by Trevor Hopkins

Rosie sat down heavily on the soft stone chair behind her; more precisely, she collapsed as if her legs were suddenly too weak to support her. She was showing distinct signs of strain - not surprisingly, given what she had been though over the last few days. By contrast, Gumshoe seemed unfazed; he remained standing and adopted the familiar attentive pose that meant he was taking in everything that was said and all the body language nuances as well. Exactly how he would get on with the involuntary movements of a Hellish demon remained to be seen.

Meanwhile, I blew smoke and waited with badly-disguised mock patience.

Faced with this level of alert attention, the Old One contrived to look mildly sheepish, which is a difficult feat if you are fifty-foot long fire-breathing winged lizard.

"We have to confess to being without reliable information," he rumbled, "We hear a few things, we sense others, disjointed and confusing. A few hints and whispers have reached our ears about a great magic, one capable of changing the ways of Goblins forever. We hear the name of this Garrick, with whom we know you share a long history."

The Old One paused, his head moving almost imperceptibly as his gaze swept over us all.

"And there is one word, a word we have heard repeated, a word we believe is native to your language" - he nodded at Rosie and Gumshoe - "but we are not sure what it means."

"Let me guess," Gumshoe said suddenly, stepping forward, "Dulelm?"

The Old One's eyes narrowed and his head swivelled rapidly and precisely to focus on the human PI. The Old Ones are reputed to have exceptionally keen eyesight, even able to observe the throb of a pulse in throat or temple.

"You've heard this word? Recently?"

"Dulelm Hollows. It's a settlement," Gumshoe answered immediately, managing to avoid looking smug, "A human village. On the surface. Not far from New York."

The Old One narrowed his eyes further, bringing his head down to a level with that of the standing human. Gumshoe stood his ground, returning the penetrating stare with a surprisingly calm gaze. After a moment, the Old One raised his head and shook it momentarily, as if in disbelief.

"I knew we should have been paying more attention to what you people have been up to," he muttered to himself, using the Goblin tongue.

There was a faint chittering noise, almost inaudible even to sensitive Goblin ears, as if a vast congress suddenly undertook an earnest and high-speed debate on some minor and subtle point of procedure. The noise was gone almost as soon as it had begun.

"So you don't know much," I said cockily, grinding out my cigarette butt under my heel.

(It was only a little later that I noticed that the butt had entirely disappeared, as if the floor had swallowed it up. I guess the Old Ones just liked to be tidy.)

Oblivious at that point to my untidy littering, I ticked off the points on my fingers as I spoke.

"Garrick is hiding things, even from you. He's probably stealing magic from you, but you don't know what, and he appears to be planning some masterstroke about which you know almost nothing, except that it has something to do with some backwater township almost nobody's ever heard of. A pretty picture, indeed. So what do you expect a couple of flatfoots and a city barkeeper to do about it?"

The Old One paused for a moment, visibly fuming. By which I mean that smoke was emerging from his mouth, profusely – perhaps more profusely than usual. Not really surprising, under the circumstances.

Once again I could just hear that chittering sound, this time sounding more positive as if a consensus had eventually been reached.

"We have every confidence in you," came the reply after a short delay, "We just do not have any more information to give."

It seemed that the Old Ones really did not like being without their traditional omniscience. Perhaps I was going to enjoy this new commission after all.

Part 76 Part 78