Chapter Twenty-Six: The Sidh.
“Where are we going?” asked Niamh, struggling to keep up with Mark.
“Straight to the Black Castle. We're going to open that portal and go after our parents.”
“There's no point,” interjected Ferdia.
“That's easy for you to say, Ferd; your parents haven't been kidnapped. In fact, from what you said before, your father's probably responsible for all this!”
If this hurt Ferdia, he didn't show it. He just stared at Mark and spoke in a quiet, even tone:
“That's not what I meant. There's no point in going to the Black Castle now because it won't be low tide again for another nine or ten hours.”
“Oh damn! Yeah, I forgot.”
“So where will we go?” asked Niamh. “There's no point going home, is there?”
“No. There's nothing for us there now.”
“We can't go wandering around the town either. I'm sure the police have found the bodies at my house by now, and they'll be looking for me.”
“Yeah, me and all,” said Mark, “but where can we go?”
“What about your father's boat?” said Ferdia. “That's moored in Wicklow Harbor. We could wait there.”
“No, she's still in The Canaries. Dad wasn't around to have her sailed back when summer started.”
“Actually, it's not. Mother told me Bree got the crew to bring it back last month. I think she was hoping you'd want to go out sailing over the summer. It's moored at the East Pier.”
“For God's sake,” shouted Mark. “Why does everyone think they know what I need? I didn't want any of this stupid child psychology crap; I just wanted to be left alone.”
Niamh touched Mark's arm. “Well, what's done is done, Mark – and people only wanted to help. They were worried about you.”
“I guess. OK, well let's go to the boat then. And by the way, Ferdia; it's not 'it', it's 'she'. Boats are never 'it'.”
“I have heard that, but I don't agree with it. I'll be saying 'it' for boats and any other inanimate object.”
“Suit yourself, you contrary git.”
Twenty minutes later, having dodged police on foot and in patrol cars, they arrived at the East Pier. The boat, a twenty-two meter Bermudan Cutter, was moored alongside the pier in a cluster of other vessels. Mark hopped down and found the hidden emergency key. He unlocked the companionway and went down the steps into the saloon, beckoning to the other to follow.
“Welcome aboard Vimana,” he said as they descended.
Niamh's eyes widened as she saw the yacht's interior for the first time.
“Oh my God!” she said, a hand on her chest. “This is like something out of a James Bond movie.”
The initial impression of Vimana's saloon was of rich wood fitting, interspersed with sumptuous upholstery and high-tech equipment.
“It's so ... compact; so well organized. Not an inch of space is wasted,” said Niamh.
“A place for everything, and everything in its place,” said Mark. “That's what my dad used to say.”
He picked up a remote control and pushed a button. With a low hum, a large TV slid up into view from behind a panel on the forward bulkhead of the saloon.
“Want to play some PlayStation?”
“Sure, but can I take a look around first?”
“Of course. Knock yourself out.”
Ferdia, who had been on Vimana many times, stayed in the saloon while Niamh went forward to explore. He sat on one of the couches and tapped at his iPad as Mark set up the PlayStation. Over the next ten minutes, regular squeals of delight drifted aft to the saloon as Niamh discovered some feature or cubbyhole in the galley, or one of the cabins. When she appeared back, a smile from ear to ear, Mark was deep into a game of Skyrim.
He looked up across briefly as she stepped across the threshold into the saloon.
“What do you think?” he asked.
She giggled. “It's awesome. Can I live here?”
They both laughed as she settled down beside him on the curved seat.
“Do you want me to put on a two-player game; Gran Turismo, or something?”
“No, I like this game. It’s cool to watch; almost like a movie.”
“What are you up to, Ferdia?”
He grunted. “Checking the tide times. Low tide is at exactly midnight, would you believe.”
“OK, that's really weird. The very night we're going into the cave to open a secret door, low tide is at exactly midnight. That gives me the creeps.”
“Any weirder than thousands of cats turning up to fight off a bunch of crazy women who appear out of holes in the air?”
“Stop – I really don't want to think about that,” said Niamh. “I keep wondering if Mira was amongst them, and if she was one of the ones that got hurt; or killed.”
“Oh, I have something to tell you about that,” said Ferdia. He related what Forgill had told him about the felkynd, their nine lives, and how they appear in this tír as cats.
“Felkynd!” said Mark. ”That's the word your cat used in my dream last night! 'We are the felkynd’, she said.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
Mark told them about his dream. Niamh looked like she might cry but she just bit her bottom lip and listened.
“I always knew there was something special about cats,” she said when he had finished. “No wonder so many people find them weird. No wonder so many people find me weird! I always used to say, I couldn't relate to anyone that didn't like cats.”
“I hate cats,” said Ferdia. Niamh arched her eyebrows. “I rest my case,” she said. He just snorted and went back to his tablet.
Many hours later, as midnight drew close, the teenagers locked the boat, hefted their backpacks and walked back along the East Pier towards the Black Castle. Niamh and Ferdia followed Mark into the castle grounds and down the Danes' Steps to the cave. Eventually they arrived in the chamber with the rainbow wall and Mark put down his backpack.
Niamh played her flashlight around the circular room and ran her palm in awe over the gently glowing crystals. Ferdia stood beside her doing the same, and it was the first time she had ever seen him so full of childlike wonder.
Mark gathered the seven tuning forks from the backpacks and started to put them in the correct holes in the floor. They chimed slightly as he maneuvered them into place, and Niamh and Ferdia stepped back from the wall in surprise as the crystals moved in response.
Mark chuckled. “Yeah, I didn't tell you about that. Pretty cool, isn't it?”
“Amazing,” said Ferdia. “The crystals are reacting to the frequencies of the tuning forks.”
“Yep. That's what me and Forgill figured. OK, that's the last one in place. What do you think we do now?”
“Make them all ring at the same time, I should think.”
Mark walked around in a circle, striking the top of each tuning fork with his flashlight. The dissonant chiming increased in volume and complexity as each fork joined the cacophony. As the thickening sound wave filled the chamber, the crystals creaked and shifted, then shrunk back completely, revealing a smaller chamber beyond.
The youngsters walked through in silence to the chamber. In its center was a polished stone plinth, up to Mark's chest, with a square indentation on the top. A fine spray of water jetted over the top of the plinth from small holes all around the edge of the indentation.
“I think I know what we need to do here,” said Mark. “Grab those rucksacks, and let's get the Tetroi together.”
They connected the Tetroi, and as the mechanism started whirring and clicking, Mark placed the assemblage into the indentation on the plinth. Lights appeared on thirty-two of the squares and projected the images of chess pieces into the mist of water like holograms; one set blue, the other red.
“That is too cool for words,” said Niamh. “But now what?”
As she spoke, the whirring got louder and was accompanied by a click. One of the blue pawns disappeared and, with another click, reappeared one square forward. The whirring subsided.
Mark gestured at the device. “We play a game, I guess.”
He pressed the square under one of the red pawns. It depressed easily and stayed depressed. He then pressed the destination square. The clicking inside the machine sped up for a moment and the whirr intensified. The square the pawn was on popped up with a loud click, and the light went out. The destination square did the same and the pawn reappeared at that position.
The clicking and whirring changed tempo again, and one of the blue pawns disappeared and reappeared two squares away.
“OK, it looks like we have to play this out. Ferd, you're the chess-master; how quickly do you think you can get this thing to checkmate?”
“One move. Don't you recognize the gambit? It's the Fool's mate. The machine is playing to lose. All I have to do is move the queen from here” -click- “to here” -click- “and it's checkmate.”
As the destination square popped up and the queen moved to her new position, the whirring and clicking stopped abruptly and the lights went out. The Tetroi sprung apart and fell away from each other to the floor of the chamber. The fine diffusion of water ceased and the plinth slid with a rumble into the ground.
Mark had just finished gathering up the Tetroi when a shout echoed across the main chamber:
“McTool! What are you geeks doing in here at this time of night?”
Mark's stomach turned over as he saw Christopher McCabe, his sister Veronica and a variety of their lowlife cohorts stroll into the chamber. Ferdia, less concerned by McCabe's presence, noticed a glimmer of light, no bigger than a marble appear in mid-air in the midst of the tuning forks.
“I couldn't believe it when I saw you freaks running around the castle a few minutes ago. Followed you down the steps and found this rathole. Is this where you take your little slag for a bit of McTool-time, or are you both doing her?”
“You shut your mouth, you filthy scumbag,” screamed Niamh.
That was the first Veronica McCabe had noticed of Niamh. With a shout of, “You're dead, bitch,” she bared her teeth and ran across the chamber to grab Niamh's hair. Ferdia, one eye on the nascent sidh, grabbed Niamh and Mark by the sleeves and pulled them sideways to put the tiny glowing ball between them and the attacking harpy.
Unfortunately for Veronica, her reflexes were good, and she changed direction in mid-dash to compensate. She ran straight through the center of the chamber and the tiny singularity passed straight through the center of her, translating a cylinder of tissue including part of her heart and spinal column to another tír.
She stopped dead in her tracks and her eyes widened as her brain tried to make sense of the signals it was receiving. She tried to speak then fell forward, dead before she hit the ground.
“Ronnie!” roared McCabe, and he and the rest of the gang ran forward to Veronica's body.
With a blinding flash, the sidh expanded to fill the chamber, and a rushing sound filled Mark's head. He was jerked off his feet and felt like he was being pulled forward by a hook through his navel. The only thing in his experience that felt remotely similar was an insane rollercoaster he'd once been on, but this was orders of magnitude more terrifying and visceral.
A writhing tunnel of space-time opened out before him. He saw McCabe's gang, and Veronica's body accelerate away from him towards a distant point. Ferdia and Niamh, eyes terrified and limbs thrashing in mid-air, flew past him towards the same destination.
Then he felt himself accelerate.
The swirling walls of the sidh, reflecting like liquid amber, flew past him, faster and faster. Every so often, he felt a nexus of space-time, a cluster of alternate realities and possibilities, nudge by as he gathered momentum. Eventually these nexi were so frequent, they felt like rumble-strips on a road.
Onwards he dashed until a light ahead grew brighter and larger. It was like flying into a star. Terrified, his breath got faster and shallower until his vision started to narrow. As he passed out from hyperventilation, he felt himself exit the sidh and fly into bright light.
His brain's last act before insentience was to give up a memory long lost:
He remembered being born.
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