by Trevor Hopkins

Doonira swung herself around to glare at me angrily.

"Why didn't you tell me this?" she fumed.

"You didn't ask," I replied, shrugging my shoulders, "You did ask loads of questions, remember? I could barely keep up with answering them."

"You didn't question your own assumptions, did you?" Bragrum interjected, looking at Doonira shrewdly, "So much for the professional academic's disinterested viewpoint, then."

Doonira subsided with a modicum of good grace. It took a surprisingly short amount of time. Maybe she was learning just a little. Then something occurred to her – reoccurred, I should say.

"You said the missing Old One was close," she said to Bragrum urgently, her eyes bright with interest and some other emotion I couldn't immediately identify, "Can you get me close to him, let me see him?"

"The Old One has been expecting you," he replied mysteriously, "I can do better still. I can take you to the Old One's personal presence. In fact, I've been specifically..." - he hesitated for a second - "... requested to do just that."

Well, what are we hanging around for?" she said, standing up and swinging her pack onto her back with great gusto, "Let's get going!"

Without waiting for either of us to react, she stepped over to the entrance we had all used earlier. I was more canny. I glanced at Bragrum, who winked at me with a mischievous grin on his face, then nodded in the direction of the dark recess at the back of the cave from whence came a faint draft, the movement of air I had noticed earlier. He stepped confidently into the darkness while I struggled to my feet and screwed my hat back on my head.

"Come along, Doctor Quaig," Bragrum's head re-appeared just as she reached the heavy curtain, "It's much quicker this way."

"What?" she said, spinning on her heel.

"This way, please," Bragrum reiterated, beckoning her over, "More direct."

Doonira looked irritated again; she was good at that look and I'm sure that whole generations of students have quailed when frowned at in just that way in tutorials. Bragrum was clearly made of sterner stuff. He ignored the eyeball daggers with noticeable aplomb and beckoned again in a cheery fashion. Doonira stomped over, wisely saying nothing, and following the wizened old Goblin into the darkness. Grinning with huge amusement on the side of my face I hoped neither could see, I followed them both into a narrow dark tunnel.

I was expecting a second exit to a different part of the mountainside, in a place equally well concealed from any casual observers. No Goblin likes to be in a safe place with only one exit. You might need to get away in a hurry. That's just common sense. But the dark passageway - merely somewhat dim once my eyes had adjusted to the gloom - seemed to lead down rather than up, deeper into the mountains above us.

After ten minutes of brisk walking, I could make out a brighter light ahead. A few moments later, the uneven tunnel opened out into a vast cavern, many miles across. We came to a standstill on a ledge high up on the side, closer - if I could be sure of my judgement - to the roof than the floor. It was warm, much warmer than outside or even Bragrum's hideaway, and dimly red-lit as if by glowing rocks. It was an environment I recognised; it was exactly like the deep Hells where I had encountered the Old One on several previous occasions.

Bragrum turned to Doonira, who was looking around with a dazed expression on her face, and made a theatrical bow.

"Welcome to Hell," he said melodramatically.

Part 26 Part 28