“I have heard of it. They say the volcano is three days from here, to the east.” said the man, pointing into the distance. “You won’t make it that far, by yourself,” he cautioned.
Clue Restacks nodded. “That would be true. But I’m not alone.”
Mr. Mouse appeared on her right shoulder and cast his wily gaze on the surprised guide.
“A rat?” asked the man incredulously. “You are going to cross the Great Desert with a rat? You will surely die.”
“He’s a mouse,” Clue clarified. “And I think we’ll be fine.”
“I hope so,” said the man. “If you return, I will be waiting here.”
Clue and Mr. Mouse bid him farewell, and began the long trek toward their goal. Clue used her powers to create a bubble of lowered temperature around them, protecting the duo from the potentially lethal rays of the blazing sun.
“He sure was grim, wasn’t he?” she asked her fuzzy companion. “This is nothing we haven’t seen before.”
Mr. Mouse made a sound that seemed affirmative and Clue smiled. Then he squeaked a reminder.
“That’s right,” she told him. “I forgot.”
Summoning a greater level of concentration, she forced a high pressure zone of air under her feet. She wobbled slightly as she rose a short distance off the ground. “Let’s go,” she said as she propelled herself forward with a focused gust of wind.
Travelling in this manner, the adventurers reached their destination by nightfall.
The volcano towered above them, a deep glow emanating up into the dark sky from the lava at the bottom of the crater.
Clue picked her way slowly to the summit, deflecting airborne boulders with well-timed blasts of lightning. “A walk in the park,” she remarked to Mr. Mouse.
He wasn’t sure if he shared her enthusiasm for the task.
“Do you want to come with me, or stay here?” she asked him after reaching the shore of the boiling pool of rock.
Mr. Mouse chose immediately. He would remain right where he was.
“Your loss,” Clue told him as she shrugged off her pack. She reached behind her back and pulled a small bundle from the waistband of her pants. “Take care of this while I’m gone,” she said to Mr. Mouse as she tossed the contents toward her partner.
A diamond twice his size rolled to a stop in front of the surprised rodent.
Then Clue encased herself in a thick layer of ice and launched herself into the fiery lake.
Mr. Mouse waited alone on the windswept mountain.
He looked at the diamond that Clue had left behind. Its presence unsettled him. He’d noticed that Clue had been acting differently, lately. Her control over her powers had increased, but she was using them so casually that it frightened him. The diamond’s sudden appearance also reminded him that he didn’t even know exactly what they were seeking on this trip.
Still, he watched the roiling lava, and hoped she would be back soon.
Clue, meanwhile, had descended into the mountain’s core. As she pushed deeper, she continually replenished her icy shield. Upon reaching the correct depth, she moved sideways and then kicked upward, surfacing in an underground chamber. She pulled herself out of the magma and onto a solid, rocky shelf.
She lit the cave with her powers, and used the same levitating technique from the desert-crossing to float down the tunnel that stretched out before her.
As she rounded the last corner of the corridor, she came face-to-face with a set of enormous metal doors. Covered in elaborate carvings, they stretched up three times as tall as Clue, into a pitch-black cavern.
Clue shut down all of her powers and approached the gates carefully. She hesitated slightly before she raised her arm to knock.
She did not have a chance to land a blow. The doors began to open on their own accord. Clue lowered her hand and stepped back as they swung toward her.
A tall, thin man appeared in the entry way. At least, he seemed to have once been a man. His skin was covered in dark scales that seemed to shine with the faint orange glow of cooling lava, and his proportions were wrong, somehow. In his hand was a vicious sword, which he held pointed at Clue. He began to talk and, although Clue was almost certain that he wasn’t speaking English, she understood him. “Why have you come, surface dweller?” the words boomed throughout the chamber.
Clue bowed slightly and replied. “Your people have something that I need. I am willing to trade for what I want.”
“We need nothing from your world,” the guard told her. “Go.”
“I think that I have something you’ll want,” said Clue. She produced another diamond, twin to the one she’d left with Mr. Mouse. She held it out. “This, and the other.”
The guard leaned closer. “Where is it?” he asked.
There was no reply for several seconds, then the guard lowered his sword and stepped aside. “This way,” he told Clue as he opened the door completely.
Clue returned the stone to her pocket and walked ahead. “Take me to your leader,” she said to the guard with a smile that she fought to keep to herself.
Mr. Mouse had, by now, decided that he had a bad feeling about the entire situation. He cast one more long glance toward the lava pit before making up his mind.
Pressing the diamond forward with his nose, he made for a small patch of black sand. Once there, he scraped out a shallow hole and shoved the gem into it.
After burying the treasure, he scrambled up the steep walls of the crater to the rim. Without the ability to survive in the lava like Clue, he was going to have to find his own way to the center of the volcano.
Clue was ushered to the throne room of the underground citadel.
The queen of the underground beings sat on a throne chiseled from a single piece of volcanic stone. She did not wait before addressing Clue. “I have been told that you possess the Eyes.”
“That’s right, your highness,” said Clue, bowing low. “I have one here. The second is close by.”
“That is good,” said the Queen. “We will not have to kill you immediately. Now, show me.”
Clue held up the diamond. Another guard took it from her and carried it to the royal dais.
The Queen inspected it closely before setting it down on the arm rest of her throne. “Tell me what you have really come here for, outsider.”
Clue didn’t have a chance to answer. There was a commotion outside the door to the throne room, and a group of soldiers entered with a small cage.
“A mouse was found in the fortress,” they reported. “It has come from the surface. There is a breach in our defenses.”
The Queen turned to Clue. “Did you bring an animal with you?” she asked.
Clue shrugged. “What would I do with a rat?” she said dismissively.
The Queen considered the answer.
“Take this one to the dungeons,” she ordered the soldiers. “Kill the creature.”
The soldiers grabbed Clue roughly and hauled her toward the deeper corridors of the stronghold.
“But the other Eye,” she yelled as they took her away. “You won’t find it without me.”
“I am not concerned. It must be nearby,” said the Queen. “And perhaps, before long, you will consider revealing where you hid it.”
“No!” screamed Clue. “You can’t take me.”
But it was no use. She was soon locked away, deep beneath the earth.
Exactly where she wanted to be.
Clue surveyed her cell. There wasn’t enough room for her to sit, so she leaned against the back wall, looking for a weakness in the bars. Unlike the majority of the settlement that she’d seen so far, the bars were not rock, but metal that had been cast into place. In the hall beyond, Clue could see a single guard who had been left to watch her.
Her plan had always been to end up here. There had been no other way she would have been able to infiltrate so deeply into the subterranean fortress. However, the arrival of Mr. Mouse had accelerated her timeline. She had hoped to have learned the location of the artifact from the Queen, first. But Clue knew she was close by, now, and escape would not be a problem.
First, Clue ionized the air around the guard, and then directed a charge of electricity to the back of the woman’s neck. It wasn’t fatal, but, if the underground people were anything like humans, the guard would have a miserable week.
Then, Clue coated the bars with moisture from the air. Using alternating currents of cold and hot wind on the wet metal, she was able to rust through them in minutes.
With a solid kick, she was out.
She took a moment to remember the way she’d been brought down to the prison level, and then went in the opposite direction at a light jog.
Mr. Mouse was not happy. He was still in the cage that had been presented to Clue. He’d already tried to gnaw through his bars, but they proven to be resistant to his sharp teeth. Presently, he was anxiously awaiting the shift change of the soldiers, after which he’d be thrown into the lava pool.
He’d guessed that Clue’s capture had been deliberate after he’d seen her dragged off without so much as a flicker of her powers. Now he hoped that she’d be back for him before his execution. Still without a clear understanding about what Clue was up to, all he could do was twitch his tail and wait.
Clue reached the heart of the complex. Along the way, she’d had to incapacitate several more of the Queen’s soldiers. When she’d been too close for lightning or flash-freezing to work, she’d temporarily blinded some with bursts of light. In the back of her mind, she knew that Mr. Mouse wouldn’t approve of the more forceful methods she’d taken to using, but she told herself that she’d have that debate with him on the journey home.
She turned the last corner and arrived in the treasure chamber. There was only one piece. A golden, jeweled crown was set on a pillar in the middle of the room. A moat of lava separated the small island from the door where Clue was standing. Clue could see the empty settings on the crown where the two diamonds had come from.
But she wasn’t interested in the priceless metals or gems. Around the band of the crown was an inscription. The tiny words twisted their way through the elaborate decorations, and anybody who didn’t already know that they were there would easily miss them. Although the writing wasn’t in English, Clue knew that it was the location of the sunken continent of Atlantis.
Clue lowered the temperature of the air, and a solid crust of rock formed at the top of the lava as it cooled. Once it was thick enough, she simply walked ahead and picked up the crown. She clutched it close as she crept back up the passageway. She had very little time to rescue her friend.
She didn’t get far.
Suddenly, two thick slabs of rock fell from the ceiling, one in front and one behind, trapping Clue in the narrow hall.
She heard the Queens voice, carried through some trick of the acoustics.
“Outsider, do not think that you will escape with our secrets. We have noted your powers, but they will not help you, now.”
The roof began to lower. Clue could feel the vibration of some massive mechanism working behind the walls. She ducked as she was squeezed down toward the floor.
For once, she couldn’t think of a way to get free.
Desperately, Clue tried to recall any one of her powers that could save her. The thick stone and the enclosed space severely limited her effectiveness. Any plan she came up with was quickly discarded.
She had only a few inches of clearance from the crushing ceiling when she realized that she was mistaken. She thought back to the rudimentary hovering that she’d used to speed her journey to the volcano. The key was not to choose a single power, but to combine several at once. It would take all of her concentration to do so.
She began by creating two columns of high-pressure air to act as supports for the descending roof to buy herself some time. The volume of oxygen in the chamber made this a dangerous gambit. She would have to hold her breath during the next phase of her plan.
Slowly, she began to raise the temperature of the air around her hands, as well. The heat then spread to envelop her entire body. She rolled to face the ceiling. Placing her hand on the bare rock, she pushed lightly. The stone began to melt. Molten drops fell toward her face, but Clue froze them out of mid-air.
She had soon hollowed out a cavity large enough to stand up in. She was amazed by the thickness of the barrier, but now she was well on her way to escaping. With careful timing, she released the invisible support pillars and used the resulting wind to propel herself up and away from the snare.
She was flying through the earth, leaving a scorched and melted hole behind her.
Reaching down, she felt the crown in a pouch at her side. All that remained to complete a successful mission was to find Mr. Mouse and exit the underground kingdom.
That would not present a problem.
Clue knew she was now almost invincible.
Mr. Mouse could detect a dull roar, growing louder as it seemed to approach him. He couldn’t recognize it and, abstractly, felt annoyed that this would be the last sound that he would ever hear.
His guards had carried out their task, and his cage was falling toward the searing lava.
Mr. Mouse closed his eyes and hoped his demise would be painless.
An instant before Mr. Mouse was incinerated, Clue burst through the wall and projected a sheet of ice between her falling partner and the lava. The cage impacted heavily on the makeshift safety net, then slid to Clue’s feet.
Mr. Mouse squeaked his appreciation for being saved.
Clue nodded at him. She turned to face the would-be executioners. “You’re going to pay for that,” she growled at them, stepping forward menacingly. Her hands were still superheated from her trip through the rock, and she reached out to burn the cowering guards.
Mr. Mouse chirped frantically. He had no intention of watching Clue kill for him.
She heard his protest. She lowered her arms suddenly. Shaken by what she had almost done, she slumped to the floor.
The terrified guards scrambled to leave the room.
“Thanks,” Clue whispered to her friend.
His reply was short. Clue understood that he was very cross with her, but that, right now, they needed to leave the underground kingdom.
“Just one more thing,” Clue told him. “Come on.”
She opened her pocket for Mr. Mouse to ride in. Slowly, he made his was up and tucked himself in. He knew the ride home was going to feel very long, indeed.
Clue powered up, and resumed burning through the ground. Her next destination was the throne room.
Moments later, she arrived. Her unexpected appearance stunned everyone in the vast chamber.
The Queen was the first to speak. “It seems that you were never truly our prisoner,” she observed. “I assume you have the crown?”
“Yes,” said Clue.
“And you’ve come for the Eye?”
“It seems, then, that you’re going to tell me that I have no choice but to hand it over,” the Queen said, regretfully.
Clue didn’t hesitate. “Or I’ll melt a hole into the lava chamber. You and all your subjects will drown in fire.”
The Queen sighed. “So dramatic. I don’t believe you, though. I have been receiving reports about your escape. You haven’t killed yet. Even the ones that tried to kill your beast are still alive.”
Mr. Mouse popped his head up and glared at the Queen. If only she knew how close her people had come to death. He wasn’t mad at her, though. He was worried that Clue wouldn’t be able to handle being taunted like that. He wasn’t sure if he could talk her down for a second time.”
Sure enough, Clue was very close to carrying out her threat. She lifted herself off of the ground and floated toward the outer wall. She placed her hand squarely in the middle and pushed gently.
The Queen watched in horror as rivulets of liquefied earth began to trickle toward the ground.
Mr. Mouse tried desperately to change Clue’s mind, but he began to shiver as she began to build up her icy armor in preparation for being immersed in the lava.
The Queen couldn’t hear the mouse’s pleas. Sensing, now, that Clue wasn’t bluffing, the Queen changed her mind.
“Stop,” she said, her voice as commanding as ever, despite facing possible death. “Here is what you seek.” She produced the diamond and threw it disdainfully at Clue.
Clue caught it.
Without a word, she turned away from her excavation, and launched herself toward the surface, leaving the molten kingdom behind, for good.
After retrieving the other diamond from the hole where Mr. Mouse had stashed it, Clue took the crown from its bag.
She mounted the two jewels into the empty claws on the rim of the crown. Once she had them in place, she held the crown up against the glow from the lava in the crater.
Two beams of light, focused through the gems, flashed out and illuminated a spot on the inside of the headpiece. Clue made a note of the location and turned the crown over, examining the writing carved onto the outside.
“That’s where we start,” she told Mr. Mouse. “We should be there in a few days.”
She replaced the crown in its pouch and began to head down the mountain towards home.
Mr. Mouse sat quietly in her pocket, thinking about how close to disaster the quest had come. This time, once Clue arrived at the edge of the desert, he did not have to remind her to use her powers to glide.
It did not make him happy, at all.
Clue Restacks will return.