The York city archives were full of the smells of must and dust. With their stone walls, old shelves, and narrow windows, they were like something from the ancient past. A gas lamp provided a modern touch, allowing Dirk Dynamo to read the papers spread out across the table.
“What have we got so far?” he asked.
“Not much,” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms said, pausing to clean his glasses on a silk handkerchief. “I assumed that, if the ground was shaking, then there would be some sort of geological cause. But I’ve looked over nearly every survey of the area and I can’t find anything to explain it.”
Shuffling footsteps announced the arrival of the grey-haired archivist who had been assigned to help them. He placed a handful of thin folders on the table.
“These are the last of them,” he said, his voice a hoarse rasp. “Is there anything else you would like?”
“Not for now,” Blaze-Simms said. “Thank you.”
The man turned to leave, light glinting for a moment on a silver tie pin in the shape of a crown.
Blaze-Simms flicked through the contents of the folders. Dirk was endlessly amazed not just at his friend’s ability to read so fast but at his ability to take it all in, to find the connections between different information and ideas.
“Still nothing,” he said, flinging himself down in a chair.
Dirk stared at the maps, diagrams, and reports scattered across the table. As he did so, the ground shook again and a row of books cascaded from the shelves. Outside, falling tiles hit the pavement.
“Where can we look next?” Dirk asked as the disturbance passed.
Blaze-Simms shrugged. “Not a clue, old chap.”
Dirk looked through the documents, but he knew that it was futile – if Blaze-Simms hadn’t found something then he certainly wouldn’t. But being cooped up in this small room for hours wasn’t doing much for his sanity.
Setting the papers aside, he headed off down the corridor. On instinct, he moved with the same silent ease that had let him, despite his bulk, stalk fugitives across the western plains and criminals through the streets of Chicago.
Up ahead, the archivist crossed a junction between stacks of shelves. He was carrying a folder like the ones he had given to Blaze-Simms.
Hadn’t he said there were no more of them? Something was amiss.
Dirk followed the archivist through the stacks, down a staircase, and into a cold corridor junction with no windows. Corridors went off in three directions and he had no idea which way the archivist had gone.
He took a deep breath, suppressing annoyance at himself for letting the guy get away, and considered his options. Two of the corridors were well lit. In the third, someone had turned down the gas lamp, as if they wanted to draw attention away from what lay there.
Down that corridor, Dirk found an old oak door standing ajar. He eased it open and stepped inside.
This was clearly one of the oldest parts of the archive. The walls were lined with rolled up manuscripts and ancient looking books, some preserved in glass cases. On a desk in the middle of the room sat a familiar looking folder.
Dirk opened the folder. Inside was a sheet of paper with the same heading as the geological reports, but just a few short lines of content:
“Regarding the anomalous findings around Micklegate, refer to-”
Beneath that was a reference number similar to those marking the shelves in the room.
As Dirk looked around for the reference number, the door closed behind him. There was a click and a thud of a heavy bolt settling in a lock.
Dirk grabbed the door handle and turned, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Hey!” He hammered at the door. “Hey, let me out!”
No-one answered. Dirk considered how few people he’d seen around this place. No-one would be passing casually by.
Dirk evaluated the door. It was made of heavy, ancient oak, bound in iron. It was sturdy, clearly designed to keep thieves out of this room.
But then Dirk was sturdy too.
He lined up his shoulder and got ready to charge.
Blaze-Simms looked up as Dirk came into the room.
“I say, there you are!” Blaze-Simms said.
“Here I am.” Dirk almost groaned the words. It had taken him an hour to break open the door. Both of his shoulders had been reduced to vast, aching bruises. He hoped it had been worth it. “Got you this.”
He placed the folder on the table in front of Blaze-Simms, and beside it the document referred to inside. Based on the apparent age of manuscript and the wax seal, he guessed it was medieval, but he couldn’t read the strangely written Latin.
Blaze-Simms glanced over the document.
“A construction commission by Richard the Third,” he said with a shrug. “He did a lot of work in York. But that doesn’t help with the town falling down now.”
“What did he want constructed?” Dirk asked wearily. It was hard to accept that, after all this effort, all he had was a red herring.
“Something under Micklegate,” Blaze-Simms said, turning back to his heaps of reports. Then suddenly, as realisation dawned, he looked up. “Under. You think this is causing the problems?”
“I hope so,” Dirk said. “Because if not, I just busted up some ancient architecture for nothing.”
“Well done, old chap!” Blaze-Simms sprang from his seat and slapped Dirk on the shoulder.