The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 24

Far below them, they could hear a steady purring sound that could only be some sort of machinery running, and large machines, at that. Underneath the steady whir was another sound, one as much felt as it was heard: a sort of monstrous roar, like the rumble of giants arguing. This was the sound of water, Jamie knew, as it forced its way through some part of the dam to emerge on the other side. The combination of sounds was impressive, clearly announcing the attendance of might of one form or another.

The presence of electrums in simply unbelievable quantities almost overwhelmed Jamie's senses. It was plain to him now that this was a place where such energies were brought into being. He thought immediately of the strange device in Master Thorvil's shop which, when cranked, created a long spark of miniature lightning, somehow drawn from the lodestones that turned within the wire cage. He could imagine similar devices here, but on a grand scale, with some sort of water paddle on the shaft instead of a crank handle, and turned by the power of flowing water, just as was a grinding stone in a grain mill. So bright was the vision of this process in his mind that he had to share it with the others, who listened eagerly as they continued down the steps.

"It could be!" Garvin agreed, his voice echoing hollowly within the stairwell. There could be no whispering here, not with the grumbling and whirring sounds of power growing in volume with each new turn of the staircase downward.

"It fits the circumstances," Snave admitted, his own voice rebounding from the walls. "It would be just like the ancients to operate such devices on a scale such as this."

"Yet it cannot be the only source of power here in the lowlands," Bastyin offered. "We are far, indeed, from the places of my own people, where yet still some of the devices of the ancients function."

"I sense...well, lines of electrums, moving away from this place in many directions," Jamie explained. "They must have had a way of sending the electrums where they needed them, once created."

"Stands to reason," Dorf called back over his shoulder. "The ancients used this power to run all of their machines. They had to have a way of getting that power to those machines, wherever they stood waiting."

Jamie frowned at that. "Yes. And yet...I have not felt these lines of electrums running all over the forest before now. Most of the places we have been, I sensed a source of energy closer, usually beneath the building."

Garvin looked over at him. "You never mentioned this before."

"No. For one, my abilities to detect these electrums has been growing along with my understanding of them. I am only just beginning to know the things I can sense. Now that I reflect back upon it, I think the power sources for most of the places we have been thus far have been located deep beneath them. As such, they were only dimly impinging upon my ability to sense them."

"Then more than one source of power is suggested," Bastyin offered. "This source, here at this dam, driven by water, seems only a logical use of an existing force of nature. But in other places not so endowed, the ancients had to use another form of their magick?"

Jamie sighed, and smiled. "We can only guess. The mysteries the ancients have left for us to ponder are as large as the constructions they left behind. Not to be solved in a spare week of time, I would think."

"We will still be trying to figure them out when we are old and bearded like Master Thorvil," Garvin put in, grinning at Jamie.

Jamie laughed, and briefly tried to imagine his best friend taller, and with a beard, and maybe even carrying about the slight paunch that Thorvil had come to wear with his age. Yet try as he might, he could just not imagine Garvin's sweet face old and wrinkled. And yet that future might come to pass, should they succeed with their present venture. Growing old with Garvin was a joy that Jamie would very much love to experience some day.

Garvin, perhaps himself trying to imagine Jamie old and gray, also laughed. "A life's work ahead, for the both of us."

"I would say," Jamie agreed. He reached out and took Garvin's hand, and squeezed it briefly. "If, in one hundred year's time, we have not solved some of these riddles, berate me then, and remind me of this conversation."

Garvin's eyes shone with the promise that they would still be together in a century of time. "I will remind you, but never berate you."

"Look," Dorf said then, pointing over the inner rail of the staircase. "We arrive, it seems."

Jamie looked over the rail, and saw a wide, white floor below them, made of the seamless stone the ancients used for everything. The last four or five turns of the staircase were contained within an open framework, allowing a view of what lay below them. Even as they descended another staircase it became plain that a vast hall of some sort awaited them, one filled with the sounds of fearsome engines of one sort or another. The rumble of water was omnipresent by now, its movement felt even as a vibration in the railing beneath his hand. So, too, were the massive whirring sounds, unlike anything he had heard before. Only their regular beat signaled that they were the voices of machines, and not some gaggle of monstrous beasts seeking their next meal.

"Invisibility," Jamie suggested, as they made another turn in the staircase and passed the edge of the roof of the great hall below. "And best we not call to each other until we know it to be safe."

"Wait," Dorf said then, stopping and spreading his arms to halt them all. He pointed at Gorge. "This one has no invisibility to hide within."

"Key will protect me," the Pertwee replied, patting the front of his tunic.

Jamie frowned at that. "Not from being seen." He studied the small man a moment, and then turned and smiled at Garvin. "Once, we thought you had no knack for magick."

His friend blinked in surprise, and then smiled in return. "That's true."

Jamie sat down on a step, and patted the tread beside him. "Come sit a moment, Gorge."

The Pertwee eyed him narrowly, and then looked up at Bastyin. "What he want?"

"Perhaps to teach you something useful," that one responded. "Go and sit, I say."

The little man frowned at that answer, but then moved to Jamie's side and sat on the step next to him.

Jamie pulled up his shirt, exposing the lens. "Lay your fingertips against this a moment."

Gorge stared at the blue glowing orb, but licked his lips nervously, and then raised a hand to comply.

The moment the Pertwee's fingertips touched the lens, it flashed, and Gorge grunted and whipped his hand away. "What it do?"

Jamie laughed. "It's just acknowledging your presence. Place your fingers back, and leave them there this time."

The Pertwee frowned uncertainly at him, but replaced his fingertips to the lens.

Jamie activated his enhanced sight, and examined Gorge closely. The Pertwee had no aura, no spinning knot of a knack above his head. Could this, then, even be done?

"I want you to play close attention," Jamie told the little man. "Close your eyes, and tell me what you see."

Jamie brought up a point of force within his mind, the core of a magic. Gorge took in a startled breath. "Light, inside my head."

Wonder seeped slowly throughout Jamie's body. The lens was once again showing itself capable of miraculous things! He slowly and carefully began to draw the point of light through the simple tying of a knot for a messenger bird, while the amazement on Gorge's face only grew. "It moves! Tie, like rope!"

"He can see it," Garvin breathed, from Jamie's other side.

"Yes." Jamie completed the knot, and it disappeared in a flash of light. The messenger bird appeared and slowly circled their heads, while Gorge stared at it in utter amazement, until Jamie let it go. "Now you."

Gorge shook his head. "Cannot. Have no point to start with!"

Jamie nodded. "Close your eyes again. Imagine that point, that glowing dot. It's there before you."

Jamie closed his own eyes, met the Pertwee at the point where their internal vision intersected. He could feel Gorge trying to summon a starting point, could feel the force of the little man's will. But try as he might, the point would not come. Finally, Gorge sighed and opened his eyes. "Not do. Have no magick within me."

Jamie frowned at that. Could it be that Gorge's kind had no knack at all, not even a nascent one?

And then the lens warmed at Jamie's chest, and a memory returned to mind, a vivid visualization of his last encounter with the enemy. Suddenly, he again saw his mental hand reaching for Skoda's knack as it danced and turned above the evil mage's head. The fingers of his mental hand spread, and then plunged forward, and in an instant he had Skoda's knack within his mental grasp...and snatched it away from him!

The shock of reliving that moment made Jamie gasp. Some real feeling of the force involved in what he had done now came to him. Taking away the knack of another was not a casual task; it had required enormous power and effort on Jamie's part.

I was desperate, he realized then.

But...what had become of Skoda's knack after that fateful moment? That tiny maelstrom of energy, that had allowed the old mage to interface with magick? Where had it gone when stolen away from the man?

The lens pulsed now, and colors flowed throughout Jamie's mind. With a start, he realized what the lens was trying to tell him. He saw a merger of bright lights, twirling storms of energy, a coalescing of two great forces into one now even greater one.

Skoda's knack had been added to Jamie's own!

For a moment the idea frightened him. That any part of the evil will he had sensed within the other mage might now be a part of his own make up was unacceptable. He paused then, the lens pulsing vigorously as Jamie inventoried his thoughts, his memories, the contents of his mind. He could now sense the increase in his own power levels, in his understanding of things magickal. Here, then, was why the often chaotic vibrations and missions of electrums now seemed clearer to him, easier to detect and observe. Somehow, that which had been Skoda's knack had become his, and been joined with his own.

But of the other mage's will, his personality, his thoughts, his desires, his possible loves, his many hates - there was no sign. Skoda was well and truly dead. But some part of his power had remained behind, with Jamie.

And not just some part of the old mage's power! In a brief second of time, the lens showed him the ghostly images of old and weathered tomes, arrayed together as if on a mental shelf - and Jamie understood then that these were volumes of magicks that Skoda had possessed, which had not been in the master Thorvil's library as well. These magicks were a summation of skills that Skoda had known, only in book form now within his own mind, there to be indexed and accessed by the lens for Jamie's benefit. But each new volume was filled with magicks that Jamie would otherwise have never known. Hundreds of new magicks, now to add to those that Jamie already had access to from the Master's library.

The shock of this new knowledge made him gasp again, and he felt Garvin move closer to his side. "Are you well, Jamie?"

"Yes. I just...I just learned something new." He frowned. "Wait a moment."

The lens was showing him something else now. Once again his mental hand appeared inside his mind, and moved across a seemingly infinite gray void that somehow seemed to turn back upon itself; and then there was a flash as if of lightning, and a tornado of light appeared in the distance. A spinning vortex of energy, at first appearance it seemed a towering, unbridled thing; and yet as Jamie and his mental hand moved closer he could see it was not an untamed storm, but one with order and purpose, and one bound to his will. Its energy was considerable, its density something Jamie could feel.

This, then, was Jamie's own knack!

It was unlike what he had seen with Skoda, whose knack had also been purposed, but which seemed also to have been held in place mostly by some innate balance of nature. Unlike the fallen mage's knack, Jamie's own knack was anchored by powerful tendrils, varied in their colors, that reached outward from the spinning maelstrom to anchor themselves somehow within the vast darkness that surrounded it. And even that darkness was not absolute. Tiny threads of color wove their way here and there, coming and going, flashing briefly like a rainbow, yet maintaining a spidery web that completely encircled the spinning vortex that was Jamie's knack. This solidity felt so strong that Jamie could not imagine a force powerful enough to break those bonds.

The rainbow pulses of light were familiar, and made Jamie smile. That they were somehow associated with the lens seemed sure to him. Not only did that marvelous creation focus and guide his magickal ability, but it guarded it and anchored it to Jamie in a way that perhaps no other mage could claim. No one would be stealing away Jamie's knack, not without the battle of all battles to come!

His mental self moved closer, and his mind's hand reached for the colorful whirlwind of light. The fingers once again spread, thumb and forefinger reaching...and then closed on one tiny current of the vortex, and pulled. But the current fought to retain its place within the flow, more than strong enough to resist the grip of the mental fingers, and Jamie understood then that only if he allowed this tiny bit to be removed, would it be so.

He nodded to himself in acquiescence, and the mental fingers strengthened within his thoughts even as the vortex slowed almost imperceptibly, and then the tiny pinch of his knack was snatched away! Jamie felt a brief, indescribable sensation, and a minute drop in his own power level, but one so small as if to almost escape his notice. The separation was not a pain so much as some form of grudging release. The vortex guarded its power, and was hesitant to release any of it, to even Jamie's own mental self.

But now his mental hand held captured a tiny, spinning dot of light, trapped between thumb and forefinger. The hand turned then, and parted the gray void, and moved now across an equally vast open space between them towards Gorge. Jamie had a brief premonition of what was to come, and a thrill as the realization struck him.

"Brace yourself," he managed to say then.

The image of his mental hand touched Gorge's head, poked somehow inside, and found a dark well there that seemed ready-made to accept the glowing kernel of magickal ability pinched so firmly between thumb and forefinger. The fingers extended, placed the glowing kernel inside the well, and poked it down deftly until it seemed to find a natural resting place...

The Pertwee's eyes opened wide, and he emitted a tiny gasp. ""

And then the mental hand, Jamie's imagined construct of pure thought, re-emerged from Gorge's head, it's grasp now empty, and slowly faded from view. The Pertwee's eyes were wide, yet seemed somehow to almost be looking inward. "What do!"

"Try again," Jamie said, almost breathlessly. "Try to imagine the point of light. Do it now!"

Gorge gulped, and nodded, and closed his eyes, and Jaime closed his own and rejoined the Pertwee in the shadow area where their minds touched within the lens.

"Create the point, call it up," Jamie instructed. "You can do it."

Again he could feel the will of the little man, the absolute desire for this thing to happen. But unlike the last time he had tried, this time a tiny dot of light appeared in the darkness.

"It comes!" Gorge breathed, filled with awe. "I summon, and is now there!"

Again, Jamie called up a core light of his own and slowly tied the knot for a messenger bird. It appeared above them and fluttered away, and Jamie dispensed with it lest it be seen by others.

"Now you."

Gorge nodded, and his own point of light began to move. Seven times the Pertwee faltered in the tie, and had to start again. But Jamie continued to reassure him, and the little man got farther along with each tie. Jamie guided him slowly through the eighth tying, there was a flash of completion, and they both opened their eyes as a pale messenger bird appeared above them and fluttered down to land next to Gorge. The Pertwee stared at it for a long time as everyone watched him with smiles of delight.

"He's magickal," Geert said, amidst a laugh. "Who knew!"

"You created a knack for him," Snave murmured, a slight undercurrent of wonder in his voice. "I would not have thought it possible."

"It seems there was a place for such a knack, already present within Gorge's mind. I simply added the required ability to utilize it, not yet born there. But I would guess that such a presence is an indication that his people, too, are on their way to magick. And, I would dare to say that there there are a great many commoners out there among our own people, who are already in such a state, almost ready to become mages."

"I'm amazed that he could use the ability the very first time," Dorf added, shaking his head slowly. "It's uncanny."

"It's because some small knowledge of magickal ties went with what I gave him," Jamie explained. "I just learned this myself." He looked over at Snave. "When I took Skoda's knack from him, it was joined to my own. In that process, I learned all the magicks he knew that I did not already know."

"Indeed?" The gargoyle moved closer. "You must use this power wisely, Jamie. You cannot go around filching other mage's knacks just for the fun of it."

Jamie stared at the gargoyle in astonishment, until it came to him that Snave was gently kidding him. He laughed then. "I don't plan to make a habit of it, believe me."

"This is an amazing power, Jaime," Snave continued, more seriously. "And a dangerous one. Some magicks you do not wish to know. Some magicks are as dangerous to the user as they are to others. You must be careful in your use of anything you have obtained from this Skoda."

"I know," Jamie answered, gravely. "Yet I have faith in the lens. It has not guided me down a wrong path yet." A gentle warming beneath his shirt, followed by a brief dazzle of colors in his mind, made him smile. "The lens is aware of what you have told me."

Snave grunted. "I place faith in your marvelous small friend as well. My own senses have told me it wishes nothing but good for you. Just don't let yourself become unwary because of it."

"He will not," Garvin said firmly. He patted Jamie's arm. "Right?"

Jamie smiled at his friend. "Right."

Dorf cleared his throat loudly, with perhaps a grain of impatience there, but only smiled innocently when Jamie looked his way. Let's get on with this! the knight's eyes seemed to say.

Bastyin cast an amused glance at the knight, and then turned curious eyes to Jamie. "So, how much has Gorge now learned?"

"Just the messenger bird, for the moment," Jamie replied. "I gave to him a tiny bit of knack material, hoping it would find a place with some natural element of his mind where a knack might live. Apparently, even though Gorge has yet to come to a knack on his own, his mind has a place for it, and is capable of using one." He leaned closer to the Pertwee. "This means to me that others of your kind may come to magick on their own."

Gorge looked shocked by the idea. "My people...mages! Cannot believe."

But Bastyin seemed delighted, and patted the Pertwee's shoulder happily. "Someone has to be first. Lucky you!"

Garvin laid a hand on Jamie's arm. "Are you saying that no knowledge of magicks went along to our Gorge with this wisp of a knack you gave him? As did Skoda's magicks came to you?"

"It appears not, save for some sense of tying." Jamie frowned. "Perhaps one must receive all of a knack to learn its secrets."

"Is enough!" Gorge said, still looking amazed. "Head feel different inside. Like has become larger."

Dorf grinned, and Geert laughed. Even Irik's face took on a definite smile. "Be prepared to be amazed," the wolf said.

Gorge shook his head. "Am already amazed." He turned and gave a bow of his head to Jamie. "Is great gift you give. I make sure you not be sorry you did this."

Jamie smiled at that, pleased that Gorge understood the gravity of the power that had come to him. "I have no idea how much you can learn just yet. I wanted to at least help you to raise some shields and become invisible. For your own protection."

The Pertwee scratched his head. "Not ready to go looking for fight with mages, believe me."

That brought more smiles and laughter from the others. Garvin, who looked excited for Gorge now, gave Jamie's wrist a quick squeeze. "Do you plan to teach him more before we proceed?"

"I think it best, don't you? It would be hard for Gorge to accompany us if we are unseen and he is not."

"So, invisibility first," Snave mused. "That means the whole shield array we have come up with. I suggest that we get to the doing of that now, before Sir Dorf dies of his impatience!."

The knight rolled his eyes briefly, but smiled. "The day is passing away around us!"

Jamie nodded. "And we will soon be in need of rest. So let us get to this new task."

The others made themselves comfortable on the steps while Jamie and the lens worked to help Gorge learn more complicated magicks. First he showed the Pertwee how to dispense with the messenger bird, and so how to end all magick he might use. It took some time after that, but Jamie managed to teach Gorge the lock for the magick that remembered magicks, and after that things progressed more quickly. The Pertwee soon mastered the convoluted knot locks that provided the shields and other protections that the group enjoyed. The basis for magick that had accompanied his new knack seemed to make learning a little easier for Gorge than it had been for Garvin and Dorf their first times. Those two had already possessed their own basic knacks, but no basis for their use to cast magicks.

Jamie even managed to provide the Pertwee with some elementary offensive capabilities, but there it soon became apparent that Gorge had limitations in what he could do with his newfound talent. Jamie could see the small man's new knack as it spun above his head, and also that it seemed not to be growing larger with its new capabilities. Perhaps, then, there was a limit to what this new knack could perform?

"Maybe a knack given is not as strong as one that is come by naturally," Snave mused, after Jamie had passed on his observations. "This one may not be able to grow on its own. Or, perhaps it is merely at its limit just now, and will grow with time. I would think a new talent such as this one would need time to more firmly intertwine with the mind that guides it."

"Head feel full," Gorge admitted, rubbing at his temples. "Think should stop for now, before headache arrives."

Jamie nodded at that. "I think I've given you as much as I can teach you for now, anyway." He stifled a yawn then. "I am getting a little weary. Let us continue downward, see what there is to see, and then perhaps find a safe place for the night."

"There is just one problem I see," Dorf said then. "Once we all become invisible, we can still see each other by using our enhanced sight. Gorge will not be able to do that."

"What mean?" The Pertwee asked, looking up at Jamie.

"We can see each other when invisible because we have the ability to see each other's knacks," Jamie explained. "You will not have this ability, and I can't teach it to you just now. We have to go to the nether for that."

Gorge frowned. "Nether? Not know this word."

"I know." Jamie nodded. "It's a place outside the world we know. I can't explain it any better just now. Even if I take you there, I can't guarantee we can get you the enhanced sight."

"It takes no time to try," Garvin pointed out. "No time passes within the nether, remember? We can wait another minute while you do it."

Jamie opened his mouth to object to the idea, but then could see no reason for it, and turned the motion into a grin. "True." He turned to the Pertwee.and extended his hand. "We need to be in contact for this to work."

This time, Gorge showed no hesitation in reaching out to lay his hand atop Jamie's. Jamie willed them into the nether, and smiled at the amazed stream of words that erupted forth from the Pertwee in his native tongue as the darkness closed in about them. They were standing among the racks and cabinets of Thorvil's stored supplies, the only things visible at this moment.

"I hope that was a complimentary description, anyway," Jamie said, laughing.

"Sorry. Not believe eyes right away. Where we? This Nether you mentioned?"

"Yes. Only here can we hope to give you some extra protections." He looked around a moment, and then felt down inside his hidden pocket for the pearl that Flitch had given him, which allowed Jamie to summon the nether being. "Flitch? Are you here?"

A moment of silence followed, and then he heard the nether being's voice. "Jamie? I am occupied at the moment. You are in the aether?"

"Yes. Where are you?"

"I am here as well, but involved in a project of my own. I'm surprised I didn't feel your entry into the aether."

Jamie smiled at that. "Nothing surprises me much anymore."

"I will attend you momentarily."

"There is no need," Jamie returned. "I have brought someone here to give certain aids to, and then we will be leaving."

"Odd that I did not know you were coming."

Jamie smiled. "Do you always know when I am coming here?"

" You are right. Yet I dislike not having the chance to see you this visit."

"I'm sure I'll be back."

"This much I do foresee."

"Who you talk to?" Gorge whispered, his eyes darting about nervously.

Jamie laughed. "A friend here." He looked around them again, and allowed the nether to come into full focus. The darkness peeled away, and once again they stood in the ghostly, sunlit field beside the trees.

Gorge stared around them, and then shook his head. "Eyes play tricks."

Jamie froze at that, and looked down at the Pertwee. "Really? What do you see now?"

"Look like real world seen through rainbow."

"You shouldn't be able to see that," Jamie said slowly. "Your eyes don't have any --" He broke off then, as a possible answer came to him. Was it because they were touching?

Jamie patted the little man's hand. "Let go of my arm a moment."

Gorge complied, and then gasped again. "Darkness returns!"

"Ah. You don't have the needed component within your eyes to see the true nature of this place on your own," Jamie explained. "Idrinytz. But somehow - because you have a bit of my own knack, maybe? - you can see this place as it really is when we touch." Jamie smiled at yet another new surprise. " Place your hand back on my arm."

The Pertwee grasped Jamie's arm again, and then gave a short laugh. "Pretty. Look like world after many mugs of beer."

Jamie laughed at that, though he had never even been tipsy before. He did remember his experiment in the town square with far-seeing, in which he and Garvin had greatly exaggerated the size of everything to the point where they were nearly falling down with laughter over the way the world then looked, and one of the town constables had thought them drunk and taken them to task for drinking at such an early age. So he did sort of know what Gorge meant, anyway.

"Just one more surprise among so many, I think. Snave will be fascinated when I relate this story to him, I'm sure. Well, let's get this done."

Jamie called up a nether machine, and set it to work producing the strange, gauzy material that provided for the enhanced sight. Gorge watched this process with an utter amazement that Jamie found amusing, remembering his own first glimpse of a nether machine in action. It was a thoroughly impressive show!

And then the protection was completed. Jamie made sure to warn Gorge ahead of time about how energetic the application would be, and the Pertwee managed to make it through the process with only a small yelp of astonishment. That done, Jamie produced the protections that would guard against thought manipulation and the wasting destruction dealt by the Breath of the Dragon, and applied them as well. The only one they could test just then was the enhanced sight, which seemed to work just fine once Gorge got the hang of willing it to work.

"Jamie look amazing! All surrounded by light! What that fire on your head?"

"You're seeing the extension of my knack," Jamie returned. "You can spot a mage by that, and his or her aura. And when we're invisible, you can still see the aura and knack, so it means we won't all be bumping into each other while we're out of sight."

The Pertwee reached up a hand and gently touched the top of his head, felt around briefly as if expecting he might get burned, and then pulled his fingers away and examined them before looking up at Jamie. "I have fire on head, too?"

"Yes. But you can't feel it, and no one can see it, not even other mages. Only those with the special enhanced sight like what we have created here."

"So much new to learn!" Gorge gave a sigh, and his chest expanded as he grinned up at Jamie. "Feel ready to take on whole world."

Jamie laughed. "Not just yet. Remember, your powers are largely defensive. The best thing you can do if we get into a battle is to lay low. Your powers may grow with time, but just now you need to be careful not to draw too much attention to yourself. A mage like Porvus or Urvan would be very dangerous to you."

"Understand." The Pertwee's green eyes watched him a long moment, and then the man smiled. "I do best I can for you. Thank you." He leaned closer. "Wish all human mages as friendly as you."

"That makes two of us," Jamie returned, smiling. He looked around into the rainbow-hued day. "Flitch?"

"Here, Jamie."

Jamie started as the nether being appeared nearby them. Gorge gasped, but held his ground, taking his cue from Jamie's reaction.

"Ah. There you are." Flitch's voice sounded as delighted and interested as it always did in Jamie's presence.

"You needn't have dropped what you were doing," Jamie protested.

"Not at all. A matter of freezing the process in action. I am creating a nexus to contain my elsmits, so that it travels with me as I move."

Jamie raised an eyebrow at that. "Sounds complicated."

"Not at all. I got the idea from one of your own creations, actually." Flitch moved closer and peered at Gorge. "And who do we have here?"

Jamie made the introductions. Flitch appeared as pleased as he always did to meet someone new, while Gorge acted very respectfully, but still couldn't completely hide his unease at meeting such a fabulous looking apparition. Jamie and Gorge still had their enhanced vision activated, and the intricate patterns which seemed to cover Flitch's body radiated a colorful power that simply could not be missed.

Flitch leaned closer, observing Gorge with interest. "I detect some familiar patterns in this one, Jamie. His ability seems taken from your own."

" was. " Jamie went on to explain how he had created a knack for the Pertwee by borrowing from his own.

"Wonderful!" Flitch seemed enchanted by the very idea. "That you can give to others abilities similar to your own, so easily. I would not have thought such things could be shared."

"Apparently, they can," Jamie returned, smiling.

Flitch considered that, and waved the tendrils of one hand. "You have learned so much. What have you done to safeguard your new knowledge?"

Jamie blinked at that. "Safeguard it? will safeguard itself, I hope."

The nether being was silent a moment. "Perhaps there are others of your kind you can share your new knowledge with? Others, outside your group? That way, if something untoward happens to you or your group, what you have learned will not be lost."

Jamie turned that idea over in his head, and immediately saw merit to it. What would happen if they were not successful against Porvus and Urvan? What would happen to all the knowledge they had come by in their quest? That it all might be lost was an appalling idea. Gone.

"You give me food for thought, Flitch." He smiled. "As you always do."

The nether being's eyes radiated a smile. "And now you must go."

"Yes. Thank you again for your thoughts."

"Be well, Jamie. I do see you returning again, more than one time."

Jamie laughed. "Well, that's good to know!" He nodded. "Be well, Flitch."

Gorge raised a hand and offered a brief wave to Flitch, and then he and Jamie were back sitting on the steps among the others. Jamie looked over at Garvin and smiled. "Gone long?"

The other boy laughed. "Not long at all!"

"I think I blinked at least once," Geert said, smiling.

"More like not gone at all, period," Dorf added. "Uncanny the way that works!"

"It works in our favor, is what matters," Jamie said, getting to his feet.

"It is done? Snave asked. "Gorge is now protected, and equipped with the enhanced sight?"

"Yes. The sight I know works. And my feeling is that the protections against mind intrusion and the Breath of the Dragon would have failed to apply had they been somehow incompatible with Gorge's make up. But everything worked."

Dorf also stood, and stretched mightily. "Good to be moving!"

Jamie laughed. "Shall we try this again? Invisibility, everyone, and watch how you talk until we are sure there is no one about to hear."

They winked out of sight, and Jamie looked around, counting, and thought he could identify everyone. He smiled at Gorge's new knack, smaller than those of the others, and much closer to the ground, but looking just as energetic and determined as the rest. Then he started down the steps, and the others followed. Sir Dorf immediately caught up to Jamie and walked along next to him, and Jamie imagined the big knight's hand upon the pommel of his sword, ready to defend.

They descended the last few flights of steps. The great hall spread out into the distance, surely the most magnificent hall that Jamie had ever seen. The omnipresent whirring sounds came from a series of round objects, each as large as one of the small inns they had stayed in, arrayed in a line that stretched across the floor of the hall. That they were machines of the ancients was obvious, and that each wore a shiny finish that suggested newness, a tribute to the ageless quality of the old one's science. The white stone beneath their feet vibrated almost in tune to the sounds of these behemoths, which Jamie was certain now were some variation on the lightning-producing device that Master Thorvil kept in his shop.

No one else seemed to be there. They could not see between the giant machines themselves, but the great hall was so much larger that even those amazing devices seemed lost within it, and the grand sweep of the floor they could see was empty of life. A raised balcony ran along the left side of the hall, stretching from one side to the other, and it, too, was empty. The right side of the hall was home to a long line of low buildings with what appeared to be windows in them, though the miracle glass of the ancients was almost always nearly invisible. Doorways marked the spaces between some of the windows, all closed, the rectangular outlines of hand plate locks next to each.

It seemed almost unbelievable that so vast a space could be unattended. Yet as they walked further into the hall and came to the first of the towering, whirring machines, it seemed plain that they were alone.

"Somewhat anticlimactic, actually," Jamie heard Dorf say then. It was spoken low, not loud enough to carry away into the hall, but loudly enough to be heard right beside the big knight. Jamie closed his eyes, let his newly sharpened senses roam outward, but could detect no sign that others shared the great hall with them. Nor that anyone had even been here in quite some time.

"I think it is safe to speak," he heard Snave say, just as he arrived at the same conclusion himself. Jamie smiled, used to having the gargoyle be one step ahead of him.

"I feel the same," he said. "The hall cries out its emptiness...even its loneliness. Still, I think we should at least walk its length before becoming visible again.

They did that, and it was quite a walk, indeed. Jamie was definitely feeling a certain lethargy by the time they reached the other side. The day had grown long, and rest was needed.

"Safe to become visible?" Garvin asked, at Jamie's side.

"It looks so," Jamie replied. "This great hall seems filled by the absence of life, if you know what I mean."

"It does appear to have been vacant of visitors for some time," Snave agreed.

"Where to rest for the night?" Geert wondered. "One of these little rooms here at the side of the hall?"

"Perhaps not a good idea," Snave said immediately. "If these are places of control for this hall, these rooms may be able to sense our presence and inform Porvus of our whereabouts. Remember what occurred at the last such place we thought to spend the night. I think Irik's assessment of that situation is an accurate one."

"Yes." Jamie became visible and waved a hand towards the others. One by one, they appeared around him. "We don't want a repeat of that meeting." He shuddered, remembering the look in Skoda's eyes as the old mage had employed his hex to try to strangle the life out of Jamie. "But I do think now I can sense a broader range of the electrums involved with such a warning. This hall is teeming with electrums, but those that give warning are a distinct breed by the way they are organized. I do not sense them out here in this great hall."

"The addition to our shields that disperses electrums from without won't shield us from these tiny spies?" Sir Dorf asked. "I used such to enter the base of the tower to rescue Gorge and his companions, and was not detected."

"That we know of," Jamie added. He frowned. "My view on this has changed. I feel I can sense the electrum patterns that can detect us. What I am not sure of is if dispersing them is the correct method of dealing with them. In any empty place, these electrum spies cross it unperturbed by any presence. By dispersing them, we change their direction of travel, just as if they had touched us and bounced away.. By distracting them from the destinations they would seek were we not there to act upon them, we may be offering up an indication of our presence, just the same. So, best to avoid all such places for now."

The knight gave a small, weary shake to his head. "The rules change quickly, it seems."

Jamie smiled with sympathy. "It's because we are forced to learn them so slowly. I am guessing on some things, Sir Knight. But because I must guess, it seems prudent to be cautious."

"I agree. Shall we at least have a look?"

They walked over to the line of small structures that lined the one side of the hall, and moved along the closed doors. Jamie did sense electrums moving in patterns within, some of which did seem similar to those that he had felt beneath the tower where the ancient's battle machine had attacked them. But the variety of electrum patterns he felt here was enormous, and some seemed to suppress his feel for others.

"I do sense electrum patterns within these rooms, of a type that feels much like the ones that betrayed us before. But such is the variety of the electrum patterns I sense here, I cannot be absolutely certain we would be detected if we entered these rooms." Jamie sighed tiredly. "Experience suggests we not attempt to find out."

"So where to settle for the night?" Geert asked, also looking tired now.

Dorf raised a hand and pointed forward. "Let us move along for a bit, and see what comes up."

So they walked along the buildings for a while longer, and then quite suddenly came to a gap between the structures, at the back of which was an arched doorway in the wall. Within was a bright room where they could see tables and seats, but none of the blinking star lights that accompanied the ancient's machines. Jamie closed his eyes and extended his new senses, and could feel only the sort of electrums that he had sensed within the dining room of the inns they had stayed in.

"This may prove more to our liking, however." He indicated the room through the arch. "It has the feel of the inns, and we were always safe there."

Snave grunted. "Just because we were never assailed at an inn does not mean that Porvus did not know we were there."

"I don't know about that," Dorf countered. "Porvus has been quick to act against us when he has learned of our whereabouts. At the tower where he unleashed the lightning attack against us, he did so within moments of learning it was our group that was present. It was the same for the room by the water canal within the walls that Gorge led us to. They were there very soon after we arrived. Yet we stayed entire nights in the inns without any problems at all. That says to me that those places did not betray our presence there to our enemies."

Geert frowned at that. "As was suggested before, it may only be places where the ancients actually controlled their machines that will give us away to Porvus."

"That seems wise," Bastyin suggested. "Places of control allow changes to be made, and must be protected, while a simple place to lodge for the night would need no such safeguards."

Jamie smiled at the Lachess. "I tend to agree with your idea." He raised a hand at the archway. "I do not feel any of the sort of electrums I think gave us away to Porvus. And I am tired, and hungry. This place looks welcoming."

Dorf grunted. "I am also tired and hungry. But I suggest I look this room over before we trust ourselves to its embrace. At the very least, I would like to know there is another way out if the need arises."

Jamie smiled and bowed at the man. "Go, then, Sir Knight, and reconnoiter. We will stand here and wait."

Dorf flashed his teeth at Jamie, pulled his sword, turned towards the archway, and disappeared behind his shields. Jamie switched to enhanced sight and watched as the knight entered the room beyond the arch and moved to the right, out of sight.

"If we hear a very great roar, and many things breaking, we will rush to his aid?" Garvin asked, smiling.

Jamie laughed, and nodded. "Of course. We may even arrive in time to save the poor soul from Sir Dorf's ire!"

But they heard nothing. In a few moments the big knight could be seen through the archway as he crossed the back of the room to the other side, and disappeared again from sight.

"I hear no sounds of engagement," Geert hazarded, after another space of time in which quiet prevailed. The boy looked about the great hall. "No forces of evil come to lay siege to us. Perhaps it is safe, after all."

"Here comes Sir Dorf," Jamie returned, pointing. "His pace suggests a lack of hurry."

The man reappeared as he exited through the arch, and in a moment was again standing beside them. "It appears safe to my eyes, Jamie."

"Did you find another exit?"

"Yes. There is a doorway at the back that leads into a hallway, where I found a circular staircase going downward. There is also a door that looks like one of those lift boxes, beside the stairs."

"Only downward?" Garvin asked.

"Only downward," Dorf agreed. "And for quite some ways it seems, too."

"Perhaps a way back down to the tunnels below, in which the ancient's wagons move," Snave suggested. He laughed then. "Or cars, as I think we have agreed to call them now."

"There are also some of the padded benches against one wall," Dorf added. "Enough to sleep comfortably upon for all of us, I think."

"There is an incentive," Jamie said, nodding. "I would like something to eat, and then to sleep for a time."

"I think it will be safe to use this place," Dorf finished.

"I will, of course, remain on watch as the rest of you sleep," Snave declared. "It will give me some time to consider the magicks we have learned of late."

They entered through the arch, and it did seem like the dining area of one of the inns. They used the equipment to get themselves some plates of food, and settled into seats at the tables to eat. The conversation was brisk at first, but slowly tapered off as bellies became full and a certain languor overcame them. They finished eating, cleaned up, and wasted no time in finding positions for themselves on the padded benches. And as Snave positioned himself for the night watch, they quickly faded away to sleep.

The night passed uneventfully, giving credence to the idea that the dining halls, at least, were not under the same sort of electrum surveillance as the control centers. Jamie had felt it would be the case, and was pleased to find his opinion apparently vindicated. He was starting to understand the patterns of electrums that suggested surveillance, and there were none of them here. Just as there had been none in the inns where they had previously stayed several nights. And the more he considered it, the more logical it seemed. Places where the machines of the ancients could be controlled would certainly have security. Places where travelers came and went regularly without access to important functions would not require such intense scrutiny. That did not mean that the inns had no security, but it did seem to indicate it was a sort that did not alert Porvus wherever he might be stationed.

Jamie felt reinvigorated, and ready for another day of trekking. They used the adjacent room, which was full of the ancient's shining fixtures, to relieve themselves, broke their fasts, and then assembled again to be on their way.

"I am still not of a mind to confine myself inside one of the lift cars," Dorf said, as he led them back to the staircase going downward. "But these circular stairs are generous, and we can easily walk two abreast going down."

"A moment," Irik cautioned then, as he stood at the first step. "Please be silent, all of you."

The wolf canted his head to one side, obviously listening at the stairs. Then his head jerked up, and his eyes came to land on Jamie's. "Someone is on their way up."

"Invisibility!" Jamie whispered, and then motioned for everyone to find a spot at the wall behind the staircase. "Everyone remain quiet and do not move. We don't wish to engage anyone if we don't have to do so." His enhanced sight came into play, and he was pleased to see their group quickly move back against the wall behind the stairs, where anyone coming up from below would neither see them nor run into them by accident.

"Yes," Dorf whispered. "I hear them now. Two, by my count."

So potent was Irik's hearing, and that of the knight, that several minutes went by before Jamie himself heard the sound of booted footsteps ascending the stairs, and a mumble of voices that slowly resolved into words.

"...but we have been down below the whole time, in the station. No one has passed through but our own people going east!" This first voice was deep, and held the growl of anger to it.

"Galbredth said to check everywhere, and he meant everywhere," returned another voice, just as deep, but one much more mellow in tone. "I don't give the orders, I just follow them."

"These enemy mages we keep hearing about?" the first voice went on. "What is so special about them? Why does Urvan look so angry every time they are mentioned?"

A bitter-sounding laugh followed. "They are to be reckoned with, I think. Skoda was beyond our talents by far, and he was apparently as easily defeated as the battle tank that Porvus sent to deal with these intruders."

"And yet we are sent to search them out? Galbredth is not worried about our hides, I see!"

"He is but one man. And he is looking along his own path, I am sure, which is just as potentially deadly as our own."

"I do not like it, brother. Urvan's talent is the superior of Skoda's, certainly. And yet even he seems to walk with careful steps these days!"

"So do all the men now," the more mellow voice returned. "But that is neither here nor there, brother. Galbredth said to check the generating hall, and that's what we are to do. He seems to feel that these new arrivals can be just about any place they choose to be."

"I no longer care much for Galbredth," the first voice confessed. "He has lost his cheer, since going to Methuwan to meet with Porvus. He has the charm of control about him now."

"As will we, if you do not shut up and follow me up these steps."

"To our doom!" the first voice resumed, sounding urgent now. "My brother, I have had second thoughts about what we are doing here."

The marching steps stopped for a moment. "A little late to be feeling such regrets, isn't it, Rolf?"

A grunt of dissent reached their ears. "It's never too late to right a wrong, my dear brother Gart. I don't like the things this Porvus and Urvan have planned. The peoples that live here in the lowlands are not our enemies. They have as much right to life as anyone!"

"Shh!" Gart cautioned, lowering his voice. "You only say this now? After all I have whispered before of the black machinations of these mages?"

"I'm sorry," Rolf replied, his voice also lowered, and now contrite. "I am not as bright as you."

Gart laughed. "You are. You just have father's stubborn streak. I am more like mother, who will accept a cracked egg from the hen rather than stand over her waiting for a perfect one."

"I do not wish to be a party to such as mass murder," Rolf said, the anger gone from his voice. "It is an evil thing these mages plan for the world."

Though their voices were lowered now, it was only a matter of degree. The constant whirr of the great machines in the hall and the rumble of water through the hidden channels within the dam made whispering impossible. Only the acoustical properties of the stone tube containing the circular staircase funneled the voices up to their ears.

They heard a sound then that might be Gart releasing an exasperated breath. "It's not too late, my brother. Being so far in the field from Methuwan, and not having been called to meet Porvus personally, we have not been saddled with the strange charm of compulsion that those mages that work closely with Porvus and Urvan have been. We are still of free mind and will."

"Would you be agreeable to leaving?" Rolf asked. "We can translocate back to Ardenwealth, and probably never be missed. Porvus would just think the enemy did us in."

There followed a moment in which only the sounds of the dam could be heard.

Then: "We cannot be certain that Urvan would not follow us," Gart mused aloud. "That one is a devil, and has the knack strongly for delving, and finding his way places. He is not one that likes to be betrayed. Even though these mages do not know from whence we came, Urvan might still find us someday."

"I think not," Rolf returned. "My future sense has convinced me that these new mages will deal Urvan the death blow he so strongly deserves. I see a future without him, and with us still alive to enjoy it. I take that to mean that leaving now is the right thing to do!"

"Your future sense is strong," Gart agreed. "But...there is this Lodda, still. Even Urvan said he was the superior of Porvus. That would make him the father of all dark mages to be reckoned with."

"A wraith!" Rolf returned, along with a grunting laugh. "Who has seen this Lodda? None of the men I have spoken to have ever laid eyes upon him. He is as if a story, of a demon incarnate, there to keep the ranks in check."

"Perhaps." Again there was a moment of silence before the one called Gart resumed speaking. "And it has been whispered that others have left this black cause before us. I have not heard of Urvan, nor anyone else, pursuing those deserters."

"See? It is time, my brother. Let us be away from this place! And from all of these ills, as well."

"It may be a wise course you suggest. Urvan seems determined to have at these new mages, and he studies his art constantly in preparation. I do not care to be caught between Urvan and Porvus and mages of perhaps equal talent when the time for reckoning comes. Especially when the cause we have come to is one so dark in nature."

"You find yourself in sympathy with these new mages?" Rolf asked, sounding unsurprised. "Their presence here in the lowland seems to have one purpose only: to halt Urvan and Porvus in their plans. I find their cause more noble than the one we are now engaged in."

"As do I". Another pause in the conversation ensued, and then came Gart's voice once again: "Very well. Did you leave anything below you will miss?"

"Nothing I cannot replace in Ardenwealth," Rolf said. "And happy will I be to do so!"

"Fine, brother. When Galbredth comes back to check on us and finds our gear abandoned, and us nowhere to be found, he will suspect that we have been done in by the enemy mages, not that we have left of our own free will. Take my hand, then, for I am the stronger at translocation. And we shall be away from this place, and the evil plans of these mages."

"And no fond farewell given!" Rolf ended the conversation.

A brief flash of green light rose from the stairwell and painted the overhead, and then was gone.

For a moment no one moved, and then the glowing outline that was Irik padded over to the stairwell and stood still there for a long moment. "They have gone," he finally said. "I hear no one else."

Jamie allowed himself to become visible, and the others quickly followed.

"We have learned much from this encounter," Dorf said gravely. "Urvan awaits us at some point ahead."

"We knew this already," Geert said.

"Yes. But not that he hones his skills in preparation for combat. It means he knows he has a fight ahead of him. There will be no quarter given in this next confrontation, I suspect."

"We've learned something else of import," Garvin put in. "Not all these mages in gray are so loyal to Urvan's cause. There have been doubts among them, apparently, while others have deserted completely."

"Something else to consider," Snave added. "Some of these mages we have encountered seem to be compelled to serve Porvus and the others. According to the two fellows we just heard, once they go to meet Porvus personally, their minds and their actions are no longer entirely their own."

"How well we know that magick," Jamie said quietly.

"One other point," Dorf followed quickly. "They do not know where we are at present, and they have ordered their men to search for us everywhere along the path west. When these two do not report back, it might be assumed that it was us that did them in. We need to be away from this place even more quickly now!"

"And one last very important fact," Bastyin announced quietly. "One of the two had a premonition that we would defeat Urvan."

"It may not be true," Jamie said quickly, though he felt slightly giddy at the idea it might be. "But for some mages, a foretelling is their most powerful and accurate of magicks. These two seemed to accept the vision as fact. But at what cost it may have been achieved was not mentioned."

"You mean some of us could die," Geert said flatly. "This we have known from the start. It changes nothing in my mind."

"Mine, either," Irik added.

"Nor mine," Snave said, following it with a sigh. "It would only be the finish to something that began for me many, many years ago."

A chorus of agreement from the others followed. No one wanted to quit.

Jamie smiled, and patted the dark wood of the gargoyle. "I cannot imagine a world without you, Snave." He smiled around at the others. "Nor without any of you. So we will not allow it. Understand?"

He didn't wait for an answer, but instead turned to the steps. "We need to get moving, and quickly. We have no idea when this Galbredth will return to ask questions of our two vanished mages."

Jamie started down the steps in a hurry, and the others followed. Once again, Dorf managed to position himself beside Jamie for the descent, and Jamie felt an extra degree of safety at the big man's presence. They took the steps quickly, the steel treads echoing beneath their feet, and Jamie hoped that no one else was waiting below.

No one was. They soon reached the base of the steps, and found themselves in a rounded room with another lift door present nearby, and an arched doorway that looked to lead out to a platform beyond. Here they found a small camp - bedrolls, two packs, and some foodstuffs in a large leather bag. All that was left to find of Rolf and Gart. To anyone arriving here, it would be as if the two men went off to look around, and simply never came back.

Not good.

"We should dispose of these things," Garvin suggested. "Then it would look more like the two men left on their own."

"No," Jamie said then. "We will simply take this gear with us."

Dorf turned to face him. "It will be an added burden on our trek, Jamie."

Jamie took a deep breath, once again recalling Flitch's question, asked during this most recent visit to the nether. What have you done to safeguard this new knowledge? It seemed even more urgent a question, now that they were sure a confrontation with Urvan lay directly ahead of them.

"No," Jamie countered. He smiled at the knight. "Change of plan. We should pick up this gear, and then everyone can move to me. We will be translocating from this point."

Garvin stepped closer. "But to where, my Jamie?"

"Trust me." Jamie looked around at those watching him. "All of you? Trust me? We need to be away from here. I will explain when we get to our destination."

Dorf nodded, and leaned down to grab up one of the abandoned packs. "Lend a hand, lads."

Everyone grabbed something, and then they all moved closer and placed a hand upon Jamie. Quickly then, born of his growing experience, the knot for translocation tied, and it was as if great wings briefly flew above them, cutting off the light.

And then they were arrived. Before them was the well-lit shop of the mages of Cumberstone Castle, in the service of Myron the Morbid, King of the Realm, and the confidants of his son, the Prince Sedwick.

Lestho and Pallin were at work at one of the tables, and turned then to gape at the new arrivals. Kundun, seated at a nearby desk, put down the quill with which he had been detailing a new drawing, and rose to his feet. For a moment the old mage gazed at Jamie and company in silence.

And then he smiled, his eyes alight with pleasure, and raised his arms in welcome.

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