Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises (10 page)

BOOK: Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises
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“You okay, dude?” Marco asked.

“F—” I couldn’t even say
fine
. My jaw was locked tight.

I couldn’t stay here. Below me, the smooth floor seemed to vibrate like a delicately plucked string. I ran out onto the balcony that surrounded the grand entrance hall. A song seemed to be flowing from above, only it wasn’t sound really, and it wasn’t light either.

Bhegad had stopped talking. In a moment Cass, Marco, and Aly were by my side.

“Do you feel it?” I whispered. “Do you hear the song?”

Bhegad was standing in the door, watching us closely. Below us, the skeleton seemed to be glowing. Some of the bones were dissolving, shaking loose. They floated, re-forming in midair. The neck was shortening, the tail growing longer,
as if the creature had not been put together quite right and was correcting itself. Other bones flew in from other skeletons. The beast’s form was changing, its mouth growing rows of sharp teeth, its claws sharpening.

A white shroud began to form around it, slowly sapping color from the room, until a transparent film of mosaic scales had wrapped the beast from head to toe.

I felt bolted to the floor. I saw nothing now but the pale ghost of a shrouded reptilian giant. And the piercing, unmoving eyes of Professor Bhegad.

“Jack?” Aly said. “Are you okay?”

Why wasn’t she looking upward? Why wasn’t anyone? I blinked once, twice. I shook my head. “Look!” I said. “
Open your eyes!

As if in answer, the creature turned toward me.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
T
HE
F
IRST
T
REATMENT

I
T IS THE
largest of them all. It bounds over the ridge, slashing trees in its path. The red raptors—griffins—surround it like hornets, dive-bombing, screeching. But it springs from its haunches, grabbing one of the taunting raptors out of the air and crushing its neck. I turn away as it holds the bird-lion under its claw, waiting for its twitching to stop.

I do not want it to see me. So I continue to run. Until I hear a voice
.

I know the voice. It is my brother’s
.

He is my age, but we look nothing alike. I am angry with him, but I don’t know why. He is telling me to come, to escape with him
.

A fireball plunges from the sky, nearly taking my head off
.
I believe my brother’s plan is doomed. But I see an escape: a scorched pathway through the woods, leading over the ridge. I point that way and call to him. His name comes off my tongue, but I can’t hear it
.

And now I can no longer see him. Where is he? I hear his voice behind me. Then to my left. My right. Above me. I turn and turn, helpless, confused
.

And I see the great creature looming above, the head of the lion-bird gripped between its teeth
.

It is coming for me
.


No!” It is the first word I hear out of my own mouth
.

The beast laughs, dripping blood from its jaws. “Ja-a-a-ck…” it says
.

“No-o-o-o-o!”

“Jack!” a voice called out of the darkness. “You’re awake, Jack. You’re healthy and alive and in the real world! Welcome back.”

My eyes blinked open. I saw charts and beeping LCD monitors and IV tubes. For a moment I thought I was in Belleville again, and this whole adventure had been a horrible dream.

But the voice was Professor Bhegad’s, and he was dressed in a white lab coat. The silver-haired doctor from the submarine—Dr. Bradley—was adjusting my IV tube.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Your first treatment happened,” Dr. Bradley replied. “It wasn’t scheduled yet, but you collapsed in the House of Wenders.”

“You were having visions,” Bhegad said. “The timing of the first symptoms is unpredictable, which is why we’ve been monitoring you so closely since you arrived.”

“Now you tell me!” I said.

Professor Bhegad smiled. “The hump is over, Jack. After this one we can time the other treatments nearly to the minute. From here on in, they will be given to you before anything bad happens. You will receive a schedule.”

“Lucky me.” I sat up, feeling weak. I thought of the museum. “I…felt something in there. That building…”

“Yes,” Bhegad said. “The others did, too. To a lesser extent, but that may be because they’ve been here longer. For the Select, physical relics of the ancient world seem to act as conduits to the past. It as if the past and present are together.”

“I saw the creature move,” I said.

Bhegad cocked his head. “The others did not see that. To them, you screamed and fell to the floor. They are concerned about you.”

“Why didn’t they see it?” I demanded.

“I—I don’t know,” Bhegad replied.

“There was a song, too,” I said. “Not really music, but more like…a call. From one of the rooms.”

“The Wenders Collection?” Bhegad said. “Just above where I was standing…one of the rooms leading into the balcony?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Fascinating…” Bhegad murmured. “That is where we keep the most unusual relics from Dr. Wenders’s archaeological digs. We believe he alone possessed knowledge of where the heart of Atlantis lies. The place where the seven Loculi must be gathered to regain the power of the lost continent. But his studies were never completed. After his young son died, at age fourteen, he fell into grief and began trying to destroy all he had discovered. He died a broken and confused man.”

“Age fourteen?” I said. “Was he…?”

“Yes, young Burt Wenders was most likely a Select,” Bhegad said.

I lay back in my bed and closed my eyes. I could still hear—feel—what was coming from that room. “So…that’s one of our tasks, isn’t it? To find that place where the Loculi were gathered. Which no one has done in thousands of years.”

“Give yourself a night’s sleep and a good shower,” the professor said softly. “It’s been a long day.”

I spent the rest of the night in the hospital.

Wide awake.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
H
ERMAN AND
B
URT
W
ENDERS

“I
T’S OBSIDIAN
,” C
ASS
said, staring at a jagged rock he held up to the light through the dusty windows of the Wenders Collection room.

Marco shrugged. “Seems well-behaved to me.”

“Obsidian, not obstinate, you ape,” Aly said.

“Oo! Oo! Oo!” Marco grunted.

I felt as if I were floating somehow. The Wenders Collection was alive to me in ways that I couldn’t understand. Down the center of the room ran a solid oak table with neatly organized glass boxes full of artifacts. The dark wood walls were lined with cabinets, stuffed to bursting. Wherever I looked, I saw bones and potsherds, scraps of clothing, artwork. Each seemed to be calling to me somehow,
crowding my brain. Each was its own déjà vu.

I felt stronger today. Bhegad insisted it was because of the treatment. The others assumed the same thing. But a part of me couldn’t believe it. Yes, Aly had passed out, and I’d had some kind of spell. Yes, we were both whisked away behind closed doors. But maybe we would have recovered anyway. Maybe the “treatments” were nothing more than keeping us out of sight until we were well.

The better to make their story seem true.

I took the rock Cass was holding. It was palm sized, an odd, geometric shape that looked like it had been carved.

“That’s sad,” Aly said.

“That’s gross,” Marco remarked.

“This was found on Herman Wenders when he died,” Bhegad said. “He had gone missing for days, mentally unraveling over the death of his son, Burt. When Wenders reappeared, he seemed haunted, babbling to himself. Claimed to have seen the center of Atlantis. The Scholars tried to take him seriously. They attempted to nurse him back to health, all the while gently coaxing him for details. But he would lapse into a confused silence and stare hopelessly at this rock.”

I looked up above Professor Bhegad’s head to a portrait of Herman and Burt Wenders. The father was grim and scowling, with a trim, gray beard and a waxed handlebar mustache. He sat ramrod straight in a neat, dark jacket. His son looked energetic and full of mischief, like he was dying to tell the photographer a joke.

Like he was dying to tell me something.

What?

It was amazing how a good photographer could make a person come to life. I had to glance away. “Did anyone find the place Wenders was talking about?” Marco asked.

Bhegad shook his head. “No, alas. We believe it exists, or it did. Our transcription told of a deep fissure at the center of a valley. The source of the continent’s extraordinary power. A connection to the spirit of the earth. Before the
creation of the Loculi, for generations the Atlantean king and queen made pilgrimages there, to find peace, wisdom, discernment.”

“I had a new version of the dream—our dream,” I said. “I was there at the destruction of Atlantis again. But I had a brother. He was calling to me. Did any of you guys have that one?”

Cass, Aly, and Marco shook their heads.

“Was it Karai or Massarym?” Bhegad asked, his eyes intent behind his glasses. “Which one were you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t remember.”

“You must start writing these things down.” Bhegad took a deep breath, his brow deeply creased. “As for the source of the great fissure, there are none on this island that we know of. We do know that there was a severe geological cataclysm when the island sank, which might well have changed the landscape considerably. We worry that the fissure is underwater. Some scholars thought Wenders’s mysterious rock might be some sort of key. But it is likely the delusional ranting of an aggrieved father.”

With a sigh, I put the rock down on the oak table.

As soon as I let go, I nearly jumped. That strange feeling jacked up a notch. Like a mild electric shock.

Look closer
.

I swallowed. I wasn’t sure where the suggestion had come from.

“Um, Professor Bhegad?” I said, placing my hand back on the rock. “Can I take this back to the dorm to examine?”

He looked at me curiously. “Of course. You’re not going anywhere out of my purview for a long, long time.”

I shuddered at that comment.

As I slipped the rock into my pocket, it was warm to the touch.

“I hate the way he talks about Wenders,” I said, holding the rock up to the great Medusa chandelier in the dining room.

“I hate the way he talks about everything,” Marco said. “What’s a purview?”

We were sitting at dinner now, in a table by a corner. According to Aly, the chandelier mikes couldn’t pick up our voices here. The great banquet table for my welcome dinner had actually been lots of square tables pushed together. Now the tables were dispersed throughout the great hall, and people were huddled together over papers, laptops, tablets, and all kinds of handheld devices, chattering busily.

“‘Delusional ranting of an aggrieved father,’” Cass said, imitating Professor Bhegad’s voice. “What does he know about losing someone?”

Aly shrugged. “He might. He’s old enough to have lost parents, or at least grandparents.”

“He’s a cold fish!” Marco shouted. “And I don’t care if he heard that.”

I was staring at the poem, noticing the shape of the lines. “Guys,” I said. “Do you think this thing is some kind of code?”

Aly looked at it closely. “It’s worded funny. But it could just be old-school Victorian poetry. You know, like he couldn’t stand to see the light of day. The dawn brings life and light, but it also burns—very
Romeo and Juliet
. The best version being Zeffirelli’s, IMHO, but that’s another discussion. Anyway, the brightness reminds him of his son’s life and makes him feel bad. Also, you know, there’s a similarity in the words
son
and
sun
? Another thing—he says ‘I burden west.’ The sun sets in the west. So maybe he’s, like, wishing for his own sunset. His own death.”

We all stared at her. “Did you just think of that?” Marco asked.

“Gnizama,” Cass said. “I’m sitting next to you in English class.”

Aly’s face turned red.

“But notice the shape,” I said. “The three lines of the poem are arranged funny. Like they’re in two columns—one column under Burt, the other under Wenders.”

Cass leaned closer. “He kind of had to write it that way. The rock is bent.”

They began changing the subject, talking about Marco’s martial arts exploits and Aly’s improvements to the Karai security system and Cass’s ability to re-create a topographical map of the sea floor around the island by memory. They were all psyched about going back to their training tomorrow.

The geek movie buff, Mr. Memory, and Athlete of the Century.

No one was taking my idea seriously.

I felt like Herman Wenders. Burnt. And not looking forward to dawn at all.

BOOK: Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises
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