Dr. Noire, Chapter 11

The door swung open with an echoing boom that rattled down the hallway beyond and back throughout the entry chamber. Torches which had sprung alive at the door’s opening now flickered in the draft, barely staying lit. I put my crowbar back and stepped inside. A chill ran up my spine.

Beyond the firelight’s dim glow, only the beam of my headlamp illuminated the dusty darkness. Skeletons and discarded implements of battle adorned the passageway like the macabre decorations of a Halloween long past and fain forgotten. Upon the walls there lay an arch of torches like the heralds of arrival in this ancient place. We walked beneath them with a rapid step.

We had been walking for almost a half-hour when we came to the next location on the map, a chamber labeled only as the Arch of Souls. The doctor’s hand-written scrawl warned against making contact with the Arch under any circumstances, or passing through it. There it stood against an opening cut into the rock, a pedestal behind it bearing an angelic statue lit by the last rays of a dying sun. I knew not where they came from, for here I saw no opening above it. The tortured faces of what I surmised were souls screamed silently from their obsidian tomb, forever warding off the would-be pilgrim. I calmly crossed the room and pushed against the door opposite, noting to my left the rockfall which the doctor had drawn in his sketches. I wondered why he had bothered to close these doors behind him.

The door slid open with the aid of a crowbar, and we found ourselves in some kind of barracks. Bunk beds lined the walls, chiseled from the very stone, and the dusty remnants of mattresses showed that the place had no time recently been occupied. A smell of recent fire captured my attention, and I noted that a torch upon the wall looked burnt. I touched it and felt the hair on the back of my neck prickle. The torch head was still warm.

Sophia was behind my shoulder.

“What is it?”

“We’re not alone down here. This torch is still warm.”

“Who could have lit it?”

“I don’t know, but I have a feeling we’re going to find out.”

“Whoever it is, do you think they’re after the diamond?”

I noted the ornamental design of the torch.

“Either that, or they’re protecting it.”

A sudden noise snapped my attention to a side room I had not yet entered. Hastily, I tried the door and found it ajar, slamming it open and catching a flicker of motion with my eye as a crate slid back into place. I grabbed it and slid it aside, revealing a secret trapdoor. There was no handle, but a well-maintained key-lock was recessed into the surface. I gathered that it opened downward.

“Well, we’re not getting through this way,” I said. Sophia drew her gun.

“Stand back.”

I did. She blasted the lock and the door swung open, revealing a ladder. I descended first, and she followed. The ladder went some twenty feet down into what appeared to be a sewer. From there I could see no exit save for the massive culverts filled with what I judged was some four feet of water. I decided against getting wet. The culvert wasn’t on the map anyways. I added it to my own, noting the size and direction of the various tunnels, most of which were probably too small to fit through.

Back in the barracks room, I checked my watch and realized that with all the observations we had been taking, I had lost track of the time. It was nearly midnight. Calling to Sophia to help me, I pushed a heavy crate over the trapdoor and barricaded both the exits. Try as I might, I couldn’t sleep until the early hours of the morning.

I woke to find Sophia gone. Guessing that she had ventured in search of useful clues and items in the nearby area, I decided I would wait in the vicinity and finish the measurements that I had started taking the day before.

The cave was vast and dark, but my headlamp cast a penetrating beam of brilliant white light for several hundred meters – more than enough for me to take the measurements of range and inclination that I had to with my laser rangefinder. I swept it slowly across the cave from one end to the other, trusting to the computer inside to record an accurate 3D map of the environs. I loved modern technology. It made the job easy.

When I had finished mapping the cavern we had entered through and the room I had slept in, I returned to the sewer below. I had hand-sketched it yesterday, forgetting of course that I carried with me a more efficient and less error-prone tool. Then again, my maps were rarely error-filled. The same compulsive obsessiveness and attention to detail which made me a good PI and a better marksman served me equally well in cartography.

Returning to the ladder, I glanced down to be sure of my footing. Something glinted. Curious, I picked it up.

As I examined the hardened steel, my heart sank. The serial number confirmed it. Sophia had left her gun behind at the bottom of the ladder. Whether that meant she had been incapacitated or whether she had simply fled and left it, I knew not. Only one thing was certain: whatever the implications, they could not be good.

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