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.
The ceiling lamp fell, hitting the cloaked man’s head and shoulder. He crumpled to the floor, groaning softly.
Quirk looked around the room. That sort of light fixture only hung in the center of the room, near the enormous statue of him. None hung near the walls, where he was standing. So where had it come from? He spotted movement from the center of the room; a chain was swinging loose. It looked like it had been ripped free.
He looked straight up to see a form hidden in the shadows, crouching on top of a moose head trophy. It waved, then swung down into the light.
“You’re the torch guy,” said Quirk in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“I just wanted to say hi without a box of torches strapped to my chest,” said the torch guy. “I’ve wanted to meet you all my life, and now that you’re here, well… I’ve heard stories about you all my life.”
“Who are you really?”
“Do you remember your second-in-command, in the 1870s?”
“I’m his great-great-grandson.”
Quirk raised his eyebrows. “Is he still alive?”
“No. He would have to be over 140 years old.”
It hit Quirk that in reality, he was probably over 140 years old. “This is awkward. I’m… sorry.”
“He always knew you would outlive him. You never aged.”
“Really awkward,” said Quirk. “Is there anything remotely normal we can talk about?”
“Sure,” said the torch seller. He pointed at the cloaked man, who was standing shakily, brushing himself off. “He’s going to try to kill us.”
“That’s very normal,” said Quirk. “I suggest we run.”
Before he could, the cloaked man attacked, thrusting his dagger toward the torch guy’s heart.
Quirk didn’t even see what happened next. In an instant, the cloaked man was on the floor again, holding his hooded head. The torch guy shoved the dagger into his belt. “I agree.”
“That hurts,” said Quirk, looking at the cloaked man.
“Don’t pity him,” said the torch seller, striding toward the door. “He has never stopped trying to kill you.”
“No, the way you beat him up with one move,” said Quirk. “I was useless.”
The torch guy looked back. “The stories mentioned your pride. I’ve had fifteen years of training, all in the hopes of joining you someday.”
“Why is everything so awkward around you?” said Quirk.
The portcullis into the beast’s den was open. The beast itself was lying sprawled on the floor. The torch guy gave it another whack on the head as he passed, just to keep it down.
“Now, how do we get out?” asked the torch guy.
“How did you get in?” asked Quirk.
“I waited until the portcullises were opened and the beast was put to sleep, then slipped through while the guards were concentrating on lowering food into your cell.”
“We can’t do that again unless someone was in the cell,” said Quirk.
The beast began groaning. Instead of putting it further to sleep, the torch seller’s blow had woken it up.
With the rattle of ratchets and unseen pulleys, the portcullis behind them began lowering, trapping them inside with the beast.
“We could fit underneath if we went now,” said the torch guy. “Do you want to be trapped with this monster, or with that monster?” He pointed at the cloaked man, struggling to his feet at the other end of the tunnel.
“Uuuuuhh…” said Quirk.
“Too late,” said the torch guy. “We’re trapped in here.”
Quirk looked around the room for a way out. There was a bell hanging from the ceiling just above the trapdoor—perhaps they could drop it on the beast’s head, then figure out how to get the portcullises up. Or perhaps…
Why was the bell there, anyway? What was its point? There was no clapper inside. Perhaps it was an old bell, here from when the crypt was first built. No, it was shiny—someone polished it regularly. Why?
The beast was getting up. Quirk picked a pebble from the stones near his feet and threw it at the bell. It missed.
“You throw one,” said Quirk, pointing at the bell. “My aim is rubbish.”
The torch guy slung a pebble at the bell. It gave off a tiny ring, almost inaudible.
The beast, which had been doing so well getting up, suddenly flopped back to its stomach and let out an enormous yawn. Quirk found himself wondering why animals were allowed to have such big teeth.
“Throw another one!” shouted Quirk, suddenly realizing what the bell actually did. It had some sort of power over the beast, sending it to sleep when someone didn’t want to be eaten.
Quirk didn’t want to be eaten.
The torch guy threw another stone, about as big as his fist. It hit straight on, sending a clear peal ringing through the tunnels.
The beast sank back down, eyes closed, already dreaming of juicy screaming victims.
“Great,” said the torch guy. “Now how do we get out?”
“Jordan let slip while we were talking that the portcullises were man-powered,” said Quirk. “We might be able to lift one ourselves.”
“They ought to be operated by pulleys,” said the torch guy. “It would make it easier.”
“So where’s the mechanism? It doesn’t look like there are gatehouses, or even people stationed on both sides of the portcullises.” Quirk pointed to the entrance tunnel. “Someone who enters through that side should be able to exit through this side—he should be able to open the portcullises from this room.”
“If he can, we can too,” said the torch guy.
“I like your optimism,” said Quirk. “I was thinking we were lost because we didn’t have their magic.”
The torch guy ran to one of the portcullises—the one leading to the outside world—and pulled upward. It didn’t budge. Quirk followed halfheartedly.
“Does your fifteen years of training help with this sort of thing, usually?” he asked, pulling a little bit.
“Usually,” grunted the torch guy, face as red as his wares.
“That’s weird,” said Quirk, and gave up. He walked back into the middle of the room.
“We have to go,” said the torch guy. “Your enemy will call the guards.”
“At which point you will fight them and be awesome, I’m sure,” said Quirk. He looked around again. Leaning against the portcullis leading to Quirk’s shrine was the chronicler of his adventures.
“Why aren’t you writing all this down?” asked Quirk.
“It’s boring,” said the scribe. He pushed his glasses up his nose.
Quirk watched the torch seller’s futile attempt to raise the portcullis and decided not to argue. “How do you raise these things?”
“They usually open and close automatically,” said the scribe. “The bell rings at the same time every day and the beast falls asleep, then the portcullises open. People go through for about half an hour, then the portcullises drop again.”
“There has to be some way to open them,” said Quirk.
“There is a control panel behind this tapestry,” said the scribe, pointing to the wall near him.
“I can’t reach it,” said Quirk. “Can you press the buttons for me?”
The scribe nodded. “Which portcullis?”
The scribe pulled back the tapestry and pressed a button. One of the portcullises opened.
The torch seller whirled. “How are you doing that?” He shook his head. “Why are you doing that? We need to escape, and the way out is this way!”
“How I see it,” said Quirk, “is we haven’t finished here yet, so now’s not the time.” He walked down the tunnel.
“What’s down here?” asked the torch seller.
“Don’t you know? You work here.”
“I managed to get a contract to sell torches by the entrance to your shrine. I had never gone further into the shrine until today.”
“This is just a guess, but…” Quirk walked into the spacious room beyond the tunnel and looked around. He laughed. “I was right.”
“It’s another shrine,” said the torch seller in wonder.
“The cloaked man would never build a shrine to me unless he could build another shrine to himself,” said Quirk, walking around the giant statue in the center of the room. It was cloaked too.
“All this is interesting,” said the torch seller, “but why aren’t we escaping?”
“I told you, I’m not finished here.”
“What more could you possibly do? You’re already running from an incognito madman—who else can you annoy?”
Quirk shrugged. “Just him.” He finished his circuit of the statue and looked up at it again. “It’s as I thought—he doesn’t have a chronicler writing his life story. He obviously thinks he’ll live to tell it himself. But one thing I learned over the past few days is, just because no one is threatening to kill you, it doesn’t mean you can’t die.” He pointed to a table near the wall. “Bring that over.” Crossing to the other side of the room, he hauled another table to the pedestal. “Now, do you think you can break these apart?”
“What is this for?” asked the torch seller as he broke the legs off the tables.
“We’re going to set stuff on fire.”