The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 11

Even though the sun was still high in the sky, their surroundings quickly dimmed to a kind of twilight as they plunged deeper into the Forest of Night. A light breeze passed continually over them, as air moved among the tall trees, and the sounds they had heard from without - the million and one alien sounds that were the voices of the unknown life that inhabited these woods - grew louder all about them. There seemed to be a slight lessening of those voices locally as their small group passed among the trunks; yet Jamie could not see, anywhere, even among the lower branches of the trees, any of the life forms from which these sounds might emanate.

Truly, a jungle of the hidden.

The undergrowth proved less formidable than they had suspected it would be, surely due to the low levels of light. Once within the woods, the green undergrowth thinned, and was replaced with plants the like of which none of them had seen before. The few that were recognizable were in the form of large mushrooms, or toadstools - for some very large toads, indeed.

Others were of unknown variety, resembling the casks in which wine was shipped, or having long filaments - gray in color - that looped and turned among the other growths. A third variety was tall and spiked in appearance, and looked as if the tips were quite sharp; however, the plants were taller than a man, and their impaling ends remained safely overhead as the group pushed their way slowly through the growths.

Jamie frowned as he gently pushed the stalks aside to pass; they felt not at all like normal plants, but somewhat clammy to the touch, and nearly flesh-like in texture. They had stopped hacking their way along after Dorf had smacked one of the cask-like plants with the edge of his sword, only to have it explode, sending a cloud of spores jetting outward from the fracture. Only quick thinking by Jamie had saved them from possible harm. He called up the knot for a wind funnel - in small form used to help start fires for forges - but used the magnification skin upon his hand to turn the funnel into a cyclone that blew the spores away from them. Jamie had learned enough in his reading to know that some molds and fungi were dangerous to humans, especially if their propagation spores were inhaled. They could not risk an illness among them for which they might have no antidote

"Interesting," Snave remarked, as the cloud of spores was carried away. "The nether creation upon your hand worked well to bolster the strength of the wind funnel."

"I just tried it, without even thought on the matter," Jamie returned, a little wonderingly. He was thrilled that the nether device had worked to intensify something other than the magick of translocation. But just because it had worked for the wind funnel did not mean that it would work for all magicks. "More experimentation is called for," he decided.

The gargoyle chuckled pleasantly. "I am sure there will be many occasions for that!"

After that they had simply pushed their way among the plants, finding the skins more than resilient enough to take being pushed aside, where a blade would obviously part them. Not much was said, everyone being careful with the plants, and all ears attuned to the many small movements they could see and hear about them: wings of some sort, beating high above, but with no birds to be seen; the shaking of branches in the trees, where none that crawled or climbed or skittered about were visible; the swaying of the plant stalks - most at the range of what they could see, but also some quite nearby - as though more sizable creatures pushed their way through.

But they saw nothing living, save the trees and the growths beneath them.

There was an eerie quality to the forest, almost as if a ghostly legion had encamped there in times past, and still haunted the place, but had no material quality to their nature. Once or twice, Jamie was sure he caught a flash of hide in the distance, moving among the undergrowth - some dark and grainy-looking leather that surely had legs beneath it for locomotion. But how many, and of what type, and in what combination with other body parts - there was no telling from the merest of glimpses.

For the moment they headed west, that being the direction of the far side of the great forest, with the small compass that Dorf wore on a leather string about his neck pointing the way. The knight had purchased one for each of them, only drawing them from his pack and dispersing them after they had passed beyond the point where sunlight could guide them. Almost immediately, as it turned out.

Jamie's eyes grew accustomed to carefully observing where he put his hands and feet, while a small part of his mind seated itself inside the lens and began to look through tomes and scrolls of ancient magicks. The idea that he might again lose control of his own mind was a fearful thing, and a determination to deal with it had him even now seeking an answer.

His thoughts. What did he know of them? The texts he had read by the ancient alchemists suggested that they were electrical in nature, just as were the impulses that they controlled, which activated his arms and his legs and his eyes and his hands, to do his bidding. Complex things, the creation of an organic mass within his skull that itself was a cryptic maze of matter functioning on that oh-so-small level upon which all things were built of tiny, energetic maelstroms.

In truth, no one knew, exactly. The writers of those ancient texts had surely known more than Jamie could glean from their words, because some of those words seemed to have no translation. It was like reading a message written in an only partly-understood cipher, where the meanings of whole sentences had never been unraveled.

But that the mind - and the thoughts with which it functioned - were electrical in nature, did seem clear.

Master Thorvil had, in his upstairs quarters, a device that had come, the old man said, from the other side of the world. Thorvil had found it, or bought it, or somehow acquired it, in his travels, and he delighted in playing with it now and then. He had showed it to his clerks, and Jamie had been just as mesmerized by its workings as was the older man.

The device consisted of a cage of fine, gold wire, strong enough to support its own shape, and as large as the spread of a man's hands. The cage was laid upon its side, in a frame that supported it, and was not a complete cylinder, but rather the two halves of one, separated at one hundred-eighty degree intervals by a length of mysterious, shiny black material with the texture of ivory, with holes drilled along its length on each side, through which the golden wires looped and were knotted back upon themselves.

The open ends of the cylinder were spanned by other lengths of the black material, where center holes had also been drilled, and through which a long, steel rod passed. At the rear of the cage the rod had a double-crook in it, both at ninety degrees, and a handle laid upon the outer crook - again of the same black material. At the other end of the cage, arcs of gold left the wire of the cage on each side and curved together, each ending in a tiny golden ball separated by perhaps the width of a fingertip.

Upon the steel shaft, inside the cage, were square, dark masses, their outer surfaces rounded so that they would turn just within the golden cage. These masses had the characteristics of lodestone - for they would draw iron to them as quickly as a honeyed-bole would draw a bear cub in the woods.

Alone, unmoving, the device was of impressive construction, closely engineered, with an enchanting, jewel-like precision hinting at a purpose that one could only dream of. But the true magick of the device was in motion, for when the crank at the rear of the cage was turned at speed, a most strange reaction could be seen at the opposite end, between the two little golden orbs poised so closely together: lightning, on the smallest of scales.

As the device was spun, a tiny arc of brilliant lightning would course between the golden orbs. In a dark room the arc would provide enough light to easily see by, and even set aglow rooms well-stocked with sunlight. To touch the arc would provide a shock, one strong enough to instill caution about repeating the process, and Jamie had learned that this amazing force was the same electrical potential which danced in more colossal form among the clouds during storms, and which could easily touch ground with enough force to topple trees, set fire to fields, or kill a man where he stood.

A force to be reckoned with, surely.

So strong a force could not be contained within the soft organic matter of the body, so Jamie had inferred that that force which moved muscles and which prompted hunger and which gave such pleasure at the touch of Garvin's skin, had to be of a more infinitesimal nature; tinier in force, while being mightier in creation. For surely thoughts were the mightiest of creations.

Jamie had studied the golden cage his Master loved so much, and decided that the odd black material between the halves, and from which the handle was made, was some form of matter that did not allow the electrical force to pass. His book studies had eventually yielded the term insulator, and Jamie had been astounded to understand that even lightning could not pass through some types of material. Something of their construction blocked the path of the force, did not allow it to pass through.

And that quality seemed to be exactly what Jamie needed now, to shield the electrical nature of his thoughts from whatever electrical magick Urvan had created to interfere with them, to alter them.

But...what qualities would such an insulator of thoughts entail?

Thoughts, he knew, while mighty of inspiration, must be small in nature in terms of force. Here, in the world, thoughts did not stray from the mind of one into the mind of another. Actually, the idea was a little frightening to consider. The sheer confusion that would ensue if each and every man, woman, and child were at the mercy of the many thoughts around them - Jamie could not even conceive of it.

Yet he had found that thoughts could actually travel from one mind to the next while in the nether. But only thoughts relevant to communication, as if the tiny forces within one body, sent from the brain to the mouth and throat and diaphragm to motivate speech, were somehow picked up directly by the channel in another's mind, through which normally traveled the tiny impulses that moved from the ears to the mind and inspired hearing. The thoughts of the mind only - the secret words that all men spoke only to themselves within the privacy of their heads - those did not travel.

The demon beasts - the minions of Zeeros - were some form of channel like that. Their minds were both receivers and rebroadcasters of magicks. Urvan, or Zeeros, or whomever the attacker had actually been, had worked the magick at a great distance, and had used the minds of the beasts to transfer that magick to attack Jamie's mind at the inn. That would entail some form of link that worked here, in the world, as easily as did the mysterious link that allowed thoughts to communicate within the nether.

But what force was at work here?

Jamie felt pages suddenly turning within his mind. It was so sudden that he nearly stumbled, and felt Garvin's hand upon his back to steady him.

"I'm okay," he said softly. "The lens is showing me something."

He heard Garvin grunt; but the other boy moved closer and took his arm, to walk next to Jamie, and to help guide him as his mind receded further from the Forest of Night and into the realm where the life within the lens lived.

The sounds of pages continued to flutter through Jamie's mind, but he did not see them. Instead, he saw darkness. At first.

And then he began to see sprinkles of light, all around him. Everywhere. Crazy, small zig-zags of brilliance, furiously active, with a myriad of motions within them, no two the same. They were both dizzying to watch and strangely compelling, and he could not take his eyes away from two of them as they loomed closer. Soon he hovered almost between them, a mote in a sea of blazing motion.

What's this? he asked the lens. For what reason am I here?

As if in answer, one of the amazing bundles of motion spewed forth a tiny particle of equally energetic light, which sailed across the interval and joined with the bundle nearby. That brilliant maelstrom suddenly changed completely in its motion, seeming to gain an even higher level of frenzy; and then that packet of light squirt forth two tiny cyclones of pulsing energy, which headed across the distances to two other pulsing masses...and suddenly, the darkness about him glowed as a flurry of the amazing bundles burst forth from their larger parents, and a cascade of mounting proportions moved away from Jamie's perspective, until the very dusk of creation, at the limit of his eyes to perceive, was aglow.

Jamie somehow turned himself, and looked back at the angry little bundle that seemed to have started it all. It seemed peaceful now, although some subtle replication of events within it's churning depths seemed to be telling him that it was once again building to a point of emission.

And then he felt, between that first bundle and its target receptor a short distance away, a...a...he had no word to describe it. A channel, a pathway...a road; invisible, undefined in nature, yet absolutely there, and the path by which the tinier bundle of light had crossed the dark from its parent to the other frenetic bundle still pulsating nearby. The method by which it had moved.

The medium by which it had traveled.

A point of light appeared near him, and he could see then that this was not one of the tiny maelstroms, but a focus point of his own magick.

Touch, the lens seemed to communicate to Jamie.

Touch? Touch what?

But even as he asked the question, he knew the answer. He must sample that pathway by which the elegant small bundle had crossed between the two churning masses. He must touch it, see its form, and understand it.

Somehow, Jamie moved his perspective, until he was in that pathway.

In his mind, he gasped at the wonder of it. Pictures flowed among his thoughts, so fast, and in such numbers, that he could barely comprehend it. As if the tiny bundle of light had been everywhere, and everywhen, present, future, and past, and still thrilled at all it had experienced, all it had seen. The rush of images was incredible, and Jamie laughed at the sheer wonder of it.

But among the pictures was the method by which they moved, plain, visible, there for him to touch. And touch he did.

The point of light that was Jamie's newborn magic developed a tail, began to move, began to tie itself. A new knot, new twists and turns that Jamie had never seen before, and which took an effort to push through their steps that he had never before required. But the harder he pushed, the stronger he seemed to get, and the easier the task became. The knot built, became a Herculean construct, as Jamie pushed harder and harder to get the now massive yet still tiny end of the string to move.

And then it was done. There was a mighty click inside his head, and the wonderful pictures stopped, ceased flowing, simply went away.

The bundle that had been building squirt forth another tiny infant, full of light and motion; but instead of bursting across the void to the next parent bundle, it simply circulated several times about its own parent, and then merged with it again.

Jamie felt a sudden jarring motion, and opened his mental eyes.

Their group had emerged into a sudden hollow within the woods. Garvin still had hold of Jamie's arm, but when he saw that Jamie was alert, he released him.

"Where are we?" Jamie asked.

Garvin shrugged, and Dorf turned to face him. "A path of some kind. Observe." Even though the knight had not been using his sword on the undergrowth, he still carried it. Now he waved it to their right, and Jamie turned to look.

A path, indeed. The mushrooms and other growths to their right were simply smashed flat, now a pulpy mass upon the ground. The branches above were broken and twisted, and as Jamie's eyes drew a more complete picture of what he was observing, he began to see that it looked like a tunnel, carved out of the forest. He turned his head and looked the other way, and saw the same thing, a tunnel through the forest that stretched away and then vanished around a bend.

Dorf looked at Jamie, and licked his lips. "Something big forced its way through here. Perhaps that which we heard earlier."

Jamie nodded. He could see it now, could see that this was an animal track. A very large animal track.

He looked back to their right, and saw how the tunnel through the forest ended at an immense gray boulder that was planted squarely in its path. It had been large enough an obstruction, apparently, to halt the progress of even so large a beast as the one which had so effortlessly broken through small trees with boles as thick as Jamie's thigh.

But...where did the thing go? There was no new tunnel to the right or left of the boulder, so what had the beast done? Doubled back on its own track?

He was still looking at the immense boulder when it moved. Jamie tensed, squinting, not sure he had actually seen what he had just seen.

Dorf was not so questioning. He backed up slowly, a hand extended behind himself, as if to gently shepherd them away from this place.

"Quietly," he whispered. "Go the other way, watch your step, no noise --"

The huge boulder moved again, let forth a great whuffing sound, and then suddenly spun with incredible speed. Two great eyes, deeply set within bony ridges edged by a ring of long and very sharp horns, gazed at them. A mouth that could have swallowed ten large men dropped open, and from behind the rows of huge, yellowed, needle-sharp teeth, there erupted a bellow that shook the very world.

Jamie felt the lens grow warm at his chest; but the knot that was the genesis of his defensive shields had already tied so quickly in his mind that the prompting of the lens barely had time to register. The function was as nearly automatic now as Jamie's head seemed able to make it.

The blue-gold dome sprang into being around them just as the boulder jerked, came up on four massive legs, and launched itself at them with a speed that was stunning in so large a beast. In a second it was upon them. It hit the defensive dome with a force that made Jamie stagger, and lightning bolts as thick as Jamie's arm erupted forth, skittered over the hide of the animal and dispersed, leveling the undergrowth all about them, leaving in their wakes cracks of sound like thunder that were as fierce as any Jamie had heard in even the worst of storms.

The creature gave forth a bellow of rage, backed up, and charged them again. Again the shield spewed fire and thunder, and more of the undergrowth smoldered and died. The ground beneath their feet reverberated from the power of the strike, at the mass of such a creature striking an immovable object.

Snave moved up, and the fierce red blades that had so cleanly bisected the beasts at the inn lashed out. But like the lightning before them, they simply skittered along the hide of the beast, bounced to one side, and cleanly severed the bole of a tree twice the thickness of Jamie's body. There was a furious crack, and the tree toppled, striking another on its way down. The air reverberated again to thunder, and the second tree snapped under the weight of the first. There were a hundred small cracking sounds, a titanic, hissing rush of noise as thousands of leaves swished together; and then the two trunks struck the ground, which bounced beneath Jamie's feet.

The creature bellowed and launched itself at the dome again. Lightning and sparks flew once more, the ground quaked, and one of the creature's immense horns poked through the dome.

Snave was instantly back at Jamie's side. "It has a magickal nature, this one," the gargoyle yelled. "Jamie, a retreat is in order, or this beast will be inside with us on the next charge."

Jamie reached out and grabbed Garvin by the arm, and pulled him close. "You hear?"

Garvin nodded. "If you drop the shield as it draws back, we can dive into the woods."

"It is all we can do," Dorf agreed, over his shoulder. "When it draws back to strike again, drop the shield. And then we all scatter into the forest." The knight turned then, and pointed off to his left. "That is west. Everyone must go the same way, or we risk getting permanently separated. Understood?"

Everyone save Snave nodded. Geert arranged himself at Jamie's other side. "All at once, lads."

Jamie grinned at the boy, who looked absolutely terrified, and wondered if he looked the same way. But Geert's bravado was up, and despite his fear, he was ready to go.

So was the beast. It reared back and plunged forward so quickly that Jamie was unprepared for it. There was a tremendous shock, more lightning, and a shower of sparks inside the shield. A strange rending sound, like old floorboards being ripped up, echoed throughout the dome; and then the creature's fearsome head was inside with them. It's mouth immediately opened and a roar such as might herald the end of the world filled the enclosed space, causing all of them to cringe.

The creature's tongue darted out and hit the ground between Garvin and Jamie. Both boys leaped away as they were pelted with debris and a terrible, fetid odor washed over them. The tongue darted after them, gathering crushed undergrowth to its sticky surface. As it swung to Dorf he leaped over it with incredible grace and speed, and plunged the point of his sword into it in passing.

The mammoth creature bellowed in pain and rage, and the tongue snapped back to the mouth, nearly taking Dorf's sword from his grip. But the man somehow held onto it, and as the tongue fully retracted between the creature's teeth and its head reared back, the knight turned to Jamie. "Now! Lower the shield!"

Jamie simply yanked the knot of magic to pieces inside his head. The shield vanished, and as one the humans leaped into the undergrowth. Snave shot violently straight up into the sky, and was quickly out of range of the creature's assault.

Jamie ran for his life. He heard the bellow of the creature, now thwarted, and then the sudden crash of undergrowth going down as the beast tore into the woods after them. The ground vibrated beneath his feet, and he dived around the bole of a huge tree as the creature thundered past him, tossing a great wave of torn undergrowth to each side. Several of the sharpened tips of the tall, spiked plants hit the tree near Jamie and stuck like arrows.

As soon as the beast was by him, Jamie leaped to his feet and ran the other way. He did not know if he was still going west, and had no intention of stopping to pull his compass and find out. He ran with every ounce of speed he could muster, shouldering his way among the growths with no care as to whether they might explode or not.

So intent was he on just placing distance between himself and the crazed beast that he nearly met an abrupt end. The undergrowth suddenly just vanished, and a great ravine yawned open before him. He could tell immediately that there was no leaping to the other side; the distance was too vast. He leaned backward, his feet skidding in the muck on the ground as he tried to brake. As he saw he was not going to be able to stop he simply sat down hard, dug in the heels of his boots, and reached to either side for anything that might assist in arresting his motion. His fingers closed around a root protruding from the ground and he grabbed it with all of his might. As his legs went over the precipice at the edge of the ravine his arm felt like it was going to be pulled from the socket...but he stopped, his legs dangling in space.

Behind him he heard a pounding, and the crackling and tearing of the undergrowth, and the ground beneath him began to vibrate.

For a moment it was all Jamie could do to breathe. His arm hurt, and the skin had abraded on his palm and wrist. But he managed to flop over onto his belly, grab the root with both hands, and haul himself back up onto the ledge to a seated position.

Just in time, too. He heard the pounding of feet and Geert appeared, running full out. Behind him the woods tossed and uprooted and heaved with destruction. Geert's eyes met Jamie's, and in a frozen second Jamie noted the look of puzzlement on the apprentice's face, as though he could not figure out why Jamie was just sitting there, doing nothing, as the end of the world approached.

And then Geert's eyes spied the ravine, and the puzzled look changed to one of horror. The boy leaned back so fast he fell over onto his pack, and as he went to slide right by Jamie, Jamie reached out and grabbed, and managed somehow to close his fingers on the stretched leather belt that held the pack to Geert's back. Jamie screamed in agony as the force of Geert's passing tried to peel him off the edge of the ravine, but did not let go. Geert's feet passed over the rim of the ravine, and then his waist, and he bent double and rolled onto his belly as he tried to grab something, anything, to slow his plunge...and then he stopped.

Jamie's arm was drawn taut, and he went to scream at the pain and strain of it, when suddenly the earth shook and something immense crashed to the ground on the other side of him. There was a brief, furious scramble of something enormously powerful digging into the earth, and Jamie closed his eyes as dirt and roots and debris pelted him; and then he could not help opening his eyes again as he sensed something enormous pass over them...

There was an earth-shaking bellow that seemed oddly stretched out; and then the earth rocked as something weighty beyond measure impacted somewhere beyond Jamie. In that instant Jamie found strength he did not know he possessed, and yanked powerfully on the strap binding him to Geert. There was a moment's resistance, and then a give, and Geert crashed against Jamie with a small thud. Jamie grabbed the boy, pulled him closer, wrapped his arms about him as the earth shook further.

A strange, grinding sound ensued, another fearsome bellow that was more distant, and then a moment of eerie silence, followed by a crash that once again shook the ground.

And then, total silence. The Forest of Night had paused, not a peep from its many denizens, as the realization that something terrible had yet again befallen one of its own sank in.

All Jamie could hear was his own breathing, and that of Geert, whose breath was warm upon his face. Jamie left his eyes closed and pushed his face against the other boy's, feeling the life in him, and grateful for that fact.

The silence around them drew out another minute, and then...slowly...the million voices of the forest began to return.

Jamie took a deep breath, let it sigh out long. "Are you all right?"

He felt Geert nod. "Thank you, Jamie."

Jamie nodded, his eyes still closed, and rubbed his face gently against Geert's. "We could ill afford to lose you."

They remained close for another moment, and then Jamie pulled back and opened his eyes. Geert's eyes were upon him, and Jamie could still see the fright of the close call within them.

He grinned, let go of the other boy, and climbed to his feet. Geert scrambled up to stand beside him, and both boys cautiously approached the edge of the ravine and peered into its depths.

Across the way, the other side of the ravine showed a terrible, fresh gash, evidence that something large had driven against it and clawed for purchase. Beneath the gash were carved grooves that extended downwards for a bit, and then ended abruptly.

Far below, perhaps a hundred feet or more, the huge body of their former nemesis lay sprawled among large boulders, surrounded by an immense, cruel splatter of deep red that could only be blood.

Better you than us, Jamie thought, feeling lucky to be the survivor. Still, he shook his head. "A gruesome end for a gruesome beast."

Geert tugged at Jamie's arm. "Look."

Jamie turned to where the other boy was pointing. On either side of them, deep gouges in the soil led to the edge of the drop. Jamie gaped, realizing what that could only mean one thing: the creature had passed directly over them before taking its plunge.

Jamie and Geert stared at each other, only then realizing how close things had been.


Jamie and Geert both looked up as Snave dropped to earth nearby. Garvin and Dorf were aboard, each standing atop one of the gargoyle's wide wooden feet, each with an arm laced through the stout leather straps holding Snave's pack to his back.

Garvin jumped off and ran straight to Jamie, and Jamie met him halfway. They crashed into each other's arms and went right into a kiss, and Jamie squeezed the other boy to him lest he ever get away again.

"I was so worried about you," Garvin breathed, rubbing his face against Jamie's. "Are you hurt?" He stood back, holding Jamie at arm's length and running his eyes up and down Jamie's dirt-covered clothing.

"No. It was a close thing, though."

Dorf and Snave drew closer, and Jamie and Geert explained what had happened to them.

Garvin gaped. "We cannot be doing this every step of our journey, Jamie. The odds are not in our favor for survival."

Jamie nodded. He looked at Snave then. "You flew. Could you fly all of us over the forest?"

The gargoyle was silent a moment before responding. "Jamie...I never learned mass flight. It is one thing to fly oneself, yet another matter entirely to move many. Thorvil can do it, but it took many years of refinements before he could. You must remember I was but nineteen when I entered this form, and that the normal arts of learning magic were then denied to me. Thorvil did teach me many new things, but they were largely practical things, things he needed in order to do business or protect the shop. He was unaware of the depth of my mind, unsure of how much of me remained after my body had died. We could not converse, and so he based his knowledge on my very limited responses."

"So you cannot fly all of us," Jamie said, smiling. He reached out and laid a hand on the gargoyle's wooden arm. "No need to be upset about it, Snave."

Snave gave a short laugh. "I could fly myself, and lift all of you, of that I am sure. But only two can ride upon me as Dorf and Garvin just did. Only two without some form of harness or something, the makings of which we do not have, I am afraid."

"We could fashion something out of our packs, I'd wager," Jamie began, "or perhaps even magify something that would work." But then he paused. "No. No, it does not feel right. Were we meant to fly to our destination, it would have seemed apparent at the onset." He grinned. "I think this is actually going as it is supposed to, in fact."

Geert looked alarmed at that. "Jamie, we were nearly trampled and dropped to our deaths!"

Jamie held up the wrist that wore the lucky bracelet given to him by Sedwick and Kunden and gazed at it. "And yet, we were not."

Snave moved closer. "Are you saying this expedition has been fortuned in some fashion? Good fortune, I mean?"

Jamie frowned. "I do not know about that. But I recall my own vision, when Geert asked to come along. That of us standing before a ruined tower. All of us. It was a certain thing in my mind, not a ghostly perhaps. So we are to at least get that far together, unscathed, despite the odds that seem to face us just now." Jamie smiled, turned his head and gazed about them. In truth, the forest was so dense and murky that he could not see more than about thirty feet in every direction. But he waved a hand, anyway. "I see no tower here. Do you?"

Snave revolved, and then came back to face Jamie. When he spoke this time, his voice held a note of humor within. "No. Perhaps behind a tree? There are a few about, I think."

Jamie grinned. "There you go. So we will continue to look." He nodded. "Flying would be quicker, and safer...but one misses many things by passing over them. Especially in terrain like this. So I think we are meant to walk, and to see what there is to see."

"But not now," Dorf said, waving one of his own hands at the woods. "Here at this ravine, the sky is visible, and yet look how dim it is, still. Sunset approaches, and we must make a safe camp for the night."

Garvin nodded. "I think Sir Dorf is right, Jamie. It is time to secure ourselves for darkness."

"Right here would be good," Snave said then. "The ravine will deny an approach from one side, at least."

Dorf looked approving. "Good thinking, Snave. You have the makings of a tactician, I think."

The gargoyle laughed. "I simply wish the four of you to survive the night, is all."

"We will," Jamie said, with certainty. "The tower, remember?" He licked his lips. "Snave...I may have solved the defense for the cloak of confusion."

If the gargoyle could have gaped, he probably would have. His voice seemed startled enough. "Are you certain? I have had some thoughts on the problem myself, but...what have you learned?"

Jamie quickly explained the nature of the thought experiments he had done with the movements of electrical energy. And the stopping of that movement.

"Whatever was used against us had to have in some way interfered with the electrical operation of our thoughts," Jamie finished. "By shielding the operation of our minds from tampering by external forces, we should stop the magick of interference. But..." Jamie frowned.

"But...what?" Geert asked, after Jamie failed to go on.

Jamie shrugged. "It still feels incomplete yet. My own musings suggest it would be detrimental to us to simply cut off all electrums that approach us."

Garvin grinned. "Electrums? I have never heard that one before, Jamie."

"Because I just created the term," Jamie returned, laughing. "I saw...well, I don't know exactly what I saw. I journeyed in thought with the lens, and I saw something I cannot fully describe. But we were interrupted by stepping into that beast's path, and I feel I missed something more. The electrums I saw are only part of something larger. I need to talk with the lens again."

The edge of the ravine was clear, with a good view of the sky and the opposite side, and the forest to the rear of them had been cleared by the passage of the beast, leaving a viewable approach. It seemed as safe a place as they were likely to find along the rim of the canyon, and so they decided to camp exactly there. A fire was built, feeling that its presence would be unusual enough to give pause to most things that crept about by night, rather than to act as a draw. To ensure their safety, Snave erected the blue-gold dome of the protective shield over the camp, saying that he would be the one that did not sleep, and therefore the right one to watch and maintain such a magick.

They made their bedrolls upon their mats, with Jamie placing his right next to Garvin's. To his great surprise, Geert laid his right beside Jamie on the other side, and simply smiled when Jamie looked at him questioningly.

Dorf laid his mat across the end, so that he lay at the boy's feet, between them and the forest beyond.

They ate from their stores and talked, but Jamie was having trouble focusing on the conversation. The lens pulsed warmly at his chest, and the small life that lived within danced among Jamie's thoughts, showing him things he had, once again, never seen before.

Geert spoke to him several times, and Jamie only half-answered, and finally he heard Garvin speak up that Jamie was studying with the lens. Jamie was aware of quiet conversation around him after that, but was unable quite to focus on what was being said.

In his mind, he saw different types of the small energies that comprised his newly discovered electrums. The variety was simply amazing. At some point he had the epiphany that all of the electrums were the same in construction, just that they varied in some dimension he could not quite fathom. But he saw then that all were related: light, electricity, the strange attraction of the lodestone; others that had no names because they did not move within the human ability to sense. What was amazing was that he could magick these things, these electrums, all of them, based upon the complex knot-lock he had tied earlier. The type of electrum he wished to use - or to guard against - could be addressed merely by varying the last ties of the knot, and its turn to the face of application.

Finally, Jamie withdrew from the lens, sighed, and got to his feet. Garvin and Geert were both still seated next to him, legs crossed, nodding with sleep after the day's events. Garvin opened his eyes immediately and patted Jamie's leg.


Jamie nodded. Garvin rose, put an arm around him, and hugged him. Jamie smiled, and delivered a kiss to Garvin's cheek.

Dorf, who was relaxed upon his bedroll, looked up at them. "It grows late. You should sleep if we are to move at first light."

"First light will be fine here near the open sky, but still dark within the forest," Jamie suggested. "Perhaps better to wait a bit later, until the sun is up more fully?"

Dorf pursed his lips, but then nodded. "Wise idea, perhaps. I guess we will just have to see."

Jamie nodded, squeezed Garvin again, and then smiled at him. "Let me speak with Snave a moment."

Garvin nodded, and sat back onto his bedroll. Geert's head bobbed, his eyes snapped open, and he suddenly looked up at them. "Oh, you are back."

Jamie laughed, and held up a hand. "Yes. Well, back in a moment, anyway."

He went over to Snave, laid a hand on the gargoyle's arm. "I have been contemplating things very small with the lens."

"I was aware. Your body was here, but it was clear your thoughts were elsewhere. You have further news on the defense for the cloak of confusion?"

"Yes. I have...I think...discovered the force of thoughts, and some other things. They are all related, actually." Jamie sighed. "Oh, Snave, it is wondrous! These many things once considered separate forces are all variations of the same one."

It was impossible to tell from the gargoyle's exterior what he was thinking. Only his voice was a clue, and now it held a trace of the same wonder that Jamie himself was feeling. "Truly? All the same?"

Jamie nodded. "Yes." He leaned forward towards the gargoyle and then stopped. "Oh...I don't know how to do this."

Jamie thought a moment, and then undid the lacings of his shirt and pulled it off over his head. Then he stepped up to Snave, wrapped his arms about him, and pressed the lens against the wood of the gargoyle's belly. "Attend me, Snave."

Jamie closed his eyes, brought up the new knot of magic he had created from the things the lens had showed him. He heard Snave gasp, felt the smallest of trembles pass through the wood of his body. "I see it, Jamie. Inside my head. is very complex."

Jamie sighed. "It would seem that the deeper the magicks, the more complex their view. This is expressed in the visualization of the lock that must be tied. Observe."

Carefully, he walked Snave through the creation of the knot that guarded the energies of the mind. He tied it, once, twice, three times.

"I believe I can do it," Snave said then.

Jamie observed as Snave retied the magick, expressing every bit of the elegance of motion in doing so that Geert had shown. Snave, too, had talent.

There was an internal click, and Snave sighed. "This will protect me from the confusion?"

"This I believe to be true," Jamie acknowledged. "Once tied, it never needs to be done again." Jamie had created his own thought-lock, and knew now that his thoughts were protected from trespass.

"Observe this as well," Jamie said then. He took the basic knot and retied it as if to create the thought protection, but at the last few turns went in different directions. "Now, drop the shield a moment, and then recreate it, and add this lock to its completion."

The blue-gold shield about them flickered, and vanished. Dorf came to his feet, sword in hand, and stared off into the dark forest as Snave reworked the lock. There was a flicker about them, and then the blue-gold of the shield returned.

"What goes on?" Dorf asked quietly.

"A moment," Jamie called. He looked up at Snave's face. "You have the lock in mind?"


"Take it, and turn it ninety degrees against the clock."

The shield about them flickered, and then suddenly went opaque. An inverted silver bowl now covered them, cutting off the forest, although the sounds of the night still came through.

"We are invisible," Jamie said, grinning.

Snave gave a surprised laugh. "Are we?"

"Yes. Someone could walk right by the shield and see nothing but the night. It would be the same if it were daytime. That which can be seen beyond the shield is shifted around it's circumference to the nearest face for every onlooker, so that even a dozen men standing in a circle about the shield would only see each other, as if nothing intervened. You like it?"

Snave laughed. "You have a gift for understatement, Jamie."

Jamie nodded. "Now, take your lock and turn it another ninety degrees against the clock."

The shield was suddenly transparent again...except that the forest beyond glowed with an eerie white light. Trees and undergrowth were visible as if in the brightest of daylight, yet devoid of colors of any kind.

"What are we seeing now?" Geert asked. He and Garvin had come to stand near Jamie.

"The forest beyond the shield, painted in the warmth it still holds from the daily sun."

Geert gaped. "Do we look the same to any onlookers?"

Jamie shook his head. "No. We are still invisible to all outside of the shield."

"Amazing," Dorf said, shaking his head. "To see in the darkness itself. Truly a wonderful accomplishment, Jamie."

Jamie felt a flush of excitement, but only nodded. "Return the shield to visibility so that we can see out," he said to Snave. He turned to the others. "I have work for each of you, too."

He proceeded to teach Geert the new lock that protected thought, and to show him how to add the new strengths to the shield. "A turn to the last ninety degrees against the clock will keep the shield from falling before an attack like that which the beast performed against us earlier," he told Snave and Geert both. "That beast has within its body a power to mimic some magickal energies. By making its horns emit the same energy as the shield, it was allowed to pass through it. This new lock will prevent that from happening by quickly varying the...." He stopped, and grinned. "I do not know the word. The shield is not a constant thing, but is reformed in a cycle of almost immeasurable quickness. By randomly varying the rate of this quickness, it keeps the magick of the beast from attuning itself and allowing it to pass."

"Perhaps frequentness?" Snave offered.

Jamie nodded. "I like it. By varying the frequentness of the defense shield, it becomes immune to duplication."

He also told them that all of the features could be enabled, in any combination, simply by turning the lock first to one point, then back the other way to the next, and so on. "And, there are indications that there are magicks to be had at every single degree of the turn of that very special lock. I just have yet to understand them."

Snave made a sound like a soft sigh. "Jamie, this is truly a magnificent effort. A new generation of magicks is born this night."

Jamie nodded, but did not wish to claim the credit that Snave offered. Without the small life within the lens, none of this would be possible.

He went to Garvin, unlaced his shirt, and pulled if off over the boy's head. Then he circled his arms about his friend and drew him close. Garvin grinned, nodding his head forward so that their foreheads touched, and rubbed his nose gently against Jamie's. "Is there something to this?" He let his eyes flick to the others a moment, then lowered his voice. "Perhaps not in front of so many watchers?"

Jamie grinned. "Sorry. It is not what you think. Just a more comfortable way for me to get the lens against you. Close your eyes, Garv."

His friend did as he was instructed, and Jamie closed his eyes, too.

There was a burst of color inside Jamie's head, and Garvin started. "Oh! I see colors in my thoughts!"

Jamie smiled, created a focus. "Can you see this? A point of light?"


Jamie slowly worked the point through its paces, felt Garvin breathe faster as the knot-lock grew tight. "It is so beautiful, Jamie!"

"You must learn to do this, Garv."

Garvin drew back and stared at him. "I cannot!"

"Yes, you can." Jamie returned. "I will assist you."

It took a while. Jamie had to tie the knot a dozen times before Garvin was able to replicate it. Jamie could see the struggle in the boy's mind, and understood that it was because his friend did not have the knack for cast magic. But there was some sort of magickal knack there, or Garvin would not even have been able to see the knot to work it at all.

But finally it was done, there was a firm yet inaudible click, and the knot of light disappeared into Garvin's thoughts. "What have I just done, Jamie?"

"Protected yourself. While you and Dorf and Silas were not targeted in the attack upon thoughts that affected Snave and Geert and I at the inn, it must have been by choice on the part of the attacker. In my explorations of thought I could find no reason why yours could not be influenced just as mine were." He smiled. "Now you are safe from that attack."

Jamie turned to Dorf, and transferred the smile to him. "And now you."

The task was repeated, with Dorf's fingertips pressed against the lens upon Jamie's chest. It was much like instructing Garvin, with a clear magickal knack enabling the process, but a slowness on the knight's part to master the tying due to no ability for cast magick. But he finally managed it, and then Dorf's thoughts were protected, too.

Jamie suddenly sagged, and the knight caught him under an arm.

"I'm sorry," Jamie said. "I am so tired now."

Garvin came and assisted Dorf in getting Jamie to his bedroll. They laid him down, and Jamie breathed a sigh of relief, knowing now that all of his friends were protected in their thoughts.

Garvin pulled off Jamie's boots, and then his own, and drew a light linen from his pack, unfolded it, and placed it over Jamie in his bedroll; and then Garvin climbed into his own roll, got beneath the same linen, and snuggled up against Jamie. "Go to sleep, my love. I will be right here with you." Garvin placed an arm across Jamie's chest, snuggled even closer, and sighed.

Jamie drowsed, aware of movement nearby as Geert and Dorf prepared for sleep. And then he slept.

Some time later, he opened his eyes, unsure of what had awakened him. Garvin lay close against him, warm and comforting. The fire had died down a bit, the night had deepened, and Jamie was able to see stars above them.

They were beautiful, a thousand, tiny points of light that reminded him a little of the tiny, frenetic energies he had seen in his thoughts while exploring with the lens.

Jamie was exhausted. Why am I awake? He looked at the stars a moment longer, and then let his eyes close.

"Jamie?" It was Snave. His voice was low, so as not to disturb the others.

"Yes?" Jamie whispered.

"Perhaps you should see this."

"What is it?" Dorf asked quietly, from his own bedroll.

Jamie sat up, and immediately Garvin was awake. "What is wrong?"

Geert made a noise, and sat bolt upright. He stared about a moment, his eyes wide; and then blinked as he found Jamie and Garvin looking at him. "What? Do I snore?"

Jamie laughed. "No. Be calm. Snave has something that needs viewing."

Jamie got to his feet and went to the gargoyle. Snave was standing close to the drop off into the ravine, and Jamie was careful where he put his feet.

"No need for caution," the gargoyle said. "The shield is pulled in on this side, so that it does not reach the edge. You could not fall, even if you wanted to do so."

The others came to stand beside them.

"What have you seen?" Jamie asked, patiently, laying a hand on the gargoyle's arm.

Snave rotated slightly so that he was facing the drop off, and the starry night sky above. "Observe down the length of the ravine for a moment. The phenomenon I witnessed has repeated three times thus far, at what feels like the same interval. We are about due for another, I think."

Everyone turned to look in the same direction, and watched in silence as the forest hummed and chirped and twittered around them. The night sounds were very similar to the day sounds, except for the absence of any voices that Jamie would have ascribed to larger animals. That did not mean that there were no large prowlers in the night; it just meant that they were quiet prowlers, the most dangerous kind.

But they were safe, Jamie felt, within the modified shield. The new facts of how electrums worked made him feel sure now that no average force could overcome their defenses.

Several minutes passed. Jamie looked at Snave, was about to ask for more detail, when a new light caught his eye. He turned immediately back and gazed down the length of the ravine.

Far off, on the other side of the ravine, and surely several leagues away, a great rose-colored light blossomed. It expanded, and then a great burst of fire shot skyward at great speed, climbing into the heavens in an instant, growing smaller and smaller, until it finally vanished. A strange, hissing sound reached them, not particularly loud in nature, like steam escaping from a heated teakettle. The sound persisted a moment even after the fireball had vanished into the sky, and then faded away. The rose glow left behind slowly cooled, and then once again there was only the night.

Jamie looked at Snave. "What do you think that was?"

The gargoyle grunted. "I have no idea. But it has happened four times now."

"It flies well away from us," Dorf said pointedly. "Perhaps we can safely return to sleep, as long as Snave watches?"

Jamie grinned. He, too, had felt no immediate threat from whatever it was they had just seen. "Snave? What do you think?"

"I did not feel it a threat, which is why I did not awaken you immediately the first time it occurred. It has the feel of something directed at the sky, not any of us here on the ground."

Jamie looked at Dorf. "What direction is that?"

The knight smiled. "I do believe it is to the west of us, Jamie."

Jamie nodded, and looked back at Snave. "So I think we will be looking at this thing tomorrow, when the light is better. And for that, we need sleep."

"Agreed." Snave floated a bit closer to the edge of the drop off and resettled himself. "I will watch this thing, and alert you if it takes a turn in our direction."

Jamie nodded, and they all returned to their bedrolls. There was just a bit of a nip to the night air, and Jamie, with his shirt off, felt a slight shiver course through his midsection. It felt good to get beneath the linen again, and to feel Garvin close by. Jamie turned on his side to face the other boy, pushed his face close to Garvin's, and kissed him. "This journey grows stranger by the moment."

"Yes. But I feel safe, with you," Garvin said simply, and snuggled close. Jamie smiled, and wrapped an arm about the other boy.

In moments he was sleepy again, and the sounds of the forest seemed to blend into one voice, not at all hard to listen to. Restful, in fact.

Jamie felt movement to his rear, and then the warmth of Geert as the boy pressed closer to Jamie's back. Whether for warmth, or to lessen his disquiet at this place, it did not matter. Jamie understood a need for closeness, here in this wild and unknown land.

Briefly, before sleep took him, Jamie saw in his mind again the rise of the strange fireball into the night sky. There had been something quite eerie about that. And also something familiar. Almost like the rockets that Jamie had seen fired from the castle on holiday eves. But those had risen into the sky and burst like stars, while this odd thing they had seen far down the ravine had simply vanished into the depths of the night sky.

What, then, was this new puzzle?

Only the new day might tell.

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