Major cliffhanger here. The end of this is basically the beginning of the climax. Previously we left Charles, Nathaniel, and Katherine trapped in a sacrificial room. In this one, they escape, and we have some pretty startling revelations.
Of all people, who would have looked for a genius in Charles?
“What r’we gonna d’now?”
“I don’t know,” Nathaniel dropped his head into his hands. “I don’t know.”
Charles was silenced at this, and he began shuffling his feet. Then he flicked his eyes around, and locked on Nathaniel, twisting his head to one side slightly.
“What are you staring at?” Nathaniel grumbled.
“Your necklace. Those verse references. I know them.”
“Well it’s none of your business,” Nathaniel snapped, hurriedly shoving the pendants back into his shirt.
Charles returned to eyeing his feet. Then, getting tired of staring at his toes, he started studying the pictures on the walls. Nathaniel did not even bother to look up; he was too dejected. However, his head did jerk up quickly when Charles gave a yell, almost of excitement, and clapped his heels in the air. Before the dejected amateur detective could say anything, Charles ran towards the hole at the back and stood teetering on the edge.
“What are you doing?” Nathaniel said standing up speedily. “Get back!”
“We should jump down here you know,” Charles said nonchalantly.
“Suicide is not the w–” Nathaniel was not allowed to finish his sentence when Charles leaped off the brink, arms and legs flailing madly.
Nathaniel dashed to the edge, and landing in a slide, stopped himself with his hands at the side. Peering down into the blackness, he could see nothing. The darkness completely obscured his view. Standing up shakily, he took his flashlight from where it rested on the altar and shone it down into the hole. Halfway down, there was a small ridge that ran around the circumference of the pit, and right at the bottom were numerous upward pointing spikes which were intermingled with the numerous human skeletons. There was no body.
For a moment, Nathaniel was relieved that in some miraculous manner Charles had survived, then a groaning sound filled the air, and the spiked floor began to move aside revealing an even deeper hole, at the bottom of which was what appeared to be a human figure. Nathaniel’s heart sank, and his hand began to tremble. Not Charles too?
Something tapped Nathaniel’s shoulder and he jumped, hurriedly turning onto his back. There was Charles looking down anxiously into his face, and in his shock, Nathaniel moved back and felt– nothing. He began tumbling down the deathtrap, but Charles, reaching forward, caught Nathaniel’s wrist. Nathaniel, however, was no light burden, and he began pulling Charles along with him.
Charles reached down and stuck his fingers in a crack between two of the massive stones that formed the floor. Nathaniel was now suspended in the air, but despite all of Charles’ valiant efforts, he could not pull Nathaniel back up. Then Katherine walked unhesitatingly to the edge, and bending over, gave Nathaniel her hand. As he grasped it, a lock of hair on her forehead fell aside, and he saw once again that mysterious symbol that had first led him to allow her to follow them; only this time he felt that he had seen it before, but where?
There was no more time for his deductions as Charles and Katherine both heaved back simultaneously and hoisted him back onto the room floor. Charles lay on his back panting, Nathaniel just sat staring at his hands, and Katherine stood as if pondering the two of them.
“How did you do it Charles?” Nathaniel asked.
“T’was al’ays a farce,” Charles said with a laugh. “Th’sacrifice was never killed, just bled a little. Th’priest would hit th’catch, just like y’did, then they would all begin praying as th’sacrifice was thrown into th’ole. Y’see itton th’wall there. But th’sacrifice was a gymnast, an’ he’d grabbahold on t’the ledge an’ swing ‘imself into a hole in th’wall. Then it’s just a tunnel with a lever on one side. See, th’ door is open.” Charles pointed to the formerly obstructed doorway. The block of stone that had formerly been there was once again hoisted up into the ceiling.
“Then what about–” Nathaniel again stared into the hole, but the floor was as it had been before, with multiple large spikes pointing directly up and the skeletal structures of humans on it. “It doesn’t make sense,” he murmured. “We need to find clues.”
He stood up and led them out of the room without another word. AB 34 had led them in from the left previously, so he went right, only to come to a fork. For a moment the travelers were silent.
“I’ll take the left,” Nathaniel said.
“Then I’ll g’right.”
“Who will you go with, Katherine?” Nathaniel asked, passing Charles an extra flashlight.
“You,” she said promptly, and so the explorers went each their own way.
The passage that Nathaniel and Katherine were following twisted and turned, winding left and right, and even changing in elevation. Then Nathaniel felt his chest spasm, and he slunk to the ground, grasping his torso with a hand. Pulling open his shirt, he shone the flashlight down onto his chest. His recently acquired necklace moved aside and saw, just above his heart, a black linear pattern that matched the design on the “artifact”, and he realized with a start, the pattern on Katherine’s forehead.
He winced again as another jolt of pain shot through him, and he looked up at Katherine in wonder.
“You’ve been here before?”
Katherine looked confused, then she seemed to decide upon something.
“Y– es– yes I have.”
The passage that Charles took dead ended after five minutes and with an internal groan, he turned around to return to the divide. He was feeling strange. For very long, he had been afraid; afraid of hurting those around him, afraid of trusting himself. But he had just saved a life, by himself, and with no outward prompting! He paused, and reaching down gingerly into his pocket.
Carefully he drew out the only object inside it. It was a small gun; a gun with one round left in it. Despite conscious resistance, Charles’ memories traveled far far back to a year after his sister had inadvertently killed herself. Back then he had not understood completely what trouble his father was in, but now he knew that the only parent he remembered owed somebody a lot of money; and they were very angry.
It had all culminated one day when there was a loud banging on their door. Charles’ father had shoved this weapon into his shaking hands, then fully loaded. Telling son to be quiet, father had then opened the front door only to be seized by an enormous man who started strangling his parent.
Their wrestling took them all across the house, and Charles found himself backed up into a corner. It was not long before the larger man began getting the upper hand. Swallowing his fear, Charles had raised the gun and lined the sights up with the intruder. His finger began to apply pressure to the trigger, and his mind began traveling back to the fateful day his sister had died.
Just then, Charles’ father gave a loud grunt as he suffocated in his opponent’s chokehold. This was echoed by the gunshot in Charles’ mind when his sister had shot herself. He still remembered closing his eyes and squeezing the trigger uncontrollably. When he had finally regained his composure, he recalled opening his eyes and finding both men lying on the floor.
Charles shook himself out of this terrible memory and shoved the gun back into his pocket. He continued along his path back to the intersection and when he arrived, he saw a sight that startled him so much he stumbled over backwards. Elaina, in a tank-top, and covered in dried blood, was standing, barely able to support herself, in the middle of the hallway.
“Katherine,” she whispered hoarsely, sunken eyes looking up to stare at Charles. “It’s Katherine!”
By the way, I expect five stars on this for bringing Elaina back.