by Trevor Hopkins

"Yes," Doonira said warily, "I thought so too."

"And about time."

The voice came from an indistinct figure who had just emerged from behind a tree a dozen yards away. It was a Goblin, I was immediately sure, one warmly dressed in an oversized thick Parka which looked as if it had been made for a human child. The hood was up, partially obscuring his face but leaving plenty of room inside for his ears. He wore no gloves and a pair of serviceable Goblin-made boots could just be seen below the lower rim of the coat. He carried no pack, either.

"Do you have to point that thing at me?" he added, sounding mildly peeved.

At the first sound of his voice, I had instinctively pulled my automatic from its holster under my coat and I was now pointing it unwaveringly at the newcomer. His hands were in plain sight and quite empty, and there was no sign of anybody else around. I sighed, clicked the safety back on and returned the gun to its hiding-place.

"Who are you?" I demanded, "And what are you doing out here?"

"I've been following you even since you got out of that car," he replied smugly, "Whatever do you think you’re doing associating with humans like that?"

"I think some humans can be trusted," I said cautiously, "At least sometimes."

"Maybe," he snorted, sounding amused.

The stranger made his way across the snow to where we were standing, then flicked down the fur-trimmed edge of his anorak. I could now see he was old, even by Goblin standards; wizened and tiny, although with the bright gleam of endless enthusiasm in his pale grey eyes.

"I know you," Doonira said suddenly, her eyes narrowing.

"You do?" I said, puzzled, "How so?"

"The good Doctor Quaig," the other Goblin interjected, sketching a bow ironically, "Pleased to meet you again."

"It was at a conference, at the University, on the social habits of the Old Ones," she said, studying him closely, "After my presentation, you buttonholed me. Told me I was wrong, in no uncertain terms. You were very vocal about it. Wouldn't leave me alone."

She turned to me.

"He's an amateur," she continued dismissively, "A dragon stalker." She didn't add, he's a nutcase.

"Bragrum, at your service," he said, bowing in my direction this time and smiling sardonically, "And I've been studying the Old Ones for longer than either of you have been alive."

"But what are you doing wandering around in this wilderness?" I demanded.

"Didn't you know?" he said with a maniacal grin on his face, "Here be Dragons."

Part 23 Part 25