by Trevor Hopkins

I looked around me with mild interest as the circle of light dropped into the ground and the earth closed up over my head. The fiery red light that had marked the edges of the stone plug I was now standing on now seemed to be all around me and provided more than enough light to see by. Not that there was much to see, just polished rock walls in a variety of shades and textures as the magically-created tunnel that had engulfed me slid smoothly downwards.

I had seen this kind of thing before, of course, on more than one occasion. It was undoubtedly the work of a group of beings known as the Old Ones. It seemed I had been pre-emptively summoned to an audience. Perhaps I should have been nervous, or even afraid. But the Old Ones are an ancient and long-lived race, with a considerable arsenal of magical techniques at their disposal. If they wanted to, they could have swatted me down like an insect; if they meant me harm, I would already be a rapidly-dispersing warm puff of vapour. Presumably, they didn't want me dead, which meant they wanted to talk to me, probably resulting in me being in harm's way in a much more interesting fashion. I'd find out soon enough.

I sat on the gently glowing and faintly warm stone, pulled a cigarette from an only slightly crushed packet I retrieved from the depths of my raincoat and lit it with a matchbook from some nightclub I visited - on business, you understand - some time ago. As my grandmother used to say: if it's inevitable, relax and enjoy it.

Two cigarettes later and I was just beginning to get faintly worried. But I shouldn't have been; it was just the Old Ones' way of softening me up, to make sure I arrived in their demesne in a suitably disoriented state of mind. Without warning, the sides of the tunnel disappeared, leaving me on the top of an immensely high column which was rapidly sinking. I stood up and looked around with interest; I had not been paying very much attention, for a variety of reasons, on my previous visits to these regions, but I had an excellent opportunity to have a good look around.

You might have gained the impression that the caverns of the Goblins are vast and impressive - which they are - but the caves of the Old Ones are infinitely more so. For one thing, the Old Ones have wings and, presumably, once flew freely over the mountains and valleys of the surface world. They still like to fly, so I understand, so their caverns are truly vast and built entirely without supports: no pillars or columns to hold up the roof or get in the way of one's fifty-foot wingspan.

From my vantage-point, I could see for miles in every direction; in all but one, I could not even make out the boundaries of the immense volume. The entire space was illuminated by irregular patches of red light, on the floor below and on the many ledges and terraces which lined the one boundary I could see. The light seemed to flicker and vary infinitesimally but continually, like firelight.

This region is sometimes referred to as the Hells, although it is not the inferno that overheated human imagination would have you believe. Despite the fiery appearance of the lighting, it was not particularly hot - warmer than Goblins prefer, but not the baking oven of the Nevada desert around Las Vegas. I had heard it suggested that the Old Ones had long ago perfected the technique of channelling light from regions of red-hot magma yet deeper in the earth's crust, but managed to filter out almost all of the associated heat. Just as well, otherwise I would already have perished in the fires of Hell.

Part 4 Part 6