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X. INTO THE UNDERWORLD


Chapter 2

Skip looked at Allie with concern. “You’re awfully quiet. You sure you want to do this, sis? Whatever you find, if the Maestro hears of it, he’ll just use to mock us.”

“I know,” she nodded. “I don’t buy his theory; anything used for a long time soaks up vibes like a sponge, especially religious objects or anything that excites passions. But think – this is as close to the Maundy Grail as I’ll probably ever get. You bet I want a shot.”

The scientist returned carefully carrying a cafeteria tray with three upside down white foam cups set up like a street gambler’s trick. “Here we are,” he said, delicately placing it in a clear spot. “My assistant set these up so I don’t know which they were, and I mixed them too.

“Beneath one of these cups is a plain brass weight, the piece found in the Vault, and the chunk from the road to Maureven. Let’s see if you can sense the difference. Whenever you’re ready, Miss MacLantis. Take your time.” They sat and he prepared to take notes.

After a deep breath, Allie closed her eyes and passed her hands over all three cups before turning her attention to the middle one. “Nothing,” she said, frowning, “not a thing. Could be empty as far as I can tell.

“Ah, here’s something,” she said, her fingers wavering above the first. “Cold wet, metallic tang and an earthy taste.” Her eyes flew open and she glanced at Gus. “So this might be the one from the road, but there’s something else.” She wiped her hands upon her skirt.

Allie shut her eyes and put her hands above the third cup. “And this…”

“Oh my God,” she gasped, jerking her fingers back as if they were singed.

“This one is… really different,” she said, extending her trembling hands. “Oh sweet merciful heavens,” Allie moaned, bowing her head, holding her hands together. “Oh, the bitter, sad yearning. What regrets, infinite regrets, hopeless hopes, and such misery –”

She raised her head, tears brimming in her eyes. “Please, let me see.”

Wordlessly, the astronomer lifted the cups one by one. Under the first cup sat a green corroded thumb-sized piece, the middle one held a gleaming quarter-kilo of machined brass, and in the third, a more indefinable lump with a bright yellow spot of freshly exposed metal. They stared at them while the astronomer fetched his assistant.

“Aysha, which is which?” Lacnuit asked.

“As you can see,” she said pointing at them in turn, “the piece from the roadbed, a weight, and beneath the last, lay the fragment from the Vault.”

“Fascinating,” Lacnuit said. “And a hundred percent correct. Excellent work, Alix.”

Allie ignored them. She stretched out her right hand for a second tentatively then stood abruptly, chair loudly scraping. “Okay, thanks, excuse me.”

She wiped her face as her brothers rose, “No, I’m fine, guys… I just need to process this… give me a moment, please.” Allie quickly stumbled through the door and was gone.

“What a curious reaction. Is she often so affected?” Lacnuit asked.

“Never,” Gus shook his head, “that’s new to me.” He stared at the small emerald lump like it might jump and bite him. Did he really see it shimmer, or was that just the drug?

Skip stood and sighed. “Perhaps we’d better follow her, make sure she’s alright.”

“Of course,” Lacnuit said. With a shrug at Gus, Skip exited.

The astronomer’s assistant whispered to him before she left with the tray.

“Ah yes, please, a word before you go, Professor MacLantis,” the scientist said, rising from the table as well. “An interesting trial, one which helps confirm the validity of your father’s methods. But mentioning this in certain quarters will not help your cause.”

“The thought occurred to me,” Gus said with a cynical grin. “Fear not; I’ve been ridiculed enough for intuitive archeology. As has Allie. This will stay between us.”

“Thank you,” the old man said simply. He smiled at the younger one. “Here is another, more important reason for caution. While so-called ‘skeptics’ openly mock such findings, many here take them seriously indeed and never say a word. In this, do not doubt that the believers are much more to be feared than the doubters.”

 


 

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“And so I alone
returned
from the underworld
as if reborn,
with only these stone bones of dragons
from before the Flood
to prove my tale.”

Don Yago Ionas,
the Reliquarian,
1782

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