Duben was startled from his studies once again by the ring of the downstairs bell. He cursed--though not efficaciously--and stood up, his bones creaking.

This would make it the third time in as many days. The first time had been merely the Corrigenda he'd requested from Bretesse so long ago-- in fact, he'd thought Bretesse had died. Apparently not. Still, it would be a while before he could return to the study of the purification of stone, which he had left off upon discovering the radical restructuring Bretesse had done in the field.

Yesterday, it had been another long-awaited tome, the Treatise On Energumen by Tortellus. Duben had been skeptical of the claimed properties of this substance, but he had been surprised before. Someone would have to come up with a better name for it, though, or it would get filed under "insanity" in everybody's libraries.

Either of these deliveries would have pleased him well enough at any other time. But now, they paled before what he really awaited with as much impatience as his normally phlegmatic demeanour could muster.

At the door to his study, he paused to touch the inscribed Triangulum on the doorframe. If the blessing of Three were with him, then perhaps this would indeed be what he awaited. Although it certainly had little enough to do with the Three itself, which was part of its fascination.

The bell rang again. Not for the first time he wished he could still afford a housekeeper, but unfortunately his reputation as an unreliable employer had circulated too widely. He would have had to settle for a savage, who didn't even speak a civilized tongue and so had managed to avoid the web of rumour. Or take the path of Faschell, which he had heretofore avoided, being too pragmatic to risk something he wasn't even sure he possessed for a few worldly comforts.

"All right, I'm coming," he yelled as he made his careful way down the steps, whose formerly rich burgundy carpeting was now shabby, dusty, and covered with books. Finally reaching the bottom, he fumbled with the lock, sketched a quick triangle in the air before him, and opened the door.

He barely registered the face of the boy before him, or any of his words. The package was the wrong size for a book, or for anything but that which he awaited. He managed to dig a coin out of his pocket to press into the boy's palm, not even noticing its denomination. He had taken the package and closed the door again before he could see whether the boy's face shone with surprise or twisted with disappointment.

It was here.

He made his way back up the stairs, doubly careful because of the package clutched to his chest. He stopped himself on his automatic path to the study, and turned instead to go down the hall to the room he'd barely entered in months. The door seemed almost identical, except for the Pentaculum carved on the door instead of the Triangulum that adorned the study. Turning the knob, he entered.

The room was more brightly lit than the study, due to the glass skylight, through which sunlight shone to strike the floor. On the floor was another pentacle, outlined in wax with unlit candles at each vertex and intersection. At the center of the pentacle was an empty stand of brass, which, surprisingly enough, didn't seem to need polishing.

Duben set the box down on a small table in one corner, and proceeded to light the candles--utterly unnecessary in terms of light, but essential nonetheless. He left only one unlit, at the inner vertex nearest the small table. He then retrieved the box and took it to the brass stand.

Closing his eyes, he opened the box. For a brief moment he entertained the possibility that there was nothing inside, or a venomous serpent, or simple some worthless bauble. But his fears were allayed at his first touch. Utterly smooth surfaces meeting at crisp edges that, despite their obtuseness, promised to cut his flesh. Perhaps he should have worn gloves. With exceeding care, he removed the object and maneuvered it into the exactingly carved niche atop the stand. Then he knelt down on the ground, eyes still closed, grasped for a lit candle and lit the last taper. Standing and turning finally to the stand, he opened his eyes at last.

The crystal Dodecahedron, the symbol of energetic Five, holding prisoner spiritual Three and rock-steady Four and binding their powers into it. It was not so much its mystical properties that engaged him at this first sight, however, as its optical ones. The ten flickering flames of the pentacle formed a bewitchingly undulating whole in the center of the crystal. A small corner of his mind twitched with the effort to explain this all in optical theory, a fascinating idea for a monograph no doubt, although he had half a dozen just as good awaiting "a spare moment". But the rest was simply engaged in a primitive mesmerism, enspelled by the flame.

With an effort, he shook off the effect, averting his eyes. It would take no small effort of will to master this, it seemed; he might be better off taking more time to prepare, rather than making an impetuous venture without assessing the risks. Still, the literature on the Dodecahedron was scanty, and he would need to make his sallies and experiments if he hoped to contribute to the field, and perhaps make use of its power for himself.

Turning to leave, his eye was caught by a sudden flash. Automatically, he turned in its direction--

--and was snared, helpless, in the full light of noon, coming straight down through the skylight into the crystal. The sun's light was not comparable to a mere candle flame. The crystal's force was immeasurably stronger.

Because of Duben's lack of servants, it was only after smoke had been noticed issuing from the house that anyone investigated. After breaking down the door of the pentacled room, they found the floor covered with an odd pattern of wax, which was making the carpet smolder. The fire was easily attended to, but its circumstances remained a mystery.

All that was within the room was a small table, a brass stand containing an oddly-shaped crystal, and--oddly enough--a suit of clothes, which seemed more badly scorched than the carpet.

The crystal was sent to be appraised, but it was left alone after it sent two jewellers to Bedlam. One of them claimed, over and over, for the rest of his life, to have seen in the depths of the crystal a twisted, tortured face.

[Mark. Gooley gave me the words:


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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey /