Adventurer Raymond Swift stars in......

Trail of the HMS Fortuna

A Far-Flung Epic in 9 Chapters!

by Andrea Tran
About the author

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Previously: Ray, Annabelle and the rest follow the clues to some ancient caves in North Africa, but are waylaid by Dr. Belarski. However, Ray manages to resist the doctor's sinister mesmerism and defeat his men. But Belarski flees deeper into the tunnels...

Episode 8: The Mysterious Chamber


  RAY AND CAPTAIN FITZROY TIED THE three Frenchmen using a reel of special wire from Raymond’s backpack. Then they collected the weapons, and assessed their situation. Annabelle was a bit shaken, but unharmed. They had one working torch, three loaded guns and the bayonet. The Doctor had disappeared in the dark, although they could not be sure he did not have a spare light.

‘Looks like the tables have turned on Belarski,’ Fitzroy remarked.

‘How did you manage to prevent him from hypnotizing you?’ Annabelle asked Ray.

He pulled a small object from his shirt pocket, a small box with a switch and some filaments around it. ‘Thanks to this little toy,’ Ray replied. ‘Annabelle, you remember mentioning a light when the Doctor hypnotized you. And the darkened room. But why would Belarski bother cutting the power off? My explanation was that his powerful hypnotic technique required dark surroundings, and a light to focus the victim’s gaze. This gave me an idea, and I had put this device in my pocket to test it. When Belarski surprised us on the ledge, I noticed that he did not hypnotize Irat, tying him up instead. He did not try it on any of us either, in broad daylight. These details seemed to confirm my theory.’

Annabelle was still puzzled. ‘But how...?’

‘This mechanism of my own design can temporarily cut off the power of any small electrical device it is directly pointed at. I assumed Belarski’s hypnotic light was powered by some small battery. So when he was right in front of me, my invention prevented his lights from working. It was a risky bet. He could have probably hypnotized me anyway, if I had given him a chance’

‘But why weren’t the torchlights affected?’ Fitzroy asked.

‘The mechanism has to point straight at the target to operate, and the torches were not in alignment with it.’ Raymond looked at the small box that had saved their lives. ‘But I am afraid it got damaged during the fight. We’d better hurry to find Belarski. We will come back for Irat later.’

They took a gun each, then Ray pointed the torch at one corridor, leading the way.

~~~

The cliff was honeycombed by many passages. Ray and the others lost the trail of the guiding symbols several times, as the carvings became almost unreadable. They were assuming that Belarski would have followed the markings too. And by now they were convinced he had a torchlight, as well. They were proceeding with caution. Fitzroy was advancing nervously. Annabelle started at every deceptive shadow cast by their light. They went a long way inside the maze, until the wind outside was no longer audible, their steps being the only noise echoing in the ancient passages.

Eventually they stumbled upon a roughly circular chamber entirely covered with the symbols. There were thousands of them. The domed ceiling was low, and they had to crouch down to enter. Ray shone the light around. ‘This is incredible.’ The symbols were engraved so closely together that the walls of the chamber seemed alive, the light playing tricks.

Then Ray noticed a strange shadow on the domed ceiling. ‘Look! There is an opening here!’ A shaft opened vertically from the stony roof. Ray shone the beam through it, faintly illuminating the distant ceiling of another chamber above.

Ray hauled himself up through the opening. ‘Be careful, Ray!’ Annabelle murmured.

The shaft was not very long, and he easily reached the floor of what seemed to be another sacred chamber. This time the ceiling was high, and the walls more regular than in the room below. His torchlight explored the room, slowly. The familiar symbols were still present, but they were not the main feature of the chamber. Above them, the walls were decorated by a multitude of beautiful, perfectly preserved cave paintings, in bold black lines and reddish hues.

‘Well, well…’ Ray said in awe.

‘Mr. Swift?’ Captain Fitzroy called from below.

‘It’s all right, Captain. I think you two should have a look at this…’ Ray replied, helping Annabelle and Fitzroy to climb up.

‘Good God!’ Fitzroy whispered slowly, turning around astonished.

Annabelle was speechless, her mind trying to grasp the full significance of the discovery. These polychrome pictures were on a par with the ones in Lascaux, or even Altamira! There were animal motifs, bison, gazelles, giraffes. There were also abstract symbols, some of them half-engraved, half-painted. It was an extraordinary sight.

Ray was directing the light at the walls, moving it slowly upwards to reveal more incredible pictures. Then the beam found the ceiling of the cave, and started coming down again.

‘Wait!’ Annabelle stopped Ray’s arm. ‘Go back higher…’ she said, squinting her eyes to see better. Ray turned the beam in that direction.

As the ceiling was illuminated, Annabelle and the two men held their breath in shock. The whole surface was decorated by one recurring symbol, painted dozens of times.

They were staring at thousands of years old paintings...depicting a modern airship!

~~~

The trio stayed silent for a long time, staring mesmerized at the ceiling. It was unequivocally the shape of an airship, with the stylized envelope criss-crossed by lines representing girders and, beneath it, a smaller semicircle depicting the gondola. The prehistoric artist had even detailed the airship’s rudders in simple lines.

Nobody had any words to explain the impossibility they were staring at.

Doctor Belarski chose that precise moment to strike.

He emerged from the shadows behind Annabelle, and in one violent motion snatched the gun she was holding and put his arm around her neck. The girl cried in terror.

Raymond and Fitzroy turned around surprised, pointing their guns. They were faced with the sight of Belarski holding a gun against Annabelle’s head!

‘Throw your guns down the shaft you came in!’ Belarski ordered. Ray and Fitzroy glanced at each other, then slowly complied. The two guns clattered through the shaft and onto the floor below.

Without releasing his grip on the girl’s neck, Belarski’s reached his jacket pocket with his hand. He produced a very powerful pen-light, switched it on and pointed it at Ray. ‘Now your torch, Mr. Swift. Put it on the ground, and roll it towards me!’ Ray did so. Belarski caught it with his foot. ‘Good.’

He then turned Ray’s torchlight, so it was directed towards the American and Fitzroy.

‘Your clever trick made me waste precious time, Mr. Swift.’ His voice was now cruel, merciless. ‘But I am not the kind of man you can take by surprise more than once. You have stretched my patience too far.’ He slowly turned the pen-light up towards his own eyes, which shone with a malevolent, awesome energy. His figure was now in the dark, except for his ghastly bottom-lit face. ‘Never underestimate Laszlo Belarski!’ he shouted, his eyes turning a glowing red.

Ray and Fitzroy were invested by a wave of mesmeric energy emanating by Belarski. Before they could look away, their eyes were glued to the Doctor’s. Both men grabbed their heads, trying to fight the monumental power infiltrating their brains like a tentacled, probing creature! Then they fell on their knees, screaming in pain!


On to Episode 9: The Fate of the Fortuna! (Conclusion -- we mean it this time!)

Back to Episode 7: And now...Dr. Belarski


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The Trail of the HMS Fortuna is copyright by Andrea Tran. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)