The Blackford Folly, Part 4

An hour later, Elias, MacGregor and I stood before the Folly in silent awe, the terrier Willie snuffling blindly around our feet. Its south and east faces were lit brightly by the moon, their opposites cast in shadows of purest pitch. All but the sharpest lines of the imposing structure were black, as though no light was reflected off the rock, but rather absorbed; perhaps providing some sort of power to the interior, current for ancient circuits.

What was this building? What were we to find within? The moon was stark and bright, and I shuddered as I recalled that hideous eye I had glimpsed through the gloom. All at once, the absolute terror of the situation struck me like a hurricane, and I wished to be back in my study.

Meekly, I turned to Elias, and held out the key to him. He steeled himself, and approached the door. It slipped into the lock smoothly. No one breathed as he began to apply pressure. There was a little resistance, and then it turned in one quick motion. A soft crack rang inside, echoed inevitably into silence. I clutched the black-bound copy of The Clavicle of Moses closer to my chest.

He pushed the door open slowly. There was a creak, but nothing leapt out. We breathed again in unison.

“The lamp, MacGregor,” whispered Elias, and the wizened servant held it to him at arm’s length. “Now we shall see the truth.” The interior was profoundly dark. He let up some wick and the flame leapt several magnitudes of brightness, casting ghostly, flickering beams into the Folly. We saw a chamber that seemed to follow the dimensions of the exterior exactly. The walls were lined with sturdy shelves, two columns of four on each wall. They were empty, but for dust and cobwebs, and one or two stunted, bone-white weeds. The floor was tiled in alternating black-and-white, and in the centre of it was a tenebrous hole. It was perhaps six feet in diameter, and a rusty iron ladder attached to its side led down.

Elias gulped audibly, and walked up to the opening. “Truth conquers all, Henry.” He turned slowly around, and began to tentatively reach for the first rung.

“Wait.”

We both turned to see the harried face of MacGregor move into the lamplight. “Before you take another step, sirs,” he said, gravely, “There are one or two things that you ought to know.”

We turned. “MacGregor?” bellowed Elias. “Explain yourself!”

He bowed his head. “I have been your Father’s servant for fifty-eight years, since the day he became Laird, and I served his Father before him. I was present while this… thing was built, and I was summoned often to his study with refreshments when he pored over his studies for days at a stretch. It was also your father who” – and here he gave a nervous cough – “initiated me into the Masons. I consider him my good friend.

“Yet I have seen arcane books in languages I could not understand upon his desk, and I have often heard

him intoning strange formulae in the dead of night. I have even once listened at his door, though for the bizarre and upsetting dreams that resulted, I wish that I had not. I worried about things like alchemy and necromancy, and wondered whether he’d gone too far, but somehow I managed to push these concerns from my mind.”

The old man looked up, and his face was a petrified skull, shrunken and leathery. “Lately, his behaviour has changed. He became sullen, and wouldn’t talk for days. He had us leave his meals outside the door, so as not to disturb him. And for the last week or so, he never left his study at all, except for creeping out in the wee hours. It’s my belief that he was coming here. I don’t know what we’ll find in there, but it’s my guess that it is the Treasure… that’s all he was looking for, wasn’t it? And maybe he’s in there, too.”

“Did you deface the notebooks, MacGregor?” I asked. “Was that your handiwork?”

He nodded gravely. “I knew that between the two of you, you’d work it out. I took it upon myself to try and put you off the scent. I only sought to protect you, sirs.” He drew from his pocket a brass key on a chain. It was identical to the one I had found. “I hid it, God forgive me, though I suppose that what you’ll find in there will have little to do with His handiwork. The Treasure… I do not think it will be gold nor scandalous document, nor anything else as you could hold in your hand. Maybe it’s naught but a word.” The sad, lined face dropped, and shadow took it once more.

“Very well, MacGregor,” said Elias. “You acted as you thought best; for that, you shall receive no chastisement from me. Your diligence and silence were honourable. You have done my Father a great service.” The old man glanced up momentarily, and seemed almost upon the verge of tears. “Nevertheless, we must go inside, and tonight. Will you join us, MacGregor?”

The old man glanced inside, towards unknown depths of blackness. “Aye,” he said, quietly, “I suppose that I will.”

In my pocket, I fingered the ball of twine I’d taken from the kitchen, but it seemed that we would not need it. Descending the ladder, we found ourselves in a rough-hewn tunnel that led deep into the rock of the hillside itself. It was ten feet across and perhaps six high, and seemed to head towards a point far below the House. The lamplight failed to penetrate far, and the darkness beyond was thick and ancient.

We began down the tunnel slowly, scouring the visible walls for signs that might mark our progress. Soon the faint patch of moonlight that illuminated the ladder disappeared completely, and we became as sailors, drawn by the current into uncharted ocean, leaving our home port behind. In this environment, Willie had the advantage: he had long given up on sight, but his ears were still keen, and his nose would alert us to anything untoward before our lamp would. I dared not imagine what might lie ahead.

Faint dripping was now and again noted, and we saw a number of great stalactites, bright in the gloom like monstrous teeth jutting in a hellish throat. We had advanced perhaps a hundred yards, and the increasing chill told us that we had descended somewhat. The character of the walls began to change, as the unfinished rock was gradually replaced by relatively smooth flags. The floor became level and the ceiling rose up to an elegant peaked arch.

“Henry! Look here!” Elias inclined the lamp towards an antique graffito on the wall.

“Antoine de Villiers,” I read, “Twelve thirtytwo.”

There was more graffiti; crosses, and more names and dates; 1264, 1288, 1318. I thought of generations of masons, painstakingly inching their way into the hillside. What in God’s name were all these people searching for? I lost track of how far we had walked.

Soon after, a pair of columns marked another change in the masonry. The flagstones were newer, and the roof dipped again to an elegant curving arch with a running lintel that was clearly Georgian in style. I gasped – this, I realised, was the same workmanship as the Folly above. This was why the damned thing had taken so long to build! George Lindsay had found the tunnel built by his ancestor Jacques, and had decided to complete the work. The Folly was a mere decoy.

I was gradually becoming conscious of a change in the air. At first I thought it was moving, but later it seemed more as though it were charged somehow. It reminded me of the subtle sensation after a thunderstorm when lightning has ionised the air. A quicksilver shiver shot up my spine.

“Henry! Can you see that?” I advanced another step and saw what Elias was referring to. Something was illuminating the tunnel ahead. As we approached, I narrowed my eyes and thought I could just make out a polyhedron, which seemed to hang phosphorescing in the air. It quivered, shimmering in and out of sight, and one saw it best when one did not try to look at it at all. We instinctively circled around it, and discovered that we were in a round room. We had come to the end of the tunnel.

“The Treasure!” I gasped. “Jaques Lindsay, all the others, they were hunting for it, but your father found it!”

This is the Treasure?” Elias whispered. “What in God’s name is it?” The tunnel walls were refracted through its faces, light glinting off indices along an unnamed dimension that humans have no normal sensibility for. The Westie sniffed at it, his wide white head tilted to one side, and Elias angled his lamp in towards it. I peered closer, and found that I could see images within, which seemed to turn over like pages in a book. They all seemed to be strange, dreamlike landscapes – lone, impossible towers against a sky of starkest green, curiously non-Euclidean cities erupting from a rocky island like mould from a petri dish, a sweeping Arctic plain across which plodded gigantic, unearthly, yet confusingly familiar beasts.

“Look!” cried MacGregor, jerking me from my reverie. “On the floor!” We stepped back as one, and looked down to see an elaborate magic circle. The arcane symbols from the Laird’s notebook were dotted around it and inside. The curious Treasure hovered directly above the centre. Encircling it were letters, spelling out three words.

Astaroth,” I read, my voice echoing delicately. “A demon. He appears in Dee. Jabulon, ah… another demon, I believe. But Illuthet – I confess that I’m at a complete loss.”

“It is familiar,” said Elias, “But I can’t quite place it…”

Willie gave a sudden sharp bark, and I jumped. A high ringing had begun in my ears, along with a rushing sensation like the moment before they pop when climbing a mountain. “What’s happening?” I cried, but the dog’s barking drowned it out. The others were shouting out too, their hands to their ears. Elias’s pipe clattered on the flags. The air crackled with static, and I felt intensely cold.

Just as suddenly, it passed, and we realised with horror that we were no longer alone in the chamber.

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