The Magus Conspiracy

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Chapter Twenty-Three: The Crystal Grotto.

Fifteen minutes later, Forgill turned the SUV into the small car park on Castle Street and parked in the first space.

“That’s quite a view,” he said.

Stretched out before them was Wicklow harbor, behind it the bay and the mountains. Small boats, cradled in the arms of the two piers, bobbed in the harbor, fittings glinting in the sunshine, and sails of all colors flapping in the lazy breeze. To their right was an elegant sandstone wall which ran along a set of wide concrete steps, down to the quay and a boatyard. At the top of the steps, near the car park, a stone arch was built into the wall. Beyond the stone arch, a well-kept grassy area extended to the castle and the cliffs alongside it.

Niamh pointed out into the bay, through the opening of the two piers.

“If we’re right about the gate being at Orion’s left knee, it’s out there somewhere, under the seabed.”

She shivered at the thought.

“That really creeps me out, but if it means getting Dad and Martha back – and Bree and Fintan, of course,” she squeezed Mark’s hand, “then I’m totally going out there.”

“We’ll discuss who goes and who doesn’t when the time comes,” said Forgill. “Let’s get to the bottom of this first.”

Mark looked askance at him.

“I’m going, no matter what happens.”

Forgill nodded. “That’s a given, Mark. You’re right at the center of this. Now, shall we take a look in that cave?”

Forgill stepped down from the SUV, walked a short distance towards the stone arch, and beckoned to Mark. Mark took a flashlight from the glove-box of the SUV and joined Forgill. They headed through the stone arch into the grounds around the castle, leaving Ferdia and Niamh to work on the access code.

Mark was eyeing Forgill as they walked, looking away when Forgill almost caught him. Eventually Forgill stopped, turned to Mark and said:

“All right, son; out with it.”

“Out with what?”

“You’ve obviously got something on your mind. Let’s have it.”

Oh, I’ve got loads on my mind about you. Like, where did you get that Tetros you had? And why did the felkynd tell me not to trust you?”

“Well, one thing at a time. I’ve had the Tetros ever since …”

“Hey McTool! What are you doing down here?”

Mark started, then groaned. Coming towards him from the direction of the castle was Christopher McCabe flanked by his cronies. McCabe had a can of cheap lager in his hand and judging by his demeanor, it wasn’t his first of the day. He walked up to Mark and Forgill and looked them up and down.

“What’s going on, Psycho? Come down to do some drinking with your boyfriend?”

“Who are you, young man?” inquired Forgill.

McCabe stood toe-to-toe with Forgill, eyes watery from the alcohol. He was considerably taller than the older man.

Who are you, young man?” mimicked McCabe. “I’m the young man who’s going to kick your head in, that’s who.”

“C’mon,” said Mark, pulling at Forgill's sleeve, “let’s come back later.”

“No, no. I’d like to hear what this young ruffian has to say for himself.”

“Ruffian!” sniggered McCabe, taking a swig from his can. “Who are you calling a ruffian, you old spastic?”

“Look,” exploded Mark, “just leave us alone!”

McCabe bared his teeth and grabbed Mark by the hair. Forgill moved like lightning. He grabbed McCabe's other arm, pulled it straight and drove his open hand into McCabe's solar plexus. McCabe released Mark and doubled over wheezing for breath. The rest of McCabe’s pack circled, not knowing what to do.

“Time to leave, gentlemen,” Forgill said.

They were too afraid of McCabe to abandon him, but they moved back several paces. Mark turned for the car but Forgill took his arm.

“No, no. Don’t let these brigands intimidate you. We came here to do a job, and do it we will.”

McCabe stumbled to his feet and bared his teeth at Forgill. “I’m going to kill you, you old bastard,” he hissed. He pulled a knife from his pocket and flicked the blade open. He started towards Forgill, still unsteady on his feet.

Forgill sighed. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out an automatic pistol.

Mark was horrified. He’d never seen a gun before and it looked shockingly purposeful. Forgill pointed the pistol at McCabe’s face.

“Piss off now, son,” he advised. “You’re in over your head.”

McCabe’s face blanched and his knife-hand fell to his side. “C’mon,” he muttered to his cronies, and they slunk away to their makeshift camp of discarded lager cans and fast food wrappers.

Forgill took Mark’s arm and lead him towards the castle at a fast walk.

“Friend of yours?”

Mark didn't answer. He walked beside Forgill for several paces, staring at the ground, shaking his head; then looked up at him and said:

I can't believe you're carrying a gun! That's a really big deal – especially a hand-gun. What if they tell the police?”

“A gun? I don't know what you think you saw, young Mark, but I certainly don't carry a gun.”

“But ... I saw it. You pointed it right at McCabe's head.”

So that's his name. What is he to you, then – the local bully?”

“Something like that,” Mark muttered, “and stop changing the subject. You're not going to trick me into forgetting about the gun.”

“Oh, you mean this thing,” said Forgill, reaching into his coat. He withdrew a black object and held it out to Mark. It was a black walking stick, with a clever telescoping shaft that retracted almost entirely into the pistol-shaped grip. Mark eyed it with caution, then raised his eyes to Forgill's face:

“That's not what I saw.”

“Oh! Isn't it? Oh, well, never mind. There must have been a mistake, then.”

“What? Are you completely nuts? I'm not going to mistake a walking stick for a gun!”

“Mark,” said Forgill, a twinkle in his eye, “There's no gun. One does not get to my age without learning a few tricks; a bit of sleight of hand; some legerdemain here, a touch of prestidigitation there ...”

“All right,” shouted Mark, “there was no bloody gun. Forget I ever mentioned it!”

“I don't know why you're so upset, young fellow. You were about to get a hiding; I sent the cove packing. Does it matter how I did it?”

“Not really, I suppose. Anyway, we're here.”

They had arrived at a deep ditch, separating the mainland from the promontory on which the castle stood. The ditch ran the entire width of the castle and fell away to the cliffs on either side of the promontory. The remains of the castle stood stark against the backdrop of sea and sky, like a trio of rotted teeth.

“That's it? There's not much left, is there,” said Forgill. “I mean, when you said 'castle' ...”

“Well, it was built nearly a thousand years ago,” said Mark, local pride creeping into his voice.

And the pyramids were built four and a half thousand years ago, and they're in decent order,” countered Forgill.

Mark muttered something rude under his breath. Forgill erupted into deep laughter.

“Oh, come on, young Mark; I'm just pulling your leg. I'm sure this was a proud and impregnable bastion in its day. It's quite a setting, I must admit.”

The castle stood on a natural outcropping, protected on three sides by sea cliffs. The spit of land leading to it, at which Mark and Forgill now stood, was narrow and easy to defend. Forgill looked down into the ditch.

“Is this fortification natural or man-made, young McHewell?”

“Dunno. I always thought the bit of land the castle is on had slipped out to sea a bit and made this trench, but I suppose the people that built the castle might have dug it out of the rock, and put a drawbridge over it, or something. Those steps are definitely man-made, though.”

He indicated a series of steps cut into each side of the ditch, leading down the counterscarp from their feet to the bottom and up the scarp on the other side to where that main door of the castle would have been, were the walls standing.

“Those steps must have been added more recently. There would be no point in having steps in a defensive ditch. It would defeat the purpose.”

“I never thought of that,” said Mark. “I'm glad they're there today, though, 'cause that's where we have to go.”

He started down the steps. Forgill followed, and they soon stood in the heart of the derelict stronghold, out on the promontory. So little of the castle remained that they were exposed to the Irish Sea, and the breeze nipped at their clothes. Despite the heat of the late afternoon, they both shivered.

“Where's this cave, then?” asked Forgill.

“Back here,” said Mark, heading for the cliffs to the east side of the outcrop. He jumped down from the remains of the east wall, and made his way to where the cliff fell away to the sea and rocks below. Forgill followed cautiously, picking his steps.

One part of the cliff was less steep than the rest, and a series of horizontal notches could be seen cut into the rock, leading down to where the tide seethed and roiled around the base of the cliff. Mark pointed down the series of carved footholds and said, “The Danes' Steps.”

Forgill raised his eyebrows.

“Steps? I think we could have them under the Trade Descriptions Act on that one. I don't like the look of those, one bit.”

Mark shrugged. “They'll be OK until we get to the high-tide mark, then they'll get slippery. It's low tide, so we'll be able to reach the cave but we won't have long; it's on the turn.”

“Have you ever been down these steps before?”

“Only halfway, when I was younger. Then I got scared and turned back.”

“And you're sure this cave is actually there?”

Mark nodded. “I've seen it from my dad's boat.”

“But you've never been in it?”

Mark shook his head and stared nervously at Forgill.

Forgill expelled a great breath of air then clapped his hands together in a loud crack that made Mark jump.

“Right then,” he said rubbing his hands together, “faint heart ne'er won dank cave, to misquote William Camden.”


“Never heard of William Camden? What are they teaching you youngsters in school, these days? Well, never mind. All I meant was, let's get on with it, young adventurer.”

Mark gave him a 'God, you really are an old fossil' look, then said: “OK. The best way to go down is like this.”

He sat down and placed his feet on the top step. He scooted forward on his backside and moved to the next step. When he had gone five steps down, to where the steps got steeper, Forgill sat down and followed in like fashion.

They picked their way down the steps slowly with relative ease until they reached the high tide mark. Here, the steps became slippery, partly overgrown with seaweed, and dotted with sharp barnacles. The steps were more eroded here and hard to find. Mark sought out the deeper parts of the steps with his heels and shouted instructions back up to Forgill. Once or twice, their feet slipped and the barnacles nicked their hands, but after a few minutes of careful descent, they stood in the mouth of the cave.

Mark switched on the flashlight and shone it around the interior. It was quite large at the entrance, but got lower and narrower towards the rear. It didn't appear to extend very far back under the castle, and seemed impassable.

“Wow, I always thought it would be bigger than this,” he said. “I'm a bit disappointed.”

“Indeed,” said Forgill, “and I'm not seeing anything that looks like a lock. Could I have that flashlight for a moment?”

Mark handed him the flashlight and Forgill went to the back of the cave. He stooped, then got down on his knees as the roof got lower. He played the flashlight beam around the back of the cave then exclaimed:

“Ah! There's a passage at the back. We just need to squeeze through here.”

He crawled forward, pushing the flashlight before him until he and the light disappeared.

Hold on, Mr. Forgill. I can't see you anymore.”

“Just give me a moment, Mark. It's too small for two back here.”

Mark waited for several minutes. At first he could hear Forgill grunting as he maneuvered his way through the tight passage, but soon he could hear nothing over the sound of the waves breaking outside.

Mr. Forgill?” No answer.

Mark crawled after him, following the passage as it curved to the right. After a few meters, the light from the cave entrance no longer penetrated the gloom. He crawled forward in darkness until his outstretched hand met a wall. It was a dead-end, but where had Forgill gone? Did I miss a fork in the passage?

He waited in the oppressive dark for a few moments, eyes straining to perceive the rock around him, then started to feel claustrophobic. Panic welled up in him and he called out in a shaky voice:

Mr. Forgill? Where are you?”

Strange scratching and shuffling noises emanated from the top of the passage and he was suddenly illuminated from above. He looked up and, to his great relief, saw Forgill's head poking out from another tunnel some distance above his head.

“I'm terribly sorry, Mark. I got carried away and forgot you didn't have a light.”

In the beam of the flashlight, Mark saw the passage ended in a vertical shaft several meters in diameter. He got to his feet and looked around. A series of corroded metal steps were driven into the wall of the shaft and led up to the tunnel where Forgill stood a few meters above. Mark climbed the steps and joined Forgill.

This tunnel was bigger. They could stand up with height to spare, and it was wide enough for them to walk side-by-side. It sloped downwards away from them and to the right, back out to sea.

“How far does this go?”

“I don't know, son. I'd only gone slightly further than this when I heard you calling. I'm sorry to have left you in the dark like that.”

“I was actually really scared for a moment.”

“Indeed. I could hear it in your voice. I really am sorry, Mark. I've been on my own and living on my wits for so long that I've become selfish. I promise it won't happen again. What do you say? Can you forgive me?”

Mark eyed him.

“Can I carry the torch?”

Forgill laughed and handed it to him. “Of course you can, my boy. Shall we press on?”

They followed the tunnel as it curved and descended for several minutes. After one particularly sharp bend, Mark said:

“Where do you think we are – in relation to the castle I mean?”

“I've been trying to keep my bearings - not easy when one's underground - but I believe we are under the seabed somewhere beyond the end of that pier with the lighthouse on it.”

The East Pier.”

“Yes, I believe we are somewhere off the end of that. Not far, in fact, from where the star Saiph was when Ferdia overlaid Orion on the map. If I'm right, just around this bend we should ... oh!”

As they rounded the bend, Forgill stopped talking. Then he said in a small voice: “Oh my!” His eyes were fixed on something in the tunnel ahead.

Mark had been looking at him as he spoke, but now turned to see what had left Forgill speechless.

“Oh wow!”


The tunnel ended a short distance ahead in a chamber slightly wider than the tunnel. The chamber itself was remarkable, walls of jagged purplish glass like the inside of a geode, but its rear wall was exquisite:

Multi-colored shards of crystal covered the entire wall, scintillating in the beam of the flashlight. They were translucent and seemed to glow with an inner phosphorescence.

“It's ... amazing,” said Mark. “It's like a huge stained-glass window. No; it's like someone found a broken rainbow and tried to put it back together in the dark.”

“That's a very apposite and poetic analogy, young man. I'm impressed.”

“Uh, thank you, but that's just what it looks like to me. Do you think that rainbow wall is the door?”

“That would be my guess, yes.”

Mark approached the crystal wall and rubbed his hand over it. The surface was uneven, the crystals layered over each other.

Hey, Mr. Forgill, these crystals feel kind-of warm.”

Forgill came over beside Mark and touched the wall.

“Indeed they do. And have you noticed that they glow slightly, every so often.”

“Really? I hadn't ... oh, yeah!”

When Mark raised his voice, the cyan and blue crystals dotted randomly through the wall glowed brighter, as if lit from within. They also seemed to move away from each other slightly.

Did you see that?” he squeaked, his voice rising in excitement. “They're moving!” The blue and purplish crystals glowed even more brightly and made a grinding sound as they slid against the facets of their neighbors.

That is extraordinary!” said Forgill. As his voice echoed through the chamber, the red and orange crystals glowed and creaked.

“Mark, they're not moving; they're shrinking. And have you noticed that certain crystals respond to my voice, and different ones respond to yours?”

“Yeah! Why does it do that?”

I think it responds to frequencies. My voice is deeper than yours, so it activates the colors with a lower frequency in the visible spectrum.”

“Wow! What does it mean, do you think?”

“I think this whole chamber is the lock. The key will be something that generates sound across the audible sound spectrum, and lights up all the crystals.”

“What then?”

“Then they will shrink back and reveal the passage beyond, I hope.”

Hey, look at the floor here.” Mark pointed to the cave floor in the center of the chamber. “It's smooth, like the stone tiles in our kitchen. The rest of the floor is more ... crinkly.”

“You're absolutely right, young Mark” said Forgill crouching for a closer look. “The stone here has been ground down in a perfect circle and polished like marble. Look, you can see amazing patterns in the rock.”

He brushed aside sand and pebbles with his palm to better see the patterns then said “Oh! There's something else here. Holes. Several of them.”

Mark helped to clear away the detritus. When they were done they had uncovered seven holes drilled into the polished floor, each about two finger-widths in diameter, spaced evenly around the perimeter of the circle. The holes were filled with sand and small pebbles.

“These are most certainly not natural,” said Forgill.

The first two holes were circular in cross-section, the third ovoid, the fourth triangular, the fifth pentagonal, and the sixth and seventh, octagonal and thirteen-sided, respectively.

Mark scrunched up his face as counted the sides of each hole. It reminded him of something and he was in the process of counting them again when it hit him.

Encyclopedias!” he shouted.

The crystal wall glowed and creaked.

“Pardon,” said Forgill looking blankly at Mark.

This is the fibbernadgy sequence,” he said, “same as with the encyclopedias in my dad's study.”

“I'm sorry; I don't follow.”

“You see, you take the last two numbers and add them together ...”

I know what the Fibonacci sequence is, young man; but what does it have to do with encyclopedias – or any of this?”

Mark told him about his and Ferdia's discovery in Fintan's study.

“Impressive,” said Forgill.

“Yeah, and these holes follow the same sequence. Look; these two holes are circular, so they have one side each, the next one has two curved sides, then three, then five, then eight, then thirteen. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 – Fibbernadgy!”



Forgill examined the holes more closely.

“By Jingo, you're right. Well spotted, young mathematician. Well, this should narrow down the search for the key considerably.”

“Do you have any idea what it is?”

“Not specifically, but I think we're looking for a series of large tuning forks or similar that fit into these holes.”

“Oh yeah, that would make sense.”

“Indeed. Well, I think we've found what we came for. Let's make our way back to your friends. If we describe this to young Ferdia, I'm sure he will figure it all out.”

Forgill turned and headed out of the chamber. Mark paused, playing the beam of the flashlight over the crystals and the holes in the polished floor.

Imagine, this has been here all this time. I wonder what's on the other side. And that fibbernadgy thing again. I wonder how my father got mixed up in this.

“Come along, Mark; I can't see a thing,” called Forgill.

Mark turned and followed Forgill out of the chamber.

“Yeah, well now you know what it's like.”

“You're not going to let that go, are you?” chuckled Forgill.

He put his arm around Mark's shoulder and they headed for the surface.

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