Back to the Underland

Actual key made by Matt at Arcane Armoury.

Regular readers of these tales will be aware of the circumstances which brought Doctor John Dee, the sixteenth century alchemist and Court Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth, to the island of Hopeless. You will, likewise, know why he was now frantically searching for a key to the Underland, a labyrinth of mysterious tunnels, the entrance to which lay far beneath The Squid and Teapot. In addition to this, an attentive reader will also have gathered that Durosimi O’Stoat, sensing the latent magical abilities of Philomena Bucket, had plotted to sacrifice her to Buer, who was generally believed to be a demon, but was, in fact, a Daemon, which, apparently, is not the same thing at all.

“Of course I know where it is,” exclaimed Philomena, in response to Doctor Dee’s request for help. She reached into her pinafore pocket and fished out a heavy, ornate, iron key.

“Bartholomew gave it to me to look after, until such times as he could decide where the best place to hide it might be,” she said.

“Ah… then give it to me, my very soul depends upon it,” said Dee, making a sudden lunge, only for Philomena to deftly step aside and his hand grasp nothing but thin air.

“And so does mine, it would seem,” said Philomena. “Do you know that this is all a plot by Durosimi? He has made a deal with Buer to hand him the key, and in exchange, Buer gets me. Body and soul, apparently.”

John Dee paled visibly.

“Then I cannot possibly go through with this,” he stated, a tremor in his voice. “If I must sacrifice myself to save you, Mistress Bucket, then I will gladly, though all the devils in Hell torment me. My time, however, is short, for Buer gave me but three days to find the key.”

“Nobody is being sacrificed,” said Philomena, gently. “I’ve spoken to Buer, and he is on our side. I need your assistance, though Doctor. I want you to help me find my magic powers; it is our only chance against Durosimi.”

“But, as I have said many times before,” replied Dee, “I have no magical abilities. How do you think I can I help you?”

“Well,” began Philomena, “whatever you choose to believe, you are the nearest to a magician that I’ve ever met. You are a scryer, an alchemist, an astrologer and quite the cleverest person on the island. If you cannot help me, then nobody can.”

“Very well, but I wish Edward Kelley was here. He would know what to do,” said John Dee, remembering how his old friend and colleague had frequently claimed to possess all manner of magical skills. In truth, Kelley had been something of a charlatan, far more adept at self-aggrandisement and the art of bluffing than John Dee could ever be. The Queen’s Astrologer was so convinced of his friend’s occult claims that, upon learning that ‘The Angels’ had confided to Kelley that it would be right and proper for him to occasionally share a bed with Mistress Dee, the good doctor accepted the idea without a murmur. Had Philomena known this, she might have revised her opinion, somewhat.

“I have every faith in you, Doctor,” said Philomena. “And if I am not mistaken Durosimi has given us a clue as to what we need to do. He is keen to get hold of this key, and as far as I know the tunnels all lead to the cavern where you first dropped into Hopeless. That seems to be some sort of magical hub. Something tells me we need to go there.”

“Then we should trust your intuition, Mistress Bucket,” said Dee. “I told you once that the magic lies deep within you, and when once awakened, will find its way to the fore, and nothing, or no one,  including yourself, will prevent it from doing so.”

“Then it needs to get a move on,” said Philomena, “and we need to get to The Squid as soon as we can. I’ve a lot to learn and there’s not a lot of time left before Durosimi expects to get the key and dispose of me.”

Tucked away in the corner of one of the attics of The Squid and Teapot is an old sea-chest; at least, that is what you are led to believe. It is, in reality, part of the brickwork of the inn, cleverly constructed to look like a sea-chest. Once the heavy padlock is undone and its lid is opened, a long, vertical iron ladder is revealed; it runs from the very top of the building to the cellars. On either side of the ladder, at its base, stand two doors. One leads to the cellars, the other to the cavernous tunnels, descending two hundred feet beneath the foundations.

Carrying candle lanterns, it was down this ladder and into the depths beneath the island that Philomena and John Dee ventured.  With their lanterns held high, they passed through the great, cathedral-like cavern, where Norbert Gannicox had once lit rush-lights, and down into the tunnels beyond, not stopping until they reached their goal. Philomena could remember when she had visited this place – wreathed as it was in what she called ‘Good Old Hopeless Fog.’ That was the day that they had first met Doctor Dee. The fog was still here, as was the comforting appearance of daylight beyond, but she was wiser, this time around. Philomena was well aware that this was no route to the shore, for there was no knowing what lay behind the foggy mouth of the cavern. Her first foray into its depths had drawn her, along with Norbert Gannicox and Bartholomew Middlestreet, into a great arena, enclosed on all sides by sheer walls of smooth, black obsidian. This, as it turned out, was actually Doctor Dee’s scrying bowl. After a brief visit to the astrologer’s study they, and John Dee himself, had been spat out into a helter-skelter ride through history.

Now, with their senses heightened, the pair could almost taste the raw magic emanating from within the recesses of the cavern. Instinctively they joined hands, drew a deep breath, and stepped into the fog.

To be continued…

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