Once again between the tiers, February 14 2015 CE

The staircase led to a door in a metal grill-like frame bolted to the walls. It was securely locked by a padlock that had partly rusted over. Above us there were dull, distant sounds of violence and destruction. It couldn’t last. Bernard would grow in size as his human body died but without a living frame, his demonic manifestation would disparate in the open geometry of the upper tier. Demons may epitomise chaos but they are creatures that can only exist within tight boundaries.

Sir Pangolin determined that the only way through the door was using his own brute strength. Together we prised a loose brick from the floor and Sir Pangolin set about beating the padlock with it. There was no useful aid I could provide, so I sat and fished out this notebook from my satchel and wrote up the day’s events.

We could only hope that the distractions above would be sufficient that Esquin wouldn’t hear Sir Pangolin’s efforts and use the noise as a guide to find us. Soon enough, as I had anticipated, the sounds of battle above us died down. Either a battered Esquin or a wary set of police officers would be searching the building for us soon and the rhythmic clang of brick against lock would bring them to us.

Sir Pangolin swore loudly as a final blow forced the aged lock apart. I stumbled to my feet, packed my satchel up (which was now bulky with the sphere) and hefted the Ferguson Brother’s book of maps into my arms. It was large and awkward to carry.

The hinges to the door had rusted tight and it took both us to force the door open even with the lock removed. It howled as if in pain as the foot of the door scraped against the brick floor. More noise to announce the direction of our escape.

There was little point in shutting the door after us so we headed through. Beyond a tunnel beckoned. The bricks gave way to rough stone and earth with old wooden lintels bracing the roof. The tunnel was at an incline, not steep enough to need steps but steep enough that they would have helped if they had been present. Sir Pangolin tried to set a quick pace but the electric lighting didn’t extend beyond the metal door and we had to use my smaller phone as a torch.

Five hundred metres later the tunnel opened up into a roughly circular cavern. In the centre was a large round wooden panel covering a hole. It was held in place with iron chains. Scattered around the floor where the remains of old mining equipment: a pickaxe handle, a Davey lamp, fragments of rope. Sir Pangolin sighed at the sight of yet another obstacle. On the ceiling were the decayed remains of a block and tackle.

Luckily the chains were less of an impediment than the more modern padlock had been. With some effort we were able to move the panel aside revealing the vertical shaft it had been covering. Inset into the sides of the shaft were handholds carved into the rock. I peered down into the shaft and instead of an inky blackness there was a familiar soft glow.

“It leads to a tunnel between the tiers!” I said excitedly, “its a way home!”

“For you perhaps,” said Sir Pangolin.

“What do you mean?”

“You said it yourself,” he explained, “You can stay conscious in those tunnels and so can the demon but I can’t.”

“I can carry you!” I pleaded.

“Down a vertical shaft? I don’t think so. No, I will stay here and guard the passage.”

“And fight off a demon or the armies of this world? You’ll die! This is just the early stages of the transition between tiers. On the journey up you were awake long before you reached the surface.”

Sir Pangolin looked unconvinced. I looked around in desperation. There was the block and tackle, maybe I could lower him down but there were only scraps of rope and the block looked at least a hundred years old. I stared at the shaft. It would be a precarious climb down but I have alchemically strong fingers.

“There’s just enough rope,” I said, “I can carry you down slowly on my back and the rope will help you stay on if you faint!”

Sir Pangolin looked dubious. “What about the book?” He was right. There was no way I could carry the Ferguson Brother’s ledger down with me and we’d need it to navigate our way home. Then I remembered Priya’s magical gift. “The phone!” I exclaimed.

The wonderful little rectangle had a camera! I quickly set to photographing the broad pages of the book. With each picture, the phone gave a sharp flash of light that was painful to our eyes. As I worked, Sir Pangolin stalked near the entrance of the cavern, listening out for sounds of pursuit.

“You know,” he said when I had finished, “there was a simpler solution if we’d thought about it.” With that he picked up the bulky book and dropped it down the shaft. The sound of a soft thump as the book hit the bottom of the shaft echoed back up.

“It’s not very deep!” I said delighted.

“Maybe worth a risk.” said Sir Pangolin “but I’ll go first. If I faint I don’t want to knock you off as I take the quick way down.”

Behind us came a soft but horrible howl.

“Do the law-officers of this world utter blood curdling howls?” asked Sir Pangolin.

“I don’t believe so,” I answered.

“Then I assume Commander Esquin has found our trail. We had better make haste.”

We needn’t have feared the climb down. I may have been built for my mental skills rather than physical ones but I am, in all modesty, an excellent climber. Sir Pangolin may lack nimble fingers but he has claws like grappling hooks and as I had surmised, whatever psychic influence affects these routes through the cosmos, the effect was still mild enough for him to stay alert.

The light was thin and dim as if carried by a luminescent fog dispersing in the darkness. In the space below the shaft were five tunnel entrances radiating away like the points of a pentagram.

“Which way Cartographer?” he said it like a title rather than my name. I consulted my phone and found the appropriate page. “This way!” I said pointing.

“Hold on. We’d best not leave a guide for our demonic companion.” Sir Pangolin picked up the Ferguson Brother’s book from the floor. The spine was battered from the floor and from my earlier misuse of it as tool of burglary but aside from that it had survived the fall.

It did not, however, survive the ripping claws of a pangolin. The sight of a not only a book but a book of precious maps being torn apart at his hands filled me with horror — a horror that was only doubled by the necessity of the brutal act. Sir Pangolin was less concerned and brushed his hands together satisfied when he felt he had done enough destruction. He used his feet to rub the fragments in the dirt of the floor and flung what remained of the binding down another tunnel.

“Time to go but listen to me Carto,” he said with a grave tone, “When we reach a point that my mind starts to dim, you will leave me and I will head back here.”

“No!” I said.

“I have bloody business with Commander Esquin. He is a traitor and a demon and as both a knight of the regent and as a pangolin of honour I will carve out the heart from his human body or die in the attempt.”

“There is no ‘or’ in the scenario!” I pleaded, “Even if you survived the fight, you’ll die down here lost in the tunnels.”

“Death in service is the end I have always aspired to.” stated Sir Pangolin, simply.

“But not today! Some other day! Some other fight! Please!”

“Pledge now that you’ll leave me or I’ll go no further than this,” was his ultimatum.

“I pledge! Only please let’s hurry while we still can!” but I was lying of course.

Down the tunnel we went.

The diffuse light grew stronger but there was another quality to the tunnel. Something I couldn’t quite grasp. Part way, the iPhone pinged. We’d reached that odd level where phone reception oddly improves despite the vast quantity of rock around us. It was a text message from Priya. Embedded in it was an internet link to a news report about terrorists at the sight of a major multinational chemical company. A confused, blurred photo revealed the shape of Bernard’s demonic form that was somehow coiled within pillars of smoke from surrounding fires. “Second terrorist still being sought” read one caption.

“We are safe,” I texted back. “We got away before the bad stuff started!” I added. “Got to go now! Fleeing between the levels of the cosmos! See you next time! Thanks for everything! Particularly the iphone! It has maps!”

“😀👍” came the reply.

We hurried on.

The tunnel split several times and each time the maps guided us. We descended a great stone stair case on a path that was carved precariously on stone walls of a great chasm. The walls ascended upwards into the dark and down into the indistinct fog. Yet, Sir Pangolin remained clear headed.

The path eventually led upwards again, as if the initial descent was little more than a prank to ensure we would have another dizzying climb. “Shouldn’t I be unconsciousness by now?” he asked as we stopped to rest. I didn’t answer but I could sense something odd about these tunnels — something different to the many other routes I had taken between worlds. Instead of answering Sir Pangolin’s question I replied with one of my own.

“Have we lost him?”

“Esquin? Maybe. Who knows what senses a demon has down here.”

“Have we lost him enough to have a longer rest?” I asked. In principle I could keep going on forever but despite his strength, Sir Pangolin had a mortal body.

He nodded, “but don’t let me sleep too long.”

He laid back against the stone and rested his eyes. I took out my notebook and began to write.


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