“I’m dead,” he thought, until he realised that the darkness was full of the smell of
old boots, and the sound of Brola whimpering.
“Oops,” said the lemming.
“Did you do that on purpose?” Donal could hardly speak. He was breathless with
elation and terror.
“Where are we? Are we still underground?”
“S’alright, underground,” said the lemming in the dark. “No owls.”
“I do not enjoy this mode of transport,” said the hollow voice of Ulan Nuur.
“But where are we?” whispered Donal. “Are we buried? Where are the Gyzols?”
He waited, his heart pounding, for the darkness to lighten.
Gradually the walls cleared, to show sand beating soundlessly against the skin of
the Skywheel. They were in the midst of the sandstorm.
Donal looked down through swirling sand, and saw the shattered remains of the
Dome below. The Skywheel had broken right through it.
“Palzack!” he gasped. Then he saw angular figures scrambling out of the
wreckage, pulling each other free.
“Serves them right,” said Brola. “Nasty horrible monsters.”
“No, they’re not,” said Donal. The Gyzols turned, pointing bony fingers up at the
Skywheel: and then they were lost in a blizzard of sand.
“I hope they’re all right! They weren’t nasty at all. They were interesting.” Donal
remembered the shifting patterns of Palzack’s great eyes. “I’d like to have visited
their city,” he added wistfully.
“For me, it is sufficient to have walked the desert,” said Ulan Nuur. He gazed
mournfully through the floor at the shrinking ground. “And to have seen the
Karaburan, and the majestic Altai mountains,” he murmured.
The Skywheel climbed rapidly until the sandstorm was no more than a dull, brown
cloud spread harmlessly beneath them. Beyond it lay the bleak landscape of black
dunes and smoking craters.
“The peerless Gobi,” breathed Ulan Nuur, “the shining centre of the World.”
“But it’s not–” said Donal automatically. Then he sighed. “Oh, never mind.”