Chapter 6.2

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Nick stubbed his cigarette out on the side of the carriage and let it drop into the space between the train and the platform. He took the lamp from Ward unasked and moved away. At the end of the platform they climbed down onto the tracks again. They continued on down the tunnel. Ward glanced back at the train from time to time, but it was soon lost in the dark.

They had not gone far when Nick stopped at a hole in the tunnel floor. Pipes descended down its walls and vanished away into perfect darkness.

"What's down there?" Ward whispered.

"The Scowerers call it the Second Deep, this being the First. But they give everything a grand name. You climb down using those pipes. It's easier than it looks. I can't bring the lamp, but I'll leave it on until you're inside."

As Ward slid down his feet lodged in a crevice. The pipes felt solid enough. Then the lamp went out, and he was plunged into a darkness so complete that it was like something solid. For a moment there was an unnerving quiet from above, and he had time to wonder if Nick had abandoned him. Then he heard a grunt as the man eased himself down into the shaft.

It was a longer, slower climb than the first. The air gradually warmed as Ward proceeded. When his feet touched solid ground it took him by surprise. Water was trickling nearby. A dim light, as of the reflection of a reflection, seemed to hang in the air – he was not sure if it was real or imagined.

Nick landed softly on the floor beside him. "I won't light a match," he said. "It will only blind us. Do you see that light?"

"Ahuh."

"That way. Stay clear of the centre of the pipe unless you want wet feet."

"Is this the sewers?"

"The old ones. Most of what comes through here is rainwater, and we worked out long ago which sections flood when there's a storm. It's safe."

The light was indeed a reflection, bouncing off the wall at a bend in the pipe. Around the bend it opened out into a cavernous space, into which many pipes emptied, most fronted with iron grates. The walls were of brick, brown-green at the bottom and red towards the ceiling. There was a steady dripping sound. A light hung at the far end of the vault. They set off towards it.

Halfway to the light they had to detour around a huge iron cylinder that rose from the floor. It was like the bulkhead of a steam ship, its cap held down by a dozen bolts that had rusted into deformity, each the size of Ward's own head.

"Plug," Nick said in answer to Ward's questioning look. "There're a few, mostly out in the disused tunnels."

"What're they for?"

"Nobody knows. They're all closed up like that. Sometimes you hear noises down there. I once thought I heard voices. But sound does strange things down here. The Scowerers believe they lead down to the Third Deep. They scare themselves silly with stories about what's down there – an evil giant trapped in the earth, Old People in an enchanted sleep, Al-Kahf."

"Al-Kahf?"

"The Cave of the Beast, where the Dark Traveller sits upon a chair of bone." He smiled, as if at some private joke.

"What do you think's down there?"

"If I had to guess, I'd say the plugs stop groundwater rising up into the sewers. But then I have always lacked imagination. In any case, I have no wish to remove them and risk flooding the Second Deep."

As they passed by, Ward felt a crazy urge to press his ear to the Plug, but Nick had resumed his long lope, and he did not wish to be left behind. He glanced back several times as they moved deeper into the vault though.


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  The Cave of the Beast, AKA your mother's bungalow.

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