by Trevor Hopkins

The sirens seemed to be very close now. They would be here within the minute, I judged. I stuck my head into the darkened entrance in front of me. Inside, there were steep steps downward - not the drop-tube I might have been expected - which went on for several flights, with damp concrete walls. It looked as if it would take us well below street level, but of course nowhere near the subterranean caverns of the Goblins.

"Come on," muttered Nether over my shoulder, "We should be gone already."

I had to agree. As one, Nether and I slipped inside, trailed closely by Rosie and with Gumshoe following up the rear. As he ducked inside, his head bent, the doorway formed from the front of the filing cabinets slamed shut, leaving us in almost complete darkness. There was a squeak from Rosie. My eyes adjusted quickly; I could just see Nether reaching out to take her hand gently while Gumshoe fumbled for her other hand.

"Keep together," Nether hissed, "Findo, lead the way."

I scurried down a few steps. Nether tugged on Rosie's hand.

"Careful now," he said, "Just feel the steps with your feet."

A Goblin would have been down those steps and away in ten seconds, but it took several minutes for the humans to manage it. It was just as well neither Rosie nor Gumshoe are particularly tall, otherwise it would have been impossible for them to squeeze through. Even so, Gumshoe's muscular bulk must have been uncomfortably tight and particularly claustrophobic, especially in the complete darkness that he and Rosie would be experiencing.

The bottom of the stairwell was featureless except for a battered steel door that looked as if it was rusted shut, although it opened easily enough to my touch. On the other side was what seemed to be a human-constructed sewer, although not particularly noisome and with nothing more than a tiny trickle of water running along the gully. Mercifully, there was a little more light, enough for even Rosie and Gumshoe to see their footing.

"Which way?" Nether whispered.

There was a soft whistle along the sewer. We all swung around. It was my sister. She waved once and turned on her heel, disappearing out of sight around a curve in the tunnel. I looked at Nether.

"Better follow her," I said, "Unless you've got a better idea."

He shook his head, then tugged at Rosie's hand again. We hurried along, splashing through the occasional puddles and trying to avoid the worst of the liquids that poured or dripped from the roof. We could hear, and occasionally see, Trinity ahead of us; she managed to stay far enough ahead that we had no difficulty in determining which way she had gone at the junctions and intersections.

Finally, Trinity stopped and turned to face us as we hurried towards her. She gestured, then sprang upwards into a hole in the ceiling. When we reached the same spot a few moments later, I could see a steel ladder bolted to the wall, running into a vertical pipe that led to an inspection hatch on the surface. I could hear Trinity's footsteps on the rungs, receding quickly.

"Up there," I said to Nether, "You go first. Then you," I added, turning to Rosie.

Rosie followed Nether with barely a hesitation. Gumshoe followed her, while I kept a lookout until I judged that the humans were reaching the top of the ladder. Then I scurried up the ladder, my long arms helping me to move two - human-sized, natch - rungs at a time.

The inspection hatch at the top was already moved aside and I tumbled onto the pavement, in full daylight, at Gumshoe's feet. I fumbled for my sunglasses in my pocket and slipped them on. Mercifully, my hat was still in place, not that there were any other humans in this alley. Why do I spend so much time in the surface world skulking in alleys?

Gamshack gripped Rosie by the elbow and helped her to her feet. Then he hurried to the alley entrance and looked around urgently, getting his bearings, while Nether and I pushed the steel manhole cover back into its proper place. The he turned back to us.

"This way," he said firmly and pointing along the street, "Two blocks."

I too looked around, suddenly suspicious. Trinity had disappeared; vanished without trace in the way that Goblins are very good at, with or without magical assistance.

Part 36 Part 38