When they bought the office, Dana rigged the door with as many windchimes as she could buy. While Robin toiled away in the back rooms, setting up bookshelves and display cases for their trophies and spoils, not of war but from their many jobs and travels, Dana hung windchimes so that the door would always open with a cacophony that could be heard through the entire building. Robin pretended to be annoyed, but when she heard the door open with a crashing noise with Dana’s cackling as accompaniment, she couldn’t help but feel something warm blossom in her chest. It was a rainy day when the door opened so fast it knocked down most of the windchimes. Robin jumped out of her chair when the crash happened, thinking someone was breaking in. Instead, Dana threw herself into the room with a piece of paper crumpled in her hands.
“Take a look at this!” She cried, waving the paper in Robin’s face. The words blurred together from how fast Dana was shaking it, and Robin had to grab Dana’s wrist to remove the paper without tearing it.
“Sightseeing on the Isla de la Muerta?” Robin tilted her head and looked up at Dana, “You realize this place is a myth, right?”
“Once upon a time there was an island paradise and the people who lived there lived in comfort and extravagance!” Dana struck a dramatic pose, “But alas! A mysterious disease took root in their water sources, and the people fell ill one by one. The island itself mourned the lost, and sunk deep into the sea. Now, read the back of the flyer.”
Robin flipped it over and frowned.
“What am I supposed to be looking at here?”
Dana grinned and pulled out her keychain, turning the little blacklight on. The back of the flyer lit up with glowing words.
A test of wit and skill to discover the mysteries of the island. Try not to be late, Lady Dana of Grove Street.
“Did you get a premonition about this?” Robin asked, rereading the note a second time.
“I was going to the grocery store to pick up some grapes to snack on during cases. You know how it is, grapes are good for psychics-”
“I don’t think that’s a real thing but continue.”
“-and I had a vision of myself taking this flyer off a pole on Seventh and Northwood. So I went out of my way to stop at the pole, and there it was. Obviously I examined it thoroughly, but I couldn’t detect any fingerprints or anything. Even the psychic trail was as cold as Old Lady Gladys’ corpse from the last case.”
“Don’t remind me.” Robin swallowed back bile at the memory of their last client’s grandmother lying face down with part of her leg eaten by some kind of animal. Or at least, what she hoped was an animal. The teeth marks looked a little too human for Robin’s liking.
“Come on, we have to go. The boat leaves at two sharp tomorrow. We’ll need to pack a lot of things. Do you still have the bucket hat I got you? And sunscreen? It’s a tropical island, I don’t want you getting sunburnt.”
Dana rambled on about the dangers of sun exposure, and Robin sighed. She had the feeling that they were about to get scammed out of whatever money they had earned from their last few cases.
There was a cruise ship at the docks the next day, and Dana could not wait to board it. As soon as the stairs were in place, she practically vaulted herself over the poor sailors setting them up to get on board. Robin gave them apologetic looks before hurrying after her. The staff on the ship all wore porcelain masks, the eye holes shrouded in darkness. Robin put her hand in Dana’s to keep the psychic from causing any destruction in her excitement.
“Why are they all wearing masks?” She whispered. Dana stopped vibrating in place and took a look around, “That’s… strange. Maybe their boss wants them to be anonymous? I mean, from the looks of it, there are going to be some really rich people on board this ship, and we all know how rich people get.”
“Out of my way!” A woman with a mink coat shoved past Dana and Robin, heading straight for the refreshment table. Dana eyed her coat warily, “Think that’s real?”
“Honestly? No. Look at the quality, a real mink coat wouldn’t be that patchy.”
“Where the psychic fails to discern, the detective steps in.” Dana gave Robin a high five as more people started coming aboard.
“Shall we mingle?” Dana held out her arm for Robin to take. Robin squinted at the crowd.
“If you insist.”
The two locked arms and headed into the fray.
“Hello!” Dana waved at the woman in the fake mink coat, “My name is Lady Dana, psychic of Grove Street, and this is my partner, the private investigator Robin Lee.”
The woman swallowed the shrimp she had just taken a bite of and gave the two a disdainful look.
“Are you here about my taxes? I’ve told those fools at the Bureau that I’ve been paying in full, but they never seem to believe me.”
“With all due respect, ma’am, we don’t know who you are.” Robin said, trying to keep her tone light.
“Ah, my name is Linda Smith, inheritor of the Smith family fortune and the Smith firearm business.”
“Oh, wonderful to meet you Miss Smith.” Dana held out her hand to shake, but Linda Smith busied herself with the refreshments.
“Yes, charmed. Pardon me.” She slipped past them to get to the caviar. Robin, meanwhile, turned her attention to a man in a suit.
“Hello, sir, my name is Robin Lee. You?”
“Charles Peterson, historian and curator at the Skyview Museum.”
“So you must be here for the historical discovery, then?” Robin pulled out her notebook and jotted something down. Charles, a rather short, rotund man, nodded.
“Of course. I’ve been studying the lost civilization of the island for years now. The other historians laughed, but we’ll see who’s laughing when I bring back artifacts of the society these people built before they met their untimely demise.”
Another man joined the conversation with a sharp laugh.
“You can keep your dusty old artifacts to yourself, but I’ll be taking the gold, thank you very much.”
“And you are?” Robin asked politely.
“The name’s Bruce Thomas, little lady. Don’t go forgetting it now.” He flashed an award winning smile, and Charles gasped, “Not the Bruce Thomas, famous oil tycoon.”
“I don’t know any others.” Bruce laughed. Robin searched the crowd for Dana and found her chatting with a man and woman with cameras around their necks. All conversations were stopped when the intercoms on the boat squealed.
“This is your captain speaking.” A voice came through the speakers that did not sound like it should be captain of any ship.
“The Royal Herring will be leaving the docks in approximately five minutes. Our staff will give you your room keys based on the tickets you bought. Enjoy the trip.”
One of the staff members handed Robin a key marked with the number one. She met Dana’s eyes in the crowd. Neither of them had bought a ticket.
Over the next few days, Robin and Dana got to know several of the people on the ship with them. Their lack of tickets never seemed to be a problem, as none of the people working ever brought it up.
“It’s like we’re stowaways.” Dana remarked one evening as they got ready for bed, “Running away from all our problems.”
“More like towards our problems. Are you sure you haven’t had any premonitions since we got on the ship?”
Dana frowned, “No, but I’ve gone longer without them.”
Robin made note of this in her notebook, “Still, something doesn’t feel right. Where’s the captain and the crew? All we’ve interacted with are waiters and other members of the staff.”
“How about tonight I try and do some searching?” Dana suggested, “You get some rest and stop writing, and I’ll astral project and explore the ship.”
“Try not to get lost again.” Robin grumbled, the memory of the first time Dana had astral projected still fresh in her mind. She had driven around the city for hours with an unconscious psychic in the backseat searching for Dana's spirit.
“It’ll be fine.” Dana got to work making a nest of pillows and blankets on her bed, “Don’t stay up too late.”
“Goodnight.” Robin shut her notebook and rolled over in bed, turning the light off. She was shaken awake by Dana the next morning.
“What’d you find?” Robin asked.
“Did you know that Linda Smith is going grey?” Dana whispered. Robin tossed a pillow in her direction, and Dana laughed, “All joking aside, I did find something.”
“The staff is actually the crew. I heard the captain talking about them laying anchor in the morning and starting the first test.”
“What’s the first test?”
The alarms on the boat went off, and Dana winced, “That’s the first test.”
The two shoved whatever they could back into their suitcases and ran out of their room. People wearing life jackets were shoving each other out of the way as they scurried back and forth in search of the lifeboats.
“What’s going on?” Dana yelled at the woman with the camera she had been talking to.
“The ship’s sinking! The lower decks are already submerged!” She yelled back, “Come with me, Raymond found one of the lifeboats!”
Dana took Robin’s hand and sprinted after the woman. Lowering the lifeboat was the man, Raymond, and Bruce. Linda sat nearby, fanning her face at a frantic pace as Charles tried to calm her down. Dana frowned, “Where are the other lifeboats?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Bruce shot back, “What they do is their own issue, but I’m getting to that island.”
“Island?” Robin asked. The woman pointed to the distance, where the peak of a mountain breached the mist.
“Oh wow, is that Isla de la Muerta?”
“According to the maps.” The woman said, pulling a folded paper out of her pocket and handing it to Robin. Dana was helping Raymond and Bruce lower the lifeboat.
“We can’t just let the others go down with the ship.” Robin protested. Then the boat tipped, and Dana pointed at the woman.
“Gloria, make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid!”
Gloria grabbed Robin’s arm to keep her in place. The lifeboat was lowered to a reasonable height before Dana jumped in.
“Women first!” Charles declared, promptly being shoved out of the way by Bruce as he climbed down into the boat. Gloria led Robin over and the two were in next, followed by Linda, Charles, and Raymond. The lifeboat was cut free, crashing into the waves, and Raymond picked up one of the oars, “Don’t start relaxing yet. If we don’t get far enough away this thing will drag us down with it.”
Dana grabbed the other oar, “Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your belongings.”
“What’s a little lady like you going to do that’ll get us away from the big boat?”
“Well if Robin takes the other oar it’ll be just like that time we had to go over a waterfall in a canoe.” Dana said with a pointed look towards Robin. She took the oar from Raymond and got into position.
“On three?” Dana suggested.
“Just like the falls.”
Dana counted to three and the two started rowing, dragging the lifeboat through the water with precise strokes.
“You should enter a contest.” Linda said as she held her hat on her head with one hand and gripped the side of the lifeboat with the other, “You two clearly know how to row a boat.”
Robin and Dana didn’t answer. It wasn’t that they were worried about losing the rhythm and falling out of synch. They knew each other well enough to adjust for any inconsistencies in their rowing. They were just more focused on getting away from the sinking ship before it dragged them under as well. A few other lifeboats dotted the waves as well, which made Robin feel a bit better about abandoning the other passengers on the ship. The ship itself was tilted at an angle, one end below the waves and the rest quickly following. Even from a distance, the lifeboat occupants could hear the loudspeakers crackling.
“To those who found lifeboats, congratulations! The next test will be making it to the center of the island, and you’ll need more than dumb luck.”
“Test?” Linda scoffed, “I didn’t sign up for any tests!”
Her aloof tone was not matched by the way her eyes searched the skies for a plane or some other form of help.
“Let’s just focus on getting to the island for now.” Raymond reassured. He turned to Dana and Robin, “You can get us there, right?”
Dana rolled her eyes, “Watch and learn, folks.”
Getting to the island wasn’t a problem. Getting to the center of the island, however, was a herculean task. Linda, determined to be as loud as possible, complained every time she stepped in mud. It was too hot but she wouldn’t remove the mink, there were too many bugs, and her feet hurt. Raymond and Gloria were slightly better, although they took pictures of everything and everyone. Charles talked extensively about the lost civilization, and Bruce grumbled about his gold. Dana and Robin walked hand in hand, following a path only Dana could see.
“It’s like a trail.” Dana explained to the others, “It just doesn’t exist on this plane of reality, so you can’t see it.”
They wandered for what felt like hours, no sign of ruins or civilization in sight. Eventually the group came to a chasm at the base of the mountain. Linda sat down with a huff, “Well, it appears we won’t be going any further.”
“Does the trail continue?” Charles asked, ignoring Linda’s whining about her predicament. Dana squinted at the other side of the chasm, “Yes.”
“Are you telling me…” Bruce trailed off as he stared at the mountain, “Are you telling me that we have to climb that?”
“Possibly.” Dana muttered as she started searching the trees.
“What are you looking for?” Gloria set her camera down to help.
“I need a branch and some vines. I think I can make a bridge across.”
“You can go on your fool's errand, but I’m staying right here until they send someone to pick us up. Then I’m suing the cruise company.” Linda crossed her arms with a huff. The others were quick to start looking for branches that would bridge the gap. As the sun set, Dana led those willing to continue over the bridge. It creaked and threatened to give way several times, but through their steady pace, everyone made it across.
“I’ll send you some gold if you’re lucky!” Bruce yelled across the chasm. In the distance, Linda waved him off dismissively.
“There’s a symbol in the mountain.” Robin observed, drawing everyone’s attention. Charles ran his hand over the carving, “The twin birds of Isla de la Muerta. This is where the civilization once was.”
“How can you be sure?” Raymond took a picture of the symbol as Gloria pulled out a voice recorder. Charles cleared his throat, “The birds that were said to live on this island had plumage sticking out of their heads. They were considered good omens to the people who lived here. The basket represents the prosperity of the island.”
“There’s a set of stairs over here!” Bruce called, “It leads right into the mountain!”
Both Bruce and Charles were trembling with excitement for two completely different reasons. Robin held in a laugh as she watched them scramble up the stairs, tripping over uneven ground or rocks.
“Are we following them?” Gloria asked.
“No.” Dana shook her head, “The trail doesn’t lead to those stairs.”
“Are you saying that it was another test?” Raymond took another picture with a frown, “They’ve certainly done a good job thinning the crowd.”
“Only a psychic could find their way to this point.” Dana explained, “Meaning someone out there invited me for a reason. The entire event was staged to get Robin and I here.”
“Why me?” Robin asked, “I’m not a psychic.”
“No, but we’re a package deal.”
Without another word, Dana pressed down on the symbol and the mountain shook as another set of stairs was revealed. She started walking up those stairs, and Robin glanced back at Gloria and Raymond.
“Are you coming?”
“We wouldn’t miss a scoop like this for the world.” Gloria promised, taking Raymond’s hand. They followed Dana up the path and to the unknown.
The twisting stairway led through the mountain, no sign of it ever crossing with the path Bruce and Charles had taken. A sense of foreboding had settled over the group. Just as Robin was about to say something to break the tension, Dana stopped.
“What’s wrong?” Raymond asked.
“The civilization isn’t lost.” Dana crossed her arms and stepped out of the way, “It’s just been in hiding.”
The stairs opened into an underground city. Robed people walked around, buying fruit from the market or talking by a fountain in the center of the city. A little girl approached Dana.
“Welcome to the City of the Lost Souls.” She bowed, “Lady Dana, the Regent has been expecting you.”