hand on his trouser leg, as though the weapon had left a stain.
They were all staring at him, their faces carrying varying degrees of shock, except for Arthur who simply looked surprised, and Evelyn, whose face was a mixture of emotions and questions to which she could not find the words.
“Someone had to do it,” Warren said, deadpan. “Don’t worry, I didn’t enjoy it.”
He walked on into the dark tunnel, expecting the others to follow.  After a few steps, the light of the electric torches came on again, and they walked together in silence.  Before too long, they found themselves in another fairly sizeable chamber.  This one was bare, save for the far wall.  As their lights played over it, they found a tableau not terribly different from what that had seen in Baba Yaga’s woods.
It wasn’t identical.  The carved figures were more elaborate, for one thing, resembling hieroglyphs rather than cave drawings.  They were still bend in supplication, and this time the image hadn’t been damaged.  The young magicians could see the being that was the subject of worship.  The image depicted it rising out of a body of water.  The majority of it was a long, serpentine body, which did not seem to end with a head.  Instead it looked like a toothy sucker, like that of a leech, ringed with thin, reaching pseudopodia.  If the creature and its worshippers were to scale, then the thing was easily taller than a fairly tall building.  Coming out of the water on either side of it were what appeared to be seven tentacles, roughly half the main body’s length.  Each tentacle was covered in suckers, like an octopus, and each had what looked like a human face at the centre of its length.
Something about the image, carved in such great detail into the wall, was deeply unsettling.  Perhaps it was the very alien nature of its form.  Perhaps it was the worship that such a hideous thing seemed to inspire, much like the man the group had killed just minutes ago.  Or perhaps it was the terrifying notion that this creature might actually exist.
Above the image they saw the same emblem that had adorned the pedestal in the Paris catacombs.  Thirteen concentric rings, with a series of individual points scattered about them.  There was nothing else to offer any explanation of the symbol’s significance.
“It’s not the same,” Daniel murmured. “I can’t remember exactly, but the dots are definitely in different places on this one.”
“That’s too high up to take a rubbing,” Abigail said. “Do you think you can copy it down?”
“This’ll take a few minutes.” Daniel rummaged in the satchel and produced his pad of paper and a pencil.  He sat cross-legged before the mural, carefully reproducing the thirteen circles.  With painstaking care, he recreated, point for point, the pattern depicted on the wall.  Five minutes later, he finally stowed his pad and pencil.
“Let’s get out of here,” Arthur suggested. “I’m really starting to dislike this place.”
Warren had knelt while Daniel drew, humming softly with closed eyes.  Now he stood and gestured to the next passage.
“I’m told there’s another way out this way,” he said. “Quicker than going back, and probably safer.”
Daniel handed him his torch and they followed Warren along through the tunnels.  Not far down, they started seeing old, rusted manacles on the walls.  They weren’t so old that they could belong with the mural.  It was safe to surmise that they had been installed by Sin.  Unexpectedly, they came to another, much smaller chamber.  It was quite bare, save for a single set of manacles in the wall, from which hung a man.
He was nearly naked, his clothing mere rags, and he was emaciated from malnutrition.  His skin was a bit on the tanned side for midwinter, and his light auburn hair hung down to his shoulders.  He hung limp from the manacles, and only when they came very close could they see the shallow breathing that suggested he still lived.
The manacles were not complex.  Bolted rather than locked, they were simple enough to unfasten.  When the cuffs were pulled open, they revealed another horror.  The insides were lined with half-inch nails, which had bitten deeply into the man’s wrists.  The manacles, and his arms, were stained with blood, which still trickled weakly from the wounds.  Gently, they laid him on the floor and Evelyn knelt beside him.
She closed here eyes and laid one hand on his chest, while the other wrapped gently around his wrist.  Her face creased with effort as she worked, and a brief flash of concern crossed her features.  Gradually, the bleeding from the man’s wrists halted, and his ragged breathing became slightly more steady.  Evelyn opened her eyes and stood.
“He’s stable enough to move,” she said, “for now.  I couldn’t do much.  His body was actively resisting my healing.”
“I didn’t know anyone could do that,” Abigail mused.
“Neither did I,” Abigail replied. “He’ll freeze if we take him outside like this.  We’ve no idea how far we’ll have to walk back to the cars.  Abby, may I borrow your coat?  It’s the longest, and I don’t think he’s much taller than you.”
Abigail nodded and pulled off her coat.  Evelyn carefully wrapped the coat around the unconscious man, gingerly pulling his arms through the sleeves.  Once she had it buttoned over him, she looked up at Daniel.
“Can you keep him warm?” She asked.
“I think so,” Daniel replied, and reached down to lift the man off of the ground.  They walked on, Warren still in the lead.  The tunnel began to twist around again, but it was sloping upward, which was certainly a relief.  It was a long walk back to the surface, certainly as long as the journey into the Cavern.  Eventually, they felt a faint, chilly breeze.  After three more twists in the tunnel, the exit came into view.
They came out on the opposite side of the cavern from the entrance, through an apparently unremarked opening.  The exit was surrounded by very old trees, which might have accounted for the neglect.  It was likely assumed that no one would stumble across it, hidden as it was.  Night had fallen, the clear sky glittering with stars.  It was a five minute walk around to the parking lot, and by the time they reached the cars, both Abigail and Daniel were shivering; Abigail for the want of her coat, and Daniel because he had sacrificed much of his usual body heat to keep his battered burden warm.
They laid the unconscious man across the back seat of one of the cars, and Daniel took the wheel with Abigail riding shotgun.  Evelyn instructed them to take him straight to the hospital, and asked them to please remain long enough to hear his prognosis.  They assured her that they would, and the other four piled into the remaining car.  Both vehicles pulled out of the lot and began the long drive south.
Daniel and Abigail rode in silence for a while, Abigail occasionally looking back to make sure their charge wasn’t being jostled about too terribly by the bumpy road.  His face looked pained, but his breathing had become somewhat regular.  Daniel simply stared at the road, apparently deep in thought.
“What do you think?” He finally asked.
“About what?” Abigail turned her gaze from the back seat to her old friend.
“About what Sin said.  That Malachi’s ‘in deep’ with something nasty.”
“I’d like to think he was just pulling our chains, trying to mess us up.”
“I’d like to think that too,” Daniel said grimly, “but what do you actually think?”
“Pretty much what we already figured,” Abigail shrugged, “Malachi’s in trouble.  Why, what do you think?”
“I think we need to start wondering what sort of trouble he’s gotten himself into.”
Abigail gave Daniel a look of familiar concern.
“There’s more to it than that.  I can tell.  You still get that same look on your face when something’s really bothering you.  What is it?”
“I’ve been thinking about the things we’ve found, the places Malachi’s led us.  The runes we’ve been finding everywhere that none of us has even seen before.  Those circles that we’ve seen twice now; they must be significant.  But then there’s the really weird stuff.  Snake man skeletons and some sort of sea serpent god.  And the same scene depicted in Romania and England.  That just doesn’t fit.  I know my history, Abby.  No one in England ever used hieroglyphs like that.  How can this stuff be all over Europe and we’ve never even heard of it?”
“What you’re really asking,” Abigail said, “is ‘how old is it’?”
“It’s not that I’m wondering it,” Daniel corrected her, “it’s that I’m starting to get an idea.  This stuff is old.  Ancient, as in pre-civilisation.  I’m sure that cave was there before Baba Yaga, and she’s been there forever as far as those gypsies were concerned.  The scene in Peak was identical, but for the level of sophistication.  If that image wasn’t carved by the same people, they were at least related.  And in both places, look what sprung up around them.”
“One of the worst monsters in Eastern Europe,” Abigail said softly, “and a cult worshipping a black wizard.  You think the sites are attracting evil.”
“It’s just a hypothesis.  Twice could just be a coincidence.  It’ll need to repeat itself at least a couple more times before I can be sure.  But I have a feeling.  Malachi’s trying to dig up a mystery that’s been buried longer than people have been writing.”
“But what if it’s something that shouldn’t be dug up?”
“Exactly,” Daniel said with bitter triumph. “And what’s Malachi doing to himself in the digging?”
“It looks like we’re going to find out,” Abigail sighed, “because we’ve been right behind him, and we won’t catch up to him if we don’t keep on following.  We need more information.”
“That we do,” Daniel nodded.  He laid on the horn and flashed the headlights three times, and the car ahead of them pulled to a stop at the side of the road.  Daniel halted beside it, and Abigail rolled down her window.  The driver side window of the other car rolled down and Arthur poked his head out.
“We might be gone until tomorrow,” Abigail said, “you all ought to start into some research while we’re gone.  We need to start connecting the dots on some of this stuff.”
She picked Daniel’s satchel up from the floor at her feet and passed it over to Arthur.
“We need to know what those circles and the runes mean,” she continued, “where they come from.  And we definitely need to know what that snake man was, and the thing we saw on the wall tonight.”
Those in the other car nodded their assent, and the windows rolled up.  Daniel pulled ahead and the other car rolled back onto the road behind them.  The man in the back seat groaned quietly, and Abigail looked back at him.  He was mumbling wordlessly, but he didn’t look any worse.
“Do you think they’ll find anything?” She asked of Daniel.
“Worst case scenario, it’ll keep them busy until we get back.”
“Should we be keeping this from them?  I mean, it’s not like we have a right to keep secrets.  We’re not in charge.  Being the oldest doesn’t really mean anything anymore.”
“Probably not,” Daniel shrugged. “I just don’t want to start making accusations without anything solid to back them up.  It won’t help to get everyone thinking that Malachi’s fallen in with dark forces just because I’ve got a bad feeling.”
“That is what we’re talking about then,” Abigail nodded sadly. “We’re talking about Malachi falling.”
“We’ve got no grounds yet to talk about it,” Daniel said quietly. “Not even if we’re thinking it.”

It was difficult to really grasp just how big the manor library was, just by thinking about it.  Certainly, it was a very large room, and was quite full of books, but, as the four would-be researchers discovered, the sheer scale of it was difficult to comprehend until they actually tried to find something.  It probably didn’t help that they had no idea where anything was.
“I think I’ve found the Kinsbridge books,” Selena called from somewhere in the distance.  Arthur didn’t bother to answer.  He was still puzzling over whether he was amongst the books of magical history or more standard world history.  The line started to blur the further back things went.
Finally, he grew exasperated and fled the stacks entirely, returning to the common, where Evelyn had neatly laid out all of the materials they had gathered in following Malachi, placing like with like.  Copies of the runes were stacked atop each other.  The two sets of circles were side by side, where the patterns of dots were now clearly different.  The rubbing of the cave scene stood alone, but there was no forgetting everything it was connected to.  Finally, Evelyn had spread a map of the world over another empty spot on the table, drawing points to indicate where they had been, numbering them in order and drawing pencil lines from one point to the next.
Arthur dropped himself unceremoniously in the nearest chair, just as Selena returned with an old, leather bound book in hand.  She placed it on the table and rubbed at her eyes.
“I am so dreadfully tired,” she all but moaned.
“I think we all are,” Evelyn agreed.
“We ought to call it a night,” Arthur said.
“We should,” Warren said, coming down the stairs. “We won’t figure anything out if we’re exhausted.”
They didn’t need to say another word to settle their consensus.  Arthur and Selena trudged wearily toward the door on the other side of the stacks.  Warren stopped at the stairs and looked back at Evelyn, who still stood over the table, leaning on her arms, looking down at the map.  After a few seconds, her shoulder shook.
“I almost killed a man today,” she whispered, her voice catching in her throat. “I wanted to do it. I wanted to hurt him.”
“But you didn’t.” Warren walked back around the table and stood not far from Evelyn.
“No,” she looked up at him, and he saw the tears streaking her face, tears that she had been holding in for God knew how long, “you did.  You stopped me, and then you did it.  Why?”
“Look at how it’s affected you,” Warren said, “just thinking about it.  Almost doing it is hurting you badly enough.  Imagine what it would do to you if you’d actually done it.”
“I almost became as bad as him, right there.  I don’t feel that, I know it.  I wanted to make him suffer before he died, just like all those people he destroyed.  Why is it different?  Why are you all right with it?”
“I’ve spent the last six years living with spirits,” Warren said, “primordial creatures.  Their world isn’t as complicated as the one we’ve built around ourselves, especially when it comes to morality.  Death is a natural thing, and sometimes it’s necessary.  I’m sure I hated Sin just as much as you did, but that’s not why I killed him.  I didn’t kill him as punishment.  I did it because it needed to be done.  If he lived, he would just keep doing what he was doing.  No mundane authority could hold him, any more than they could hold one of us, if we had a mind to be free of them.”
“Pragmatism,” Evelyn grimaced as though the word tasted foul in her mouth.
“As important a sentiment as compassion.  I was able to separate myself from the act of killing Sin, because I saw it as a natural function I was fulfilling.  I wasn’t just avenging those he had killed, I was acting on behalf of the people he might have harmed in the future.”
“And me?” Evelyn couldn’t hold back a sob. “I wanted to murder him.”
“You were angry,” Warren said with uncharacteristic reassurance, “and you were right to be.  Anger is a powerful emotion, and useful.  If you hadn’t been so angry, we might not have stopped Sin at all.  But you can’t let it get out of hand.  The most powerful emotions are the most difficult to control.  You’re not accustomed to that sort of anger, so you didn’t know how to keep yourself in check.”
“You knew all along, didn’t you,” Evelyn forced a small smile. “You knew what was going on in my head, and you knew exactly when to stop me.”
Warren nodded gravely. “It was pretty obvious to anyone who knows you as well as I do.”
“Thank god for that.” Evelyn closed her eyes, and fresh tears rolled down her cheeks.  Warren moved quietly closer and wrapped one big arm around her petite shoulders.  She leaned against him, shuddering with quiet sobs.  Warren stood silently, a dear old friend holding her gently while her emotions ran over her.  Finally, she grew still, and pulled away from Warren.  With one hand, she wiped the stray tears from her cheeks, trying to regain her composure.
“Are you afraid it will happen again?” She asked.
“You are,” Warren answered, “which means it probably won’t.  That’s enough for me.”
Evelyn gave him a grateful smile. “I should probably get some sleep.”
“We both should.  We have a lot of work to do tomorrow, before Malachi leaves us another hint.”
“Do you suppose Daniel will be back in time to make breakfast?” She almost laughed.
“Probably not,” Warren offered her a rare smile, “but we’ll make do.”
“Warren,” Evelyn stopped him as he turned to leave. “Thank you.  Again. I owe you.”
“You don’t owe me,” Warren shook his head, “this just brings us a little closer to even.”

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November 21, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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