by Trevor Hopkins

The tunnel ended after a hundred paces or so, on a wide shelf of rock jutting out into an open space, the extent of which was at first difficult to see. There was no barrier, no wall to mark the edge of the balcony. Whoever lived here wasn't afraid of heights. In fact, judging from the scuff marks in the sand and in the bare rock, whatever lived here had large claws and preferred to fly rather than walk. Beings like that are probably to be avoided wherever possible.

I strolled up to the very edge and looked around. Gumshoe and Rosie approached more cautiously, hanging back from the precipice. Humans are not good with heights, I find, and always seem to want railings and banisters at the edge of even the most modest drop.

A vast cavern, bigger than those constructed by even the most ambitious Goblin endeavours, stretched out in front of us. It was sporadically lit by red glows from a multitude of places, on the ground and on the walls. The red lights were not fires in any conventional sense. The beings who inhabit this Realm, I knew from my studies, had long ago perfected the art of making the rocks glow to provide light from molten rocks deeper still in the earth, without transferring more than a tiny fraction of the associated heat. It was a trick not yet replicated by even the famously-skilled Goblin magical artisans.

"What is this place?" Rosie asked in a hushed whisper.

"It's one of the Hells, the lowest of the Lower Realms," I told her, "Not many Goblins ever come down here."

"So who does live here?"

I spoke softly.

"Other creatures. Ones we probably won't meet. Creatures who like to keep themselves to themselves, who like their privacy. We should stay out of their way."

"I think that would be a good idea," she whispered. Gumshoe nodded violently in agreement.

The ledge we were standing on appeared to run along the wall of the cavern in both directions, one leading vaguely downwards and the other tilting slightly up.

"This way, I think," I said, pointing in the direction which led upwards.

Together we set off at a slow walk. After a few minutes, we approached one of the sources of the red light, a patch of rock several tens of feet on a side, set in the face that edged the balcony. Apart from the glow, there was nothing remarkable about the rock. It was not even particularly warm to the touch, as Gumshoe discovered when he approached for a closer look.

As we walked, a thought occurred to me. I turned to Rosie.

"When we fell," I asked, "You cried 'Oh no, no again', didn’t you? What did you mean?"

Rosie stopped dead, as if a sudden realisation had occurred to her also.

"Before," She said slowly, "I remember falling before. Just like that."

I glanced at Gumshoe, who looked puzzled.

"I think," I said equally slowly, "That we've just realised how you got to the Lower Realms last time."

Rosie’s eyes opened wide.

"You're right. But I never remembered before."

We walked on in silence. There was no sign of movement, other than the ever-present flicker of the red lights. Once or twice I thought I caught a glimpse of movement in the far distance, as if some vast creature was flying around. But otherwise it seemed we were on our own, although probably not unobserved, given the reputation of those who make this Realm their home.

As we walked, we passed a few shallow alcoves, huge depressions in the rock face, which we cautiously explored. But there was nothing to see, nothing to suggest they were anything more than natural fluctuations in the wall.

We had just passed the third alcove when there was a grating noise, as if a vast stone block was shifting lubricated by only a few grains of sand. We spun around, both Gumshoe and I automatically reaching for our guns - although I doubted such crude technology would be any kind of protection against anything we might encounter down here.

A voice boomed out of an open doorway which had appeared where the alcove once was.

"Findo Gask!"

It seemed my fame had preceded me. I put the gun away and walked towards the now-opened alcove. There was no point trying to run.

Part 72 Part 74