The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 22

"It was my right to lead you," Gorge said, through Bastyin, as they made their way around the circumference of the large tunnel chamber. "It was I that first spoke to you, so I had first privilege over my brothers to make a deal." The little man shrugged his shoulders to rearrange the small pack he wore, and picked up his pace even more.

Jamie smiled. Despite the Pertwee's short stature, he seemed to have no trouble at all setting a vigorous pace. "Deal?"

The other looked up at him, and displayed some very pointed teeth in a fierce smile, to which Bastyin offered a short laugh. "Certainly," the Lachess translated. "We have a deal. I am to show you a safer path to take on your journey, and in exchange, I am to accompany you until I feel I would rather not."

Jamie slowed a bit, and the Pertwee matched his pace without so much as the blink of an eye. "I don't think it's a good idea for you to accompany us very far," Jamie said, doubt immediately rising in his mind. "You have seen what sort of forces we are up against. It would not be safe for you to travel with us for very long."

"No, Jamie," Bastyin said immediately, before he had translated the boy's answer. "He offered to show you the way, and you accepted. It is a contract. You cannot disavow that now."

"But I didn't know," Jamie answered, feeling flustered now. The last thing he needed was to have a non-magickal person along with them to worry about! It was the same reason they had not allowed the Iricawa warrior, Mos Walhoo, to accompany them further. It wasn't safe!

Bastyin smiled. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse, Jamie."

Dorf started laughing, and Jamie looked over at the knight. "What's so funny?"

"I think this small one has got you where he wants you, Jamie. It has become a question of honor. You cannot refuse now."

Jamie sighed, and looked back at Gorge, who was watching him speculatively. Jamie nodded, and turned back to Bastyin. "Fine. He will accompany us until he no longer wishes to. I just hope he doesn't die before that happens."

"I not die," Gorge said, quite clearly.

Jamie actually stopped in his tracks this time, and the others crowded around them.

"If you can speak our tongue, why not say so immediately?" Jamie demanded.

"No advantage then," the little Pertwee returned. Again he showed the pointed teeth in a smile. "Now I know you honorable, best talk man to man."

Jamie turned to Bastyin. "Does everybody down here speak several tongues?"

The Lachess looked like he thought the entire situation was humorous, and that he was not that surprised that Gorge knew what was being said. "Jamie...there are many among the three nations that know something of your tongue."

"There is truth to that," Irik agreed, from Jamie's side. "In my own travels, I have met some few."

"But not everyone?" Jamie questioned.

"No. But there are some."

"There are books of your people among the three nations," Bastyin said quietly. "Papers, maps, diagrams, and stories. Artifacts of the past. Many describe great wonders. It has been considered important by all three peoples to maintain an ability to read them."

"Must know enemy," Gorge said, eyeing Jamie to see his reaction.

Jamie considered that, and then nodded. "I think that's a deserved appraisal. The humans we've met here in the forest are seriously unfriendly." He smiled at the Pertwee. "But I would like you to know that there are many of us beyond the forest who would be thrilled to have new friends."

Irik, standing beside Jamie and listening, made a solemn sound. "Just so. I have traveled with these mages the longest, and have come to know them." He looked up at Jamie, and then let his gaze move around the circle of humans. "They are worthy friends."

Jamie was touched by this recommendation, and smiled at the wolf.

"Thank you, Irik," Snave said, the pleasure just as obvious in the gargoyle's voice.

Gorge's eyes widened slightly, for this was the first time that Snave had spoken in the Pertwee's presence. "Not human."

Snave laughed. "Not on the outside, but definitely on the inside."

"It's a long story," Garvin offered, smiling.

"He's one of us," Geert agreed.

The Pertwee looked around the group, and made a very definite frown. "Magick. Hard to understand."

"It seems to be catching," Jamie said, smiling at Bastyin. If the Pertwee was to travel with them, the secret of Bastyin's magick could not long be hidden.

The Lachess must have known that, too. He patted his chest, and then held out the same hand to Gorge. A tiny flame ignited in Bastyin's palm, and quickly rose into a narrow, swirling column filled with enchanting sparkles. The Pertwee took an instinctive step back at the suddenness of the event, but then his green eyes filled with obvious wonder. "Magick?"

Bastyin allowed the flame to die, and then patted his chest again. "Yes."


The Lachess briefly rubbed his jaw before responding. "I don't know."

"Is important to know," Gorge returned.

Jamie nodded. "It's an important first. That it has happened to Bastyin suggests it can happen to others of his kind. And that may mean that it can happen among any of the three nations."

Gorge's eyes immediately narrowed. "Very dangerous. Human mages not like."

"There's a sure judgment," Dorf agreed. He gave a nod to the Pertwee. "We are not making it known outside this group that any of your people have developed magickal ability. It would be in your own interests to maintain this secret."

"Yes, yes," Gorge agreed. "Serious, if mages in the west learn."

Garvin leaned closer to the Pertwee. "You haven't heard of any of your own people developing magickal abilities, have you?"

Gorge looked long at Garvin before responding. "Not say, if I knew."

Dorf laughed again. "We have a wise fellow here!"

Jamie agreed. "You should be aware of this change, Gorge. You may have mages among your own kind, and not even know."

"I agree," Snave put in. "We have the two examples already, of Irik's people, and Bastyin's ability. This may simply be a natural occurrence that could affect all of the peoples of the forest in time. It could also happen among the Pertwee."

Gorge looked like he didn't like that idea, but then grunted. "If has happened among my people, is secret not shared. No advantage to letting all know." But then he gazed at Bastyin again, and Jamie thought he saw respect there.

A feeling of relief swept through him. The Pertwee realized the possible repercussions of this event for all the peoples of the lowlands. He could be counted upon to keep the secret for the safety of all.

"Shall we go on?" Jamie asked, indicating the way they'd been traveling.

Gorge turned and started off again, and everyone fell in. Once again Irik ranged ahead of them. They were walking along the outer wall of the large chamber now, approaching the very tunnel they had planned to take back to the southwest. Gorge had his hand against his chest, and was examining the wall as he walked. He soon drew to a stop. "Here."

Irik turned and came back to them, and Jamie and the others examined the wall. Jamie was about to say he didn't see anything special about it, when suddenly, he did. There, apparently in the middle of a blank section of wall, was what appeared to be a rectangular lock plate! Even that was scarcely visible, although the more Jamie's eyes examined the spot, the more he became certain that the lock plate had once been outlined in some darker color, one which had simply faded away with time.

"A door, here?" Geert asked softly, turning to Jamie.

"If so, it's well hidden," Garvin observed.

Snave turned to face Gorge. "You've traveled this way before?"


Snave settled to the floor next to Jamie. "I guess this shatters our notion that only human mages can activate these lock plates."

Jamie nodded, and waved a hand at Gorge. "Open it."

The Pertwee stuck a hand into the folds of his shirt, and produced a flat, round object, which he promptly placed against the lock plate. The wall before them folded back, and there was an entry into a well-lit corridor beyond.

Snave rose and moved closer to the Pertwee. "May I see what you hold?"

The small man held the round object to his chest defensively a moment, and then reluctantly held it out in his hand. Jamie also bent closer to examine the thing. It was simply a flattish, round piece of what appeared to be dark glass, with a white center that looked faintly luminescent.

"A key," Snave said, a bit wondrously. "Of course! It stands to reason that there had to be a way for the non-magickal to open doors here. They had a key!"

Gorge pulled his hand back, and pressed the object back inside his shirt. "It was father's, and his father's before."

Geert pointed to where the key had disappeared inside Gorge's shirt. "Is it the only one you've ever seen?"

"Know of two more," the Pertwee countered. "Not common."

Jamie looked over at Bastyin, who was wearing a look of surprise. "Something?"

The Lachess patted his chest. "I am certain I have seen a thing such as this among the valuables my people hold dear."

"Probably were quite a few of them out there at one time," Snave mused. "There may still be, only some people don't know what they are anymore."

"How to use also come from father," Gorge said. "Most important part!"

Snave chuckled. "I would say. But now that we know what to look for, I suggest we keep an eye out for any more of these things along our way."

"Come," Gorge said, stepping into the opening. "Should be gone from here before enemy comes back."

They entered the narrow corridor one by one, and proceeded down its length. The door closed behind them, and the sounds of their footfalls closed in around them. Jamie immediately scanned for the warning of electrums that might detect them here, and found none. He examined the walls as they walked along, which were featureless save for a black stripe that ran at waist height along either wall. The walls appeared to be of the same smooth, white stone that the ancients had used for all of their constructs here in the forest.

He considered the durability of that material, and had to wonder why there were no longer any structures present in the lands he knew. The legends were that the cities of the ancients had once spread across the landscape for leagues in every direction, and yet, not even ruins were to be found outside the forest. Jamie had seen little of the world compared to one such as Thorvil, yet not even that master mage had stories to tell of ruined cities in far away lands. The mystery of it intrigued Jamie. Someday, he vowed, he would know more.

Presently they began to hear a sound in the distance, which soon became the unmistakable sound of flowing water. And water moving at speed, too. The corridor ahead showed an end then, and an opening into what seemed a larger chamber. Gorge walked confidently, as though he expected to meet no one, and as if whatever was ahead posed no threat to his safety.

They exited onto a walkway that ran into the distance to either side, and which was bound by a railing that ran along the outer edge. Below that railing was a river; or, more properly, a canal, for it was obvious that the flow ran within the borders of white stone walls. To their left was a waterfall, a place where the stream cascaded over a stone precipice from a higher level and plummeted into the canal below.

"Amazing!" Snave called, above the roar of the falls. "This must be how they keep the tunnels dry. A complete drainage system, under the ground!"

"Yet unable to deal with a lake, apparently," Garvin mused, equally loudly. "Else why close that one tunnel for water?"

Dorf laughed at that. "There are limits to everything, my young friend!"

"This way!" Gorge motioned to their right hand, and turned to go in that direction. They followed, walking along next to the torrent that was moving at twice their own speed. As they moved away from the falls the roar of that cascade diminished, and Jamie was again able to hear the faint echoes of their footfalls. But it was plain that this series of tunnels must never be without a background voice of some kind, as the water continuously moved on its way.

Above them, attached to the walls and the ceiling of this new tunnel, were more of the metal boxes like those that held the controlling stars along the car tunnels, connected to one another by clear tubing that looked like glass, through which light itself seemed to flow. Jamie marveled at the sense of ordered electrums he felt all around him, sure now that here were some of the secret workings that helped the tunnel cars make their ways from station to station. But so far, none of these electrums seemed concerned with their presence.

A footbridge appeared ahead, leading from their own walkway across the flow of the water, and into a tunnel on the other side. Gorge turned onto the bridge and led them across the canal and into this new pathway.

"This small tunnel runs next to car tunnel you need," the Pertwee explained. "Go same direction, yet much less visible."

"I would say," Snave agreed. "What's that ahead?"

They were coming up on a dry trough in the floor of the tunnel, in which sat an open thing like a ferry boat, as long as four tall men, and which held several rows of comfortable-looking seating. At the fore of the boat was a flat panel placed before the seat there, on which several of the electrum stars of the ancients blinked green. A curved sheet of the almost perfectly clear window glass of the ancients rose above the panel, higher than the head of even a tall man should he be seated there.

Gorge hopped into the front seat of the strange thing, and indicated that they should all get in and take seats.

"You," he said, pointing at Snave, "must lay down somehow. Too tall, otherwise."

There was room for all of them, and then some. Snave simply turned himself parallel to the floor and laid himself down atop the backs of four of the seats. Jamie and Garvin took the seat just behind Gorge, so that they could watch what was to happen next.

The Pertwee again pulled forth the round key from within his shirt, and laid it into a depression in the forward panel of the boat. Several more green lights came on, there was a whirring sound, and a clear cylinder of nearly invisible glass rose from the wall on one side of the boat, spun quickly over top of them, and seated itself against the other wall, forming a clear, rounded roof overhead. The boat vibrated, and then moved smoothly forward in the trough, picking up speed rapidly, and quickly entered a tunnel not much bigger than the diameter of the vehicle itself.

"Another car!" Geert said, sounding amazed at the idea. "Perhaps used to inspect these areas behind the main tunnels?"

"I would agree," Snave said, from behind them. "Perhaps this was how those that maintained this place reached all corners of it quickly."

Garvin gently tapped the side of his head as if in self-reproach. "We should have realized there would be workings of some sort behind all the wonders we've seen."

"There is place like we just left, at other end," Gorge informed them. "From there we can go west."

"These small tunnels run everywhere?" Jamie asked, amazed.

"Yes. Cars not work in all of them, though. Some, must walk."

Jamie looked back at Irik. "Did you know these small tunnels were here?"

"No." The wolf's eyes looked merry. "Each of the peoples here have their secrets, it seems."

Bastyin leaned forward from the seat behind Jamie. "How far west have you been, Gorge?"

The little man looked back at them. "Have been to Crescent." He gave a little shudder. "Strange place!"

"Scary?" Jamie asked. "We've heard the place is haunted, or something."

"Is truth. Things there can't be explained."

Jamie grinned, a little evilly. "We have to go through the Crescent on our way west. You can turn back before we get there, if you like."

For the first time, the Pertwee gave out a hearty laugh. It made Jamie smile, putting him in mind of the genial cackle that Wanda Pegfoot sometimes offered up.

"Not turn back! If good things to be had this trip, come after Crescent, I bet!"

"A right mercenary fellow we have here," Dorf said, grinning. "I rather like his spirit."

"Fine, if he survives the trip," Jamie whispered, out of the side of his mouth.

"Good hearing," Gorge said, stroking one of his tall, pointed ears. "I survive trip."

Jamie was briefly flustered, but then shrugged it off. "You need to stay close to us at all times, so that one of us can include you in our shielding if the need arises. You have no defenses of your own."

"Not true." The Pertwee pointed at the key where it lay in its recess. "Kwikla provide some protection from magicks."

"Kwikla?" Jamie repeated. "The key?"


"Really?" Snave asked, sounding immediately interested. "How so?"

"Do not know. Just know it does. Father tell."

The gargoyle grunted. "So you've never had reason to see this defense yourself?"

"Not know any mages until now," Gorge countered.

Jamie had to grin at that. What had Bastyin called the Pertwee? Practical? It seemed there was a lot of truth to that judgment.

Garvin, who had been listening to the conversation quietly, leaned a little more firmly against Jamie, drawing his attention. Jamie smiled at him. "How are you doing, my love?"

The other boy's expression brightened at that. "Well enough. I have to say I am looking forward to this journey being completed, so that we can spend some time together."

Jamie sighed. "Life will seem ever so slow now, to go back to just dusting the Master Thorvil's shop each day, and keeping his inventory."

Garvin frowned at that. "I love our life there, my Jamie."

Jamie considered that, and nodded. "As do I. I am too fond of the master not to."

Garvin's mouth dropped open, and Jamie immediately chuckled and leaned into the other boy. "And I have you, of course," he whispered.

"Yes, you do! And never forget that!" But Garvin's eyes held humor now, and Jamie knew the other boy was just playing the game.

Jamie sighed. "I love you, boy of the streets."

Garvin's expression immediately softened. "And I love you, wizard boy."

Their fond ritual exchanged, Jamie leaned forward and closed his eyes, and touched his lips to Garvin's, and just held them there gently, savoring the taste and feel. Then he turned his head slightly and brought their cheeks together, and then finally sighed and sat back. "I cannot wait for a time when we can be as one again."

"It will come," Garvin whispered. "In time."

Jamie offered his friend a last kiss, and then sat back again and looked around. The gazes of the others all seemed to be elsewhere, and it made him smile. "We are done."

Dorf turned and looked at him, and smiled sweetly. "Done? Did I miss something?"

Jamie gently slapped the man's wrist. "You are a gentleman even before a knight, Sir Dorf."

"I have had much practice around the prince's--"

The knight broke off, and his eyes widened at something ahead of them. Jamie turned immediately to look.

The car had emerged into a larger space, full of strange, towering machinery. They still seemed to be traveling in a trough, as its sides now rose high on either side of them. Jamie just had time to glimpse a footbridge crossing above them before they were past it. He gasped, for crossing that bridge had been several men dressed all in gray! The image was unmistakable...but then their car was past the machinery and back into the tunnel. It happened so quickly that there was a delay in the processing as his mind caught up with his eyes.

"Mages!" he hissed, jacking himself around to stare back at the tunnel behind them.

"Wait, Jamie," Dorf said, putting a hand atop Jamie's arm. The knight closed his eyes, as if somehow reexamining the brief sight of the other men on the bridge. He frowned, shook his head, and then opened his eyes. "I don't think they saw us."

Jamie gaped. "How could they not?"

"They not see," Gorge affirmed, turning to look at the knight. "Your eyes very good."

The knight shrugged. "I imprinted the scene quite clearly. They gave no sign of having seen the car, let alone us."

Gorge showed his sharp teeth in a smile. "We still in tunnel as we pass through big room. We under floor. Floor clear for us, but not for them. See out, but not see in."

"They couldn't see this car?" Jamie asked, astonished.

"I say so, didn't I?"

"You've been on that footbridge?" Garvin asked curiously. "You know for certain?"

"Not that bridge, but many like. All same. No can see car go by below."

"Could they hear us?" Jamie asked.

"All tunnels filled with sound of moving water," Gorge countered. "Hard to hear anything."

Dorf nodded. "That is true. But at least now we know they're here."

"See mages often," the Pertwee countered. "Not new sight for year now."

"Are you saying these mages may have had nothing at all to do with us?" Geert questioned.

"Yes," Gorge agreed. "Mages always around. If look just for you, probably find you."

Dorf turned to Jamie. "So what are they up to, then?"

Gorge pointed a finger at the knight. "My brothers and I watch. We not easy to see, we not wish it. Learn much that way."

Jamie smiled. "You've been spying on the mages?"

The Pertwee laughed. "Take all advantages can get in life."

"You see many of them down here, then?" Snave asked.

Gorge made a face, as if considering the definition of 'many', and then gave a brief shake to his head. "Never many mages. Always one, two, maybe three, no more. See groups here and there, but not like army or anything." He flashed his teeth again. "More like scouts."

"Ever see them near the places where you live?" Dorf asked. "Like they're assessing your positions?"

"Yes. This what makes Pertwee worry. Mages gone a long time. Come back now, just watch but not visit, must be for no good reason."

Jamie nodded. "I'd agree with that." He looked over at the knight. "It does sound like they're scouting the populations here, possibly with an eye to dealing with them later."

"Remember what Artagon said?" Garvin asked. "He said that they had a right to take back the places here in the forest from the people that have them now."

It was an unpleasant idea, and one that scared Jamie. That Urvan and Porvus and their minions were capable of the mass murder of the three nations, he had little doubt.

"We can't let that happen," Jamie said. He shook his head. "It doesn't sound like there are a lot of them, anyway."

"It wouldn't take many, against non-magickal people," Geert pointed out.

"I agree," Snave said. "But it does indeed sound like Porvus and the others are only just now getting fully organized. Wanda Pegfoot said that her feeling that something was afoot was fairly recent. And my brother had yet to mention this at all. I'm sure that if Wanda could sense it, Thorvil could, too."

"You did not?" Geert asked.

The gargoyle sighed. "It is harder to get a sense of the world when just standing in one place all the time. My brother depended upon me to help guard our business. I could have journeyed forth at any time, but to what purpose? I had nowhere I needed to go, and no business to conduct when I got there. I could not communicate at all. I guess I made more of a prisoner of myself than needed, but I felt tied to my brother and the shop."

"You're out now," Jamie said, grinning.

Snave laughed. "Yes. And now that I have sampled the world again, I will nevermore be content to just stand in one place!"

Jamie suddenly sensed their car slowing, and turned to look out the front window. The tunnel opened into a room like the one they had left, and the car drew to a stop.

"Amazing, to travel many leagues, so quickly," Garvin said. "We are that much further along our way."

Jamie nodded. "We should shield up."

"No one here," Gorge said, pulling the key from its recess and holding it out for them to inspect. "When mages near, key vibrates and white center glows."

Geert frowned. "It didn't do that when we passed under the mages on the bridge!"

"It did," Gorge countered. "I hear it, you not. I see glow, you not. Very small, among glows of other lights on panel."

"Yet you said nothing," Dorf pointed out.

"Not need to. Know mages not in our tunnel. Had to be outside. No danger to us."

The knight nodded. "Humor me, if you will. If you get any more warnings of the presence of other mages in the future, let us know."

Gorge looked at Jamie, and then back at the knight, and smiled. "Seems fair request."

The clear canopy above them revolved back around into the hull of the car, and they were free to disembark.

"A question before leaving," Snave asked, righting himself and floating now above the car. "Can human mages run these cars without a key?"

"Yes." Gorge placed his hand in the round depression. "Like so. Just like key. Car run."

"So we do stand a chance of running into mages even in these back tunnels," Dorf decided. "I think shields are a good idea."

"Mages not use these cars," Gorge said. "Can fly through tunnels as fast as car."

The knight nodded. "Still, let's err on the side of caution. Jamie?"

"I agree. Shields up, everyone."

They left the car and exited the tunnel into another drainage passage just like the first one. Gorge led them along its length to another side tunnel, and soon they were looking out of a door into another large chamber, replete with numerous dock platforms radiating off the center platform like the curved arms of a drunken starfish.

"Eight tunnels, it looks like," Dorf noted. "Though I'm just guessing about the ones on the other side of the central platform. Jamie? Get the map from my pack, and let's have a look at it."

Once again Jamie withdrew the map, and he and Garvin spread it out on the tunnel floor. "Looks like you're right," Jamie said. "Eight tunnels. The one heading west should be to our right." He pointed at a distant tunnel, above which was a cartouche that vaguely reminded of the setting sun. "That one."

The knight nodded. "There should be an inn on that center platform." But then he frowned, and gave a brief shake of his head. "The further west we go, the more likely we are to run into mages at one of these big stations. I am hesitant to use the inn, as it seems a natural draw to any travelers. I would hate to be awakened from my sleep by such as Porvus."

Jamie smiled at the mental picture of that event. "I would hate to be Porvus awakening you unexpectedly from sleep!"

Garvin laughed in delight, causing Jamie's smile to go to a grin.

"Sir Dorf might cut him down to size," Geert said, nodding. "Permanently!"

The knight also smiled, but shook his head and turned to Gorge. "Do you know of anywhere within these back tunnels that we could camp for the night?"

"You wish to camp now?" Jamie asked. He looked about the vast chamber, but of course there was no way to do more than guess at the time. "It still seems early in the day."

The knight nodded. "Mid afternoon, I think. But we need some time before the new day to get some things done." He smiled at Bastyin. "Time to take this one to the nether and get him fixed up with enhanced sight."

That did need doing, yes. Jamie nodded, and turned back to Gorge. "Is there someplace out of the way?"

The Pertwee scrunched his face up in thought, and then turned back into the tunnel. "This way."

They reversed course, and the door to the large chamber closed again behind them. They retraced their steps to the drainage canal, and this time turned to the left and walked along next to the flowing water. Jamie gazed down into the flow and decided that the water looked very clean, but that he would not care to chance drinking it without putting it to boil first. The canal was as sparkling white as all the constructions of the ancients, but it still could not help but to bring to mind thoughts of sewers and drainage ways he knew from less savory places, like Lyrix itself. The town was, to put it mildly, dirty.

Gorge continued to lead them down beside the canal, until they arrived at a place where the tunnel split into two and a dry passage wandered away to one side, while the passage holding the canal continued on ahead. The split was not a clean one, however, and there was a length of flat wall facing them between the inner walls of the two tunnels. Gorge stepped up to this wall, pulled out his key, and held it in his hand and moved it carefully around near the wall. This time Jamie saw the flash as the center lit, and Gorge turned the key and placed it against the wall there. Immediately, another hidden door opened.

Jamie peered at the spot where the key touched the wall, and could just barely make out the slight difference in texture between the rocky wall and the face of a lock plate. "That one is near invisible," he said, wondrously. "How did you know it was there?"

Gorge held up the key a moment before returning it to the safety of his shirt. "Key vibrate when near lock, just as vibrate when mages near."

Geert frowned at that. "Do you mean to say that key has been vibrating ever since you met us?"

Now Gorge made a slight frown. "Vibrate first time we meet, at platform in train tunnel. Only last small time, then stop."

"It would have to," Snave decided. "Otherwise, it would become quite a nuisance."

Dorf looked thoughtful. "So it vibrates each time you meet a new mage, and then stops? What happens if a mage you've met once before returns? Will the key then ignore their presence?"

Gorge patted the key inside his shirt. "Key get used to you being close. But if all of you go away and come back again, key vibrate again. Know this from experience with western mages in tunnels."

Garvin made an appreciative face. "So you've had enough experience with these mages to know, eh?"

"Watch mages. Come near hiding place, go away, come back again. Each time come near, key vibrate again."

Jamie looked askance at the Pertwee. "These mages...they come close enough for the key to vibrate, but they don't sense you?"

Gorge waved a hand at the open doorway and started inside, and the others followed. "No sense us because of key." He smiled at Jamie. "You sense Gorge?"

Jamie was taken aback at the question. He could see the Pertwee, and hear him...but did he sense his presence? He closed his eyes, and concentrated, and...

"Yes," Jamie said, opening his eyes. "I can."

The Pertwee looked startled. "Should not sense."

Jamie looked at Snave. "Can you sense this one?"

There was a moment of silence, and then the gargoyle grunted. "No. Or...yes. Very weakly."

They tried the same test with the others. Everyone could feel something, but would have been unsure of what they were feeling without the test being clearly defined.

"Interesting," Snave commented, after the last test. "Some facet of our magick makes us sensitive enough to still sense Gorge even with the magickal protection his key seems to offer."

"Not good," the Pertwee said, looking upset. "Mages not supposed to sense one with key."

"The other mages probably don't sense you, since you've never been caught," Snave returned. "We are not like those western mages."

"We're different," Geert agreed, smiling.

"And I have an idea how," Snave continued. "The shields we have in place to protect our thoughts from attack. Perhaps they shield us from whatever interference the key emits to cloak the bearer."

Jamie was surprised by the idea. "You think the key emits some sort of thought interference that prevents most mages from sensing the presence of a keyholder?"

"Yes. And it's a very odd defense to have, too, don't you think? As if the keyholders, rather than being in league with the mages, were somehow concerned with hiding their presence among them."

Jamie sighed. "One more mystery on top of all the others we have now." He paused then, and looked around the room they found themselves in. The door they had entered through had closed, and now Jamie saw that they were in a room full of metal boxes that hummed and glowed with the tiny star lights of the ancients. "What place is this?"

Gorge waved a hand at the room. "Camp here for night. Safe." He motioned for them to follow, and led them towards the back of the room. Here was a doorway - just an arch, actually - that opened into another room. This one had several of the comfortable chairs and wide upholstered benches of the ancients, as well as what looked like a food unit similar to the ones in the dining halls of the inns. A long table stood to one side, with a row of chairs down each side. They walked around, exploring, and found one of the shiny white rooms with the odd fixtures for disposing of bodily wastes, and even a small stall with one of the rain devices that were used in the inn rooms for washing.

"Oh, this looks wonderful!" Geert said happily, flopping himself down in one of the seats. "An inn room hidden in the tunnels!"

"Perhaps a center of activity of some sort for the train cars," Snave suggested.

Jamie closed his eyes, and sensed the enormous flow of electrums all about them, ordered in ways that nature could not, going about their business in the service of ancients long perished from the world. It was sobering to consider the longevity of the science these people had possessed, which, while having survived in mostly working order for forty centuries, did now show signs of failure here and there. Yet these still seemed just failures of maintenance, caused by the lack of a hand upon the reins, and not a true sign that the wonderful knowledge of those that had come before had reached it limitations.

He did not sense the pattern of electrums that had given away their presence in the towers. Yet there were some other, equally strange patterns of electrums, some intermittent, that baffled his ability to understand them. "I don't know how safe this place is. I don't sense the same types of electrums that gave us away at the towers, but there are a multiplicity of patterns here I do not recognize."

"You feel we are in danger to stay here?" Snave asked.

"I don't know. There may well be more than one sort of detection that Porvus can use to find us."

Dorf frowned at that. "Well, we are here now, so if we are detected, it is too late to alter that."

"Always been safe refuge before," Gorge stated. "Stay in such place many times during travels."

Jamie shrugged at that. "I continue to be amazed at so much that is still in working order," he said, looking about the room. He nodded in approval. "It does seem a good place to camp for the night. And if we are indeed detected, I feel we will know shortly."

"Is there another exit?" Dorf asked, turning from his own inspection to raise questioning eyebrows at Gorge.

The Pertwee showed them to a side corridor which seemed to end in a blank wall. Yet here again was another lock plate, and an invisible door which opened into the dry tunnel running off the main canal. The knight seemed appeased somewhat, and also pronounced the place a fit camp for the night. Hopefully.

"We can always translocate back along our path," Jamie reminded, and smiled as the knight seemed to relax at that.

Jamie went to the food dispenser, which had but a single transparent box, and no picture of the food it might offer. But there was the round finger plate, in the exact same location as on the food dispensers in the inn dining halls, and that seemed to indicate it really was a device of the same nature.

Jamie turned to Gorge. "Have you ever used these?"

The short man came closer and looked at the transparent box. "What is?"

"I'd say that was a no," Garvin said, grinning.

Jamie laughed. "Is your key vibrating, Gorge?"

"Yes. But always feel presence of door locks in small place like this. Too close not to."

"Ah," Snave said, sounding just short of a laugh himself. "There are limitations then, in having too many locks close together."

"What is?" Gorge repeated, now squinting speculatively at the transparent box.

Jamie nodded and placed a finger to the circle. To his very great surprise, the air above the transparent box clouded, and the clear image of a plate holding what plainly looked to be a hefty sandwich of some sort appeared above it.

"Oh, that looks wonderful!" Garvin said immediately, licking his lips.

But before Jamie could even answer, the image flickered, and was replaced with one of a dinner plate much like the one they had eaten at the inn.

"More substantial, I think," Dorf said, approvingly.

The image flickered several more times, each time producing yet another different plate of food, before finally returning to the plate holding the sandwich.

"We are meant to select, I think," Geert decided. "But how?"

"Take your other hand and touch the image you wish to eat," Snave suggested.

Jamie nodded, and waited for the dinner plate to come back, and then lifted his other hand and tried to touch the image. But it proved to be entirely insubstantial, and as his hand passed through it, it disappeared.

"Now you've done it!" Garvin said, grinning. "Hard tack for supper again!"

But that proved not to be the case. The transparent box darkened to impenetrability, and the machines to the rear of the small counter hummed busily. In a few seconds the box cleared again, and inside there was a plate, just as Jamie had wished for. The front of the box opened, and a wonderful aroma drifted outwards.

"It worked!" Jamie said, taking the steaming plate with delight and holding it out to Garvin. "Is this what you would have selected?"

The boy smiled. "It is now!" He accepted the plate, and stood holding it, obviously waiting for Jamie to get one for himself.

Jamie turned to Bastyin and Gorge. "I am hoping the two of you can eat the same things we do?"

"The world provides the same fare to all," Bastyin said. "I would say it is safe."

Jamie let the Lachess touch the finger disk himself and select a plate. But Gorge proved unable to make the device work with just a touch of his hand, and had to use the key to secure a plate of his own. Once again Jamie cut up the steak for Irik, and set the plate on the floor, and the wolf went to eating with gusto. Finally, Jamie got a plate of his own, and he and Garvin joined the others at the table.

"Not know food to be had here," Gorge said, obviously enjoying his steak. "What a splorse I am, not to figure out!"

At Jamie's questioning look, Bastyin took two of his long fingers and held them a span apart. "Small, slow creature of the dark that subsists mostly upon molds."

"Sounds unappetizing," Dorf said, pausing between mouthfuls. "Jamie, I sense you have much on your mind since our encounter with the battle machine at the last station."

Jamie was briefly surprised, and then cheerfully aware that he shouldn't be. Sir Dorf did not miss much. "Yes. Not just that we need to get enhanced sight for Bastyin." He frowned. "That battle machine showed me a new aspect of energy we need to be aware of."

Geert leaned forward across his plate. "Force."

Jamie smiled, pleased the other boy had seen what he had. "Exactly."

"The blue beam weapon," Snave offered. "It was something of a shock."

"Not to me," Jamie returned. "I think it was the fabled blue lance I have read about in one of Thorvil's books."

The gargoyle made a surprised sound. "Of course! That would explain its potency! It's purpose is pure destruction by dint of force."

Bastyin paused in his eating. "I am not sure I understand."

"Electrums come in many forms," Jamie said. "They seem to be equipped to do many different things. We have shields against the things they can do when organized by magick, and our new dispersion fields that deconcentrate them when they are massed against us."

"I saw this," the Lachess agreed. "There was something different about the blue beam weapon?"

Jamie nodded. "It was not electrums that were slicing away the dock behind which we hid. It was something else. I...I am not sure. They felt in some ways like electrums, but they were not. I do not have the knowledge to explain further." He frowned. "The sense of them was very strange. They carried enormous energy, but had none of the sense of presence that electrums have."

"They were destructive, I did see that," Bastyin acknowledged.

"It was from the way they were concentrated and moved, bunched together and all in unison. Enormous amounts of them were concentrated into that narrow beam. They carried amazing energy, and became highly destructive."

"Our shields would not stop them?" Garvin asked.

Jamie frowned. "Our shields work by deflection, or in the case of the dispersion fields, by absorption and dissipation. This blue beam was so concentrated, so focused, that were it to strike our shields it would carry us away in the direction of the beam, as if some angry giant had struck the shields. I don't think this beam could actually penetrate our combined shields, but it could easily injure us by the sudden acceleration we would feel from the impact."

"The shields cannot deflect this energy as fast as it can strike," Snave summed up.

"Yes. A way must be found to protect us against this attack before we go to meet Porvus and the others."

"Perhaps you should begin by taking Bastyin into the nether and equipping him with enhanced sight," Dorf suggested. "And perhaps Flitch would have a clue about the blue lance."

Jamie brightened at the idea. "I didn't think of that." He nodded. "Let us finish eating, and then go from there."

"The food is good," Bastyin said, smiling. "There is an old saying among my people, that suggests that good food inspires great ideas."

Dorf smiled, and stabbed at another piece of meat with his fork. "Obviously, your ancestors were wise!"

Jamie had the nether machines produce the strange gauzy material that provided for enhanced sight, and allowed it to be applied to Bastyin. The Lachess was warned ahead of time of the somewhat intimidating process of application, and came through the procedure with remarkable composure. He smiled when it was all done, but Jamie did not miss the look of relief in the young man's eyes.

"It was well you warned me ahead of time, Jamie. It was quite the experience!"

"You must now simply will the sight into being for it to work," Jamie said.

Bastyin frowned. "I...I don't...oh." The mage's eyes widened, and he stared in wonder at Jamie. "It is beautiful!"

Jamie breathed a sigh of relief, not certain until it was proven that the magickal device would also work for the Lachess. That everything they had created in the nether thus far had worked as well with Irik as with the human mages had made him almost certain it would work for Bastyin, too; but such things could never be sure until they were observed as fact.

"You need other protections as well, and we may as well apply them on this trip, as no time will pass for those that await us."

Jamie proceeded to make the protections that would guard Bastyin's thoughts from manipulation, and the one that would protect him from the wasting destruction of the Breath of the Dragon, and applied them both. Forewarned, and having experienced the first application of these strange magickal devices, Bastyin handled the others with equal composure. But it was plain after the last one that the Lachess was happy to have the procedures done with.

Flitch, who had stood by mostly silent while Jamie created the protections for Bastyin, now came closer as if to somehow observe the results. "Such a wonder, that so many different peoples in your world can use this magick of the mind to perform feats that we must do with tools. It is an impressive ability, and one I wish I could comprehend a little better."

Jamie shrugged. "I rather doubt I would ever have understood the nether without your insights, Flitch. Certainly, I would never have mastered the use of nether machines without your guidance."

"It has been pleasing for me to assist you, Jamie. I sense the import of your struggle to those in your world. I must say that I prefer your view of things much over that of your foes."

Jamie felt a glow of pleasure over that. He had already determined that the nether being was a decent person, even if the concepts of good and evil seemed more flexible in the world the other inhabited. Flitch's assistance and instruction had been crucial to their success thus far, and Jamie was more than aware that without their chance meeting here in the world beyond the world he knew, he and his friends would most likely be dead now at the hand of Porvus or Urvan.

Or, even worse, captured. Jamie shuddered at the very thought of that idea, and put it way from him. Back to the business at hand.

"There is a new thing I wish to ask you about," Jamie began, and then proceeded to describe to Flitch the amazing blue beam that the ancient battle weapon Porvus had sent had used against them. "This weapon is unlike previous magicks I have experienced. I am sensitive to electrums, I have come to learn, and have gained insight into their many uses. This weapon utilizes some force akin to electrums, but different in a way I cannot quite describe."

The nether being, currently aglow with colors in Jamie's active enhanced sight, raised a branch-like member and gently stroked his marvelously light-tattooed front, as if in thought. "Did you feel that your shields would protect you from them?"

Jamie frowned. "Yes, and no. I felt reasonably sure that our energy shields would deflect the destructive element, but such was the energy load that there would have been a kinetic reaction that might have been deadly. Such was the force of this beam that the shields would deflect it with less speed than it arrived. The resultant excess would have been sufficient to slam the shield back with considerable force."

"As well as the person inside," Flitch finished. "I see the dilemma."

Jamie nodded. "Explosions we can deal with, even fearsome ones. That sort of impact is enough to propel the shield along with the pressure wave, but a simple switch over to controlled flight removes any element of danger to the shielded person. Not so with this blue beam, I fear. The difference is in the speed of the reaction. The energy I felt in it was amazing."

Flitch was silent a moment, and then moved slightly closer. "I think I know what you faced, Jamie."

Jamie felt a mixture of elation and fear. He had not really expected Flitch to know about the science of the ancients, but it did seem that the nether being's world ran much more on science than it did magick. Jamie's greatest fear had been that Flitch would not know about this new force; or, even worse, that he would, and that he would tell Jamie that there was no way to counter its destructive effects.

"What was it, Flitch?"

"I cannot be certain of what part of the spectrum was used, but I would say almost for certain that what you faced was the energy of light."

Jamie blinked at that, taken aback. "Light? How can light be destructive?"

The nether being emitted a soft sound that Jamie had come to understand as a chuckle. "It is a complex science, and not my specialty. I will try to simplify." He raised a branch-like hand and indicated the strangely-lit world around them. "Light, on its own, is a rather unorganized force. Yet it exerts an infinitesimal pressure upon the things it touches. While light moves in a straight line, it is affected by the things it impinges upon, as well as other forces it encounters, and is scattered or redirected, and is further made more random in its progress. The light we see by is quite modest in its energy content."

"I would think," Jamie agreed. "I have yet to see sunlight that can cut through stone!"

"There are ways in science to concentrate light, for want of a better word. To take highly concentrated light and have it move in one single direction, so that the energy it contains all arrives at a destination at the same time, and in great force. What is more, the light we see with our oculars is not all the light there is. Some is not visible to our senses, and even more fearsome in its ability to destroy when dispensed in such concentrated form."

Jamie closed his eyes, recalling now the confrontation with the ancient's battle machine, and his surprise at the blue lance used against them. Some tiny, observant portion of his knack had witnessed this event and been puzzled by it, and had been fretting over its implications ever since. But now, armed with this new knowledge, this part of Jamie's knack came alive with understanding. Within the classroom of his mind, he now saw the tiny packets of energy that made up light, so much like electrums in many ways, and yet not the same thing at all. Deflecting light was more difficult than deflecting electrums, because light reacted to the many forces of the world in different ways. Magick designed to do the one thing was not so apt at handling the other.

For a still second within the vault of his thoughts, Jamie recalled a moment in the castle while visiting the prince when he and Garvin had passed before a great mirror in one of the halls and been treated to the sight of themselves. He had long understood that mirrors worked by returning one's image, created in light, directly back to the eye. This principal was known as reflection. It was a basic rule of sight that the world around them was composed of light striking things and then, in some amazing way known mostly to nature, returning that image to the eye.


Jamie opened his eyes and smiled. "The shields are struck so fearsomely because they try to deflect the beam. Their ability to do so is limited over their area. Battle magicks strike overall, rather than in small areas, so these are easier to deflect. But this weapon of the ancients delivers great energy to an area no thicker than my forearm. Too small an area for the shields to properly deflect the energy load." He smiled. "What we need is a shield like a mirror. Instead of trying to deflect this energy of light, what we need to do is reflect it."

Flitch chuckled once again. "Jamie, your grasp of things often amazes me."

Jamie grinned. "You are a wonderful instructor, Flitch. You deserve much more of the credit for my success than you imagine."

Bastyin touched Jamie's arm. "So what we need is a shield like a mirror? I don't see how that is to be done."

Jamie shook his head. "I don't either, just yet. And that may not be the answer we seek. But I'm almost certain it can be tested by manipulating the ties of our current shielding. What we need is for the shield to be area aware, and to perform naturally with overall magicks, while also being able to reflect these tiny but fierce area attacks of the ancient's beam weapon."

The Lachess gave a brief shake of his head, and then touched his chest three times. "I see I have much to learn yet."

Jamie patted the other's arm fondly. "We all learn as we progress. It wasn't that long ago I was just as you are now."

The look the Lachess gave Jamie suggested that he found that hard to believe, and Jamie only smiled at him. "This journey has been the greatest instruction one could ever hope to have." He nodded then, and turned back to Flitch. "I think we can solve this problem now. Snave, certainly, will be delighted with this new information. Thank you, Flitch, once again."

The nether being's eyes smiled. "You will be leaving, then?"

"Yes. We have work to do."

Flitch turned from them, and moved away. "Then I will be back to my own endeavors." He stopped then, and turned back to face Jamie. "This journey of yours is drawing closer to a resolution, I foresee. I can still sense much of what happens in your world, Jamie. I will be waiting to see how this quest of yours concludes."

Jamie licked his lips, tempted for just a moment to ask Flitch if he had any insight at all into how things might end. But then he decided he did not wish to know, if such knowledge was truly available. His own heart suggested to him that only he and his friends could truly forge their own destiny, and that to attempt to predict the outcome would only lead to distraction. They were committed now, and the end would be as they made it themselves.

"Thank you, Flitch. I will see you again."

The nether being made a soft sound now, one that Jamie somehow found comforting. "Yes, Jamie. You will."

"Reflection?" Snave asked, after Jamie and Bastyin had recounted the tale of their visit with Flitch. "Hmm. This will be an interesting twist to the shield ties. What have you in mind?"

Jamie laughed at that. "I had in mind that we should all think on this problem, and see what we can come up with. I have no solution myself - not as yet."

The gargoyle chuckled. "But you have some ideas? I do, as well."

"I have one, " Geert offered. "But I don't know how useful it will be."

"I may be able to suggest something, also," Irik said. "The magick of invisibility, the perfect disguise, which my people know well, may be a clue here."

"A wonderful suggestion," Snave agreed. "But that defense is a disguise, and not perfect invisibility. Yet it reminds me that our own additions to to our shields to adopt invisibility may offer a solution."

Jamie nodded. "Yes. Back at the great rift in the ground in the upper forest, we discovered that light could be made to go around us, producing an effective invisibility. But I don't think that magic could be made to handle the energy load of the blue lance."

"Some variation, then," Snave proposed.

"Something will work," Garvin added, smiling. "It always does!"

Dorf gave a great sigh. "I think we are on the path to solving this already."

Jamie smiled at the knight. "It is nice to have such confidence at hand."

The man laughed. "Jamie, this entire journey has been an adventure in problem solving. And great problems, too. If I have confidence now, it has been placed into me by the capabilities of those I travel with."

Garvin leaned against Jamie's shoulder. "I agree with Sir Dorf. We have made our own way, Jamie. We will continue to do so."

"Yes." Jamie sighed, and settled back more comfortably into the padded bench, and against the warmth of his friend. "And we will solve this problem, too."

"We must," Snave said, his humor less apparent now. "I suggest that everyone get comfortable, and let us see what we can come up with."

Jamie smiled at the eagerness he saw as everyone pulled chairs closer and sat down, and then nodded when all eyes came to him. "Very well. Now...where to start?"

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