The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 23

Jamie staggered in a small circle, dizziness nearly overcoming him, unable to halt the strange feeling of motion that had assaulted his eyes. He immediately closed them, and released the new knot lock of magick in his mind.

"That didn't look good," Dorf said, the sympathy in his voice enhancing the concern in his eyes.

Jamie shook his head, blinked his eyes again, and then smiled wearily. "That's an understatement. The new shield did change the incoming light, but not in a good way. Everything about me was compressed strangely, and put into a circular motion. I felt I was falling, while spinning out of control."

"We can't have that," Geert declared, shaking his head at Jamie from where he sat in one of the comfortable chairs. "Any defense against the blue beam cannot hamper our ability to view the world around us. So my idea of passing the light around the shield will not work."

Snave grunted. "It was a good idea. We just don't know how to implement it in a way it can handle the necessary force involved. Trying to solve the problem of a defense against this machine weapon is not as easy as it might seem. Without knowing the nature of the force being applied, it is difficult to formulate a response."

Jamie nodded. "We know it is light, or some kin of light, formed into a beam where all the elements move in the same direction. This much Flitch has made clear."

"Perhaps more experimentation into the nature of light?" Garvin suggested. "The better we know this foe, the more informed will become our ability to counter it?"

Jamie smiled at his friend. "As usual, you cut to the quick. Foe, indeed! It is hard to view the light of the world, so capable of showing us such beauty all about us, as an enemy to be fended off like a swarm of angry hornets. I do think further experimentation might assist us. It's just...figuring out how to experiment on light is the difficult part."

Garvin pinched an earlobe between thumb and forefinger and scratched it meditatively. "It seems that if you can figure a way to make all the elements of light move in the same direction first, then you can figure a way to counter it."

Snave uttered a short laugh. "Yes, that would be of great help. But how?""

Geert sighed. "How even to view the elements of light? They are tiny things, like your electrums, are they not, Jamie?"

"Yes. Tiny like them, but not like them in many other ways. I have only seen them as travelers with electrums I have observed. They are...well" -- he smiled in frustration --"that's the problem. I don't know exactly what they are."

Snave moved to settle closer to Jamie's side. "You are able to view within your mind the mysteries of electrums, Jamie. Perhaps trying to view these odd elements of light in the same way?"

Jamie felt doubtful about that, but nodded his head. "I can try."

The room grew silent as everyone watched him, and Jamie gave forth a nervous laugh. "Encouragement is nice, I guess." He moved to where Garvin sat on one of the upholstered benches and dropped beside him. The other boy smiled at him fondly, obviously sending out thoughts of support, and Jamie had to smile in return. "Well...let me see...."

Jamie closed his eyes, settled into the state of mind where he had first seen the tiny whirls of energy that he knew as electrums, and once again tried to visit with them. They were everywhere, all about him, within him, part of everything that was. They were not hard to find at all, seeming to gravitate in some way towards his minds eye, much like eager puppies circling around their master's hand. Jamie saw them come and go, buzzing past his mind's eye, moving with tremendous energy and speed, almost frolicking about him in the semi-darkness that was this land beneath even the smallest of the small.

So far, he had only watched the electrums, examined them in their play, and not really tried to address them more closely. He had no illusions that he could communicate with the things, as they were obviously not life in any way that he could fathom. But...perhaps they did not need to be alive in order to share their secrets?

What would happen if he tried to restrain one? Jamie reached out with his thoughts, forming a hand out of the power of his mind, and tried to halt one of the speeding vortexes. To his surprise, he could feel it, its motion, and the force of that motion. It resisted being halted, and Jamie intensified his grip, trying to counter that force.

Suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, he was moving along with the electrum. He had not stopped it, but rather, had been carried off with it along its course. But the effect was the same. His motion was now equal to that of the electrum, giving the illusion that the tiny thing was now standing still before his mental eye. He peered closely at it, trying to determine its secrets.

The longer he looked, the more he thought he could see. The electrum was a complex series of movements and levels of energy. To his great surprise, it was much less all of one thing than he had imagined, seeming to be comprised of several elements of different states of being, with what he now felt were the actual electrums inhabiting the area around the inner core much as the moon above circled the world. But it was not quite the same, as these electrum bits formed a haze that gave the impression of a surface, when there was no actual surface at all. He could not really determine their locations at all, just sense their presence.

He breathed a sigh at the wonder of it. How marvelous was this world of the small!

Jamie knew that he was not seeing with his eyes, not in any way imaginable. This was some sort of direct image within his thoughts, not seen as one might view the room around him, but seen totally within, as if in a dream deep with sleep in the middle of the night. As such, it was not an image where light played any part at all. He was, in some mysterious way, viewing these electrums by the very energy that formed them.

The tiny thing amazed him. Where did it get its energy? What caused the furious motions he could detect? And why did some of that motion seem not to be physical so much as perceptual, as if the very medium that held the electrum vibrated in tune to its presence?

That all the world and everything in it could be made up of such things in a myriad of forms was fascinating. Jamie briefly took his attention away from the electrum, turned it to within himself, and listened intently. And, yes, he could hear it somehow, the legion of tiny vibrations that made up his own form, his own thoughts, his own soul. People were made up of electrums, highly organized, complementary, purposed by nature to be nothing else but what each person happened to be. Unique.

Jamie turned his mind's eye back to the electrum. It still moved along in its course, unaware of his presence, yet somehow acknowledging it on some level that Jamie could not define. It made him happy, this new commune with things scarcely imagined by anyone in the world except perhaps himself. For he had never heard of any studies of such as electrums, nor read of them in any of the master's texts. That he could find no evidence that others had followed this same pathway did not mean it had not happened before; but Jamie now had good cause to believe he was experiencing something entirely new. Some part of his knack was truly unique in a way that was apparently not common, nor even rare in the world of mages. Perhaps, even, Jamie was the first. The idea stunned him, and frightened him just a bit; but in another way it made him proud. In every field of accomplishment, someone had to be first. To not go on with his experimentation was unthinkable.

He turned his attention back to the electrum. What did such things eat, if they ate at all? Again he had to remind himself that this was not a living thing as he knew it...and yet, it's very liveliness was affecting. It seemed to have a heart of energy; it's every nuance of being was a state of energy at some level. He smiled to himself, considering the thing the essence of energy itself.

What would happen if he fed it more energy? Would it get bigger? Faster in its frenetic motions? There was only one way to find out.

In his mind he tied a lock for a simple draw of power, and aimed the flow of energy at the small vortex.

The response was instantaneous. He sensed an immediate change in the motions of the electrums within the haze of the outer orbits, and a tiny pulse of light was thrown away into the darkness. He fed in more energy, and again the mass of the electrum ejected another particle of light. This time Jamie was ready, and used the hand of his mind to attempt to grab the pulse before it could speed away.

He felt a tingling sensation, a fierce strain upon the force he was exerting as his mental arm - his thought application - attempted to restrain the pulse of light. He sensed the energy and momentum of the thing, and its absolute refusal to come to rest. Again he found himself in motion, borne along with the strange packet of light as it moved insistently forward on its path. There seemed to be an incredible vibration accompanying his tenacious contact with the thing, an oscillation of amazing rapidity. It caused his perception of the pulse of light to vibrate in tune, to sharpen somehow, from a simple luminescent orb to something more concrete. He stared at the thing, seeing now a glowing object that looked for all the world like four arrowheads laid in a square so that their points touched in the middle. Unlike with his touch to an electrum, there was no sense whatsoever of electrum force here, clearly settling the issue in Jamie's mind of this object's relation - or lack thereof - to electrums.

And then the thing was away from him, escaped into the darkness, moving faster than Jamie's thoughts could imagine. He watched it on its path a brief moment longer, until it outraced even his ability to sense it, and disappeared into the night. Jamie hovered a moment in the vast dark, filled with wonder at what he had experienced. To see and feel was not to explain, he knew. But he could not have experienced what he had without gaining some insight into his own knowledge, and how that had been modified by the experience itself.

He now sensed what light was not, even if he didn't fully understand what it was.

Somehow, he turned back upon his mental path, and immediately found himself once again surrounded by happy electrums. On a whim, he squirted streams of energy at them in passing, and noted again how they responded by ejecting the tiny pulses of light. Or, rather, some of them did. Others moved blandly onward, apparently unaffected by the input of energy. That led Jamie to believe that not all electrums were the same, no matter how they appeared at first glance. The other thing he noticed was that each ejected pulse of light was completely random as far as the direction in which it traveled, squirting off to every point of the compass from each electrum that reacted. How, then, had the ancients made them all go in the same direction?

Jamie felt the warmth of the lens at his chest, and its sense of bafflement at this very question. Nowhere within the vast sum of knowledge that Master Thorvil had amassed over several centuries of time could the answer seem to be found. Jamie felt a sense of disappointment at that, more because of the frustration he sensed from the lens than from any failure of his own to comprehend. Directing the tiny bits of light all into one direct beam would remain beyond their joint understanding, at least for the time being. The answer was one of science, and not one of magick.

He smiled. But that would change, someday! The lens pulsed at his chest then, a sense of joy creeping from it into Jamie's body, as the two of them made a pact to one day find the answer.

For now, what they needed was some way to limit the force these massed and purposed bits of light delivered upon touching a shield. The art of reflection, as in a mirror, would not work so easily here, because of the powerful nature of the organized light. They could make a shield opaque to light, and they could make a shield that carried light about it and released it on the other side, thus rendering those inside invisible. But neither of these available concepts could quite deal with the power of the blue beam, which massed so much might into each touch that its energy would overwhelm a standard shield. Just as Sir Dorf's shield-layered sword had penetrated the defensive shields of those mages under the great dome, by applying massive force to a small area faster than the shield could dissipate it. That much force applied to one small area meant that--

Jamie froze then, as the lens flared into action upon his chest. A swirl of colors wafted through his mind, followed immediately by a bit of laughter, and then a point of light formed and quickly started through the knot of a lock. Jamie immediately recognized it as the lock for their latest anti-magic shield, which had recently been updated to incorporate protection from purely electrum-based attacks. But...what?

Even as he watched, the lock suddenly diverged in tie from the one he knew, weaving through completely new added sections that seemed nothing but draws for power and one new one he did not immediately recognize. The knot grew incredibly complicated, and just when Jamie felt like it was almost ridiculous in length, it spun through a last tie and locked. There was a flash of light, and the whole twisted creation disappeared.

But Jamie had learned it instantly, and now performed the tie himself, studying it within his mind as it flashed through its intricate windings and loops. He completed the lock, and as it ticked into finality, he understood its workings, and his mouth dropped open in amazement.

"You did it!" he thought, mentally patting the lens on his chest.

Again the colors swirled, and Jamie sensed that which lived within the lens informing him that it had been a joint effort whether he realized it or not. Jamie laughed then, his fondness for the lens briefly fierce; and then he opened his eyes.

"A smile such as that one is writ can only be for good, Jamie," Garvin said immediately.

Jamie smiled, and looked around at the others. "I believe we have a solution!"

Snave gave out a pleased laugh. "What have you come up with?"

Jamie shook his head. "The lens is responsible, really. It insists it got the idea from me, somehow...but --" Jamie grinned. "Anyway, we have something that should work."

Geert leaned forward eagerly. "Can you explain this new magick?"

"It is not new magick - not really. Only in part. It 's simply a change to one we have been using all along." Jamie got to his feet. "I want to tie the new lock right away, so everyone has it. Enhanced sight, everyone."

He waited a moment for everyone to acknowledge that they were ready, and then proceeded to tie the new lock. At the point where it diverged from the lock they knew, Snave grunted, and Geert shot to his feet. "Oh, look at that!"

The lock finished its tie and disappeared, and Jamie looked around at the others. "What do you think?"

"Amazing," Snave returned immediately.

"Will that work?" Geert wondered aloud.

Sir Dorf snorted, and favored Jamie with a frown. "I feel like the blind man begging in the town square. I see massive new draws for power, but can't quite see where it goes after that."

"Wherever it's needed," Jamie said, smiling. "I think I got the idea from you."

The knight blinked, but then smiled. "Oh. Well, then. I feel better. I think!"

Jamie laughed. "When you struck down the mages in the great dome, your sword pierced their shields against physical harm because it was encased within your own shielding. That, added to by the power of your stroke, applied stupendous force to a very small area of their shields. Shields against physical injury are able to protect due to their ability to take impacts of any kind and spread them over the entire area of the shield. But there is apparently a limit imposed by the draw for power for the shield. Your shield-encased sword, driven by the force and speed of your arm, was too much energy applied to too small an area, far too quickly, for that shield to bear."

Geert looked excited. "The very same principal as the ancient's beam weapon! It, too applies tremendous energy to a small area of the shield."

"Exactly. The difference here is that both shields are impacted. The physical shield must resist the force of the blow, while the shield for magickal defense must handle the energy. The energy of the beam is such that, when delivered to so small an area of the shields, they cannot handle the load. The shields can either resist in the area of impact completely and fail, or spread the force completely over their surfaces, which allows them to hold, but which also allows the force of the blow to be felt, with the one of us inside the shield being propelled backward with injurious velocity."

Snave floated closer. "Ten additional draws for power, one atop the other, have been added. This strange last tie - this is what will somehow make that work?"

Jamie nodded. "Normally, each magick can have but one draw for power. That can be sized, but even then it has limitations, for while the greater size allows for more access to energy, it also makes the draw more tenuous, decreasing its ability. At a certain point they balance out, and no more energy can be secured."

"You've solved that, somehow," Bastyin said, speaking up for the first time.

"The lens did, actually. Somewhere it found the tie for unity, that allows us to build the draws for power one atop the other. While we have increased the potential power draw tenfold, the actuality is that one builds upon the other, and the increase is far larger."

"This tie for unity is selective, it seems," Snave offered. "It will draw whatever power is needed to neutralize an attack, but it also seems our shields will become tremendously powerful where the beam strikes, without withdrawing power from other areas of the shield?"

Jamie held up a hand. "This is what should happen. That one last tie will also produce a truly unique surface to the shield where struck. The blue lance is composed of a single beam of light whose tiny bundles are somehow charmed into all moving in the same direction. This is an unnatural state, produced by the ancient's science. We must have a way to break up this light again, into smaller doses, and thus reduce the force of the impact. The section of shielding struck by the blow will now adopt a surface composed of a myriad of tiny prism shapes, which many reflective angles will act to break the lance into many smaller divisions, and also change their directions so that they impact different areas of the shield, or not at all."

"This is not reflection?" Garvin asked.

"No." Jamie frowned. "I don't know a term for this. But by breaking the single blue lance into many smaller versions of itself, it should allow the shields to deflect them."

Garvin frowned. "You mean we won't know until we test it?"

"Not for certain, no." Jamie shrugged. "There is simply no way to test it, because we cannot duplicate the ancient's beam weapon. But I did sense the enormous power of that ancient battle machine. And enormous as it was, the ten ties we have in the shield now should be up to countering it. We are drawing upon the power of the world around us. It has ever so much more to offer than any machine could possibly wield."

Geert placed a hand against his forehead and stared in amazement at Jamie. "I sense this new draw for power can also be applied to our other magicks."

"It can," Jamie agreed. "It will make all our magicks that much more powerful."

Dorf narrowed his eyes at that. "You say the lens found this new tie some place? Within the texts you carry within your mind?"

"It would seem," Jamie agreed. "It was apparently documented on one of the older scrolls among Master Thorvil's library."

Snave turned to face the knight. "You are thinking perhaps that if it was documented once, then others may have it?"


Jamie considered the idea, and then nodded. "We should add the new draws of power to all our magicks. It will be a simple matter to allow the magick that learns magicks to automatically make the changes."

Gorge suddenly stood up. "Key vibrate with great force!"

Irik, who had been lying quietly on the floor until then, watching and listening, suddenly came up on his front legs. "Trouble!"

Dorf turned then, too, his gaze going for the archway into the first room. "I hear something, too," he said softly.

Jamie took a surprised breath as a strange sensation washed over him and then was gone, and knew immediately what had caused it.

"The mental attack! Someone is trying to interfere with our thoughts!" His shield against that form of magick had strengthened, protecting him, but that they were in danger was now certain.

The others still sitting sprang to their feet.

"They have found us," Snave said, quietly. "I feel forces marshaling against this room, even now!"

"Quickly!" Jamie waved his hands furiously. "Everyone come to me!"

The others crowded around, touching Jamie, and he enveloped them in a translocation field and moved them all to the first place he could think of. That was back to the doorway where they had looked out at the new chamber and decided not to stay at the inn. It seemed a logical place, as it was well away from the room they had just quit, and still on their way westward. There was only one problem with the choice.

The doorway was occupied.

Jamie was aware of an unaccustomed pressure against the translocation field as they materialized, and then was shocked to see a group of men dressed in gray being thrust away from all around them as they materialized. Most were propelled towards one giant of a man with blazing yellow eyes, dressed in gray robes, and with a fierce gray beard thrusting forth from the hood about his head, who stood inside the hallway behind the door, and so outside the actual area of relocation. A whim of circumstance had placed Jamie between his friends and these newcomers, and Jamie had a good look at the robed mage, who stood head and shoulders above the other gray-clad men.

That one looked surprised, and then angry; and then he threw up his hands. Jamie's senses immediately clicked over to enhanced sight, and he was witness to the flurry of lock ties going on within the other's knack. His own defenses flared into being, multiplied rapidly, and stood forth to face the tremendous wash of orange flame that filled the hallway, followed immediately by a horde of sharp, angry things that slapped violently against his shields and gnawed hungrily at them, trying to find a way in.

Jamie heard a hoarse yell as one of the gray-clad men fell, caught between the attacker and Jamie and too slow to react. That one sank to the floor, his clothing igniting and his body immediately consumed by the magickal flames. Jamie felt the new multiple draws of power come to life as vast amounts of energy were channeled into his shields, and then to his own offenses, which seethed outwards with new fury. A collection of energies stormed down the hallway, blasting the enemy's shields and felling three of the gray mages in the first onslaught, their bodies bursting into red steam at the touch of Jamie's magicks.

Jamie tied the magick to thwart translocation, refusing these others any retreat, and then leaned into his attack, feeling now a terrific impulse of power from his back as Snave and Geert launched into attacks of their own. Knot locks tied within Jamie's mind with furious speed as the lens plumbed the depths of Master Thorvil's library, coming up with new offenses faster than Jamie could count. The hallway filled with fire and fury and the many hues of the rainbow as dozens of battle magicks came into play, and the floor vibrated and bounced beneath Jamie's feet as blows were traded that only recently he could not have imagined possible. Bits of the stone ceiling rained down upon them, flashing into pulses of light as they were incinerated against the powers being unleashed in the hallway. Things but half-seen flew back and forth between the two groups, unearthly projectiles that seemed half alive, not made of steel or fire or any substance known to Jamie's reckoning, but which assailed the opposing shields with a greed and a voraciousness that was stunning to see.

His initial reaction of surprise and fear now gone, Jamie felt a sense of purpose come into him, and settled into the business of fighting. He could see now that the enemy's onslaught was failing against his own protections, which filled the hallway between the attackers and those of his own group to the rear. Jamie could feel his friends adding to his attack against these others, as each learned the new magicks Jaime was applying via the lens, and the fury of their own advance began to push the gray mages back. It soon became apparent that the focus of all the gray mages save the giant in robes had turned to defense, with embattled shields shrinking and flaring and turning dark in death all about them.

One by one, the enemy mages fell, overpowered by the onslaught, until only the bear of a man in the gray robes remained, barely seen, his outline lit with fire. Jamie watched that one, even as he knew that the other was slowly failing as well. Twice the man tried to translocate away from the battle, and was thwarted. Other magicks were tried, and Jamie learned them, and they, too, failed.

And then came another new magick tie, of amazing complexity --

There was a tremendous roar, and Jamie felt himself pushed suddenly backwards, out of the hallway and into the large tunnel chamber beyond. The others of his group were pushed behind him, yet none lost their footing. It was as if a giant hand had simply shoved them all back.

And then the giant mage was before Jamie, reaching for him. Their shields came into contact with a violence that Jamie could scarcely comprehend, and tremendous bolts of lightning erupted forth and skittered away over the walls and floor. Jamie resisted the drive backwards, leaned into the attack and pushed back with all his might. He stopped, but the other mage was right there before him.

"What are you, young mage, that you are filled with such power?" the other grated harshly, again trying to get his hands upon Jamie. "How did such a monster come to be?"

Jamie heard a familiar kazing behind him as Dorf drew his sword, and then the knight's arm flashed past him and the sword smashed with terrible fury against graybeard's defenses.

But did not penetrate them.

Jamie felt the floor beneath his feet vibrate at the power of the strike; and then Dorf was swinging again. Crimson lightning spun dizzily away from the point of impact; and then the knight was suddenly pushed back as a new pressure assailed Jamie's shields. But they held easily, and Jamie responded with equal force, and the bearded man in front of him groaned.

"I cannot be defeated!"

But rather then being a claim based in fact, it seemed more a cry made in disbelief, and Jamie laughed harshly. "No one is unbeatable!"

The yellow eyes of the bearded man flashed with hate then, and with a herculean effort he pushed one hand closer to Jamie.

Suddenly, Jamie felt a pressure around his neck, a slow compression as if the bearded mage's hands, still poised in the air before Jamie, their shield between them, reaching for him, had actually closed around his throat. The lens upon Jamie's chest beat out a new warning, and Jamie felt the mental flutter of a million pages as the lens sought out an answer to this new attack. Jamie gasped then, feeling his wind leaving him.

It seemed that he and the bearded one were just an arm's length apart now, their shields compressed together, the air humming as it was ripped into its smallest parts by the power of the confrontation. Jamie could see the rage in the man's eyes, the hate. The determination to kill Jamie at any cost. Such was the power of those emotions that for a brief moment, Jamie felt overwhelmed.

What have I done to be so despised?

His breathing was becoming ragged now, his lungs struggling to fill themselves. And still the lens searched on, seeking an answer.

And then, it was done. The small life upon Jamie's chest filled with sorrow then, colors swirling about in the agitation of dark dismay. There was no defense to be found.

Jamie briefly flailed about, knowing he had slipped into a moment between seconds as his life threatened to end. He sensed Dorf straining at his rear, and the others of his party putting everything they had into trying to break the bearded mage's shields.

But now, it was just the two of them, Jamie and this other.

"What is your name?" Jamie gasped.

The barest hint of a smile touched the other's lips. "I am Skoda, brother to Lodda."

Jamie felt an unaccountable urge to laugh. "I didn't know he had a brother."

"You know now, young mage."

Without knowing exactly why, Jamie raised a hand and reached towards the other mage, as if to touch him. All he could see now was the furious dance of the man's knack above his head, a violent red in color, an evil maelstrom of power that was somehow even now compressing the life out of Jamie. If he could only touch that light, perhaps swat it away --

A realization hit him then, that it was not his physical hand he was reaching with, but the same hand of his mind with which he had snared the electrums only a short time earlier. Or, was it an eternity earlier? Time seemed to have lost its meaning.

He continued to reach, and then circled his mental hand about the bearded man's knack, and closed his fingers tight.

Skoda's eyes suddenly widened in horror, and his mouth dropped open in a gasp. "What...?"

Jamie felt the swirling mass within his grip now, and simply grabbed it away.

Skoda shrieked horribly, and the force about Jamie's neck vanished at the same time. The bearded mage fell away from Jamie as the man's defenses evaporated into thin air, and Jamie's own defenses suddenly quieted. A crack of thunder reverberated throughout the great chamber, an angry and impatient thing, which echoed hollowly down the train car tunnels and back again, sounding like volleys of cannon fire in the distance. Jamie took a great breath then, and felt his senses coming back to him, and blinked his eyes a moment to refocus them, before looking around again.

Skoda lay at his feet. The great mage had simply collapsed, and lay sprawled upon the floor, his robes twisted about him. The man's eyes had dimmed, yet he stared at Jamie even now with the same hate he had harbored earlier.

"My magick...gone," the man breathed, as if he still could not believe it.

Jamie remembered then, reaching for Skoda's knack with the mental hand of his mind, reaching for it, encircling it with his hand, and...

Jamie stared at the man now, saw that there was no longer an aura about him, no dancing light above his head, and gasped out a startled breath. I took his knack from him!

Snave settled beside Jamie, even as Garvin appeared to his other hand, his eyes anxious. Jamie smiled at him and nodded, though they could not touch due to their shielding.

"You are the brother of Lodda?" Snave demanded, his voice filled with anger. "Lodda of Ohr? Wizard of the Black Thrushes, Mage of the Tharin Mages?"

The bearded one looked infinitely tired now. "Who speaks from the non-death of the Crypticon?"

Snave grunted. "I am Snave of Condegrast, brother to Thorvil of Condegrast. Son of Wilfred of Condegrast!"

Even near death, the bearded one's eyes widened. "You were destroyed...long ago."

"I would say not." The satisfaction in Snave's voice was apparent. "And it seems now that I will outlive you."

Skoda gave forth a wheezing cough, and his eyes returned to Jamie. "Your protégé, Snave of Condegrast? What monstrous thing have you wrought in this one?"

The gargoyle laughed. "He is his own creation, Skoda. The mage of times yet to come, I think. One with the power to deal with such as the likes of you. And your brother, next."

A pained look crossed the old mage's face, displacing the hatred. "I am but a shadow of my brother, Snave of Condegrast. Be warned." And then the fading gaze returned to Jamie. "You."

Jamie leaned closer. "I am sorry it had to go this way. I do not even know why you hate me so."

The old mage managed a laugh, but it held the rasp of death within it. "Go...and brother. is the only...curse I have left."

The man took a breath, and then it sighed away from him, and he was still. His eyelids sank halfway closed, not quite hiding the yellow eyes. But the fires of life had gone from them.

Jamie sighed, and made to rise, but stopped as something else began to happen. Skoda's body suddenly looked to shrink, his massive bulk dwindling away, and in a mere moment of time, the old mage's features wrinkled even more than they had been, his flesh dried to the dusty consistency of old paper, and the once fierce yellow eyes vanished from their sockets..

Jamie stared a moment longer, but then did straighten, again feeling the terrible realization that he had caused the death of another. Of many others. But...this time it did not hurt quite so painfully, and he understood that it was because he had accepted the need to do these things. Conflict was the necessary result of any quest to right the wrongs of the world. But still...

"I don't even know why he died," Jamie whispered.

"He was a mage," Snave said quietly. "The lifespan of a mage beyond that of commoners is due to magick. He has lost that magick now, and so goes his life."

Jamie was aware of a new tie being wrought, and a defensive screen rose all about them like an inverted bowl. And then Garvin was at Jamie's side, unshielded, his hands outstretched. "Let me in, Jamie."

Jamie nodded, and dropped his personal shield. Garvin took him into his arms and hugged him. "You were magnificent," he whispered.

Jamie sighed, the warmth and affection of his greatest love seeping into every corner of his heart and mind, revitalizing the places that had grown mournfully silent. Here was one reason to fight, Jamie realized. To protect this boy, whom he loved more than life itself.

Love must always be protected from hate.

"Jamie," Snave said, from close at hand. Jamie drew back slightly, smiled at Garvin's own smile, at the lights of love in his eyes, and kissed the other boy before turning to face the gargoyle.


"How did did you do what you did to Skoda?"

"I took away his knack," Jamie said, flatly.

"I know."

Jamie cleared his throat tiredly. "In my explorations of electrums, I created a...well, a hand is how I see it, one made entirely inside my own mind, that I could use to grab electrums to slow them." He smiled then. "Well, I couldn't slow them. They would drag me off, but I did have a hold of them, and could use the opportunity to view them. I used this hand grab hold of Skoda's knack, and I...I took it away from him."

No one spoke. Garvin, still holding Jamie's hand, squeezed it reassuringly.

Dorf stepped into the silence, and patted Snave's wooden arm gently. "Did you know this Skoda?"

"No. I knew that Lodda came from a large family, but I had not heard of this brother."

"He was quite powerful, and I am only guessing by what he said that Lodda is even more so," the knight persisted.

"So it seems," Snave agreed. "His father was a master mage. But I thought only Lodda had strayed into evil."

"Apparently not," Dorf countered, patting Snave's arm again before turning to Jamie. "So it seems we do not really even know who we face, besides Lodda, Porvus, and Urvan."

"No," Jamie agreed. "But it changes nothing." He looked around at the others. "Does anyone feel that it does?"

Geert smiled. "We did well against these, Jamie. I am not intimidated."

"Maybe you should be," Garvin pointed out. "Had Jamie not seized this one's knack, who knows what may have happened?"

"We had the advantage in strength," Snave countered. "It was obvious he was failing, even before Jamie rid us of his presence."

Jamie shook his head. "He may have had me, had I not." He went on to explain the strange power that had been as if hands were upon his neck, strangling him.

"I have never heard of such a thing," Snave decided. "I suggest we check this Skoda for charms before we move on. This may have been a charmed magick that he used to strike at you."

When no one immediately moved, Dorf sighed, and squatted beside the dead mage and carefully checked him over. On the man's wrist he found an odd looking chain, a series of black beads with a white figure incised on each, with each bead joined together with two golden links of chain. Dorf removed it, examined it, and held it up to Jamie. "You should see this."

Jamie took the piece, felt a small tingling sensation in his hand as he did so, and looked over at Snave. "It bites."

The gargoyle laughed. "It senses you, most likely. But charms that turn malevolent when being given to others can be felt, and I do not feel that from this one. It is likely powered by your touch, and what you feel is a light draw upon your own body's electrums."

Dorf sighed. "Yes, yes. Hold it up and examine the beads, Jamie."

Jamie did so, and then whistled. Each bead was incised with a face, the same ghoulish one, with its eyes slitted and its tongue lolling out horribly.

"Not very subtle, is it?" Garvin asked, peering over Jamie's shoulder.

"No. It certainly looks like the tool of a strangler." He turned to the gargoyle. "How did it penetrate my defenses?"

"It probably didn't, Jamie. Some charms directly affect others with nothing passing between. I am not that educated in charms. I suggest Wanda Pegfoot would be the one to ask."

Jamie raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Is it magick, or not?"

"It is a hex, Jamie. That's all I can say."

Jamie held up his own hand, and gazed at the wristlet given to him by the prince. "Obviously, my luck was stronger."

"Actually, I feel good about this encounter," Snave said then.

Jamie stared at the gargoyle. "You do?"

"Yes, certainly." He chuckled pleasantly. Reassuringly. "We prevailed, did we not?"

"I guess."

Garvin gave him a nudge. "Oh, Jamie, think how far we have come in only a few short days. When we left the master's shop hardly more than a week ago, we would not have stood a chance here today."

Jamie brightened at that. "True. It does hold out the chance that we might be even better by the time we reach Methuwan." He looked one more time at the ghastly charm taken from Skoda, and then dropped it into a pocket. To discard any possible advantage at this point, no matter how nasty it seemed, would be foolish.

"If I may make a suggestion," Irik said then, looking up at Jamie.

"Of course."

The wolf's muzzle twitched in a near smile. "I would say that we no longer rest in locations full of the ancient's devices. Twice now, we have been found while occupying such places. It suggests a pattern."

"It does," Sir Dorf agreed immediately. "Just as with Porvus knowing we were in the tower room, I think they detected us back in the room near the underground canal."

Jamie nodded. "There is apparently more than one pattern of electrums in use to warn of trespassers in these places. We cannot know them all, so it is best we no longer tempt any of them."

"Then why not the inns?" Geert asked. "They are also full of the ancient's science."

"Perhaps in a different way," Garvin suggested. "That room we were in back in the tunnel had the look of a place where many things might be controlled. Just as in the tower room. And remember-- " he turned to smile at Jamie "-- you felt the presence of some sort of electrum field even below the last tower. One that could sense our presence."

"Yes. But I did not feel that pattern in this underground room. There must have been another pattern that somehow gave us away. My familiarity with electrums is apparently growing strong enough now that I understand their presence better when I encounter them." Jamie turned to look at Bastyin and Gorge, both of whom had only been listening raptly. "What say you?"

The Lachess smiled, and patted his chest. "I say I am in over my head. I am learning new things - enormous things - but I scarcely know what to do with them as yet. You speak of things now about which I have no knowledge. I am prepared to go along with whatever decision the group makes."

Jamie grinned, and turned to the Pertwee. "And you?"

That one grunted. "Ha! Agree with Bastyin. Know not these things, save they frighten enough to make lesser men soil pants. I stay quiet for now, and go along for journey."

Jamie laughed. "Not ready to turn back?"

"No." The Pertwee let loose with another cackling laugh. "Is much fun, when I not scared almost to death." He turned to Geert then. "Thank you for protection."

That boy nodded. "I'm only happy I thought of it." He nodded at Jamie. "You were instantly busy, so I extended my shielding around Gorge."

Jamie smiled, and patted the other boy's arm. "Good man."

He turned back to Bastyin, saw the resolute look in his eyes, and then glanced again at Gorge, and saw the same resolve there. The resolve to go on.

Jamie shook his head. Bravery, or foolishness? But he could see the willingness to be there in both men's eyes.

"Very well. I suggest we move on, before something else happens."

Geert looked about the large chamber. "You think they were here after us?"

"Almost certainly. And there were others outside the first door of the room we were in, ready to charge in on us. That's what set off Gorge's key."

"You think Porvus was here?" Garvin asked. "It was he that used the mind control before."

Jamie frowned at that. "I...don' No. Again, I had the sense that that control was attempted from afar."

"A gliftok, perhaps?" Sir Dorf said, looking around them now, warily.

"Possibly. Something dangerous, I'm certain."

"Then we should be going," Garvin said, squeezing Jamie's hand a last time and then stepping away from him. The blue-gold aura of his personal shield once again outlined his body, and he smiled at Jamie. Jamie smiled back, reactivating his own personal shields. The domed shield that had been covering their group faded, and was gone.

"Come," Gorge said, turning and leading them away from the inspection tunnel doorway. Jamie nodded, looked back one more time at Skoda's body, and then followed.

"I am surprised at their slow reaction to these events," Jamie said, as he resumed a forward position. "That was some battle we had, and yet no one has appeared to see what became of the participants."

"Likely they know that all have fallen," Snave returned. "But not why. Only fools rush in where even mages fear to tread."

Dorf threw his head back and laughed.

Jamie stared at the knight, and then grinned. "That was funny?"

"Well...not exactly. It was just the way that Snave said it. It's true enough, though. They won't come rushing in here when they know their people were killed. Especially when this Skoda was also defeated. He seemed a right nasty old fellow, and if it could happen to him, it could just as easily happen to them. But I'm sure some careful investigation will be made after we have gone."

Jamie frowned at that, but it did seem that after each encounter, no immediate move had been made against them. After they had destroyed the battle machine, there had been no one to show up to see what had happened to it. What did that suggest?

"They're being unusually careful with us," Jamie decided. "And yet...if my own brother were in peril of losing his life, I would have come rushing to his aid. That Lodda did not come to fortify Skoda's position here says volumes about his character." Jamie frowned. "Or lack of it."

Snave chuckled. "I would say. So far, the evidence has been that we have fairly easily overcome all of their attempts to halt us. That has to be giving Lodda and Porvus something to think about."

"It may also be something simpler, too," Bastyin pointed out. "Our opponents may simply not have the forces to spare to come at us more than one time. Once they do, they must regroup."

Jamie squinted as he considered that. "There may be some truth to that. We have imagined the opposing force to be large and well organized. We see Methuwan as a city, a large place, which should field a veritable army. But perhaps Porvus and Lodda don't have the help we have suspected they do."

"I agree with that," Sir Dorf said. "These mages are not known as a force yet beyond the Forest." He smiled. "And, they are all mages. Their numbers cannot be great, and they have no foot soldiers. No one expendable to send in to investigate a situation. If all are mages, they will resist being sent into situations they feel are beyond their control. And if this Skoda was as powerful as he seemed, and we defeated even him - the underlings will not be anxious to hasten themselves here to greet us."

"Nor even Urvan, it seems,"Jamie added. "His absence of late has been notable. And I felt he especially wished to do me harm, too."

"Or worse," Garvin grated, looking angry at the thought. "He wished to capture you for himself!"

"Could it be...?" Jamie began, and then broke off, thinking. Could it? He stopped again, and the others stopped with him. Gorge and Irik walked on several paces, and then turned back to look at them.

"Be what?" Dorf asked, cocking his head to one side.

But Jamie turned to Snave instead. "I have a vision of us outside of one of the red towers, correct? And we know that such visions are true representations of things to come."

"I would agree with that," the gargoyle returned.

Jamie nodded, feeling excitement come to him. "Then...suppose Lodda, or Porvus, or some other of their group, also have had a vision? A vision of some future meeting between our group and theirs? A meeting in Methuwan itself, perhaps? If they give any credence to such a foretelling at all, they will know that we are destined to arrive there, no matter what they do to try to stop us."

"And yet, they do continue to try to stop us," Dorf pointed out. "Or, so it has seemed."

"Of course," Snave said slowly, as if considering the idea. "They do seem intent on stopping us. And yet, we have seen nothing of Lodda or Porvus, themselves, and my feeling is that they would come if they thought they could end this matter now. But...maybe they do know they cannot stop us from arriving at Methuwan."

"Then what are they doing attacking us?" Geert asked.

Snave grunted. "They would still try to test us, to see what we are made of. To try to gauge what is to be expected of us. But if they know we will arrive no matter what obstacles they place in our path...they would not exhaust their resources trying to stop us on our journey. They will save their best for when we arrive."

Jamie nodded. "Skoda said he was but a shadow of his brother. In power, I guess he meant." He blew out an exasperated breath. "I can scarcely imagine someone so powerful that Skoda was but a shadow in comparison. This Lodda must be a fierce mage, indeed."

"He was powerful even when I was a lad," Snave returned. "As can be witnessed by my present condition. He has had centuries in which to increase that power. And Porvus, as well."

"Yes." Jamie looked around at the others. "If any of our guesses are true, it means they will not be after us immediately after each confrontation. Especially as they seem not to be able to follow our moves unless we stray into one of the detection areas of the old one's science."

"I agree," Snave said. "So we should move on now, and place some distance between ourselves and Skoda's remains. It gives us some time to get away."

"There is a problem - with us getting away, I mean," Bastyin put in. "They may not need to detect our exact location. If they know we are coming to them, there is but one way to do that down here in the tunnels."

Jamie nodded. "There is only one main tunnel to the Crescent from here. But after that, there are many tunnels heading west."

He turned then, and called ahead to Gorge and Irik to come back to them.

"What?" the Pertwee said, coming near.

"Change of plan," Jamie said. "Everyone gather around me. I'm going to translocate us."

No one asked to where, or why. Everyone simply nodded and moved closer. Jamie drew the knot lock for a translocation, and in a moment they were all standing outside on a stone flooring, the ancient trees of the Forest of Night all about them. A red wall reared itself skyward next to them, and Jamie looked upward to spy the splintered crown of a red tower.

Dorf also looked up. "Well...this is the very first tower we arrived at, is it not?"

"It is," Jamie agreed. He examined the structure critically, especially its splintered peak; but - at least from the outside - it seemed no worse the wear for having born the brunt of the lightning cascade attack of Porvus. Jamie waved a hand at the knight to turn around, and then pulled out the map from the knight's pack. "Garvin, if you will help me?"

They squatted and rolled out the map. "Here is where we just left from," Jamie said, dropping a fingertip on a round dot.

"Then this is where we are now," Garvin said, indicating a dot east and south.

"Yes. I brought us back here for a reason." He took his finger and slid it west, off the dot they had just left, over another one, and then another one, and stopped. "Here is where we want to go."

Geert snorted. "Then coming back here was the wrong move, wasn't it?"

"No." Jamie looked up at the sky. "It's late, but if we move quickly, we can make it before dark."

Garvin patted his shoulder. "You mean to fly!"

"Yes. We will each wear our personal shields. I will place a group shield around all of us to keep us together, make it invisible, and then fly us to this location. We will then find our way back to the tunnels below and proceed west. If our foes are looking for us where we have been, we will hopefully be behind them then."

"Why not just fly all the way to Methuwan?" Geert asked. "Are we not very powerful now?"

Jamie smiled. "You saw how hard fought the battle was with Skoda. He also had the lock that allows power draws to be multiplied, though his seemed to not be on the order of our own. He was superior to any of the gray mages we have met yet, and yet he insisted that he is but a shadow of his brother. What does that tell you?"

Geert frowned, and then nodded. "We are not yet ready for a confrontation."

"Right," Jamie said simply. "I don't feel it is time yet. But we can get a move forward. So let's get ready, and go."

"I am ready," Snave said, ending the discussion.

The map was replaced into Dorf's pack, and then they gathered together. Jamie formed a shield about them, made it invisible, and then lifted them all from the ground. They rose next to the tower, into the open sky into which it thrust, and then were above the canopy. Jamie turned them west, accelerated smoothly, and they were off.

The selected dot on the map, when they arrived, proved not to be another red tower. They had passed one earlier, the last dot on the map before this one, it's splintered cap thrusting upwards through the canopy. Jamie got a good enough look at it in passing to know it was not the tower he had seen in his vision. But that the crowns of all of these red towers were in ruin seemed apparent now.

"Some catastrophe that befell all of them, perhaps even at the same time," Snave had mused, as they flew onward. "A network of some sort, maybe, joined in some way beyond our comprehension. All set upon by some great force."

"They are the only structures that pierce the canopy, I've noticed," Dorf put in. "Their very visibility may have been their downfall."

And now, here they were, above their destination, the next dot on the map. It was not a tower, and did not need to thrust above the canopy to be seen. The land below was visible, or rather, the waters of a great lake, with a broad river winding a wide path to it from among the trees.

Their destination appeared to be a dam on that river, behind which the lake had formed; but it was a dam like no other that any of them had ever seen before. For one thing it was simply massive, tall and wide, and formed of the seamless gray stone from which the ancients had appeared to build everything. Towers were spaced at regular intervals across the top of its breadth, from which looked forth the dark eyes of windows at seven different levels. A walkway of some sort crossed the top of the dam, beneath which massive jets of water poured forth, to arc into sluices that dropped into the river below.

The sense of electrums was amazingly strong here, as if they somehow filled the massive structure below, and Jamie sensed ribbons of energy moving away from the dam on both sides and in several directions, as if buried conduits siphoned off massive quantities of the electrums and carried them away into the forest. It was awe-inspiring and intimidating, and fascinating beyond anything Jamie had sensed before.

"Do we go down?" Dorf asked, looking over at Jamie.

"We will need to, of course, if we are to regain the tunnels. This was...this was not what I expected, though."

Snave laughed at that. "Who could have expected this?"

Garvin smiled at Jamie. "You do like to do big things, my Jamie."

Jamie grinned at that, feeling a sense of relief that the others seemed good with this move. He realized now that he had not asked for opinions before taking them on this flight. Snave had readily agreed to it, and Jamie had not asked for more input. That his friends trusted his instincts now seemed apparent. And that made Jamie feel good.

"I am assuming we will need to get inside this thing," Bastyin mused. "Perhaps there will be doors in the towers that cross its top?"

"Have been here before, I think," Gorge said then. "Just never on outside."

"So you know your away around the guts of yon monstrosity?" Dorf asked.

Gorge frowned. "Mostly below. Have to see more when get inside."

If the knight found that answer odd, he gave no sign of it. Instead, he pointed at the nearest tower. "That one, I guess."

Jamie nodded and moved them in that direction. The tower grew in size, and Jamie realized that the entire structure was even larger than he had imagined. The tower was square and the top flat, with a single large stone cube of some sort directly in the middle. He dropped them, and brought them to rest alongside the cube. And there, in its side, was the rectangle of a door, the lock plate plainly visible next to it.

But Jamie did not drop their invisibility. He turned slowly, looking around them, but it was plain that they were alone atop the tower. "What say, Sir Dorf?"

"Looks peaceful to me. My watcher says we are alone. Anyone sense anything unusual? Gorge, how about your key?"

"Feel vibration, but small," the Pertwee responded. "From lock there, am sure."

The knight nodded. "I suggest we all keep our personal shields up. But you can dispense with the group shield, Jamie."

Jamie took a deep breath, and released the shield. Their group became visible then, and they stood a moment in silence, listening to the terrific roar of massive amounts of water cascading down the face of the dam, but hearing nothing else at all. The great, dark walls of the forest rose skyward at each end of the dam, and the sun was now lost to sight behind one of them. It was edging into evening now, Jamie suspected, and darkness could be no more than an hour away. They needed to find a secure place to camp, and that meant gaining access to the interior of the dam.

Jamie nodded at the door. "That way, it would seem."

They approached the cube, and examined the door. It seemed like many of the other doors they had met with thus far.

"Let us walk around this cube before entering," Dorf suggested. "There may be other doors."

Jamie nodded, and started off to the right. The cube was easily three times their height, and perhaps eight times that distance on a side. They reached the corner fairly quickly and turned it. Here, the cube presented a blank wall for its entire length. Jamie strode along, making for the next corner, and turned that one.

And stopped. Here was another door, but this one far larger than the first, looking to run most of the length of this wall. Dorf stepped around Jamie and gazed at the thing, and then peered along its length to the far end. "I see a lock plate, there."

Jamie could not, but trusted the knight's senses. He grunted and moved onward, crossing the width of the massive door, until they came to the other side of it. And there, just as Dorf had said, was a lock plate.

"You think this entire thing opens?" Garvin asked, the idea obviously amazing to him.

Jamie felt the same sense of awe, but had to nod. "One way to find out. I suggest we all move to the side, though."

They did that, and then Jamie blinked his shield long enough to place his hand upon the lock plate.

There was a hiss of escaping air, and then the door began to open. Upwards. It rolled up like a fancy window shade, revealing a large, well-lit chamber within.

In the middle of that chamber sat a thing the likes of which Jamie had never seen before. It was large, tubular, with a row of windows down the side, and another one that stretched across the fore end. Two smaller tubes clung to each side, dark and somehow purposeful, yet otherwise no more menacing than any other part of the thing. That this was a machine seemed apparent. But what sort of machine, Jamie could not begin to guess.

Dorf slowly drew his sword, and looked carefully about the interior of the chamber. "Seems clear."

Jamie nodded, and stepped across the threshold. His own watcher still said they were alone. The others followed, one by one, as Jamie walked all the way around the peculiar machine. The purpose of the windows seemed obvious - they were meant to be used to look outward. A doorway was visible in the side of the machine at chest height, beneath which a set of stairs had unfolded from within the machine. A lock plate was visible next to the door.

Jamie looked over at Snave. "What do you think?"

"A conveyance of some sort, would be my guess. The ancients were said to have machines that could fly, swim in the water, and move across the land. My guess is that this is one of them."

"But which one?" Geert asked.

Snave chuckled. "Does it matter? It is of no use to us." The gargoyle revolved slightly to face away from the craft. "But that may be of use."

Jamie turned to look, and spied another doorway in the back wall of the chamber. He tossed a smile at the gargoyle and headed for it, his eyes automatically searching for a lock plate next to it, but only saw a smaller plate with a round, glassy circle set into it. "Oh. This looks like one of those lifts."

Dorf stepped up to it and held up his sword. "I'll open it, and we'll see."

He pressed the thumb of his free hand against the circle, and the door slid to one side. Revealed within was one of the small rooms like they had seen behind similar doors in the red tower. It was large enough for all of them to enter, but somehow, Jamie was not fond of the idea of doing so. To get within and have the door close - it seemed too much like a trap for his tastes.

He turned and looked around the chamber. "There are usually stairs, as well."

"Perhaps on the other side of the machine," Garvin suggested. "I cannot see the far wall from here."

Jamie smiled, and raised himself into the air so that he could see across the top of the big machine sitting in the middle of the chamber.

Garvin laughed then, looking up at him. "Oh, I could have done that!"

Jamie grinned at his friend. "It has not yet become second nature to you. It will."

He turned, and peered across the chamber. Yes, there was another door there. Jamie sank back to the floor.

"There is another door across the room. We can at least look."

Dorf nodded, and seemed pleased that they were not going to try the lift, and led the way back around the big machine. The back wall of the chamber was made up of row upon row of small doors set into the wall in tiers, each with a small lock plate set next to it. Geert eyed these with great interest as they passed, obviously wondering what sort of treasures they might conceal. But that the lad was now focused on the purpose of their journey rather than the scenery seemed plain.

They reached the other door, and this one had a standard lock plate set into the wall next to it. Sir Dorf, still holding out his sword, pressed his hand to it, and the door slid to one side. Beyond was a landing, and then a staircase, heading downward. Jamie stepped onto the landing and looked over the rail; the staircase wound its way into the depths of the dam, to an almost dizzying distance below.

Jamie sighed. "This may take some time."

"Then we should get going," Dorf said, smiling. "At least we are going down, and not up." He turned and took the first steps downward.

Garvin moved up next to Jamie and smiled encouragingly at him. Jamie returned the smile, took a last look over the railing at the amazing drop into the darkness below, sighed, and then followed the knight.

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