Chapter Twenty-Seven - Deeper and Deeper

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ELDON STEPPED FROM THE PORTAL and stood beside George. The whipping and roaring of the wind died away as it closed behind them.

My whole life seems to revolve around caves at the moment, George thought, as he gazed out across the great expanse of jagged rocks and huge boulders spread out before him. Above, a great arched roof stretched away into the distance. The area was lit by patches of what looked like a strange fungus that grew in spidery patches across the cavern walls. It cast a faint phosphorescent glow that allowed them to see much of their surroundings.

George walked over to where Holt, Malin and his sisters stood on the edge of a steep drop. He stepped forward and peered into the darkness far below.

He glanced at Malin. 'I take it we have to go down there?'

The Elf nodded. 'It is where the magic is pointing,' he answered. 'I am afraid we have no recourse but to follow its path.'

'And how would you have us get down there?' Danielle asked.

Malin did not answer. He stood straight and still as if sensing something, slowly his head turned. George noticed the Elves eyes were shut.

Suddenly he opened them, a hint of a smile formed on his lips. 'This way,' he called out, motioning along the edge of the cliff.

They followed Malin along a pathway that wove its way through a forest of stalagmites and large boulders. After walking for a while the Elf called a halt. He turned to them. 'From this point on, our journey becomes a little more difficult,' he pointed to where the path appeared to end on the edge of the precipice.

George edged forward and glanced down. He mumbled to himself, a silent curse that went unheard by the rest of the party.

The pathway continued on, narrow steps and even narrower ledges crisscrossed the cliff face, carrying them further into the black abyss.

George turned to his sisters and shrugged. He remembered their journey in search of the Dwarves. It had nearly ended in disaster. For a while, they thought they a lost Jessica.

'Are you up for this?' he asked. 'Or you can both wait here until we return.'

Danielle shook her head. 'If you think I am going to let you go off again. I would rather we didn't go at all. But it seems I don't have a say in the matter.' She threw a scornful glance towards Malin. 'Come on then let's get this over with.'

They set off again, Malin taking the lead, then Holt followed by George and his sisters, Eldon bringing up the rear. The Elf made the climb down look easy. But Holt regularly checked on the children's progress, reminding them to stay close to the wall, watch their footing, and pointing out where the path posed a danger. Water dripped and trickled everywhere making the going even more treacherous. More than once a ledge had begun to crumble away and needed a little extra care when crossing. At one point a whole section of the pathway had fallen away. Eldon produced a length of rope from his shoulder bag which Malin carefully secured to an outcrop of rock. Then with much trepidation, they managed to swing across the gap and continue onwards.

The luminous glowing from the fungus grew fainter the deeper they went and once again Eldon reached into his bag this time pulling out two of the mysterious lanterns. He passed one to Holt and it soon glowed brightly in the Gnome's hand.

The party continued warily on down the series of steps and ledges that wound farther into the depths of the cavern.

After what seemed like hours to George - but probably was far less - they finally reached what was hopefully the foot of the cliff. In the faint glow of the lanterns, a plane of rock and sand spread out before them. The constant flow of water had eroded deep runnels into its surface and from somewhere ahead the deep thundering road of a waterfall could be heard.

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