The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 7

The western gate of Lyrix was open as they approached, looking much as it always did. Everything looked calm and peaceful at first appraisal. But then Jamie noted that there were double the normal number of guards present. Eight mailed men slouched in a line against the wall of the small building that served as their quarters. Dorf drew their cart to a stop, and two of the soldiers immediately stomped over and gave them the eye.

"What's your business?" the first one said, a fellow with a square, unshaven jaw, and a tired look in his eyes. "And be quick about it, understand?"

Dorf smiled. "I am returning to town with the Master Mage Thorvil, who wishes to visit someone here."

"Oh, are you now? And you all look like mages, don't you?" The fellow's eyes seemed hostile, like he had simply had all the nonsense he was going to put up with that day.

Beside him, the other soldier, a thinner, more relaxed fellow with stringy hair and a missing tooth, eyed the finery in which Jamie and Garvin were dressed, and elbowed his partner. "Ease off, Rale. They look harmless enough."

But the first fellow obviously wanted to take out his annoyance on someone. His eyes flicked briefly at his partner. "Mind your business, Pilf." Then his gaze returned to Dorf. "What you got in the back of that wagon? How 'bout we have a look?"

For the first time, Dorf frowned. "The belongings of these young men. Since when have you been searching wagons?"

Rale narrowed his eyes. "Since crazy beggars started throwing fireballs all about the place. Now you gettin' down, or am I pulling you down?"

Dorf leaned forward...and then his sword was in his hand, the point against the soldier's throat. Pilf stepped back quickly, drawing his own sword, while the other soldiers came off the wall in a hurry, accompanied by the zings! of steel drawn from scabbards.

Garvin twitched at Jamie's side, and Jamie immediately put out a hand to stop his friend, imagining him whirling among the soldiers at lightning speed. "Wait," he said softly.

Dorf seemed unimpressed with the numbers arrayed against him. His eyes held the unshaven soldier's now, who looked like he thought he was about to die. Dorf sighed. "You have the manners of a street sweeper, my fine fellow."

"Give it up, man," Pilf warned, edging back closer, his sword poised to strike.

Dorf slowly raised his left hand, waggled his fingers at Pilf, then just as slowly tucked the hand inside his shirt. It reemerged a moment later, a striking red and silver medallion at the end of a silver chain dangling from his fingers. He leaned down, held it in front of Rale's eyes, which instantly grew larger.

"You recognize this?" Dorf asked softly.


Dorf smiled. "Yes...what?"

Rale licked his lips, his eyes on Dorf's. "Yes...Sir Knight."

Pilf and the other soldiers slowly lowered the points of their swords.

Dorf sighed. "I find the bullying treatment of travelers to this town by its defenders to be unprofessional, and intolerable." He leaned even closer to Rale. "Am I being understood, fellow?"

Rale tried to nod, felt the point of Dorf's sword poke into his skin. He winced. "Yes, Sir Knight. I apologize. I am at the end of my patience, is my only excuse."

Dorf withdrew the sword from Rale's throat, eyed the man a moment, then re-sheathed it. "That is something I can understand. Now, perhaps you can tell me what has happened here this day to put you at your wit's end?"

Pilf had sheathed his sword, and now waved a hand behind his back at the other soldiers, who all carefully replaced their swords into their scabbards. The others formed a half-circle behind Pilf, and moved closer to listen.

Rale cleared his throat, reached a hand up to briefly rub his adam's apple. "It was about two hours past, sir. A beggar came to this gate. You know the sort. Rags for clothing, his possessions scarcely filling the old bag hung about his neck. This one had an odd-looking staff he leaned upon, and a patch over one eye. Old and mean he looked, but polite as you please as he asked to enter and be allowed to beg in the market square."

"I'm sure you know the King's order, sir," Pilf added respectfully, "that all gain entry unless of obvious danger to the citizenry. Beggars have been allowed to ply their trade in the market here since I was a boy growing up in these same streets. We allowed him entry, unquestioned further."

Rale nodded. "Aye. And it seemed the right thing to do, at first. We let dozens of beggars through each and every day, without problem. But this one was not quite as he seemed."

Dorf looked briefly at Jamie, then back at the soldier. "What followed?"

"A short time later we heard an explosion in the town. The gate was ordered closed, and the squad but two went to investigate. We found the same beggar at the front of the shop of Crillis, Master Mage. He had exited, it seemed, clutching a book. Crillis was in pursuit, but stopped when the beggar started tossing green fireballs at him." Rale shook his head. "Magicks give me the willies, sir. We crouched down behind bales of straw while the Master Crillis and the beggar threw fires and bolts of lightning at each other."

Dorf allowed them a smile. "Hard things to fight with just a sword."

Rale looked relieved. "My thoughts, too, sir. These men's lives are my responsibility, and I'll not waste them against the devil's hand."

Dorf nodded. "Neither would have I. What happened next?"

"The beggar pointed his staff and produced a new flame, but it was purple, and shaped like the head of a dragon. It flew forward with a terrible wail, and in the blink of an eye, and impacted against the doorway of the shop. The Master Crillis was thrown back inside and the shop set afire. I immediately sent a man to rouse the bucket brigade and the water horse."

"What happened to the beggar?" Jamie asked, speaking up at last.

Rale's eyes moved to his. "Gone. When Crillis fell, the beggar clutched the book to his breast, made a green dot of light on his fingertip, and traced it through the air in a twisted pattern. And then he vanished in a green light himself."

Translocation. Jamie nodded, looked at Dorf. "Many mages can move in such fashion. Still, it requires some experience." He grinned. "Not for amateurs."

Like me, he added, to himself.

The cart driver nodded, then set his eyes back on Rale. "And the Master Crillis?"

"Dead, we presume. The purple fire ate his shop in record time. Water had little effect upon it. Strangest fire I have ever seen."

A small shiver of fear coursed through Jamie's body. He knew Master Crillis, or rather, Thorvil did, though Jamie had met him on several occasions. Crillis and Thorvil were competitors, after a fashion, although Thorvil clearly was the more able of the two. That Crillis had not been invited to the Conference on the Arts, and was at home to be murdered in his own shop, was proof enough of that.

Still, the man had been a far more experienced mage than Jamie, by a century, at least. That Jamie was up against magick-wielders of much greater experience was a source of constant worry to him. Yes, he had the nether lens, and yes, he had Snave's magickal assistance, and Garvin's speed and prowess. He looked over at Dorf. And the assistance of a Knight of the Realm, apparently. was intimidating not to feel up to the challenge. That he could fail seemed a very real possibility to him. And what would happen then...?

He felt a hand on his arm, looked over to see Garvin looking at him. The other boy's eyes searched Jamie's, and then he smiled, and squeezed Jamie's arm.

Jamie could almost hear the unspoken words: I believe in you.

Jamie smiled, could not help but to do so. He laid his hand on Garvin's finger's, squeezed them gently. Then he turned back to listen to Dorf.

"We would see this burned out shop, if you don't mind," the wagon driver was saying.

Rale nodded. "I will have a man take you there."

"I know it's location," Jamie said immediately. "We have been there before."

"I will take us there, then," Dorf said, briefly glancing at Jamie. "You men may continue to watch the gate," he finished, turning back to the soldier.

Rale nodded, but looked apprehensive. "Sir Knight, uh..."

Dorf nodded at him. "Think no more of it. I promise to hold no ill-will for your lack of manners, if you promise to hold no ill-will for my placing steel to your throat. Fair?"

Rale looked relieved. "Agreed. Please be careful when you arrive at the shop. There is a guard nearby, and none have been allowed to approach the shop's remains for fear of lingering magicks." He turned to Pilf. "Could you get me a pass?"

Pilf nodded, hurried off to the sturdy little outbuilding that housed the gate's guard, returned momentarily with a block-printed card with an emblem upon it. He passed the heavy card to Rale, who handed it up to Dorf. "Show this to the guard on station, and he will stay from your path while you investigate."

Dorf nodded. "Fine. Carry on, and our thanks."

Rale nodded, and he and Pilf stepped away from the wagon.

Dorf gently snapped the reins, the tyrbeast grunted, and the wagon moved forward through the gate.

"Knight of the Realm, then?" Jamie asked, grinning at the man beside him.

Dorf looked embarrassed. "Not at all. A pretty medallion, borrowed from a friend."

Jamie and Garvin both laughed, unsure whether the man was joking, but willing to leave the matter at that. If Dorf did not wish to discuss his background, that was his right. That the man was able had already been proven. And that Prince Sedwick would not provide them with anything less than a reliable escort was also clear.

The streets were full again despite the recent commotion. Town dwellers had short memories for upsets, too busy with the acts of living to be long disturbed over even the eccentricities of magicks. The wagon wound its way slowly among the masses in the cobbled streets, down the main way, then down a narrower lane to the right side as Jamie gave directions. Finally, the crowds did thin, and then were no more. They drew up to a barricade made of two barrels and a bored-looking soldier standing between them.

"This way is closed, by order of the guard," he intoned, before they could even say a word.

Dorf held up the pass card. "We are to be let through, to investigate the shop."

Jamie's eyes had gone beyond the soldier and the barrels, to where he knew the shop of Crillis had once stood. He had to gasp then, for all that seemed left of the place was an outline of smoldering uprights where the walls had been, and a clutter of scorched and unrecognizable mounds inside that must once have been furniture. The buildings to either side had also been heavily damaged, with their window glass shattered and their doors missing from their frames. The walls shared with the shop of Crillis had crumbled, and were rubble.

Jamie touched Garvin's hand, and the other boy's eyes also went to survey the disaster. Garvin didn't say anything, but Jamie felt the other boy tense with surprise at the enormity of the destruction. The shop of Crillis had not merely burned down, it had been razed.

Jamie did not need the lens to remind him of what he suspected might have happened here. So vivid had been the account of the type of magic that might have been responsible for this devastation that Jamie remembered reading of it on his own.

The breath of the dragon.

"A pass, have you? Let me see." The soldier came up to the side of the wagon and peered at the card that Dorf offered to him. "Very well, you may proceed. Let me move one of the barrels."

The soldier turned, went and grasped one of the barrels by handles attached to the staves, and wrestled it away from their path.

Dorf nodded, and urged the tyrbeast through the gap. A moment later, the wagon drew up in front of the smoldering remains.

"You two be careful now," Dorf pressed, getting down. "No wandering over floorboards that may not support your weight, hear?"

Jamie and Garvin climbed down their own side, came around the front of the tyrbeast to meet up with the man.

"We won't be going inside, likely," Jamie said. "If this is what I think it is, it won't even be that safe to be nearby for long."

Dorf gave him a look. "You think it's other than a simple blaze?" He looked over at the remains of the shop, then turned back, frowning. "It does look a bit overdone, doesn't it? More like oiled firebombs would leave, and a fierce many of them, too."

They heard a small sound, and a moment later Snave floated around the side of the cart.

"Dragon's Breath, by the look of it."

Jamie started, but then nodded. "My thinking, too."

"What is that?" Garvin asked, eying the smoking remains. "Something fierce, by my appraisal."

"Yes." Jamie's eyes probed among the shop's remains. "A fire like no other, where not just wood and other combustibles burn, but all the things the Dragon's Breath touches. Stone, mortar, even glass. Everything burns, and it burns down at the level of those tiny bits I told you make up all things. It is a battle magic, left over from the Old Times."

Garvin's eyes grew large. "From that age of frightful demons? Jamie, who would know how to use such things now?"

Snave spoke up before Jamie could. "The old knowledge is not gone. It just hides among those few who shield it. My brother has also learned its secrets; but he fears it, as any sane man would; for mostly, that knowledge lies in the graves of those empires scorched by its very use."

Jamie was not startled to learn that Thorvil had knowledge of the forbidden ancient magicks. After all, Jamie had read of this topic in Thorvil's own library. The Master was a very accomplished mage, one who had been almost every place in the world at one time or another. Certainly, if there was anyone who might have sniffed out such forbidden secrets, it would be a master of the talents of Thorvil.

"I read briefly of this one. It is perhaps the best known of the old magicks," Jamie said. "But there are others, even stronger in power."

"Who would do this?" Garvin asked. "Better yet, why was it done?"

"The guard at the gate said the beggar had a book," Jamie said. He looked at Garvin. "Stolen from the library of Crillis?"

"It would explain the mage's pursuit," Dorf said, looking back at the ruins. "I don't see how anyone could have stood a chance against something that did this."

"It is not a magick --" Snave began, then stopped. Jamie and the others looked at him.

"Not a magick -- what?" Jamie prodded.

"Not a magick as we understand it," the gargoyle finished. But Snave had turned to face the ruined shop. "I hear something."

The others all turned to examine the shattered building. "Something inside?" Jamie asked. "I hear nothing."

"My whole body is an ear," Snave said, rising and moving slowly towards the threshold of the shop. The others followed.

They stopped just outside the vanished doorway, and everyone went motionless, listening again. A thin breeze made eerie noises in the ruins of the structure, and also carried to them the distant murmur of the town's many voices in the market square. Strain as he might, Jamie could hear nothing more. Certainly nothing unusual.

"Again, I hear it," Snave said. He moved slightly ahead to stop at the point where the blocks of the old front step met the charred timbers of the shop's floor.

Just inside, in the middle of the floor, a large heap of blackened rubble covered the still smoking timbers of the shop's floor. Jamie stared a moment before realizing he was seeing the remains of one of the shop's chimneys, the one from the hearth beside the main desk where Crillis always sat whenever Jamie had accompanied Master Thorvil on one of his visits.

"It comes from beneath that pile, I think," Snave said. There was a flickering from the charms upon his chest, and a heavy blue beam of light snapped out and touched the huge pile of fried masonry. There was a groan, and then a fierce grumble; and then a charred brick, and then several more, and then a torrent of them, flew away from the pile and bounced into the back of the shop, creating a clatter of sound that brought the street guard running.

"Here, what are you all up to -- ?" He broke off as he saw Snave, swallowed, and then found he had business elsewhere. He backed up slowly, then turned and simply walked hurriedly back to his station on the street. Jamie noted this with a small smile, all he could manage, as most of his attention was on what Snave was doing.

Moving the collapsed chimney. Bricks were flying away from the pile wholesale now, singly and in still-mortared together masses, uncovering the scorched floorboards, until, with a final scrape and clatter of falling bricks from the back of the shop, the floor before them was clear.

Immediately, it moved.

There was a small snick, and Dorf's sword was in his hand, even as Jamie raised his own hand, ready to cast whatever was needed to face this new threat.

If he had time, that is.

But Snave seemed unworried. "Safe to come out," he called, in his deep voice, sounding now more firm than when he had first used it only a short time ago.

There was a thunk, and then the scraping of wood, and then a square of the floor lurched upwards on hidden hinges, and fell over the other way, to land with a thud against the carbonized boards. A small cloud of black ashes rose and drifted away with the breeze.

"Safe, you say?" a voice asked, and then a head appeared.

Jamie was stunned, but knew who it could only be. "Master Crillis? It is I, Jamie Grimmstone, apprentice to the Master Thorvil. You may come out now."

"Jamie?" The head rose higher, as though the body it was attached to climbed a hidden ladder. A face appeared, blackened, bearded, with only the slightly wild gaze of its owner showing in the whites of wide, staring eyes. "You are certain?"

This did not sound like the Master Crillis. The man was a centenarian, still young and in his prime, with a deep and firm voice. This man's voice held the proper tone, but wavered with uncertainty. And fear.

"Yes, Master Crillis. The old beggar has gone."

Dorf stepped forward as if he intended to enter the shop and assist the fellow; but Jamie shot out a hand and stopped him. "Do not go inside," he said softly. "It is dangerous to your future health. As soon as he steps close we must take him and the lot of us be away from this place."

The soldier looked at him, his eyes narrowed, but nodded. "Aye."

The figure inside the shop reached the top of his ladder and crawled out onto the floor. For a moment he lay there, gasping.

"Please, Master Crillis," Jamie said, trying to keep the fear he was feeling out of his tone. "You must come out, and we must be away from here."

"Yes, I know," the other gasped out. "Dragon's Breath was loosed here. It has weakened me, I'm afraid. I can stand, but I will need assistance when I get to you."

"Come, then," Jamie said. He turned immediately to Dorf. "If you can, grab him by his robes, but touch not his flesh. Move him back to the street and let us get him into the wagon and get ourselves down the road." He looked at Garvin. "You hear?"

Garvin nodded, his eyes wide.

Crillis struggled to his feet, gasping even more at the effort, and took the few steps required to reach them. He extended his arms, and Dorf grabbed him by one sleeve, while Jamie and Garvin grabbed him by the other.

Then they were hustling back to the wagon, the old mage between them, Snave bringing up the rear.

The rear of the wagon was open, and they managed to heft Crillis and get him inside, touching only his robes. Snave turned horizontal and slid in beside the huffing mage.

At that moment, Jamie felt a buzzing in the air, as if an angry swarm of bees were approaching. Almost without thought he threw up the golden shield about them. And just in time, too, as a lambent wave of red fire washed lazily over them, glancing off the shield and causing straw between the cobbles of the road to suddenly smolder and wither.

Jamie heard the zing of Dorf's sword leaving its sheath, and they turned as a group to see someone hurrying up the street behind them.

"Stop! Leave my master be!" It was a young man, no older than Jamie and Garvin by a year. He waved his hands again, and more red fire flowed forward and glanced harmlessly from Jamie's shield.

"Geert, you idiot! Stop that this instant!"

Jamie turned to see Crillis sitting up in the wagon, a look of fury etched upon his blackened features. For the moment, at least, the mage's voice had most of its old strength back, and as Jamie turned back to the newcomer, it was to see him draw up in shock.

"Master Crillis? I...I thought they were stealing you away." The young man lowered his hands and approached more slowly now, his eyes full of disbelief at the condition of the shop and its adjoining buildings. "What happened here?" he gasped out.

Crillis sighed, and all the strength went out of his features. He sagged back into the wagon. "Come here, Geert," he said to the boy, and then added to Jamie, his voice dropping in strength to nearly a whisper, "My apprentice, I'm afraid. I sent him to the chemist for some sinther oil, and he is only now returned." The mage gave a soft sigh. "Late, as usual."

Jamie dropped his shield. The young man hurried forward at his Master's command, and came to stand next to them. Jamie noted the lad's dark, curly hair, and intense green eyes, which at the moment were full of equal measures of shock and distrust. He eyed Jamie in a fashion that was not at all friendly. "Who are you?"

Jamie smiled, trying to put the other at ease. "I am Jamie Grimmstone, apprentice to the Master Thorvil. This is my companion, Garvin, and that one is Dorf, knight in service to the Prince Sedwick."

Dorf frowned, but resheathed his sword. "We should take this conversation away from this place, I think."

Jamie agreed. He and Garvin circled back to their side of the wagon and climbed aboard, while Dorf climbed into the seat from his side. Jamie looked back, to see the young apprentice - Geert - standing by the wagon, looking uncertain. He was about to tell him to get in when the Master Crilis called out to him to board. Geert frowned once more at Jamie, and then disappeared behind the wagon, and they felt the back end momentarily bounce on its springs at the apprentice climbed aboard.

"I am not a seat," Snave's voice came then, sounding more amused than irritated, followed by a squeak of alarm from Geert. "Please sit on the floor."

", Sir Gargoyle."

Jamie grinned at Garvin, who simply shook his head, as if to inquire, what can come next?

Dorf snapped the reins, got the tyrbeast turned about, and the wagon lurched once over broken cobbles, and then was away.

"Stop at the guard," Jamie said to Dorf.

They reined in beside the soldier, who stared up at them, white-faced.

"Your medallion," Jamie whispered to Dorf.

Dorf nodded, whipped out the Knight's emblem and held it out towards the guard. "You see who I am?"

"Yes, sir." The guard's face looked even more scared now.

Dorf nodded. "We are on the King's business. You will listen to my young friend here, and do whatever it is that he asks of you. Understood?"

"Yes, Sir Knight." The man looked at Jamie, who nodded.

"No one is to go near to that shop. Not even the owners of the shops around it. The two shops on either side will not be reoccupied, nor any that was to the rear, if there was one. The owners will be contacted by an agent of the King, and compensated for their losses. But they are not to be allowed back into their shops, and especially are not allowed to remove anything from them. Those shops are gone forever. You understand?"

The guard swallowed, but nodded. "Yes, young sir. No one will be allowed to pass, I swear it."

Jamie leaned forward. "You will be saving their lives by keeping them away. The magic that was used there leaves a lingering death behind it, one that kills slowly, over time. Fortunately it was not so strong a dose that the whole street needs clearing...probably."

The guard's eyes got bigger at Jamie's uncertain conclusion, and he glanced briefly towards the blackened structure. "Am I safe, standing here?"

"I think so," Jamie said, smiling. He looked back at the destroyed shop, gauging the distance, then nodded. "From what I know, I say you are safe."

"I'll be going no closer, then," the man said. "Nor will anyone else, by my word."

"Good." Jamie turned to Dorf. "We need a quiet spot to talk to the mage."

Dorf nodded, snapped the reins again, and the wagon moved off.

Jamie turned and looked through the curtains into the back of the wagon. "How is he, Snave?"

"Breathing hard," the gargoyle said. "He may be injured."

"I am," Crillis managed to get out, "but not in the manner you imagine. I will perish soon, I think."

There was an anguished cry from Geert. "No, Master!"

"Quiet, boy. There is nothing to be done." The mage sounded resigned, but Jamie did not miss the note of regret aimed at the apprentice.

Dorf found a quiet stretch of street and pulled up the wagon.

"What happened?" Jamie asked the old mage.

If Crillis found it odd to be questioned by a mere apprentice - and the apprentice of a competitor, at that - he gave no indication.

"I was at my desk, working, when the beggar came in. 'You have books for sale?', he asked me. Normally, I would not have tolerated such as he in my shop, but there was something about this one that fended off my irritation. I pointed him to the books I had for sale, and he went to look at them. A few moments later, he came back. This time he was looking at the library at my back. My own books, not for sale."

Jamie and Garvin and Dorf all leaned closer, caught up in the mage's recollection.

"'That one', the beggar said, pointing at a volume behind me. I explained then that those books were my own, not to be had. He laughed, and said, 'Everything may be had, if taken'. He extended his hand and the volume leapt from the shelf to him. I stood then, seeing I was in the presence of a magick-user, and not a beggar as he seemed."

"You tried to stop him?" Jamie asked.

"Yes. I immediately set a spell to freeze him in his tracks, and he was not affected. He simply turned to leave then, as though I were some clerk boy and not a Master Mage. I went after him, of course."

Jamie smiled at the 'clerk' reference. How things change under circumstance!

"A battle ensued," Crillis resumed, "during which, even though I pursued, I found myself somewhat besieged. This was not some beggar learned a few tricks, Jamie. This was another master at the trade! He loosed something at me which I barely managed to turn aside. It crashed into the rear of the shop and exploded with force. Still I pursued, striking at him with Emerald and Azure fires."

"Formidable," Jamie had to say, blinking at the power of the magicks involved.

"Yet shrugged off like so much air," Crillis said, shaking his head. "And all the while my besieged shield creaking and wailing like an old woman under the power of his counterattacks."

"What did he use?"

"The very same magicks I did, although of twice the power. Jamie, that one had the knack deep, and his well was as plentiful as any I have ever witnessed. Yet he could not fell me. I chased him outside, and that was when he loosed his staff at me."

"The Dragon's Breath?"

"Yes. Not a magick as you and I know it, not cast. It emanated from the staff" -- the old mage closed his eyes -- "oh, Jamie. The power was frightening! It hit the shop's facade and I felt the entire structure shake. I was thrown back to the floor. The room around me began to burn fiercely, and I only managed to get myself through the trap in the floor before the building started to come down."

Jamie leaned forward. "This is important, Master Crillis: what was the book the beggar stole?"

The old mage shook his head. "It was not even an important book, Jamie. It was one I had only recently acquired. A book of maps."

Jamie's eyebrows went up. "Maps? What kind of maps?"

Crillis coughed hard, gasped, then looked at him. "I do not know. Maps of no place I recognized. It was an old empire book, from the forbidden era."

"I remember that one," Geert said softly. "From the odd traveler, it was bought."

Jamie felt a creep up his back. Here, again, was something to do with the ancients, from the time before time, when all humans had been mages, it was said. From the time before the world was changed by the very hands of ancients. From the time when the world had died.

Or, nearly so.

"You know this to be so? That the book was of the ancients?"

"Yes. The maps were not drawn, but placed upon the pages in some magickal process I cannot describe. Colorful and intricate, and in amazing detail. Only the ancients produced books of that sort."

"And you have no idea what the maps showed?'

"No." Crillis coughed again, shook his head. "I purchased it as a curiosity, from a traveler in need of funds. A recent acquisition, as I said."

That the old mage was failing now was obvious. The creeping death was inside him.

"We should go now," Jamie said. "He needs aid quickly."

Dorf nodded, turned about and set the tyrbeast and the wagon back into motion.

The creeping death.

Jamie recalled the book now, the one he had read in Thorvil's library. A very, very old book, not made by the ancients, themselves, but by the way it was written, produced by one who had seemed to have knowledge of them and their times. It was one of the few texts in the Master's collection that had given Jamie feelings of fear to go with those of his awe. The ancients, it appeared, were more gods than mages...and gods of a frightful demeanor.

Jamie closed his eyes, and the lens grew warm at his chest as pages again fluttered in his mind. He had read that ancient book some time back, not long after his apprenticeship had begun. Thousands of pages ago, it seemed, as they turned inside his mind with ever-increasing speed... The old magicks. The names jumped out at him: Dragon's Breath. The Cloud of Death. The Devil's Fire. The Blue Lance.

There were many others, only mentioned in passing; but this particular text only covered these few in detail. Each one of these magicks was terrible in nature, and only described. There were no locks to tie, no spells to cast. No way that a reader could reproduce them. For each a mechanism was required, and the diagrams portrayed had no meaning to Jamie whatsoever. Each one of these magick's was described in terms of battle on a scale that Jamie was hard-pressed to imagine. And some of these magicks left some form of residue in the air that burned a man out from within, over time, and could kill him just as surely as if he had been struck down by the weapon itself.

But - wasn't there something he had read about that, that residue? That, if dealt with quickly enough, it might be survived? A poultice he had read of,, it was a solution. A bath. More pages turned in the same book, and a list appeared.

Jamie quickly scanned the ingredients, and his heart quailed at what he saw. Only a major supplier of magickal ingredients might be likely to have all of these things, and Jamie would probably even need to go to more than one to get everything they would need. And not all the places that Jamie knew of were even in the town. Even Master Thorvil's own workshop was not so well-stocked. Jamie knew, as inventory was one of his jobs.

It would need a warehouse of magickal supplies to fill this order. Or a place where cost was no obstacle to a complete inventory.

A thought hit him then. He knew of such a place: the workshop of the King's own mages! Jamie had seen the mage's laboratory, knew it was amazingly well-stocked.

But Crillis needed aid now.

There was only one way to get him there quickly enough to save his life.

"Stop," Jamie said, laying a hand on Dorf's arm. The wagon drew to a halt.

Jamie laid his hand on the lens. I need help. We must translocate to the castle. All of us. Now. Can I do it?

It took great power just to move a single person through translocation. To move all of them at one time would be an unheard of feat.

In his mind, the lens swirled colorfully, and then Jamie was again in the nether. This time he was alone.


"Here. This time I expected you."

Jamie turned to look as the nether creature drew near. "I need something very special this time," Jamie said. "I need a focus that can amplify the power of a magick many times. Far beyond what is normal."

Flitch came closer. "You already know that only you can make the things you need."

Jamie nodded. He did know that. He closed his eyes, found the warm thing that lived inside the lens. Can it be done?


Again the pages turned, and again this time in their thousands. Jamie stood in silence, a little awed that he had read so much in the two short years of his employ as Thorvil's apprentice. Still the pages turned...

And then stopped. He was looking at a yellowed page, one written in a hand that had formed the beautiful script with great skill. He remembered the book now, a slim tome that had fascinated him, but which he had scanned fairly quickly.

For he had been unable to read it. The script was in no language that he recognized, and when he had asked Thorvil about it, the old mage had grunted, and shook his head. "Old age stuff, Jamie. From the dead empires of the forbidden times. A collector's item, I bought it for. It holds no value, otherwise."

He could not read it!

A warmth suddenly spread throughout his body, and a feeling of calm overcame him. He saw in his mind the image of the lens, saw the colors that swirled about it good-naturedly, and knew somehow that it was helping him.

He looked down at the page again, was shocked to suddenly see the script start to crawl around on the surface, rearranging itself, flowing from the symbols of a language dead when the mountains were new into...into letters that he recognized!

It took a full moment for the page to change itself; and then Jamie was looking at a formula for a lock., it was not a single lock.

It was three locks. All begun at once, all different to tie, all which must meet in the middle and be knotted to form a single, new knot of great complexity. A compound magick! Jamie paled as he tried to visualize the end result, but could not. It was too hard!

He shook his head, realizing that he would never be able to do this.

But again, the lens upon his chest grew warm, and then he felt the soft life within it in his head. Colors swirled among his thoughts, and a restful feeling came over him, one that seemed to carry within it a simple yet potent message.


Almost as if unbidden, the first nether machine came into existence, and immediately crawled about, harvesting the elements of the nether earth beneath their feet. Jamie set the sequence on automatic, a vague vision in the back of his mind of the end result, and focused now on the incredible trio of knots he would need to tie, all at once, to arrive at the final knot.

He took a deep breath, laid down the points of each to begin, one red, one green, one blue. He took another breath, focused, and began the process of weaving the lines together. Immediately, he felt the lens' presence, darting here and there, almost looking over his shoulder at what he was doing, rubbing against him affectionately, supporting him at every turn.

His mind slowly closed off everything else, until he was only aware of the processes needed. The nether machine shimmered at the edge of his vision as, harvesting completed, it shifted form and began the job of forming materials from the elements it had gathered. Before his inner eyes, the knots slowly tied themselves, growing brighter with each new loop and turn. He guided them, somehow aware of where each thread must go, managing to view all three simultaneously, and trying to keep the paths laid out just far enough ahead that the process of tying would not pause.

The nether lens was warm upon his chest, and the entity that lived within it stayed close in his thoughts, supporting his every move.

But only supporting, not doing. Jamie understood then that what the lens did was enable his own talent, his own knack. Magick was where you found it, only the knack to use it came from within. The lens was indeed a focus; but what it focused was Jamie's own abilities. Memory was an ability, and the lens supported what was in his own mind already by supplying him with an index of all he had read, and making it immediately accessible to his needs.

Jamie's knack, that inner quality of his mind that understood and processed magicks, was a deep one. Thorvil himself had said so. How magicks were understood and performed was not always known on a conscious level. The application was at times instinctive, and not laid down with steps so much as executed like the movements of an arm or leg. The lens also bolstered the knack, ensured that exterior things like fear and doubt and uncertainty did not interfere with the execution of the magick. The lens supplied confidence and surety, but only because those qualities were already within Jamie to begin with. There was no god in the machine here. The lens took the rawness of Jamie's abilities and organized them. But the abilities were Jamie's own, and not in any fashion given by the lens.

The lens was a friend, guarding his back, lighting his way, cheering him on, telling him he was as good as he thought he might be.

And so the knots slowly tied, while Jamie's thoughts scrambled just ahead of the slowly brightening points that were the leads of each line, seeing that this one must go here to ensure an interlock, and that that one must go there to ensure a melding, and that the last one must loop thus, so as the culmination of the three tyings would be a single one of great power.

Nearby, the nether machine had changed again, and was busy combining newly made materials into a new and single form. A tiny clock at the edge of Jamie's awareness told him that the processes were in phase, that they would be completed with the required simultaneity. That this coincidence of events was a matter of reference, Jamie was also aware. But for his own intent, he was the point of reference for the working frame.

He felt heat as the knots grew brighter. Again, this was a master making, but of a new type for Jamie: a combining. Not a combining of elements, but a combining of magicks. Here were three distinct magicks that performed tasks on their own, and what he was doing was fusing their processes into a single, new magick that would utilize the processes of three to make one. That it had been done before he knew. The best master mages, like Thorvil, combined two magicks regularly to produce a third.

But combining three magicks was harder. Jamie honestly did not know if Thorvil had ever done this. But if anyone had, it would be he.

And now Jamie.

For the knots were drawing to a close, and the points of their lines slowly converging to be tied together in the middle. At the same time, the final incarnation of the nether machine was busy, bouncing and humming, producing the final product that Jamie had envisioned as a container and applicator for his new magick.

The warmth of the lens lifeform pressed all around Jamie's thoughts now, keeping him focused, keeping him confident. He saw now that one day, as he progressed with his abilities, that he would need less bolstering, his own mind becoming stronger and more sure through practice; but that he never would wish to dispense with the lens. There was one thing that the lens would always supply to him that he would never be able to supply for himself: companionship. Companionship of mind. The knowledge that he would never face things quite alone, for what the lens was was a mirror of himself, and surely even a reflection of one's own smile could warm the heart.

Speaking of which, there was a love in the lens, an affection for Jamie, and he understood that this had been supplied in the formation of the lens by Garvin, who surely loved Jamie as no other. To carry always with him this love was to also ensure that he never faced adversity alone. The lens was a part of him now, a part of Jamie's mind and heart, as was Garvin, in the real world.

The knot was nearly tied. It blazed furiously, but Jamie was seeing now that it had no effect upon him like real light would have. He could still look into the heart of the flame and see what he was doing.

One more loop here, bring this point over, and this one under...

Nearby in his thoughts, the nether machine stopped its gyrations, and the drawer in its side popped open. Jamie brought that which was within into focus in his thoughts, and at the same time tied the three threads of light together, pulled them tight, and transferred the new knot to the thing in the drawer even as the bottom dropped down and let the thing fall to the ground.

There was a pulse of white light, and then it was done.

Jamie took a deep mental breath, only now feeling the weariness of his effort. But a sound came into his thoughts; the newly birthed thing which lay upon the ground, calling to him.

Flitch stood nearby, still watching him. "Go to it! Quickly!"

Jamie nodded, walked over and picked up the new creation. It flexed and moved in his palm as he gazed down at it.

It looked a simple thing, a tiny pouch of cloth that was red with a tinge of gold. But what...?

He held it up, examined it; and suddenly understood its purpose. It was pouch-like, yes; but there were five holes in the bottom of the pouch, spaced like the splay of a hand. Finger holes.

The thing was like a glove without fingers, meant to cover the palm and back of the hand but leave the fingers free. He turned it, slipped it over the fingers of his right hand, pulled it snug. There was another, more subdued flash of white, and the thing lay quiescent against his flesh.

He smiled. It fit him like a...glove.

He raised his hand and flexed his fingers. The thing impeded his movements not at all.

"Remarkable," Flitch said quietly. "Your growth is astonishing."

"Ah, but will it work?" Jamie asked, gazing at the new thing on his hand in wonder.

"Certainly it will. It will do exactly what you designed it to do."

There Jamie had to pause. What had he had in mind when he'd envisioned the thing?

Something that would allow him to magnify magicks like that used for translocation, so as to enable them all to travel at once. But...had he specified translocation only, or would the thing work for other magicks as well?

Flitch seemed to divine his thoughts. "You will need to experiment, of course."

Jamie laughed. "Of course." He looked over at the nether being. "I've noticed you mostly watching now, Flitch. You seem much less willing to add your thoughts to the things I envision."

Jamie heard the strange sound he thought of as the nether creature's laughter. "I cannot comment upon that which I barely understand. I am learning from you now, Jamie, not the other way around."

"You belittle your own contributions, Flitch," Jamie returned. "Without you I would not be where I am now."

Again, Flitch laughed. "Let us not worry now about where you are, but rather where you should be."

"I understand. I'll be going." Jamie smiled. "But I will be back."

"This I know, for this much I can see. Be well, Jamie."

"And you, also, Flitch."

He was back in the wagon, and Dorf was looking at him. "Where do we go now? The mage needs assistance."

Jamie held up his hand and looked at it. Here, back in the world, there was no glove. The skin of his right hand - the palm and the back of it, but not the fingers - seemed somehow overlaid with a sheen of gold, like a newly applied tattoo.

"You've been to the nether!" Garvin exclaimed, leaning forward to look.

Jamie nodded. "We need to be back at the castle in order to save the life of Crillis. There is only one way to get that done."

He stood upright on the footboard of the wagon's seat, and raised his hand - and then stopped.

Jamie himself had cloaked the castle keep from entry by translocation. Because it was his own magic - his own signature - it should not impede him from entering. But...what if he was wrong?

He knew that that protection was limited. Did it also extend below ground to where Kundun and the others lived and worked? Jame closed his eyes, recalled the dimensions of what he had set in Likely, the protection did not extend below ground. But, there was only one real way to find out.

The knot for a translocation was fairly complex, but after tying the three-part lock for creating the new device, seemed overly common and simple to Jamie now, even though he was tying it for the first time. He had never tried a translocation before, knowing it was a magick that usually came with experience and time, neither of which he had much of before now.

When the green lead-point appeared before him, he was astonished. Normally the size of a fingertip, this one was the size of a dinner plate.

"What...?" Dorf sat back away from him in amazement, even his training apparently not sufficient to deal with the likes of this.

"The size is extraordinary," said Snave, from behind him. Jamie could detect a note of excitement in the gargoyle's voice that mirrored his own.

Garvin placed a hand on Jamie's thigh, steadying him. That touch also was a bolster to Jamie's concentration and confidence.

He moved the great point swiftly through the tying now, envisioning the chamber beneath the castle where Kundun and his mage's lived and worked. A translocation only worked with places a mage had been before. One could not take himself to a place unknown. Fortunately, Jamie had been to the mage's lair, and the picture of the place came back into his mind willingly.

The green point moved quickly now.

"Prepare yourselves," Jamie said to all. "We are going to leave the cart and reappear in the great room of Kundun and his mages back at the castle. Just relax. You should feel nothing. We will simply leave here and reappear there."

"All of us? At once?" Garvin asked, in amazement.

"Never been done, to my knowledge," Snave put in. But there was something in his tone that said he believed Jamie could do it.

"Yes. All at once," Jamie said, and drew the knot tight.

It was as though great wings briefly stole across them, blotting out all light; and then they were in the great hall of the mage's workshop, back at Castle Cumberstone.

Jamie looked down in surprise, and then laughed. He was still standing on the footboard of the wagon. Not only that, but the tyrbeast stood before them, still harnessed, looking back over its shoulder at them as though asking what had just happened.

Before them, Lestho and Pallin, at work at something upon a bench, had their heads turned, their bodies frozen, as they gaped at the wagon and its occupants.

From the other side of the room came Kundun, his eyes narrowed, his concentration upon those in the cart. He stopped at the tyrbeast, raised a hand, gently patted the animal on the head to quiet it.

Then he looked up at Jamie, and smiled.

"Master Thorvil. We really, really must have a talk."

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