Chrístõ was feeling content. They still had a trek ahead of them, but everyone was enthusiastic for the adventure, and by the end of today they would reach the monastery. Real food, convivial company and warm beds would be thoroughly welcome.

Meanwhile he woke Julia and Garrick and they ate what purported to be scrambled egg and crisp grilled bacon with tomatoes before washing it down with rehydrated coffee. They struck camp and were ready for a new day’s walking. Garrick was talkative. He had enjoyed sleeping in a tent and was excited to see new things again this morning.

“Father used to take me camping when I was a boy,” Chrístõ said to him. “Tell him you enjoy it and I am sure he will take you. You’re a little young for trekking over the Red Desert in the heat, but there are plenty of really interesting places on the southern plain. Or he could even take you to the Eye of Orion or somewhere like that.”

“Will he really?” Garrick asked, his eyes shining hopefully.

“Just ask him. I am sure he will be delighted to know that he has a second chance to do all those things that he and I used to do.”

Chrístõ smiled at his half-brother. Julia saw the smile and was thankful for it. Not so long ago he had so resented Garrick’s very existence that the idea of his father taking his half-brother on those kinds of expeditions would have made him jealous and resentful. She was glad that Chrístõ had realised that his father’s love for Garrick did not diminish his love for him.

“I think the three of you ought to go to the Eye of Orion together,” Julia told him. “Just because you’re a man now, doesn’t mean you can’t go on a camping trek with your father.”

“I have so many other duties,” he answered. But it was true. They certainly COULD spend time together, father and two sons. There was absolutely no reason why not.

“Well, let’s see if Garrick is still enthusiastic for the sport after a full day’s walking in these mountains,” he added. “And dinner and tea from those hydro packs!”

Julia laughed. Garrick laughed, too, and grasped his brother’s hand. They were on a relatively wide plateau here and could walk side by side. In his backpack, Humphrey trilled contentedly and occasionally talked about ‘friends’.

They were getting further down the valley. For a long time the sun’s rays didn’t reach them because the cliffs on both sides rose up so high. It would have been possible to feel depressed walking in the gloom, but the view was still so breathtakingly wonderful and they had each other’s company to keep their spirits up even when feet were starting to ache a little from the journey.

“You can see the monastery from here,” Chrístõ said when they stopped for a break mid-morning. He passed around energy boosting nut and seed bars and more of the Kendal Mint Cake with rehydrated cocoa.

The white building still looked a very long way off.

“It’s on the other side of the valley,” Julia pointed out. “Isn’t that going to be a problem?”

“There’s a bridge,” he answered. “We’ll reach it by lunchtime. We’ll cross before we find a place to eat.”

Julia accepted his word about that. She didn’t ask what sort of bridge might be built high up in the mountains. In her imagination the word ‘bridge’ conjured something like the six lane suspension bridge that crossed the River Australis Novo just outside New Canberra or Tower Bridge in London, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the golden Gate Bridge or the Hohenzollernbrücke - that fantastic box-girder construction across the Rhine at Cologne.

Of course the word ‘bridge’ could also be applied to something made of very old ropes and rickety looking planks of wood, but it didn’t quite inspire her with the same confidence as any of those other constructions.

“How long do you think it’s been there?” she asked.

“About a century,” Chrístõ answered.

“And when was the last time anyone used it safely?”

“It’s probably used regularly by the monks going to their meditation places,” Chrístõ assured her. “I wouldn’t fancy it in a high wind, or if it was snowing or icy. But it should be all right today.”

“Well, you go first,” Julia told him.

“You’re not scared are you?” Chrístõ responded. “It’s wider than your balance beam and you do somersaults on that.”

“The beam is only one hundred and twenty four centimetres from a nice, soft rubber safety mat,” Julia pointed out. “I don’t even want to know how deep this valley is.”

Chrístõ grinned. He knew she WASN’T scared. She had faced scarier things than this. She was just making a point to him.

Then Garrick took the decision of who went first out of his hands by dashing forward onto the bridge. Chrístõ called out to him, but he continued to trot across the rope bridge, holding the lower of the guide ropes on either side and placing his feet in the middle of the planks. His small figure looked tiny as he reached the other side and turned to wave back. Then Chrístõ and Julia saw him shrug off his backpack and open it up. The ledge on the far side was still in shadow. They were close to midday with the sun directly above them, but there was an overhang giving deep shade to the place where the bridge ended.

“He’s letting Humphrey out,” Julia said.

“Yes, I know. He should be ok. It looks as if there might be a bit of a cave there. You go across next. Your pack is lightest. I’ll come after you.”

There was no question of more than one person crossing at once. Chrístõ watched as Julia stepped onto the bridge. She moved as she did when she was on the balance beam, with quick, light, almost balletic steps. When she was halfway she turned and waved to him, and then to his absolute astonishment she did a handstand and forward roll into splits before standing up and running across the rest of the bridge.

Chrístõ shook his head and then moved swiftly across placing his feet without looking and without needing to touch the rope sides at all. The planks were certainly wider than the spars over the valley that were used by the masters of Sun Ko Du. He was perfectly confident about crossing. He wasn’t about to do anything clever in the middle, though, and he planned to give Julia a ticking off when he reached her.

When he got across the bridge, though, he forgot all about her high jinks. She was standing at the back of the cave he had seen from the other side looking at two tunnel entrances.

She was alone.

“Where is he?” Chrístõ asked. “Where’s Garrick?”

“He’s down one of these tunnels,” Julia answered. “But I don’t know which one, and I didn’t dare try until you reached me. I think he went after Humphrey.”

“Ok,” Chrístõ said, trying not to sounds panicked, or more importantly, not to BE panicking. “Ok, let me think.”

Telepathy in the valley was impossible enough. Within the mountain itself it was beyond impossible, if there was such a thing. Even so, he took a few steps into the left tunnel and tried to reach out, feeling for his brother’s nascent psychic ident.

There was nothing except a dull ache as if he was hitting his head against the walls of the tunnel itself. He stepped back and tried the other one.

Again there was the dull ache. In the dim light he was aware of the dark grey seams running through the white rock. They were something very similar to lead. No wonder he couldn’t get through. But this time there was something else, too. He couldn’t quite make out what it was, a sensation of excitement, wonder, of something utterly and completely new.

But it was telepathic, and it had to be Garrick. Only he would be excited about being in a tunnel under a mountain. Even Humphrey would have a very different mood – one of contentment at being in his home environment.

“This way,” he said, pulling his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket and using it in penlight mode to illuminate the way ahead. “Come on. Stick close behind me. I don’t want to lose you, as well.”

Julia had no intention of going anywhere else. She pushed down the hood on her thermal coat and stuffed the scarf and gloves in the pocket since it was much less cold in the tunnel and followed Chrístõ’s footsteps carefully. She, too, looked at the walls that closed in around her. There was just enough headroom for Chrístõ to walk upright at his full six-foot-one height. She was better off with her shorter stature. It felt less oppressive.

“Do you think this tunnel is man-made?” she asked. “Or… Malvorian-made, anyway. It seems a very uniform height and width and it doesn’t look natural like the cave systems we’ve seen elsewhere.”

“You’re right,” Chrístõ agreed. “This was cut with very precise tools that left no obvious marks like pickaxes would. Something sonic, I imagine.”

“Like a sonic screwdriver?”

“Like a sonic disintegrator, more like. But not one that used heat. There’s no sign of igneous metamorphosis in the rock surface.”

Julia giggled.


“Anyone else would say that the walls would be shiny if heat was applied. You use words like ‘igneous metamorphosis’.”

“Yes. That’s the correct term for rock that has been exposed to intense heat.”

“And yet you still call my floor routines ‘fancy cartwheels’, even after six weeks at the Olympics.”

“I love watching you do those things. I don’t really care what they’re called. By the way, have you noticed how our voices don’t echo? These rocks are absorbing the sound – which they wouldn’t do if the surface was ‘shiny’ from igneous metamorphosis.”

Julia giggled again.

“I can hear another noise, though,” she pointed out “Listen, can you hear?”

“Singing,” Chrístõ noted. “Garrick is singing a Gallifreyan nursery rhyme. Humphrey is joining in.”

“That means that they’re both ok, and they’re not very far away.”

“Yes, thank Rassilon for that.” Chrístõ moved a little faster, spurred on by the sound of his half-brother’s voice. He was aware that the tunnel was becoming lighter, and was not entirely surprised when it widened out into a cavern that was lit by a form of phosphorescence in the walls and the high ceiling where stalactites had formed in fantastic arrangements.

Garrick was sitting on the rock floor with Humphrey by his side. A ring of darkness surrounded him. Humphrey had found some of his own kind. The boy and the boggart were singing to them and by the low purring sound coming from them they appreciated the performance.

Chrístõ held onto Julia’s hand and waited for the song to come to an end before he approached. Garrick waved and smiled brightly. Humphrey bowled around enthusiastically.

“Frie…nds,” he said.

“Humphrey’s people are here,” Garrick added.

“So I see. I’m very pleased to meet them. But you shouldn’t have gone looking for them on your own. I was worried about you.”

Garrick’s smile faded, but Chrístõ couldn’t feel cross with him. He hugged him fondly.

“Just don’t do that again. I don’t want to lose you in a mountain. Anyway, it’s time for lunch and this seems a good enough place for it. Nice and warm and pleasant local company. Who’s up for rehydrated ham with cheddar cheese and salad?”

“Did you know there was a place like this in the mountain?” Julia asked as Chrístõ sorted out their foil packed food. “You’ve been to Malvoria before, haven’t you?”

“I didn’t see anything like this when I came as a student. We mostly stayed near the monastery except for a couple of treks up to the high cave meditation spots. Of course, I wouldn’t have been allowed to explore on my own. I was only a hundred and sixty when I came here.”

“It’s beautiful. And it has its own boggart population.”

The darkness creatures were all around them, now. They were friendly and welcoming. Humphrey was accepted as one of them even though he was a stranger from another planet entirely. That was something Chrístõ had noted wherever he found a tribe like this. Whether in Derbyshire on Earth or the diamond mines of the Lœngbærrow estate on Gallifrey, or here on Malvoria, darkness creatures existed and Humphrey made friends with them straight away. There was no sense of him being an alien.

All darkness creatures were brothers, it seemed.

“Chrístõ, there is a man in the caves, too,” Garrick told him. “They say he lives across the great chasm and eats….” The boy paused and listened to the trills of the creatures near him. Chrístõ was surprised. He had never understood Humphrey’s language and relied on his strange friend to communicate in broken English, but Garrick seemed to understand them straight away.

Except for one word that he was struggling with.

“Meamimia,” he said. “I don’t understand what that means. “They say it is what the man eats. It is food from the air, they say.”

“I’m puzzled, too,” Chrístõ answered. “And it will have to stay a puzzle, I’m afraid. We have to get to the monastery. We need to go back out.”

“That might not be so easy,” Julia told him. “Have you looked at where we came in?”

Chrístõ looked around and immediately saw what she meant. The entrance was closed. A sheer block of rock blocked it. He ran to the place where they had come through. He could see that the block moved on some kind of pivot. It must do so very quietly, too. He hadn’t heard anything.

He tried pushing it, but nothing happened. Of course not. That would be too easy.

He turned and looked around the cavern. There WAS another way out, a tunnel almost directly opposite the one they came through. But that would take them further into the mountain.

“Chrístõ,” Julia said to him in a calm voice as he came back to the picnic spot. “I don’t know why… and feel free to ignore me, after all I don’t have any psychic ability at all… but I think we’ll be all right if we go that way. They seem to think so – Humphrey and his people. In fact, I think they really WANT us to go that way.”

“Yes,” Garrick insisted. “The man is that way.”

“I don’t know,” Chrístõ answered. “I’m worried. We’re stuck inside a mountain, the way out barred, and the way forward into the complete unknown. I really don’t like it.”

“Chrístõ, come and see the man,” Garrick insisted. “He will show us the way.”

“Well, it doesn’t seem like we have much choice. But the ‘man’ is going to get a piece of my mind if that blocked tunnel is anything to do with him.” He gathered the remains of their picnic together and stood up. “Humphrey, are you coming with us? Or do you want to stay with your new friends?”

Humphrey trilled cheerfully.

“He’s coming with us,” Garrick said for him. “He’s still our friend, even with lots of new ones.”

Humphrey whistled a goodbye to his new found friends and bowled along ahead of them as they crossed the cavern and reached the tunnel on the opposite side. Chrístõ looked at the entrance carefully, wondering if there was another of those rock walls that would slide shut when they passed the point of no return. It looked all right, but he wasn’t ready to trust anything at this point.

“Come on, Chrístõ,” Garrick told him. His half-brother grasped his hand tightly and urged him forward. “Don’t be scared. It’s just dark.”

“Cheek,” Chrístõ responded. “YOU are the one who used to want to sleep in my bed because you didn’t like the dark.” He accepted the inevitable, though, and let Garrick urge him along. Julia followed. When he was a few metres in he looked back. He could still see the glow from the phosphorescent cavern. The way was not blocked. But would it stay like that?

He had no choice, anyway, but to keep going forwards. He was still a little annoyed about that. He fully intended to explore the caves at some time during his visit to Malvoria. In any case, he was sure Humphrey would want to revisit the colony of darkness creatures here. What he objected to was the compulsion to go forward instead of choosing to go back.

“I am SURE it’s all right,” Julia told him. “Garrick is sure, too. Don’t worry, Chrístõ.”

“You’re both fantastic,” he assured them. “But neither of you have my experience of dangerous places. You don’t know what might be ahead of us.”

“The man,” Garrick insisted.

“Yes, well I’m not so sure about a man who chooses to live in a cave with a door that closes, either,” Chrístõ noted. “Doesn’t that strike anyone else as odd?”

“We live in a house with doors that close,” Garrick pointed out.

“Exactly,” Julia added. “We came in through the front door and now it’s closed. And we’re going to see the man in his drawing room.”

Chrístõ gave up. There was obviously no convincing either Garrick or Julia just now that there was any reason to be cautious. He walked on listening to his half-brother’s chatter, remembering that a few years ago the child hardly talked out loud at all. Now the problem was getting him to stop talking.

It didn’t escape Chrístõ’s notice that Garrick avoided one subject. He never talked about the Untempered Schism. He had to face it next year, and he WAS worried about it. Chrístõ needed him to talk about his fears so that he could allay them, but Garrick needed to open the subject.

This was obviously not going to be the time.

“No,” Chrístõ said firmly when Garrick moved onto another subject. “We’re NOT going to talk about the legends of the Toclafane down here in a dark tunnel. I’m not having you with nightmares tonight.”

“I like Toclafane,” Garrick insisted. “YOU have nightmares about them.”

“Do you really?” Julia asked him.

“Not any more,” Chrístõ protested defensively. “When I was Garrick’s age. Stop laughing, and change the subject. Christmas. That’s a good subject. Garrick is having Christmas with us this year. Actually, he’s having two Christmases, because father and Valena will expect us to join them for their celebration which falls on a different date because of time distortion. And we’re going to the Winter Solstice on Adano Ambrado and the Mid-Winter festival on Ventura. There’s a whole collection of topics to discuss apart from Gallifreyan night-faeries.”

The idea of Christmas certainly appealed to Garrick. It kept his mind off Toclafane for the length of what proved to be a long tunnel, going in a more or less straight north-south line but on a gentle downward slope. Chrístõ noted that this, too, was by no means a natural tunnel. It had been carved out with advanced tools at some time in the past.

He tried to work out how far they were travelling, based on their average speed and the angle of descent. He thought they had gone about three miles after an hour and a half, but he wasn’t going to share that calculation with the others in case he was wrong.

“Oh no, what’s this?” he groaned as they came out of the tunnel onto a ledge above a deep chasm. He looked down into the darkness and decided that guessing the depth was pointless. It was deep.

It was also wide – at least fifty metres. On the other side was another tunnel. They were obviously meant to carry on.

But the only way across was one of the narrow wooden spars the Malvorian monks used for practicing their martial arts.

“What is the sense in THAT?” he demanded. “What’s wrong with an ordinary bridge? How are we supposed to get across?”

“You can do it,” Julia told him. “It’s what you came here for – to practice Sun Ko Du the traditional way. As for me….” She looked down and shuddered at the dark depth of the chasm. “I could do it, too. It’s about the same width as a balance beam.”

“You are NOT going to try,” Chrístõ protested. “We’re going back.”

“You know there’s no point,” Julia told him. “We’re meant to go on. You’ll have to carry Garrick. He really CAN’T try it on his own.”

“I’m being manipulated,” Chrístõ complained. “And I REALLY don’t like it.”

“Chrístõ, I think you need to trust your instincts,” Julia told him. “Look. Humphrey isn’t worried. Nor is Garrick, and really, I feel absolutely ok. I’m less worried about crossing that plank than I was about the rope bridge before we came into the caves. I really do think everything WILL be all right if we go on.”

“I think you and Garrick and Humphrey are being manipulated into thinking everything is all right,” Chrístõ added. “This is downright strange.”

“I don’t think we have any choice,” Julia added. “I think we have to go on.”

“So do I, but I’m doing it under protest, and I intend to have VERY strong words with that MAN when we find him.”

Julia stepped forward, putting her foot onto the spar in a careful but certain way, just as she did when she mounted the balance beam in the gym.

“Just walk straight across, please,” Chrístõ told her. “No fancy cartwheels or anything to set my hearts into arrhythmia.”

Julia waved in response and walked quickly across the spar with her head held up the way it was expected to be held when she performed, her eye on the cave entrance beyond. Chrístõ watched her closely every step of the way, his hearts pounding with fear for her. If she fell, there was no hope. She would be dead.

She made it to the other side. Humphrey followed her, gliding along the spar and trilling with excitement as he did so. Garrick looked about to follow him, but Chrístõ stopped him.

“No way, kiddo,” he said. He shrugged off the backpack containing the tent and other equipment and lifted his half-brother onto his shoulders. “You hold on to me and we’ll go across together. And no giggling. I don’t want to fall down there any more than you do.”

Not giggling was a tough call for Garrick. He thought riding on his brother’s back across a deep, dark chasm was tremendous fun.

Chrístõ felt far less enthusiastic. Taking care of his half-brother was a serious responsibility, and he was sure neither his step-mother nor his father had this sort of thing in mind when they suggested spending time with him.

“Our secret,” Garrick told him.

“Maybe not. You shouldn’t keep secrets from your parents. You’d better tell papa about it, at least. He’ll understand. He did lots of exciting things when he was young. But your mama might be a bit worried. She loves you very much. You’re her only child and she doesn’t want anything to happen to you. She would miss you terribly.”

Garrick considered that. Then he asked a question that he had never asked before, one that was just a little painful to Chrístõ, but one he knew he would have to answer one day.

“Do you miss your mama, Chrístõ?”

“Yes, I do, very much,” he answered. “But she sleeps in my mind. I have a few precious memories of her that I treasure. And I still have papa, and I have Julia now, and you. My family.”

“And mama?” Garrick asked, noting one omission from that list.

“Yes, of course. But your mama… Perhaps if father had married again when I was still a little boy… it might have been different. But by the time he and your mama came together, I was too old to have a new mother. I didn’t really need one. I didn’t WANT one. Valena… your mama… is a friend to me. And I am hers - which is another reason to tread carefully here and not cause any harm to her precious little boy.”

He was almost there – only a few paces more – when he felt the spar shift under his feet and heard an ominous cracking sound. He steadied himself and calculated the odds of making those last few steps with Garrick on his back. He didn’t like the odds.

“Julia,” he said. “He’s a lot heavier than your rhythmic apparatus, but get ready.” Julia wondered for a split second what he meant then she took up a stance with her arms outstretched. Chrístõ lifted his half-brother from his back, calculating his weight and throwing him carefully. Julia caught him in her arms and crouched low, taking the burden without strain on herself or harm to the boy. Chrístõ meanwhile took a deep breath and leaped, unencumbered by Garrick’s weight, and landed beside them. He breathed out deeply and looked around. The spar had buckled in the middle and was sagging out of position. It would take no more than a slight pressure upon it to send it crashing down into the chasm.

“We have to go on now,” Julia pointed out.

“Yes, and without the camping equipment,” Chrístõ added. “This adventure is getting more worrying every minute.”

“But we’re ok. We’re alive and we’re safe,” Julia told him. “Come on. Let’s move on.”

“And see what trap awaits us next?” he considered as they entered another long tunnel with very little light. “This is not good at all, you know.”

“Chrístõ, don’t worry,” Garrick told him. “We’re nearly there. See the light ahead.”

“It’s probably the glow from a volcanic caldera that we have to pole vault over,” Chrístõ replied.

“If it is, I am sure you’ll figure out a way to do it,” Julia answered. “You’ve looked after us all along.”

“It’s the man,” Garrick told them. “He’s waiting.”

“Good. It’s about time. He’d better have the kettle on. At the very least, he owes us all a cup of tea.”

Julia laughed. Chrístõ was in a very stubborn mood. She was sure he didn’t mean most of what he was saying, though. He was just sticking by his principles.

Garrick ran ahead with Humphrey, both of them laughing joyfully. Chrístõ bounded after them, calling out apprehensively.

“No!” he said, grabbing Garrick around the waist and stopping him from going any further. “No, you can’t have any idea what’s ahead.”

“It’s the man,” Garrick insisted. “He’s a nice man.”

“You don’t know that, not really. It’s perfectly possible that something has been luring all of us into a trap, making you all feel safe and confident about what’s up ahead.”

He held Garrick’s hand and restrained him from running any further from him as they drew closer to the orange light that illuminated another cavern. He stepped into the light and noted that it came from a small fire lit in a round pit in the very middle of the cavern. He also noted that the fire wasn’t producing any smoke and as he drew closer he concluded that it wasn’t producing any heat, either, just light that, despite it being quite a small fire, nevertheless lit up the whole of a quite large cavern.

“That’s unnatural for a start,” he commented. “A fire with no smoke or heat.”

Julia yelped a warning as he reached out and put his hand into the fire.

“It’s a hologram,” he said. “Or something very like one. Either way, this fire isn’t really here.”

“But it is very pleasant to look at, don’t you think, my friend?” said a voice. Chrístõ span around to see a man standing there. He was dressed in a plain white robe of the sort worn by the monks and bowed to him with hands pressed together in front of his face in the way that the monks did. Chrístõ remembered his manners and bowed in return. Garrick copied him very neatly. Julia wondered if she was supposed to bow, too, or were girls supposed to do something else – curtsey or something? She compromised with a bow of the head. Humphrey trilled in a polite way.

“Come and sit by my fire, friends,” the man added. “I am Wong-tchouk nGgo-dhup.”

“The Mighty Achiever?” Chrístõ translated the Malvorian name.

“Very good, Do-rje Gyel-tsen,” the monk replied.

“What does that mean?” Julia asked, hoping she wasn’t speaking out of turn.

“Diamond Prince of Courage,” nGgo-dhup told her. “That is the name he was given when he became a Master of Sun Ko Du. But I think I shall call him Yang Gzab – the cautious one. You should be Lha-Sya – after the goddess of beauty, and this child shall be Zonpa Dak – young lord.”

“Yang Gzab is a lot less to live up to than Do-rje Gyel-tsen,” Chrístõ admitted. “But I had every reason to be cautious. Doors that close behind us, forcing us to go further into the mountain when we needed to go back out and carry on down to the monastery, dangerous chasms… and WHY was it that everyone but me thought that there was nothing to worry about? It had to be some kind of telepathic suggestion – something as fake as this fire, because it didn’t fool me.”

“No, my young friend, you fooled yourself by not allowing yourself to trust your instincts. Your brother and your dark companion, and your young lady all knew they were safe. I have imbued the caverns with positive emotions. The dark creatures thrive on them. You should have been content, knowing that you were in a safe place. But you blocked your mind off and gave in to fears and apprehensions.”

“I had reason to fear that spar breaking. Was that some kind of test? And why the blocked door? Why were we forced to come to you?”

“If you had been determined to leave, the door WOULD have opened to you, my friend. But you are an adventurer. In the depths of your soul, beneath the burden of responsibility and determination to do the correct thing, you DID want to explore the caverns, therefore the door remained closed. As for the spar… yes, it was a test, which you passed with flying colours, all three of you. The child trusted you with his life. You trusted your own strength when you threw him to safety, and you trusted your young lady to catch him.”

“But that chasm was so deep….”

“It was not. That was an illusion, one not unlike this fire. The depth was, in fact, no more than… what was the phrase used… a balance beam. If any of you had fallen you would not have suffered more than a few bruises.”

“Chrístõ, don’t you get it?” Julia said to him. “It was ALL a test, from the moment we entered the cavern. That’s when we first felt safe. All of us but you.”

“Does that mean I failed the test?” Chrístõ asked, feeling a little foolish and distinctly put out.

“No,” Julia told him. “No, you didn’t fail. You WERE responsible for us, for Garrick and me – especially Garrick. He’s just a little boy and you had to protect him. You had to be careful, in case there WAS something bad here.” She looked at nGgo-dhup with a fierce glitter in her eyes. “Chrístõ didn’t do anything wrong. He thought this might have been a trick. There is so much evil in the universe and he has fought so much of it. Why wouldn’t he be prepared for danger, to protect his brother and me from it? So don’t tell him he failed. If anyone got it wrong, it was me and Garrick and Humphrey for trusting you too easily. WE should have listened to Chrístõ and not to you. He’s the one we’ve always trusted before.”

“And rightly so, Lha-Sya, beautiful of mind as well as face. You are correct, of course. He did not fail. Our courageous friend was vigilant in the face of the unknown. That is a fine and necessary quality in a man.”

“That may be so, but I still don’t see why ANY of us were put through all that,” Chrístõ pointed out.

“For the test itself, to see if you were the man I always thought you were, Do-rje Gyel-tsen, and so that you would avail yourself of this short cut to your destination.”

“Short cut?” It was Julia who seized upon that word. “Then we’re nearly at the monastery?”

“It is above you, now,” nGgo-dhup. “There are some stairs to climb, but that will surely be no hardship after the journey you have made thus far? Shall we go now? The monks will welcome you as honoured guests, of course.”

He stood, and as he did, his body shimmered. Chrístõ wondered for a moment if he was another illusion, after all. Then he gasped as the monk called Wong-tchouk nGgo-dhup resolved into a more familiar figure.

“Mighty achiever….” Chrístõ said with a wry smile. “Master… or Maestro, even. Of course, that’s how you knew my Malvorian name. You were the Prydonian teacher who brought the top students to study here.”

“Yes, my young friend. Forgive a little trickery on my part.”

“You are forgiven, Maestro. I didn’t know you were here on Malvoria.”

“I brought Cal here, to develop the skills he needs to become a Time Lord in short order. He will be pleased to see you, and I think you will be pleased by his progress.”

Chrístõ smiled widely as he mounted the steps that rose up steep and high, but led, according to a promise he certainly did believe, to the peace and convivial company of the monastery. He was content with the way the day had turned out.