The Conflagration

Edmund followed, realizing what he was planning. As fast as he could while cranking the lantern, Edmund chased Mr. Shobbinton, desperate to escape the tunnel before he was locked in the dark crypt forever.

He was too late. The dark little man leapt out of the tunnel moments before Edmund, and with a short arm, reached out and flicked the clock hands on the statue. There was a grinding noise, and the statue began to move, closing over Edmund’s head like a tomb, the silhouette of Mr. Shobbinton staring down at him with a horrible smile.

Edmund reached out to climb through the shrinking hole, when a well-shined boot came out of the night and planted itself on the top of Edmund’s head. Edmund felt himself fall, the clattering din of the lantern ricocheting around his ears. The stairs assaulted him from every angle, striking his shins, his arms, his back, and his chest as he fell, until at last he landed on the cold stone floor of the crypt.

Edmund opened his eyes just as the lantern skidded to a halt next to him, sending a shower of sparks spraying over the dried parchment that blanketed the floor.

The diagrams, the blueprints, the schematics, all of which were long since bereft of anything that could prevent their summary ignition.

Edmund barely had time to cry out before the ancient parchment caught and blossomed into a carpet of flame. He painfully pulled himself up off the ground, and threw himself on the flames, desperately trying to beat them out with his clothing. The pain was sharp, a biting heat that pierced his skin, but still he rolled about on the old designs, scraps of paper flying everywhere as they burned like glowing red autumn leaves, the flame melting them away like ice. As he rolled he saw a single fleck of ash, still glowing from the heat, float on the smoky air and land gently, like a falling feather, on the end of Orpha Moulde’s foot.

In the span of a second, the ancient cobwebs burst into a bright conflagration, turning the twisted skeleton dressed in webbing into a burning totem, wreathed in orange, the flames licking through the skull’s mouth and eye sockets. The open mouthed skeleton blazed a brilliant orange for a second, screaming silently into the burning tomb.

And then, in an instant, the room was plunged into darkness. Edmund wondered if he had been struck blind, the light had vanished so quickly. Then he hoped he had been, so he didn’t have to see the results of the flames.

Numbly he felt along the ground, sifting through hot flakes of shadow until he found the lantern and began to slowly crank it again. As the light grew he saw the burnt remains of the ancient papers crumpled and torn on the ground, and Matron’s skeleton, no longer held together by years of spiderweb, collapsed into a dusty pile of bones.

It had all happened so fast.

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