The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 21

In the morning, they broke their fast in the dining hall and and then met in the common room so that Jamie could work with Bastyin to enlarge his magickal skill set. It was easy to show the Lachess mage a variety of locks to be used for both defensive and offensive purposes, and in very short order Jamie felt the young man could be expected to at least hold his own during any confrontation. Bastyin was eager to learn, and his talent was sure, and Jamie planned to add to that arsenal of knowledge as they went along. At the first opportunity he would take Bastyin to the nether and provide for him the ability that would allow him to see the magicks of other mages in the making.

They had also refined Bastyin's own speed magick, endowing the lock with a mobile draw of power that allowed it to maintain for longer than before. But the price of that new distance, they soon discovered, was that they grew tired amazingly quickly. However the magick worked to enhance the body's speed, it still required that the body do the actual work. In the end, the added distance was not so great as to make the magick suitable for anything but a quick, short escape from danger.

And, it did not work for Snave. Because he had no body, no muscles, they quickly decided. Yet Snave already possessed the ability to fly extremely fast, and his movements at ground level could be almost as swift if need be. The gargoyle simply sighed at his exclusion from this particular magick, having long ago accepted the fact that he was different.

When asked how he had come by the lock, the Lachess admitted that he had stumbled on it by accident while experimenting. That Jamie could find no correlation to the magick in the Master Thorvil's texts seemed to him to suggest that Bastyin had originated a new lock on his own. That only placed the young Lachess mage's talent a notch higher in Jamie's estimation.

"It's a magick with considerable value, if it's limitations are recognized," Snave mused. "A quick withdrawal from danger, but not a total escape. And, I am certain, not the same magick at all that Garvin utilizes in times of danger. There is no strength enhancement to Bastyin's discovery, and Garvin seems not to become tired no matter how long he stays in an accelerated state. But, all things considered, a rather wonderful addition to our arsenal."

Jamie clapped Bastyin on the shoulder at that pronouncement. "High praise, when coming from our Snave."

After learning from Jamie, Bastyin had offered to demonstrate the magicks he had found on his own. "When there is time, I will be happy to share."

Jamie was pleased to hear that. "I look forward to learning from you. There will certainly be time for that, as we travel."

Jamie was now certain that a rapid approach to Methuwan was not in their favor. They had the ability now to fly there in a single day, but that seemed too soon to Jamie's thinking, and it was not just that he was not anxious to engage Urvan, and other mages of even superior ability. There would be a proper time for battle, and that time had not arrived as yet. Hurrying their approach would lead to disaster.

He discussed this with Snave, who was in agreement. "We are part of something greater that is occurring in the world, I think," the gargoyle said. "There are forces building here that need time to ripen on both sides. On our side, they would seem to be positive forces as we learn and grow. On the side of the enemy? Who knows? Something - some rift, perhaps - that also needs time to grow. I believe as you do, Jamie, that our arrival at Methuwan will happen in its own time."

They set out again, and chose to walk from the inn, even though flight had been among the magicks that Jamie had taught to Bastyin. It seemed a fine morning for a walk, somehow. There was no weather to concern themselves with in the tunnels, and the lighting never changed. Each day seemed much the same as the one before in that respect. Yet Jamie felt cheerful as they set out, viewing the time as morning in his mind, and the day a fine and welcome one.

But when they passed from among the last of the domed storage lockers and reached the dock leading towards the tunnel they would need to travel to their next destination, Dorf suddenly pointed ahead of them. "Something wrong here, I think!"

They stopped, and at first Jamie wasn't sure what the man meant. His eyes inspected the end of the dock and moved on to the tunnel, and only then did he see what the knight was seeing. The tunnel, looking quite normal from a distance, now appeared to have some sort of obstruction covering the opening, of the same white color as the walls. That was why they had not seen it until coming close.

"What do you make of that?" Jamie asked, in wonderment.

"That tunnel has long been closed," Bastyin volunteered then. "I was not aware you did not know."

Dorf frowned, and then looked over at Jamie. "Wait here a moment."

The knight lifted from the dock and flew quickly to the tunnel opening, and they watched as he inspected the covering, and then flew back to them.

"It's a door of some sort, that has slid out from the walls, just as the doors inside the inn work," he said, as they conferred. "The covering is massive, and looks as if it has been untouched for quite some time. I would guess it is closed for an important reason."

Jamie blew a frustrated breath between his lips. "We will need the map."

Dorf turned around, and Jamie retrieved the map from the knight's pack. He and Garvin got down then and spread out the sheet on the smooth stone, each holding an end.

"Here," Jamie said, after a moment, pointing. "This is the closed tunnel. It looks no different on the map."

"It probably was no different when the map was made," Snave said. "Something has happened over time to close this tunnel down. We will need to find another route."

Jamie let his eyes trace the many routes from their present location, and then he dropped a finger on a location to their north. "Here." He craned his neck, trying to see if he could see the tunnel opening that led to this dot, but it was around the other side of the central platform. He grunted. "We will need to look, but if this tunnel is open, it leads to this dot here. And from that point, there is a tunnel that would lead back to our next stop going west."

"Here, too," Dorf said, indicating another dot to their south. "There is a way back from this place to our next station, too."

"North, or south?" Garvin asked, frowning. "The distances look almost equal. So does it matter which we choose?"

"Probably not," Snave put in. "We came from the south, which we know is Iricawa territory, though we have no way of knowing how far that extends."

Jamie turned to Bastyin." What say you?"

The Lachess examined the map carefully. "We came from here," he finally said, indicating a station to the east.

"By wagon?" Jamie asked.

"If you mean the tunnel car, yes."

Jamie smiled. "I guess calling them wagons does lead to confusion."

The Lachess also smiled. "We just call them cars."

"It makes sense," Garvin acknowledged. "It's what those small trams used in the mines are called. And, on consideration, these tunnel cars of the ancients are much like the ore cars of the mines, except they carry passengers instead of bulk ore."

Jamie nodded at the Lachess. "So I can take your answer to mean that the cars to the east are working?"

"Not all, but the one that lead here to this station was working, yes. Remarkable, considering that it has not run in many years."

"We fixed a few things in our travels," Geert said, sounding slightly pleased at the fact.

Jamie nodded. "We did. And let us not forget that we carry the means to fix more immobile cars, if need be." He eyed Bastyin again. "Could you share your thoughts on which route we should take next?"

The Lachess patted his chest twice. "As I said, unlike you, we were aware that the tunnel directly west from here was closed. It has been blocked for many lifetimes. We planned to go north and than come back this way again to the next station."

"We should have known your people would know their way around here," Snave said, sounding slightly bemused."You've probably explored a lot of this place."

"Our group was young, and not as well traveled as some. We also carried a map much like this one, though hand-drawn." Bastyin examined the map again, and looked uncertain. "I'm afraid I am not familiar with the current state of things to the south of here. Our relations with the Iricawa are good, and they had reported no troubles before we left on our journey."

"And we heard of none, while there," Jamie agreed. "What about to the north?"

"To the north lie several abodes of the Pertwee, and many more unexplored structures. Structures we are unable to gain entry to, as the doors are closed."

"You can get in now, I'd wager," Garvin said, grinning toothily.

Bastyin looked pleased at the notion. "Yes."

"What are these Pertwee like?" Dorf asked.

"They have always been amiable neighbors. However --"

Jamie squinted at the sudden pause in the other's explanation. Bastyin looked a little hesitant to go on, and Jamie's mind made a sudden intuitive leap. "They don't much like humans?"

The Lachess looked surprised, and then as if he could see the humor in the situation. "Well, no, they do not. I'm sorry."

"Well!" Garvin said melodramatically, pretending to look affronted.

Everyone laughed, including Bastyin. "You are not offended?"

Jamie shook his head. "If the Pertwee have been dealing with mages like the ones we just dealt with, not one bit. Those were not exactly the kind I would pick as ambassadors of good will."

"No," Dorf agreed. "We just need to know if these Pertwee will allow us to pass through their territory without trouble."

"They will make no move to interfere with your journey," Bastyin said. "They will most likely stay out of sight, in fact."

"Really?" Dorf gazed contemplatively at the Lachess. "You make them sound timid."

"I did not mean to, for they are not. Just practical."

The knight shrugged, and turned to Jamie. "It sounds like we won't have any trouble going north. Since we came from the south, I suggest we use this as an opportunity to reconnoiter this opposite direction."

"Very well, we are decided. But first, let us fly around to that north-bound tunnel and make certain it is not closed, too."

Jamie memorized the cartouche that marked their target tunnel, and then rolled up the map and returned it to the knight's pack. They flew together over the center platform, and landed on the other side.

"It will take some getting used to, this flying about, " Bastyin said, somewhat breathlessly, as they reformed their group on the other quarter of the platform. The excitement in the eyes of the Lachess made Jamie smile.

"It is thrilling to soar like a bird, is it not?"

"It makes my heart race with joy," the other confessed.

Jamie patted Bastyin's arm, and then turned to survey the three tunnels they could see from their new position. "There. That one in the center."

"Agreed," Dorf replied. "It's open for business, too."

They headed for the long dock that serviced the tunnel in question, and soon reached the end. "Invisibility, I suggest," Jamie said.

The group vanished, and then stood waiting quietly. After a few minutes, Jamie turned to where he knew the wolf to be. "Irik? Do you hear anything?"

"No, Jamie. The tunnel seems silent."

"It may be a longer journey for this car," Geert suggested.

"The distance on the map did not seem so great," Snave reminded. "I think this car should be here by now."

"If you are waiting for the car to come, it will not," Bastyin said. "None have worked to the north in living memory."

Dorf laughed. "Now he tells us!"

"I'm sorry," the Lachess returned, looking flustered. "I guess I just thought you knew more about where you were going than you actually do."

"We don't know anything about anything," Geert said. But then he seemed to think about his words, and laughed. "I mean, this is our first time in the forest."

Jamie nodded, and patted Bastyin's shoulder. "It is that. We have no idea what we face ahead of us. So any knowledge you may have, feel free to speak up."

The Lachess smiled then, and patted his chest twice. "We will learn much together, it seems. This is also my first journey to the west."

Jamie pointed to the tunnel. "I just thought this car would work, like the others we fixed."

"They may operate in zones," Snave suggested. "If some trick of the ancient's science fails, the whole area ceases."

Dorf grunted at that. "That seems poor planning."

Jamie just shrugged. "There may have been a reason for that, or there may be more going on with the ancient's science than we know."

The knight sighed. "We may as well start. Let us go to the tunnel and listen one more time to be sure."

The group flew to the mouth of the tunnel and settled inside, straining their ears. Jamie only heard silence. "Irik? Sir Dorf?"

"Nothing, Jamie," the wolf returned.

"Agreed." The knight nodded. "We waste important travel time listening for ghosts. I say we get started."

"I think the quicker we make this transit, the better," Jamie said. "We'll fly, unless you have an objection, Sir Dorf."

"Not I. I think it's a wise course. Shall we?"

"We will need to see each other more clearly," Snave offered. "I suggest that we maintain our shields, but suspend the invisibility for now."

Jamie nodded, and became visible. "Let's go."

They lifted together and entered the tunnel, and then spread out a bit. The tunnel was more than roomy enough for them to fly abreast in comfort, and they made good headway. The walls quickly became a blur as they passed, but the different tones of the floor of the tunnel made it easy to keep perspective.

"Much better this way," Garvin announced, after several minutes of flight. "It would have taken an hour just to walk as far as we have come already."

"Slow down, everyone," Dorf said then. "I think I see a platform ahead."

Jamie peered ahead of them, but once again the knight's senses outclassed his own, and he saw nothing. But they soon arrived at one of the small platforms set into the side of the tunnel, at the back of which were several metal boxes attached to the wall.

"What say, Jamie?" Garvin asked. "Shall we see if any of the little stars inside have died?"

They landed, and Jamie immediately went to the back of the platform and pressed his hand against the lock of the box. It opened, and it was quickly apparent that some of the stars within had indeed gone red. Jamie was not surprised to see more of the little cylinders lying in the bottom of the box, as if waiting to replace the failed elements. That was a boon, for it meant they could save their own small supply for any possible future needs. He pulled out one of the dead cylinders and replaced it from the store of spares below, and half the cylinders inside started to blink, and soon turned green.

"That one, too, I suspect," Geert said, pointing to another red-lit cylinder. "All the ones to the left of it are blinking yellow."

Jamie nodded, pulled the offending cylinder, and replaced it with a fresh one. The rest started blinking faster then, and soon turned green as well. Now all the cylinders in the box were green.

"Odd, if these other mages are everywhere down here, that they haven't fixed these machines," Snave said. "If we can repair them so easily, they certainly can, as well."

"Maybe not so odd," Dorf returned. "They can fly, like us. Repairing the tunnel cars would only give the others that live here easier access to all parts of the forest. They probably don't want that."

"Makes sense," Garvin decided, frowning. "We already know they don't like to share."

The knight grunted, and waved a hand at the metal box. "Close it, and then let us wait a moment and see what happens."

Jamie closed the box, and they all turned to listen and wait.

Very quickly, it seemed, Irik paced out to the edge of the platform and looked the way they had been flying. "It comes, I think."

"Perhaps best to come back here, then," Jamie suggested. "In case the car does not stop this time."

The wolf returned, and Jamie erected a shield between the group and the tunnel, just in case.

In a few moments, they could all hear the rush of the car coming, and feel the air being pushed ahead of it.

"I think it is slowing," Dorf said, his face set in concentration as he listened.. "Yes, I'm sure it is."

Once again, Jamie was impressed by the knight's senses. Jamie could hear the car coming, but his ears gave him no sense that the vehicle was going to do anything but tear past them at enormous speed.

But it was slowing, just as the knight had said, and in a moment it appeared out of the tunnel to their right and glided to a stop at the platform. The doors whispered open, and then all was silent.

Jamie lifted the shield before them and took a step towards the car, but Dorf immediately darted out a hand and pulled him to a stop. Jamie looked up at the knight, who nodded at the train car.

He followed the man's gaze, his eyes quickly moving along the row of windows that sided the car.

In one window he caught a flash of motion; and then, in the window next to that one, a gray head popped up, just far enough for two large eyes to inspect them.

Irik moved closer to Jamie. "Pertwee."

"In the car?" Jamie asked, stunned. "But if it wasn't working, why--"

"A moment," Dorf said softly, interrupting. "Irik, can you call to them?"

Jamie blinked, catching up, and nodded. "Yes. Tell them we're peaceful."

Irik took two steps forward and said something in a soft, sibilant tongue, that made Jamie blink first, and then smile. To hear the wolf speak so was amazing!

"Perhaps if I added my voice?" Bastyin said, coming to stand beside Jamie. "It may help to relax them."

Jamie stared at the other. "You speak their language, too?"

"Well...I have a facility for tongues."

Ah. The ability to grasp many languages was a function of some knacks. It all made sense to Jamie now. "Yes, go ahead."

Bastyin stepped up next to Irik, and called to the ones in the car in the same light tongue.

Another pair of eyes popped up in the window next to the first watcher, and then a third set of eyes another window over.

"There are several of them," Garvin said quietly.

"So it would appear," Dorf agreed. "Yet they seem to wish to remain hidden, just as Bastyin suggested they might."

Jamie called to Irik. "Tell them we wish to use the car. If they will not come out, we will be coming in."

Irik relayed the message, and the sets of eyes turned back and forth as the three inside conversed. And then another soft voice called out from within the car.

"They will not oppose us," Irik translated.

"I guess that means we go in," Dorf said. "I suggest shields for everyone, just in case."

Jamie nodded, and activated his shield even as the others did so. "These Pertwee are to the left of the entry door, near the nose of the car in the direction they traveled. We should to go the other way. I say we turn right as we go inside, and go to the other end of the car, in the direction we wish to travel. These Pertwee can join us if they like, but I will not force our company upon them."

"As you say," Dorf agreed, stepping forward. That he meant to lead them was clear.

Jamie and the others followed, collecting Irik and Bastyin along the way. They went to the right as they entered the doorway, and found seats near the other end of the car from the Pertwee. He halfway expected the others to scramble outside after the mages had entered, but there was no movement behind them, and shortly the car's doors closed. And then the vehicle began moving, back the way it had come.

For a brief period no one said anything. Jamie looked back over his shoulder several times, but could not see anyone to the rear of the car. The Pertwee were obviously crouched down between the seats.

Jamie pointed at Irik, and directed him to come closer. "Can you tell them we are simply traveling, and mean no harm to anyone?"

The wolf bobbed his head, and repeated Jamie's message toward the rear of the car.

Again, the soft voice replied, and Irik translated. "Not all mages are so harmless!"

Garvin, who was in the seat beside Jamie, gave a small laugh. "How are they sure we are mages?"

Jamie shrugged, and asked Irik to repeat his friend's question to those in the rear of the car. The response was quick.

"They say we made the train car move, when it has never done so before," Irik said.

"Ah." Jamie nodded. "Tell them the car will work for all now. And perhaps some other cars in this area, too."

That pronouncement was greeted with silence.

"Oh, well," Jamie decided. "Just tell them we are going back to the station they left from, and then we will be going on from there. We will not bother them."

Irik relayed the message, which was again met with silence.

Jamie turned in his eat and leaned closer to Bastyin across the aisle. "What do you think?"

The other patted his chest twice. "Not forcing a confrontation is in your favor, Jamie. The Pertwee choose those they wish to trade with. They do not like it the other way around."

"Very well. When we get to the next station, we simply leave them be and go on our way."

The trip was not long, taking about seven minutes to arrive at the next station. The car exited the tunnel and crossed to the raised dock, and pulled to a stop. The doors opened, and then came silence.

This chamber was another smaller one with a center column, indicating a structure of some kind directly above.

"Look there," Geert said then, pointing.

Just outside their windows were several small packs, and a number of strange items wrapped in tan cloth. They were set down in a line, as if several travelers had all deposited them in a row.

"Trade goods," Bastyin said. "The property of our friends, no doubt."

"Don't touch anything on your way out, "Jamie cautioned the group. "Leave those things be."

He got to his feet, and the group moved out, passing through the car's door onto the platform. They turned and headed towards the center column, passing the items lined on the walk as if they were not there at all. There were several of the domed storage bins along the way, but far fewer than in the larger stations.

Bastyin cast several glances back the way they had come, and then moved closer to Jamie. "They follow us."

"Why, do you think?"

"They have not been harmed. Irik and I travel with you. They are curious."

Jamie smiled. "Well...let them be curious. If they decide they want to talk, they'll come to us."

Bastyin looked back one more time, and then laughed. "How very interesting this is."

Snave floated over to move along beside Jamie. "I have a theory."

Jamie laughed. "Of course."

Snave made a humorous sound himself. "Well, I stood for several hundred years as a mute in my brother's shop. Thinking was all I had to do."

"I know. I meant nothing by my remark, just that you are so good at figuring these things out."

"Oh. Well, then, I think our friends back there were on that platform, about to journey into the tunnel. They were standing next to the car as we replaced the glowing stars in the box that reactivated things. The doors of the car here suddenly opened, and our friends - probably astonished by this new event - stepped aboard to look things over."

"And then the doors closed, and the car carried them away," Jamie finished. "That would explain their goods, left standing on the platform."


Jamie patted the gargoyle's polished side. "As good an explanation as any, and probably the correct one. Thank you, Snave."

"Or," the gargoyle continued, the suggestion of a laugh in his voice now, "they had just exited the tunnel after traversing its length from the previous station."

Jamie nodded. "Either way, they were undoubtedly caught by surprise."

"Considering that all that travel these tunnels know how the cars work, they should have known it might take them away," Bastyin put in.

"Perhaps because that one had not run in so long, they did not expect it to now," Snave countered.

Jamie held up his hands. "Either way, it's done." He turned to the Lachess. "They still follow us?"

"I think so, yes."

Jamie nodded. "So be it."

They arrived at the center column and looked inside, and found the typical three doors of what they thought were lifts, along with a spiral staircase going up through the roof.

"This has the look of the red tower we visited once before," Dorf said.

"Perhaps it is another one of that kind," Geert answered. "We spied several from the summit of the last one."

The knight nodded. "Shields and invisibility, I would recommend."

They climbed the staircase, and emerged onto the ground floor of what was obviously another of the red towers.

"Looks familiar," Dorf decided, after they had stood silently a moment, listening. "And sounds to be empty, too."

"Should we check out the top, to see if it has a room like the other one?" Geert asked. "What did Porvus call it? The com center?"

"I think not," Jamie decided. "Porvus was aware we were in that other room, though he did not know who we were until we opened that two-way window. Best not to let him know we are here, as well."

Dorf looked about them. "Hopefully, whatever magick let him know we were in that other tower has not already informed him of our presence here."

Garvin placed a hand on Jamie's arm. "Perhaps it is best to go back below?"

Jamie nodded. "I think so, too. But first" -- he turned to Dorf --" we must have a look outside."

The knight stared at him questioningly a moment, but then suddenly nodded. "Ah. So that you can inspect the crown of this tower? To see if it is the one from your vision?"

"Exactly. If it is, we must use extra caution."

Garvin frowned. "But, Jamie, you don't know why you saw that tower in your vision. And we were all outside, were we not?"

"Yes. But it will suffice for now that we know if it is the correct tower or not. If it is, the presence of all of our group outside will come in the course of time."

They found an exit door in exactly the same place as in the other tower. Jamie opened it, but was confronted with a thick patch of the barrel-shaped growths that exploded if pierced.

"There's a mess," Dorf observed. "To plow through that patch might be troublesome."

"The main door," Jamie suggested then. "The double doors at the other tower had a stone apron before them, which kept back the growths."

They walked around the outer hallway and found the double doors. This time, when Jamie opened it, the way was clear.

He and the knight walked out onto the apron, and went out far enough so that Jamie could see the spire of the new tower.

"This is not the one," he said, after a brief inspection of the distant crown. The top of this tower was also damaged, but scarcely more than the last tower had been, and not nearly as much as the crown of the tower he had seen in his vision. Jamie felt a pang of disappointment, and then the cool breath of relief swept throughout his body. He had somehow come to associate the tower in his vision with some sort of confrontation with the enemy, though nothing in the vision itself had suggested that.

That visions were associated with momentous events was a common belief, but a belief that Master Thorvil himself had once laughed at. "I have seen visions of my breakfast meal two weeks hence," the old mage had once told Jamie. "And yet when the day arrived, the plate was no better than usual, and no great deeds accompanied the consumption of the food. Visions are capricious lights in the dark tunnel of the future, Jamie. They may mean something important, and they may simply mean hen's eggs fried with bacon."

Jamie frowned at that memory, and then replayed his vision in his mind. There was nothing at all to indicate conflict, and nothing to suggest that anyone was there except their own group. That posed a new idea to him, one he had not considered before. Rather than portending some important event at which Geert was present with them, might the vision simply have been a glimpse into the future to let him know that Geert was destined to travel with them on their journey?

He laughed at the simplicity of the idea.

Dorf, standing by and waiting upon Jamie, cocked his head at him. "Something?"

Jamie smiled at him. "Hen's eggs, fried with bacon, I think."

At the puzzled look on the knight's face, Jamie waved a hand and started back towards the doors of the tower. "I'll tell you inside. Come, Sir Knight, before something comes out of the forest to challenge us."

They re-entered the tower, and told the others what they had found. Jamie explained his vision again so that Irik and Bastyin would understand the reference, and then turned to the knight and explained to him what he had meant by the reference to hen's eggs and bacon. "So even when we get to the tower I saw in my vision, it may just be yet another stop along the way."

"Ah," Geert said, looking pleased. "This was why you invited me along, as I recall. Because you then knew I was to be with you, anyway."

"There was also the matter of your fine looks, and your charm," Garvin said innocently, smiling at Geert.

"And your obvious prowess with magick," Jamie tossed in, grinning. "We knew such ability would be a boon to our journey."

Geert looked from one boy to the other, pouted a moment, and then smiled. "Are you sorry you brought me along?"

Jamie nodded at Garvin, and both boys stepped to Geert and hugged him between.

"No," Jamie said, giving the boy a last hug and then stepping away from him. "You have indeed been a boon to our journey."

Garvin nodded, patted Geert's shoulder, and then grinned at Jamie. "My, that was nice. We should hug our Geert more often."

Geert slowly reddened, but the happiness in his eyes could not be missed. "I think I do not mind being made fun of, when it is done with such clear affection."

"It is," Jamie said, more seriously. He looked around at the others. "I cannot imagine a finer group to be traveling with. We must all take great care in this venture, so that all arrive back home again."

Dorf gave a small sigh, and smiled at Jamie. "We should go back down to the tunnel and look for our next route west."

Jamie nodded, and turned to Bastyin. "What of our shadows? Are they still about?"

"I think so, though I am not certain where just now."

They descended again to the level of the tunnels, and pulled out the map again to check the cartouche for the tunnel going back to the southwest. "There," Jamie determined, pointing at one of the tunnels.

"I'd wager a car will arrive this time," Snave said.

Garvin cast a quick look back the way they had come. "Our Pertwee shadows will not be able to follow."

"They can get back to their own business," Jamie offered, smiling.

They traveled to the end of the raised platform and waited, and in a few minutes they could hear the car coming.

Irik looked back at Jamie. "This sounds wrong, somehow."

Dorf squinted at the tunnel then. "Something sounds off to my ear, too."

Jamie took one look at the expression on the knight's face, and nodded. "Invisibility. And full shields, everyone."

They already had them up, but Jamie wanted to be certain they had all wound the extra ties for the electrum shield as well. The others were nodding even as they disappeared from view.

"We're ready," Garvin assured him.

"I suggest we get off this platform," Dorf said. His nearly invisible figure twisted and turned."There. The next dock over. Let us fly there quickly and get behind the dock platform, so it is between us and the car when it arrives."

They stepped off the edge and floated rapidly to the next dock over, and settled to the floor of the chamber behind it. Jamie crept forward so that he could look around the end of the dock and see the mouth of the next tunnel over. The sound of the approaching car grew in volume, and then even Jamie could tell that something sounded amiss. In addition to the normal sound of the car, there was a fearsome scraping sound, as if the car was somehow rubbing against the wall of the tunnel. Whatever it was, it sounded dire. The sound made his skin crawl, and his feeling of unease grew.

"No one do anything unless we are attacked," he whispered. "I want to know what danger this is before we start anything."

In a moment the car appeared from the other tunnel, crossed the open area to the dock, and stopped. Jamie gasped at what he saw then.

Attached to the rear of the car was a great gray orb of some kind, that glowed all about it's surface with violet energies. It was slightly larger in girth than the car itself, which might account for the scraping sounds they had heard. Even as Jamie watched, the orb extended what at first appeared to be six long, multi-jointed steel legs, and detached itself from the rear of the car. But there was something odd about the way the legs glowed, and Jamie's electrum sense immediately revealed to him that they were in fact not made of metal at all, but of some sort of electrum energy formed in a complex and amazing series of structures that provided flexibility and a range of movement that no matter could provide.

The orb righted itself and stood up on its legs. Something glittered as it turned, and an array of what looked like eyes came into view. But again, these seemed not to be of matter, but also formed of complex knots of electrums. They seemed to dart about upon the skin of the spider, as if seeking something to fasten upon.

Something like us, Jamie decided.

That this was a machine, Jamie knew instantly. It's menacing quality could not be denied, suggesting it had certainly arrived on a mission of ill will. Here then was one of the battle machines of the ancients, exactly like the ones that Jamie had feared that those at Methuwan might have at their disposal.

The great spider backed away from the rear of the car, and slowly turned in a full circle.

"I know you're here," a voice suddenly boomed out. The volume was incredible, making Jamie and the others flinch. Even as he did so, Jamie recognized the voice, having heard it so recently in the uppermost room of the first red tower they had visited.


"Oh, come now. It won't do you any good to hide. My friend here will find you eventually."

No one spoke. Jamie suspected they knew as he did, that to make any sort of noise would be to give away their location. And he wondered if the senses of the others were feeling the same things that he did now. His own senses were abuzz with a multitude of electrum signals of all kinds, obviously emitted somehow by the machine before them. Jamie marveled at their power and variety, and even as he did saw uses for some of these new patterns. His knack examined them as would a boy examining ants with a magnifying glass, watching them run about on their missions, staring in wonder as they seemed to touch and talk with each other and take on new aspects even as they did.

The lens upon his chest warmed, and the life within it danced about cheerfully, matching these new perceptions with information contained in some of the oldest volumes and scrolls in the Master Thorvil's vast library. Jamie closed his eyes, filled with wonder at the revelations he was seeing, even as the part of his knack that understood things he did not formed new and intricate locks that had Jamie gasping at their complexity.

With this new knowledge came some much needed insight into what they were facing now. Yes, here was a battle machine of the ancients. It ran on electrums, though electrums marvelously patterned and organized to do things that Jamie would have thought impossible. The science here was in this fabulous organization, this ability to have electrums perform missions for which they had not been designed by nature, but for which they were admirably suited to perform nevertheless.

The new magickal locks grew in number to a round dozen, and Jamie applied two of them to the ties of the electrum dispersion field he was using for protection even now, that would vastly strengthen it and enhance its purposes. He felt that new strength immediately, and knew also that here was the weapon they would need against this machine of the ancients. For it ran on electrums, and needed them to live.

He had to give these new locks to the others, but could see no way to do it without speaking. "Enhanced sight," he whispered, just loudly enough for all to hear. And then he rapidly went through the new locks so that all could learn them.

All except Bastyin. Jamie cursed himself then, for not taking the Lachess to the nether immediately to obtain the enhanced sight. "Bastyin?'

"Here," said a voice, close by.

Jamie immediately extended his own defenses to cover the other, and hoped it would be enough.

"Jamie!" Dorf hissed, his voice filled with alarm.

Jamie turned back towards the spider even as it lunged in their direction, its odd energy legs making a striking grating sound against the stone floor. Despite its obvious bulk it was incredibly fast, and covered half the distance to their hiding place in the blink of an eye. One of the new knots spun into being in Jamie's mind, and the machine was immediately surrounded by an electrum dispersion field tied to disperse from within, which Jamie instantly drew tight. He was unprepared for what happened next.

Violent discharges of the violet energy appeared around the charging machine, and it slowed, but did not stop. Jamie sensed then that the machine wore a form of shield of its own, one that protected it just from this sort of attack. He doubled down on the electrum dispersion field, and called to the others to apply their own. He was aware of knots forming above invisible, aura-outlined heads, and then the violet lightnings about the huge spider increased dramatically, and it ground to a halt still well away from them.

"Well!" Once again the voice of Porvus boomed out, sounding far too jovial for the situation "You are not so helpless now, are you? I suspected as much when it seemed you escaped the lightning cascade at the other tower."

Something changed on the front of the spider, and a large blue circle appeared. A lance of hard blue energy erupted from it, amazingly sharp in definition, and sliced the top off the dock above them, causing chunks of blasted stone to rain down upon their shields and bounce away to the floor. Jamie's senses tingled with the amazing force of electrums being dispersed from the spider by his own field and those of the others. But so great was the capacity of the machine to produce electrums that almost all were replaced as quickly as those being dispersed. Such power was incredible!

The blue lance, the terrible weapon storied in the ancient texts within Thorvil's vast library!

Jamie gritted his teeth and drew in more energy from the world around him to power his electrum dispersion field, widening the draw to take in as large an area as possible. The very air of the chamber about them quivered and sang now with the fury of the powers at battle here, and yet still it did not seem enough. Jamie considered every way he could to boost their attack, and his attention settled on the magickal device he had created to boost the power of translocation. His hand quivered now as that magick awakened, but he instantly saw that, as it was, it would not be able to boost the electrum dispersion fields. It had been specifically designed to boost translocation, and while he had used it to augment other magicks, it apparently was unable to do so for all without further work, and the press of their journey had offered little time for such experimentation.

But he could translocate all of them to safety, and he kept that awareness alive as another sweep of the furious blue lance took off another level of the dock above them. At this rate their hiding place would soon be gone. Jamie considered where to move them to, even as the spider took another hesitant step forward.

"I suggest more direct action," Snave's voice came then. "It knows our location!"

"I would not tempt that blue lance with your shields," Jamie returned, yelling to be heard above the storm of energy. "It's electrum content is stunning. The very force of their impact would blow you to the other side of the chamber, even if it did not penetrate your shield."

"I sense this, too," Snave said. "We cannot directly expose ourselves to use most of the offensive magick at our disposal. I suggest another plan."

"I would be open to one!" Jamie yelled.

"A retreat may be in order," the gargoyle called. "You can translocate all of us at once."

Jamie almost laughed at that, having just considered the idea himself. "Where should we go?"

"We could return to the last station, and go south from there."

"We could just as easily go to the castle workshop of Kundus, and then go from there wherever we pleased!" Geert hollered.

But a new thought had come to Jamie then, and he was no longer listening. Translocation was a simple enough magick, now that he had learned so much beyond that staple of the mage's art, and he had not thought much about it of late. Normally, one formed a translocation field about himself, and was instantly taken to any place he had been at least once before.

But what of that field? Did it have to be formed about the mage in question? Could it be formed around other objects, in order to translocate them?

And then the answer was before him. The same ties of a lock that allowed him to place the electrum dispersion field about any object he wished should allow him to also place a translocation field wherever he wished. And with the magick he had developed to greatly increase the size of the actual translocation field...

It might just work. Quickly, he brought up the lock for translocation, and examined the ties. The lens at his chest warmed, and he felt its presence among the observations he was making, and they grew sharper and more accurate, and certain. Here, here, and here.

He changed the ties, feeling sure he was right.

He needed to see the machine. He would need to risk peeking out from behind the rapidly shortening dock. He waited until another sweep of the blue lance peeled off more material from above them, and then chanced a look and tied the knot.

Right away he sensed a problem. The field, large as it seemed when it carried their entire group from one place to another, was not large enough to encompass the entire machine. He had no idea what might happen if he separated the machine into pieces. He could get most of it, but not all of it.

The machine took another step closer, and Jamie ducked back just as another furious blue lance smacked into the dock above them. The floor quivered beneath him, and he knew now that he either needed to move them, or the machine, or they would be in trouble.

Once, when he and Garvin had accompanied the Master Thorvil to Arthros, they had flown high above a jagged range of tall peaks, that themselves climbed several leagues into the sky. That height above the barren, rocky terrain was what he wished for now. Closing his eyes, Jamie imagined that flight high above the mountains, created the translocation field, and placed it around as much of the approaching spider as he could. And then he finished the knot.

There was a tremendous flash of light from the other side of the dock, and a torrent of sound swept over them. Some incredible force snatched Jamie from where he crouched and flung him away from the back of the dock. He turned over and over in the air, and instantly tied a knot for flight to keep himself from being dashed again against the stone floor. The light was briefly blinding, the noise simply stunning; and then it was suddenly over as quickly as it had started.

Jamie drew to a halt in the air as clouds of dust washed around him, and then began to settle to the floor. He stopped himself from descending further, and then turned so that he could see where the spider had been. The floor there was blackened in a vast arc, and a large, circular depression with jagged edges had been blasted from the stone. But of the battle machine itself there was no sign.

Jamie became visible, but kept his other shields in place. There was motion nearby, and Bastyin appeared, obviously still within the confines of Jamie's shielding. Jamie grinned in relief, and waved.

The others began appearing then, also floating in the air, and soon all were accounted for. Jamie waved them together, and Snave was the first to arrive.

"You translocated it!"

Jamie laughed. "Well, as much of it as I could get. I don't think the part that was left behind liked the separation much, by the evidence." He smiled. "Thank you for the idea, Snave."

"I?" But the gargoyle sounded pleased. "However the idea came to you, the results are most pleasing. I saw the tie of the lock. It bore some most interesting changes."

"You learned it?"


"As did I, Jamie," Garvin said.

Geert raised a hand. "And I."

"We all did, I suspect," Dorf said. "It seems I do not need to even be looking at you for my magick to learn the new ties."

Bastyin floated closer to Jamie then. "I was inside your defenses, it seems."

Jamie nodded. 'Yes. And now, as soon as we feel it safe to do, I must see that you get the enhanced sight. I see now it may be a matter of life or death for you if you do not."

The Lachess laid his hand flat upon his chest and nodded his head at Jamie. "I am grateful."

"I suggest we not just hang here in plain view," Dorf said. "Lest Porvus send a follow up to see what became of his toy."

Garvin snorted at that. "Toy! My hair was raised by that thing! Such a fearsome machine I have never imagined!"

The knight grimaced, and nodded. "Nor I. It would have been a match for any number of men armed simply with swords and cannon. It frightens me to envision such mechanical beasts loose upon the land."

"There must not be a lot of them, or we'd have seen them before," Geert suggested.

Jamie frowned at that. "Perhaps. Or, they are only just learned to use them."

"Odd that it appeared when it did," Garvin said. "They had to know we were in the tower."

"We shall need to be more careful with these towers, Jamie," Dorf said.

"I have a suggestion," Irik offered.

Jamie turned to the wolf. "Please share it with us."

The wolf moved closer. "The three mages we disposed of recently. Artagon, and the others?"

Jamie took a breath at that reminder. "Ah. Those."

"Yes. They said themselves they were on their way to meet with Porvus. I suggest that when they did not show up, it made that one come looking for them." The wolf's muzzle drew wide in a near smile. "Or to send his emissary, rather."

"It's a sound idea," Dorf said immediately. The knight's eyes swept around the great chamber again. "All the more reason to be gone from this place."

"That great spider may have already been on its way to look for Artagon and the others when Porvus detected us here in the tower," Geert decided. "It did arrive very quickly for it to just have been in response to our presence."

Dorf gave out an affectionate laugh. "All my charges are turning into fine soldierly minds, I think." He nodded then. "I would say you are correct. We have simply not been here long enough for yon mechanical nightmare to have been dispatched from Methuwan in reaction to our presence."

Garvin held out a hand. "We don't know it came from Methuwan."

Geert laughed, and turned to Bastyin. "See what I mean about us not knowing much?"

The Lachess offered a laugh of his own. "When there is so much to know, and most of it hidden, it becomes a difficult task."

Jamie let his eyes rove about the great chamber. "I do think we should be gone from this place. I am a little surprised that Porvus has not come looking for his machine. He could easily have translocated here."

"If we suppose he has been to this place before," Garvin mentioned.

"He would not know exactly what had happened to that machine, I think," Snave said. "Only that it had ceased to exist. He will feel we have somehow destroyed it. It would be poor tactics to jump directly into the middle of such a situation."

Dorf looked pleased. "That is good judgment."

"This is twice we have thwarted his plans for our destruction," Garvin said. "That should give him some pause in his actions against us."

"Maybe," Snave agreed. "Or, even, very certainly. Porvus was never one to unnecessarily risk his hide when he could get others to do it for him."

Jamie pointed at the center column of the chamber. "Let us all move there and decide on a course of action."

They glided over to the central column and alit on the platform. Jamie put out his senses then, trying to determine if any of the electrums he sensed were like those that had been emitted from the giant spider. If those electrums were somehow being used to detect their presence, it would be wise to learn to thwart them.

He sensed some very complex fields, but none he could say with certainty matched any of those that had been emitted from the battle machine. He did notice that they seemed to strengthen as he moved closer to the doorway leading into the central column...

He reached the opening, and stopped, startled. Spread out upon the floor inside near the back wall were three small, gray shapes. They were made like humans, with two legs, two arms, one head, and all the other features that everyone that Jamie knew back in town possessed, except the skin of these was gray. Their bald heads bore tall, sharply pointed ears, and their noses were flat against their faces. The trio were dressed alike in tan breeches and shirts, and wore brown boots upon their small feet. They were not ugly to Jamie's eyes, as far as such things went; but neither did they resemble any people that Jamie had ever heard tell of. Also against the wall lay the gear that Jamie had seen on the dock at the station when they had first arrived, left behind by their owners when the car they had been standing inside had whisked them away into the tunnel.

These, then, were the Pertwee.

Jamie scratched his head, amazed that he had thought these others were taller, and had somehow been scrunched down in hiding when they had peered at them from the windows of the car back at the platform within the tunnel. And when they had been hidden among the seats to their rear on the journey from that platform to this station. But the reality was vastly different. The Pertwee were simply very short in stature.

The three looked to have been felled by the blast, the pressure wave surely having filled all the spaces close by as it dissipated. They were sprawled upon the floor in a manner that suggested they had been thrown backwards from the open doorway. Jamie turned then, and saw that he could see the place where the spider had been standing. The Pertwee had apparently been witness to at least some of the events that that unfolded here.

Irik appeared beside him, and looked within. "Oh! We must go to them."

"A moment," Jamie cautioned, extending a hand to stay the wolf.

He closed his eyes, and again searched for the organized electrums like those he had sensed coming from the great spider. They were there, flowing from within the entry way, though they were not present out where Jamie stood in the large chamber.

"I sense that we can somehow be detected by electrums specially organized to do just that," he said, as the others gathered around him. "To enter the tower base again will likely be to let Porvus know we still live. I think it was not just the upper room in that other tower that gave us away to Porvus. The com center, I mean. I think he became aware of our presence in that tower the moment we entered the center column from the tunnel below. Like here. I can sense now the sort of organized electrums that might have given us away."

Snave settled to the stone floor beside him. "The electrum dispersion field, tied to disperse from without, would defeat this detection method, would it not?"

"I think so. But only one of us should enter to make the rescue."

"I'll go," Dorf offered. "I can carry all three of these easily enough."

Jamie made certain that the knight's dispersion field was correctly set, and then they all stood back as Dorf entered the column base. The knight approached the first Pertwee, lifted him easily, and brought him back out to the platform and laid him carefully on the stone floor. Then he repeated the process two more times, until all three Pertwee had been brought out. Then he collected their gear, and set that beside them.

Jamie had knelt beside the first one, while Geert and Garvin knelt by the others. They used battle magicks to look for injuries, and could not find anything that looked serious.

"Concussion effects, most likely," Dorf said, after the examination was complete. "I've seen men laid out like this in the field after a close shell burst from enemy cannon."

"They all live, though," Jamie said, pleased that their actions had not caused any of these people to be seriously harmed.

"Yes," the knight agreed. "Just severely stunned, I believe." He smiled at Jamie. "In fact, by the small movements of his closed eyes, I believe that one is actually conscious now." He pointed to the Pertwee on the left end of the group.

Jamie turned to Irik. "Tell him he is safe."

The wolf stepped forward and repeated Jamie's words.

The Pertwee in question opened his eyes and slowly sat up. Large green eyes they were, too, and quite stunning to behold.

The man said something in his sibilant tongue, and Bastyin gave forth a small laugh.

"What did he say?" Garvin asked.

The Lachess smiled. "He said he thought the world had ended."

Jamie and Garvin exchanged grins.

"Tell him not today," Jamie told Bastyin. "But also say that we must be away from this place soon, or the possibility still exists."

Soon, all three of the Pertwee were stirring, and then able to rise to their feet.

Through Irik and Bastyin, they soon learned that the three had been curious about what mages were doing in the tunnels accompanied by a Lachess and one of Irik's people. They had been following and watching to see what they could learn, and so had witnessed the arrival of the monster in the tunnel chamber. The battle that had ensued had both amazed and terrified them, and they had only just retreated back into the central column when the mighty explosion had occurred. That was all they remembered.

But they were still curious about why Jamie and the other human mages were here, and why a Lachess and a wolf watcher were traveling with them.

Jamie explained through Irik that they were heading west, there to confront other mages that had been wreaking havoc in the world outside, and within the forest. "Not all human mages are of a mind as these troublemakers. We hope to right some of the wrongs they have committed upon others."

"We know of them," the first Pertwee, who had named himself as Gorge, told them. "For a year now, they have been up to no good end here."

"The tunnel directly west is closed," Jamie returned. "We had to come this way, to this chamber, here to select a tunnel to take us back to the southwest in order to continue."

"The closed tunnel is full of water," came the surprising reply. "Many lifetimes ago the earth shook violently, and the great doors to that tunnel closed at either end. At the same time, Lake Shrood, which stands above that tunnel, dropped in level by the height of ten men."

Jamie was stunned by the idea that some part of a lake had drained into the tunnel. It made him wonder now how much more of the ancient tunnel network had been compromised by the forces of time. They would not know, until they encountered such problems head on.

"You wish to get back to the main line in order to go west?" Gorge now asked them, looking interested.

Jamie nodded. "Yes."

The three Pertwee conferred quickly, and then Gorge moved closer to Jamie. "My brothers will take our wares and head home," Irik translated. "I will show you the way back to the main line."

Jamie shook his head. "It's not necessary. We know to simply follow the tunnel back."

Gorge turned and pointed out to the large black crater in the chamber floor, where the spider had met its end. "Those that pursue you will know your route."

"He has a point," Dorf agreed. "What does he have in mind, Irik?"

The wolf spoke with the Pertwee again, and then looked up at Jamie. "He says there is another way, one that should be safer."

Jamie looked over at the knight, who simply nodded.

Jamie sighed, and smiled at the Pertwee. "Very well. Irik, tell him to point the way, and we shall get moving."

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