The crumbling wooden trap-door hid a four foot wide, solid stone staircase. The dust and grime on the stairs alone meant another half hour of shovel scraping.
"The place goes on forever. Everyone get out your candles and light them from the lanterns." Theo said.
"I've never seen so much dust." Harvey coughed.
"I have an idea. Back up the stairs and take the lanterns and candles." Once back in the great hallway, Theo closed what was left of the door. "Right Dick, leaf blower mode. Yes? No cyclones." He poked Dick through a crack in the wood.
"Are you sure about this, Theo?" Berwick asked nervously. "We have no Raze or Spider to fall back on."
"It'll be fine. I've come a long way in mastering ..." Theo barrelled into the other three, and all four crashed into Herb so all five ended up colliding with the rear wall of the tourist ripoff.
"You young hooligan!" Herb howled. "I have a dodgy knee and it's registered as legitimate!"
"Is the other one illegitimate?" Harvey asked rubbing his bashed elbow.
"Dick!" Theo scrambled to his feet and darted over to the door, where Dick was still wedged. "I think it worked." He peered down the steps. "Bring the lights." The great hall area of the cellar now resembled a crater, with hills of dust forming a ring round a dust-free circle. "Not bad, Dick, not bad at all. Harvey! Bring the shovels."
It was Theo who eventually discovered a massive wooden chest among dozens of dusty and damaged boxes and broken grimy artifacts. The chest was in the a crumbled alcove in the north wall below the ballroom area. Rubble and heavy stones formed the back of the alcove which suggested a collapsed tunnel.
"Oh wow!" Seth stared at the filthy, dust covered chest. "Do we open it?"
"Excuse me! Make way!" Herb elbowed his way in with his own lantern. He produced a magnifying glass from one of his cavernous pockets and began looking over the chest, blowing dust away in billows as he did so. "Umm. No mechanical traps, so that means ..." He slotted a series of coloured disks into his lantern and it illuminated a series of symbols in the lid of the chest. "Oh sod! More squiggles. Why did folk back then have to write like that? We had all this hooey with Raze's Staff!"
"Blast!" Theo frowned in concentration. "Can anyone remember the symbols in Spider's name? It'll be a starting point."
"Like this?" Herb had drawn a row of symbols in the dust on the floor. "That says Drisep, as deciphered from granda Nesta's tombstone."
"Mr. Drisep you are awesome!" Berwick would have hugged him had he not been so creepy looking. "Any of that on the chest?"
"There are fifteen symbols on there. Let's see." Theo found a dust patch of his own. "Only three, I'm afraid. First is a P, sixth is S and ninth is D."
"Right but second, fourth, eighth and thirteenth are the same. The last two are the same too." Berwick spotted. "Double letters at the end of words are usually EE, LL, SS, OO, FF. It's not E or S because they're in Spider's name so they're used. LL, OO, FF."
"The second letter follows P and is repeated after the next letter. It also goes before the double at the end. Good chance it's a vowel. In that case it makes a nonsense of a OO ending. E and I are used so ... AFF, ALL, OFF, OLL, UFF, ULL." Theo rubbed his eyes.
"Er ... how about Shadowfall?" Seth scratched his ear with the Hippie and it rasped. "It's a big old fancy chest in Shadowfall Hall so it probably belonged to a Shadowfall."
"Brilliant!" Theo grinned widely. "P A symbol A symbol space SHADOWFALL. Mr. Drisep Do you know what Lord Shadowfall's given name was?"
"Conrad, I think. Master Conrad, I seem to recall from my Mother. She was an boulder tosser so great aunt Clootie was a bit of an athletic hero of hers."
"So it's not him on the lid. Do you think something unpleasant will happen if we get it wrong? Yes, stupid question. Come on! Two letters, probably consonants."
"Theo, do you remember what Spider and Raze disagreed about the most?" Harvey offered. "Well apart from everything."
"Raze calling Spider irresponsible with wild nature and Spider calling Raze a brainwashed, pen pushing ponce." Theo said.
"Because in Spider's day magic was wild, raw, and powerful. It wasn't restrained by city rules and safety considerations because there were no huge cities. Sunstroke itself would only have been a fraction of its present size and Shadowfall Hall was probably the biggest structure for miles. The realm was probably predominately rural, names and all. Now think of Pecker's Peak, Dribbler's Cove and Fanny's Bush and the trip they had to the University a few years ago. The Administration lot had a melt down because everyone had the same few names! Heathers and Ables and Rushes and ..."
"Pagan! Yes! Raze had three male and seven female Pagans in a class of twelve. Pagan. It fits." Theo turned to look at his friends, Herb now included for services rendered. "Does the name ring any bells, Mr. Drisep? He asked hopefully but Herb shook his head. "What is wrong with this place! Why is there no documented history on the only noble family the area's ever had! Do we go for Pagan? Lets vote." Harvey, Theo and Seth voted aye. Herb and Berwick dithered and voted to just get on with whatever. "Good. That's that sorted. Now then." Theo looked at the chest. "Umm, any suggestions?"
"Raze said he spoke that Staff's name and it woke up." Herb suggested.
"Right well I'm not doing that on my own. After three, everyone. One, Two, Three!"
"Pagan Shadowfall!" Herb bellowed and everyone else kept quiet. "Oo! You bunch of little gits! I'm putting a complaint in ..." The lock on the chest slid open, then fell to the floor. Everyone looked at Herb. "What? Not on your spotty arses. I'm not opening it."
"But you're the adult, you're a civil servant, and you're a history specialist." Theo said innocently.
"We're just a bunch of spotty upstarts." Berwick joined in.
"Yes well you do have a point." Herb said arrogantly. "I'm the authority figure. Stand aside." The students stood aside, in the previous room, behind a sturdy looking ceiling support. Seconds passed, then minutes.
"Do you think he's alright?" Seth whispered, peeping round the support.
"Job's a good'un!" Herb was standing right behind the students and set them off screaming in fright again.
Team Drisep found a series of leather bound, handwritten books. On the fronts of these books were more symbols.
"Oh give us a break!" Theo shrieked.
"Stress not." Herb said aloofly. "Yan, tan, tether, mether, pip. Then we have azer, sezar, akker ..."
"Are you feeling alright?" Berwick asked Herb.
"Numbers. They're all numbered. Yan, tan ..."
"So can you put them in order?" Harvey asked impatiently. Drisep proceeded to do so, pausing briefly to titter at the word for ten, which was dick, and therefore not funny to Theo, and another pause at fifteen and sixteen, bumfit and yanabum.
"And finally we have set tether, volume jigget. Three sets of twenty." Herb rechecked his sorting.
"Herb, how come no one in Sunstroke uses all these skills you have?" Theo asked. "Honestly. What the heck are you doing digging graves and sweeping the library floor?"
"Just things I've picked up, mostly from library books and graves." Herb said vaguely.
"Yes well I think your selling yourself short out there. Don't let them underrate you." Theo the wise advised. "Please don't let these books be in squiggles." Thankfully, they weren't.