by Trevor Hopkins

There was nothing more for me at the Starfield Club. I rubbed at the lump on my skull reflectively. It was still sore, although noticeably less swollen now. I thought it best if I made an attempt to dig into another part of the mystery, and perhaps even a couple of scores. I decided to find out exactly what Urquhart Garrick’s involvement was and what insight he could provide on the reason I was knocked unconscious just outside his lair.

It occurred to me that there was only one obvious - to a Goblin - route to Garrick's residence topside. This was of course the one I had taken on my previous visit. Knowing his reclusive, not to mention paranoid nature, I suspected he had that well covered by all kinds of magical traps and warnings, and quite possibly some technological ones, too - hidden cameras and so on. But, if I were to use a less obvious route - at considerable personal inconvenience, of course - then I might stand a chance of evading Garrick's protections and be able to, well, sneak up on him, catch him unawares.

*

Which was why, six hours later, I was cold, wet and distinctly muddy, standing in a field in the middle of the night. I started with a detour to another one of my secret hiding places, this time in the Lower Realms. I had a stash of various useful items underneath one of the ubiquitous urns of decorative or light-emitting fungi, set around the edges of one of the less-frequented public squares in a very up-market residential district. Nobody ever thinks to look for hidden items of dubious lineage or legality in this kind of neighbourhood.

I had arrived on the surface via a different exit from any I had used before, taken a late night bus to a small village less than ten miles from the hamlet of the Strawbury Duck. Then I traipsed across the fields in what humans would think of as darkness and everyone would consider vile weather conditions to arrive on the far side of a hedgerow which was - if my navigation skills were correct - the rear border of Garrick's property.

The hedge was high and unkempt, unbroken by gate or opening as far as I could see. I would have made a near-impassable barrier for any large creature, like a cow or a human, unless equipped with a powerful chainsaw. But this hedge had not been looked after in recent decades. A hedge which is intended to act as a serious barrier should be trimmed and laid regularly. This one had grown tall and leggy, and there was therefore little growth between the ancient roots at the base.

It was the work of a moment to identify and wriggle through a gap, forcing the low branches aside with my powerful arms, adding to the dirt on my clothes and the scratches on my hands in the process. I jammed my hat back on my head; it had been dislodged by low-hanging foliage. Keeping close to the ground, I made my way along the line of the hedge towards the accumulation of low buildings which I was relived to recognise as Garrick's residence.

A Goblin like Garrick would not want to live anywhere that did not have lots of exits. There were bound to be at least three ways in (or out) other than the entrance I had used on my previous visit. At least one of them would be at the end of a tunnel, a bolt-hole. The exit proper would be very well hidden and a long way from the buildings. Even so, all these exits would be carefully alarmed and booby-trapped, and I would be nuts to attempt a forced entrance through any of them, at least without the assistance of a small army.

Instead I sought another point of ingress from inside the ruined barn that disguised the underground residence. I reasoned that there would be ventilation shafts and chimneys from the living rooms and laboratories below. These outlets would no doubt be cunningly disguised and engineered so as not to show smoke or steam even in the coldest of weathers. Such an installation would undoubtedly require periodic maintenance. I was gambling that there would be access points - carefully hidden, no doubt - which would allow a degree of access to the lower rooms.

Ten minutes of silent and methodical searching in the roofless barn caused me to identify a weather-beaten but still heavily-constructed wooden case, firmly bolted to both floor and wall, and whose lid was secured by a couple of suspiciously new and strong padlocks.

One of the items I had collected from my stash was a general-purpose un-locker, another of those trade glamours for which I had paid through the nose, one which was strictly speaking illegal and so described in the most elliptical of terms in the advertisements. It was a magic which would open the padlocks and any other mechanically closed devices within a radius of ten feet, unless protected in some way.

I pulled out the little box and quietly read the activation. There was a muffled scraping noise, followed immediately by a couple of clicks as the padlocks released. I eased apart the hasps and lifted the lid to reveal a cavernous space within, dropping well below floor level. Bingo!

The box contained an assortment of pipes and machinery - all a mystery to me - but there was space enough between the fittings to allow me to slip inside, pulling closed the lid above me. As my eyes adjusted to the extreme darkness within, I could make out a dim light around the edges of what my questing fingers soon told me was an inner hatch, although secured on the other side. Trusting to the efficacy of my black-market glamour, I tapped lightly on the hatch with the heel of one hand, and grasped the suddenly open door with the other.

I swung myself through the hatch and landed on the ground as silently as I could. I appeared to be in a laboratory. It was very dark, but I could just make out various glass retorts and complicated apparatus all around. The pipes I had seen in the box earlier appeared to be positioned to suck away fumes from chemical - or perhaps alchemical - processes and to render them, if not harmless, at least not easily detectible from the outside.

What light there was came from an open archway at the far end of the long room, an opening which probably led to Garrick's library. I approached stealthily. Quiet voices could just be heard emanating from the other room.


Part 54 Part 56