"Twilight Madness"

The moonlight filtered down through the canopy and provided us with most of our illumination. The hour was late, and other than the pulse of orange fire down in the ravine, the world around us was bathed in shadow. The moon was full that night, and where it's influence wained popped the heavenly host of stars.

It was cold on top of that menacing peak. The wind wasn't constant, but periodically it would become excited, and cut right through you. I remember hearing there rythmic chanting and feeling the most horrible sense of forboding and death. Over and over, in a low monotone, we heard filter up through the trees the most bizzare and unholy things. Standing there looking down, and beginning our study of this unknow horror, several human figures began to resolve out of the near blackness. At first glance we had missed them, but as our eyes adjusted to the light of the distant fire, individual forms began to appear. We counted seven members of this demonic group. All were sitting cross-legged at some distance from the central fire, and after completely acclimating we consulted each other on what to do next.

I spoke first, and in a barely contained whisper I remarked to my colleague about the disbelief I felt at finally attaining to the object of our quest. "The villagers were correct. We found them at long last!" My excuberance bairly contained. "Indeed" he replied cooley. "Seven of them just like the old women said there would be." Compared to my own, my companion's speech was measured and steady. We knew from a previous scouting expedition that a path down the ravine lay just off to our right, and after another few minutes of watching, we proceeded a bit closer. We also knew from that previous trip that a good size rock sat about 20 paces down this path and would work as a blind from which to gather information in even greater detail.

So, with infinite care, we began to plod silently down the dirt pathway. The chanting we heard from the coven's ritual grew louder both because we were moving closer with each step, but also because the fiends themselves grew more excited with each phrase uttered. As time passed we noticed that the blasphemous words began to repeat themselves, and each time they did the fire they clusterd around seemed to glow more brightly. It was unknown to us just how the fire seemed to grow. No one from the group seemed to add any fuel, but the words of the creatures made it dance before our eyes. The mysterious way this happened was a strain on my mind, and lent a sinister aspect to the whole affair.

"Is there any way you think you can translate what they are saying?" I whispered this closely into the ear of my friend. He had been studying the language of this ancient group for the past year hoping that he might effect a translation if we did indeed encounter them. "Possibly" he responded. "The way they parse each sentence seems evident, as I suspected it would be, and..." He paused briefly to hear the end of one round and the beginning of the next. "...there seems to be four distinct lines comprising there chant..." He again stopped to listen.

It was at this point he begain to mouth the words we were hearing. Akwardly at first, but with more and more precision as each hooded figure repeated themselves, until at last he was able to mimic the entire chant. "Yes I think I can make sense of what they are saying." He waited until a new verse begain. All the while that unholy fire growing brighter and brighter. "We meet at night beneith ancient stars/ Our worship is as you have commanded/ A full moon is looking down from above/ We know that you too are their." My colleague stopped transfixed by what he had just said, and we both just stared, rendered speechless by the mystery of it all.

After several more rounds of this demonic lay the chanting came to an abrupt stop. What hidden signal prompted such cooridinated behavior we'll never know. The final verse was nearly shouted by the frenzied acolytes, and the fire had risen concurrently to an intense conflagration. I remarked to my partner in wonder about the way the flames seemed to grow with the volume of there voices, but his response was interupted by the unexpected silence. The sudden lack of there evil intonement came as suprising too us, and the spontaneous dimunition of the flames startled me and sent my imagination whirling.

We were quite close to the group now, behind that large rock and we had feared that any talk between us would reveal our position. Time passed with no movement or sound from anyone in our ghastly clan. After what felt to me as an eternity one of the demons reached into the folds of his cloak and pulled out a small leather pouch. As he did this, the sputtering fire that was, just a second before, barely alive seemed to respond to his gesture by growing taller and more robust, and gaining substantially in size.

With this, all seven of them stood up and began to pace counter-clockwise around the flames. The man who produced the pouch opened it, removed something from its volume, and passed it along to the ghoul behind him. This proceeded until all seven had removed what they had and the leather bag returned to its original owner. They then stopped pacing, turned again to face there fire, and kneeled. The fire itself flared briefly in response and my eyes grew even wider. One of the men, someone other than the holder of the pouch, but we couldn't tell exactly who, spoke then in that ancient and horrible tounge. After which all seven of them ate whatever foul substance they had removed from the pouch.

I happened to glance at my companion then as they were ingesting that disgusting venom and he appeared busy writing down a copy of the satanic words the man had just spoke. Unnoticed by me as transfixed as I was, my colleague had produced a small notebook and had begun to write down his observations. When he noticed I was looking, he graciously tilted the page towards me so I could see what he was writing. He had positioned himself behind the rock in such a way as to catch a bit of firelight on the paper and I could just barely make out what it said.

The previous effort spent by my linguistically minded friend, in his study of this secret language, had apparently paid its second dividend because on his paper was a translation of this new grotesquery as well. In quotes to indicate what it was, and in a slightly larger script as if the professor was showing a rare display of emotion, read the following: "We recieve this into ourselves as a gift and a blessing/ We are your humble and loyal servents/ We are eager for your arrival and pledge our loyalty to you alone."

The pouch, then, surely contained the sacrament that the coven was reported to use, for we had read about this, at the run down library in the town. It was a rare volume of little known origen that wasn't listed in any catalog, but was shelved there anyway. We had found out about its existence from the same old women who spoke to us of this cult, and other obscure things, and who pointed us to this terrifying place high up in the mountains. This book, written by a purported survivor of an attempted sacrafice, was a way for the victim to spread awareness of these evil fiends and there horrible ways. The drug these ghouls ingested was said to allow them to have visions of there goddess and interact with her, and was used on the most significant occasions. It was said to be a combonation of wild plant leaves and dessicated human blood.

We stood quietly and observed as the noxious material they swallowed was slowly metabolised by there bodies. At some point the seven members started to sway back and forth and also to hum in a low monotone. As the dark ritual progressed we could tell that what they ingested was having a greater effect because the swaying became more violent, and the humming grew in volume and intensity. What astonished us the most about this was how the fire too started to grow just like it had before. The demonic illumination became so bright that it reflected off every tree and lit the ravine like it was daytime. Simultaneously, it's golden-yellow color changed and was now a mixture of blue and white that indicated a drastic increase in temperature.

Under the influence of that concoction the humming also reached to an incredible pitch and the air itself came alive with that wretched vibration. I recall the most depressed feeling take hold of me at that time, thinking that I had some how become degraded by exposure to those rippling currents of air. The idea that my body was, in a way, now connected to there ritual through mutual sensation was quite disturbing to me and I hoped that it would end soon. In my aweful state, though, it occured to me that there was some croscendo building and that this might provide some relief. I could only wonder how my friend beside me was doing as the seconds crept by.

Suddenly, as anything that strains one's reason has tendency to be, the fire began to take on a fluid, swirling character and started to rise up out of it's stone encircled pit. I couldn't believe my eyes! I glanced at my companion in disbelief, wanting to say something, but any attempt at speech would have been preempted by the overwhelming humming sound. I noticed that my friend had temporarily halted his note taking and was starinig fixedly at this insane happening. I turned my stare back to this fantastic scene just in time to notice the swirling mass of energy, having at that point risen a meter or so into the air, slowly but distinctly begin to take the shape of a beautiful women. My mouth hung open, and I was struck dumb by what I was witnessing. I could only watch and wonder.

It took about a minute or so for the female figure to fully resolve. She stood with her back to us, floating there facing the man whom by then we considered the leader of this group. At the moment her naked body took its final shape the humming stopped but the intensity of the light persisted. Though still glaring we could now somehow look at her form directly and she was beautiful indeed. She spoke then in the same language as the acolyte before her, and while I myself was unable to understand, I noticed that the professor had resumed his writing.

She paused her speech as the members of her cult shifted into a lying position around the fire, and began again after all of them had readjusted. After several more minutes of hideous diatribe the women floated from her original position around the circle of prone worshipers, stopping above each in turn. While hovering over each member, all the while continuing her monolouge, she performed a series of gestures with her hands that illicited an audible groan from that person, and after she was finished she returned to the center of the group, just above the fire, as before.

At that point she ceased talking, and as if on cue each of the seven monsters sat up and stood. The women then slowly moved towards each person and gave them what appeared to be a kiss directly on the forhead. Each kiss caused the person to burst into a blinding pulse of light and then disappear! I could hardly contain a gasp as I saw her progress through each one of the seven members. Surely we would have been recognized if I hadn't covered my mouth with my hand. How fantastic! As she approached the seventh and final man her kiss caused her to vanish aswell and myself and my colleague were suddenly alone in that nighted ravine. The fire too was extinguished by that final departure.

I could hardly speak! My heart was racing in my chest and my body was shaking with a mild tremor. I turned to the professor, usually much cooler then myself, and he too was visably shaken by what we had just saw. "From what I gather," he started "the women from the fire began by speaking of some other world that they would be travelling to, and all though they would feel a bit of discomfort, they shouldn't worry. There loyalty was unquestioned and was about to be rewarded." All I could respond with was "My God...." My mouth left hanging open. The professor continued "After this, she started intoning some type of spell or incantation, presumably to effect this transfer to that other world. Some of the words she spoke I was unable to decypher, but I should be able to figure them out with a return trip to the library." I replied "Do you think they will return here?" I could feel my words shake as I spoke them from the fear I felt. "Im not sure he said, but I think we've seen enough for the evening and we should return to our lodging in town, and revisit the old women tomorrow..."

After a thourough search of the area, where in which nothing was found, we started back. Both of us stunned and exhausted. The sudden disapearence of those 7 hideous people and that demonic fire allowed us a partial return to our rational world. I felt drained and utterly bewildered by what we had just experienced and was content to walk a few paces in silence. I felt that drowsy feeling one has after a huge on-rush of adrenaline has ebbed away, and has left you feeling hollow. Slowly though, as we put a bit of distance between us and the sight of that foul ritual, my daze abated, but my mind was still reeling. I glanced at my companion in an attempt to guage his mental state, and he seemed lost in thought. He noticed my bewildered expresion though, and half shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in response.

The trip up here at the beginning of the night took us roughly three hours. We had ascended to this remote patch of land by way of a little known trail that the old women had described for us, and arrived to the sound of there chanting just after midnight. We used this remote path previously as well to scout the area before tonight, but now that we had finally gained our objective we were returning by way of a more direct route. It was fortunate for us that the professor had ties to this region from his childhood and knew a large section of these wooded mountains from the many excursions of his youth.

I had learned, over the past years I have known him, that he grew up just South of this area in a Large city named "....". The professor had remarked on occasion how he would come up during his summers as a boy to visit his Mother's family. In fact, when we spoke to the old women a couple of weeks ago, she told us that although the professor may not remember, she knew his Uncle and had met the professor several times while he was a toddler. The Uncle had disapeared under suspicious circumstances when the professor was about eight years old, after which the old women her self stopped coming around.

The professor broke our silence "I've been searching for them for years now, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Up until now, there was a little part of me that had remained unconvinced of there existence, but as I now see, that part of me was wrong." I nodded my head in agreement. The clear sky allowed the fullness of the Moon to reveal enough of me so the professor could see. I replied, barely contained "I can barely believe that we just witnessed that!" A shudder ran through my body "I too had my doubts, but no longer. It seems the villagers, including that old women, have proven to be trustworthy. I wonder what more they could tell us about there history." Again, the professor shrugged, and we walked on further.

As we continued to move closer to the old town from my companion's youth, my mind, already taxed to its limit, began to wander in the most disconcerting way. The fresh memories of that unholy ceremony swirled as we plodded on, and they kept me feeling like I was teetering on the edge of hysteria. As we neared the end of our hike back we began to hear an owl hoot over head, and her call inundated my mind. Over and over again she voiced herself and the bizzarre quality of the sound proceeded to have the most powerful hypnotic effect. It was at this point a vision of that wretched and beautiful women sprang into my mind as vivid and real as if she were again floating in front of me, and it was all I could do not to collapse in terror. It was as if the owl's voice had called her back into existence.

The look on the professor's face turned into one of concern as he undoubtedly saw the look on my face change to fear. It was obvious to him, under the moonlight, that something had suddenly come over me. "You hold on." he whispered to me. "We are almost there. We should head back to our room at the inn where we can eat and rest, and revisit the old women when we can." I mumbled as I walked. Pleading to be left alone. I felt at any moment I could bolt strait into the woods like a terrified animal, but I managed somehow to make it back to our quarters.

Our hike through the early morning hours returned us to the village well before dawn. This particualar rite was observed by the cult late in Autumn, under a full moon, so the days had already shortened considerably. The still heavy darkness worked with us now, as my desperate condition would have stuck out to any passers-by. We slipped through the empty streets towards the Inn on the far side of town and when we finally arrived I threw myself on the bed. The image of the she-demon still swirled in my mind, and I had started to sweat profusely. I felt my condition deteriorating. What unimaginable horror we had been exposed too! The professor lit a brighter lantern that filled the room and upon seeing me clearly for the first time he let out an audible gasp. "You certainly don't look well at all" he said, and placed his hand on my forhead. "You seem to have developed a fever too."

At that point I had begun rolling on the bed in agony and in short gasps and spurts I kept shounting "no!", and "leave me alone!" while the professor stood there looking both quizzical and dismayed. From what he later told me of my behavior I had shouted and writhed for several minutes before I lost conciousness completely. A mercy I suppose, considering my overwhelming state of crazed agitation. I have no recollection of what transpired after this point, for the professor or for the old women. All I know is what I've been told by my companion after I woke, and from the written account he would end up recording of the whole affair.

The one thing I do remember after I returned to the Inn that morning was a nightmare I had sometime during my period of unconciousness. I dreamt that I was back in that dangerous forest surrounded by hooded figures. A half dozen or so all holding knives and waving them at me menecingly. The evil fire was there next to me and as I was standing, terrified, it morphed again into that hideous and beautiful demon. She floated right up to me and scolded me with her panting-voice saying that I was stupid to believe that I had gone undetected. Instead of her alien language she spoke in plain English staring intensley with her pitch black eyes right into mine. I felt like I was lost for all time. She continued "you will pay for trespassing on our land and spying on us when you had no right! Those who act as you have pay the ultimate price."

I would learn eventually from the professor, that after I passed out from my exhaustion, he had sat by my bedside for the next two hours watching me spasm and listening to me moan in discomfort. Worried and wondering what wouuld become of me. At some point after the sun had risen, and after my siezures had subsided, he went to get food and to fetch the old women back to our room. I knew from us talking previously that he would indeed return to the library for more information but he thought that for my sake, he would first see if the women could help me.

The professor hurried to the women's house, which was fairly close to the Inn we had then occupied. Her dwelling was erected with the first of the village and the decades of subsequent growth had filled in the space around hers, to enclose it with the other homes of her neighbors, and the businesses they owned. My colleauges family still owned propety there too, but it was on the other side of town, and was currently occupied by the daughter of his Uncle, her husband, and there two teenage children.

"Constance!" the professor whispered loudly at her front door. "Constance!" I was still early and the professor didn't want to arouse any undue suspicion from the women's neighbors by speaking too loudly. "Constance are you awake?" After what seemed like an eternity of time she opened the door and inquired of the professor what he wanted at such an early hour. "My friend" he responded with a rare display of emotion. "We found what we were looking for, deep in the forest, just as you said. Everything was fine until we were almost back, and something just came over him. It happened right when we heard the call of an owl ovehead. He suddenly changed. Please come to the inn with me to see if you can help." She knew he was a clinician at the university and had cultivated within himself that cool and detatched demenor that is necesary when working with students and folks who were mentally deranged, and understood that for a man such as that to seem so dispossesed, there must be something truly wrong. "At once "she responded" but first let me grab my bag."

As they walked back to the inn the women questioned my friend as to my condition. "Did he say anything before he lost conciousness?" she asked. "Yes" replied the professor. "He kept shouting no! and for somemthing or someone to leave him alone. Over and over he pleaded to be left alone." To this the women rejoined "I see. It is as I've feared and something I'm sure you yourself had suspected. Your friend may have been possessed by one of the evil creatures you have been hunting. It is a masterful task to hide yourself from something who has perfect eyesight, and I'm afraid that you have failed at that task... Unlike popular prejudice though, the act of posession takes time to perform, even by an adept. There is often times a violent struggle by the soul of the moribund to resist this."

They entered the room at the inn. Thankfully the structure was so arranged that this particular apartment had a doorway onto a shaded side-street that kept hidden from view the coming and going of its occupants. "He looks bad" the women remarked "I'm not sure what I'll be able to do. Maybe if I had come earlier, but now I'm not so sure." As she spoke, she walked up to the bed and, just as the professor did, placed her hand on his forhead to check his temperature. "The presence of a fever is a good thing" she noted. "Despite what you may think. Just like when a germ attacks, the body mounts a certain defense in order to resists occupation, and it is the same here." As she spoke she began to rumage through her bag and produced a glass jar full of a white crystaline substance. "Salt" she explained. "We can use it to cordon of the area of this room from any further evil, and to contain within it what is about to happen."

As she finished speaking she began to trace the outer perimeter of the room, along the floor by the wall, with a thin line of salt. As she did so she mumbled something to herself that the professor couldn't hear. She traced the majority of the room, but left the floor in front of the door clear. "When the time comes we need to have an avenue open for the demon flee. The container itself will act as a barrier of sorts that we can remove at the right time" She remarked. When she finished she placed the near empty jar on the floor by the doorway and asked the professor to step aside. "Just as you have professor, I have spent years of time studying and tracking these foul creatures and learning what I can of them. So it is fittinig that you have returned to us like this. Also like you, it started with the disppearence of your Uncle all those years ago. You may not have known at the time, you were so young, but he and I were lovers then, and his dissapearence had a profound effect on me. The tradgedy and the injustice effected our whole community. Because of his death, I have made it my life's work to seek information and to learn there ways in order to try and stop the threat they pose.

"What I will try to do here today isn't so much as harm or destroy the entity that is plauging your friend. Chances are it is to strong for me to do that. Instead, what I will attempt is to make your friend uninhabitable, so to speak, and in doing so drive off the devil inside him. Like any parasite, the demon needs a host in order to survive."

With her explination finished the professor watched the women stand over me and make several gestures with her hands. The professor noted that they looked vaguely similar to the gestures that the women of fire made towards her followers and this made him uneasy. But, with no other recourse he supressed his urge to question her, and instead watched, with curiosity and hope.

As the women proceeded, my body began to quiver and shake and I began to yell out again. "This is a good sign" she noted in excitement. "He has begun to resist again. You very well might have come to me in time to save him" The women responded to my movements with further hand gestures, and by splashing my body with liquid from a jar she had removed from her bag. The whole situation seemed to intensify moment by moment and at some point the women began to intone in the same tounge as the cult worshippers on the mountain top. She grabbed my left arm as she did so. "We are almost at a cusp. Whether we succeed or not will all depend on the next several moments." The professor noted that, at this point, the women herself looked possesed, and seemed to act like she was no longer in control.

Just as the intensity of my excorsim began to peak, he later told me, my body began to glow with a dull blood-red light. The old women herself began to cry out at that time in some undistigushable expression, and my back began to arch severly, like a victim of tetnus. I started screaming then, he noted, and I tried to lash out at the old women using my right arm. Which was free from her grip. "Hold him down!" she commanded the professor. "We are almost there!" The professor grabbed my arm and held me just as the old women was doing. My legs kicked and thrashed as I tried to free myself. Or, more accuratly, as the demon tried to disupt the people who were denying it a body to corrupt. This went on for several mintes and then abruptly... ceased. I went limp as the glow that had surrounded my body began to rise up out of me towards the ceiling. The old women quickly let my arm go, As I was now motionless, and hurried to move the jar away from its spot by the door. As she did this, the entity that was forced from my body must have sensed a route to escape and flew quickly towards and then through the door. "Without the body of your friend, the demon was vulnerable, so it had to run away. It will seek out a cave to hide itself and wait for the next moon to return to its own world. It is unfortunate that niether of us are capable of destroying such a disgusting creature, but we have saved your friend."

The professor just stood in silence, awed by what the old women had accomplished. "Thank you" he finally said. "My friend already looks better after your intervention." I read later, in my colleauges notes, that I did indeed look better. He wrote that the color had returned to my face and I had stopped sweating. "He will remain unconcious for hours longer as he recovers from his ordeal" the old women said. "When he wakes up, make sure to have pleanty of water for him and some food so he can regain his energy. I expect it will be a day or two before this happens." The professor nodded in agreement.

By the time all of this had finished the noon hour had arrived and the old women said she needed to return to her house to rest herself. "I'm not as young as I used to be" she chuckled "I need to return home and close my eyes. I feel the library by your cousins house could possibly be of more use to you and you should go there after we part. That old tome you read, written by that poor man two centuries ago, isn't to only source of information contained there. As you know, the library is an old building and the structure itself contains secrets. Go there and look for a hidden comparment in the basement. It is behind a loose brick in the fireplace embedded in the east wall. You will notice that the brick in question is of a slightly different shade then the others, like it has resisted the accumulation of soot that it would normally succumb too. Don't let anyone see you."

My friend responded with his thanks and told the old women that he would stop back tomorrow morning to discuss what he had found. "Ok" she responded. "There are other things I must tell you too, that I've been waiting to say. I wasn't sure that I would ever get the oppurtunity, but I feel now the time is right. Your friend will be safe here. The salt I poured on the floor will protect him from any harm. Now, I must go."

With this, the old women went her way and the professor his. He was nervous leaving me alone in my state, but decided that the old women had earned his trust and that he should do as she said. After eating a quick lunch he made his way across town to the library, planning to pass by his cousins house on the way. He hadn't seen her or her family in years, and wondered how they were fairing.

The professor left the Inn, with me sleeping quietly on my bed. A normal color had returned to my complexion, and my face was no longer contorted by agony and fear. With his concern now able to turn back to the matter at hand, the professor entered the alley way from our room and his mind turned to the town that had captured so much of his youth.

The sky was overcast as he walked down the familiar and meandering street, between old brick buildings, he recalled that "..." was founded in the late 18th century by a group of miners that were extracting a deposit of silver discovered in the same mountain which we had climbed the previous night. The mining camp grew into the township as the ore was processed and wealth was generated, and this went on for several decades. Inevitably though the mines were depleted, and the children of the original founders were forced to move on to find other means of support. Most of the direct decendents of these men did indeed leave, but a few famlies stayed behind and continued to grow the town into its present state. From what he had read, and had been told growing up, these families remained because of the remotness of the location, and the ample reserves of timber and fresh water that were gathered and sold to certan landed-famalies back in the old country. They were an ambitious, but reclusive set, and valued there privacy quite highly, and it was from this stock people that the professor himself had come.

As he walked on, the buildings themselves seemed to grow younger in age as he moved further from the inn and closer to his cousin's home. With time slipping quickly by, memories of his youth swirled in the professors head: Hiking through the beautiful wooded country-side; Riding his bike past the old stone church with its twin gargoyle sentinels; Listening to his Uncle tell ghost stories about the old abandonded mines that dotted the lanscape. All of these flashed through his mind, and before he knew it he was at the house where he had spent so many of those beautiful summers.

At first it was as he remebered, with its rough-hewn lumber siding and its pitched slate roof. The second story had its own porch over the front door where he used to play board games with his cousin when they were kids, and the small picketed fence still remained, that wrapped the front yard, and marked its boundry. As he looked at the house and reveled in the old memories that it evoked, he noticed for the first time that the heavy oak front-door was slightly ajar, which he thought was odd. With a mounting suspicion he passed through the gate of the old fence and approached the entrance way and called out to his cousin to see if she was home. Trying a second and third time, and getting no answer, he decided to push the front door fully open and look inside.

What he saw there shocked and frightened him. The living room that occupied the front of his cousins home was in complete shambles. Tables were overturned, and several wooden chairs had been smashed. An old picture of his Uncle lay on the floor, torn, with its frame destroyed, and two lamps had been upended and broken into pieces. The kitchen that lay off to the right of the living room was in a similar state, and the bedrooms up on the second floor were in the same, disorded condition. In what he assumed to be his cousin's room, the master bedroom, a large stain that looked like blood fowled the sheets and a dead dog lay on the floor next to it, lying in a pool of what also looked like blood. The dresser had been completely emptied with the clothes strewn everywhere and several papers and various family pictures littered the floor.

"My God!" the professor spoke outloud to no one at all. "What the hell happened here?" He hadn't expected to find his cousin's house in such disarray. Confused and disoriented, he climbed back down the stairs into the living room and proceeded to walk out into the backyard. He noticed that the gate at the rear of his cousins property, that opened into the surrounding woods, was also unlatched, and there were fresh boot tracks in the mud by the gate. He followed them for several meters into the thick brush behind the property, but lost track after about 30 paces.

Growing upset at what appeared to be foul play, the professor turned around and walked back into the house, and as he passed through the living room to his exit, he noticed for the first time a note hanging on the wall. Fixed their by a dagger stabbed into its surface. It had a black grip and a small ruby on its pommel; he must have missed it in his initial inspection oweing to the intense emotion that he felt upon finding the place in its current state. He approached and removed the slender blade with a yank and read the scrawling, hand written script: "We know you have been trespassing, and spying on us, and prying into matters that don't concern you. Your Uncle tried the same thing, and he payed the price. You have endangered your colleague, and now your cousin, and you yourself will soon bare the cost of your foolish meddling."

"Bastards!" he cried, as he wondered how in the hell those evil men would have known they were at that ceremony. He couldn't recall one instance where he thought any of them had been spoooked by anything, or seemed suspicious at the possibility of being watched. He then thought that maybe the creature from the fire had somehow sensed them, but was perplexed by the fact that they weren't confronted, and were allowed to leave freely. He wondered, too, if the reason for the sudden change in his companions behavior while they were hiking back into town was also part of this and if the owl they heard screaching had become an unwitting pawn in this diabolical scheme.

After turning all of this over in his mind, and trying to supress any fear that arose, he concluded that his original obligation to his Uncle now included a debt to his friend, and also now to his cousin. He would proceed further to the library and retrieve whatever it was the old lady had pointed out to him, but instead of going back to study the artifact by himself, he would bring it strait to the women and question her for further details. Also, trying to learn any more of that disagreable language would have to wait. Time had been turned against them.

The building that housed the library was only a quarter mile from his Uncle's old home. The age of the structure was an exception to the fact that as one moved further from the center of town, where the inn was located, the buildings grew younger. This specific building, where the library was located, was originally created as a dwelling for the family of the original founder of the township, and had since been converted into the library after most of the first settlers had moved on. As the professor approached for the second time in as many weeks, he again marvlled at the exquisite stone masonry. The limestone used to make the building was mined from the near by hills, along with the silver that was extracted there. The structure itself was 3 stories tall, and he knew it contained a basement, which was the focus of his visit.

On his walk through the town, and finally to the library, the professor hadn't seen a single person. Although he knew they were there. He couldn't help but speculate whether or not some notice had been circulated, or some alarm raised as a result of there activities last night, and the thought made him shudder. With a quickened pace he tried to enter the building through the front door, but unexpectedly found it locked, and so he circled around to the back of the building to see if he could find another entrance. When he examined the rear of the structure he found a ground floor window leading directly into the basement that was opened slightly and used it to gain access.

The basement windows themselves were by no means large, but they were left without cover, and this one was unlocked. After shimmying his way through, and again gaining his footing, he found himself in a poorly lit, but spacious and tidy room. The sunlight of the early afternoon lit the basement of the old library enough for the professor to make out its gross features. After his eyes adjusted, he found himself looking at several tables and chairs, five or six rows of shelves on which books were arranged, and a large stone fireplace on the opposite end of the room from where he stood. Off to his right there was a stairway leading up to the ground floor, and the air was musty with a faint smell of mold. Curiously though, the surfaces seemed dusted, and as he approached the fireplace he noticed the remains of a fire that appeared only recently extinguished. He felt a pang of regret that he wouldn't be able to linger and browse the various items on those forgotten shelves. He knew there was so much more to learn of the history of these brutal people, and he wasn't sure that he would ever have the oppurtuinity, after what had transpired, to come back.

He forced the thought out of his mind and crossed the room as quietly as he could. The quality of light filtering through the crusty windows didn't allow the professor to distinguish too much in the way of detail, among the various bricks of the fireplace, but he still felt he would discover its secret. He stood there for a moment, looking, before he took from his pocket a box of matches and struck one. As the light flared into life and slowly faded away he caught a glimpse of a few bricks that seemed a different shade then the rest, and cautiously tried to wiggle and move each in turn. The final brick, which upon closer inspection seemed to protrude slightly from the surface of the wall, began to move at the professors suggestion and after a few back and forth pulls, was dislodged and placed on the nearest table.

Removing the stone revealed a small compartment about the size of a shoebox, and within this space sat an old book that looked to be 300 to 400 pages in length. It was dark in color, and was broad and thick. The professor stood there for a moment considering his find, and after a brief pause, reached in and removed the book from its enclosure. The object was surely old. It seemed to be made out of a leather like material and the binding was sewn together. When he opened it to a random page he found what appeared to be small, brown, hand written type, in the same evil language he had studied, and that he heard spoken around the fire in the woods the night before. It was heavy, and had no title apparent on its cover.

So, With his prize in hand he carefully replaced the brick, made sure to wipe off any stone dust or dirt he got on the table, and proceeded back outside, through the window from which he entered. When he finally stood again at ground level, and surveyed the area around him, he decided he had gone unseen and started quickly back towards the center of town. A glance at his watch told him that two hours had passed since he left his friend lying in bed, and he was eager to check on him, and then return to the old women. She had sent him on his way by telling him she had more to say, and he was curious to see what she would make of the book that he had found. He hoped that his cousin was alright, and was now more determined than ever to expose this grotesque coven of witches and make it impossible for them to hurt anyone else.

It was late afternoon by the time the professor had returned to the inn. The door was still secure when he got there, and much to his relief his colleauge was sleeping soundly, right where he last saw him, when he entered. A noxious air seemed to have crept over the town as he traveled back from the library, and the clouds, slightly overcast when he first departed, were now thick and black and forboding. A storm had gathered and was on the brink of unleashing all of its tremendous energy. Of all the time he had spent here as a youth, he couldn't ever remeber the way the town felt at that moment, like it was alive with something sinister that was waiting patiently to strike.

During the walk back, the sense of anger he felt at seeing the way his cousin's house had been ransacked, slowly returned back to that steelly resolve he had been carrying with him through the years to find justice for his family and the good people of this town. As he slowly formulated the next phase of his plan, a renewed sense of vigor overcame him and he no longer felt that horrible way. Surely, he thought, she must have been taken somewhere close, and with the book he had, and the help of the old women, he would track her down and bring her back. He had wondered whether her children were involved, and where her husband was, and prayed that they were all alright. As he was checking on his partner, he took a few moments to gather the supplies they had, that he thought he would need for the next leg of his journey. This included a pistol, a cloth bag for the book in case of rain, some rope, a knife, and the lantern they had. He put all of this, and a jug of water in his backpack and left.

As he made the short trip back to the old womens house, he wondered again at how quiet and lifeless the town appeared to be. A week ago they saw at least a few people out conducting there business. The shutters were open on at least some of the buildings and a couple of dogs had been seen rooting through garbage that had been discarded on the road way. Several birds were heard, and squirells scurried through the trees by the road at the town limit when they first arrived. This time there was nothing. Other than Constance, and his coleauge, the professor hadn't seen a single living creature since they returned from the woods, and that disturbing ritual. By this time, he was convinced that some alarm had been raised and that people either were boarded up in there houses, or had left outright, without notice. He didn't know which. Someone was there though, as evidenced from the scene at his cousin's home, but he began to puzzle why no one thus far had approached him directly.

The old women wasn't too suprised by his earlier-than-expected visit. He told her what had transpired, and that he was very worried about his cousin's welfare. He told her too, about the tracks that he found leading out into the forest behind her house, and said that he needed her help again. "You are very wise to have tracked these fiends back to the little town of your youth" she began. "It seems that the disapearence of your Uncle really did compel something in you, and I do think I will be able to guide you as you need. First though, may I see the book you retrieved today? I assume you found it." The professor replied that he had, and he gave it to her. As he did, he saw her eyes widen considerably, and thought with a wry humor that she was now probably more excited than she'd had occasion to be in a long while. "It's been decades from the last time I laid my hands on this holy tome" she continued. "Thank you for bringing it here. What you have found is an object of quite momentous import. It is a collection of knowledge gained by our various families through what they have found here in this forest. Something gargantuan in scope and supreme for us in its signifigance."

She opened the book in what he saw was roughly its middle section, and flipped slowly forward scanning its contents. A smile crept over her wrinkled face, and her eyes twinkled like starlight on a crisp, clear, winter night. "Unknown to you, I myself have made entries into this volume, and it was his finding it that unexpectadly lead to your Uncle's tragic encounter. What you may also not know is that I was unable to collect this myself because I have been barred from the library by a powerful magic. But now I have the book again, and I may be able to change that."

After a brief silence, she continued "At the moment, your cousin is most likely ok. There are strict rules in place that govern the treatment of human beings, and to take the life of one is no small matter. To further ease your mind, I can tell you that her husband has been away from town these past several weeks, visiting family back in the old country, and her children have gone with him. If we can succeed in rescuing her, hopefully they won't ever know what is happening here today."

At hearing the woman reference his cousin's predicament, the professor spoke up "Do you know where they might have taken her?" He said with a start. I intend to track her down, and take her back. By force if necessary." She replied "At this moment, I am not sure, "but the resources available to us through the power of this text will surely help us find her location. First though, and I feel we have a bit of time, tell me about yourself and these past years since you were last in town. Your arrival here these few days ago came as a suprise to me and I've been filled with curiousity ever since. You were about eight years old when your Uncle went missing, and the final time you visited was right after you had turned seventeen, and it was just before you left for school to study your fathers business."

The professor wondered at this last statement. From what he could recall, he remebered that his last interaction with the old women was indeed when he was a boy, just after his Uncle went missing, but there was nothing after that, that he had memory of. How could she have known that he still visited after he had vanished? Or that he went to school with the intention to study business? The women must have been watching from a distance the entire while, and keeping tabs on him he decided. A bit perplexidly. But, for what reason though, he couldn't surmise.

"You are correct, although I don't know how you could have known what became of me after my Uncle met his fate. We had no further association that I can remeber..." He left that last word hanging there for a moment, to let the weight of his suspicion work on her a bit, and then continued. "I left to enter the economics program at the state university, this is true, but some where along the way I changed my field to comparative religious studies. I'm not sure why, but I have always felt drawn to things of this nature, and after finding that my original choice of subject matter left me wholly unfulfilled I decided to pursue this different course of scholarship. It was during this time, when I was somewhere in my twenties and working on my doctarate, for I was, by that time, determined to gain a professorship and have a career in teaching, that I stumbled across some articles that belonged to my late Uncle, in an old trunk that I found in the attic of our house in "..." This included several letters, a few photgraphs, and a very beautiful golden medallion about the size of a half dollar. This medallion had strange writing engraved on its surface, and I remember, when taking it into my hand for the first time, being overcome by the most peculiar and powerful sensations. I felt like I had become imbued with something I can only describe as Godly, or Divine. I was stunned by my experience then, although it never repeated itself afterwards, and this set me on the course that led me back here. I became enamored with the story of my Uncle after that, and slowly as I learned more about him and this town that enchanted so much of my boyhood, I became resolved to figure out what actually happened to him. This past week has been very enlightening."

The women didn't say anything at first in the way of a reply, but simply stared, watching his face with her sharp and penetrating gaze, seeking every last ounce of meaninig from his words. "Did the medallion look like this?" she finally spoke, and pulled a small golden object from a pocket in her shawl. "Yes" was all he said. The professor was (and how many other times that fateful day!) simply taken by what he saw in her hand. It was the same type of medallion that his Uncle owned, that he found all those years ago, and it had the same writing on its surface that his Uncle's had.

The women continued: "These are given to us as a symbol of our membership in our guild. You see, your Uncle was involved in the goings on here, just like I have been, and just like those vile creatures you observed last night are. In fact the power that exists here permeates the entire country side, and radiates out from a central point within the cave system of the mountains that grow up next to this town. This is why our forbears really stayed here, even after the silver had been exhausted." The women saw the professors face flash with a brief note of anger as she compared herself and her Uncle to those unholy fiends from the previous night. "My uncle was nothing like those evil men I saw last night. He was abducted and murdered by them" the professor interupted. "He was there victem, not there coconspiritor."

Having seen that she had offended him she was quick to rejoin "You have misunderstood me, for this I am sorry, but you seem to have only a limted view of what has been happening here all this time, and just exactly who we are, and who they are. But, I will explain." She proceeded then to fill in several gaps in his knowledge, despite his research into the matter over the years. The reasons for his Uncles disapearence were explained at long last. Just who those wretched ghouls were, and why she would ever compare them to herself soon became clear as she continued.

"When we spoke a week ago, you had told me several things about what you knew of this town, and its history, and of the devious things that you had learned. I understand, too, why you have become so singularly fixed on the horrible aspects of our story. Your Uncle met a monstrous fate, and because of this you could think only of the evil that comes out of this place. But, I will tell you, this is only part of the story... Centuries ago, when the men that first came here made the discovery of that bizzare, and almost alien catacomb that laces through the cave system under our feet, what they found turned out to be both miraculous and diabolical. You see, deep within these rocky vaults they found what can only be described as a temple of sorts, or a religious center, or shrine, that seems to act as an entry point to another dimension of life, that when tapped into, can provide a person with an abundance of strength and vitality.

"After the intial shock wore off, the group of settlers became quite joyous over what had been revealed to them. They thanked God for the miracle that he blessed them with, and during the beginning all was well. The powers bestowed by there unprecedented find were used judisciously by the first generation of people. They applied it spareingly, and only to enhance what they had already obtained. Increased vigor when working there mines and ploughing there crops. Increased insight into there simple and limited buisness dealings. Disease was virtually iradicated among them, and while people still passed away, no one really ever seemed to age much during life.

"But time passed, as it always does, and the succeding generations of villagers became ever more discontended with the simple life they inherited from there forbears. A certain decadence had overcome many people in the town, and some of the more ambitous among these began clamoring to use the powers of "the well," as they had begun to call it, for something more than just an ease in mining or farming. Eventually a split developed between people who disagreed on the appropriate use of such a divine occurance, and this, over much time, escalated into a deadly war."

The professor stood and listened to the old women's recounting. In all his reading he had never learned much about what it was specifically that the original settlers had encountered. He came accross vague passages about a "presence in the forest," or "unknown technology," but nothing concrete. He was captured by her tale and was eager to hear more.

She continued "It was learned somewhere during those first years that the new form of energy our ancestors found could actually take many forms. At first the power was realized as a general sense of vitality and a certain sharpness of mind, but it soon became understood that this wasn't all. What the man was provided depended in large part on the pettition he made as he approached the source and requested something from it. Certain postures, and verbal arrangments, as we call them, produced different effects. One's diet, and immediatly-previous emotional experience will also color the outcome. As do the positions of the planets and the stars. So you see, evil isn't the only outcome of this discovery, but it depends almost entirely on the intention of the individual who seeks its gift."

She was the one who now paused so as to let her words sink in. The professor's face had become a mixture of curiousity and determined resolve, and seemed to absorb her story with some semblence of understanding. Continuing, she again brought up the similarity between herself and those ghastly creatures he saw. "The town essentially split into two opposing factions. Those who were contended with the simple life of agriculture, and those who lusted after more. The center of conflict came to revolve around the right to access the temple within the mountain, as this was recognized as being a key position. For it is true that once you know of it the power can be requested from anywhere, but the closer one is to the center point when making his plea, the more abundant his gifts when he recieves them.

"It took time, from what I understand, for things to devolve into outright hostiliy, but they did. For a while the control over the fate of our town was uncertain as both sides seemed to make advances and suffer loss, but in the end the desire of averice and the thirst for power finally won out. A certain truce seemed to take hold somewhere during our history, but this is only real on the surface of things. Horrible crimes still happen here, as well as in other cities in the region. Your Uncle knows this very well. No one is allowed to speak of it, and all who still live here are watched incessently. Some were allowed to leave, but any of us with direct ties to the conflict are forced to stay."

The puzzlement that came over the professor was noticed by the old witch and it stopped her speech. He all but interupted her "You speak of my Uncle in the present tense, like he is still alive. How can that be? He dissapeared decades ago and we all assumed him dead." She responded "This is, actually, likely to be untrue. As I said before, the treatment of any Human being must be conducted along strictly perscribed lines, and it is almost unheard of that one is killed outright. It is more likely that he has either been imprisoned somewhere or enslaved to the service of the evil order."

This new piece of information was almost too large to believe. He had spent the better part of his career studying this evil cult, and had made it his life's work. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the various practices of this coven and was driven to it largely by the idea that they had murdered his Uncle and needed to be stopped. Never once had he seriously questioned whether or not he might still be alive.

"This is alot to take in" she continued "but I'm glad that you finally know. Laboring in your ignorance has been tough, I'm sure. I would have told you on our first encounter together, several days ago, but I felt then that it was important you experienced the blasphemous dark-mass with, shall I say, naive eyes. The sudden shock you are feeling now would have existed within you then, while you were out there last night observing those monsters, and the feeling would have given you away. It would have blasted into the night like a beacon from a lighthouse. Little did we know, however, that your prescence there was noticed all the same. Your friends convelescent state. Your cousin. And the very atmosphere are evidence of that."

"There still has to be something we can do" the grey haired gentlemen insisted. "You say that my Uncle may still be alive, and that his daughter most probably is. Where do you suppose they are? Do they remain here on the mountain, held captive?" The women with the wrinkled face nodded and replied "yes, I assume both are here still, under there control. With this book I can determine where. Most likely they've been held within the cave system underneath us and by nightfall I will use my refound power to find where."

It was now 4 o'clock in the morning. The professor had excused himself some hours before to check on his compatriot, and get some much needed rest himself. It had been two days since he had last slept, and he knew he would need all his energy and prowess for the task that lay ahead of him. She was able to leave him at least somewhat reassured that his Uncle and his Cousin were still alive, although in what state they currently found themselves, he confessed before he departed, he was loath to think.

To insure his peaceful slumber, the first task the old women set for her self, after he left, was to petition the higher powers to watch over the man and his friend, and ensure no evil descended upon them. Even after such a long seperation, the women found her abilities to communicate using the tome were still as sharp as ever, and quickly began the necessary correspondance. She knew that while still within the town, her pettition would be effective in protecting the pair, but that countervailing forces would surely mount against them before the man reached his goal. In fact, the further he traveled into the mountain, which is undoubtedly where the Cousin was now located, and the farther away from her and the book he got, the less of an effect her incantation would have.

But, for now, they were safe. All three of them were. She felt a sense of satisfaction at recalling how the first impressions she had of the professor, those many years ago as a boy, were now being vindicated by his fateful return. She knew, at an instant, that the child was important for then-future events, and it is why she had kept track of him so closely. For decades she herself had also been looking for ways to annihilate that rotteness her corrupted kinsmen had become, and it seemed like she was going to get a chance, at least.

For hours the women used the information gathered in her bible to pettition and commincate with the gods of the larger world. Having it in her possesion allowed her to overcome enough of the force against them to find the location of the professor's Cousin, but there was no sign of his Uncle. There were a number of reasons for this though, she thought later, and she wasn't very suprised. The length of time that the Uncle had been under there horrible influence could have changed him so completely that he was no longer recognizable to her. Or, they could have made an increased effort to cloak him specifically, to keep him hidden, because he is such a valable asset. She wasn't exactly sure.

Unknown to the professor himself, for in moving away his Mother sought to protect him from the unwholesomeness of her neighbors, he is the product of an ancient bloodline that extends through his Mothers family back into the myst of antiquity. It is this ancestory that came originally to this place to mine silver, yes, but under persecution from religious authorities in the old country as well. This pedegree, it has been speculated, is what the powers within the mountain responded too. The temple and its secret was thought to have been revealed to certain peoples, and not merely stumbled upon by accident.

As the nine o'clock hour struck, the professor returned once more to petittion the old women for help. She of course expected him and was, at once, ready. "How is your friend?" she first inquired. "He is much better thank you" he responded. "I'm sure that he would have been lost if it weren't for your help. We are in your debt." "That is good" and quickly changing the subject, she continued "I've used the book to great effect and have found your Cousin, held prisoner deep within the labrynth of the mountain, but unfortuently your Uncle remains hidden to my eyes, hidden perhaps, or so fundimentally transformed by decades of suggestion that he has become an entirely different person from the man I knew. I'm sorry for this. I will continue to search for him after I myself have recouperated."

The professor absorbed the news with equinimity. Having finally rested and eaten, he found that his strength had retured, along with a new sense of balance within his mind. He had steeled himself to the situation before him, and was determined to persists through this unfortuate news. "I understand," he replied "and I know you've done all you can to help me. All that remains now is to liberate my Cousin from the clutches of those madmen. Tell me what I need to do."

So the professor and the old women spent the better part of the next two hours going over there plan to infultrate the cave system through an abandoned silver mine, and gain access to the temple, find the cousin, and return safely to town. The women stressed to him that her power would wain the farther he traveled into the underground network of rock, and closer to the center of that abberhent, and evil power. They both also recognised that any advantage they would have by going unoticed had evaporated, so the best course of action was to simply dive headlong into the maelstrom and hope for the best.

With respect to the seeming hopelessness of this fact, the women had spent time preparing for the professor a tonic of sorts to help him if the situation should become dire. "It is something similar to what you saw those horrible devil's consume around that fire, but don't worry. This effect will be quite beneficial to you. There is no need to fear." The flask that she handed him was made out of a thick green glass, that was flat and rectangular, and had a small piece of cork lodged in its mouth to retain the precious liqued inside. He took the peculiar concoction when she offered it, placed it gingerly in his pack, and thought nothing more of it. "I must go now" the man said at last, and the two bade farewell. "Good luck" she admonished as he passed through her door back out into the midday street. "May the god's of Justice be on your side."

So once more the man journeyed back into the wooded mountain land that he had known his entire life. The sun was directly overhead as he started out, but obscured by a thick bank of clouds that had developed the previous day. The feeling was a mixture of hope and fear. He lamented, as he walked, the fact that his partner was still recovering from there previous excursion, and could not accompany him on this leg of there adventure. But with continued equinimity, he realized that such a quick return to this demon haunted forest might not be tolerable to his friend, and knew it was best that he went alone.

So, for hours, he tracked along in the direction the women had instructed him to go. Instead of a direct ascent upwards, like the previous excursion, he traveled farther around the base of the mountain on an old logging road that followed a pass between the peak and an adjacent ridge. The landmarks he used to guide himself were all familiar enough at first, but as the hours passed by he began to find himself more and more in strange territory. The hiking and camping of his youth seldom took him this far afield. He, as a rule, would stay on the side of the mountain facing the village as he crisscrossed its slope, but now he found himself past the birch wood groves that previously marked his boundry.

The compass he used, and the path of a previously unknown stream he was told to follow, guided him the last hour of his trek, and he now found himself at the wide mouth of an old mine. An enormous sense of forboding stole over him then, at that moment he recognized the utter blackness of this space. There was just enough light left on that crisp Autumn day to contrast with the absence found within the mine. The opening was wider than it was tall, and gave the impression of a squat, solid, mass of rock. The professor stood there motionless for a time, and examined the darkness.

He caught site of the entrance while he himself was still obscured by the brush and after his initial arrest he resumed the practical matter of gaining entrance and continuing on his way. As he stood there, his mind turned to examining the larger scene for any signs of a guard or sentry. He saw none and proceeded forward. Curiously, there was a small wooden placard fixed in the rock above this yawning space that was inscribed with writing in that unearthly language that he had come to know. In the diminishing light he translated: "Only those whom are welcome may enter our house."

Reading that sign sent a shiver of fear through his body. He had been hiking for almost six hours, and was glad to have made it this far while there was still a touch of daylight left. The terrain for the past two hours was totally foreign to him, and once his initial shock subsided, he was relieved to finally make his destination. He allowed himself then, to wonder vaguely, about how the two of them would get back to the inn, in the darkness of night, but quickly put the thought out of his mind.

After utilizing the last of the waning sun to examine the environment surrounding the cave, where in which he found old boot tracks in the ground in front of the entrance, the professor removed the lamp from his pack, lit it, and moved forward cautiously. The ground sloped downward at a slight angle and even after only a few steps, felt that the air inside was much warmer than in the forest. The rock itself was a dull grey color, dry of any moisture, and filled with old tool marks made by the equipment used to extract its riches. The mine must have been quite old, the professor thought. Any trace left by hauling the equipment to this location had been completely erased by the growing forest.

The women, in her brief description of the mine, told him nothing much of interest. She mentioned that he would spend an hour or more traversing its length until be came to the end of it, and to the fissure in the wall that exposed the reality of the temple's existence. The mine itself though contained no real mystery. Despite this, he remained on his guard as he walked down the gentle grade, turning over in his mind the probablitiy of an encounter with another person. The tracks he saw at the entrance were not newly printed, but had been made within the past week, that he was sure of. Just after he and his colleague had arrived, there was a severe thunderstorm that rolled through the area that would have surely scrubbed the dirt clean of any trace of movement.

At one point, durring his descent into the inner cave system, leaping out of the darkness ahead of him suddenly, there were a pair of gleaming eyes reflecting the glow of his lamp. The distance was too great to make out any more of the creature who saw him, but for the briefest moment they hung there in space before they turned and disappeared. As he approached the spot he guessed the creature occupied at that moment, there was nothing to be found and so it was through the rest of the mineshaft.

And so he came to the last corner of the shaft that followed the spent vein of silver into the bowels of the mountain. As he rounded this turn he was confronted by a totally unexpected, soft purple glow that seemed to be eminating from a wide crack in the stone wall. It was unnerving to the professor to encounter any light at such a depth, but he puzzled most over the color of such an unearthly glow. He wasn't able to think of a single thing he knew of that could produce a quality such as that and he approched the aperture with trepidation.

From his original vantage point he was unable to see into the space beyond the jagged hole, but the closer he got the more detail he was able to discern, both of the origin of that insane light, and of what lay beyond the broken wall. To his amazement, once he got close enough, he saw that the light wasn't shining from some lamp or other man made thing, but eminated from, what looked like, some weird fungas that sprouted from the bare rock at random intervals all over.

The professor marvled at these bizzare mushrooms that lined the walls and the ceiling of a large square room that extended about twenty yards from the opening where he still stood, and was about as wide. Unlike the mine shaft that was simply a hole carved into the mountain side, this room had a tiled floor, and tall, smooth pillars, carved at intervals around the perimeter of its space. These stretched upwards to its roof some three or four meters above the floor. The breach made into this room was at one of its corners and at the opposite wall, on the far side, the professor could just make out an old stone archway that opened the way even deeper into this mysterious catacomb.

After his eyes had fully adjusted to the queer, pallid hue, he slowly surveyed the room, and again found it devoid of any guard or agent of the hideous clan. He knew though, that before long, he would indeed meet others like those he saw at the dark-mass from the night before. It was only a matter of when.

Steeling his courage he stepped over the rock and into the room and bent to look at one of the phosphrescent mushrooms a bit closer. He observed that the main body itself seemed to be made of a transluscent material through which the light shined and gave it its color. The gills underneatch the small cap were opaque and cast a tiny shadow onto the surface from which it had sprouted. He plucked it from the rock to see if he could use it as a substitue for the glaring light of his own lamp, only to find that once uprooted, the spark quickley faded and went out.

He proceeded to wrap the darkling mushroom in a cloth and placed it into his bag for later study and walked slowely around the room studying the pillars and looking for any manner of symbol that he might be able to glean information from. He wondered how long ago this place was created. His European ancestors had lived in the region now, for centuries, and before that the Native tribes roamed through here. Neither culture he understood, would have been responsible for such an undertaking, so it must have been from before that time.

His mind balked at the unknown history it implied, and he plodded on. The tile that supported his feet were laid with some of the most splendid craftsmanship that he had the pleasure of seeing. The floor felt perfectly level and each individual tile was as flush with its neighbor as if the whole floor were one solid piece of stone. The archway was similarly magnificent with its gentle curve, and had carved on the surface of its stones a splendid arabesque.

Other than the plain columns, and the ornate stone blocks lining the archway, the room was devoid of all other signs of human intervention. Wondering what the space was used for, he proceded to walk through the arch and down a long, strait passage way, dotted with the same glowing mushrooms as before. He noticed ahead of him, barely lit by the meek glow of the little fungus', a wall that seemed to indicate a sharp turn in the passage. Not sure what would be around the corner, he crept as quietly as possible to the end of the cooridor and with a slow movement peered around the ninety degree angle.

The passage, after this turn, opened abruptly into a great domed hall that dwarfed the large room that he had just come from. The floor of this vast space was set below the current level he occupied, and the far wall was just barely visible in the soft purple glow that infused the whole vast room. The pathway continued briefly, through another stone archway and abruptly skewed down and out of site. From the angle he was viewing it seemed that the walkway ended with nothing but empty space beyond.

After his initial apprehension gave way, he suddenly found that he heard voices as he stepped closer to this new archway, coming from somewhere in front of, and below him. He wasn't sure what they were saying, but it was a similar type of rythmic chanting that they had heard in the forest two nights before. Emboldened by this he stepped forward enough to look out and see that the stone pathway he was walking on split into three new directions. The way directly forward lead down a long stairway that descended to the lower level of the hideous gallery. To his left and to his right the path continued around the circumfrence of the wide dome intersecting 3 other stair cases set in front of three other archways, each opening into black hallways.

Laying flat, to hide his presence, he crawled forward to the top of the stair case and peered down into the vast space. He was immediatly struck by the sight of some twenty people in the center of this room, standing in a circle, all swaying and chanting like he'd witnessed before. As they all seemed occupied he took the time to examine more closely the vast area he now was observing.

The whole room itself, his guess was, some two hundred meters in diameter, with a total of four seperate stair cases, each set at ninety degrees from each other, connected by the upper rampart that ringed the gigantic room. The stairs themselves each ascended some ten meters up from the main floor, and down on the opposite side there was, he saw, another, larger archway, on the lower level, that opened into another, unseen space.

The evil warlocks were themselves gathered around a large, circular, cavity that was ringed with small blocks of stone, and that vanished out of site as it plunged, pitch black, even further into the ground. The purple glow of the mushrooms was supplimented by several torches hanging in sconces at regualr intervals on the round chamber wall, and a large fire was burning off to the right of the hooded figures, from the professors perspective. What he didn't see was his Cousin, or his Uncle.

The professor laid there the better part of a half an hour trying to figure out what to do from this point. He wondered at the possibility of walking around the upper pathway he was currently on, going unnoticed by those fiends, or whether he should try and silently crawl down the set of stairs in front of him. As he pondered, his eye seemed to catch the most bizzare thing. Not having first noticed it, the light that was cast by the torches, as it mixed with the purple haze, seemed to become somewhat dampened around and above the noxious pit the hooded figures gathered around. The professor found it hard to describe.

He would later write "At this point, it seemed like the blackness of the hole in the center of the room actually absorbed and negated any light that entered its sphere of influence. Unlike the non-effect that empty space would usually have on the passage of light. The result was like a dark 'anti-glow' that seemed to obscure that singular space, and render it less visible. At times the space would shimmer and undulate, just as an image would when bent by the hot air of a fire or a lamp."

Seeing no other course of action, and still lying prone, the professor crawled quietly to his right, around the upper ledge to the next corridor along the circular path. He pressed himself tightly against the outer wall as he crawled, to diminish his profile, and reduce his chances of being seen. Slowly he inched along the floor trying not to make any noise. Thankfully there were no luminous mushrooms in his path as he moved. He understood that disturbing any one of these would cause the light to flicker, and could potentially alert those monsters below. As he neared the next intersection he cautiously poked his head out around the corner and steeled himself for what might appear beyond.

The new pathway opened up to a small room with what appeared, at first glance, to be a women at its center, lying motionless on a large stone table. Upon seeing this his heart jumped and he quickly crawled around the corner into the room. His eyes grew wide as he stood up and approaced her and looked more closely to see who she was. His Cousin! She was dressed in a sheer white gown made of a delicate fiber, and wore no shoes. She had a slender necklace made of small red jewels strewn around her neck, and placed over her closed eyes were two golden coins that looked very much like the ones he had seen before, only smaller. He stood there a moment examining her, and noticed the rise and fall of her chest as she drew in her breath and exhaled. She was still alive, he noted, with sigh of relief.

He tried to wake her from her sleep by gently shaking her and repeating her name, but this was of no use. So, prompted by a recollection of a passage he had previously read about the nature of certain charms that the cult would use to subdue there victems, he removed the two coins from where they were placed over her eye lids, and unhooked the string of jewels and removed it from her neck. He placed all three items in his bag. As he did this something suprising happened. His cousin began to stir and to wake from her daze and looked at him with a mixture of fear and astonisment. "What are you doing here?" she whispered almost painfully. "How did you find this place?" He smiled in return, himself taken aback by this sudden development, and said quietly that he would explain everything in time, but right now they had to focus on escaping this place and returning to the safety of the town.

Out of nowhere a voice flooded the room "Fool!" it intoned with such vigor that his whole body shook with its vibration. "Vagabond and scoundral! How dare you venture onto our sacred ground. You have no right and will pay for your transgressions!" He didn't recognize the voice, but when he turned he saw a tall, lean, regal looking man standing under the archway, glaring at him, with murder in his eyes.

He was trapped. Undoubtedly the comotion caused by this awefully loud man would have alerted the other residents of this foul place and called them to his aid. He had very little time to act before he would be trapped beyond escape. Without giving it much thought, and out of a growing sense of desperation, the professor quickly reached into his bag for the elixer that the old women had provided for him in case of emergency. He raised it to his mouth and clamped the cork between his teeth and with a yank unstopperd the bottle. With only a moments hesitation he upended the contents into his mouth and swallowed down whatever it happened to be. To his suprise the taste wasn't nearly as bad as he had expected. In fact it had a touch of sweetness to it that he found pleasant and consumed the whole contents of the flask in three quick gulps.

As he finished, two other men appeared under the archway, behind the first, and with blinding speed rushed passed the aristocrat, towards him and his cousin. Being somewhat older then the two younger men, and outnumbered, he was quickly apprehended after a brief struggle in which his cousin, still impaired by her condition, was unceremoniously shoved to the ground. Being captured, he was quickly divested of his belongings and was subdued by the iron grip of four hands on both of his arms.

After the situation had been handled to his liking, the taller man, obviously the authority, slowly approached the imobilized professor. "I seam to recognize you" this man said slowly. "Yes, I know exactly who you are. I know several members of your family in fact, including your Uncle, his sister your mother, and your cousin here. You and your kin have been a thorn in our side for generations but now it seems all that might be coming to an end. There are only so many of you left I fear." With this the man chuckled a bit at his own witiscism, and out of no where, slapped the professor squarely accross the face. His head snapped back as he reeled from the powerful blow, and blood splattered from a cut that it opened on his lip. With a simple gesture towards the archway leading down to the lower level the two men who held the professor shoved him forward and down the stone stairway to the waiting tribe below. The tall man used a threat to coerce the cousin to follow suit and all five of them descended towards there fate.

A funny thing then began to happen, as the professor walked down the flight of steps. A curious sensation began to well up inside him and mix with the pain and adrenaline that were flowing through his body. Before to long, over the course of maybe ten or fifteen steps, the pain that he felt vanished and a renewed sense of vigor and strength began to take its place. In fact he suddenly felt stronger then he ever had before, even in the days of his youth. Curiously too, he also felt his body actually increase in size and proportion to roughly twice its normal state. By the time it was through the professor stood a stupendous twelve feet tall and completely dwarfed the two dozen or so fiends who surrounded him and his cousin. What a potion indeed!

The gargantuan man wasted no time in taking advantage of the powers he had developed and quickly began to assault, with his hands, all of those monsters who came within his reach. He had never felt before such an urge to inflict harm on other people and by the time he was through some eight or nine of them lay unconcious at his feet and the others had scattered and fled for there lives. It was then he turned to his cousin, who stood there stunned and motionless, picked her up off of her feet and carried her back up the staircase, through the temple, and out into the mine.

He only glanced over his shoulder once during there frantic exit and saw no one behind them. By the time he had reached the mine shaft he was running at nearly full speed, covering ground quickly with his immense strides, and reached the exit into the forest in a fraction of the time it took to descend into the horrible temple. The liqued had imbued him with incredible stamina as well. He was able to maintain a lightning-quick pace through the whole of the mine.

It was nighttime when they finally made it out, but to his suprise the professor didn't have any trouble seeing in the dark. Instead of a blackness like he would have expected the old womens concoction had also given him the ability to see clearly under the scant light of a waning moon. The surrounding environment took on a golden red hue that made it possible to see even small details at a distance, and by taking advantage of this and his tremendous vigor he plowed into the wooded landscape with reckless abandon.

A full hour of running went by before he began to feel any sense of fatigue. He was worried at first about his ability to navigate the forest lanscape, but trusted in his new found prowess and pushed thoughtlessly into the night. After a certain time passed, he started to notice that his once swollen size began to shrink and diminish, so he had to put his cousin down and let her walk the rest of the way. To his dismay his ability to pearce the darkness with enhanced vision, too, also slowly faded and the both of them abruptly found themselves deep in the woods, in the darkness, lit only by the moon, with no lamp or light, and still some ten or twelve miles from the village.

"Thank you" his cousin started. "You have surely saved me from a fate worse then death, I owe you my life, Cousin." He looked at her sheepishly and responded "In fact it was me who placed you in danger in the first place I am afraid, through my researches into these aweful people. They kidnapped you in reponse to what they saw as an intrusion into there ceremony. I hope you can forgive me for having caused this to happen to you." She was startled by this confession and lapsed into silence for a moment while she thought. "Well," she continued "if we can actually make it back before we die of exposure, I'll consider you forgiven, deal?" He responded with a smile and remarked "We will make it through, I have a good feeling."

The temperature was hovering just above freezing as they wondered slowly in the direction they assumed town to be. The professor retained a small compass that he pulled from his pocket and using it as a general guide walked on. The night air was surely cold, as they plodded, and with each step they became more and more worried about the chill that was slowly creaping into there bodies. Niether one of them had a timepiece to tell them when sunrise would be, and thus when a renewal of warmth brought by its rays would occur, and so they siletly prayed for one last miracle.

Unbeknownst to the pair, they had a benefactor in the form of an old women who had been keeping an eye on them from the time they emerged out of the mine and into the forest. At that moment they freed themselves from the more powerful forces working against them she was able to use her renewed abilities to track them along there path and to send to them a guide that would show them the way back.

Out of nowhere, a blazing orb of blue-white light approached them from the dark wood, and showered them with feelings of kindess. Ironically, the moment the pair saw the light in the distance they were overcome with a sense of peace and they knew right away that it was the blessing they so desperatly needed. The brilliant core of this luminous orb was the size of a large pumpkin and radiated warmth as it neared and cirlced around there two frozen bodies. The face of the old women could be seen in the middle of the radiant light, and appeared with a soft and caring smile.

The two wanderers knew to follow this wil-o-wisp and by the time the pair had returned to the venerable township, day light had begun to peak over the horizon and the temperature had gotten much warmer. The orb slowly dissapaited as they approached the town limit and they saw, standing in the road with a gracious and knowing look on her face, the old witch who had saved there lives. The three friends met with an embrace and proceeded to the inn where the professors colleauge was staying and the four marvled at the experiences of the past several days. "I think the tide is turning" the old women said "we now have a chance to set things right again."
July 21, 2022