Friday, December 24, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 3

I walked to Clockhaven, to the town square, and consulted the hand-drawn map to search for the old dig. "Look for the hidden door," I read, "next to the stairs."

I find the hidden door - and a deep snowdrift

Before I knew it, I found myself chest-deep in snow, as the winds must have pushed the snowfall into this corner, and merchants shoveling their sidewalks added to the pile. Cursing Bernard Blindside for having the poor taste to be abducted during the winter, I struggled ahead to the wall and triggered the latch of the hidden door.

Once inside, several feet below the cellars of the buildings above, I followed the map into the drainage system. Already soaking wet from the snow, I decided that the additional moisture from walking through the ankle-deep water would not appreciably increase the odds of contracting pneumonia.

Soon I found myself confronted with a panel containing writing in an ancient language. I assumed there was a chamber behind the panel, but I could find no way of creating an opening. More out of desperation than anything, I made a rubbing of the panel, hoping someone at the Academy could decipher the text. Clutching my rubbing to keep it above the water, I made my way back outside. My next step was clear: find some clean, dry clothes!

A runic message.

As I made my way across Port Babbage, I noticed another flier for "The Amazing Translatograph" located in the Town Hall. Perhaps I needn't consult an academic after all, though it was beyond me how a machine could translate an unknown language.

The Translatograph was indeed in the Town Hall, on the ground floor. The machine itself resembled a giant microscope with dozens of pistons and gears. I laid down the rubbing on the machine, pressed the start button, and waited as the Translatograph warmed up, the pistons moving faster and faster until they became no more than blurs. Relays clicked from somewhere inside the mechanism...

The Amazing Translatograph.

...until the engine displayed an English translation of the text of the rubbing. A truly wondrous piece of New Babbage engineering!

The translation!

I read:
I am the mortal god Salador;
If you seek my legacy then speak the answer to this riddle:

Sheared close by a shaping blade,
Honed smooth by a fierce file
Sometimes I swallow my tempered foe.
When bound by rings I heave from behind,
Trust a long limb through a hard hole.
Catch hard the keeper of the heart's pleasure,
Twist with my tongue and turn back
The midnight guardian of my lord's treasure.
When the conquering warrior comes to hold
The gift of slaughter, the joy of gold.
I pondered the riddle. "Sheared close...honed smooth." Hmm, this conjured up an image, but what? "Thrust a long limb through a hard hole." Should a maiden really be reading such things? " of...treasure." The light bulb went on.

I realized that warm, dry clothes were still in my distant future as I rapidly returned to Clockhaven, the hidden door, the drainage system, and the panel. I spoke the answer to the riddle...and was rewarded when the panel slid up, revealing a small chamber within. A small basket, empty, lay inside, its lid sitting off to the side. A piece of parchment showed that I had indeed found this Salador's hiding place, but that I was too late: someone had found it before me and taken away his papers. I sighed heavily.

Returning to the surface and once again determined to find dry clothing, I trudged wearily to my rooms in the Hotel Excelsior. I looked up at one point, only to see a hooded man, wearing medieval garb, standing on the roof of one of the buildings. He appeared to be looking directly at me, though he did not acknowledge my presence. When I stared back, he retreated into the shadows and disappeared. I thought I saw him on other rooftops along my route but I could never be quite certain.

Back in Babbage Square, the urchins had redoubled their efforts to capture the Beast. If the Mark III trap was impressive, the Mark IV trap left nothing to chance, its iron walls forming a cage, the barbed wire ensuring that nothing ensnared could escape. The operator sat atop the cage and activated the mechanism, which involved a series of pulleys and ropes. The scamps were prepared for a long siege, as the operator's area included bedding.

A trap for the Beast - Mark IV

These preparations ultimately paid off. After a few false alarms, the Beast did return to the area, and the iron gates fell with a loud clang, trapping the creature inside! Brave - or foolhardy - townspeople rushed to see what the trap contained. Before they arrived, however, a large explosion echoed off the iron inside the confined space. When someone unlocked and raised the gate, they saw a gaping hole in the bottom of the cage - and no sign of the Beast.

The Beast escapes!

The hole went through the pavement and led directly into the drainage system. Armed with pistols and torches, several people went through the hole to search for the creature. They saw nothing other than the debris from the explosion and some discolored splotches in the ice, which were later determined to be some sort of chemical residue. Despite an extensive search, neither the Beast nor its liberator - for there could no longer be any doubt that someone was actively aiding the creature - could be found.

[And with that, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a happy Solstice, or a joyous celebratory day of your choice!]

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