Chapter 14.6

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The corridor they found themselves in was darker – most of the lamps in the ceiling were dead. The thrumming sound had risen until it throbbed. Ward imagined a great diseased heart far below.

They came to another door. It was sliding slowly from left to right, hesitating three-quarters of the way across, then rushing suddenly back into the wall. Ward wondered how long it had been doing this: centuries perhaps, cycling endlessly. There was a sound of distant voices. His arms broke out in goose pimples.

Mildew pointed to a circular grille beside the convulsing door. Ward realised that the voices were coming from the grille. There were several of the voices, all talking at once, in no language he recognised – both men and women, and one voice that sounded like a child's. One of the women was screaming.

"A machine of the Old People," Nick said. "They taught machines to talk. I guess this one is broken."

Ward couldn't get the idea out of his head that there were people trapped in there.

Beyond the door with the voices lay a fire-blackened staircase that spiralled down out of sight. The metal rail beside it was contorted, drooping like hot liquorice towards the floor, and the floor had bubbled up in places. Ward and Carmen exchanged frightened looks.

There was another corridor at the bottom of the staircase. It delved steadily downwards. It smelled like a coal scuttle. The ceiling was cracked: great chunks of it were missing, and in places they were forced to climb over heaps of rubble. Ward passed a pile of what looked like bones, but Nick had picked up pace and he had no time to stop and investigate. The passage narrowed and the ceiling closed in. Most of the lamps here were dead; others blinked feebly on and off.

A small, heavy door stood at the end of the corridor. Like the others, it was marked with the Sign of the Beast. The thrumming sound from beyond it was maddening. Beside the door was another grille.

"I think we're about to find out if the Oliphant really works," Nick said. There was a current of tremendous excitement in his voice.

Ward wasn't excited: he was scared out of his wits. His eye's briefly met Carmen's – it was long enough for something to pass between them, and for Ward to wonder if this was how it was between her and Grim.

If we don't get inside her parents will die, he thought.

Carmen turned to Nick. "We won't ever find out if it works unless you give it to him."

Nick removed the Oliphant from his coat. Carmen took it – she didn't exactly snatch it off him, but there was no ceremony about it either – and handed it to Slops.

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You've probably already guessed what lies beyond the door.

That's right, a selection of my soiled undergarments.

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