The tunnel was high and broad enough

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The badger stared sadly at the scorched earth. "True, no side uses fire as a weapon, not even Cluny. It is the one thing that spells certain death to creatures on both sides. We must look on it as an accident, Father Abbot."

"Accident or not, we owe Cornflower a debt of gratitude,"

replied the Abbot. "She is a very brave young fieldmouse. But for her swift action we would all have been under the heel of the tyrant today."

In the Abbey kitchens Cornflower stirred the oatmeal and checked on the bread baking in the oven. She smiled to herself. What would Matthias have thought of it all? Last night's heroine. This morning's cook!

While Log-a-Log held the rock from closing, Matthias peered into the hole. It was a long dark tunnel sloping down the side of the quarrystone.

There was neither sight nor sound of Guosim.

They called her name in loud whispers, not wanting to shout for fear of disturbing the snake. Matthias became im-patient.

"Come on, Log-a-Log. We'll have to go in there. Be as quiet as you can."

"Wait a tick," the shrew replied. Taking a small boulder, he jammed the entrance slab from swinging shut. "I'm ready now. Lead on, Matthias."

They ventured cautiously into the long sloping passage, digging in their heels to prevent themselves sliding right down as Guosim probably had done. On reaching the bottom they stood awhile to let their eyes become accustomed to the gloom. The floor leveled out.  to allow them to walk side by side without stooping. As they walked further, Log-a-Log pointed at strange symbols and weird signs that had been scraped into the surface of the soft stone. Though the quarry tunnels were natural, they had obviously been the lairs of generations of serpents; most of the signs were of a reptilian nature. The friends pressed onwards until the passage broadened out into a small chamber with two more tunnels leading from it.

"You take the left and I'll take the right," Matthias

whispered. "Mark an arrow on the wall with your sword at intervals. I'll do the same with my dagger. That way we won't get lost. Should you find Asmodeus, come straight back to this chamber. If he finds you, then the best thing to do is run as fast as you can and shout like mad."

"Take care, warrior. I'll see you later," said Log-a-Log.

Gripping his dagger in readiness, Matthias crept into the right-hand tunnel. It was slightly narrower than the first, but just as high. The walls were yellow stone, so soft that it was almost like damp sand. Scarcely daring to breathe and glad that his feet made no sound on the sandy floor, Matthias went ahead, remembering to mark an arrow every few yards. From somewhere up ahead the young mouse could hear the sound of dripping water; the musical echoing plops made an eerie noise in the sinister stillness of the passage.

His paw encountered a space in the left wall. It turned out to be a rectangular anteroom. Matthias was horrified to discover that it was full of cast-off snake skins. They lay about on the floor, dry and withered. He shuddered at the thought of their former occupants, the hairs rising on the nape of his neck as he swiftly abandoned the repulsive scene and hurried along the passage.


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