The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing. It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so. To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce. Please enjoy and critique if possible.
Quirk wandered among the tombstones of Morgannen Cemetery. In the past when he had visited cemeteries, his mind had been filled with thoughts of grief and the mortality of his own being. Now he thought of the mortality of Percival’s being when they next met. Percival was either dead already, or Quirk would kill him later. Either way, the Phils might need a new Vice-Phil.
But part of him hoped Percival wasn’t dead, and knew that as much as they disliked each other, Quirk wouldn’t punish him too severely for this mission. Percival had gotten his entire party captured, including himself. He had given up hope that anyone could rescue them. His pride was either very damaged, or it was going to be when Quirk rescued him.
“Percival told you not to try to rescue him,” said the old lady from behind him. “Why are you hanging around this place?”
Quirk moved to another tombstone. “Do you really think I’ll ever listen to Percival?”
“No,” said the old lady. “But that doesn’t mean you can automatically rescue them. Do you even have a plan?”
“Find the entrance, go through the entrance, leave through the entrance.”
“And fight your way through whatever challenges the other Phils couldn’t face in between?”
“What do you have that they don’t?”
“For one thing,” said Quirk, “I am not joined by a ping pong ball named Steve.”
“That will help with stealth, for sure,” said the old lady. “But we don’t know what’s down there—how will you sneak past it if you don’t know what it is?”
“It’s probably just a team of men with water pistols who usually flip burgers at fast food restaurants.” He knew he was being too optimistic, but he didn’t care.
“How do water pistols flip burgers?”
Quirk moved on to another gravestone. It was the day after the Castle had fallen apart. They had spent the night in Percival’s apartment, eating canned food out of his pantry and decorating his fish tank with morbid scenes of victories of the bloodthirsty goldfish therein. Their fun had seemed forced, however. When Percival wasn’t there to get mad at them, there was less pleasure in messing with his decor.
“Gologer wants to know what he should do,” said the old lady. “He’s hiding in that grove of trees over there, but there’s a campsite over the next hill and he doesn’t want anyone stumbling upon him.”
“Ask him where the Phils entered yesterday. After that, he can go.”
“Check out our updated selection! It’s bigger than ever!” So had said the commercial they had seen that morning on Percival’s TV. They were advertising all of the Phils, even Steve. Phume had been bleeding from a long cut across his arm, but he had been featured too: “If your hostage is damaged within the first week, you can return him at NO CHARGE! That’s right, ABSOLUTELY FREE!” Phume had been showed being carried by smiling workmen out of a house owned by a disapproving customer, and Sebase being put in his place. Quirk didn’t know if they had actually been sent away. He hoped it was staged.
“The entrance is here,” said the old lady, walking toward a large crypt rising out of the side of the hill. It was a stone box topped by a large round stone. “It’s the grave of Silas Morgannen, the oldest grave in the cemetery.”
“It looks like a doorway,” said Quirk. He rounded the crypt and stepped onto the carving wrapping around the base to look for secret entrances on the top.
The crypt shook, throwing him off. The old lady appeared from the other side, looking slightly guilty. “I touched something, and the door opened. If there’s anyone inside, they know we’re here. I suggest we go.”
Gologer jumped out of the grove of trees on top of the hill and flapped twice, making Quirk’s ears pop repeatedly. He soared into the sky, disappearing behind a cloud within seconds.
“There goes our ride,” said the old lady. “Seriously, can’t this wait? I don’t like tunnels.”
Quirk thought back to the basement of the Castle Under the Cloud, with its singing ponies and eternity spheres. “Neither do I,” he said. “But we may have no choice.”
The tunnel was remarkably clean, all made from the same stone as the sculpted entrance above. It began in steep stairs. The tunnel was lit only by the light coming through the door, and as Quirk and the old lady continued down the steps, it faded until they were feeling their way down the steps.
At last, as Quirk felt completely blind after having bumped into three walls along the perfectly straight passageway, the stairs became a flat tunnel leading on into the darkness.
An inhuman roar echoed through the tunnel—the roar he had heard over the phone the day before.
A flame flickered at the other end of the tunnel. Quirk peered at it.
“This is a foe beyond any of you,” said the old lady in an abnormally deep voice. “Run!”
“How do you know?”
“Anything that flickers from the other end of a passageway is evil. Have you no sense?”
The light grew brighter and brighter, and eventually Quirk heard a voice, calling out.
“There is a fell voice on the wind,” said the old lady.
“Would you quit quoting stuff?”
“Go back to the shadows, flame of Udun!” shouted the old lady.
Quirk ignored her. He listened hard, trying to hear what the voice said. It was difficult to make out, but it seemed like…
“Torches for sale! Torches for sale! Get your bright, light-giving torches right here! Get ‘em while they’re hot!”
Now Quirk could make out a figure, barely visible through the bright light. It approached quickly.
“Oh, hello, folks. It looks like you’re in the dark—would you like a nice torch?” The salesman, smiling widely, offered Quirk a torch.
“Thank you very much,” said the old lady, taking a torch as well. “How much do we owe you?”
“I don’t have any money,” said Quirk.
“I do,” said the old lady. She handed the torch seller a few quarters. “Is that enough?”
“Absolutely,” said the man, still smiling. “A pleasure doing business with you! Enjoy the shrine!” He walked off. “Torches for sale! Get ‘em while they’re hot!”
“That was odd,” said Quirk.
“No, that was fortuitous. It would have been a crime to miss these carvings.” The old lady pointed to a large mural on the wall, showing an enormous battle between two armies. The armies used equipment that looked like it was from the nineteenth century.
“What is it?”
“It’s a mural.”
“What does it show?”
“Can you tell what armies are fighting?” Quirk traced the mural with his fingertips. It was carved out of the stone wall, but filled in with paint so that it looked quite real.
“There’s a flag up there,” said the old lady, raising her torch as high as she could and pointing. “I don’t recognize it.”
Quirk moved down the tunnel to another mural. It was smaller, showing a fight between two people instead of two armies. One of the faces was in shadow, but the other…
“Is that you?” asked the old lady. She looked closer. “It’s your face! You’re wearing older clothes, but it’s definitely you.”
Quirk peered closer at the carving, looking at a grey object hanging in the air between the two figures. It was a coin.
He felt like he was suffocating; a dream was coming. But now wasn’t the time. He pinched himself several times to keep himself awake. As much as he wanted to know more, he couldn’t do it here.
“This place is weird,” said the old lady. “That guy said it was a shrine—I wonder if it’s a shrine to us, the Phils. I hope the carvers got my ears right.”
They kept going, examining the carvings on either side as they went. They showed several battles, but also several times of peace—Quirk remembered none of them, but his face turned up in most of the murals. In the flickering torchlight, the scenes seemed alive.
With almost every scene he passed, Quirk felt a dream trying to steal upon him. He wanted so badly to give in and learn everything they wanted to tell him, but he couldn’t, not now. He didn’t want to fall asleep and wake up imprisoned with Percival. In this rare case, he might be able to learn more about himself while awake than while asleep.
Twice more they heard the inhuman roar from the end of the tunnel, closer and closer each time, but Quirk barely cared. This was his story, written out for him to see.
The carvings told of many battles and truces between Quirk and the shadowed figure. None of them seemed to have an advantage over the other, though Quirk seemed to escape much more often from personal fights. The shadowy figure was either very powerful or very smelly.
The carvings showed Quirk searching everywhere for the shadowy figure’s lair, but never finding it until Stephen, his second in command, stumbled upon a forgotten cave in the side of a mountain. Quirk led the assault, but it was a trap. Their numbers diminished, Quirk and Stephen retreated to their own lair. Soon afterward, it was attacked.
Quirk remembered this part from a dream. They were in a bunker underground, with low ceilings and concrete floors. They were recuperating after their defeat—some studied the shadowy figure’s weaknesses, others just slept. Quirk and Stephen had a heated discussion about a game of rock-paper-scissors, eventually calling in a specialist.
The specialist betrayed them.
He gave their position to the shadowy figure, who marched upon the bunker with fresh armies. With several explosions, they managed to get into the bunker. Quirk’s people fled through a wine cellar, leaving only Stephen and Quirk to fight the shadowy figure. Stephen was killed. Quirk flipped his coin—the same coin he had seen in several other murals depicting fights between the shadowy figure and himself. When it landed, Quirk attacked.
Quirk studied the last mural carefully, looking for clues about the coin. Why did he flip it every time? What did it actually do? He knew it changed into weapons, but in every fight with the shadowy figure, he flipped it instead of fighting with it. Why?
The scene after Quirk attacked was new to him. Thrown down and beaten by the shadowy figure, he barely managed to escape—but his coin was left behind. The shadowy figure made the mistake of touching the coin, which did something to him. The murals weren’t clear about it. The shadowy figure and Quirk were both defeated, for now—but the shadowy figure gathered his strength, living over a century more. Quirk was never shown again.
How had either of them lived for over a century? Had Quirk somehow travelled forward in time or something?
“You’re way too famous around here,” said the old lady. “Can I get just one simple carving with me in it?”
“There has to be more,” said Quirk. He examined the walls carefully, but the carvings had stopped. He ran ahead. The tunnel ended in an enormous room with several tunnels leaving it, all of which were closed by enormous wrought-iron gates. Quirk held his torch high, looking at the walls for any sort of murals.
“What is this place?” asked the old lady, catching up. “We can’t still be beneath the cemetery.”
Quirk spotted something on the other wall; an enormous black shape, flickering in the torchlight. Perhaps the shadowy figure had become a black shape, depicted by this new carving.
Then the carving moved, sending another inhuman roar down the tunnel. One hairy arm flung something at Quirk. It hit the ground and rolled to his feet; a skull.
“Ick,” said the old lady.
Quirk turned to run, pulling the old lady after him. The stairs up to the cemetery were a long way away, but perhaps they could make it before the beast caught them.
Another iron grating crashed down over the tunnel entrance, trapping them in the room. The beast’s face turned to them, ugly and contorted in the torchlight, and smiled.