‘I’m bloody fed up with mouldy bread and cheese for breakfast, lunch and supper,’ announced Paplo, on their fifth day in the tunnels. They were camping for food and sleep.
‘Enjoy it while you can,’ Wykka told him, ‘You’ll be eating your boots in two days. We’re short of supplies.’
‘I think we’re lost,’ Eladred said, ‘I’m sure we’ve been here before. Are we going in circles?’
‘No, we’re not lost!’ Max insisted, ‘I just haven’t figured out where the exit is.’
‘Gee, that sounds like “lost” to me’ Paplo said.
‘All right then, we’re lost. Let’s lie down here and rot,’ proposed Max, dripping with sarcasm.
‘Hey, no need to get all worked up,’ Paplo said, ‘If you die in here, it won’t be alone.’
‘You won’t know about that,’ Max said, ‘I’ll feed you to the jello-beast first.’
‘Whoa!’ Eladred said, ‘Let’s not fight among ourselves. We’re all in the same boat. I think we should take tackle the problem frankly and methodically. Max, are we lost?’
The dwarf glared for a few seconds, before giving in at last, ‘I don’t understand it. The passages seem to lead nowhere.’
‘That’s what I find so strange,’ Eladred said, ‘I’ve never seen a dwarf get lost in tunnels, not for five days! There’s something at work here that escapes ordinary circumstances.’
‘You think someone put a spelle on me?’ Max said.
‘Not exactly… Tell me, when did we start getting lost?’
They stared at him. ‘The door with the jello!’
Eladred said, ‘Maybe the reason why Max can’t find the way to the surface is because there is no way there. Not from this side of the door.’
Max said, ‘Krom’s Beard! I think you may be right, Perhaps they set such an ineffective guardian there, to put us on the wrong track!’
After a short rest, they retraced their steps back to the door where they met the jello-beast. The spring in their steps spoke of renewed hope.
‘Careful now,’ Max said, pushing the door with his nine-foot pole.
It opened into a stairway, lighted with torches.
‘That’s not the way we came,’ Paplo said, stating the obvious.
‘And why is it lighted? I thought this place was supposed to be deserted!’ Wykka remarked, with apprehension.
‘It’s got to be sorcery,’ Eladred concluded.
‘What should we do?’ Wykka asked.
‘We don’t have a choice,’ Eladred said, ‘It’s an endless maze on this side of the door, we’ll probably wander till we starve to death. There is but one course of action left to us: We’ll have to go through.’
‘Wait!’ Max said, ‘Check for jello-beast first!’
The dwarf poked his pole through the doorway several times, for good measure. Nothing.
‘I go first!’ Max instructed, ‘I have the best armour. Eladred and Paplo, ready your missiles. Wykka, carry the lantern – just in case the torches go out.’
They stepped onto the stairway gingerly. It was no illusion. Carefully, they climbed. The light from the torches seemed eerily free from flicker. An absence of wind lent a somewhat surreal feel to their surroundings. The ground and walls were noticeable devoid of dust. Someone had been keeping these premises in good order. Or perhaps some thing…
A hundred steps later, they came to a set of bronze double doors, polished to a brigh sheen. As Max motioned for Paplo to pick the lock, the doors opened noiselessly – apparently of their own volition. Sunlight poured in, revealing the interior of a great hall. They blinked for sevaral seconds, before realising where they were.
It was the Citadel of Ice, at last.