Eighth Circle (Chapter 6, page 1 of 5)


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Chapter 6

The passage leading from the underground harbour spiralled upwards. Tom trod it warily. He blamed himself for having trusted the orcas. They got him into his present predicament and would have eaten him if the cadaverous-looking character with the executioner's mask had given them half a chance. He felt silly. The shapely girl with the gun could have been trying to rescue him.

He pressed on. The passage was cut into the natural rock and lit by things that looked like huge glow worms. They hung down on silken threads and hissed when he passed by. He lowered his head to avoid becoming entangled with their sticky bodies and saw wet footsteps.

They went in both directions and testified to the use of the passage by a variety of creatures. Some had webbed feet and others had claws. Some wore shoes but their gait was less than human. He heard scampering and guessed someone or something was running ahead. It wore pointed shoes and was dripping wet.

The scampering stopped and was replaced by creaking. Tom quickened his pace and arrived in time to see something small and agile scramble through a rusty door in the rock. He caught a glimpse of jagged teeth and a pointed nose before the door slammed shut.

Bolts were drawn and high-pitched shrieks came from inside. The creature was child size but the sounds were anything but childlike. They reminded him of visits to the zoo but he was unable to place the animal that made them.

He pressed on. The passage widened and the natural rock gave way to a translucent substance that looked like ice. A bluish light flowed from it. He was reminded of a visit to Santa's ice cave in Lapland as a child. But this ice felt warm and didn't melt when he touched it.

The glow worms had gone and the fetid smell of rotting seaweed was replaced by a pleasant aroma of flowers and tropical fruits. The wet footsteps stopped where the blue light began and turned back as if forbidden to proceed further.

Tom sensed that he was about to leave a dank underworld for a far better place. He mounted a flight of steps and heard voices. They were female and laughing. His spirits rose. There was more than light at the end of the tunnel. Shapely figures stood at the top. They wore flimsy gowns and their faces were young and radiant.

'Welcome! Professor!'

Tom advanced to meet them.

'We were overjoyed when we heard you were coming.'

They sounded truly sincere.

'You must be tired after your long journey.'

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