by Trevor Hopkins

"Well, one of the Hells," I added laconically.

"It's incredible," Doonira breathed, still trying to take it all in, her gaze darting here and there like a child in a toyshop, "It's like nothing I've ever imagined."

"Strange, though," I said to Bragrum, "I thought that the Old Ones didn't reside this close to the surface." Bragrum looked at me shrewdly.

"Normally, that's true," he answered carefully, "But this is a special case, very special. I think you'll see shortly there's a particular reason for that, too."

We were standing on a wide ledge of smooth grey stone which appeared to spiral its way up and down the inside of the cavern. Presumably this was a feature to assist any poor unfortunate flightless creatures who happened upon this particular locality. It looked like we were in for another long walk, but at least this one would be warm and dry.

Doonira's eye finally alighted on one of the many illuminated red patches that decorated the walls. This one was eight feet high and half that wide, set just above the level we were standing on and seamless with the dark grey rock that lay to either side. It looked exactly as if a section of the surface had somehow been made as transparent as glass, a window to a red-hot furnace of unimaginable magnitude. She hurried over and rested her hand on the glowing stone surface.

"Barely warm," she announced, "But it is supposed to be a conduit to the centre of the earth."

I doubted that was literally true, although the source of the light was reputed to be the molten magma much deeper in the planet. Then she added, before either Bragrum or I could make a remark, "Just as all the reports say. Red light but almost no heat. But how do they do it?"

I had no answer. I doubt I was supposed to have one.

Bragrum seemed anxious to move on. He looked like a Goblin with an agenda, or at least a timetable.

"This way," he called to Doonira, "Won't take long."

She rejoined us reluctantly. The three of us set off in the direction which would eventually put us on the floor of the cavern. After a few seconds, the apparently solid floor under our feet started to move, sideways, so smoothly that I did not immediately notice. Bragrum held up his hand and we stopped walking; the movement of the floor accelerated so that the wind of our passage whistled past our ears. I put up one hat to hold my hat on my head.

"Hold on tight," Bragrum called over the noise, "This'll only take a few minutes."

He had obviously done this trip before. It looked like another example of the Old Ones' facility with fluid masonry. Very clever. But at least we got to see quite a lot of the cavern as we travelled. Not that there was a lot to see. The walls were irregular, and marked with shallow alcoves here and there; the glowing red patches were frequent enough to give plenty of light; the shelf with its mysterious moving floor continued steadily downwards.

We came to a halt right at the very bottom of the cavern. A smooth floor of pale grey lay to one side of us, gently dished and marked with the faintest of lines in vast unfathomable patterns reaching to the distant walls. To the other, an opening in the wall towering over our head, high enough to admit even the largest of the Old Ones.

A voice boomed from the doorway: "Welcome."

Part 27 Part 29