Ned climbed onto the Sail, his Nordic blonde hair sailing in the wind along its brisk currents, his face moist and smile curling his lips as usual. He had a Jews Harp in his right hand, which he began plucking at after he fit it to his mouth. After listening several minutes Captain Nemo signaled he wanted to talk.
Ned nodded and tucked the Jews Harp back into his baggy pants, where he also kept a harmonica at his beck and call. “I was wondering when you’d finally talk about this mission.”
Captain Nemo gave him a dark look for a moment. He still wasn’t used to the brashness of this erstwhile crew member, but otherwise bothersome, arrogant American at times. “I don’t know why I don’t have you thrown overboard, Ned.”
“Because I’m taller than you.” Quipped Ned with a mischievous grin.
Captain Nemo shook his head, and then looked towards the island again. “I don’t like having no backup plan.”
“I’m sure they would be in agreement with that sentiment, seeing as all they had to fight with were those service revolvers and Mister Holmes’ unique sense of humor and outlook.”
“Don’t underestimate that man, Ned. He’s been in far worse situations and survived.”
“Not the first one.”
Captain Nemo’s face reflected a deep sadness for a moment. “I don’t ever want to hear you speak like that again on my vessel.”
Ned looked distressed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t’ mean to come off that way.”
Captain Nemo looked away. “I still remember him like the back of my hand.”
“They say he was much colder than this current one.”
Captain Nemo started to get angry again, and then realized Ned was sincere. He immediately bit the words about to erupt from his mouth. “Aye, but his heart was pure as snow.”
“I hear he was never the same after the loss of…”
“Aye…he wasn’t. And that’s what put him at the mercy of that blaggart, Moriarity.”
“And yet, you are friend with…”
“Aye. A finer man I’ve never met.”
Ned eyed Captain Nemo a moment, and then followed his vision to the island. “James is a different breed. I’ll give you that. Just don’t understand why he insisted on staying here, when he knew the danger they were facing.”
“Exactly why he did stay. Backup.”
“I thought you said you didn’t like not having a backup plan?”
“Me. Not them. They always have a backup plan.”
James climbed onto the sail platform and gave them both a nod and a grin. “Don’t believe everything you hear.”
Captain Nemo gave him a dark look.
James eyed Ned. “How soon until we can have a second raft manned and ready?”
Captain Nemo straightened up in alarm.
James eyed him closely. “Harry just sent me a message. Says they’re in a bit of trouble.”
“We’re in a bit of trouble here.” Harry said as he fought off a flying creature that resembled a giant bat, but with human hands and a face with fangs as large as a saber tooth tiger’s.
Sherlock snapped a shot off at a second one that had shot down at them from above. “Nothing we can’t handle, I’m sure.”
Watson clutched the throat of one of the bat creatures that stood in front of him, just shy of his height by a few inches, striving to sink its fangs into his throat. “Speak for yourself, Holmes.”
“I am.” Sherlock said, then swept around and snapped a shot into the head of the creature attacking Watson. It fell away from him and tumbled down the slope of the low mountain they stood upon.
Above them the skies were roiling with ominous clouds, ready to blossom with terrible bolts of lightning and siege force winds that magic was stirring up to combat them.
“We have to reach the temple before they are able to complete their ceremonies.” He hollered over the wind that was getting louder and louder, and threatening to shake them free from the tenuous narrow strip of path they stood upon.
“Grab hold!” Challenger called out from above, dropping a knotted rope with loops in it. “Quickly. Put the loops beneath your arms.
Conan and Challenger looked down at their friends below, anchoring themselves on their potion of the path by wedging themselves between two pillars that opened into a dark entrance before which lay several large demon like creatures with bullet holes in the center of their fierce looking heads.
Conan felt one of them move slightly, and kicked it again in its head for good measure. The movement stopped. “Dratted demons! Of all possible worlds to be born into, why in the name of God did it have to be this one,
Challenger cinched the rope tighter about him and the first pillar, and then grinned. “You always did like a challenge or you’d have never created this world to begin with.”
“I never created this world.” Conan complained.
“Be careful what you imagine, old man, your thoughts are powerful. I haven’t shown you yet a tenth of what your wild imagination has done to our world yet.”
“Well then.” Conan replied, cinching his rope tighter about the second pillar and grinning back. “I shall endeavor my best to never find out.”
“Climb as if your lives depended on it!” Challenger hollered down to Sherlock and Watson. He gave them a broad smile. “Because it does, the storm will be breaking any moment and I don’t think any of us can hold against that monster.”
Sherlock and Watson began hauling themselves upwards, hand over hand, using their legs to grapple the rope as best they could and steady themselves.
Houdini shot a burst of magic into a descending bat creature and it exploded in the air, its dying screams so loud and piercing that all the men felt violated by the touch of it, but nonetheless steadied and climbed.
“Row!” Ned roared at the sailors manning their posts in the second raft as it neared the breakers on the island. “Row as if your lives depended on it!” He yelled.
Ahead about a hundred yards Ned saw the first raft sucked in by a gigantic rip tide that had broken loose and mounted the rain soaked shoreline to suck at the first raft, which had been moored well enough at first, but not enough for the mounting tides that were now hammering the shore. Ned knew that rip tides normally were an undercurrent and usually didn’t affect the surface waves at all, but something about this island was different. Darker. More ominous. Dangerous.
The first raft was suddenly hurtled into the air and came streaking towards them, strings of seaweed and loose dirt and rocks flying ahead and behind it.
He crossed himself, and then yelled even louder. “Row as if your lives depended on it. Because they do!”
Harry carried a crystal ball on his right palm which was lit up so brightly that the interior walls of the entrance were sharply delineated, revealing numerous occult symbols and dark pictures, which made even him nervous.
“We are descending into hell.” He warned.
Watson, wiping at the sweat on his brow as he followed, countered. “What do you mean descending? We already are!” He swiveled to eye Sherlock, whose eyes were taking in all the details of their passage as they strode forth. “Why’s it so blasted hot in here, and freezing cold out there?”
Sherlock paused and placed a palm against the nearest wall. He frowned a moment, then eyed Challenger who did the same on his side. “Heat!”
“I suspect we are descending into an active volcano.” Sherlock surmised.
Challenger snorted. “And with our luck is ready to blow.”
Conan laughed. “Listen to us complaining like a bunch of school kids.”
“School kids get to get home after school. We don’t.” Harry shot back. “Now be quiet before the blaggarts inside here get wind of us and send a greeting party.”
Conan shut up.
He followed the others, dreading more and more the end of their path, because it was all becoming more certain to him where they were headed. Challenger eyed his friend. “You know this place?”
Sherlock and the others stopped to look at Conan. “I began a story before I…uh…died and crossed over to here.”
“What kind of story?” Challenger demanded.
Conan swallowed hard, almost afraid to answer as if that would make it all true. “When we ascended this mountain and first encountered the bat creatures I felt a certain familiarity because of the ones I had written into my own story.”
“What was the title of the story?” Harry asked, an anxious tone to his voice. He knew better than most how powerful thoughts were and the creative process as part of that.
“Doom in the Black Seas.”
There was a deathly silence.
“How did it end?” Challenger demanded.
Conan couldn’t summon the courage to tell them. He began to walk forward again. “We should hurry. I suspect we’re running out of time.”
“Why?” Challenger demanded, pulling Conan back to look into his face.
His answer came not from Conan but from the ground beneath them. It shook so hard that they were all thrown from their feet.
Ned and his sailor companions dragged the second raft hurriedly up the beach, the rushing sea water trying to pull them back into it as the rip tides continued to pull at the island, more and more fiercely. But with a great effort they made it to the safety of the nearby trees that anchored the shore about twenty yards inland. It had felt like a million miles from the effort expended. They threw themselves down in the lee of an overarching tree, the water temporarily shedding away from their soaked bodies as Ned stood up to survey the forest about them.
Nils, a swarthy sailor from the shores of the India Isles, cursed, and then sat up finally, catching his breath once more. “It’s as if the devil himself were after us, it is!”
Ned eyed Nils. “Then plainly you’ve never been on the Atlantic this time of year.”
“Oh aye, I have, but the Atlantic doesn’t have those!” He exclaimed pointing at giant bat creatures perched above them in the treetops, their furry wings dripping moisture, their teeth dripping saliva and their blood red eyes glowing with malice.
Ned reached for his pistol, but it was gone. “Oh barnacles!” He cursed.
“Run!” He yelled to his men.
They jumped up and shot for the beach again, only to be blocked by a dozen of the bat creatures who dropped from the sky and hurtled towards them.
Conan was the first back on his feet; his eyes wide open with terror. “We must leave this place at once!” He warned.
Sherlock was next to his feet. “What do you see, Conan?”
“It’s not what I see.” Conan explained. “It’s what I don’t see. The volcano is going to erupt. We’re too late to stop the ceremony. It’s already done!”
Challenger grabbed Conan as he rose. “Tell us the ending of your story!”
Conan eyed his friend. “A huge volcanic eruption wiped this island off the face of the map and hurtled pieces into the sky for dozens of miles around. The explosion is so huge it darkens the skies around the planet for weeks, and in some places brings about premature winters.”
“This is more terrible than we thought, Holmes.” Harry joined in. He pocked his crystal ball. “I agree with Conan. If we don’t leave now, we never will!”
The earth shook again, knocking them from their feet yet again.
Ned and his sailors stood with their backs to a great tree, knives and pistols drawn as the giant bat creatures began dropping to the wet soil about them, to stand stock still, until they were encircled by the creatures. They didn’t move. They just stood there.
Then a huge ground shaking movement began that threw even those dread creatures from their feet. Ned and his men had been braced against the tree and fared well.
“Run for the sea. It’s our only chance!” Ned yelled.
He and the men raced for the shoreline. One of the luckless sailors close to Nils was struck down by a bat wing and engulfed in its embrace. His blood curdling scream of terror stopped them. Ned swung back, and dove upon the bat creature slashing with all his might. He ripped at the gigantic wings, tearing them away, the bat thing screaming horribly as he did so.
He stuck his knife into its throat and blood spurted all over him.
The other sailors joined him.
The fallen sailor lay still, his throat torn out
“All for nothing!” A sailor cried out in dismay, as the bat creatures rose to their feet and surrounded them again.
Ned shook his head. “We don’t ever, ever leave anyone behind. Never, do you hear me! Never!”
The sailors hardened at that moment their nerves and their wills and readied for the battle they knew they couldn’t possibly win, when a gigantic shadow fell across them from above As it did so the bat creatures let out shrieks of terror and hurtled themselves into the sky. As they did so they exploded into fireballs and fell back to the ground, their dying shrieks tearing at the ears of the sailors.
Sherlock and his friends reached the entrance to the mountain temple just as a third earth shaking began. The entrance behind them collapsed, catching Challenger on the shoulder and side. Conan pulled his friend from the falling rubble before he could be engulfed, and the two lay on the shaking ground as the others did their best to stand up.
A giant shadow fell across them the same time as the earth stopped shaking.
Watson froze. “Oh tosh! From the frying pan into the fire.”
Sherlock smiled. “Hardly, Watson. Hardly at all.”
They all looked up.
Challenger, his right arm in a cast, stood with his back to the window, blocking any view from it by the others. They raised glasses towards Conan. “To our author without whom this day might be our last one.”
Jules and Wells drank up the toast, and then lowered their glasses.
“Dear Conan, how in the world did you ever know we would be outside to rescue you?”
“Because as I faced the obvious necessity of our escaping certain death, I also remembered what my dear friend, Challenger had told me inside the mountain.”
“And what was that, Conan?”
“That I had to be careful what I created with my thoughts. And…” He smiled at Challenger, and then at James Moriarity, who looked down at his feet, and then glanced at Jules and Wells with a fresh smile. “And I could think of no one more capable of saving us all at that moment than these two wonderful gentlemen.”
“Besides which James popped up in my mind and reminded me to get cracking!”
Ned, seated in a squat by the fire, plucked out his harmonica. “And fortunately for all of us, it was timely enough to save all of us. And also explains why he sent me, instead of himself to the island, though if he knew that much, why didn’t he just keep us on the boat?”
James looked up. The man who died was a traitor. I had to find a way to get him off the ship and he would never have followed me.”
“And how did you know that? Watson demanded.
“I didn’t like his shifty eyes.”
Everyone laughed, but Watson gave James a knowing look, which James didn’t look away from.
“But what of Captain Nemo?” Harry asked. “No one’s heard a thing from him since.”
Sherlock’s eyes glinted with humor. “Don’t be so sure.”
And with those words Ned began playing a lively tune that everyone joined in with stomping feet and clapping hands.
Watson pulled Sherlock aside. “Then he spoke with you?”
Sherlock continued clapping. “I do believe that Mrs. Hudson is at the front door.”
Watson forgot everything and raced down the stairs.
Harry came alongside Sherlock. “That was mean and cruel of you.”
Sherlock smiled. “Oh, but I did hear her knock. It is always three taps, one soft and two hard.”
Watson flung the front door to the flat open and swept Mrs. Hudson into his arms, causing her to drop her bags to the porch. They embraced a long time, both weeping joyfully in each’s arms, and then Watson let go and like the gentleman he was, lifted the bags and followed her inside, shutting the door behind him with a kick of the back of his right shoe.
Across the street Constable Evans and the Inspector watched the windows at 221B Baker Street from their wagon. “We should go in, father.”
“I suspect now would not be the best time with the news we have.”
“But we’ve got to tell them sooner or later. And besides, Mrs. Hudson is sure to tell them we brought her here and they’ll be curious as to why.”
The Inspector put the Tesla wagon into drive and the engine purred to life. He steered them into a u turn and headed them back towards their station.
“Another day, son. Another day.”