Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Endless Treasure – For Carlee

Clue clutched the map close to her as the plane banked down through the storm towards Fiumicino. “I hate this part, Mr. Mouse,” she confessed to her friend, a small white and gray mouse tucked in her pocket. Mr. Mouse, as usual, said nothing but Clue felt he understood the sentiment.
The map had been sent to her with no explanation and no return address, only an ornate card that said “Rome” and a pretty thick stack of cash Clue hadn’t actually gotten around to counting yet. So here she was, five minutes out from Rome, the Eternal City.
This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. It sort of came with the job. When your business cards say “Trouble-shooter and Adventurer”, trouble and adventure are to be expected. Clue had been at it for awhile. Mr. Mouse had been along for most of the ride.
The wheels touched down, slightly behind schedule, and the plane taxied to the gate through a thick fog. Clue wondered who was behind the mysterious summons and whether they’d be around to meet her. By the time she’d walked through an empty arrivals hall the lack of contact with those who had summoned her forced her to make her own plans.
She left the airport and headed by train for Stazione Termini in the centre of the city. Her plan was to find a place to stay and let the sender of the map seek her out.
Three days later they made contact. “A message for you, miss,” called the concierge as Clue entered the lobby of the hotel. She walked to the counter as the concierge produced a large black envelope complete with wax seal. “It was left for you this morning,” the man explained. “I did not see them,” he continued. Clue took it with a nod and walked up the stairs to her room.
Once inside, she sat down and opened the letter. Mr. Mouse moved from her pocket to her shoulder and chewed the envelope as she read.
“Clue Restacks, congratulations, you have been selected. You have already been provided the artefact and our down payment. We hope it is sufficient. At 13:00 tomorrow you will meet our contact, Shine Wendel, at Piazza del Risorgimento and be provided with more information. We are grateful.”
“Well, what do you make of that, Mr. Mouse? Still not very helpful, is it?” Clue mused. “I guess we do what they say.”
The next day dawned sunny but cold as Clue woke and took a morning walk. She sat in a cafe across the square from the Pantheon and sipped her espresso while she considered the “artefact” from the letter.
The map was old, she could tell, but not revealing beyond her initial suspicions. Indeed, the map was of Rome but the markings weren’t English, Italian, or Latin. There was no obvious “X” that marked a spot or any real context. The only standout was the small drawing in the corner that seemed to be a crude rendition of the Bocca della Verita – the ancient drain cover that tourists now used as a kind of lie detector. The drawing seemed to have been made more recently than the rest of the map.
She fed Mr. Mouse a sugar cube and watched the people idly. There was still plenty of time to make the meeting with her mysterious contact. “What kind of name is ‘Shine’ anyway?” she wondered, as she patted the head of her mouse friend.
Clue arrived at the square 15 minutes before the appointed meeting time. She sidled up to the edge of the outdoor ice rink that had been erected and pretended to watch the skaters as she scanned the area for anything out of place. Once or twice she thought she saw some “tourists” that seemed to be taking her picture but she couldn’t see a pattern.
“We’re happy you could make it, Clue,” the stranger next to her said, making Clue jump a little bit on the inside. “My name is Shine Wendel. Well, Stella actually, but call me Shine.” Shine Wendel was not what Clue had been expecting. Younger, blonder, and girlier than Clue had been expecting, actually.
“What’s all this about?” asked Clue. “I’ve been sitting around for days waiting for someone to tell me what’s going on. You’ve paid well, but I turned down two other jobs for this.”
“Ah, yes,” replied Shine. “We do apologise for the delay but we had to be sure we were getting what we expected.” Shine turned and made a motion to one of the people Clue had suspected of watching her. The man merged back into the crowd and disappeared. Perhaps a little bit too quickly for Clue’s liking. Shine turned back to Clue. “We’ve hired you to follow the map.”
“Well, I’ve got some questions, then. First, it’s in a language I don’t read. Frankly, I don’t think anyone reads that. Second, what aren’t you telling me? I’ve been on ghost hunts before, but I usually started off with a little bit more than ‘follow the map.’”
A cold gust of wind blew through the Piazza. Shine shivered, looked Clue in the eye and replied, “Exactly.”
“There’s a treasure, it’s close by, and that map points the way. We’ve been waiting a long time for someone to find it, and we hope it’ll be you. It should become quite clear how to proceed, if we’re right about you, Clue.” Then Shine giggled, flipped up her collar and walked away leaving Clue and Mr. Mouse standing in the sudden downpour the wind had brought.
Clue sat in the cafe, trying not to order a third espresso, while she studied the map. She’d hoped that her contact could have shed some more light on the situation but it seemed any advances she’d be able to make she’d have to make on her own. She took another hard look at her only lead. No obvious indications of date. No sign of a key. Just those few notations in… whatever that was. Clue looked closer at the writing. Somehow it seemed swirlier than it was before. “Do you see that?” she asked Mr. Mouse. Mr. Mouse eyed her panini. “You’re no help.” Clue pulled out her notebook and compared the notes she’d made earlier.
Sure enough, there were subtle differences in the script.
Mr. Mouse squeaked. Clue couldn’t say anything. The map had changed.
Early the next morning, Clue arrived at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, home of the Bocca della Verita. She clutched the map close as she surveyed the area. Across the street was the Temple of Hercules, looking small and somewhat run down. The Mouth of Truth itself was set in the side of the church behind a fence. She was glad she was the only one around. She approached the looming face and examined its empty stare. Legend had it that the mouth would snap shut on the hand of a liar. She traced the outline with her finger. She was more than a little worried about her hand. “Go check it out, Mr. Mouse,” she said as she placed her hand inside. Mr. Mouse ran down her arm and into the hole. He didn’t get very far before he huffed and ran back up to her shoulder. “Nothing, huh?” Clue decided as she removed her hand, intact. “I guess it was a long shot. Maybe we could ask someone here if they can help us figure this out. After all, there’s a picture of this guy on the map.” She smacked the map for emphasis.
Suddenly the map began to glow. Clue unfolded it in shock. A phantom blue line traced from the Mouth of Truth into the middle of the map. Clue fumbled the paper and it dropped to the ground, blue light quickly fading. She scrambled to pick it up. She grabbed it before it could blow away, reaching one-handed through the fence. She pulled it back through and quickly looked to see any trace of the mystery line. She took both sides and pulled it all the way open. The light surged back through the streets on the page. Clue suddenly had an idea. She let go of it with her left hand. The line stayed. She put her left hand back and removed her right hand. Instantly the light went dark. She looked at her hand and then at the cold gaze of the stone face. She extended one finger of her right hand, the hand that had been in the Bocca, and touched the map.
“Bingo!”
“I don’t know how this works, Mr. Mouse, but it works.” She traced the line on the map and looked in her guidebook. According to the book the path ended in Piazza della Minerva, just behind the Pantheon and home of the obelisk of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.
“Let’s go see what we can see,” said Clue as she began walking North under a bright, sunny morning sky.
Clue noticed that the glow on the map abruptly blinked out as she arrived in the square. She looked up and took stock of her surroundings. Bernini’s obelisk set on an elephant stood before her, beyond that, the giant rear wall and impressive dome of the Pantheon. The obelisk cast a long shadow in the bright sun.
“Splendid, isn’t it?” asked a voice, out of the blue.
Clue jumped again, as Shine appeared unexpectedly behind her.
“I, uh, yeah,” stammered Clue, slightly annoyed that she had been ambushed and slightly more annoyed that she’d been significantly uncool in her response. “What are you doing here?”
“Just checking in,” Shine replied, casually taking a large bite of her gelato cone. “Seems like you’re making some progress with the map. Or you’re really into circus animals.” She waved her cone at the statue.
“I may be on to something, yes,” Clue admitted through clenched teeth.
A large raindrop landed directly on the blonde woman’s ice cream. Shine looked up at the suddenly darkening sky. “Yeah, looks like you might be. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that there’s been some changes to the plan. You need to complete your mission by midnight. No later. Find the treasure by the end of the day or unfortunately we won’t be able to do any further business with you.”
Lightning thundered ominously at the last statement. Shine took another bite of her cone. Clue didn’t care for the vacant look she was getting.
“So, wait, you send me a mystery map, call me to Italy, make me wait for days without any word on what you want then give me a few hours to do what I do or I don’t get paid?” Now Clue was good and pissed. And now she was soaked. In the few minutes since she’d entered the Piazza the storm had blown in and she hadn’t even had a chance to look around. Now she had her contact telling her to find some alleged treasure by the end of the day.
“That’s right.” Shine laughed and finished her cone.
“I can’t do magic, I need more time!” Clue was frustrated.
“You might be surprised.” Shine winked, then walked away.
“Well, now what?” Clue asked Mr. Mouse as they sheltered from the rain under an awning. Clue turned over her options. She could walk away, but she’d already been given a hefty chunk of change. She also had a chance to make more upon completion. Plus find a treasure, and who didn’t like that? It was why she was in the business, after all. But she had a sneaky feeling about Shine and Shine’s sinister “partners” that had yet to show themselves beyond lurking around and taking pictures of her. It was pretty obvious now that she was being followed closely, and probably had been since the airport.
Mr. Mouse popped his head out of Clue’s pocket where he had stayed comfortably warm and dry during the downpour. He chattered and tried to push out the map, which was competing for space in his hideaway.
Clue pulled out the map. What was going on there? First the subtle changes and then the weird “follow me” line that lit up when she touched it with the hand that had been in the Bocca. She’d looked at the map a hundred times, now, since it had been sent. She couldn’t figure out how it worked. It was old. It was unreadable even before it started changing and blinking. It was creepy is what it was.
“But it can’t be!” she said, disbelievingly, as she had an idea.
To test it, she held the map up looking for any trace of hidden wires or lights. Still convinced she must be dealing with some sort of technology she tore a piece of the corner, pulled out a lighter and burned it. Sure enough, it was regular paper, not some kind of elaborate plastic screen.
“Magic!” she said out loud.
“It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s got to be magic! There just isn’t any other explanation.” Mr. Mouse looked at her like he’d known it all along.
“That’s enough out of you,” Clue told him. “You have no idea what’s going on here, either, but this is our first actual lead.”
When she looked back up the sun was out. She left her shelter and held the map in front of her as she circled the square.
“When I touched it after the Bocca it lit up. There must be something around here that works the same way that’ll point to the next step!” she said excitedly to her fuzzy friend who was currently enjoying the sun from a perch on her shoulder. “We might actually have a chance!”
She moved closer to the statue holding the map in front of her and feeling quite a bit like a tourist, feeling that the key must be the elephant. Because it was always the elephant.
But before she got within reach of the statue a new line on the map flickered on and then off. Clue looked for the source and saw it fairly quickly. She’d just crossed the obelisk’s shadow. She took a step back to the shade. Sure enough, the map lit up again. She traced the new line in her journal. Once again it pointed almost directly North, to Piazza di Spagna.
Clue made her way to the next objective. “This may not take as long as I thought.” She told Mr. Mouse.
She arrived at the steps from Via Condotti, passing through Rome’s most exclusive shopping district. She felt Shine’s money burning a hole in her bag. “How do you feel about a shiny collar?” She asked Mr. Mouse while eyeing the jewellery shops. Mr. Mouse bit her. “Ow! Ok! No collar!”
She emerged into the square, the steps rising up in front of her in tiers from a small fountain at the bottom. The two bell towers of Trinite dei Monte towered above the staircase. Clue had to admit it was impressive.
“What do you suppose it’s as easy as climbing the stairs?” She wondered to Mr. Mouse. “Guess I might as well start with that.”
Clue was soon at the top. And she’d only been accosted by buskers twice and, more surprisingly, only been asked to take one picture for one couple. Now she looked back down the stairs past the palm trees and over the rooftops. There had been no signs of life from her magical guide. “Back down, I guess,” she said as she retraced her steps to the bottom. Three buskers and three photos this time.
“I think that covers my exercise for today.” She muttered to the rodent, who, far from exercising, was curled up in her pocket sleeping. Or pretending he was asleep. Clue poked him and he opened one beady eye and glared at her. Clue then went back up the steps about halfway and sat on the edge of the railing at the side just out of the way of the main traffic. She considered her options. Her deadline was coming up quickly and she had no idea how many more stops she’d have to make.
She gazed down absentmindedly at the busy square. At the base of the steps was the Barcaccia fountain. All the waypoints so far had been sculpture. She rushed down to get closer.
Designed as a sinking boat, the fountain was low to the ground, almost at the same level as the cobblestone street. Mr. Mouse scampered to the edge for a drink. Clue watched him and at the same time began her tourist routine of pacing about with the map thrust before her, watching for any changes. Mr. Mouse finished up and ran back up to her shoulder. Evidently he’d also had a bath and dripped water all down Clue’s arm. “Careful! she scolded, “You’ll get the map wet!” And then she had an idea. She gave Mr. Mouse a pat on the head and used her damp finger to trace the square on the page. It flickered. She gave Mr. Mouse another good pat and dripped the map again.
With a now-familiar flash, the map shifted again and another blue trail snaked across it. Much shorter than the others, this one traced directly up Via del Babuino to Piazza del Popolo.
It was just beginning to get dark as Clue entered the piazza. Still not knowing how much of her quest was left, Clue was anxious to sort out where the next step took her.
The Piazza del Popolo was shaped like an oval. Decorative walls defined the top and bottom while Clue had entered from the south side and just to the right of the twin churches. Another large obelisk stood in the middle on a raised platform of stairs with a fountain of lions at each corner.
This felt like good news to Clue, as her last stops had been an obelisk and a fountain. Perhaps this would similarly activate the map.
So that was where she started. Clue first tried the shadow trick from Bernini’s elephant and watched the map do nothing. She grunted. Not impressed. Then she tried water from the fountain closest to the shadow. Clue began to feel concerned. It was quickly getting darker and soon she would lose the shadow, if, in fact, that had anything to do with the next direction this time. And to make matters worse, the weather, which had been unsettled all day, began to change again. The warm sun of the afternoon was becoming once again the cold rain and fog of the morning.
Clue sat down and watched the sky going gray. She needed to re-focus on the whole plan. Maybe then it would become clear. She thought about re-examining the map, but she’d done that enough. Instead, she decided to watch the people around her. Out of the corner of her eye something seemed strangely out of place.
One of the tourists in the piazza was familiar. Then Clue noticed another one. She’d seem them before, when she’d first met Shine. She sensed something dangerous now. Her suspicions were confirmed when she turned to see Shine striding purposely towards her.
Suddenly everything went dark. Clue collapsed as a burst of thunder shook the air.
She woke up and groaned. She couldn’t see anything but felt better when Mr. Mouse squeaked at her from her pocket. “Glad you’re ok, little guy.” She mumbled. “Any idea where we are?” But Mr. Mouse was of no help in that regard.
Feeling around, Clue found a light switch. The room was bathed in red light. “A dark room!” she realized, but just as quickly understood that this wasn’t specifically helpful right now.
She found the door, but, predictably, it was locked. She decided against kicking it, not knowing what was on the other side. She listened carefully but that wasn’t helpful, either.
“Ok, here’s the plan, you go and find a way out, then come back and report.” She told Mr. Mouse. In the red light his eyes seemed extra beady. He twitched his nose and jumped to the floor. He wriggled though a small hole in the wall and was gone. “Hm. I didn’t actually think that was going to work.” Now alone, Clue was once again left with her thoughts.
“I’m out of my element here.” She mumbled to herself. She was used to the danger and risks of her trade but she’d never been captured by anyone before. But now she had some time to kill, so she began thinking over the case from the beginning.
Starting with the first question – why had she been made to wait after she arrived? She’d had anonymous offers before, but that was usually to keep publicity down until she’d met the client, who, generally, wanted to get things started straight away.
Also – why were they obviously following her? They had had the map before they gave it to her and, to be honest, she hadn’t done much to “decode” it other than following the magic lines that had appeared in specific locations… her thoughts trailed off and then slammed back.
The magic! Until now she hadn’t been properly awed by the magic! She hadn’t seen anything like that before because it didn’t exist! And she’d been too focused on following the map to give it a thought! That was an angle worth following up on.
She took a new perspective on the whole adventure so far. What was the connection between her and the magic?
So far, she’d seen the map glow and shift but was there anything else? Could just anyone make it do that? Maybe that’s why they needed her. Just her.
She’d been to the Bocca della Verita, she put her hand in the mouth. What else had she done? Then to the elephant statue. Talked to Shine. It had started to rain. She’d had the map in the shadow of the obelisk.
“…In the shadow of the obelisk!” The shadow that had only appeared after the rainstorm that had come and gone in the same time she was in the square. And if it hadn’t passed she wouldn’t have been able to get a shadow.
The weather had been strange the whole day. Fog, sun, wind, rain, thunder. Since she’d been in Rome, actually. And every time she was on the right path it was sunny. And every time it wasn’t it was rainy! That had to have been a little bit much of a coincidence! Perhaps the map was also a weather-changer… thingy.
But that didn’t seem quite right. The map already lit up and it was obviously leading somewhere. Why would whoever made it make it control the weather as a beacon? Then it was just a light up arrow with an obscure way of playing “hot or cold” tacked on.
“Think!” Clue startled herself a little as she said the word out loud. “I met Shine at the obelisk. I said I couldn’t follow the map and I needed more time. I told her I couldn’t do magic. I…”
Clue trailed off. She’d noticed that the red light of the dark room had gotten a lot brighter. A lot brighter and a lot less red. It wasn’t coming from a bulb, either. It was coming from her.
“I can do magic?” The words sounded insane. But it made sense. The weather wasn’t controlled by the map. The weather was affected by the person who had the map. By Clue.
“And that’s why they watched me! Why I had to be the one to follow the map! They can’t use these powers. Now what can I do with this?”
“If I control the weather, maybe I can use it to get out of here!”
Just then she heard a persistent scratching-chewing noise from outside the room. It was Mr. Mouse. Clue could hear him through the wall and tracked his path as he scrabbled up the door and worked the lock. Then it swung open, revealing the small mouse hanging off of a giant key in the lock. Clue was pretty happy with herself that she’d taught him that trick. It had cost her a fortune in cheese at the time, but it was all paying off now!
The door opened into a large empty room. Windows at the top led Clue to imagine that this was a basement. Stairs to the right seemed to confirm her hypothesis. She scooped up Mr. Mouse and ran for the stairs.
Arriving quickly at the top she realized she was in some kind of school. A long hallway with classrooms stretched out before her. She could see out the windows that the sun was just rising or setting. She made her way cautiously down the hall, checking the rooms before walking past, wary of being caught a second time.
She noticed it was getting dark too quickly to be natural. “Oh, hey, guess what, Mr. Mouse, I control the weather!” Mr. Mouse was unimpressed. “Ok fine. So I’m not really sure what’s going on here, but let’s use it.”
The hall was soon so dark Clue could barely see her hand, even though the morning was getting brighter outside the windows. It was an odd sensation, to be sure. Clue half-felt her way past the last few classrooms and was almost to the exit when she heard a familiar annoying voice.
“So you’ve figured it out. Well played!” mocked Shine.
“I think so,” replied Clue. She felt Mr. Mouse in her pocket nudging her and knowing she should be getting a move-on but Clue had to stay.
“Just so we’re clear, why would you have me come to a foreign city, follow a map halfway to the end, and then kidnap me?” Clue asked.
“Simply put, we still need you and we need the you that can do what you do.” Shine pulled the map from her pocket. “This was a test. We know where the treasure is but only the person who can follow the map can get to the treasure. So, now, if you’ll come with us, we can get on with this.”
Two of Shine’s well-dressed goons stepped out from around a corner. Two more appeared from out of a classroom behind her.
Clue’s every instinct was to run. To use whatever power she had to escape and find the treasure on her own. She could feel energy building up around her, matching her conflicted thoughts.
“Alright. I’m in,” she heard herself say. That was a surprise. Mr. Mouse popped his head out of her pocket to give her the stink-eye. “Sorry,” she whispered, and scratched his nose. “I think we’ll be ok.”
Shine nodded and the goons moved off. Then she smiled at Clue, her demeanour changing from threatening to friendly. “Come with me then, let’s get rich!”
They exited the building and Clue saw that the darkness had been confined to the area around her just like the light in the basement. The sun was up and shining brightly.
They walked through a courtyard and out the gates of the compound right onto the bank of the Tiber River. Clue realized that they were not far from the piazza where she’d been kidnapped.
“So now we’ve got that whole unpleasant kidnapping business out of the way, what’s the deal with this lost-but-not-really-lost treasure that you hired me to find?” Clue asked as they walked.
“You wish it was that easy to get juicy info out of me,” Shine replied, with a little grin that Clue kind of wanted to smack off her face.
The river beside them started to churn.
“Ok. I see what you’re doing,” said Shine, clearly changing her mind in light of Clue’s subtle hint.
“We are a… society that has been seeking the treasure for hundreds of years. It was hidden by someone very much like you and so even though we know where it is, we can’t get at it. We’ve tried, over time, many ways and many people. But, as you’ve learned, it requires certain skills. Thus, in addition to your down payment we’re willing to offer you half of whatever is recovered. That’s more than fair in our opinion.”
They turned left, off the river and towards the huge park of the Villa Borghese. They soon entered the park, walking down the paths lined with statues of poets. The trees provided cover and soon blocked out view of the rest of the city. Up ahead, though, Clue could see a gap.
“We’ve arrived at the end,” said Shine.
Clue stood before a small lake. Early morning fog still rose off of the water and the trees around it. Through the shimmering haze she could see a small temple with a statue and a dock with a number of small, white row boats tied up alongside.
“I don’t see a treasure,” said Clue. “I see a tourist attraction, so unless this is some kind of really elaborate set-up for a timeshare pitch, what’s going on?”
“The treasure is right there,” said Shine. She pointed at the water.
“Yah. I don’t see it,” Clue was not impressed. This whole process had gone on too long for any more games. “Why didn’t you just get some divers?”
“You’ve got to move the water.” Shine was clearly excited. She popped a gum bubble with a loud smack.
“Alright. Let’s give this a go.” Clue was more than a little apprehensive now. She wasn’t at all sure what she could do with her new powers and as much as she wanted to hurt Shine, she really didn’t feel like hurting herself in the process. “I’ll just do what I learned in ‘Draining Lakes 101’,” she muttered to Mr. Mouse.
Clue thought about how she would go about this. Mr. Mouse was poised on her shoulder, watching for a good show. “Keep your head down, little buddy,” she told her mouse friend.
The air around the two women began to charge with static. Great black clouds moved in overheard and a wind kicked up. Clue stood still with her eyes closed. Shine looked up and smiled. Mr. Mouse kept his eye on Shine.
The morning steam rising off the water turned into a torrent, fogging the group in completely as huge raindrops began to fall. Thunder boomed.
Then the lightning started. Huge bolts blasting the lake over and over. Shine began laughing like a maniac. The water level began to fall.
Each strike vaporized the water and Clue kept it up, increasing the intensity until there was an almost continuous stream of electricity between the clouds and the water.
Then it was still. The only sound was large drops of water from the trees. What was once a lake was now a wide, muddy hole.
Clue shook her head and opened her eyes. Then she understood why divers wouldn’t have worked.
“Wow,” was all she could manage.
Covering almost the entire bottom of the lake was a set of giant doors. She could see they were set to open inwards. Therefore, anyone trying to open them would just empty the lake straight into the chamber they had just opened.
“Let’s go check it out,” said Shine, who was already rushing ahead.
“Halt.” A new voice shook the quiet clearing.
A number of people stepped out from around the lake, forming a loose circle.
The voice had come from a large man who had emerged from behind the temple pavilion.
Shine immediately held back and, surprisingly, calmed down.
“Thank you, Clue Restacks, for your efforts. You will be rewarded. We are the Society for whom you have been working.”
While he was speaking, others were tackling the giant doors. Chains were affixed to the locking bars and pulled. The doors dropped open with a hugely loud gong. A wide staircase led into the earth.
“Please, we will follow you,” said the man, waving Clue on.
She began to descend the stairs, using her powers to cast a light around her. The vault was old. Very old.
The passage levelled out after a long while, the continued for a long while after that. Clue noted that the walls were unsupported and that the lake water would have caused a complete collapse had it not been removed.
Finally she arrived at another set of doors. The Society man was still behind her and motioned her ahead. She gave them a strong push. They opened slowly into a huge cavern.
The treasure chamber.
Clue’s light lit up the expanse.
Jewels flashed brilliantly was gold reflected an intoxicating glow. The entire vault was full.
“Half is yours,” said the man.
Clue began calculating. With her share she could buy her own private island. “I could buy Australia!” she exclaimed to Mr. Mouse. Mr. Mouse squeaked at her.
Oddly, it wasn’t a happy squeak. He squeaked again, more insistently. “What!” she hissed at him, the urge to explore the treasure welling within her. Mr. Mouse looked cross-wise at Shine, who had followed in with them.
Shine was looking at Clue. Something was wrong. Clue glanced around surreptitiously. They were all looking at her. Not right. Something off. Strange. But Clue felt drawn back to the treasure.
“The treasure,” she whispered to Mr. Mouse. “They’re not looking at the treasure.” Mr. Mouse sniffed in agreement. He’d been right. She’d seen the way Shine had been so excited to open the doors but now, with the treasure right in front of them, she was hanging back, watching Clue.
“I don’t like this, Mr. Mouse,” Clue continued to whisper. “They want me to take it, but they don’t care about it.” She could feel the tension rising from the society members the longer she held back from the treasure.
It was Mr. Mouse who made the next move, suddenly biting Clue hard on the neck. Her concentration lapsed and her mystically created light blinked out abruptly. Before she could think to restore it the chamber filled with angry shouting.
“Find Restacks!”
It was the voice of the society man. Clue heard Shine’s voice in the darkness. An eerie, howling, call, “No.”
Then torches were lit casting shimmering light about. Clue huddled behind a stack of gold bars almost as tall as she was. She watched the Society now, their sudden change in attitudes giving her cause to hang back.
“How did she know?” the man screamed at Shine. “Why didn’t she take it?” Shine cowered before him. “I don’t know. I didn’t tell her anything. I didn’t. I swear,” Shine pleaded, now beginning to cry.
“Spread out! She hasn’t been past us, she’s still here” the man was yelling again.
The Society broke into several groups and began moving into the treasure room, funnelling Clue towards the dead-end at the back.
She made her move.
Stepping into the open she called to her pursuers. “I’m right here!”
Then she turned everything on.
First a blinding light filled the enormous cavern. Then huge swirling clouds appeared above her head, spreading into the expanse. Wind formed an almost solid tornado-like wall around her. She began walking towards her former partner and double-crosser, Shine Wendel.
The wind-wall opened for a moment and then took Shine into the eye, face to face with Clue. An impenetrable ring of lightning formed around them in addition to the screaming wind.
“I want the full story,” growled Clue, menacingly. Her hands sparked with electricity. She reached for Shine’s throat.
“It won’t do you any good,” Shine said, quietly, “I can’t die.”
The gale and light show flickered for a moment as Clue regained composure.
“But you’ve got me now and you’ve figured something’s up so I don’t think there’s anything left in it for me,” admitted Shine.
“This treasure is almost three thousand years old. I’m almost four hundred, but I look pretty good, don’t I?” Shine smiled weakly. “I was a lot like you. Had the same powers. For a little while, anyway. But I accepted the treasure and lost them. I also got sucked into guarding it. You’ve seen ‘The Last Crusade,’ right? Pretty similar set-up. All of us are trapped in the city, unable to die,” she said regretfully.
“Every so often we identify someone who could have access to the powers. We bring them to Rome, set them up for a treasure hunt and watch to see what happens. You’re the first one in ages who actually showed evidence of developing them. Then we had to coax it out of you. Give you time to figure it out.”
“But I’m not going to take the treasure,” said Clue.
“And that’s why we have a problem,” replied Shine. “See, if you take the treasure you stay here, and some of us get free. It’s a trade-off. Actually, for someone with your strength, we all get free. And some of us have been here much longer than I have.”
“I’m going to go now,” Clue declared.
“We won’t follow you,” said Shine. “Well,” she giggled again, “we can’t, really.”
The next morning Clue watched the hazy sunrise from a look-out over the Piazza del Popolo. Behind her a short way was the lake in the gardens where her adventure had gone down. Any trace of the treasure complex had been erased when Clue had allowed the lake to refill behind her on the way out.
She looked across at the huge dome of St. Peter’s. “I’m going to miss this place a little bit,” she told Mr. Mouse, “but I’ve got a line on our next job, in Rio, and I still have the down payment the Society sent along with the map, so let’s have one last day here.”
Mr. Mouse squeaked happily as the sun burst out from behind the clouds, lighting up the entire city of Rome in front of them.
The End.
Clue Restacks will return in “The Chameleon Jungle”