"It must be this way. The priest said it was this way. He said it was years ago but he still remembers."
"Are you sure..."
The two professors reached the bottom of the long spiral staircase the maintenance guys discovered scarcely a week before. Someone thought the oversized closet at the back of building B, the one with a single clerestory window near the ceiling, would make a decent enough faculty office or a makeshift writing center until better space could be procured, so they got them cleaning it. Out with the rusty, spider-infested birdcage, out with the seamstress mannequin, the old bicicle, and the rest of the rubbish lying there in a heap or leaning against the unfinished walls. They gave it a good scrubbing, all the way down to the threadbare carpet that seemed to melt at the touch it was so old, and, under it, the heavy oaken trapdoor with the big old iron ring furtively sunk in a groove in the wood. Curious, uncautious, they lifted it, and there it was, the spiral staircase dropping like an anchor into the deep dark.
"Are you sure we should go in like this, by ourselves, by the light of cellphones?"
"Shut up and keep that light forward. We're walking on rock now, damp and slippery. Be careful. Point that light forward, I tell you"
Even before their yes could fully absorb the sinister yet majestic spectacle, they felt the warm caress of ancient, musty air rushing over their skin, their face, then up and out seeking release. The giant cave had breathed upon them, like to fog a mirror, perhaps to fog their minds and inscribe on them, with a fleshless finger, an ancient warning, or a curse, "Do not enter."
"We should not enter!"
"Shut up. It's down there. They must have hidden it before commencement and the old priest must have seen them come through the trapdoor when they left."
"Why didn't he go after them, then? They were not supposed to venture this far into the old monastery, not without permission."
"Would you have?"
"Shut up then. Look. The path continues in an easy enough descent. Let's go."
And so they went, in fear and bravery, shoulders brushing gently every now and then, a hand on a forearm to catch one's balance, or a sideway glance to witness in the other's countenance one's own faltering resolve.
"How far down you reckon it goes? I don't think we're under the church anymore, maybe the library."
"Will you look at that." Chin raised, eyes fixed on the faraway cave ceiling. "The entire hill is hollow... built on nothing but old air and held up by brittle stalactite pillars. Can you hear that?"
Water and caves go together, so it is surprising that they should be surprised at the drip-drip-dripping sound echoing from further ahead. All that education and they are right back in the caves their ancestors left all those millenia ago, and, quite possibly, experiencing the same smallness and dread.
The next chamber was grandiose, hadean. It was monochromatic, the non-color of ash. Gone were the stalactite pillars and the ceiling was flat and slightly at an angle, moist and luminescent against their electric torch. Spaghetti-like transluscent formations pointed straight down and looked so fragile they both held their breath as they gazed at them, contemplating this sublime burial chamber worthy of a pharaoh, or the forgotten ruler of a Chinese kingdom, or a pair of academics in search of a relic from a simpler time.
"I think we must be close. Let's go through here, into the next chamber."
"You go first. I'll hold the light so you won't trip. Watch your step.
"Can you see anything? Is it there?"
And then they could both see it. Their reward. Will it be intact? Will it be salvageable? There, in a wooden chest sitting on a massive mineral formation resembling a marble altar - or a gaping mouth, open, to devour them, perhaps to speak...
"Remus. Literary Journal. Volume V."
"We found it. I cannot believe it. We found it. Read the names!"
"Here! Whitney Bishop, Signe Brewster, Alex Bronnenkant, Edwina Dennison, Zoe Edwars, Elizabeth Fletcher, Chelsea Graham, Arielle LaBrecque, Kelly Mangiantini, Adrian Petrilli, Melanie Pisano, Alessandra Potenza, Bridget Shingleton. They are all here, they were always here, waiting for us..."
"... to find them. To rescue them..."
And so, gleeful and exahusted, up the path and up the spiral staircase and through the trapdoor they went, holding, with great reverence, that testimony made of pulp and ink, made of sweat and dreams. Into the light again!