Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

Here Be Dragons, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 4

There were no jokes about seances this time.

They gathered around the table in the vaulted room, sat, and joined hands. Skwish was an amiable power, flowing easily between those that knew its presence. How these things worked had ceased to be a mystery to Charlie and the others, and become an accepted part of their talent. Skwish loved skwish, and worked best when combined.

Browbeat had landed on the tabletop between Charlie and Kip, and they had each placed a hand upon the flyer's back, so that their fingers also touched to complete the circle. Whatever amazing skwish power the Madracorn had imbued their creation with seemed more than happy to meet in this fashion.

"It tickles!" Browbeat said, laughing. "But I like it!"

Kippy smiled. "I can sense you, in there."

Browbeat turned his head to smile at him. "I can feel you guys, too. It's amazing!" He emitted a tiny sigh. "You're nice, Kip."

"I always thought so," Charlie said softly, causing Kip's eyes to shine.

Horace gently cleared his throat. "Shall be begin?"

"Do you even know where to start?" Rick asked. Adrian had Kip's other hand, and Rick was between Adrian and Amy. Horace was next, and then Robin, to Charlie's other hand. They had removed the two center leaves of the table to bring them all closer together.

Horace nodded. "I think so. First, let's see if we can search out our friend."

"Isn't it just here, in the whole house?" Adrian asked.

"I don't think so," the ghost hunter answered. "At least, it does not imbue the entire structure all the time. I feel like it ranges throughout the house somehow, but that it is actually based in some specific place."

"The pizza guy said that Oshtàpày was a spirit of wood," Rick observed. "Maybe it literally lives in the wood of the house. The whole structure would be like a roadway for it."

Horace blinked, and then made a small, astonished sound. "You know, you may be right! And that would account for it being trapped here. The house is surrounded by earth. If this is truly a spirit of wood, it would be like being on an island surrounded by the sea."

"Have you ever heard of a such an earth spirit?" Charlie asked.

"No." Horace smiled brightly. "Which doesn't mean a thing. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, and all that."

Kippy frowned. "Gretchen is anchored to the property where your house is located, right?"

Horace nodded. "More or less. I think her influence extends into my neighbor's properties a little. But she's very good at minding her own business."

"But she was there long before the houses were built?" Robin asked.

"Oh, yes. A genius loci is a spirit of a specific place. My entire neighborhood was once virgin forest."

Robin nodded. "But this spirit seems not to have been here before this house was built. Can I deduce, then, that if this is a spirit that lives in wood, it came here as some part of the house? Maybe when it was built?"

"Or after. "Horace nodded. "I'd say it's a good guess."

Charlie considered that. "But was it an accident? I mean, was some piece of wood imbued with this spirit unknowingly used in the creation of the house? Or...did Tasker bring it here later?"

"At a guess, I would say that Tasker is responsible for it being here. If the man was a witch...a skwish user...he certainly would have been aware of this spirit. It's quite a strong presence."

Kip shook his head. "Then I can't believe he left it here. When he died, this spirit was trapped here. That sucks!"

"He may have been unaware the end was near," Charlie suggested. "What I read about him on Frit's site suggests he was visiting his summer home in Scotland when he died. His heirs may have not known of the spirit's presence here."

"If he had skwish, they probably did, too," Kippy insisted, looking like he was ready for a debate.

Horace held up a hand. "No use arguing about the past. Let's see what we can do about the present."

Kippy frowned, and then smiled at Charlie. "Sorry."

Charlie smiled in return. "Kip, if you didn't care about things, you wouldn't be you."

"He's nice!" Browbeat repeated, tittering.

Kippy smiled at that. "Okay, I'll be good. Let's get on with it."

Horace closed his eyes, and Charlie took that as a signal to close his, too. He had no idea how this would go, having only participated in such things with Horace twice before. And those experiences, with Gretchen and Pyewacket, had each been different.

At first, he felt a slow coming together of sorts, as their group merged. And then Charlie felt an amazing sense of peace take hold, as they fully meshed. A surge of different impressions washed over him then. Kip's love of life and sense of fair play registered intensely to his one side, mixed with Browbeat's infinite curiosity and joy at just being; while a sense of solid strength and an elusive quality of time emanated from Robin on the other hand. A little less potent, because he was not directly in contact with them, but still strong in the one sense of awareness they had become, were the diverse abilities of the rest of his friends in the circle. The group entity was powerful and all-encompassing, and came with a sense of surety that, together, they could handle most anything.

Browbeat made a tiny sound of surprise and pleasure at the feeling, and then sighed happily. "This is amazing!"

"Let's look around now," Horace said quietly. "I can feel our new friend. He has become aware of our group undertaking, and is interested."

Charlie felt that sense of attention himself now, coming from all around them. But it seemed strongest somewhere nearby, though he couldn't quite determine where. He felt a sense of vibration then, almost a trembling of the floor beneath is feet; and then he felt the alien presence within the wooden table before them.

"I felt that!" Ricky said.

"It was not a real temblor," Horace answered. "I know it felt like one, but it was within our minds, and not within the floor beneath our feet."

"We're sensing it move," Kippy said then. "It moves inside wood!"

"I feel that, too," Horace agreed, "And some part of it has now entered the table, in order to interface with our own skwish."

Charlie gasped as a vision came to his mind then, so vivid as to take his breath away. A sun-washed beach, upon which a vigorous sea tossed bold waves, the aftermath of a storm. Nearby, just above where the breakers could reach was a boat, a small one, perhaps fifteen feet in length. It lay on its side, and had spilled from within three men, who lay still upon the sands. Above them, a half-dozen brown skua wheeled slowly in the strong sea breeze, looking down upon the scene with interest, but not daring yet to come closer. Their calls were sharp in the swirling air, making it clear to Charlie that their group could hear as well as see what was taking place.

For a moment the scene remained almost a picture, frozen in time. Then, one of the men stirred, groaned, and sat up. He was dressed in some sort of uniform, clearly nautical in nature, which looked to be of stout wool, and which was cut in an old-fashioned style. It was a uniform that Charlie had never seen before. The man wore a warm coat over the uniform, and a stocking cap pulled down around his ears. Thick, dark hair protruded from beneath the cap, to merge with the thick beard upon his face.

He shook his head, as if trying to clear it, and looked around at the grayish sands, which were smooth around where the boat had come to lay. The beach gradually worked its way up a gentle slope, and ended at a hill, at the top of which was a line of trees. Charlie had never seen anything quite like them before, but suspected they were cold-latitude evergreens in nature.

The man took a deep breath, and then crawled on all fours to his neighbor. He gave him a shake, and when there was no response, he took the man's hand and laid a thumb against his wrist a moment. He gave a pained toss of his head then, and laid the hand back on the ground.

"Rest in peace, Jamie Treadway." The man's voice was deep, and hoarse with stress and exhaustion.

He turned, managed to get to his feet then, and moved carefully to the next man, dropping to his knees beside him. The prone man was dressed in the same fashion, and was also bearded, though his was laced with gray. This time, the first man took the other's wrist first and felt for a pulse. The look that appeared on his face testified to the fact that he found one, for he dropped the hand and leaned forward to give the man a gentle shake. "Cob Mason, wake up!"

The man had to be shaken several times before he gasped, groaned, and his eyes popped open in alarm. For a moment he looked wildly side to side; and then his gaze lifted to the man hovering above him, and some measure of calm crept onto his features. "Ian? Ian Lewellen? Is that you?"

"Aye. It is."

The man rubbed at his eyes, shook his head again, and made to sit up. "Where are we? Beached, I see."

"On one of the islands, I would imagine. Hard to tell from here."

"Island? One of the inhabited ones?" The look of alarm reappeared on Mason's face. "The natives are unfriendly!"

"Relax. We were outboard of the western islands when that storm hit us, remember? Those islands are said to be sparsely settled. And the Alaculaf live by the sea. They're nomadic, and they travel by canoe. If they were here, we'd have already seen them."

Again, Mason looked upset. "Maybe that's not better!. Stranded, we are, then!"

A look of irritation crossed Lewellen's face. "It's too early to jump to conclusions, man. Get your wits about you! At least we live."

Mason blinked in surprise, and then made an obvious effort to get better control of himself. He nodded, and turned his head to survey the beach, and spied the other man lying closer to the boat. "What about him?"

"Jamie Treadway. He's dead, I'm afraid. Probably was half drowned by the time he made the jolly boat."

A look of grief touched Cob Mason's face. "And the Eclipse?"

"Gone. The storm took her. We pushed this jolly off the deck as she went down, but I don't know about the others."

Cob Mason groaned. "So many good men! And a fine vessel, too!"

Ian Lewellen nodded. "May they rest in peace." He sighed. "But we've more important things to worry about for now, I think. Like where we've landed, and what we can do about it."

Mason sat up further and stared out to sea. "You sure this is an island? I see naught for others, in the distance. In the western reaches, they were all about."

Lewellen waved a hand at the turbid sky. "The storm's still dragging her feet through here, I can feel it. Maybe a view from higher up will tell. Can you rise?"

"I think so. Yes."

Lewellen helped the other man to his feet. They brushed off the sand, and made their way up the beach to the hill, and carefully climbed to the trees. There, they turned to gaze out to sea.

"What I'd give for a spyglass," Lewellen muttered, shaking his head. "The horizon's too indistinct. I can't tell what's there, and what's not."

Mason brought his hands together, rubbing them vigorously. The breeze was more a wind at this height. "This place is cold enough now, and it's high summer. Imagine what it will be like, come winter."

"I don't want to still be here then," Lewellen countered. "The jolly boat looks undamaged. The surf just tossed her on her side. I think we can get back to sea in her without a problem."

Mason looked surprised. "To go where? She's not rigged to sail. And it looks like she lost her oars in the sea."

"We'll improvise something," Lewellen said. "If we are still in the western reaches, the shore currents move north. Let's not defeat ourselves before we've even begun!"

Mason's face went through several expressions of emotion before finally relaxing. "You're right, you're right." He turned to look at the boat on the beach. "We need to see if we can haul her farther from the water. Won't do to have the surf take her back to sea without us."

They returned to the jolly boat. She was a load, and they were exhausted. But they managed to push and drag the craft over the sand another fifty feet from the water, right to the base of the hill. There, they managed to heave the jolly over, keel to the sky, so that the wind would not blow her about in a storm. She was a stout little boat, but the winds in the Land of Fire were able destroyers.

"Far as we'll get, by my eye," Mason said. He nodded back at the body, now alone on the beach. "Help me put Jamie Treadway into the ground? He deserves better than to have the skua peck his eyes out."

They searched up at the tree line, found some decent sticks they could dig with, and improvised a grave. It wasn't deep enough, by far. Not much more than a foot down the ground was solid, too frozen to allow their paltry sticks any gain. Still, they carried their shipmate's body up the hill and laid him into the grave, and covered him up with the cold dirt. They found stones then to place upon the grave, and built a crude cairn, and counted it their best possible effort.

"Not a bad spot," Mason murmured. "At least his spirit can see the sea."

"Aye. Come along, then. We need to see what we're about here."

And then they turned inland, and disappeared among the trees.

The vision faded again, and Charlie felt the same strange feeling of vibration in the table, and then the floor. And then he sensed they were alone again.

"That...was weird," Rick said slowly, looking around the room. "Just like seeing a movie in my head!"

"It was extraordinary!" Horace said softly, looking thrilled. "Such amazing visuals! And sound to go with them!" He shook his head. "I've never experienced such clear communication from any earth spirit before!"

"I felt like I was there," Amy said, sounding slightly reverent. "Like I was watching those men, standing right there with them!"

"How do you suppose such a memory was made?" Charlie asked Horace. "Or was that even real?"

"I suspect it was not only real, but an accurate account of events as they happened," the ghost hunter replied. "Somehow, it was witnessed, and remembered."

"Why did it stop?" Adrian asked. "I'm sure there was more."

Horace gave an amazed, almost laugh. "Consider that a hello, I think. I suspect our new friend was simply starting to tell us the tale of how he came to be here."

"So, when will we learn more?" Kippy asked.

"He's letting us digest it," Browbeat offered. "Not too much, too fast, or we'll get too full!"

Charlie laughed at that. "I think that's an astute summation." He stood and reached to the center of the table, and pulled his laptop closer. "May as well start by seeing what we can learn. The men's names were Ian Lewellen, Cob Mason, and Jamie Treadway. And the ship was Eclipse. If there's anything online, we'll find it."

There wasn't much. Eclipse had been an ex-Royal Navy vessel, a screw-driven sloop powered by a steam engine, purchased after the navy had let her go by a small outfit to be used as a trader in the south seas. She had made a living visiting the eastern ports of South America for two years, but had gone missing sometime after April of 1865. Because there were often long periods between visits to established ports, the exact date was unknown.

And that was it. No record of the two men at all.

"Try Goggle," Kip suggested. "Or, try Frit's links."

Charlie nodded, and went to those sites.

The found Ian Lewellen there. He had been rescued in 1866, found floating in a small boat off the coast of Chile, and taken to Puerto Montt. After his recovery, he had made his way to Concepción, where he found passage to Mexico. From there, he had worked his way to America, and then across to the eastern coast. Charlie was intrigued by that. The idea of managing such a trip with very little means, in those times, was a little astonishing. But, maybe because it was that time in history, not so amazing after all. The United States had just completed a massive civil war that had mostly devastated a good part of the south. An able-bodied man, willing to work, could get around without much trouble.

And so, Ian Lewellen had eventually found himself in New York City. It was while trying to find passage from there to London that he met one James Collins, a ship owner and sometimes-adventurer. At first, Lewellen had been hoping to get to London on one of the small fleet of vessels that Collins owned. But the two had become friends, and Lewellen had eventually shared some of his story with the man. Collins was fascinated with what he was told, and asked Lewellen if he would be willing to return south if an expedition could be put together. Since that was Lewellen's goal anyway - to get to London in order to organize a ship and crew to return to Tierra del Fuego - he jumped at the chance.

Collins was stretched to the limit in his finances at that time, his fleet only starting to pay off on his massive investment. But he knew where he might get the money to back such an expedition. And so, he took Lewellen to meet a friend of his, one Herbert Tasker.

Robin laughed at that. "Adventurers run in the same circles, has always been my view."

Of Cob Mason, there was no mention. Nor of Jamie Treadway, nor anyone else connected with the Eclipse. That seemed odd, but at the moment, unimportant.

Charlie tried to read further in the online history of Lewellen, but when he clicked to move to the next page, there was a pause, and then a little window popped up, that said, Not Yet!

Rick stared at the laptop's screen. "What the hell?"

Charlie laughed. "Um...maybe that's all we can learn for now."

Rick shook his head. "Whoever heard of a website that can decide not to tell you more?"

Kippy smiled. "Elves?"

Rick blinked, and then squeezed his eyes shut a moment. "Um, oh. Yeah, right."

Adrian laid a hand on his boyfriend's arm. "Elves believe that there is a time for everything. Maybe this is just to keep us from building any preconceived ideas before we hear more from our new friend?"

The laptop beeped, and the message in the pop-up box changed to, Very Good!

Everybody laughed then. Amy looked astonished, though, and Charlie beamed at her. "Welcome to our world!"

She laughed then. "I am so glad I came along!"

"You'll learn a lot, that's for sure," Horace told her. He smiled. "I wish you had been along the first time I met these boys. Talk about a life changing event!"

Kip reached across the table and patted the man's wrist. "And we have loved having you along, too!"

Robin sighed, and turned to Horace. "How can we get our friend to come and tell us more?"

"I'm not certain. I'm sure it can see and hear us. Gretchen is very good with optics and sound, I already know. So maybe our friend is just waiting to see how we react to what we have learned thus far." Horace turned to Charlie. "I don't know what else to add just now."

Charlie nodded. "You're doing fine." He frowned. "I was thinking we'd go back to talk to the pizza guy and see if we could learn from him of any local experts on the house or the Oshtàpày legend. But...I think we're beyond that now. All a local could tell us would be local interpretations and stories. I think we're arriving at the idea now that Tasker brought our friend here somehow from the same island we just witnessed in the vision."

Kippy nodded. "That's an assumption, but one I agree with."

Rick smiled. "You know, we could always go to Engris, visit a spirit dome, and call for Tasker. He could tell us the story, himself."

Charlie nodded. "That could possibly work. And if it comes down to that, we will." He smiled. "But Murcha has Lollipop engaged just now, and we'd have to pull the ship off a contracted run. I'm really not willing to do that unless we have to."

Kippy laughed, noting Charlie's look. "And?"

Charlie smiled. "And, I'm enjoying the hunt!" He turned to Robin. "Aren't you, my dear Holmes?"

The man laughed. "Indubitably, my dear Watson."

"So, then what's next?" Browbeat asked. He sighed, his face aglow with pleasure. "This is so fun!"

Charlie looked to the small flyer with interest. "What do you think we should do?"

"Me?" Browbeat laughed. "I don't know. I think we have to wait on the nishpah to tell us more."

Kippy's eyebrows danced upwards at that. "Nishpah?"

Browbeat turned to look at him. "Uh huh. That's what we call these types of life on my planet."

Horace looked interested at that. "So, you have them there, too?"

"Oh, sure. They're everywhere. You should know that!"

The ghost hunter nodded. "I've only suspected until now." He smiled. "And hoped. But the idea that such incorporeal life inhabits every corner of the universe, the same as corporeal life does, makes a lot of sense to me."

Charlie had to agree with that. "It does. But we have already determined that these entities are different, just like people. I want to get along with this one, and not inadvertently piss it off."

"It seems pretty nice to me," Browbeat put in. "I can sense a lot of power in it. If it was mad at us, we'd know it!"

"Anybody hungry?" Ricky asked, smiling. "Meeting with earth spirits always sharpens my appetite."

Everybody laughed, and Adrian put out a hand and patted his boyfriend's arm. "You're better than a dinner bell!"

Charlie turned to Horace. "So, you think our new friend can see and hear us?"

"Yes. I think we can assume it will at least have the same senses that Gretchen and Pyewacket do."

Charlie nodded, and smiled up at the arched ceiling. "We'll be back in a little while, if you'd like to share more."

Horace looked pleased, and happily took Amy's arm as they got up to go downstairs.

Cob Mason came back at a run. He had gone off to relieve himself, and Ian Lewellen was surprised at the look on the man's face now. "What happened?"

Mason stopped and took a moment to catch his breath, and then threw a thumb over one shoulder. "There's a city up ahead!" His voice was a husky whisper, as if he feared being overheard.

"A city?" Lewellen's eyes darted to the hills around them, but saw nothing. Still, he took his cue from the other man and kept his voice low. "What kind of city?"

"Like one I've never laid eyes on before!"

"How far?"

"Just through that defile. It comes out at the head of a path, which leads straight to the city."

Lewellen considered that a moment. "Did you see anyone there?"

Mason looked surprised by the question. He squinted a moment in thought, and shook his head. "Now that you say I didn't see a soul."

"I've heard no tales of the natives in these islands building cities," Lewellen said. "They're nomads. And quite primitive."

"It's a for-sure city I saw, I tell you! Like none I've ever seen!"

Lewellen looked around at the hills again, and nodded. "Let's see, then."

He started into the narrow defile Mason had just fled, and heard the other man fall in behind him. Their footfalls on the rocky floor of the gorge seemed loud, though they chose their steps carefully. The island was silent save for the ever-present sound of the wind, and the far-off calls of sea birds at the shore.

The two men emerged from the other end of the defile onto a ledge overlooking a small valley below, a bowl in the land that was filled from side-to-side with structures made of stone.

"It is a city!" Adrian breathed, into the moment.

"And Lewellen was right," Charlie whispered. "The natives there didn't build anything like that. They lived along the shores, in dwellings a little like the Southwestern Native American's teepee."

"Shh!" Kippy said then. "We'll miss something!"

Mason came up beside Lewellen as they stood on the ledge. To their left, the ledge widened into a path leading downward, and they could see a segment of it farther on that led right to the city itself. The walk was no more than a mile, at best.

Charlie studied the city in his mind. The buildings were squarish, most of them two floors in height, and clearly made of stone. There were tall, narrow windows in the walls, and the slightly canted roofs seems to be made of wood. They could see a large, star-shaped central area in the city, at the point where five major thoroughfares met, which could easily have done for a town square. Narrower lanes passed between buildings off the five main avenues, all of which was laid out in a clear, geometric precision that spoke of a great familiarity with mathematics.

The streets between the buildings seemed to be paved with stone, and there were small structures at almost every other corner that Charlie would have bet were wells. Some considerable thought, and no small effort, had gone into creating the place, certainly. The city looked not only livable, but even comfortable.

And, bereft of life.

Nothing moved, anywhere. A few birds rose and settled here and there, but nothing resembling a human being could be seen anywhere.

Lewellen turned to Mason, and waved a hand at the structures below. "I don't see a soul about. It's a magnificent place, and totally unexpected here. But it seems empty, too."

"Shall we have a look?" Mason asked, seeming emboldened now by the lack of occupancy in the city below.

"Aye. If for no other reason than the place is shelter." Lewellen let his gaze rise to the sky, and it seemed he did not like what he saw there. "I would say that the storm that took Eclipse has a backside, and that it may be upon us soon."

Mason grunted, and the two of them turned to the path and headed down to the city.

The walk didn't take long. The path had once been covered with small stones, not much bigger than gravel, but it was now in some disrepair. Mud had washed down from the heights in different places and covered the path, and the fact that it had not been cleared seemed to bolster the idea that the city had been deserted. The two men stepped carefully in these places, but soon enough they had arrived at the city itself.

"No wall," Mason observed, as they stepped from the path onto a cobbled street. "No gate. These people must have felt secure here."

"These islands have no large populations," Lewellen said. "Certainly, no armies." He shook his head. "And no other cities like this one, I'll wager. I'm amazed stories have not leaked out to the world by now. Every island in the archipelago has surely been visited by Europeans or locals by now. This city is not so far inland that anyone stopping here could fail to see it. I am at a loss to how such a place could still be a mystery in these times."

Mason raised a hand at the street ahead of them. "Let's head for the center of town we saw from above. If there was any government here, it would have been there." He took a step forward then.

Lewellen put out a hand and stopped him. "Listen."

Mason blinked, and looked around nervously. "I hear nothing."

"Exactly. What happened to the wind? There is no place in these accursed islands that isn't swept by them constantly. Here, there is nothing."

Mason held up a hand to the still air, and nodded. "I see what you mean. I can't even feel a breeze here."

Lewellen turned to survey the encircling hills. "A natural barrier? They seem not tall enough to be so effective as windbreaks."

"Another mystery," Mason said quietly, looking around at the silent buildings. "I've a feeling this place is full to the gunwales with such things."

Lewellen nodded. "Let's be quiet as we walk. A silent city may have silent inhabitants about. I don't wish to be surprised."

But they made their way to the center of town without seeing or hearing anything or anyone. Even the sounds of the far-off birds along the shore seemed to have vanished.The quiet seemed to unnerve both of them, however, and Mason, especially. His eyes darted here and there, and so it was he that first noticed the odd border along the street. Logs, smoothed and dressed, mated end to end and sunk within the cobbled way so that only the upper halves showed. Each log end was mated to the next with a wooden collar, forming one continuous length down each side of the street. And, every so often, but seemingly in orderly fashion, there was a log buried deeper, so that only a thin line of it showed, that crossed the street from one side to the next, linking the two borders.

"Have you seen the logs set along each side of the roadway?"

Lewellen looked down. "A border, perhaps? They were probably used as forms for the cobbles."

"And yet, the cobbles are on both sides of the logs. And, here...look. There is a log that extends from those along the road to the base of each building. They look to pass within."

Lewellen laughed. "Who knows the ways of ancient builders?"

Mason gave a small shudder. "This place feels ancient, but it does not look it. It is too clean, too well-maintained. Too orderly. As if the residents simply got up and left yesterday."

"I don't think that's true. My sense is of a city long-abandoned."

But Mason shook his head. "I don't like this place, Ian. It has a strange feel to it."

"Aye. It does. But it does not feel a bad feeling, if you know what I mean."

"Says you. My hackles are raised here. I feel like running away!"

Lewellen stopped and put a hand on the other man's arm. "Relax. Take a breath. I think you are feeling a thing common to long-abandoned places. I've felt it myself, before, and so know it when I feel it now."

Mason stared at him. "When have you been anyplace even remotely like this?"

The other man laughed. "On my first voyage, in the old Petrel, we stopped in Port Said. Michael Dumbarton, who was ship's cook, had a fascination for ancient places. He talked me and three others into joining him for a trip to Cairo and a nighttime walk to the plains of Giza outside town, where we stood by lantern light in the lee of those ancient pyramids. I got the same sense there as I have here, now."

Despite being unsettled, Mason nodded. "I've heard tell of them. They're supposed to be older than time, itself."

Lewellen smiled at that. "Maybe not that old. But certainly older than most anything we know in England. This place, I feel, is very old, too."

"It looks too well-kept for being so old, though. I would think the weather in a place like this would not be kind, even to stone."

Lewellen held up a hand. "And yet...still, no wind."

They reached the center of the town without any sign that anyone else was present. There, the buildings were larger, and one, in particular, with a domed roof upon it. Lewellen chose that one to investigate first.

"It's getting colder," Mason said, as they stopped before the wooden doors. Their breaths emerged as clouds of mist now, and there was a bite in the air upon their faces that had been lacking earlier.

The doors were closed, but there was what looked like an iron latch of some sort, and no apparent lock. Lewellen reached out to finger the latch. "Aye, it is colder. If I had a barometer present, I would say the pressure is falling. We're in for a serious blow of some kind." He indicated the door. "As good a place to shelter as any."

The latch proved easy to manipulate, and the door opened smoothly inward. They found themselves in a wide hallway that headed for the center of the building. The floor was of wood, and felt solid beneath their feet. There were open doorways to each side, and the rooms beyond were lit by the ebbing daylight coming in through the tall, narrow windows. Each room they passed was empty, yet there was no detritus of any kind on the wooden floors. The windows were all framed with wood, each with a plank attached to the wall beneath, that rose from the wooden floor to the window frame. All the windows had stout inner shutters attached to their frames, which could be closed to keep the weather outside, though most were open now. And yet, the world outside had remained outside, a testament to the idea that the current lack of even a mild breeze here was a norm and not an exception.

"It's awfully clean, for an ancient place," Mason repeated, in a whisper.

"It is that," Lewellen agreed. He pointed then. "There. I believe that door ahead will take us underneath the dome we saw from without."

They reached it, and opened it. Beyond was a large, circular room, around which wooden benches were arrayed beneath the tall windows. The shutters were open here, too, and there was still enough light to see by. The two men separated by silent accord, each going in a different direction to investigate the room. Mason walked towards the outer wall and the seats, while Lewellen headed for the center of the room.

There he found a large, circular stone bowl on a raised wooden dais, perhaps as broad as a man was tall, in which was piled logs of some sort of dark wood. Some were charred, and ashes beneath and around the logs suggested an ancient fire, put out long before the logs were consumed. Lewellen looked up, and saw a circular hole in the center of the dome above, an obvious chimney for the smoke such a fire might produce

Mason, who had reached the outer wall, moved to a window and looked outside. "It's snowing, Ian! I knew it was getting colder."

"Hmm. So, snow can fall here, even if the wind cannot enter." Lewellen inspected the bowl and the logs, and sighed. He'd thought perhaps the logs might be petrified by now, yet when he rapped upon them, they returned a quite normal sound. They were dry, and still burnable. "Damn," he breathed then. "A flint and a striker, and we might have a fire."

Mason came back to him then. "Perhaps if we close these shutters, it will reduce the cold--"

He never finished the sentence. They heard an odd sound, and then sparks flew from beneath the logs in the stone bowl, and a fire ignited there. It simply roared to life, and so suddenly that both men jumped backwards. They simply stared, unable to believe what had happened.

Another sound reached their ears then, and they turned to look at the outer walls. One by one, the shutters closed over the windows, shutting out the light.

Mason roared then. "A trap! We are being imprisoned!"

He turned and bolted for the door to the hallway. Lewellen lunged after him, trying to stop him, and missed. Mason fled through the door and was gone. Lewellen could hear his rapid footfalls as they echoed down the hallway and faded away outside.

Lewellen stopped then. A soft orange light came from behind him, different from the light of the fire. It did not flicker, but remained steady on the floorboards before him. At the same time, he sensed a presence there, back near the fire, and slowly turned to look.

And found then, that the city of the ancients was not abandoned, after all...

The vision faded, and Charlie and the others sat a moment in silence.

"Hell of a place to stop," Rick said then, sounding exasperated.

Browbeat tittered. "I don't know about you, but I'm full again! That gave me a lot to think about!"

Charlie sighed. "I have to agree."

Kip shook his head. "I almost feel like we're being teased."

"I don't," Amy said. "I think we are being told a story in easy doses. I feel like it is consideration for our needs that has caused our friend to deliver his message in parts. This house is over 150 years old. There's a lot of history behind it, surely." She smiled at Kip. "Would you really want all that history delivered at one time?"

Kip thought that over, and then smiled. "No." He looked up at the vaulted ceiling then. "Forget I said that, please!"

"We are being given the opportunity to discuss what we are learning, as we go along," Horace offered. "To understand. I think we need to talk over this most recent chapter of events before we will be shown more."

Charlie smiled, liking the idea. "Then I'd say we'd better get busy, wouldn't you say?"

"Where do we start?" Adrian asked.

Robin smiled. "Why, at the beginning, of course!"

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