CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and NINETY-SEVEN
Jacob looked at Gilfand for a long moment and then at the metal rungs drilled into the solid rock. He gave Gilfand a nod before throwing his leg over the lip of the manhole and starting down the ladder. Gilfand followed Jacob into the hole. Yvonne went in after Gilfand.
Abi took one last look at the still, silent day. She sent her senses out into the world. No one was near. No danger would come to them from outside the mine. She swung her leg into the mine and stood on the top rung. She looked around the ledge for a moment. She had dropped more than a foot into the hole when the cover settled on top the hole.
Clinging to the metal rungs, they looked up in horror as the cover spun around, grinding its way through the threads. There was a solid “thunk” and an eerie stillness when the cover stopped rotating. It settled into place.
The entrance to the mine was completely covered. Anyone who came looking for them would never know how they’d entered the mine.
No one dared speak. When they finally spoke, they spoke in hushed, halting tones.
“Can you … ?” Yvonne started.
“Probably,” Jacob said. “Should I …?”
“It will just close again,” Abi said.
“I thought you …?” Jacob asked.
“No,” Abi said. “It did that on its own.”
“Abi would never close off a retreat,” Gilfand said.
“We cannot waste our energy fighting the mountain,” Jacob said. “We will need it to deal with whatever is here.”
“Go on, then,” Abi said.
Jacob continued to climb on the metal rungs. He stepped one foot down, and then the next. He followed with one hand down, and then the next. As his eyes gradually adapted to the low light, he began to see his surroundings. They were climbing down a narrow fissure in the grey rock. If any of their larger friends — Mike, Rodney, Aden, or even his father, Sam — had come with them, they would not have fit. Only people of their medium height and statue could have come down this ladder.
They made slow, but steady progress. Someone of his skillset had drilled these rungs into the rock with psychokinesis. Step by step, the rungs held true. After dropping a little more than twenty feet, the fissure opened up into a warm, wet open cavern. The cavern was softly lit by a series of cracks in the ceiling.
They began to past long stalactites clinging to the wall.
“Careful,” Jacob said. “The rungs are wet. Make sure you have a good footing before coming down.”
Their progress slowed on the treacherous rungs. Despite their hiking boots, Jacob, Abi, and Yvonne’s feet slipped on the wet rungs. Only Gilfand’s clawed feet were able to hold fast to the metal rung.
When they’d dropped about ten feet into the cave, Gilfand took off. He flew across the top of the cave and along the edge. He landed near the hot spring stream at the bottom of the rock cave. He took a drink of the water and paused for a moment. He took off again. Flying slow and low, he carefully explored the cave. He paused in one corner for a while before returning to the rungs. Jacob stopped climbing to speak with him.
“What did you see?” Abi asked.
“The water is clear,” Gilfand said. “Warm, full of minerals, but clean from a source deep inside the mountain.”
“I am thirsty,” Yvonne said.
“I have water in my pack for you,” Jacob said.
“I brought water, as well,” Abi said.
“When we get down.” Yvonne’s voice was vague as if to indicate that she wasn’t sure they’d ever get down to the bottom of the cave.
“Look at how far we’ve come!” Jacob said.
They looked up. The entrance to the cave was lost in the dark shadow of the fissure. Yvonne shook her head.
“It sure feels like a long way,” Yvonne said.
“Does it look like any thing is living there?” Jacob asked.
“There are some old bones,” Gilfand said. “That’s what I went to look at over in the corner.”
“Human?” Jacob asked.
“Yes,” Gilfand said. “Male. There are other bones scattered around. Small ancient human bones, large animal bones — bear, elk, horse. It looks as if a large predator, or possibly a pack of them, lived in this cave at some point in time.”
“Recently?” Yvonne asked.
“Recently for Abi and I, but not for you, child,” Gilfand said. “There is no living mammal has been since long before Abi had your mother. There are other bones that look …”
Gilfand stopped talking for a moment.
“Do tell us,” Abi ordered.
“They look like offerings,” Gilfand said. “Human offerings to a God or God-like person. They are old, possibly from the native people in this region. There are artifacts that look like they come from all over the Americas.”
“Gifts to the Gods,” Abi said.
“The male bones, too?” Jacob asked.
“No,” Gilfand said. “I believe these are an ancestor of yours. Possibly an uncle or a cousin.”
“We were talking about my great-grandfather’s brother,” Jacob said.
“I thought he died in town,” Yvonne said.
“It’s possible that he was brought when he collapsed. It’s also possible that the bones belong to your great-grandfather,” Gilfand said. He paused for a moment. “Someone with the power of psychokinesis spent a lot of time in this cave. Look at this ladder. It would have taken a great effort and a lot of time, possibly years.”
“Was he the God?” Abi asked.
“No,” Gilfand said. “This looks like a solitary effort.”
Unsure of what to say, Jacob started down the ladder again. He went down about six rungs before looking up at Gilfand again.
“Is there anything that is not a mammal living in this cave now?” Jacob asked.
“In the cave?” Gilfand asked. “No.”
“Whatever they thought was a God is likely to be around somewhere,” Abi said. “Can you access the Fire of Hell from here?”
“I didn’t leave the cave area,” Gilfand said, evenly. He paused for a moment. “But to answer your question — yes, I think we could follow this stream there.”
“And the soul collector?” Yvonne asked. “The one who wants Delphie’s soul?”
“They are both here,” Gilfand said.
Jacob gave him an irritated “What?” look, but Gilfand shook his head and said nothing more. Jacob scowled up at him. Gilfand simply shook his head.
Jacob continued down the ladder. His shoulder muscles had already begun to cramp. His feet ached through his boots. His hands hurt from hanging on to the metal rungs. He was wet head to toe with a combination of his sweat and the humidity. He wanted to stop or at least to complain. Whatever he was feeling, he knew that Yvonne must be feeling worse. She did not work with her hands every day. She wasn’t on her feet all the time.
Yvonne said nothing. She just kept taking the ladder one rung at a time. It didn’t look easy for her. She simply took each one as it came.
He would have been ashamed to complain when she had not. So he kept focused on the ladder. When he was finally six feet or so from the rock bottom of the cave, he jumped off the ladder. The moment he landed, his knees buckled with exhaustion. Gilfand fluttered down.
Yvonne took the ladder all the way to the ground. Stepping down, her legs wouldn’t hold her either. With Jacob and Gilfand’s help, she was able to make it to the wall to sit down. Abi deftly jumped down as Jacob had. Abi seemed to feel no ill effects of the long climb.
Abi walked around the cave for a moment before sitting down next to Yvonne along the wall of the cave next to the ladder. Gilfand flew around the cave again before sitting next to Abi against the cave wall. Jacob passed out water bottles and oranges. Abi gave them each a piece of dried salmon jerky. When everyone was settled Jacob sat down next to Gilfand.
“Is this the salmon you snagged last month?” Jacob asked.
“Mike took me,” Abi said. “I had never seen such a place where salmon could be plucked from the water. It is such a great thing to be able to use their valiant struggle for life to bring life to us. It is a reward for them as well as for us.”
“It’s very tasty,” Yvonne said, lightly.
“Yes,” Jacob said. “Surprises me.”
“You didn’t think it would be,” Abi looked at him and grinned.
“It smelled awful while you were drying it,” Jacob said.
“That was to keep the cats away,” Abi said.
Grinning at her ingenuity, Jacob nodded and ate his salmon jerky. By some fluke, the cave wall was gloriously cold. Jacob leaned back and closed his eyes. The combination of the warm, moist cave and his exhaustion cause him to drift into a kind of sleep. After a time, Abi touched his leg.
“Come,” Abi said.
Jacob glanced over at Yvonne. She seemed to be asleep. Gilfand was flying near the top of the cave. Jacob got up and followed Abi to where the male human bones lay.
“Sit here,” Abi said.
“On the bones?” Jacob asked.
Abi made a sweeping motion with the bones and they shifted the side. Jacob sat down where the skeleton had been. Abi sat down next to him.
“Mimic his posture,” Abi said.
Jacob leaned against the wall and shot his legs out in front of him. Abi pointed to the ceiling. From where he was sitting, Jacob saw that there was something carved into the ceiling. Abi knocked into him and he slid an inch to his left. He gasped.
The ceiling had been painstakingly carved into a geometric sculpture. At the center was an ancient symbol of protection that Jacob had seen on the Isle of Mann. The stalactites marked the corners of each geometric design. Spiral etchings seemed to come out of the mountain while squares seemed to retreat into the stone.
“Unbelievable,” Jacob said.
“He must have sat here and created it,” Abi said. She pointed to the skeleton. “His spine is broken as are both of his legs. He would not have been able to move.”
“Did he fall?” Jacob asked.
“This looks more intentional,” Abi said. “Someone did this to him. I wonder …”
Abi touched the skeleton with her hand and then pulled her hand away. Putting her hand near her nose, she rubbed her finger and thumb together.
“He apparated here,” Abi said. She rubbed her fingers together again. “Likely by his own accord. That fits with one version of the story, doesn’t it? He was beaten and then disappeared. Unable to move, he was stuck here.”
She pointed to the ceiling.
“His last message to you, his heir,” Abi said.
“To me?” Jacob asked.
“You are the only person who could have gotten into this chamber,” Abi said.
“The right heir,” Jacob said, under his breath.
He looked up at the ceiling and tried to glean knowledge from the images. Wanting to document the sculpture, he took out his phone and took a series of pictures. His flash went off and Abi gasped with surprise.
“What?” Jacob asked.
Abi pointed to his phone. The bright light of the flash had uncovered a message on the ceiling.
“Is that Gaelic?” Jacob asked.
“Old Gaelic,” Abi said. “Gilfand, could you possible translate for us?”
Gilfand flew to the roof of the cave. Using his claw-like feet, he held onto a stalactite to read the ceiling.
“It says …” Gilfand said.
“Look not here for riches, for here is only shadow and dark.
Do not worship the dark and shadow for it is only dark and shadow.
The depth you seek lives inside the walls of strength. Only.
True light of compassion will defeat the dark,
and the shadow will fade.
Only then will the treasure be yours.”
Jacob and Abi turned to look where Yvonne was resting. If ever there was a “true light” that defeated darkness, it would be Yvonne. They looked at each other.
“What do you think it means?” Jacob asked.
“I think that we are about to meet shadow and dark,” Abi said. “We are facing an energetic battle — a battle with the very nature of the magic that holds the universe together.”
“The very nature of the magic that holds the universe together,” Jacob said.
“It does sound dramatic, doesn’t it?” Abi asked.
“Makes me regret worrying so much about which shoes to bring on this trip,” Jacob said.
Abi grinned at him. She got up and walked away from him.
“Do you know what is here?” Jacob asked.
Abi turned back to look at him.
“Not exactly,” Abi said. “Come, I want to do something first, before we talk about what we may be up against.”
Jacob got up from he’d been sitting went back to where Yvonne was sitting. Their return woke Yvonne. She yawned and got up to move around a bit. Abi went to her pack and pulled out a silver colored steel bottle.
“I’d like you to take some of this,” Abi said.
“What is it?” Jacob asked.
“It is something I make for my warriors in the Fairy Corps,” Abi said. “It will heighten your senses and also shield you from energetic or magical intervention. It is a kind of alcohol, distilled from special herbs gathered around the world. But I must warn you.”
Jacob tipped his head to the side.
“You are of Gilfand’s line,” Abi said. “This drink can bring out the fairy in those of his line.”
“And Yvonne?” Jacob asked.
Abi shook her head.
“She is of my blood,” Abi said. “Very similar, but different. Yvonne?”
When Yvonne came over, Abi explained the liquid to her.
“Just a swallow, no more,” Abi said.
Yvonne nodded and took a drink of the clear liquid. She closed her eyes for a moment before opening them.
“I feel warm,” Yvonne said. “I feel like I’m in a hot tub or maybe Mexico in the late spring or with Rodney in bed under thick covers. I feel good, happy, almost joyous, but strong, too. Man, that’s awesome.”
Yvonne’s skin began to glow pure warm light.
“Oh look,” Yvonne said, holding up her forearm. “Isn’t it weird?”
“Beautiful,” Jacob said. “Will I glow like that?”
“The serum enhances what you are, what you have inside.” Abi’s hand pressed against her chest. “For you, it may give you greater strength and focus. It might also transform you physically.”
“How so?” Jacob asked.
“You could grow wings and a hard shell,” Abi nodded toward Gilfand. “Any of the features. I’ve seen it happen before.”
“What happens to Fin?” Jacob asked.
“He becomes more centered, stronger, more powerful in a kind of wild-man way,” Abi said with a nod. “You and he share similarities, but he is fairy-born, full blooded. His relation to Gilfand is more distant than yours. He uses his fairy skills and magic, where as you have innate abilities. And, it is possible that you will have the same response.”
“Or I could look like a gargoyle,” Jacob said looked over to where Gilfand was sitting by the stream.
“Exactly,” Abi said.
“How long does the effect last?” Jacob asked.
“A little more than a human day,” Abi said. “You would have to have more tomorrow. But …”
“But?” Jacob asked.
“You may awaken something inside you that would be permanent,” Abi said.
“Such as?” Jacob asked.
“Wings,” Abi said with a grin.
“Really?” Jacob squinted at Abi.
“I am joking,” Abi said. “My point is that the effects vary. I don’t want to give you something and not tell you the possible side effects.”
“I’ll need this?” Jacob asked.
“If we are dealing with what I think we are — what I believe your ancestor is indicating — then you will need an energetic shield.”
Abi looked away, down the long circular tunnel that the stream disappeared into.
“We will all need as much luck as we can get,” Abi said. “
Jacob held out his hand and Abi gave him the flask.
“Take just one swallow,” Abi said. “No more.”
Jacob took a mouthful of the liquid. The moment it passed his lips, he could feel it begin to absorb into his body. Like swallowing an ice cube, he could feel the liquid move down his throat. He took a breath and then another.
“Bam,” Jacob said.
He stood up, stretched, and began jumping. Each leap into the air brought him higher and higher until he almost touched the ceiling of the cave.
“Why are you jumping?” Yvonne asked.
“I feel as if I must,” Jacob said.
“Try to fly,” Abi encouraged.
Gilfand appeared on the sand next to him.
“Jump up and forward,” Gilfand said.
Jacob did as he was told. Soon, he was flying about the cave without wings. This skill was something manifested out of his own abilities.
“Would you like to take a look?” Jacob asked.
Yvonne nodded. Jacob put is arm around Yvonne’s waist and they flew around the cave. He took her up, close to the carving so that she could see it. As her light approached the carving, they heard Gilfand mutter something to Abi, and Abi responded.
Jacob flew them to the bottom of the cave. He let go of Yvonne and she kissed his cheek.
“What is it?” Jacob asked.
“There is another message,” Abi said. “We couldn’t see it from where we were sitting.”
“What is it?” Jacob asked.
“It says ‘Beware of the one who captures the souls for one who eats them whole’,” Gilfand translated without hesitation.
“What does that mean?” Jacob asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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