Chapter 14.7

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"I dunno if I -" Slops began.

"What've you nutted out so far?" Mildew said, not unkindly.

"Well I – I think these things are the notes I have to blow," he said, pointing at the parchment. "And like Carmen said the ones that are lower are probably lower notes and the higher ones – um. So, there're only five different notes here."

"How many notes can the Oliphant play?" Ward said.

"Can't remember. Not many." Slops put the end of the flute in his mouth and blew a few hooting notes. A shiver ran up Ward's spine – he didn't think he'd ever get used to that sound. It wasn't unpleasant, but it made him think strange thoughts. Jaggles had once told him how the mere scent of blood could drive a domestic fel feral. The sound was like that.

Slops became a different boy altogether when he played the flute. Here was something he could do better than anyone else, and he knew it. There was a new confidence – almost a swagger – about him now. "There's five," he said. "That I can play anyway. Some wind instruments have extended – well never mind. Can you hold the parchment up in front of me?" he said to Carmen. "Right. So it starts on the third note, which is – this one. Okay." He slowly and haltingly began to play the melody. It became smoother and stronger as he repeated it, but always, Ward noticed, it faltered at the end of each line.

The door didn't move.

"What's wrong?" he said when Slops had stopped playing.

"These ones're different," Slops said, despair creeping back into his voice. "See? This one has a dot after it. And this one's got a funny little tail. I don't know what they mean."

"The last two seem closer together than the others," Mildew said. "Maybe you need to play them closer together? And those two that are further apart -"

"There's another possibility," Nick said. "That this isn't the Oliphant at all."

Slops's shoulders slumped. The confidence drained visibly from his face.

"It is the Oliphant," Ward said. "You know it is, Slops. Now come on – try it like this." He hummed the melody Slops had been playing, but made the last two notes stutter together. Slops put the Oliphant back to his lips and blew, but the melody was no longer smooth and strong, and the door remained sealed.

Mildew seemed to be battling the urge to take the Oliphant and strike Slops over the head with it, but when she spoke her voice was gentle. "You're the only one who can do this, Slops. Come on. It's almost in the bag."

Slops looked at her for a moment, his mouth an O. Then he turned back to the parchment and took a deep breath. When he played the melody it was as if he were singing it at the top of his voice, and for the first time Ward was struck by its simple beauty, this music from long ago, written by a forgotten man from a faraway place. He felt it in his throat, and his scalp prickled with recognition. And as the final note echoed away down the corridor, travelling through hidden passages and stairwells, he felt a sense of rightness about it, like when you turn a key in a well-oiled lock and the mechanism inside clicks into place.

So he was not surprised when a green light appeared on the wall beside the grille and the door hissed open.


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Let It Go: opening the portal to Hell since AD 2013.

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