Billy Bly pointed past the stone gates, his tanned, leathery finger extended up the hillside toward the silhouette not too far off in the distance.
Outlined sharply by the golden rays of the falling sun, two figures struggled on the hilltop, just beside the entrance to the tomb. One was huge, hulking—certainly too large to be human—a greenish-gray mass of sinewy muscles that bulged and rippled as the beast raised his glinting weapon.
The other figure was small, willowy, and one who didn’t know the creature might have mistaken her for a fragile thing. The sun caught her masses of flaxen hair, which reflected the light with such shimmering brilliance that the woman appeared to be an angel or saint, crowned with a luminous halo. Armed only with a wooden plank pried from the selfsame gate at which our heroes stood, she held back the force of the beast, as the wind whipped up her silken skirts to dance around her delicate ankles.
Then, suddenly, and without warning, the beast sprouted a pair of leathery wings, wings like a bat’s, and the wings beat rhythmically as he rose into the air, grabbing the woman by the hair. She cried out, screaming, as she still fought valiantly for release, beating at the beast’s impenetrable hide with the wooden board as she cried out in rage.
“That isn’t what happened,” Helen informed her husband, in a matter-of-fact tone, as she entered the room, busily shelving a stack of books. “You haven’t been keeping these in order, either,” she observed, as she plucked a few books from the shelf with a put-upon look, shoving them back into place. She gave the shelf an approving nod, dusting her hands off before she turned to leave, her ash-blonde braid swinging out as she spun. The large hound dog looked up from where he was curled up on the floor, eyeing her lazily for a moment before going back to sleep.
“Nonononono, Helen, look!”
“But Helen, see,”
“Strop being stubborn,” Helen told
“Who runs a store where no one can find anything?” Helen demanded. “You’re supposed to be selling the books, not hoarding them away.”
“Which explains why you have all the maps squirreled away under your desk,” Helen agreed nicely, tugging at the end of her braid as she finally straightened up. “Tell me, Glass, do we ever make any money?”
Helen raised an eyebrow at
“I have customers,”
“Customers who buy things?” Helen inquired, though she smiled tiredly at the boy. “If you’re going to sit around telling stories all day, you might as well get them right.”
“Helen, the lad’s going to be a
wealthy ship’s captain someday and rule the seven seas, and when he does, he’ll
buy everything in the shop.”
The woman sighed, shaking her head at her husband. “Later,” she promised, looking apologetically at the boy, as she rubbed at the sleeves of her dress. “The baby needs a bath. You just go ahead and tell him about the evil demons. Supper will be ready in an hour.”
He turned, vaulting over the nearest stool as he went to sit back down with his guest. “Sorry, boyo,” he said with a smile, running his hands through his hair. “Where were we?”
“Just go slow, boy,” the older man instructed seriously, watching his young companion with a cautious expression.
“Got it!” the youth exclaimed excitedly, as he fit the two pieces of iron together, forming them into a metal pyramid as the shapes locked together with a click. He hefted it in one hand, running his free hand through his black hair.
“Careful!” the older man exclaimed, starting as
“I dunno what you’re so worried
for, Bill,” the gangly youth replied,
tossing the pyramid just a little bit higher, just to see the reaction on the
older man’s face. “It’s not like it’s
the treasure.” At nineteen,
The older man turned away, sighing,
as he shook his head. “You’re too old
for this,” he informed
“I wanted to,”
“Your mother doesn’t want you getting yourself killed,” Bill replied, matter-of-factly, as he snatched the pyramid away from the younger man. “She was probably right. You’re too careless, boy; this isn’t a game.”
“You asked to come, lad; you’re in it till the end of things,” Bill answered, holding the pyramid back out to him. “Now don’t play with it this time, boy,” he warned. “Next time I’m taking it away for good. Get out your notes.”
“That would be a good guess,” Bill answered dryly.
Bill stood back from the doors, eyeing them with a cautious, almost studious gaze, his eyes moving slowly over the surface of the stone and iron. “Hmm,” he murmured. “And why do you think that, boy?”
“Mhmm,” Bill replied yet again, putting his hands on his hips. “Seems pretty common-sensical, doesn’t it, lad?”
The pyramid clicked into place, and the entire mechanism began turning, like clockwork, no doubt moving the gears that would open the doors. The bricks, up at the high end of the wall, withdrew into the wall itself, leaving a series of narrow holes. There was an odd snapping noise from within the door.
“Get down, lad,” Bill instructed in a brisk tone.
“Get down,” Bill snapped, grabbing the tall youth by his collar and tugging him down and back, just as a volley of arrows were released from the gaps in the wall, one catching in Sidney’s hair as they narrowly missed the two men, glancing harmlessly off the ground just beyond them.
Bill snorted, grabbing at
“Heads’re poisoned,” Bill answered. “Pick them up, by the shaft, and we’ll cover the heads. They may come in useful. Just don’t touch them, lad; it shouldn’t have a topical effect but your mother will kill me if you get it on your hands and ingest it accidentally. I told her I’d bring you home alive.
Twenty minutes later, Bill had carefully blocked the gaps in the wall so that the men wouldn’t be doused with boiling oil while he extricated the pyramid from the base and removed the pin from the door, re-positioning the pyramid in its place and replacing the pin atop the pillar so the verses inscribed on the upper surface of the pillar matched the few letters inscribed on the head of the pin, all the while lecturing Sidney in a calm, even voice, about the dangers of acting too impulsively.
The door swung open with a loud creak and not a sprung trap in sight.
Bill shrugged, raising an eyebrow, his balding head creasing dramatically. “That was nothing, lad,” he answered nonchalantly, as he put a hand out, crossing Sidney’s chest with his outstretched arm to hold the younger man back. “Stay put,” he warned, as he eyed all four sides of the gate with a cautious expression, then stepped back a few paces.
“What is it?”
Bill looked back at the younger
man. “That,” he answered, giving
He was cut off by a yell from within the gates—a distinctly feminine yell. Sidney straightened up, ignoring anything further that the older man might have tried to say in favor of using his own brute strength and a piece of rope from his pack to prop the portcullis open just far enough to crawl beneath the threatening spikes.
Whoever had yelled before did it again, and the voice sounded more desperate this time.
“Sid!” Bill hissed after the
younger man as
Sidney had sprinted off in the direction of the building, where two figures were struggling atop the roof—a large man, thicker-waisted and more muscular than Sidney was, and a tall, slender young woman, a girl, really, who was certainly no older that Sidney and quite possibly a few years younger.
The girl was the one who was
yelling, and she seemed to be doing so with good reason, as the man was now
dangling her over the side of the roof, her shoulder gripped firmly in one hand
and her thick braid of ash-blonde hair in the other as she clawed and bit,
kicked and scratched, all to no avail. In
one hand, she was holding a golden statuette inlaid with such dazzling jewels
that it caught the light and set
Ignoring Bill’s protestations,
No sooner had
He had wanted to carry a pistol,
but Bill had flatly refused—no boy would carry a gun on one of his expeditions
until his judgment could be trusted under pressure, Bill had said. Never mind that
The next moment was likely part of
that time. As the man advanced again,
“You GIT!” shouted the girl behind
The last thing
“Well, you obviously haven’t done a
very good job of teaching him,” said a girl’s voice, as
there,” Bill said gruffly, from where he sat, his watchful gaze hovering over
“Nice to have you with us,” Bill replied. “I see that welt hasn’t done a thing to your brain.”
Someone snorted pointedly. That girl was still there, standing over them, with her hands on her hips.
“Oh, ah, this is Helen Hatch,” Bill added, nodding toward the woman. “Miss Hatch, this is my assistant, Sidney Glass. You’ve already met his head.”
“Yes, lad, that’s your name. Miss Hatch didn’t hit you that hard, did she?”
“Well, only because you ruined everything, Glass” the blonde informed him, rolling her eyes as she crossed her arms over her chest.
Helen gave the youth a very pointed look. “I had it under control,” she informed him. “I really need Mister Dashing Hero to come rescue me.”
“It took me weeks to get him to do that,” Helen retorted, rolling her eyes again. “He was one of five people who knows his way through the maze into the temple proper, and you’ve killed him and I’ll have to start from scratch, If they don’t catch on first. Bly, you need to teach your assistant to stay out of other people’s business.”
Bill put a hand on
Helen gave him a very dry look. “You’re joking,” she replied.
Bill raised an eyebrow at her,
keeping his hand firmly on
“My shortcomings?” Helen demanded politely, gripping the statuette more tightly. “Your findings? You really think I’m going to let you just barge right in here and take my--”
“How long have you had it, may I ask?” Bill inquired in a calm tone.
Helen blinked, looking down at the golden statuette in her hand. “This?” she asked. “Six, seven months,” she replied. “You know what it is?”
“I know that if I had it, I wouldn’t need to get myself kidnapped,” answered Bill. “Turn the sapphire in the right eye a three-quarter turn clockwise.”
Helen raised an eyebrow, but did as the man instructed. The base of the statuette fell out, dropping out a tightly-rolled parchment, which Bill deftly caught in midair. “There’s the map to the maze,” he observed pleasantly. “Are we in, fifty-fifty?”
Helen gave the older man a disbelieving look. “Fine,” she agreed, holding out her hand, “but give me my map back.”