Chapter 23

2.3K 97 14

It was late afternoon when David, Sarah and Limivo came within sight of the river. Fulgar had arrived more than six hours before them, ascertained that no one matching their descriptions had gone across to Dis that day, and had turned back towards the mountains. He had been vague about who he was looking for and why, keen not to alert the boatman as to why he was interested. His immediate thought was that he had simply been wrong, that the three of them had either got lost, been captured or killed, or more likely (considering the resourcefulness of David) had set off back towards Orbis and their eventual escape.

But something did not ring true.

They had gone to a lot of effort so far to reunite with Toby, and Fulgar had an inkling that they still might be on his trail. So, before he gave up completely, he decided a little side-trip might yield useful results. He was already soaked up to his knees, and had taken on all the stink that the bog had to offer, so one more look would not do any harm. He would make one final sweep up and down the banks of the river before he set off back towards the mountains.

It was as Fulgar was at his furthest point along the river that the little party of fugitives finally arrived at the river after a journey that none of them would ever want to repeat. They had moved swiftly back through Malverso’s district and on towards the city, using the outline of the main gate’s towers as their guide.

For some time the ground had been becoming increasingly marshy as the effluent that flowed from Exdis merged with the river’s natural flood plain. For the first time since they had left the forest, there was vegetation here. Straggly clumps of grass grew by the rivers of filth, arching together here and there to disguise deep pockets of water.

Beyond the marsh, huge black cliffs thrust up into the darkening sky; sheer slabs of rock, along the foot of which ran the river. The walls of the city were set some distance back from the cliff edge, and from the flood plains it was only possible to see their top-most crenulations and the spires of the Ice Palace within. All looked sombre and dark. Nothing moved, but it was alive. It throbbed with energy.

Something caught David’s ankle as the three of them squelched across the bog. He looked down just in time to see something slither its way back below the rank ooze. He caught only a glimpse of the wriggling thing, as thick as a snake and as pink as a new-born rat. It vanished with a sucking gurgle. Bubbles rose and popped as the mud closed behind where the creature had been.

Limivo walked on a little ahead of them as David and Sarah picked their way through the pools of stagnant water. As they ventured further into the marsh the pools grew deeper, until both of them were sinking periodically into icy water up to their shins.

The cold water was uncomfortable, but it was far from the worst aspect of this long walk. In some of these deeper pools, things tangled around their feet, snaring and tripping them like the submerged roots of trees. At other times, their feet met unexpected resistance in the mud, as if they were standing on firm ground for an instant, before that firmness sank back into the mire. Streams of bubbles meandered up through the dark water, rippling the surface like sighs.

Suddenly Sarah shrieked and stumbled forward. David just caught her before she went face down in the bog. He braced himself to pull her out of the pool but something had hold of her leg and was pulling her back with even greater force.

‘Get it off me!’ she screamed. As David hauled her back from the pool, the snare rose from the dark waters. Muddy human fingers, their flesh wrinkled from long submersion, clung to her leg. A skeletal forearm jutted up out of the water, and as David struggled against the grip, the arm emerged further, fingers crawling spider-like up her shin.

‘Limivo, help!’ David shouted. Limivo splashed back to them and took hold of Sarah’s arms while David took her leg.

All three of them pulled against the submerged force. They were more than a match for whatever was trying to pull Sarah under, but David’s resolve began to fail when he saw what was emerging from the murky depths. As the crown of a head swam into view beneath the mud he felt his grip loosen and the strength begin to drain from his legs.  

Limivo kicked out at the arm just as the head and shoulders of the old man rose up from the swamp. The arm broke, white bones tearing through the tissue-thin skin and breaking the rotting muscles. The fingers lost their grip and the severed arm began to float away on the water’s currents. David had the merest glimpse of the tortured face, the hollow eyes and the foul effluent trickling from the man’s mouth before he sank back again, and Sarah was free.

‘What was that?’ Sarah screamed, beating at her leg as if trying to remove every trace of slime.

‘Outlander,’ Limivo replied. ‘When they die, their bodies are thrown in the swamp.’

‘But that wasn’t dead!’

‘It was. And there’s a lot more where he came from. Come on, let’s keep moving. We’re easy targets while we’re still.’

They set off again across the marsh, terrified that each step would bring them within range of one of the submerged hunters. Limivo began to draw ahead, and although David and Sarah both stumbled and fell to their knees several times, neither felt the cold dead hands of any more of the people beneath the water. They sensed them though. These undead creatures were all around them.

‘So what do you mean, that was dead?’ David said when they next caught up with Limivo.

‘There’s no clear line between life and death out here. Even though they’ve been thrown in here to rot, their souls go on, like they were in life.’

‘For ever?’ Sarah asked. ‘There must be thousands of them!’

By now the isolated pools had begun to merge to form small ponds and finger lakes, reaching inland from the river. Limivo pointed at one of these lakes.

‘Does that answer your question?’ he said.

They looked down at the dark water. At first all they could see was the rippling surface, reflecting shattered fragments of the darkening sky above, but gradually they began to see what lay beneath.

From the bottom of the shallow lake, submerged faces stared up at them. Bodies lay strewn across the mud, some piled together by the currents, others just solitary watchers of the sky. The water was too murky and dark to make out details, but they could see the tortured looks on the faces. Some gazed upwards with empty eye sockets, others blinked disbelievingly at the people above them. None made any movement except a gentle swaying caused by the subtle underwater ebb and flow.

David and Sarah hurried to catch up with their guide again, splashing carelessly though the marsh.

Limivo, the tallest of the three, was the first to see the shallow sand bank. He veered their course a little and made towards it. Ten minutes later they waded out of the swamp and onto the relatively solid beach. Across the river the black cliffs supporting Dis rose sheer out of a similar sandy beach. Beyond the city, the sun was setting. Chinks in the low grey cloud gave a view of the layer of high cloud above, now shining blood red in the last rays of light. The intricate pattern of red lines looked like veins mapped out across bruised skin.

Between where they stood and the Dis bank stretched a bridge across the wide river. It consisted of a matrix of stepping-stones, each about three feet square, and about three feet from its neighbour on each side. This grid was ten blocks wide by ten across – one hundred identical stone platforms running from bank to bank.

Something moved in the sand beneath David’s feet. He jumped back just as the ground subsided, revealing a pair of arms lying in the sand. The arms twitched, then began a frantic digging motion, until a head and shoulders emerged.

‘It’s OK,’ Limivo said. ‘This one’s alive.’

A small, dark-skinned man dug himself out of the sand, and crawled on all fours onto the beach beside them.

‘Mulligrub! Leave them be,’ a voice called from further up the riverbank. At the sound of his name, Mulligrub flattened himself onto the beach and looked round with a pained expression on his face.

A moment later, a figure trudged around a shallow bend in the river and made his way towards them. He was tall and well built, but he walked with a stoop and an exaggerated limp, making him seem far older than his features suggested. Tattered and mud-stained rags hung limply around him, dripping water in dark trails along the sand. He leaned on a long walking stick as he made his way along the edge of the water.

‘I keep telling him, but he don’t listen,’ the man said. He came to a stop with one foot on Mulligrub’s back, the other pressed lightly on his head.

‘Master, I was only…’

The stranger applied more pressure to Mulligrub’s head, forcing it down into the sand.

‘I’m Torvos,’ he said. ‘There’s no boats tonight. He only works days now.’ He pointed vaguely at a little rowing boat moored on the opposite bank.

‘Can we use the bridge?’ Limivo asked.

‘Can or not, as you chose,’ Torvos said. ‘Come on Mulligrub.’ He stepped off the back of the little man and stooped to take hold of his hair. Mulligrub scrabbled through the sand to keep up with his master as he was dragged to the river and made to lie face down in the water. Torvos sat on him, holding his head under the icy water, and regarded the opposite river bank sadly.

‘You know, your friend was here, few hours back. Talked to the boatman.’

‘Toby?’ he said. ‘Toby was here?’

‘Don’t know his name, do I? Wasn’t taking to me.’

‘What did he look like?’

‘Big. Real big.’ Torvos shuddered. ‘Had arms, legs, head, half a face, how should I know? All look the same to me.’

‘Fulgar,’ David and Sarah said in unison.

‘Which way did he go? Limivo said.

Torvos shrugged. ‘Around. Back where he came from, I suppose. Or maybe he’s still here. Couldn’t say.’

He shuffled around awkwardly on the back of his servant and a stream of bubbles came out of Mulligrub’s nose.

‘Then we’ve got no choice,’ David said. ‘We’ve got to get across the river. Now. It’s the only place we know Fulgar isn’t.’

‘Can we borrow your stick?’ Limivo called to Torvos.


‘To get across the bridge.’

‘Sure, if you think it’ll help.’ Torvos hurled the stick in the general direction of the three visitors with just the slightest look of mirth on his haggard face.

‘There must be something odd about the stones,’ Limivo said as he walked to the large block furthest away from them. ‘If it was just a bridge, they wouldn’t need the boatman.’

He leaned out and tapped the first stepping stone with Torvos’ stick. Immediately there was a gurgle and the stone plunged into the water. Just before it disappeared from view a swirl of hands and arms clamoured at it, grasping for whatever had caused the stone to sink. Limivo turned to them and gave them an ‘I told you so’ look.

The next stone also sank as soon as Limivo touched it, and the next. Gradually he worked his way back along the line parallel to the beach, until the first eight stones he had tried had all disappeared beneath the water, leaving only the ghostly swirl of arms as reminders of their presence.

‘Can’t we just wait for the boat?’ Sarah asked him as he approached them along the line of stones.

‘What, and spend the night here? With your Fulgar out there somewhere? No way. We’ll get across, it’s just going to take a while.’

The ninth stone held firm. He hit it again to be sure, but there was no movement.

‘This is the one. Come on.’ He jumped the narrow gap from the bank onto the stone, then put his hand out to help Sarah. David followed. He looked along at Torvos, who sat motionless, contemplating the river, unaware or unimpressed that they had made a start on their journey across it.

Limivo tapped the stone diagonally to their left. It sank, received as the others had been by the river-corpses in the murky depths. The one in front of them did the same. The one diagonally to the right held firm, and he jumped across, helping Sarah after him. The instant David leapt from the first of their bridging steps, it too descended into the water.

‘That’s made that decision,’ Limivo said. ‘No way back now.’

He turned his attention back to the stones. Their next step was also diagonally to the right. Limivo and Sarah made the crossing, but just as David jumped, an arm lunged from the water and slapped against his foot. He fell forwards, catching hold of the next stone but losing his legs to the freezing water. The stone he had been standing on immediately vanished, and out of the depths a mass of hands grabbed at him, gripping his feet and trousers, trying to haul him back. He scrabbled at the stone in front of him, desperately trying to get some purchase on the smooth rock. Limivo took hold of his arms, but already the force of the thrashing, writhing corpses in the river were pulling him further and further towards the edge.

David kicked out violently, his movement severely slowed by the water and the mass of bodies around him. Sarah tried to grab hold of anything that might help to even the score, but all she got was a handful of the blanket David was wearing as a coat.

David screamed. Hands clambered up his thighs and he was almost up to his chest in water. The cold was sapping the strength from his legs and every thrash, every kick became slower and slower, and more and more useless.

There was no chance that he could haul himself out. There were too many of them, and he was rapidly becoming exhausted by cold and fear.

Sarah knelt on the edge of the stone and took hold of his right shoulder. With Limivo pulling his left arm, gradually he felt himself coming up out of the icy water. With a final Herculean effort, he kicked one leg free of the grasping hands and managed to use his foot to step on the now nearly solid mass of bodies below him. With a sudden shift in the momentum of this tug of war, he was pulled clear and splashed face-down onto the stone.

‘Well, I guess they know we’re here now,’ Limivo said with a grin. Already he was tapping at the stones, looking for the next one. Hands felt around the edges of their refuge, dead black fingernails scratching at the rock, searching like blind worms for their victims. Sarah brought her boot down hard on one of the hands just before it found David’s leg. There was a crunch of bones and the hand slipped back into the river.

Again Limivo found that the next stone was diagonally to the right. They were now nearly half way across, but they were totally cut off from any retreat.

They made their way to the fourth and fifth stones quickly, each being the next in the diagonal line from the bank.

Limivo tapped what seemed logically to be the next in the sequence, but it sank. Hands began to clamber onto their platform as Limivo stared at the sinking stone, paralysed.

‘It’s a trap,’ he shouted. ‘There’s no way across!’ He tapped the stone in front of them, and it too sank. Bodies began to float across the void it left as it vanished from sight. Limivo squeezed past Sarah and began to reach out to the stone diagonally to their left. A hand shot out of the water and took hold of the stick. Behind them, hands advanced across the stone, arms now free of the water.

Without a moment’s hesitation, David leapt onto the stone Limivo had been reaching for. As he did so, he grabbed the stick from his hands and twisted it, wrenching it free from the river-corpse.

It was a moment before David realised that the stone he had landed on was still firm; it had not begun to sink.

‘Quickly, get across,’ he shouted. Sarah jumped, with Limivo close behind her, as water began to lap onto their previous refuge.

Faces swam up from the depths as David struggled to find the next step. Just in time they jumped, once more diagonally to the right, as a complete torso shot up from the river onto their platform. It sank out of sight with the stone, only to be replaced by a dozen more figures struggling to get their heads above the water, arms flailing at the three travellers. The mad, desperate eyes of a woman stared up at them, her mouth opening to release a watery scream. More bodies tried to clamber up her back, as yet more hands struggled to get a hold of the stone.

‘Come on. There’s no time for this!’ David jumped onto another stone, diagonally to their right, without waiting to test it first. It held firm, and just in time Limivo and Sarah followed him.

He made the same directional decision again, and the stone held firm. The river was a writhing mass of rotting corpses now, clambering to catch hold of the three as they followed David blindly across the river from untested stone to untested stone.

In three more leaps, David crashed onto the black sand beach, with Limivo and Sarah landing next to him a moment later. All three scrambled clear of the waterline, and lay gasping for breath on the damp sand.

‘How did you do that?’ Sarah said. David struggled to steady his breathing for a moment, watching the bodies in the river gradually sink back beneath the waves. As their motion stilled, the sunken stones slowly began to rise back from the river. Very soon, the only sign that they had made the journey at all was that some of the stones were dark with water. The full ten by ten grid was back in place.

‘This place is all about numbers. Remember when we left the cave beneath Minos’s palace? The figure on the door was ‘515’. Those numbers have something to do with what’s in Dis. Limivo found five consecutive steps in one direction; then there was one in another. Whichever direction we found after that would be a straight line of five – five more diagonally to the right.’

‘Very clever or very lucky,’ Limivo grinned at him.

‘He’s into maths,’ Sarah said. David was not entirely convinced it was a compliment.

Limivo got to his feet and stood looking up at the steep black cliffs above them. Etched in the darkness was a zig-zag slash in the rock, a path that led from the beach up the cliff and out of sight. The red sky high above the clouds had turned deep purple now, leaving a low oppressive ceiling only just higher than the cliffs themselves.

‘This is where you’re on your own.’ Limivo looked back at them as they found their feet on the wet sand.

‘You’re not coming with us?’ Sarah asked.

‘No. I’ll wait here. No Outlander’s ever returned from Dis. You two might have a chance – you’re different, but not me.’

With no time to argue, David made for the stone steps that led up from the beach. He paused at the foot of the endless staircase and looked back. Sarah and Limivo were exchanging words he could not hear. Without waiting any more, he set off up the cliff.

‘Wait a minute. I’m coming.’ Sarah crunched across the beach behind him and began the long climb.

The steps were simply long narrow treads cut into the rock face, just wide enough for one person at a time. Five steps up, each about ten paces long, then a little landing, then five doubling back. Thus they zigzagged up out of sight.

The temptation to look down was powerful. He knew he should have just kept going, but after twenty minutes or so they paused for rest and David looked back over Exdis. In the thickening night, he could just make out the shapes of buildings in the distance, and the columns of smoke rising from those nearest the river. The mountains had faded into the dark sky. With every step they were getting further and further away from the safety of the pod and any chance of getting home.

David peered over the edge of the precipice, and immediately flattened himself against the rock behind him in an involuntary movement of panic. Tearing his eyes away from the sheer drop below, he looked up, but the top of the cliff was out of sight. Without the security of any kind of handrail, he felt perilously exposed.

‘It’s OK. Can’t be far now,’ Sarah said. ‘You want me to lead?’

David could do no more than nod. He was paralysed with fear. What made it worse was that there was no way out. Even if he decided to give up and return to the beach, he would still have to walk down that precipitous cliff. Walk down or fall down…

As Sarah squeezed past him, her soft touch seemed to skim off some of his anxiety. With a deep breath, he managed to turn his head enough to follow her movements along the path. He could not back out now. If she could do it, so could he. Every part of him screamed out to stay motionless against the solid rock, but he didn’t. He followed, one step at a time, concentrating on the familiar figure in front of him to take his mind off the enormous drop below.

Another quarter of an hour brought them to a ledge just below the top of the cliff. Darkness had now all but enveloped them, but the high walls of Dis could just be seen standing stark against the last of the light. The strange birds David had seen the night before were once again flying around the castellated turrets of the walls. They looked much bigger than he had imagined them from the security of their refuge in Exdis.

‘What now?’ Sarah said. The idea of ‘finding Toby’ had always been a self-contained one – one they had never examined to determine exactly what it would entail.

‘Well, the sentence Minos gave was that we would be taken to the walls of Dis, not inside it. If they’re keeping Toby outside the city, there must be prison cells somewhere. I think we should go up there, see what we can find. It all sounds quiet enough.’

David took the final five steps up to the flat area outside the city walls. It was at least sixty feet from the buttressed walls to the cliff’s edge where they stood now, and in places much more.  Standing in the gloom, they checked for movement as far along the walls as the curvature of the city would allow.

‘That way,’ David pointed to their left, towards the two mighty towers of the main gate.

They ran across the open ground towards the covering darkness beneath the wall. The wall, a hundred feet high, was made from huge sheets of dull metal, rivetted together to form a patchwork skin that reached up from the rocky ground. The wall leaned back slightly, so that the top was rather thinner than the foot, though from their position on the outside, there was no way of knowing just how thick it was.

‘Do you smell that?’ Sarah whispered. ‘Smells like burned matches.’

‘Sulphur,’ he said.

A sudden shriek from above startled them. David looked up to see one of the giant birds rolling and swooping back up into the cold night sky. It hung for a moment above them then turned and tumbled away around the curve of the wall. Reluctantly, he began to move in the direction of the gate, Sarah keeping close behind him.

The ground was not completely flat this close to the wall. Now and then they tripped over raised slabs. Thin wisps of sulphurous smoke trickled up around the edges of these slabs, and narrow bars of orange light could be seen where the slabs met the ground. It was like walking along the edge of an active volcano.

A grinding sound resonated through the ground at their feet, bringing them to a sudden halt. The stone slab they had just stepped across had shifted very slightly. David crouched to examine it more closely.

‘Look at this. There’s writing on it.’

Sarah ran her fingers over the letters carved into the slab.

‘H. E. R. E,’ she whispered as she traced each line. ‘Heretic… David, you don’t think these are…’ The slab shifted again.

‘Graves.’ He nodded. ‘Let’s move!’

As he passed the end of the grave, he glanced down and caught a glimpse into the deep orange glow coming from the pit. There was no bottom, just a swirl of yellowy smoke, and something else…

A hand crept over the side of the hole.

More grinding shuddered through the ground as other stones began to move. A few seconds later, they were brought to a stop again by a huge open chasm. They stood transfixed as the well preserved body of a tall, heavily muscled man lever himself up until the top half of his body rested on the lip of the grave. Flames licked up the sides of the sarcophagus.

Sarah pulled David around the edge of the hole and on towards the main gate. Other tombs were opening  all the time, each belching clouds of sulphur as its occupant stiffly sat up or tried to crawl from their fiery grave. The light from below lit the gaunt dead faces of these creeping corpses, throwing their sunken eyes into sharp relief and their lips into thin harsh lines that snarled silently at the two human visitors.

The night birds now wheeled noisily overhead, disturbed by the sounds from below. The fires also cast enough light to compromise the two travellers’ cover, and it was only a matter of time before the Cerberites, or whatever else guarded the city walls, spotted them.

They finally reached the gate. A huge iron edifice towered above them, flanked by stone and metal pillars. Suddenly an unseen grave, much larger than the others and positioned directly in front of the gate, began to open. Rather than slide back as the others had done, its stone lid hinged upwards like a trapdoor, spewing out thick choking gasses and licks of flame.

From the fiery clouds beneath a figure rose, already in a standing position. His body was wasted, gnawed to a skeleton by starvation, his facial features sunken and tortured. A loose loincloth flapped lazily in the rising heat, but otherwise the man was naked, his ribs standing out from his torso like the bars of a cage.

‘Who were thine ancestors?’ the figure asked, pointing a sinewy hand at David. David mouthed silent, unintelligible words at the sentry.

‘Who were thine ancestors?’ he asked again, and then a third time. David’s vision suddenly became fixed and exquisitely sharp, the edges blurred and darkened until only a tunnel of hyper-real image remained. His chest felt tight, his heart slow and erratic. When he tried to draw breath, the air felt thick and cold, like inhaling a lungful of icy water. His lips quivered and his tongue began to flick back and forth over his teeth. His jaw clenched and every muscle in his body locked solid.

‘Da me stesso non vegno,’ he whispered. ‘Colui ch’attende là.’

‘They have been waiting for you within, Traveller,’ the sentry said. ‘They have been waiting a long, long time.’

He threw back his head and emitted a blood-curdling cry.

David’s head swam, his vision closing further until only two separate pin-pricks of light remained. Then he was falling, limp and hot. He could smell sulphur and feel the heat of a thousand fires scorching his face and burning through his flesh and into his bones. He tore at his head and clumps of hair came out in his fingers, bringing charred flesh with it. His eyes rolled back in their sockets and he saw the heat pulsing through his skull, frying his brain, melting the bones that kept him together.

Then suddenly it stopped. Like a sensation of stepping up to a stair that is not there, he lurched momentarily, his stomach dropping and his breath catching in his throat. Sarah was shaking him.

‘David? David! Are you all right?’

He opened his eyes. The grave was closed, the only sign of its ever having been there a thin wisp of smoke creeping out across the ground. Its occupant now stood in the shadows beneath the wall.

‘What happened?’ he said.

‘You said something. Something really weird, I couldn’t understand it. Then you sort of collapsed. Are you OK?’

‘Yes, I think so. I think we should get out of here. We’re not going to find Toby. Not now. Come on!’

Before the two could move, a cacophony of shrill screams came from above. Looking up towards the towers, they saw three of the huge birds descending rapidly.

Except these were no birds.

They swooped down, coming to an effortless hover ten feet or so above the ground, where they regarded the visitors hungrily. Each had the head and shoulders of a woman, the body of a bat, and a thick scaly tail that swished angrily back and forth. Long black wings fluttered to keep them aloft, the loose skin billowing in the still night air.

‘Who are you?’ the first asked, her voice as thin and sinewy as her wings. Her face was ghostly white, her hair arranged in tight plaits that writhed around her face like snakes. The pale skin of her face looked unnaturally tight, and as she shook her hair aside to repeat the question, David could see that it was pinned back to the sides of her head by hundreds of tiny screws.

‘Who are you?’ she hissed again.

‘We’ve come to find someone,’ Sarah said.

‘Oooh, she speaks!’ said the second, swooping down at Sarah and holding a statuesque hover with her heavily muscled legs just clear of the ground. Perfectly straight, bright yellow hair framed her black face. She looked up at the first of the creatures. ‘You’re the lucky one again, Tisiphone!’

‘Magaera,’ said the third, ‘I will deal with this.’ The black creature flew back up into her original position with a dismissive toss of her hair. ‘I am Alecto: you will speak to me.’ This last of the three flying creatures had an oriental look, though most of her facial features were obscured by metal piercings. Chains joined the bolts and nails emerging from her face, making any expression difficult to read.

‘Who do you seek, my pretty child?’ she said.

‘A boy who was brought here not long ago. He’s like us. We just want to find him, that’s all. We mean no harm.’

The first of the creatures, the one they called Tisiphone, laughed. ‘Alecto, she means no harm! She means no harm, do you hear?’

Alecto regarded her with derision.

‘We will take you to your friend. The Keeper has been waiting for you for a very long time,’ Tisiphone told them. ‘Arinata, take them to the cells.’

The figure from the grave behind them stepped out of the shadows as the three winged women flapped back into the sky, screaming and cackling as they disappeared over the city walls.

‘Come,’ Arinata said. He led them a little way along the walls in the direction they had come.

‘The Erinnys will be back to release you tomorrow,’ he told them. ‘I will put you in the cell with your friend.’

He stopped by a section of the wall that looked identical to all the others. The briefest touch of his skeletal finger caused the huge sheet of cast iron to click outwards, showing itself to be a door. Inside, a single small oil lamp burned in the damp dark cell. Arinata motioned David and Sarah forward into the prison.

‘Toby!’ Sarah cried as she caught sight of him crouched in the corner furthest away from the oil lamp.

‘About time!’ Toby said. He staggered to his feet and ran to Sarah. ‘What kept you?’

The iron door clanged shut, and merged with the rest of the wall to become as invisible as it had been from the outside.

‘We had a rather more complicated journey than you,’ David told him.

‘You think? You wait till you hear how I got here!’

Sarah and Toby sat together against the wall, their joy at being reunited erecting a subtle but impenetrable barrier to David. He found a spot opposite them and settled down to listen to Toby’s story, which from the outset seemed to by a highly fictionalised account of his journey through the mountains with the Cerberites. He began to doze and the sound of Toby’s voice drifted away into the background of the Erinnys’ shrill cries and the distant throb of the city.

How they were going to get back to the capsule was not clear at that moment, but at least they were all back together. They could sort out the return journey after a night’s rest. After all, three heads were better than two, even if one of them was Toby Mann’s.

Firestorm: DescentWhere stories live. Discover now