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 awoke in an empty cell with a roaring headache. The Phils were gone. As if to make it up, a table set with steaming dishes sat directly under the trapdoor. Quirk could hear the beast snoring upstairs.
He staggered over to the single chair by the wall and pulled it over to the table. Only one place was set, but the table was full of food. Quirk looked around him, trying to see if anyone was watching from the shadows, but he couldn’t see anyone. He threw the napkin on the floor.
He looked around again, staring intently into the shadowed corners. If the old lady had seen him do that, she wouldn’t have stayed silent. The Phils must be gone.
He tried to eat, but that thought kept running through his head: the Phils were gone. He set the fork down again and picked up the soiled napkin, setting it on the table. He slumped back in his chair. Why had he even come for them? He had valiantly charged in to rescue them, and they escaped while he was sleeping off his battle exhaustion. Some gratitude.
The trapdoor opened and Jordan Public climbed down the ladder. He brushed off his shirt and nodded a greeting to Quirk, then pulled a folding chair from beneath the bed and took a seat on the other side of the table.
“It’s only set for one,” said Quirk apologetically.
Jordan waved a hand condescendingly. “I didn’t come to eat.” He sat in silence for a while.
Finally Quirk broke the silence. “What did you come for, then?”
“To talk.” He fell silent again.
Quirk left him to it, pushing a piece of mystery meat around his plate.
“The last time I saw you, I was supergluing your hands behind your back,” said Jordan eventually.
“It wasn’t my fondest memory,” said Quirk.
“You struck me as quite annoying then—hardly the type to become the leader of that group. Of course, none of you seemed to have very high standards anyway, so I don’t know why I’m so surprised.”
“You were different too, as I recall,” said Quirk. Two could play at this game. “You told us all the secrets that you knew. Does your brother still suck his thumb? Oh, wait, he’s dead. Sorry.”
Jordan reddened. “Leadership changes people.”
“So I’ve heard, and not always for the better.” Quirk could see exactly what Percival had told him about—this man was not acting like himself. Jordan wouldn’t notice, of course, just as Quirk never noticed.
“So tell me,” said Quirk at last. “What’s new with your group? I assume you’ve moved on from following lying ping pong balls to abduct relatively famous men.”
“Ah, yes, we held Manfred for ransom, then gave him back when no one wanted him. It was just another of the badly laid plans I had to wrap up in my brother’s absence.”
“And Sam, the ping pong ball?”
“We recycled him,” said Jordan.
Quirk rubbed his forehead and sighed. The ping pong ball was a traitor, but Sam had been an honest Phil for most of his life. All the same, it was one way to go green. “I assume, considering you admit to recycling one of your former employers, that you have a new employer now? Or are the Blanks on a new tack, taking orders from no one?”
“The only reason we’re here is for our employer,” said Jordan. “We were contracted again to help with a few kidnappings—your friend, in fact, followed by the rest of your team. I’m surprised at how easy it was.”
That stung. Quirk felt himself growing red in the face. “Of course, it’s easier when you have a half-ton monster available to chase everyone into your prison.”
“Those portcullises are heavy,” said Jordan. “Without us, you would have been running freely through the shrine!”
Quirk’s curiosity overcame his pride. “What is that, anyway?”
“I’m sure our employer will show you eventually,” said Jordan. “He enjoys giving tours.”
“Who is he?”
“We don’t really know, to be honest,” said Jordan. “He’s featured in some carvings out in the hallways, but none of them tell who—or what—he is. He always wears a cloak, even out in the sun.”
Quirk sighed. He was sure this cloaked man was the same as the shadowy figure in his dreams and the carvings—he just didn’t know who it was, or how to beat him. The coin might help. He patted his pockets, but nothing was there.
“Did you empty my pockets while I was asleep?” No, his cell phone was still there.
Jordan shook his head. “Are you missing something?”
“Perhaps…” Quirk tipped his head back and rubbed his eyes. “The Phils took it,” he sighed. “They escaped with my only weapon.”
“I thought…” Jordan began, then shook his head. “Never mind.”
“Consider me spited, Percival,” Quirk muttered under his breath.
“Well, nice talking to you. I have to be going now—the monster’s going to wake up any second. I suggest you take one of the plates to eat later if you aren’t going to eat now.”
Quirk waved a hand and went back to his bed, lying back on it as Jordan signaled for the table to be pulled up. He stared at the ceiling, ignoring Jordan’s farewell, trying to figure out how to get away and kill Percival.
“Wait,” he said as Jordan disappeared through the trapdoor. Jordan poked his head back in and he continued. “Perhaps we can make a bargain.”
“You give me what I want, and I’ll help you get out of your brother’s shadow.”
Jordan dropped down the ladder again. “I’ll stay here until the monster sleeps again at dinnertime. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Quirk awoke to the strange feeling of being poked in the nose.
He wrinkled his nose, then sneezed, lurching forward. Whatever was poking him jammed into his forehead, and someone grunted in pain. Quirk yawned. His nose was poked again.
“Would you quit it?” he snapped, and opened his eyes. He expected to see Sebase or Percival standing there with his finger poised over his face, but it was neither of them. Instead, a cloaked man bent over him, his face hidden in shadow.
Immediately Quirk was awake, sitting up and scrambling against the wall. “You’re the man, the shadowy guy. Who are you?”
“You just told me who I am,” said the cloaked man, amused. “’The Shadowy Guy’. I shall add it to my list of titles.”
“You have a list? Lucky.” Quirk shook his head. “I mean, what are you doing? What do you have to do with me?”
The man paused, then motioned toward the trapdoor in the ceiling of the cell. “Come with me.”
It was hard for Quirk to stand. His side was heavily bruised, and his knees didn’t want to work. With a lot of effort, however, he managed to climb the ladder and emerge in the beast’s lair. Only one of the tunnels was open, and it wasn’t the one leading to the cemetery outside. The rest of the tunnels were free of people—if no one else was being killed, it wasn’t worth watching.
“Follow,” said the cloaked man, walking toward the open tunnel. The beast lay slumped on the pile of bones in the corner, red eyes extinguished, back paws twitching spasmodically as it chased imaginary Phils.
Quirk followed the cloaked man into the tunnel. Lit by torchlight, the walls were carved as in the first hallway, but they were simple likenesses—and every one had Quirk’s face. It was disconcerting.
“What is this place?” asked Quirk, hurrying to catch up to the cloaked man.
The hood turned to look back at Quirk, but Quirk couldn’t see any face within it. “It is a shrine. A shrine to you, no less. Though, I don’t expect being thrown around by a behemoth just outside of your own temple is very good for your pride.”
“I could have done without it.”
The cloaked man fell silent, the only sounds in the tunnel coming from their footsteps. The tunnel ended, emptying into a massive room that reminded Quirk slightly of the room in the Castle Under the Cloud where the eternity spheres were kept. The ceiling was lost to view, high above their heads. The far walls were almost invisible, though Quirk could see torches held in sconces along the perimeter. Dominating the room, however, was an enormous statue.
“That is just weird,” said Quirk.
“What? You don’t like the sculptor’s work?” The cloaked man stepped to the side to allow Quirk a full view of the statue.
“No, it’s just… I don’t like seeing my face on other things.” Quirk took another step into the room and looked around again. “If this is a shrine, a temple… does that mean I have my own religion?”
“Perhaps,” said the cloaked man. “Humans tend to look upon greater beings than themselves as gods. Though you were once human, you are nevertheless a greater being—you could qualify as a god. I too am a god, by that definition. By my estimation, however, you are not a god. You are a simple man who has stolen life that did not belong to you.”
Quirk rolled his eyes. “If I knew what you were talking about, I would probably say something intelligent.”
Near the statue’s base was a small writing desk, holding a very large book. The small, bespectacled man Quirk had spoken to during his fight with the beast sat in front of it, scribbling away with a quill pen. Every so often he stopped to wet his quill with ink and push his glasses up with a stained hand.
Quirk walked up behind him and tried to read what was written. The handwriting was tiny, but he could barely make it out.
And Quirk spake, and he said unto the voice out of the shadows, ‘If I knew of what thou spake, I wouldst probably sayeth something intelligent.’
“A book of your exploits,” said the cloaked man from behind. “It has not been added to in a long time—your personal scribe has had a lot of work to do lately.”
“Why do you need to write down my exploits?” said Quirk. “I mean, I’m flattered, but I feel like I should have at least ordered something like that done.”
Quirk replied unto the voice, the scribe wrote, and he said, ‘Why dost thou need to chronicle my exploits?’
“Would you quit it?” Quirk said, plucking the quill from the scribe’s hands. The scribe dipped his finger in the ink instead and kept writing.
‘Wouldst thou quitteth it?’ Thus spake Quirk; and behold! he plucked the quill from the dashing scribe’s sure hand. The scribe, unfazed, continued writing with the dedication that comes from constant work commissioned for a cause for which he cares nothing.
“He’s writing in compliments about himself, and complaints about his job,” said Quirk. “I don’t think that’s how a book is supposed to be written, especially if it’s true.”
“You asked why a book of your exploits must be written,” said the cloaked figure. “A man as great as yourself must be remembered. You have lived centuries longer than most of your species, and have done great things. As I said, you qualify as a god. The only reason your life should be chronicled, therefore, is if in the future you are unable to tell your story yourself.”
“I can tell my story myself,” said Quirk. “What’s to stop me?”
The cloaked man drew a dagger. “You will be dead.” Cloak billowing out behind him, the shadowed man leapt at Quirk.