Authors: Christopher Pike
They stopped in their tracks.
The deep breathing sounded like horror.
Whistling in and out of lungs that had to be as big as factory furnaces.
“What is that?” Sally whispered anxiously.
“It's something large,” Adam whispered. “That's for sure.”
“Probably large and ancient,” Watch said.
“The ancient pet?” Cindy gasped.
“It has to be,” Watch said.
“We have to go back,” Cindy said quickly.
“We don't need any treasure this much,” Sally agreed.
“What do you think?” Watch asked Adam.
But before Adam could reply Bryce spoke.
“Whatever it is, it sounds as if it's asleep,” he said. “We should be able to go around it.”
“But if we wake it,” Adam said, “it could kill us.”
“I'm willing to take that risk,” Bryce said.
“You don't even know what you're risking,” Adam snapped. “You don't know what it is.”
“We could shine our lights on it,” Cindy said.
Simultaneously the rest of them said, “No!”
Sally added, “Do any of you notice how hot it has gotten since we first heard it?”
“ââBut beware the ancient pet,'â” Watch quoted. “ââThe fire that burns yet.'â” He added, “Do you guys see a faint red glow coming from the direction of it?”
Adam squinted. “There is something there. A fire perhaps.”
Cindy fretted. “We can't just stand here talking. Let's either go around it or go back. I'm for going back.”
“I will not go back,” Bryce said flatly.
“You realize that you are forcing us to go with you,” Watch said.
“How?” Bryce demanded.
“We can't leave you alone,” Watch said.
“I don't mind,” Cindy said.
“Look,” Adam said. “Let's sneak up and see how much room we have to move around it. For all we know this creature takes up all of the cavern in front of us. Even you, Bryce, wouldn't try to walk
They headed to the left of the thing in front of
them. To their relief the cavern was wide enough to let them pass, and soon the creature was slumbering behind them, still off to their right. But the sound of it receding behind them was not all that comforting.
“We'll have to go past it again,” Cindy said.
“Perhaps,” Watch said. “It's this creature that guards the treasure. Remember the next to the last line. âShe who remembers old debts.'â”
“If that's true,” Adam said, “and if we find the treasure, we might not want to touch it.”
“We're never going to find anything in all this darkness,” Sally said.
“Except maybe our deaths,” Cindy added quietly.
Sally was wrong. Not long after passing the sleeping beast, the cavern narrowed and they entered a space that was no bigger than a school gymnasium. As they panned their flashlights around, they jumped, listening to their own hearts pound in wonder and amazement.
The room was filled with treasure.
Gold coins and bars, piled in hills that reached to the black ceiling, surrounded them. And jewels in every color of the rainbow glistened in the sea
of yellow. There were even pearls, strung on exquisite chains and wrapped around tiny but precious statues of jade. Truly, they had found the riches of the ages.
Yet all the wealth seemed to be gathered as a mere ornament to glorify a couple of foot-tall crystals that stood in the center of the room on a pedestal made of silver. They were narrow, rising up to sharp tips. As they drew near, they saw that special grooves had been carved in the silver stand to support the crystals.
Yet there were four grooves, and only two crystals.
Watch spoke softly in the darkness.
“ââTherein lie the jewels that speak in dreams,'â” he said. “ââThe crystals that whisper words that are more than they seem.'â”
“And two of them are missing,” Sally added.
“Leah wouldn't have taken them,” Bryce said quickly.
“No?” Adam said. “Two of them have obviously been removed. And you did say you hardly knew her.”
“The code seemed to indicate that the crystals were the most valuable things here,” Watch said.
“Then why didn't she take all of them?” Bryce asked.
“It would be hard enough for her to hike with even two of them on her,” Watch said. “I think she took as many as she could carry.”
Cindy gestured to the other treasure. “But there are so many gems here, so much goldâwhy fool with the crystals? I mean, we don't even know what they can do.”
“But I'm betting Leah does,” Adam said. “Her father told her more than we know.” He paused, “Is that possible, Bryce?”
Bryce was at a loss. “She didn't tell me anything.”
“Then why do you keep defending her?” Sally asked.
“She's my cousin!” Bryce snapped. “Family. Wouldn't you defend your family?”
“I would,” Watch said softly, even though his family was spread all over the country.
“We're not trying to pick on you,” Adam told Bryce. “We're just trying to figure out what to do next.”
“I say we take these two crystals,” Sally said.
“And stuff our pockets with as many diamonds and emeralds and rubies as we can carry.”
“But what about the monster out there?” Cindy asked.
Sally made a face. “He's probably been in here for thousands of years. What's he going to spend all this wealth on?”
“No,” Adam said. “We know nothing about this creature, except that the treasure probably belongs to him.”
“I think it's a her,” Watch corrected.
“It doesn't matter,” Adam continued. “If we take any of this stuff, it will be stealing.”
“You cannot steal from a beast,” Sally complained. “They have no constitutional rights.”
“Couldn't we just take a few emeralds?” Cindy asked Adam, apparently having a sudden change of heart. “I've always loved emeralds, and there are so many of them.”
“I can't tell any of you what to do,” Adam said. “But I feel it's wrong. If there hadn't been a sleeping beast, I might have felt different. But now I feel like we are breaking and entering.”
“I wouldn't go that far,” Watch said, stepping
closer to the crystals. He peered at them for a moment before frowning. “This is odd.”
“What?” Bryce asked.
“These appear to be nothing more than quartz,” Watch said. “The least valuable thing in this room. Yet they're placed here on a pedestal, and the code implied they are magical.”
“We haven't had good luck in the past with magical devices,” Cindy warned.
“We could take just one,” Sally said as she reached forward to pick one up.
“Don't!” Watch snapped, trying to stop her.
He was too late.
Sally already held the crystal in her hands.
She laughed at their concern. “It's not like this is a weapon.”
But it must have been something important.
Behind them they heard the sleeping beast begin to stir.
rhythmic change in the breathing of the beast was the only difference. It was no longer slow and deep but rough andâit actually soundedâgrumpy. From this they assumed it was waking up, but of course they still couldn't see it to be sure. Sally put down the crystal and wiped her hands on her pants.
“I was just looking at it,” she said quickly.
Watch hastened to the entryway of the treasure room and peered into the blackness. Adam came up at his side.
“What's happening?” Adam whispered.
“I don't know,” Watch replied. “But I think it's more than a coincidence that the beast stirred the moment Sally touched the crystal. I agree with you now, Adam. I think we'd be crazy to try to take any of this treasure.”
“Maybe it wouldn't mind if we just took a handful of diamonds,” Sally said behind them.
Adam walked back to the others. He pointed a finger at Sally. “Don't even think about it. In fact, Cindy, Bryceâkeep an eye on Sally's hungry hands.”
Sally was insulted. “I wouldn't do anything behind your backs.”
Watch rejoined them. “We're just trying to be sure.” He paused. In the distance, it sounded as if the beast were once again falling asleep. Watch continued, “Now might be the time to get out of here.”
Cindy kept looking at the gems. “It's so sad to leave all this behind.”
Sally put her hands on her hips. “Who should be watching who? I saw Cindy slip an emerald in her pocket.”
“That's a lie!” Cindy snapped. Then she paused and opened her right fist. “I was just
looking at the stone. I wasn't going to take it. I never put it in my pocket.”
“Then put it back where you found it and let's get out of here,” Adam said.
Bryce paused beside the crystals. “I would really like to know what these are capable of doing.”
Sally took his arm and led him toward the entrance with the rest of the gang. “Maybe in another lifetime you can find out,” she said.
They reentered the huge cavern, and at first everything seemed OK. The huge invisible beast was clearly asleep once more, so they hurried back the way they had come, first finding the dark pool. Perhaps, in the black, they would have gotten lost had it not been for the vigilance of Watch, who had kept track of their route on a compass on one of his watches.
“I'm glad someone was thinking,” Adam said, complimenting his friend for his quick thinking. “I would hate to be trapped in here forever.”
“We still have to see if the door is open,” Sally said.
“Leah wouldn't shut it on us,” Bryce said again.
“But does she know we're in here?” Adam worried aloud. “She could shut it without knowing about us.”
“Or maybe the door just shuts by itself when the sun comes up,” Watch warned.
They started up the long steps. Going up was definitely harder than going down. Soon they were huffing and puffing. Adam was sweating so badly that he finished his water bottle before they were even halfway up. The slippery stone steps continued to be a problem. They had to use extra effort to keep from sliding backward and tumbling down.
Yet after half an hour of climbing they caught sight of a glow up ahead. They knew it was the door open to the daytime sky. Watch had to tell them what they had only suspected.
“We've been underground for three hours,” he said.
“That's incredible,” Cindy answered. “It didn't feel half that long.”
“Traveling underground can have that effect on the mind,” Watch said. “Miners say that all the time. Time gets distorted in the brain. The
opposite effect can also happen. Underground, an hour can seem like a whole day.”
The light drew them forward, and they climbed with renewed vigor. Indeed, they congratulated themselves that they had found the treasure, faced the ancient beast, and escaped without any permanent harm. They had finally had an adventure that was harmless.
But then the door up ahead began to close.
At this point Watch and Cindy were trailing behind the others. The scratches Cindy had received the previous day had begun to bother her. As a result she was moving slowly, and Watch had dropped back to make sure she was OK. When the door above them began to shut, Watch and Cindy were at least one minute behind the others. Adam realized in an instant that Sally and Bryce and he might be able to make it out, but his other friends were in danger of getting trapped. He whirled around and shouted down to them.
“It's closing! Hurry!”
Watch and Cindy found renewed vigor.
They began to run up the stepsâtwo and three at a time.
“Don't wait for us!” Watch yelled. “Get out!”
Adam was indecisive, but Sally and Bryce were running toward the door as if their lives depended on reaching it.
“I don't want to leave you!” Adam called down.
“Get to the door!” Watch yelled up. “Hold it open for us!”
Adam realized his friend was right. He couldn't help them by waiting on the steps for them to catch up. He had to get to the door and brace it somehow to keep it from closing. He called down one last time before turning and racing after Sally and Bryce.
“Don't stop for anything!” Adam said.
As Adam pounded toward the door, he saw that it was moving slowly, as if responding to some internal trigger. It was only because the door was taking time closing that any of them had a chance of getting out.
Adam saw Sally and Bryce disappear through the opening to the outside. Then he saw them gripping the edge of the door in an effort to prevent it from closing. But it was stronger than their flesh and blood muscles.
“We can't hold it!” Sally screamed. “Adam!”
“Brace it with a stone!” Adam yelled.
“We can't let go!” Bryce called back. “It will just close!”
“It's closing anyway!” Adam gasped, twenty steps from the top. “Get a rock!”
But either Sally and Bryce were too afraid to let go or else Bryce was right that it would have closed the moment they released it. In either case they continued to struggle with it, and at the last possible second Adam was able to squeeze through to the outside. He barely made it. The tail of his shirt, in fact, got caught in the hard edge of the door and he had to remove the shirt just to be free of the cliff wall.
Of course that was the least of his worries.
His friends were trapped inside.
And none of them had any idea how to open the door now that Venus was no longer visible in the bright sky. Indeed, they had to wonder if it would be another six months before the door could be opened.
dam paced restlessly along the stone ledge. Bryce and Sally sat quietly. Ten minutes had gone by since the door had closed. During that time they had tried as hard as they could to reopen the door. The only problem was that it seemed to have disappeared. On the sheer cliff wall, there wasn't even an outline of it. Not only could they not get a grip on it, they couldn't even say exactly where it had been.