The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 17

They found two rows of generous seating within the wagon, one down each side of the car. Mos suggested they take seats, as once the wagon started, it would accelerate very quickly. They moved to the front of the car, where they could see out the forward window, and dropped into the comfortable seats. Once again Jamie marveled at how soft and inviting, yet firm and supportive, the ancients had managed to make the things they parked themselves upon.

The doors of the wagon whispered closed, and Jamie felt a sensation of movement and then acceleration, but quite unlike anything he had ever experienced before. It was smooth, steady, and powerful, and seemed spread so evenly about his body that he barely sank back into the seat at all. The view ahead of them looked almost unchanged, so uniform was the tunnel, and it was not until they flashed past another platform - so quickly that it barely registered at all - that they had any inkling as to how fast they were actually moving.

Jamie shook his head. "We are moving as if flying. Only in travel with Thorvil have I ever seen such speed."

Mos looked suddenly unsettled, and turned to where Irik had made himself comfortable in a seat. They exchanged a brief conversation, and then Irik turned to Jamie. "He is concerned about travelers in the tunnel. He said because this wagon has not ever worked before, that all traffic here is by foot. He hopes we do not meet anyone, because at this speed, they would have no warning whatsoever."

Jamie was briefly alarmed by that notion, but then suddenly felt that concern moderate. "The ancients were extremely good at everything they did. I would think that there would be some safeguard against that happening." He frowned then. "I would hope there would be some safeguard against that happening." He turned to where Snave had placed himself between two seats. "What think you, Snave?"

"I would tend to agree. But...if there are no safeguards in place for such an event, I doubt anyone on foot would survive the encounter. The wagon fills the tunnel quite closely."

That knowledge greatly reduced the sense of wonder that Jamie was feeling about their new mode of travel. The wagon was smooth and fast, but it would be a lethal juggernaut to anyone caught out on foot in its path. The group grew silent, watching the tunnel ahead of them, and wondering if they would have just the briefest glimpse of someone's doom.

But it seemed that scarcely any time at all had passed before they sensed the wagon slowing, and then they suddenly emerged into a circular chamber, where the trench holding their wagon ended at a circular platform at the center. A finger of the gray stone projected outward from the center platform, and their car aligned itself neatly next to it as it drew to a halt. The doors behind them whispered open again, and a magickal tone of some sort played in the air inside with them.

"We are beneath the pinnacle," Mos said, through Irik. "Let us debark before the wagon decides to return to the citadel."

They grabbed up their packs and hurried off the wagon, but it made no move to leave, and the doors stayed open behind them.

"Perhaps it will wait for the next traveler back to the citadel," Snave suggested. "Or until it is summoned from that place somehow, for more travelers coming here. There must be some reason to its movements. If I were forming a plan for such a magickal wagon to operate by, I would have it wait for those travelers like us who emerged here, on the logic that they may wish to return to the place from whence they came."

Jamie eyed the car, still impressed with the engineering magick of the ancients. "We covered the last leagues in mere minutes. Two, at most. Such must be the wagon's speed that the entire trip from the citadel to this place could be done in mere minutes." He turned to Snave. "Anyone at the citadel summoning the car back would only need wait briefly for its return."

Dorf shook his head. "How is the summoning done, I ask?"

Geert smiled. "It seemed aware that we were standing on that platform, and did not pass us by, but rather stopped to invite us aboard. Perhaps it is aware of people on platforms, and if we leave here, or if someone arrives on the platform at the citadel, it will return there."

Jamie laughed at Geert's fascinated look. "I think you are more right than wrong, my friend."

Geert's smile widened, and he nodded. "The mysteries of the ancients fascinate me."

Dorf grinned at that. "We could not tell."

Everyone smiled at the notion, and it was Mos who redirected their attention then, pointing at the wide center column of gray stone. "There is a staircase inside, that ascends into the tower."

They moved towards the center of the circular platform, and then walked around the gray stone center column. Jamie could see three other tunnel openings spaced evenly about the circular chamber, but no wagons waited at the boarding platforms for any of them. They arrived at an open doorway, inside which was a spiral staircase. There were also several doors in the walls by the stairs, all closed, and all featureless, without handles or locks or any sort of dressing. Small, silvery ovals on the stone walls next to each suggested a lock mechanism, perhaps like the white panels on which one laid his palm to open the locked doors in the house of fire; but when Jamie tried to press his finger upon one, it sank briefly into the wall the tiniest of distances, but otherwise generated no response.

"I sense these are inoperative," Jamie said, as much to himself as to the group. "I get no sense of electrums within."

"You have become attuned to them, I think," Snave answered. He floated over to the spiral staircase. "We may as well use the steps, rather than spend more time trying to figure out the magick of yon doors."

"I agree," Dorf said. "It is into afternoon now, and I would like to scout a good place to spend the night. We have no idea what lies above."

"I have been into the tower," Mos said, through Irik. "You can move up the levels by stairway, and there is a grand view from near the top. But there is no way to get outside. There are doors, but we have been unable to open them."

"Probably takes a human hand," Dorf mused. "Our friends are at a disadvantage there."

"Makes you wonder how that happens to be," Garvin mused. "If these three peoples - the Iricawa, the Lachess, and the Pertwee - have lived here all along, were they banned somehow from opening doors?"

"Who knows the security needs of the ancients?" Dorf returned. "And we do not even know if these three peoples were here in the time of the old ones."

Jamie turned to Irik. "I meant to ask you before...what you know about the three peoples that live down here? Why they have not moved out into the world, even? We were wary of broaching the subject to Mos or Khybeer, for fear of stepping upon some old taboo."

Irik gave a slow shake of his head. "There is no taboo to keep that which lives in the forest in place. The life in the lowlands cannot pass beyond the great encircling wall, and the life of the highlands above stays because to venture beyond the forest is to lose the magick of perfect disguise. That protection is born of the forest, and for one of them to leave is to feel shorn of some part of their being."

Jamie was stunned at the idea. "The invisibility that protects the forest life does not travel with them?"

"No. Or, not outside these woods. The wildlife above are as conduits that channel that magick, but it is a magick born of the forest, and it stays with the forest. Only my own kind has learned to produce the perfect disguise at will, and thus take it with us into the world beyond the trees."

"The treef are not so protected," Garvin pointed out. "Yet they seem not to wish to leave the forest, either."

"The treef have their own magick, also tied to the forest," Irik explained. "The forest is as another world to your own. Your kind - at least those without magick - refuse to enter the forest, just as our life refuses to leave."

Dorf laughed at that. "The stories told of this place would keep any sane man from entering, I think. Only the five of us were of, uh, stern enough material to enter."

"He means crazy enough," Geert said, grinning.

Jamie considered that a moment before answering. "But we are all magickal creatures, ourselves. The stories of these woods come mostly from the unmagickal among our race, who have spoken of spirits and demons abounding here. Could it be, instead, that...that what the common man feels on entering here is the flow of magick that lives here? That it enters his mind, and touches upon unwakened places that only mages are used to utilizing? Such a tantalizing touch to unformed areas of the mind might produce all manner of...spirits or demons, yet not real at all, except to those that sense them."

"And in combination with the life that is actually here, a quite frightful picture is painted, overall," Dorf added, nodding.

"It's a good theory," Snave said. "We are only now seeing new facets of magick ourselves on this journey. Enough to know that we do not know everything about it, despite the sense of familiarity we feel for it."

Jamie nodded, and turned back to Irik. "So you do not lose your perfect disguise upon leaving these woods?

"Not my kind," Irik agreed. "Our magick travels with us because we are as you, able to deliberately form it. But the animals of the forest do not perform conscious magick as do we. They are tied to some omnipresent magick that lives here, and grants them their invisibility. None of the life above wishes to venture into the greater world. Only select members of the clans have traveled outside the great trees, and only to view the state of the world beyond. But...we do not wish to live there."

The wolf looked somehow uncomfortable then, and Jamie sensed that Irik had no wish to elaborate.

"Don't like the company you'd be keeping, maybe?" Dorf chanced.

The look on the wolf's face gave him away. "It is not purely that. But...your kind are very dangerous, I'm afraid."

"That cannot be the only reason," Geert offered, sounding a little upset. "Not all humans are hard to live with."

"No. That is true. But many of them are, and have no sense of the other life of the world beyond their own needs. My kind is seen as a predator in your world...a killer of farm animals, a danger to travelers. And even though we of the clans are different than the breed of wolf that lives in your world, your kind makes no effort to distinguish the difference before loosing an arrow."

Jamie felt embarrassment first, and then sadness. "Your breed is not known outside the forest, Irik. I want to believe that most men would be less quick to loose an arrow if they knew they were shooting at people."

Irik watched him a moment, and then his muzzle tugged briefly in a smile. "I would say, actually, that we that live in the forest like the place we live as much as you probably like the place where you live...when you are not traipsing about getting into things." The wolf's muzzle formed a true smile now. "The forest is not perfect, but it is home."

Snave moved closer then, and positioned himself by the wolf. "So this is the reason the life in the highlands does not leave. What of the life below?"

"The wall keeps them in place, of course. Only the small dragons fly, and they are bound to the lowlands by the same feel for local magick that binds the life above. Yet even so, some do travel beyond the bounds of the forest."

"To the mountains, for instance," Geert agreed, nodding. "That accounts for why we do know of them, anyway."

"That accounts for the animal life remaining place," Snave returned. "What of the Iricawa, the Lachess, and the Pertwee? Do not they wish to see the world beyond the forest?"

"They do not," Irik countered. "Their numbers are small compared to yours, and there is nothing to draw them from the safe places in which they have made their homes. The forest is what they know, and what they expect."

"It's also large enough that they've no want for room," Dorf pointed out. "That we had no true idea of the size of the forest just displays our ignorance about the world around us. I have traveled more than the average man, and yet I was not aware that there was a continent in size beneath these trees."

"And it is not so dangerous a place for Mos or his people, if they have strong walls like the citadel to live behind," Garvin added. "Since I was young, all I have ever heard about this forest was that it was the abode of spirits and devils." He smiled, and waved a hand around the room. "Show me a single spirit or devil, I ask you. The wildlife here is forbidding, but with the tunnel system below the ground, these people and the others here have a safe road to travel. Perhaps Jamie's theory is the correct one, after all. There are no devils here in the lowlands, save the ones of blood and bone we have already seen and heard."

"It's true we have not seen the things described in the legends," Snave replied. "But it may well be that it is because we are magickal in nature ourselves. Perhaps only a non-magickal human mind is subject to these...illusions, for want of a better word."

"There are things in the forest that cannot quite be described," Irik said, carefully. "The east is a known land to me, and here I know most of what I am dealing with. You are the first true unknowns I have met here in my lifetime." The wolf gave a brief shake to his head. "You speak of the stories you have heard of the forest in your world? Well, we have such tales here, too. All of them concern the lands to the west. There, it is said, can be found things that might be termed spirits or devils."

Dorf narrowed his eyes at that. "Aren't your people...or the seven clans, anyway...spread throughout the entire forest.?"

"Yes...above. In the highlands, we circle the entire forest. We are the guardians of the wall. But below? Those of our kind that live in the uplands to the west have stories to tell that give reason to their unwillingness to explore the lower lands there in too much detail."

"Interesting," Jamie said, looking pointedly at Dorf, "that every indicator points to the western lands as being the trouble spot within the forest. Given that our nemesis, Urvan, was determined to have traveled west, and the presence of that fabled city, Methuwan, in the west...might not there be a connection?"

"Perhaps." The big man shrugged. "I could only guess, at this point."

"There might well be," Snave spoke up then. "There was also our meeting with the supposed minions of Zeeros, who were also said to hail from that troubled city."

"What are you saying, Jamie?" Garvin asked. "That there is more here to consider than just an evil deed done to the prince by Urvan?"

"Yes. I am wondering now...look. Snave says that Master Thorvil had a glimpse of us being part of some future events. The incident with the prince and Urvan brought us into this quest, but...Urvan may simply have been acting on his impulses in regards to Sedwick, and the true reason we are here is not just to help the prince. There is the incident of the beggar who was not a beggar, and his theft of the book of ancient maps from the shop of Crillis --"

"I will retrieve my master's property, I swear!" Geert ground out then.

Jamie smiled, and nodded. "--and that we were attacked at the inn of Dorf's brother by creatures that do not belong in our world above, yet are said to guard this city of Methuwan. And our own Irik has spoken of mages that come from the west, to inspect the house of fires, among other things. These many things speak to me now as more than the act of one mage and one evil deed. Urvan may be quite the scoundrel, but it was not Urvan that stole the book from Crillis. And, according to Wanda Pegfoot, there is something afoot in the world, something that frays at her nerves. And it was also she that suggested that Urvan may well be one Leemus, the once apprentice of Porvus, the partner of he who nearly slayed our Snave. Lodda, was it?"

"Yes," the gargoyle said quietly. "You make much sense, Jamie. I, too, have been feeling that we pursue larger evils than just the wrong done to the prince. It may be a fact that Urvan is simply part of some greater menace we will face."

"Does this change our goal, then?" Garvin asked.

Jamie shook his head. "No. We are duty-bound to assist Sedwick, both as our prince and as our friend. But the goal of finding a way to reverse his problem may be only a part of our end game here."

Garvin smiled. "I agree. But I meant to ask if this tower...or a tower like it...may not be the final goal we seek? Might that goal actually be Methuwan, itself?"

For a moment no one spoke. Jamie's thoughts quailed, just a little, at the idea that their quest might take them to the other side of the forest, there to deal, not just with Urvan, but with perhaps many mages, and some even stronger than the red mage himself.

"The idea is frightening," Geert said softly, putting into words exactly what Jamie was thinking.

He couldn't help it: he smiled at the other boy, and clapped him fondly upon the shoulder. "We do what me must. If we do go so far as the other side of this great forest, the journey will at least give us some time to further explore our magicks and ready ourselves." He leaned a little closer to Geert then. "But you may turn back, if you will, and none here will think less of you for it."

Geert's jaw dropped, and his eyes immediately held fire. "I will not!" But then he saw the smile in Jamie's eyes, and those appearing on the faces of the others around him, and broke into a smile of his own. "Oh, Jamie, you are funning with me!"

"In part." Jamie nodded. " seems true now that we are pursuing more than we originally bargained for. If there is anyone that wishes not to go on, it is only fair that he say the word."

No one spoke.

"I am bound to the prince's command to guard you, which I obey willingly," Dorf finally said. He made a show of yawning, and then smiling. "And, I have nothing better to be doing with my time."

Garvin leaned closer and bumped his shoulder against Jamie's. "I go where you go," he said softly, "and no power exists to keep me away."

"I promised my brother to look after you," Snave offered, a smile evident in the sound of his voice, if not yet upon his face. "And I am learning much, and seeing all the world I missed seeing for several centuries of standing about in wood. I will continue, I think."

"The Master Crillis will have his book back, and the destruction of our shop returned on the one responsible," Geert said evenly. "Not to mention what was done to my master's person, and my wish to exact payment from the one that did it."

"This is not about revenge," Jamie said quietly.

Geert looked angry a moment, but then shook his head. "No. It is about an evening of things, Jamie. About righting a wrong - several wrongs." He sighed. "Ever since I was a small boy, I have resented those that feel they have some right to take from others, be it their possessions, their safety, or their dignity. It is as much a part of my make up now as the color of my hair and my eyes. I cannot change those, and I cannot change the way I feel. I will see justice done here, for my master, for the prince, and for ourselves."

"Our Geert has teeth," Garvin said, smiling. He moved closer to the other boy and bumped their shoulders together. "Well spoken." He turned back to Jamie. "We are all going, Jamie, so let us get on with it."

"I will go, too," Irik suddenly put in.

All eyes turned to the wolf.

"You are only tasked with showing us to the tower," Jamie reminded. "We are here. This releases you from further commitment to this journey."

Irik shook his head. "I was tasked by the clan to watch you, wherever you might go within our realm." Irik looked slowly about the room, and then shook his head "I do believe the realm of the seven clans extends beyond this place...indeed, to the entire forest. is the journey of a lifetime, Jamie. And you will have need of my Mother of Tongues, I suspect."

Irik had translated none of this conversation to Mos, who had surely heard his own name mentioned, and that of his people. He had stood by quietly while the conversation had progressed, but was now watching them with evident frustration in his eyes.

"Apologize to him for me, Irik," Jamie instructed. "And inform him we were simply discussing mage things, and not to worry."

"He will not go further with us?" Irik asked.

"No. Khybeer offered Mos's services only as far as this place. And, as fine a warrior as Mos may be, he has no magicks at all, and I fear he might not survive this journey without them."

Irik nodded, and spoke to the Iricawa, who listened and then looked relieved. The man pointed at the stairway, and waved his hand upwards.

Jamie understood the gesture and moved towards the stairs. "And so up we go."

The stairway wound through a hole in the ceiling of the chamber, and the thickness of that ceiling was not lost on Jamie. It was at least as four times as thick as he was tall, and the walls glowed with that same magickal daylight that had pervaded the tunnel below, perfectly lighting the treads of the stairs. They emerged into another large, circular chamber, and were immediately presented with a hallway, at the end of which glowed a slightly different light, which looked to be the one of Mother Nature herself.

"Here, this way," Mos said, through Irik, stepping into the hallway. He led them its length into another hallway, that proceeded away to either side in an arc that soon cut off the view further down. The base of the tower Jamie had seen in his vision was round; this hallway looked to be just within that outer wall, and follow its curve. That judgment was validated by a large section of wall before them that appeared scarcely there at all, in the manner of the wonderful glass windows they had seen in the house of fire. Yet when Jamie strode forward with his hands extended before him, he was stopped by this nearly invisible barrier, and presented with a view of the forest beyond it.

"A wonder, the windows of the ancients," Garvin said, coming up beside him. "A man could become wealthy beyond imagining just with the secret of its making."

Jamie laughed at that. "Then I task you with finding an ancient to pass on to you that secret, and we shall buy our own castle and live happily ever after together."

Garvin grinned at him. "I would, if I could, for living forever with you has great appeal." He sighed. "But I fear that finding an ancient still in any condition to speak would be a greater challenge than I could handle."

"Would that be a door?" Snave asked, arriving beside them.

Jamie looked to where the gargoyle's attention seemed to be focused, and spied a panel similar to the doors that slid inside the walls that had been the norm in the underworld passages of the house of fire. Next to the door was a rectangular white plate, set into the outer wall at breast-height.

"Look familiar?" Dorf asked, his hand on the butt of his sword.

Jamie nodded, and turned to Irik. "Ask Mos if that is the door to the outside that he mentioned."

"Yes," Irik responded, after a quick exchange with the warrior. "He says there are several about the base of the tower, but that they cannot be opened."

Jamie stepped up to the door and raised his hand.

"Your shield," Snave quickly reminded, sounding patient. "For you know not what might lurk outside."

Jamie resisted the urge to slap his forehead, and quickly activated his personal shield. The blue-gold glow enveloped him, and again he raised his hand.

"That will not work," Dorf said then. "Recall the doorway to the outside in the underworld tunnels, Jamie. Your hand could not touch the panel with your shield up."

Jamie squeezed his eyes shut at this new frustration, and dropped his shield. "Attend me, Sir Dorf? If you will stand before the door, shield activated as last time, I will reach past you and touch the panel."

The big knight smiled, and patted Jamie on the shoulder as he passed him. "You are only human, Jamie."

Jamie grinned, but pointed at the door. "You will block it much better than I, anyway."

Dorf positioned himself before the door, drew his sword, and activated his shield. "Ready."

Jamie snaked a hand past the man, and laid his palm against the plate. There was a soft hiss, and the door drew back into the wall.

The forest undergrowth beyond had grown right up to the door panel, and now some of the odd fronds that topped the barrel-like fungi poked in through the doorway and touched against Dorf's shield. It sparkled briefly, but sensed no attack, and the fronds only dropped when Dorf swung his sword gently against them, lopping them off clean. Fortunately, none of the barrel-fungi were actually blocking the doorway, and the knight was able to begin clearing a path quickly.

Jamie stepped through the doorway after him, and turned to face the outside wall. Another hand panel was there, just at breast height, beside the door. Nevertheless, he turned to Garvin and held up a hand. "Remain within a moment, will you, Garv? Let's test the door to make certain it can be opened again from without. All we need is for us to all exit, and then be unable to get back within."

Garvin grinned, and stepped back. "Rap upon the door sharply if it will not open."

Jamie nodded, and stepped back. In another moment, the door whispered closed again. Dorf came back then, and stood behind him, using his body as a shield. "Try the door, Jamie."

Jamie dropped his shield, and quickly placed his hand on the plate. Again, the door opened, revealing Garvin's relieved smile. "It works."

"Yes." Jamie reactivated his shield. "Still, perhaps it is best if we do not all come outside. If you and the others would remain within, Dorf and I will not be long. We merely need to get far enough away from the base of this tower for me to look upwards, so that I can compare its heights to the tower I saw in my vision."

"But in your vision, both Geert and I were with you outside the tower," Garvin reminded. "And Snave, as well."

That was true. "Yes...but let's do this, anyway. This may not be the tower from my vision, in which case it is not important for you and Geert to be outside."

Garvin made a face, and leaned closer. "But if it is the tower from your vision, we will all be outside of it at some point, anyway." He frowned then. "Oh! These visions of the future are enough to give one a headache, I think."

Jamie smiled, and nodded. "I think so, too." He stepped back, gave a small wave of his hand, and waited for the door panel to whisper closed again before turning back to Dorf. "A path, Sir Knight, so that we can get far enough away to look up."

"Aye." Dorf turned again and started gently swinging his sword, which parted the fronds as if they were made of a far less substantial material. They turned and followed the curve of the building, and the path quickly lengthened. For all of a minute Dorf swung his sword as he walked forward, and Jamie followed.

And then, quite suddenly, they were through into the open. The ground beneath their feet immediately felt more firm, and Jamie could see a wide, open area before them, clear of anything but the smallest undergrowth.

"An apron of gray stone here, beneath the thin soil," Dorf guessed, pointing with his sword. "It keeps anything large from growing here."

It seemed true. They had circled the tower a bit, and now stood before a much larger door, that looked to be the main entry.

"Stands to reason they would wish to keep this area clear," Jamie said. "This looks the equivalent to the main gate of a castle in our own lands."

"Agreed. Shall we try the door?"

"In a moment. But first --"

Jamie stepped away from the tower, and tilted his head back, gazing upwards. He continued to back up, trying to bring the peak of the tower into view. Dorf accompanied him, his gaze alert and on the forest beyond.

Jamie finally reached a point where he could see the top of the tower, and stopped, examining it. The pinnacle was damaged in some way, yes; but not nearly to the extent that the tower in his vision had displayed. So clear was the difference that there was no need to gaze further.

He sighed. "This is not the tower from my vision," he told Dorf.

"No. I suspected as much. All signs point west, Jamie. That is where we must go now."

Behind them, in the forest, there was a sudden bellow of pure rage, followed by a hissing, spitting sound, as if from a giant snake of some kind. Dorf immediately drew closer to Jamie. "Time now to try the front door, I think. No need to be outside now that we know this is not our tower."

They heard a large crash in the forest, and then the sounds of a fight of impressive proportions in progress.

"I agree," Jamie said, heading for the large door. They arrived at it, and Jamie sought out the white panel and pointed at it. "There. Stand behind me a moment, and I will drop my shield and open it."

Dorf positioned himself, and Jamie quickly dropped his shield. Behind them now they could hear much crunching of undergrowth as other things sought to be away from the grand fight in progress. Jamie laid his palm against the plate, and was gratified when the large door slid open with the same grace as had the much smaller one earlier. "Quickly, Sir Dorf. Inside."

They entered the tower, and Jamie reactivated his shield until the massive door once again was closed.

Silence descended upon them as the door seated in its frame.

Dorf grinned. "Walking the silent safety of the tunnels has already spoiled me. I felt no need to see the cause of all that commotion."

"Not just you," Jamie returned, smiling. He turned to his right then, to the hallway there that proceeded around the curve of the building. Jamie cupped his hands to his mouth and called. "Garvin? It's Jamie!"

"Jamie?" Garvin's voice carried surprise with it around the curve of the hall. "Are you inside?"

"Yes. We came back in through another door. If you and the others will come this way, we will meet again."

They heard the sounds of booted feet upon the floor, and in a few moments the others came into view. Garvin looked relieved at seeing Jamie, and came to stand next to him. "Well? Is this the tower from your vision?"

"No. The one I saw has a much more splintered peak. They are the same, otherwise, but the damage to this one is much less."

Snave gave out a grunt. "Then as long as we are inside this one, perhaps it will be worth looking over? If there are many, we may as well get the lay of them now."

It was agreed. Mos took them around the outer corridor, and they looked into each room as they passed. Each had a door, but all of them seemed to be held open somehow. The rooms beyond were empty, though in many cases there were marks upon the floor, as if once there had stood furniture, or perhaps stored items of some kind.

"Empty," Dorf said, as they came back around to the hallway to the stairs. "Is the entire tower like this?"

This was directed at Mos, who gave a brief nod after Irik had translated. "There has been nothing in the these rooms in the recorded history of our town, save for a few things upon the walls, which have been removed to the vault of the town hall. The map which you saw in my marriage-uncle's office, the second one, came from here."

"And the floors above?" Dorf asked.

"Much the same, though as you ascend, you find many doors that are locked. What lies behind them, we do not know."

"I say we go and look," Geert offered, smiling. "They may well open to our touch, and offer up some treasure of the ancients that will assist us on our journey."

Jamie and Garvin laughed at his enthusiasm for discovery, but Dorf gave Geert an approving look. "I think the idea has merit."

"I, too," Snave agreed. "Let us look most closely for another map, like the one that Khybeer had in his office. If we are to travel the tunnel system west, such would assist us greatly on choosing the proper routes."

They proceeded back down the center hallway to the stairs, and moved up one level. But this one was much as the first, the doors to the rooms open, and the rooms themselves empty.

"Each floor is like this one until the tenth, I think," Mos said then, pointing up the stairwell. "It is there that the first locked doors will be found."

Dorf leaned out over the railing and gazed up the center of the circular stairwell. "Some exercise will do us all good, I think."

Geert gaped a moment, and then grinned at Jamie. "As if this trek thus far has not been exercise enough for any man!"

"Dorf has different ideas about what makes work pay off," Jamie returned, laughing. "Unless gravity gets its due, it is scarcely work at all."

"There is truth to that," Dorf said, his voice quite serious, yet the sparkle of humor apparent in his eyes. "Walking uphill is much better for you than the slow padding about we've been doing on this disgustingly level and soft lowland dirt."

"No use arguing, then," Garvin said, starting up the stairs. He cast a glance back at the knight. "Coming?"

Dorf barked out a laugh, and surged up the stairs, passing Garvin. "I think I will lead, however, so that the goblin resting at the next level tries to bite me instead of you."

Garvin laughed, and turned his gaze back at Jamie, who just sighed, and waved a hand at the others. "Shall we?"

The rest of them followed. Dorf set a moderate pace, but Jamie was still feeling a slight burn in his calves by the time the reached the tenth floor. "You were not making a joke about the exercise after all, Sir Dorf."

"No. Climbing stairs like we have just done is a practical way to ascend great heights, and the only way known in our own world, short a winch and a rope. Yet it is also slow, and work for the body to perform. Which makes me realize that the ancients must have had another way to climb this tower. Notice the three doors we see at each level, always in the same place? I suspect there is a lift of some sort behind them, now no longer functional."

Jamie nodded. "They lack the electrums they need to operate, I think."

Geert looked excited then. "Perhaps in the same way the magickal wagon did not operate from the citadel, until we replaced the red stars for green ones in the box on that platform?"

"That makes sense," Garvin said. "Yet I see no boxes on the walls here like we saw on the platform below. How to replace the stars, then?"

"We may have missed the box," Snave decided. "It might have been smaller, and in some out of the way place in the stairwell. Or even back below, at the level of the tunnels. It only makes sense for it to be low rather than high, so that anyone wishing to repair the stars would not have to climb all these steps in order to reach it."

"We'll look again when we go down," Dorf said. "But first, let us look about. I can see a window there, and it is growing late in the day, if I judge the light correctly."

They went to the window and looked out, to see that they were now at the level of the lower branches of the great trees. What light was available seemed dimmer than what had been there when they had first entered the tower. But some of that seemed to be because they were now up in the beginnings of the canopy, which itself was quite dark compared to ground level.

Dorf led them slowly about the outer corridor, and they looked in all the rooms, which had their doors drawn back, until they suddenly reached one that was closed.

"We'll take no chances, Jamie," Dorf said, positioning himself in front of the door and activating his shield. "Now reach past me and lay your hand on yon panel."

Jamie did as instructed, and the door slid aside with a soft hiss.

Dorf stepped into the room then, and then to the side of the doorway, so that all could see within. The room held furniture, quite recognizable in function. There were chairs and a large sofa, and tables and cabinets. The walls were adorned with pictures here and there, mounted in black frames that held them tightly to the wall. A window in the outer wall let in enough light to see by, and Jamie looked about with the others, a little awed by seeing the things that ancients had lived with in their daily lives, thousands of years past.

"Everything is so finely made," Garvin whispered, as if to speak more loudly would be to somehow break the spell. "The rooms of some lord, perhaps?"

"I think not," Snave answered, his own voice somewhat subdued. "I just think the standards of the ancients were much higher than we are used to in our own time. Everything was finely made, for everyone, no matter their station in life."

"Do we pause to inspect these wonders?" Geert asked hopefully.

"No." Jamie shook his head, and gave the other boy's shoulder a pat. "Time for that in the future. Let us open each door, see that there is something within, and then move on. I want to get to the top floor before dark, to make camp."

"I would not advise that we camp for the night above," Dorf said then. "We should go back below to do that."

Jamie squinted at him a moment. "I bow to your judgment...but would we not be safer above?"

The knight shook his head. "If we are above, there is no retreat, Jamie. No place to go if we have company. I suggest we camp in the stairwell at ground level. It is large enough to be comfortable for us all, and in the event we have company of some sort, we can always retreat into the tunnels below. Or, if visitors come from that direction, we can exit the tower to the lowlands beyond. But up above, there is nowhere to go but down."

Jamie leaned closer and whispered, "But I could always translocate us to safety from above."

The knight smiled. "Providing you are able to do that, Jamie."

Jamie could immediately envision a scenario where their party was separated, and he was unable to move everyone to safety. "Yes." Jamie grinned at the summation. "This is why you lead, Dorf."

"Your judgment is good, Jamie. Just some more experience is needed, I think."

They picked up their pace then, going from closed door to closed door, and opening each with Dorf acting as a barrier while Jamie reached past him to activate. The rooms beyond were mostly the same, each furnished similarly, and with no indicator to show that they had been visited in millennia of time. They proceeded up the levels, and the rooms stayed mostly the same, though at the eighteenth level they found several rooms that had no furnishings, but rather were stacked high with many sizes of the gray crates that the ancients had used to store their treasures.

Geert's eyes shone as he took in the crates, but he simply sighed and followed along as they moved from room to room. Jamie could see the effort of will it took the boy, and noted also that Garvin was trying hard to suppress the same smile that tried to come to Jamie's lips. The two exchanged glances, eyes twinkling with humor, but said nothing that might serve to exasperate Geert's desire to explore.

The width of the tower slowly diminished as it rose into the sky, allowing for fewer rooms on each floor. Their explorations grew faster, and they moved up the tower with ever increasing speed. Jamie's legs were certainly feeling the strain now, and he looked forward to reaching the top. Going back down would definitely be easier than the way upwards.

On the staircase to the twenty-first floor, Dorf paused, gazing up at the next landing. "I sense a movement of air here, where there was none below. I suggest we step slowly from now on."

They proceeded more cautiously then, and found that floor much the same as those below. But as they started up to the twenty-second floor, even Jamie could feel the small breeze that seemed to pass down over them from above. They emerged onto the next floor, and there the staircase ended. They had reached the top of the tower.

Dorf led them slowly from the central shaft to the hallway to the outer corridor, and then held up an arm to stop them. "I suggest we activate our shields."

They did so, positioning Mos inside their group, and slowly emerged into the outer corridor. The breeze came from the right, and it was immediately apparent why. There was a huge rent in the outer wall, through which could be seen the dark blue of the evening sky, and the wispy white of clouds being carried on the currents.

Jamie understood then. "We've reached the damaged pinnacle."

Dorf nodded. "So it would seem. Let us find a window to gaze out."

There had been a window to the left of each corridor all the way up, and they turned and headed that way now. But even as they reached it, Jamie saw a reddish light further down the corridor, and motioned for the others to follow. The reached another window, through which the reddish light entered, and crowded close to look outside.

The were above the canopy of the great trees, which stretched away from them in every direction, like a great, green ocean. It was surprisingly uniform, with only the occasional dip or crest among the treetops, which only enhanced the notion of waves at sea. The blue sky stretched above them, right down to the horizon of treetops, where the evening sun hung amidst a retinue of wispy, red clouds.

"Beautiful," Snave said softly. "And amazing."

"As I said, the view from up here is stunning," Mos put in, through Irik.

"It is that, "Jamie agreed. "You've been up here many times before?"

"Yes. We have often met traders from the other towns here in the tower. Only a dull-witted man, indeed, would refuse the opportunity to look about afterwards."

Jamie laughed at that, and nodded.

They circled to the next window, and Garvin immediately pointed to a faint red mark visible on the horizon there. "That looks like another tower, in the distance."

They crowded closer to the window, looking every which way, and thought they could see two more of the red dots, standing out against the green along other stretches of the distant line between forest and sky.

"Some leagues away, I would guess," Dorf said. "It's hard to judge distance across this span of greenery."

"There are probably many more such places," Snave said, his voice sounding faintly excited at the prospect. "Just as we saw on the map in Khybeer's office, the forest is dotted everywhere with the structures of the ancients."

Again, Jamie was struck by the grandness of the notion that so many works of the old ones had survived the test of time. A town of his own people, abandoned to the whims of the years and weather, would scarcely be recognizable after even a fraction of the time that the old ones had been gone from the world. Castles of stone might remain a millennium after being abandoned, but only in tumbledown form, like battered headstones dotting the landscape. Even stone knew the erosion of wind, rain, and the ages.

That the places of the ancients not only still stood strong after forty centuries of time, but still operated as if new - or mostly so - was a tribute to their science and engineering skills. It made him proud to know that these were the works of his own kind, even if the wonderful treasury of learning that had inspired them was now mostly lost.

They found several more rents in the outer wall as they continued around the tower, beneath each of which they found a scattering of dead leaves. All the rooms were closed, and when opened, presented row after row of racks of some kind, laden with all manner of containers of every type and size.

"Your treasure rooms, Geert," Jamie finally said, as they paused before the very last unopened door. "I promise to bring you back here at some point, okay?"

The other boy nodded, his mouth drawn into a fierce line, the battle of emotions going on within his head readily apparent.

Jamie smiled as he reached past Dorf and opened the last door. Dorf took one step forward...and then stopped.

Jamie looked past him, and took a breath of surprise. Here was another room full of the odd, slanting tables, like those they had seen in the upper room of the house of fire. Each held upon its face the stars of the sky, some steady in their light, some blinking as if for attention. The lights pranced about the faces of the tables, while larger squares showed the strange runes of the ancients, blinking in a strange, soft light.

Dorf surveyed the room, and pronounced it empty of life. He dropped his shield, and turned to face Jamie. "Back into the corridor, all of you, while I test this door myself to see that it opens from within. We'll have no more of that being locked inside like happened to us at the house of fire."

Jamie blinked in surprise, but automatically stepped back. The door hissed closed...and then immediately reopened again.

Dorf grinned at them. "Well...what are you waiting for? Come in!"

They filed into the room and formed a new group, and the door whispered closed behind them.

"Good, that these doors on this level were sealed," Dorf said. "I can only imagine what havoc the years might have played with the things upon this floor of the tower, if left at the mercy of the rain and the wind attacking through those great cracks in the outer walls."

"What do you supposed happened to them?" Geert wondered.

"The top of the tower looks as if great force was expended against it at some point," Snave suggested. "With the legends we have of the great war the old ones fought, I would not be surprised at anything we see in the works they left behind."

"This room certainly looks relatively untouched," Jamie said, looking about.

"An inspection is suggested," Dorf put in. "A careful inspection. I suggest we touch nothing, however."

Garvin laughed. "Don't worry about me, anyway."

They moved carefully about the room, looking at the glowing lights on the slanted tables, and at the odd things standing about on the floor.

"Ah," Snave suddenly said, from off to Jamie's right. Jamie turned, to see the gargoyle stopped before a dark rectangle on one wall.

"What have you found?"

"A map of the forest, smaller than the one that Khybeer possessed, but showing the same dots representing structures of the ancients. And with the tunnel links marked between them, it appears. I would take this with us, if we can."

They met before the map, and examined the frame it was in. It was not fastened permanently to the wall, but could be lifted down from nearly invisible mounts, and they laid it on the floor and inspected it carefully. The rear of the frame opened, as it turned out, and the map could be withdrawn from within. It was rectangular in nature, and printed on some sort of flexible and obviously durable material that allowed it to be rolled up. And when Jamie did so, he was left with a scroll no longer than his own forearm, which could easily be carried inside a backpack.

"Who shall be keeper of the map?" Jamie asked.

When no one said anything, Dorf extended a hand. "I will keep it. Since no power on earth will separate me from you until this quest is done, it will always be handy to see when needed."

Jamie smiled at that, and handed the map to the knight. They then continued their slow walk around the room.

"So much happening here, none of which I understand," Garvin finally said, pausing before one of the lighted tables. "Yet I see symbols on these lighted oblongs, as if many conversations are going on beyond our ears."

Geert stepped closer to one of the other slanted tables, staring at the runes that moved upon the larger lit squares of glass. "Irik? Can your Mother of Tongues read what is here?"

The wolf came closer, and gave a small leap and placed his paws on the counter before the slanted portion of the table, and gazed at the illuminated square. "The words have little meaning to me. But they can be read."

Jamie stepped closer to the wolf. "What do they say?"

The wolf frowned at the glassy square of light, with its many odd runes. "Network status functional. Efficiency at forty-eight percent. Maintenance required at locations eight, seventeen, thirty-four, sixty-six, seventy-one...many numbers follow."

"The meaning seems clear," Snave said. "It is a report of some kind on the ability of the machines in the forest to perform their duties."

"Less than half are ready to do that, then," Jamie returned. "I wonder if there are many places that require the little cylinders with the star upon them to be replaced."

"Or something like it," Garvin suggested, waving a hand back the way they had come. "All those rooms full of containers...they could be more of the same type of magick, that keeps these places operating."

"Is it magick, then, if it is not a spell to be cast, but rather a part to be replaced?" Dorf asked them.

Snave gave out a short laugh. "Magick is often viewed as the deed, rather than the knowing of how to perform that deed. In truth, the science of the ancients is likely not magick as we know it, though they may well have understood and used magick as we do. This" -- the gargoyle turned slightly to one side, as if he might wave a hand at the slanted tables about them --"is the magick of machines. The ancients knew how to guide nature to do their bidding. It demonstrates a vast understanding of the workings of the world, of which we today know next to nothing in comparison. It is knowledge, in great depth, that we see now all about us. And knowledge of this sort is indeed a form of magick."

Jamie could feel the flow of electrums around them, channeled and purposed somehow by the machine magick of the ancients. "I sense great energy in this room, directed on missions that pass well beyond the confines of this tower." He closed his eyes, trying to follow some of those streams. "I sense...I sense a labyrinth of channels radiating from this place, surely carrying electrums to other places like this one, all over the forest. It is a vast web, beyond my ability to conceive in full."

Geert moved closer to the table and pointed at the flashing stars upon the face of the slanted section. "These small lights, then, would serve to indicate whether or not some magick is performing properly?" He turned and smiled at Jamie then. "Or some machine, rather, is performing properly?"

"Perhaps." Jamie could only shrug. "Anything I could provide at this point would be a guess as good as your own."

Garvin had turned to look more closely about the room, and now pointed to another slanted table across the room. "Look there. There is a very large reflection above that table, as if of the window glass of the ancients, yet the rectangle is dark, as if of the same substance as the walls."

Jamie squinted that way, and nodded. "I see it, too. I might have missed it had you not pointed it out, so unobtrusive it is against the gray of the wall itself."

They moved closer, and examined the wall above the other table. It did indeed have a discernible border, and the interior of the rectangle held the same shine that the windows did, if viewed just so.

"It is the shape of the small rectangles holding the runes upon the tables," Irik offered. "Might it not be something of the same function, just not active at this time?"

"It might," Snave said, approvingly. "A good observation, Irik. It strikes me as being a correct one."

The table beneath the large rectangle on the wall seemed unusually active, its lights winking energetically, and the smaller rectangles displaying volumes of runes moving quickly past. A line of raised circles the size of Jamie's thumbnail glowed green, save for one right in the middle, that flashed insistently in a shade of amber that reminded Jamie of bee's honey.

"What of that?" Geert asked, pointing at the amber circle. "That certainly looks demanding, somehow, does it not?"

"It does," Snave agreed. "But we have no way of knowing what it requires."

Geert gave a frustrated sigh. "There is so much here, and so little of it is understood. I feel the weight now, of the learning we have lost over time."

Dorf gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. "There is time. You are young, and have many years ahead of you. Perhaps this is the direction your studies will go now."

"I would like that." Geert nodded, and let his fingertip touch the amber circle. "To one day --"

There was a flash from the large rectangle on the wall above, and it suddenly glowed into life. In an instant a picture formed, and suddenly a face was looking out at them. Jamie froze, as certainly did all the others.

It was a man's face, and the face of a fox, certainly, thin and somehow sly. He had a head of thick, gray hair, and a black leather eye-patch adorned with a diamond tied about his head on a wide leather strap. The eye they could see was a fierce gray; and now it trained upon them, even as a faint trace of surprise registered on those somewhat sinister features.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jamie saw Dorf slowly raise a hand and bring it calmly down upon Geert's shoulder. The knight gave a gentle tug, and Geert took a step back from the slanted table. The hand then remained in place, gripping the boy's shoulder firmly - certainly a warning to say nothing.

"Well...what have we here?" the man in the window spoke. His voice was as hard as his gaze, offering no sense of the delight that the smile he now wore seemed to offer. "Our little lost flock, finally found." The man gave forth a chuckle then. "On your way to us, are you?"

Jamie found his voice then. "We are just travelers, stopped for the night. I do not know you, and I do not care to know you. It was by accident that we activated this now obviously two-way window."

The other gave out a barking laugh. "When I saw the indicator lit showing someone in the com center of that tower, I had no idea who it might be. No idea at all. You can imagine my surprise at seeing you. And my satisfaction. It must be good fortune, that has shown us your whereabouts again."

Jamie's throat felt dry. This was certainly the beggar that was not a beggar, who had stolen the book of maps from the shop of Crillis. That man's description, and especially the eye patch, seemed too much of a coincidence for it to be anyone else.

And impulse took hold of him. "Crillis sends his greetings," he said then. "He survived your encounter, and is in full health again. I think he has something for you other than a book of maps, on your next encounter."

That one hard, gray eye narrowed. "That is impossible. No one can survive the Breath of the Dragon."

"And yet he did. Your machine magicks are not as potent as you seem to think them to be."

Jamie sensed Geert's shoulders bunch up, and then the firming of Dorf's grip upon the boy.

The one in the window smiled. "You cannot bait me, boy. I am not Urvan, enamored of your appearance and your odd abilities. I do not have the patience to play your games. Once, yes, with the minions of Zeeros sent to fetch you; but not now, that mission failed. I see no reason to continue to humor Urvan, now that it is plain that you intend to interfere. In fact...I see no future for you, at all."

A tingling sensation crept up Jamie's spine, the sense of electrums in their billions upon billions coming near. It was a terrible and beautiful sensation all at a time, and Jamie struggled not to gasp at the force of it. The face on the screen watched him intently, and Jamie just stared back, gathering again to himself the calm that had suddenly left him.

"I think we will not await your next game," he finally managed to say then, leaning forward towards the table. He stabbed his finger down on the amber circle, hoping against hope that this action would reverse what Geert had done with his first touch. The image in the large rectangle wavered, and Jamie had a last look at the anger suddenly slashing across the distant mage's face as he realized what was coming...and then the rectangle went dark again.

"Stay here, everybody, "Jamie hissed, turning towards the door. He ran to it, slapped his hand against the rectangle that would open it. It whispered to the side; and then Jamie was running down the corridor outside. He came to a rent in the wall, the largest one they had passed, and stuck his head out and bent himself awkwardly to look up.

In every direction, the blue sky had gone to roiling gray clouds, and the light of the setting sun been subdued. Directly above the tower, a maelstrom was growing, a black, whirling mass of darkness, that flickered with lightnings even as Jamie watched. He could feel it charging, could feel the electrums massing inside the terrible eye of the thing.

Time was short!

Jamie pulled back inside, and ran with all his might back to the room of the star tables. The door opened at his touch, revealing the group that were his friends and companions, standing together, waiting for him. He ran directly into their midst, and turned to face the door.

"Quickly! Everyone! Place a hand upon me!"

They moved quickly to accommodate that request, Dorf simply turning to Mos, grasping a hand, and pulling it to touch Jamie next to his own. Jamie paused only long enough to see that done, and then he was racing through the magick of translocation. There was a brief flare of green light inside Jamie's head, a sense of brief darkness sweeping over them...and then they were once again standing in the tunnel beneath the tower.

A thunderous roar came to them then, echoing down the circular staircase from above. The ground beneath their feet trembled, and Dorf drew his sword, even as the others quickly dropped to the stone floor. The sound grew in volume, causing the tunnels to issue forth deep keening sounds in dark harmony with the forces being unleashed above. Jamie closed his eyes, sensing the incredible missions of a billion trillion and more electrums loosed suddenly upon the tower, as they flowed over every single thing, down and into the ground below.

The roar of sound and the vibrations within the stone floor continued for a full minute, and then suddenly tapered off. The vibrations lessened, and the deepness of the roar attenuated, and Jamie sensed the end of the incredible flow of electrums, with just the echoes of their passing still reverberating in and out of the mouths of the tunnels.

The tunnels continued to speak hollowly for a bit longer, and then the sounds faded, and were gone. The silence that followed was so intense that Jamie thought he could hear the sound of his own heart beating - not within, as might normally be done - but the sound itself now loud in the tunnel's confines.

Dorf slowly lowered his sword, and then re-sheathed it. He looked down at Jamie, and then bent to help him to his feet. "I sense you carried us away from something truly dire at that last moment," he said quietly. "Well done, lad."

Jamie nodded, but could not speak. Garvin appeared at his side, and Jamie turned to hug him close, closing his eyes and just savoring the touch. The other boy seemed equally overcome, and the two of them stood in an embrace, while the others waited in silence.

Finally, Garvin pulled back and smiled. "You saved us, Jamie. But...what from?"

"The unleashing of a formidable power, it seems," Snave said then. Even he sounded subdued, aware now how close it had been.

Jamie nodded. "Imagine a magick that, for a brief moment in time, can gather all the lightnings from every thunderstorm on the planet, concentrate them, and then loose a single incredible bolt at one target. That is what that mage did to us."

"Porvus," Snave said, a hint of anger in his voice. "I'd recognize him anywhere, even with the patch now covering one eye."

Jamie pulled away from Garvin. "Porvus! The mage to whom Urvan - as the boy, Leemus - was apprenticed?"

"The very same." Snave settled to the ground by Jamie. "He does not know I live, so I gave away no advantage by telling him so. But I would say that if Porvus and Leemus are here in the forest, then Lodda will not be far away from them."

"After all this time?" Jamie was stunned. And then it came to him that he really had no idea how long mages lived. Lodda and Porvus had been older mages when Snave was yet a lad, and Urvan a lad then, himself. The two enemy mages must be truly old by now, at least a century or two beyond Master Thorvil and Snave.

How much learning could a mage amass in five hundred years time? Or more?

Snave seemed to divine Jamie's thoughts. "Yes, they are ancient, and surely powerful. But we have eluded them twice now, so they are far from omnipotent."

Geert smiled, and placed a hand on Jamie's shoulder. "If you were to fear them, even slightly, you would be in good company."

Jamie managed to smile at that. "Agreed. And now, about you touching these lights that glow on the tables of the ancients..."

Geert looked distressed, and lowered his eyes. "I did not mean to touch it...not consciously."

Jamie stepped forward and placed an arm around Geert's shoulders. "Mistakes are how we learn. The main thing here is...what was learned?"

Geert looked up, and smiled at him. "Not to touch such things again? You have my word, Jamie."

Jamie gave him a gentle hug, and then released him. "It may have been to the good. Now we know for sure the enemies we are facing."

"But they also now know we come," Geert pointed out, not about to let himself off the hook so easily.

"We have another piece of important information," Snave said then. "What Porvus said about us 'being found' suggests that they were not aware of our whereabouts. We worried back at the inn how they had found us there to set upon us the minions of Zeeros? It seems plain that whatever method they used to track us there also ended there. They did not know we were here in the forest."

Jamie snapped his fingers. "We left the inn by translocation. Perhaps whatever magick they used to see our location could not follow us that way."

Dorf smiled. "We just left the upper tower the same way, and only scant seconds ahead of the doom this Porvus intended for us. Could this mean they now think us destroyed, and will not be looking for us to continue against them?"

"I would not assume so," Snave countered. "But then...Porvus was always very sure of his magicks. He will find it hard to believe that we eluded such a mercilessly potent one as he used here."

Jamie considered that, and gave a little sigh, some measure of relaxation coming back to him. "The lack of a follow up attack would suggest he does not think we are still here to receive it. But I suggest we not wait about, lest he have some manner of checking on us."

"Agreed." Dorf turned, and gazed around at the other tunnels. "Time to view our new map, I think."

They retrieved the map from the knight's pack and unrolled it on the floor. The humans and Mos squatted around it, while Snave and Irik stood near.

"This is our tower, I believe," Dorf said glancing up at Snave.

"I agree. If we are to proceed west, then it looks like we need to go to that next dot to the right of your finger, to begin with."

Dorf bent closer to the map, and then suddenly tapped the new dot with his finger. "There is a marking of those cartouches. 'Sigils', as Mos calls them." The knight jumped to his feet and stared at, first one, and then the next, of the other tunnels that could be seen from where they were standing.

"That one - the second one. That one bears the same marking as the next dot on the map."

"Then that is where we go," Jamie said.

He got to his feet, and assisted with putting the map away, then he turned to Mos. "Irik, please thank Mos for me - for all of us. Tell him it is time for us to part."

The wolf conveyed that message, and the Iricawa briefly looked distressed.

"He says he could at least show us to the next destination. He says it is the storage place, and he is also familiar with that one."

Jamie considered that, and then shook his head. "No. Tell him we appreciate the offer, but that Khybeer distinctly said that Mos could show us to this tower, but that was all." He sighed. "And...tell him this is a mage war, and that those without good protection might not be safe around us."

Irik passed on the conversation, and the Iricawa briefly squeezed his eyes shut, and nodded. "He says to thank you for the stories he can now tell in the square back home."

Jamie laughed at that, and extended a hand to the Iricawa. Everyone took a turn saying farewell, and then they walked Mos back around to the magick wagon, which still stood at the platform, door open.

"Tell him to board, and we will draw back, and hopefully the car will bear him back to the citadel."

The Iricawa nodded, and delivered a short speech to Irik. "He says that if you pass this way again, more stories of how this journey turned out would be appreciated."

"Tell him we promise to stop and see him, if we come this way again."

Mos seemed satisfied with that, waved, and boarded the wagon. Jamie and the others drew back to the head of the platform and waited. After a few moments, the doors of the wagon closed, and the car moved away from them with only a faint hum of sound. They could see Mos at the window, waving; and then the car was gone.

Jamie had a brief pang of regret. He liked the quiet Iricawa warrior. Hopefully they would see him again.

"The speed of yon wagon is unnerving," Garvin said, staring off into the now empty tunnel.

"Almost as fast as yourself in times of trouble," Jamie kidded, bumping their shoulders together. His good humor returned then, and he felt like hugging his friend.

"We should move away from this place," Dorf said, trying not to smile, yet intent on cutting off any delaying shows of affection from the boys. "It is surely dusk outside by now, if not dark. Let us put a league behind us, and seek out a platform in yon tunnel to spend the night."

They walked around the central platform and arrived at the finger platform for the tunnel with the matching cartouche for the next dot on the map. Jamie looked into the lighted depths of their new path, and had a sudden thought. "Oh. What if we have repaired all the wagon cars servicing this station by replacing the cylinders back on that first platform? Perhaps we should wait and see if a wagon arrives here, before going into the tunnel?"

Dorf considered that, and nodded. "Makes sense. I would not care to contest space with one of those wagons, definitely."

So they stood quietly, listening, but no sound broke the silence of the tunnels.

"Like a mausoleum it is, here," Geert said, in almost a whisper. "The dead would sleep quite dreamless in this place."

Garvin laughed. But his voice was also low as he responded, "Shh. The dead will hear you!"

Jamie smiled at the two. And then, he did hear something. A faraway whisper of sound, which quickly grew; and then they felt the beginnings of movement in the air, as a breeze wafted from the new tunnel.

"It comes, I think."

In another moment the wagon came into view down the tunnel, and Jamie was suddenly struck by the notion, just for an instant, that he could see beneath the wagon, right past it, as if the car did not touch the ground at all, but instead floated a finger's breadth above it. But it was just a notion, and gone in an instant. The car emerged from the tunnel, slowing, and drew up to their platform. The doors opened, and then all was quiet again.

Dorf gave one look back at the central platform, and then canted his head at the newly arrived car. "Let us go now, before something else happens."

They boarded the car, which seemed identical to the first one, found seats before the window in back - which would be the front when the car started moving back the way it came - and relaxed. In a few moments the doors closed again, and the wagon car moved back down the tunnel, accelerating smoothly.

They were on their way again.

"I wonder," Jamie said to Snave, who had placed himself between two seats across the aisle, "if the tower was damaged by the lightning magick of Porvus?"

"It was a considerable discharge," the gargoyle said. "Had the structure been of steel, it would have been like a lightning rod, and filled with the charge. But it is of that strange stone of the ancients, which will not carry lightning like iron will. There must be some way the exterior carried most of that tremendous charge to ground, as we saw no effect of it within. At least, not where were were." Snave grunted, dismissing the event. "I suspect that the structure itself was not harmed. Any living things within - at least close to the spire - were most likely destroyed."

"As we would have been, had we lingered," Garvin said. "I was wondering...our shields would not have protected us from such an attack, would they?"

Jamie considered that, and then frowned. "It was not a direct magickal attack, nor a direct physical attack. I cannot say for sure, but I do not think they would have protected us. At least, not well."

"I have to agree," Snave said. "We had best consider this mode of attack and see if it can be countered, to protect ourselves from it in the future."

"They were electrums that would have harmed us," Jamie said. "But only by their sheer numbers and power. The same shield that protects our thoughts from intrusion by projected electrum magick should protect us from physical electrum attacks, if sized to scale."

Snave laughed. "So simple an answer, and so quickly. Well done, Jamie."

"It is not done yet, Snave," Jamie countered. "The scale of this new attack was many orders greater in power than the electurm attack on our thoughts.The magick that defends against electrum attacks to our minds resides within us, always active. It will need to be examined thoroughly to ensure that it can handle an attack of that magnitude." He grinned then. "It is already a most complicated lock. I will need to think on it while I sleep tonight."

They talked for a few more minutes, glad to have the time to sit and rest a little.

"I feel a change in our motion," Dorf said then. "We are slowing."

All eyes went forward. In another moment Jamie was sure that the knight was right. The car was slowing.

And in another instant it burst from the tunnel into another chamber, but one far larger then the last one. This one had no center column, but was instead simply a round chamber of heroic proportions, it's far side barely perceptible due to the uniformity of color and lighting. The wagon car arrowed across a large open space and drew up beside a platform that snaked away among a series of domed structures and was soon lost to sight.

The car stopped, and the doors opened.

Dorf stood, and indicated the way out. "Let us see where we have come to now, and find a place that looks safe to spend the night."

They followed the knight out into the new chamber, and to whatever adventure chance would bring next.

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