The statue had fallen so that its groin was on top of the altar. It hadn’t smashed into pieces, it was just lying down, balanced like a see-saw. If it was hard to get the lid off the altar before, it would be even harder now.
The bigger problem, though, was how the head had perfectly slotted down in front of the door, making it impossible to open. Unless there was a way to make the door open outwards.
“How do you operate the door?” I asked Sonny.
Sonny’s mouth was hanging open and his eyes were coated with a glassy look of disbelief. “You stupid bastard. How are we going to get out now?”
A slight overreaction, I felt. “Calm your tits, will you? Just try it first before you lose your rag. This isn’t the Ashes—you can’t win by moaning at the umpire until you get your way”
“The door won’t work with a fucking great statue in the way.”
“Stop making assumptions and give it a go,” I suggested, very reasonably.
Everyone else was just staring at us bickering. Sonny turned his head, spat on the ground (who did he think that would impress?) and then walked over to the wall by the door. There was a square panel with a metal edge. He placed his hand on it and the door jerked about a centimetre before it banged into the top of the statue’s head.
Sonny gave me a withering look. I’d been living with three girls for the last God knows how long, I was immune to such a feeble attack.
“Can you make it open the other way?” I asked him.
“No,” said Sonny. ”I can’t.”
Some people have to make everything as difficult as possible. I turned to Gabor. “Any ideas how to move the statue?”
“I am finding it hard to think clearly,” said Gabor.
“What about you?” I said to Biadet. “You can usually walk through walls. How about getting us out of here?”
Biadet shook her head. There was a hint of a smile on her lips. Something wasn’t quite right.
“Claire, what’s Maurice thinking?”
Claire turned to face Maurice and glared at him. Sonny should have been taking notes. She looked back at me. “I don’t know.”
It seemed our abilities didn’t work here. Or not as well. I tried to create a ball of light, and did so quite easily. The beast magic I’d learned wasn’t affected.
“Nicopez, can you do something?”
The shaman was up against a wall, still in shock, it looked like. He fell to his knees again.
“Desecration, desecration,” he muttered. “We will be punished.” He wasn’t going to be much use.
There were still the tunnels at the other end of the room. “Where do they go?” I asked Sonny.
“Why don’t you go see for yourself?” he answered, like a child.
“Okay, I will,” I said, also like a child.
You probably think the constant sniping was uncalled for, but you have to remember he was Australian. I don’t know how to make the point any clearer.
I walked purposefully across the room with every intention of marching straight into the first of the three tunnels. I stopped short because all of Sonny’s men lined up against the wall, flinched. Some looked away. Others grimaced, the way you do when you see someone else get kicked in the balls.
I’m not the most observant of people, but I know when to take a hint.
“What the fuck is through there?” I demanded of them all. No one answered.
“The remains of the Ancestors,” said Nicopez in the most spooky voice ever. He even got some reverb on it, somehow.
“Really? Ghosts, that’s what you’re all freaked out about? What type is it? The sheet that floats, or the teenage girl? Or maybe the skeleton that plays its bones like a xylophone?” No answers, still. “Come on, you must have seen them.”
“We haven’t seen them,” said Sonny, “and we don’t want to. We’ve heard them. Go on, if you’re so brave. Go on.”
“Alright, I will. Maybe it’s the fat one who likes hotdogs. I could do with a snack. Come on, then,” I said to my crack troops. No one made a move to join me.
“I will come with you,” said Nyx, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane.
The others reluctantly began moving in my direction, shamed into action.
“Ah don’t like ghosts,” said Flossy.
“How do you know?” I asked her. “You’ve never seen one.”
“Ah have. On a school trip to Hatfield House. He had chains on his feet and he walked through a wall.”
“If he’s already chained up, what the fuck are you scared of?”
Once we had formed a clot in the opening, I pushed my ball of light into it. The tunnel wasn’t very long and there seemed to be another chamber on the other side. I walked through with Nyx by my side. He kept trying to hold my hand, and I kept shaking him off.
I’m not trying to say I wasn’t scared—there may well have been something horrific waiting for us, supernatural or otherwise—but fear of the unknown isn’t worth losing your shit over. Fear of the known is a much bigger problem. We didn’t have much choice in where to go and there were enough of us that spooky noises posed a limited threat.
All three tunnels led to the same place, a giant cavern which my ball of light couldn’t fully illuminate. We were on a shelf, that was large enough to accommodate us all, but the rest of the cavern floor fell away into a dark pit. There was a strong breeze coming from somewhere.
Slowly, the others emerged. First my group, then Laney and the Hungarians. And then the shaman and Sonny. Give them credit, they were willing to overcome their paralysing fear to see me get fucked up by ghosts. Spite is also a great counter to fear.
“Okay, we’re here,” I said. “Seems pretty unhaunted to me.”
“Just wait,” said Sonny, staying close to the tunnel mouth.
I went up to the edge of the area we were on and pushed the light down as far as I could. It wasn’t a bottomless pit, in fact it wasn’t that far before I could see the floor. Actually, the floor itself wasn’t visible because it was covered with bones. Lots and lots of bones.
“I think I found the Ancestors’ remains,” I said. “Or possibly the remains of their last meal.”
The others came closer, looked over the edge, and then quickly backed away again.
I wouldn’t deny it was a bit unnerving. This could be some kind of killing floor for a monster. Or it could be a graveyard where animals came to die. The main thing, though, was that there didn’t appear to be anything alive amongst the bones.
“Is there way out down there?” I asked.
“You want to go down there?” said Biadet from beside me. “Very brave.”
“How did you get there?” I asked her. “I thought your ability didn’t work.”
“What ability?” she said.
“We should not stay here,” said the shaman. “They are aware of us.”
“Hello?” I shouted into the void. I ignored Nicopez desperately trying to shush me. “I would like to make a complaint. Hello? Shop?”
“Why are you here?” whispered a voice.
The thing about spooky noises, even if they can’t hurt you, they can make you jump. I barely avoided shitting myself and turned to look at the others to see if they’d heard it. They were all peeking out from the tunnel.
On my own again.
If the trolls had been here, I’d have assumed it was them pranking us. But they weren’t here.
I didn’t freak out. I was no stranger to voices in the dark. And this one sounded male, so already nowhere near as vicious as what I was accustomed to.
“Hey, where are you?”
“What do you want?” whispered the voice.
The hairs on my arms and neck were standing up and a cold sweat had broken out on my face. I felt clammy and in desperate need of a piss. Not a big deal; I’d had more severe anxiety trying to get a shop assistant’s attention in a shoe shop.
“The front door’s blocked. Any chance there’s another way out?”
“Yes,” said the voice.
“Great. See, he’s friendly.”
“What do you offer in return?”
Friendly but on the make. “What do you want?”
“Sure. Which one do you want? One of the girls?”
“What are you doing?” shouted Claire. I told you, anger>fear.
“I’m negotiating. Don’t worry, no one ever settles for the first bid.”
“Are you offering her?” said the voice.
“Oh, would she do?”
Claire came storming out, brushing off Maurice who tried to stop her. “We aren’t going to sacrifice anyone. If you don’t want to help, go away. We don’t have time for this, we’re trying to save the world.”
I wasn’t trying to save the world, but whatever.
“You are heroes?” The voice didn’t sound convinced. Who could blame him?
“Yes,” said Claire. “We all are. Except for him.” She pointed at… well, I don’t need to tell you, do I?
“I don’t know why you’re showing off to whoever this is,” I said. “Have you never seen the Wizard of Oz? It’s probably some guy with a megaphone hiding behind a rock. How powerful do you think he is if he lives in a hole in the ground with a bunch of skeletons to keep him company? Someone with a bus pass has more going for him. And since when did you become a hero, you pompous ass. I’m the one always saving, you!”
“I AM THE LAST OF THE FIRST,” boomed the voice.
“Alright, no need to shout,” I said. “You want a sacrifice? Take the Queen. She’s in the pyramid building in the city above you.” Worth a shot, I thought. “I give her to you, oh last of the first.” A bit of roleplay to swing the deal.
“The sacrifice must be here.”
“Well, show me the way out and I’ll go get her.”
“No, not her. Another.”
There was something different in the tone, now.
“Oh, you know her,” I said. “Did she come here before? Offer you a sacrifice?” It made sense he knew the Queen if she had gotten her powers from him.
“She was the sacrifice,” said the voice. “I need a body to join her. A willing sacrifice. It must be a volunteer.”
Finally, we were getting somewhere. But a willing sacrifice? Where would I get one of those? I looked at Nyx. Like mother, like son?
“You want a soul puppet?” said Maurice. He had followed Claire out and was standing next to her. “Will there be anything left of them once you assume control.”
Didn’t sound very promising.
“Look,” said Claire, getting the huff, “try to understand.” Violent supernatural entities love that, being condescended to. “There are people who are going to die if you don’t help us get out of here. We’ll help you in return. Find a way to get you out of here, I promise, but we have to stop the man in the spire.” It was an impassioned plea, rich in sincerity and full of earnest good faith. I gave her no chance out of ten.
“Yes,” I said, “tall things that stick out of the ground. They have them in Fengarad. Use them to blow up mountains.”
“No, no, they cannot be activated.” He sounded upset.
“They can and they have,” I informed him.
“No, no, no…” The breeze picked up. The bones lying below us rattled and began to move, coming together. Something was being built.