It was late afternoon before the NBLOEAFJ returned to the pit, formerly known as the Gangplank. Roadside barriers had been placed by the militia in an effort to keep curious onlookers from getting to close to the edge. Among the small crowd that remained was the urchin, Cyan Rayna, who was taking some rather detailed measurements of the pit.
“You really mean to go down there?” asked Cyan, after hearing the plan. He eyed the large steam-crane and boxes marked TNT that had arrived with the costumed avengers.
“As long as Cleet… er, I mean as long as The Toolbox can get that steam-crane working.” Emerson, in full belief that his Knight Crusader disguise was effective, pointed to a large construction machine upon which Cleetus appeared to be tightening bolts with an oversized left-handed monkey wrench. “We’ll use winch on the crane to lower ourselves down.”
“Why would you go into the pit?” asked Cyan.
“Why?” Emerson thought for a moment about how he’d inadvertently summoned a Martian death ray to vapourize the Gangplank and now, to prevent a full-scale invasion of the city, he had to place a dead princess’s bracelet at the centre of the pit in order to trap a Martian warship. He turned to Cyan, “It’s an insurance thing.”
“Some people are saying it was a sinkhole,” said Cyan, rolling-up his measuring tape. “But I’m not so sure. Professor Quinn over at the power station swears to seeing a bright flash just before the Gangplank disappeared. Whatever it was, we’re just lucky it didn’t breach the sewers—that would have been a real mess.”
A loud chug, accompanied by a belch of steam and smoke, announced Cleetus’s success with the steam-crane.
“She’s fired up and ready,” the farmer called, as he approached the group a few moments later. “Got four hundred feet of chain; that’s what we measured the depth of this pit to be.”
“Are you certain that basket can hold a group of this size?” asked the Count. “I would sacrifice my opportunity to go down into that pit to ensure safe passage for the rest of you.”
“Don’t worry your precious blue blood, that basket and chain can move a half dozen oxen at a time; and what’s more, the crane that’s holding it is locked down right secure,” said the farmer, swinging forward the six foot, left handed-monkey wrench. “Thanks to Bessie, here.”
“Right then,” said Emerson, with a single clap of his hands. “Let’s get started.”
“I’ll be at the controls of the crane until you’re ready to come back up,” said Cleetus. “Once you’ve all settled in the basket I’ll lower you to the bottom.” Cleetus handed Emerson a flare gun. “Shoot this in the air when you’re done placing the bracelet and I’ll haul you back up.”
The sound of the engine that powered the steam-crane was like a steady peal of thunder, caught in the midst of a violent rumble. The sound reverberated around the pit and only gradually diminished in intensity as they continued to go deeper. The basket was about halfway into its descent when the lantern Emerson had brought sputtered and went dim. “Damn,” Emerson cursed and shook the lantern that had suddenly gone dark. “I knew one of the lamps wasn’t working properly. I’d hoped it wasn’t this one.”
“Of course,” the Squire complained, waving his hand in a gesture of contempt. “You brought a defective lantern as our sole source of light, how typical.”
“Squire, if you know me so well then it’s your fault for not checking up on me,” said Emerson. “Now, let me see if I can relight it.” He reached into his pocket searching for matches. “Here,” he said to Thomas, who was standing beside him in the basket. “Hold this.” He handed the Dunsany the bracelet then checked his pocket again and found the matches. He attempted to reignite the lantern, however, after several failed attempts he gave up and lit his pipe instead.
“Relax,” said the Count. “We are going into an open pit—and it’s still daylight. All we have to do is place the bracelet in the centre. We had no need of the light.”
“I know,” said Emerson, adding clouds of purple smoke to the swirling dust. “I just like to be prepared.”
“Are we going to run into any of your buddies down there, Prince?” Petra gave Thomas the evil eye.
“It is possible,” Thomas shrugged his shoulders. “However it’s unlikely as my brethren reside in caverns a little further to the east. Why concern yourself with thoughts of them? If they are present they would be of assistance.” The Prince paused, looking over the edge of the basket as though searching for something through the dust. “Of the sisters, I cannot say the same.”
“And if we do run into your kin?” the girl pressed the issue. “The crazy sisters you keep talking about, I mean.”
“I am Father’s Prince,” said Thomas. “The sisters still answer to me.”
Minutes later the basket that had carried them from the surface was resting upon the floor of the pit. The sound of the crane had diminished to to a steady but tolerable background droning. The Cog Blocker was the first to climb from the basket. “Who has the bracelet?” she asked.
“I have it,” Thomas replied, moving to within an arm’s length of the Cog Blocker. “There is no need for you all to come. If the sisters are indeed about you will antagonize them. Tars and I can place the bracelet. We will not return to the surface.”
“We will go with you?” she replied. “And you will return with us to the surface until the mission has been completed.
“Why do you not trust me?” Thomas dropped his voice and leaned closer, pressing the bounds of etiquette with respect to personal space. He dropped his voice for her ears alone. “Suspicion is most unbecoming, Miss Buxombottom.”
She dropped her voice accordingly, so only he could hear, “Your existence has not been as secret as you think.”
“This is so stupid,” said the Squire, striding from the basket. “We’re only here because none of us trust each other. Let’s leave the bracelet so we can get back up top to set the dynamite and be done with it.”
It was only a few dozen yards to the center of the pit. They were just about to place the bracelet when a clicking sound caused them to look back. Standing in the basket they had just vacated were three pale figures in tattered gowns. And as if this sight on its own was not sufficiently alarming, one of the creatures was holding the flare gun Emerson had left on the floor of the basket.
“Where did they come from?” said Emerson.
“The sister’s stealth is unmatched,” said Thomas.
The three creatures stared in silence for several second. So fearsome and so still, the sisters gave the impression of being fashioned from wax, like some sort of display at a chamber of horrors. The silence was brief; one by one, the creatures tipped their heads back and started to wail, creating a shrill and grating chorus. It was both horrific and utterly riveting, holding everyone’s attention—until a second series of screams, caused them to spin. Several dozen more of the creatures had appeared behind them, no more than a hundred yards away.
“Sisters of Dunsany!” Thomas stepped forward and raised his arms. The sisters’ wails fell silent. “Turn and depart. I command you as your elder.” The sisters remained silent but a second longer before resuming their shrill shrieks and charging forward.
Despite Thomas’s repeated attempts at calling off the sisters, the crazed creatures remained undeterred, advancing upon the League until the ragtag group had their backs pressed against the wall of an alcove on the far side of the pit. With each advancing step, the disturbing cries of the sisters increased in intensity.
“CRIPES, Prince Thomas!” Petra called out. “What’s the good of you if you can’t call them off?”
“STOP!” A single word, a single syllable, uttered without repetition, cut through the confusion like a gunshot. The sisters at once stood as still as stone.
All eyes turned to the Squire, whose voice it was that had arrested the Sisters of Dunsany.
“Squire,” said Emerson with genuine awe. “I think it’s time you got a raise.”
“That is a most impressive skill,” Count Bologna agreed, sounding unusually sombre.
“How are you able to control them?” the Cog Blocker asked.
“My voice, it compels them,” replied the Squire, though he offered no further explanation.
“Hey,” said Petra. She looked about. “Where’s Prince Thomas?” It took only a second to verify that indeed the tall Prince of the Dunsany and his Thark companion had vanished.
“They must have escaped into one of the tunnels,” said Cog Blocker.
“The bracelet!” said Emerson. “Thomas took it.”