Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 2

The excavation was in Babbage Square, not far from the mortuary - an odd but fitting coincidence, as I will relate later. Mr. Blindside, prior to his disappearance, had placed the sarcophagus in a standing position and roped off the area to prevent passers-by from contaminating the site. This proved to be helpful for the police, who were able to keep the crime scene - if that is what it was - roped off. This did not prevent hordes of curious onlookers from tromping through the soil, touching the sarcophagus, feeling the seam where someone - something - erupted from the solid container, pawing through any clues that may have been left behind.

The excavation site

Although the site itself was of little help to me, I arranged to see copies of the documents that were found on the excavation site, on or near Mr. Blindside's tool bag. The first was a reference to an earlier dig, and the finding of an artifact there. The artifact now resided in the R.F. Burton library in New Babbage. At the old dig was a stone wall, inscribed in an ancient, unknown language. The second document was a hand-drawn map indicating the location of the earlier dig, beneath the old city of Clockhaven. I made some notes and reproduced the map. A third document was apparently a letter to Blindside, and the fourth was a map of New Babbage with certain spots marked by hand, suggesting these were areas Blindside had visited or intended to visit. A curious collection.

The urchins try to trap the Beast - with no success

Because the library was nearby, I first headed there. The artifact, when a busy librarian could spare the time to show me to the small room where it was kept, resembled a large nut - not the edible kind, but the sort that Babbage engineers would use to construct their tall iron buildings. The nut (for that is how I thought of it) contained the mark of Malkuth, the ancient deity that was believed to rule over our world. I had encountered the mark of Malkuth before, investigating the Secret of the Thirteen. Could this be related to the guardians of Malkuth in the crypt below Babbage Square? I borrowed the artifact with a solemn promise to return it. "In good condition, Miss Jameson!" the librarian called after me.

Passing by the town hall, I noticed a series of fliers touting the wonders of something called a Translatograph, supposedly able to render in English a translation of any language, using the strength of an enormous Babbage Engine. What will those engineers devise next? I marveled. The wind swirled around me and I pulled my coat closer. I was glad to get out of the wind and into a sheltered alleyway where I once again found the mark of Malkuth, the entrance to the secret crypt. Descending carefully into the crypt, I made my way to the sealed tomb. On the top of the tomb was a small indentation that appeared to be about the size of... From my bag, I pulled out the "nut" I had retrieved from the library. It fit perfectly! As though the crypt had been set into place only yesterday, and not centuries before, the top of the tomb rotated smoothly, revealing the disintegrating remains of a skeleton...and an ancient scroll.

I discover the relic of the old dig

The scroll revealed the resident of the tomb to be one of the Guardians of Malkuth, dedicated to ensuring that the ancient god would not return to our time stream. The other two tombs were empty. What could that mean?

This matter was becoming increasingly perplexing. The archaeologist may have unearthed an ancient evil, whether intentionally or by accident. This evil was almost surely related to the cult of Malkuth. But Mr. Blindside had no reason to disappear, and it seemed unlikely that the Beast - which has thus far attacked children only - would have attacked the archaeologist, nor would the Beast have so neatly disposed of the body. Something more modern was at work here.

I had three potential lines of inquiry: look for Mr. Blindside, look for the Beast, or try to understand the nature of the threat. I had no idea how to go about the first; the urchins and, seemingly, half of New Babbage, was on the trail of the second; so that left the third avenue to pursue. Fortunately, I had a map. I set out for Clockhaven to search for the old dig.

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