The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 26

Kundun watched as Jamie performed the three knots in rapid succession, and then smiled when they were complete. "Marvelous! Your knack is strong, lad!"

Jamie had his eyes closed, examining the result of the ties with his inner vision. "It's an amazing creation, Master Kundun. This will surely make a difference on our journey."

"It came to me quickly after learning the other two ingredients from you," Kundun said, quietly. "I could scarcely believe it, myself."

Jamie nodded, and opened his eyes. He had just performed a third-order compound tie with virtually no hesitancy at all. Three magickal knot locks, all woven into one powerful result. He examined it, still not quite able to believe it had been done.

The resultant magickal trinity he had already deemed the watcher. It began with a knot lock gained from Kundun's virtual warehouse of magicks, one that extended a mage's awareness beyond the normal range of perception, and within which sphere all activity was noted. Tied after that was the magick that remembered magicks, and which was now fed by the first magick, and so could evaluate any magick performed within the defensive sphere. The third member of this new union came from Thorvil's library of magicks, and had come up in the exchange with Kundun. It was a simple yet powerful magick, one that could automate the execution of other magicks after being set by the user. Each of the three magicks was useful on its own; but as now assembled into a single magick, it was a powerhouse of defense.

Any magick initiated within the defensive zone would be instantly compared to all the magicks that the magick that remembered magicks knew, and if that magick was an offensive or otherwise dangerous magick, that knowledge was handed then to the third magick, which would perform an immediate response set beforehand by the mage. In this case, Jamie had simply set the third magick to respond to any attack with the appropriate defense.

While all magicks would be detected, what this new trinity of locks meant most importantly was that any offensive magick detected inside the sphere of awareness would automatically trigger the defense against it;. This only worked for magicks that the mage knew, of course. If an attack, or a defense for an attack, was not known, the watcher would at least apply any defense that might serve to mitigate the attack. At the same time, counteroffensive magicks could be triggered in an attempt to deal with the attack and deflect or end it as quickly as possible, if the mage set it up to do so. Jamie had not done that yet, deciding that he wanted to talk to Snave and the others before deciding on a response. As it was even now, the watcher radically increased the speed and capability to react to an attack, and provided a multitude of defenses, and offensive counterstrikes, if desired, at a time when a mage might normally be overwhelmed.

"It takes the burden of concentrating on initial defense off the mage," Jamie observed, "and allows him to concentrate entirely on a planned response, instead."

"I would view it as a safeguard defense only," Kundun cautioned. "One that may save your life long enough for you to properly strike back."

Jamie smiled. "I thought that was what I said."

The old mage's eyes twinkled merrily. "I simply meant that this magick is not as smart as a mage, and should not be left alone to plan defenses."

Jamie gave a brief nod. "Nor would I. Much as I have come to respect the art, I have also been shown its limitations. There are those limitations left behind by the designer of each given magick, and there are those limitations inherent in each mage's ability to understand and use that magick. And now I am finding that there are limitations that creep into every new magick I learn, as well. It's impossible to consider every possible trap that may occur, leading to being presented with one in the heat of a moment when its presence is least desired. Knowing more actually makes me wary, rather than filling me with confidence."

Kundun watched him silently a moment, and then smiled. "Your gift for magicks is sure, Jamie. But it is your intuition and intelligence that makes your knack the giant it has become."

Jamie frowned at that estimation. "An empty giant, it seems. There is just so much more to learn! I am already amazed at the variety of magickal locks that I know. Each new tie learned fills me with amazement at the variety of the art, and suggests even more amazing things to come."

"The magick we have today has been a long time coming, Jamie. It is the work of many generations of mages. And much care was taken that what was learned was not lost. The ancients who were first to come to magick were most careful to document the things they discovered."

Jamie nodded. "I know. I have read most every book, scroll, and manuscript in Master Thorvil's library. Even when I couldn't grasp the making of the magicks I read about, I understood the import of them existing in such numbers. Here were lifetimes of accrued knowledge, the results of which were handed down through the years from master to apprentice, each and every magickal turn and tie carefully replicated and learned. I came to understand that the art we know now is the result of time, and many explorations by many curious souls." He sighed. "Both souls of gentle merit, and souls with darker designs, it seems."

"That has long been the way of it," Kundun agreed. "There is more magick in the world than any one man may ever learn, I think. New magicks immediately present a mage with new ideas to use them and combine them into more magicks. The simple task of knowing all these ties would become immense at some point."

Jamie reviewed the underpinnings of that statement a moment before answering. With the lens at his disposal, and the magick that learned new magicks, he wasn't sure where his own limitations to learn might now lie.

"Perhaps. I have no doubt the art has become formidable. It plays at my imagination at times, giving me hint of the sheer numbers of mages that have come before us, and those that must have stood at the beginning. For every magick we know now, someone had to be the first to imagine it."

Kundun tapped his fingertips together, his eyes bright. "Imagine it, and refine it, I think. The magicks we take for granted today are the products of many minds, each seeking to better the art." He gave a small shake of his head that somehow managed to convey amazement. "It must have been an exciting time, those early days, don't you think? I have more than once wondered what it was like to be a mage in such times! I imagine it was quite the task to gain knowledge of any magick, when none had ever walked that path before."

"The experience would have warmed the blood and stirred the soul, I'm sure," Jamie agreed, smiling at the other's enthusiasm.

The old man laughed. "It excites me just to imagine it, Jamie. Having no one to teach these newly formed mages, each lock must have been the result of very intense individual explorations. In the excitement of new discovery, these findings were surely shared with other mages. At least, at first. Every new mage must have contributed to the lore. They were wondrous days, certainly." Kundun frowned then, and gave his head another small shake, this one less than admiring. "Such artfulness has stagnated in our time, I think. Many mages today simply learn what there is to learn that interests them, and go no farther." But then the frown faded into a new smile. "It is the reason why, among so many mages, so few become masters, young Jamie. The urge to explore and learn new tracks to follow is not what it once was in the times of the ancients."

"Such will to know cannot have been completely lost, Master Kundun." Jamie nodded at his own words. "I see the very same inspiration in our Bastyin, who had no one to instruct him. And yet he still managed to acquire some magick, all by himself!"

The older man's features softened, and his eyes fixed upon Jamie's. "I see an equal will to know in yourself. Your flame burns brightly, my boy. What else could have supported such a rapid progression from apprentice to master mage?"

A master! Jamie was shocked to hear himself called that!

He opened his mouth to deny it, but a quick hand motion from Kundun closed it again. "There is no argument, for it is so. You have bested a known master in Skoda, and that is not to be taken as the act of an apprentice. Give yourself some credit for the title. You have earned it."

Jamie gave a little sigh, but said nothing more about the subject.

Kundun smiled warmly at him. "The proper response, I think. Stop worrying about such things as titles. What you should be thinking on now is giving yourself and your party every advantage possible before meeting your enemies."

"And I have been doing that, to the best of my ability. Every member of our group has contributed wise counsel and important ideas. All have learned well. We have come very far in a remarkably short period of time."

"That's putting it mildly." The older mage was silent a moment, and then raised a finger as if to accent his next words. "There is something I would pass on to you, from my own thoughts on the nature of magick."

Jamie couldn't resist smiling. "Something easy, and restful to contemplate, would be my guess."

The old mage laughed softly. "If only it were so. No, this thought concerns how mages learn new magicks. Until you came along with your lens, new magick was mostly learned through experience, sometimes harsh in nature. A new magick offered in battle, for example, and if survived, a new response formulated to defend against it. Magicks, and counter-magicks."

"Is there more?" Jamie asked.

"It would seem so. Your own explorations into the nature of electrums and light, and these other tiny creations that seem to underlie everything we know, suggest that there is also an unseen medium by which magick itself is expressed. I put to you that the best defense against magicks is to find a way to deny them the ability to propagate in the first place."

Jamie was stunned by the idea. Stop magicks from happening? It would indeed be the ultimate defense, to deny any attacker the ability to use magick!

But could such a thing even be found?

"This may be important, Jamie," Kundun continued. "Some magicks, if not most, must be commonly and readily discovered, for they are now known by all. Other magicks are rare, and closely held by a few. And some magicks would seem to be known only by their originators."

That sounded slightly ominous. "You're saying that the mages we face will have magicks for which nothing at all is known."

Kundun gave a slow nod of his head. "That will certainly be the case. Urvan was possessed of magicks I had never encountered. In fact, most masters have at least a few such original magicks up their sleeves. I would imagine that Porvus, as Urvan's teacher, must surely have more of his own." He smiled then. "But so will you have them, Jamie. The match may not be as uneven as you fear."

That struck home. "Is it so apparent?" Jamie asked then, his voice a whisper. "Is my concern so clear to see?"

The older mage dropped a hand on Jamie's shoulder and patted him fondly. "What I see is exactly what should be there, Jamie. Only a fool would approach such a confrontation without worry. Were I in your place, I would show exactly the same face as you. I think those that accompany you on your journey are more reassured by your concern than they would be by a foolhardy enthusiasm to proceed." He chuckled. "Your own Snave has recounted how such brash haste led to his near demise at the hands of Lodda, so long ago. I rather doubt he would be up for a round of such foolish mayhem again."

Jamie smiled at that. "Amazing, that one can come to love a wooden gargoyle. My fondness for Snave could not be greater were he still flesh and blood."

Kundun patted Jamie's shoulder again. "Some of the power of your group's purpose derives from the fondness you all share for each other, Jamie. Count it as a strength and a blessing, for it will surely matter in the end."

"But what end?" Jamie questioned, wincing. "I wish it were in sight, instead of the road ahead of us simply vanishing into the distance, the remaining hazards unseen."

Kundun shook his head. "The only counsel I can give there is that the end of all roads must be earned by the journey. That time will come with your present travels, as well." He nodded, his gaze reassuring. "And I think more suddenly than you know, too. There will come a moment when you simply realize with great surprise that you have arrived at your goal. I only want that moment to end in your favor."

Jamie laughed. "As do I."

The older mage smiled then. "We have digressed from the matter at hand. I put to you that learning the why of magick is now your principal goal. Discover why magick exists at all, and you may learn the ultimate answer to how to manage it."

"Why it exists?"

"Of course. Magick is new to our kind, relatively speaking. The ancient texts in my own possession say quite clearly that on the world our people came from, there was no magick at all. Only science, and machines." He leaned closer to Jamie. "So why is there magick now, in this world?"

Why, indeed?

Kundun closed his eyes. "In my own musings on the subject, I have wondered if our change - our coming to magick - is not somehow a property of this place. Something here, in or of this world, that did not exist on the world from which we came."

Jamie frowned at that. Magick was where you found it - every mage knew that. But what did that actually mean? Could it mean that humans had found magick by coming here, to this world? That magick was bestowed somehow as a property of...of environment? But why, then, were not all humans mages now?

Unless...unless it was a mercurial property, one that affected some humans quickly, while taking time to affect others in the same way? Perhaps the very differences among humans that made each one unique were also to blame for the unequal dispensation of such gifts? That those smallest of locks that told each body how to know itself needed time to adapt, so that for some family lines, the knack for magick simply took longer to appear?

Such a notion would seem to align with the fact that more and more humans, in each generation, were acquiring the knack for magick. Did that not also support the idea that slow - very slow - changes had been occurring in the population over a vast period of time? That might also explain the awakening of the knack in Bastyin. And possibly others of the Three Nations, not yet discovered. Perhaps some quality of their minds simply made the process more lengthy than it had been for some humans?

"You make me amazed with your ideas," Jamie said slowly. "And give me much to think about."

That seemed to satisfy the old mage. "Good. Your discovery of the lens is the key, Jamie. Until now, no mage has possessed the tools to actually learn the nature of that which has turned men into mages. Until now, in all my musings, I could not see a way to examine these most invisible of forces that cause the world to run. But you seem to have gained that ability now. It is only right that you use it wisely, and use it with expedience, to try to step ahead of your enemies and bend the outcome of your quest to your own resolution."

Another thought came to Jamie then. "Once, according to legend, our kind had conquered all of this place. All the lands of the world were inhabited by men, and their cities covered the continents. And yet, outside the Forest of Night, with the possible exception of Methuwan, still unseen, these cities are conspicuous by their absence."

"They may well have existed," Kundun agreed. "But such was the conflict that arose to fill the legends of those times, that they may have simply been erased from the face of the world."


"I cannot conceive of such power."

"Nor can I," Kundun admitted. "Yet that does not mean it did not exist. But it seems clear that we have learned that this ancient conflict was between men with science at their bidding, and other men with new magicks at theirs."

"What of witches?" Jamie asked. "Most are as adept as mages in their talents."

Kundun laughed. "It has long been my appraisal that both mages and witches are of the same mold. That magick treats them both in much the same way. Most women have gentler hearts than men, and there are fewer instances of them going the way of such as Lodda and Porvus. But I should say now that there have been witches in the world every bit as potent as mages, and that they are still with us today."

"Really?" Jamie immediately thought of Wanda Pegfoot. Even Thorvil regarded her as a powerful example of the art. And yet... "The witches I know seem not to practice the forms of magick that mages like my Master Thorvil have made their stock in trade." He gave a little, almost surprised laugh then. "And which I have come to know now, myself."

"I have guessed that fact is mostly due to a peculiarity of our society, Jamie. Mages pass along their secrets to young mages, just as witches pass along theirs to young witches. Yet there is an unspoken rule that mages shall not instruct witches, and witches shall not instruct mages." He smiled. "And yet that rule has more than once been broken. Would it surprise you to know that there are witches seated along with mages in the council at Vestphal?"

Jamie actually knew that. "I just never considered it. But I did know that witches also hold power there."

"And that there are mages and witches joined in wedlock in our society?" Kundun smiled. "It has been said that these couples often trade magicks between them."

Jamie returned the smile. "There is much I do not know about the world, Master Kundun. I am, after all, just an apprentice."

The old mage laughed at that, and dropped an arm around Jamie's shoulders. "Come, then, and let us return to the others. But remember my words, young Jamie. Seek out that which makes our magicks happen, and you will have gained a step on your enemies."

"I will not forget."

"This side trip has been extraordinarily beneficial," Snave said, as they gathered in the great hall again to be on their way. "It seems your instincts were right again, Jamie."

They had said their farewells to everyone, hugs and fond words being traded all around. Prince Sedwick stood by the table, Raimey and Mort and Miles bedside him, and Getrell to his other hand. The mages Kundun, Lestho, and Pallin stood in a line beside Getrell. All eyes were fastened on Jamie and his band. All expressions looked hopeful. That silent wishes were being made for their safe return seemed clear.

Our circle of friends has grown large, Jamie mused happily. He gave a small sigh.

"A stop well made," Garvin agreed, giving Jamie a fond poke with his elbow. "A rest, a good meal, new clothing...and the safeguarding of our newfound talents. Hardly more could have been asked for in a single day's endeavors."

"It was Flitch who suggested this pause," Jamie returned, smiling as the image of the nether being came to mind. "He is the wise one, I think."

Dorf made a slightly impatient sound then. "Then we can learn from him, and wisely be on our way, before our friends there collapse from the strain of our leaving?"

Jamie grinned at the man. "Always in a hurry, Sir Knight."

The man managed a small smile. "The day is passing, Jamie."

"Yes, I know. Gather close, everyone, and we'll be off."

The others crowded around him, and Jamie raised a hand to those standing by the table. "We'll be going, then."

"Be safe!" Sedwick called. "And do tell Urvan he's an awful bore, when you see him!"

"Remember our talk," Kundun offered, smiling. "Seek out every advantage that you can!"

"Come back!" Raimey dared softly, waving. Mort and Miles nodded next to him.

The others raised hands in a wave, and Jamie and his friends waved back.

"Invisibility, and shields, I think," Jamie said then. "And enhanced sight." He waited until everyone had vanished save for the swirling energies of their knacks, smiled at their watchers one last time, and then went invisible himself and tied the knot for translocation.

They reappeared at the head of the stairs leading downward inside the great dam, exactly where they had stood in silence but a day before, listening as the two gray mages Rolf and Gart had made their plans below to abandon the dark cause of Porvus and Urvan and return home. Jamie and the others had discussed this move, and even Dorf had felt that the risk was minimal. Even if the two gray mages had been missed and attention turned to this location, the clear lack of any sign of Jamie's party in a day's time would have caused the other gray mages to move the search onward.

They had to regain access to the tunnels below ground, and from such a forward point at this. The alternative would be to fly back to another location and start anew, with the same problem of having the gray mages between them and their destination.

"Careful," Sir Dorf whispered. "Please remain silent a moment, everyone."

Jamie stood quietly along with the others, knowing that the knight was using his extraordinary senses to listen for unwanted company. Several times now Jamie had wanted to ask Dorf again about his unusual abilities; but always he recalled the man's reticence about answering the question before. Jamie felt that a person's privacy was important, and so had let the matter lie. But at some point, it might become crucial that he know what the knight was capable of doing.

There was an almost imperceptible blurring of the air beneath the twirl of the knight's knack, and Jamie sensed him turn just as the man whispered again: "Irik? Do you gain any sense of others near?"

"None. I do not even sense the traces left by any in passing. I would guess that these stairs have not been used in our absence."

"That's what I get." Again the big knight blurred the air as he turned to Jamie. "I think it is safe to proceed."

Jamie nodded, even though he knew the knight could not see the motion. "Interesting, to know that none have passed by here since our last visit. Perhaps the two gray mages have yet to be missed?"

"We have no way of knowing what form of communication they've been using," Snave said then. "But the three gray mages we dispatched in the great dome where Bastyin joined our company would tell me they are not in direct contact at all times. Otherwise, Porvus and Urvan would have known their fates."

"I had the impression that translocation was their chief link with others," the Lachess offered then. "While they pursued me they called back and forth, so their thoughts were known to me."

"Poor tactics, to make the quarry aware of the hunt," Dorf said, the anger he felt at the idea of Bastyin being hunted at all clear in his voice.

"They were contemptuous of my ability to fight back," Bastyin said quietly. "And truthfully, before I met your group, I had little to offer in the way of offense."

Jamie heard Geert grunt. "But not now, my friend. Next time you meet them, they will not forget!"

"Let us move onward, Jamie," the knight urged.

"Agreed. We shall remain cloaked from view as we are for now." Jamie stepped towards the stairwell.

Dorf stepped forward, too. "And Irik and I will lead the way, if it is acceptable to Irik." Jamie could not miss the note of humor in the knight's voice. Sir Dorf took protecting their group very seriously, indeed.

The wolf made a sound that could only be described as humorous, too. "You mean I will lead, and you will follow."

Sir Dorf laughed. "As you say. Shall we?"

They moved around to the front of the staircase and started downward. The dam hummed and rumbled around them, the great machines in the main gallery purring in time in their never ceasing endeavors, while the force of the water passing through confining tubes beneath them spoke in the voices of giants that caused the very stairs beneath their feet to tremble. Jamie and the others had activated their watchers, which magick now sensed the way ahead even farther than Sir Dorf or Irik could detect. Hopefully, they could not now be easily surprised by anything that lay ahead.

The staircase wound for a long time downward through its stone tube, before depositing them again at the place where they had taken away the gear of the two departed gray mages, Rolf and Gart. Briefly, Jamie wondered if those two had arrived home safely, and if they were even now recounting the tales of their adventures to other mages, and perhaps even issuing a warning about what Lodda and Porvus and Urvan were up to at the dark city of Methuwan. That many of the gray mages were now compelled in their minds to remain in the service of these black mages seemed clear.

And what of that compulsion? Was there a way to dispense with it in others even as Jamie had protected himself and his friends from its evil influence? Jamie put the task to the lens at his chest, and felt a warm burst of colors in his mind as the small life that lived within considered the problem. The protection of thought Jamie had wrought for himself and others was a made thing, produced in the nether from nether elements by nether machines. As such, it was not a protection that could be easily dispensed to others. And yet, still...something nagging at the back of his mind... would not come. And so he dismissed the thought for now, letting his subconscious and the lens take over the problem. If a way could be found to release those mages pressed into service with Lodda and Porvus, it might greatly reduce the ranks they might need to wade through to reach those hostile mages at the top. The thought of killing dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, of underling mages not in control of their own wills was horrifying to Jamie.

"What are you thinking of, Jamie?" Garvin whispered. "That makes you radiate such distress?"

Jamie blinked in surprise, and then smiled. Trust Garvin to know when Jamie was upset, even when his friend couldn't see him! "I was considering the gray-clad mages, and the forced alliance with Porvus that some of them seem to display. If a way could be found to release them from their bondage, it might lessen the numbers arrayed against us. And save some lives in the process."

"Perhaps a problem for a later time?" Dorf whispered. "We should make our way from this spot while we can."

"Agreed. I sense nothing about. Shall we emerge into the underground and see what there is to see?'

They did that, passing down a short corridor to an archway looking out into the vast area beyond. Here was another of the huge caverns fashioned by the ancients in their smooth stone, with a large center island holding storage domes all around them. Jamie cautioned the others to silence and rose into the air then, high enough to see over the domes, and studied the layout of the place for a full minute before dropping back down into the waiting group.

"I see an inn building just down the way here," he told them. "And many storage domes, and the stone platforms that radiate outward, and the large openings of tunnels beyond."

Sir Dorf chuckled. "I take it you saw no enemies, or you would have mentioned them first."

Jamie also laughed. "I saw no one at all. There are cars at two of the platforms, however. So caution will be taken."

They moved ahead, and Jamie marveled at the sense of awareness of his surroundings the new magick had given him. It was not intrusive, however, simply offering him a distinct feeling of the huge chamber surrounding them, and the things in it, and the complete lack of other life there with them. The watcher would not be a burden on their senses, only making them aware of more should the need arise.

"I truly feel in commune with this place, Jamie," Garvin said, echoing his thoughts. "Never have I been more certain that we are absent from our enemies."

"It works very well, this new magick," Snave agreed. "I also feel as if every corner in this giant of a cavern is somehow within my direct view, and showing itself harmless."

"Feels strange," Gorge added, yet sounding considerably less than displeased at the fact. "Sense doorways to tunnels behind these walls, even. Will use them to travel?"

"Maybe." Jamie's thinking hadn't gotten that far just yet. His first urge had been to find themselves secure before moving onward. That security now seemed affirmed. Jamie allowed himself to become visible. "A look at the map, Sir Dorf?"

The others became visible around him, and the knight dropped his shielding and squatted so that Jamie could retrieve the map of the ancients from his back pack. Garvin helped Jamie to roll the map flat and they held it while the others gathered around.

Jamie found several tunnels heading west from their present location and pointed them out. "We have a number of options to take from this point." He drew his finger quickly along one of the lines for quite some distance and then tapped a large dot with many tunnels leading to it from all directions. "But we can only take a path that leads us here. This is the Crescent that Kybeer told us about. He said that the tunnels going west that did not pass through the crescent were closed. But once we reach this Crescent, we will again have many options to proceed west."

"I make it still to be two hundred leagues to this Crescent place," Dorf said, frowning at the map. "We could make it in a day, flying. On foot...we'd be lucky to get there in a month's time."

"It is unrealistic to expect to walk this distance," Bastyin said slowly. "While once my own group of Watchers planned to do just that, we were not then beset by those wishing to do us in."

"Oh, I don't intend to walk," Jamie answered. "I do feel we should not hurry, but neither can we afford just to take our time. At the least we will fly through the tunnels. But we might also take the tunnel cars where they operate, too."

"Is that a good idea now?" Dorf asked. "I am put in mind of the confining nature of those cars. They would make a most excellent place to trap an enemy."

Jamie nodded. "I was referring to the cars behind the walls, in the maintenance tunnels, that our Gorge has shown us. But it's possible your trap idea works as well for them."

Geert made an impatient sound. "It still will take us a lot of time to get to this Crescent, no matter how we go."

"If knew what was there, would not be in such hurry to arrive," Gorge put in. "Crescent home to many strange things. Very dangerous place."

"Spirits," Garvin reminded, pushing his shoulder against Jamie's. "And demons, by the Iricawa's account."

Snave made a dissenting sound. "I tend to think these things are expressions of the science of the ancients, somehow, and simply misinterpreted by people who do not know better."

Gorge grunted. "Dangerous, just the same."

Snave turned slightly to face the small man. "Then we will find out when we get there. And deal with it. But to dally too long in the journey will to be to allow Urvan or Porvis to find us again. I feel that if we can get through this Crescent without a confrontation, we may then get all the way to Methuwan before having to battle again."

"Best stay behind walls, then," the Pertwee decided. "Enemy less able to cover so many trails."

"Porvus and his gang of thugs have to know by now we are aware of these maintenance tunnels," Snave said. "As our battle with Skoda originated inside one of them. I tend to agree with Gorge that it will take a huge number of men to watch all of them. I just wish we could be more clever somehow, and not use any of the obvious methods of approach to this Crescent."

Garvin grinned. "Take care, Snave, before you press our Jamie into fabricating some entirely new method of getting us there."

Jamie laughed at that. "Stop, Garv. But it would be nice to get to this Crescent place more quickly. It lies one third of the way to Methuwan, by the map. We would genuinely be on our way then."

Gorge reached up and tugged at Jamie's sleeve. "Have been to Crescent."

Jamie nodded. "So you said."

The little man's eyes lit up. "Have idea. Could translocate to Crescent?"

Jamie smiled. "You might. Your knack is now up to the job. But you would not have the power to take any of us with you, certainly." He frowned, and then held up his right hand and stared at what looked like a tattoo that made it seem golden save for the fingers. "I guess we could take you to the nether and try to make you an enhancer for the power to translocate. It might work for you, too."

Gorge shook his head impatiently. "No. Not me take us. You take us."

Jamie sighed. "I wish. But I need to have been to a place before in order to translocate to it, remember? I need to see the destination in my mind."

The Pertwee nodded. "But Gorge has been there. Could perhaps see place from my mind? Use orb upon your chest to see inside my head?"

Jamie stared at the little man. Everyone stared at him. The silence grew, and then Snave barked out an astonished laugh. "Is that possible, I wonder?"

Was it? Jamie knew that a clear picture of a place needed to be in mind in order to get to it by translocation. That had always meant that a mage needed to have been to said destination previously in order to properly visualize it. But...what of a picture of a place taken from someone else's mind? To that individual, the image would be just as clear. Clear enough for them to use it to translocate?

Jamie laid a hand on his shirt, patted the shape of the lens inside. What about it?

The answer was a swirl of colors inside his head, and what was surely a laugh of delight. Try!

Jamie turned to Snave. "The lens seems to be bidding me to attempt this experiment." He turned farther, to stare at the knight. "What think you of such a dare?"

Sir Dorf watched him a moment, and then gave a little shrug. But a smile accompanied it. "It would be a daring attempt, I think." He swiveled fluidly to face the Pertwee. "You have been all through this Crescent, or just to one place?"

"Have seen some, but not all." The little man waved a hand around at the stone cavern they were in. "Is much larger than this place. To see all would require stay a while, when many things there try to chase you away or kill you."

Snave glided closer to Jamie. "Suppose you can manage to use the lens to see visions of this place from Gorge's mind? If we were all included in the touch with the lens...could we all see, as well as you?"

Jamie rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I don't see why not. All of us have been together with the lens in learning magicks. I already know we can all share the sight."

"This could work," Geert said, looking delighted.

Jamie turned to Garvin, as if for a final opinion, and smiled when his friend smiled at him. "I go where you go, my Jamie."

"Very well," Jamie said, decided. He turned back to the Pertwee. "We should at least see if I can pick up the image of this place from you."

Sir Dorf grunted. "Here is perhaps not the best place to attempt an experiment that may distract all of us."

"The inn?" Bastyin asked Jamie. "You said it was just down the way. That would at least take us out of the open."

"There's a plan," Dorf agreed, his gaze also upon Jamie. "Although you could just as easily return us to Cumberstone Castle, and we could try it from there."

Jamie recalled the hopeful faces of those they had only just left behind. "I think not there. It would hurt to have to say goodbye to them yet another time."

"Then the inn will do." Sir Dorf's eyes were bright. "I must say, you do entertain well, Jamie. I cannot recall the last time I had this much fun."

That brought a round of laughter from everyone.

"I shudder to think what you do on holiday, Sir Knight," Snave said, a wink apparent in the sound of his voice.

The knight laughed. "I shall tell you sometime, when we are less busy chasing down evil mages who wish to destroy the world."

Geert's eyes grew in size. "You think that's what Porvus is up to?"

"No. Not directly. But he does plan something that will spell ill for the world, I do feel. Certainly, for those of the Three Nations that live down here. I will not stand by idly and see any of that happen." The knight turned his smile to Jamie. "So let's be off to the inn, and see what there is to see."

Irik gave out a small yip. "I will lead, Sir Dorf."

"And I will follow. Shall we?"

They made the inn in short order, and found it just as empty as the watcher told them it was. Jamie spared a moment to search for the sort of electrums that might tell Porvus their whereabouts, but, as with the other inn they'd visited, could find nothing that resembled those energetic motes in design.

They made their way to the second floor and gathered in the common room. Jamie bade the others to come closer so that they could all touch the lens, and then had Gorge focus upon his memories of the distant Crescent.

For a moment all was darkness, and then an image swam into view, surprisingly sharp, of a place unlike any other Jamie had seen before. That it was another of the ancient's stone caverns was not even immediately apparent, so distant was the far wall. It was hardly there at all, a shadow in the background, only the vast vault of the roof above shading away to meld with that shadow indicative of the distance involved.

"Oh," Geert breathed, his wonder at the sight palpable. "It's enormous!"

The space was occupied to one side by what could only be buildings, but they were immense, towering into the air like the red towers they had already visited, though of a different design than those structures. These more resembled the inn in which they stood even now, but on a far grander scale, boasting some tens of floors, where the inn only hosted two. The towers faded into the distance in their multitude, suggesting many hundreds of them, far too many to count in the vision, let alone properly comprehend.

To the other side of the great cavern stood large machines of some sort - that they were machines seemed clear from the movements of parts of them, and the flashes of multicolored light they emitted, and by the horde of smaller machines that moved about their bases, seeming to tend to their needs, whatever they might be. Graceful skyways seemed to connect many of the machines, skyways which dipped into long inclines down which coursed more of the small machines, which vanished into tunnels in the walls of the cavern. With a start Jamie thought they might be machines like the small car they had ridden in in the maintenance tunnel before, save that these looked empty of travelers.

"What say you, Jamie?" Snave asked. "Think you can use this image to translocate us there?"

"Wait," Gorge said immediately. "Not there. Is out in open, not safe."

The image seemed to flow, and then they were looking outward from a small alcove of some sort, before which some of the small machines flashed past on whatever missions they had been assigned to fulfill. Jamie narrowed his mental eye, thinking now that he was spying the almost invisible glass of the ancients between his apparent position and the machines moving beyond.

"This place enclosed," Gorge said then. "Much safer."

Jamie let his mind's eye examine the image minutely, taking in all the detail that he could. He paraded it before the sense within himself that knew the places he had been before, but did not feel the image resonate with that sense as a place that he knew. Rather, it felt more like he was gazing at a fine drawing of some distant place, despite the fact that it was full of movement and alive within the Pertwee's mind.

And yet, Gorge surely had that sense of being there, for he had actually been there. Jamie leaned a little bit more into the image, tracing it backwards now to Gorge's mind's eye, where there it was known as a place the little man had actually visited. There he found what he was looking for: a tiny assurance, a lack of all doubt, a wisp of scarcely anything at all; that was the clear knowledge that Gorge actually knew the place he was envisioning was real. Jamie seized upon that feeling, drew it near, and wrapped some small bit of his own sense of the world around it.

"Brace yourselves," he whispered.

Jamie raised his right hand, pulled the image within his mind just that much closer, and tied the lock of translocation. There was the unmistakable feeling of some bit of night drawing over them, and then Jamie opened his eyes and looked around.

They were there.

"You did it!" Snave said, his voice low, but the urgent quality of his triumphant feeling apparent. "Jamie, this is a magnificent accomplishment!"

The others moved away from him, but only so far. They were indeed within a small alcove, one fronted by a large pane of the ancient's nearly invisible window glass. The walls of the little hollow were smooth, and appeared to be of the same gray stone the ancient's used for most of their constructs. At the rear of the alcove was a doorway, one with the telltale rectangle of a hand plate lock at its side.

"Where is this?" Geert asked, looking around. "It looks like we've happened into a fishbowl."

"Window is one way," Gorge said then. "See out, but not in. Beyond door is tunnel like we use before. Much safer than walking in open."

"Jamie, come see this!"

Jamie turned to find Garvin at the window, looking out. He hastened to stand beside his friend, aware as he did so that the rest of the group accompanied him.

Even as he arrived, something flashed past outside the window at incredible speed. It was scarcely a blur, and Jamie only had a momentary impression of something rounded and low to the ground before it was gone. Garvin turned to stare owlishly at him then, looking almost comically startled.

"Uh...that was not what I meant, of course, having no way to know it was coming."

Jamie smiled at the look of shock on his friend's face. "Fast, was it not?"

Garvin blinked, and then a smile took hold again. "Almost as fast as myself, when riled."

They both laughed, and Jamie moved closer and pushed his shoulder against Garvin's. "What was it you wished me to see?"

Garvin tugged briefly at an ear, and then turned and pointed out the window. "There."

Jamie followed his friend's finger, but it took a moment for his eyes to spy the intended target.

In the distance were some of the towers, resembling the inn in structure, but many floors higher. Between the towers and their window was a wide, flat stretch of ground covered completely by the gray stone of the ancients. Directly across this span of stone, and slightly to their left, stood an odd-looking....something. Jamie had never seen its like before, and so had no name for it.

It somewhat resembled a tree, but one grown by the most demented of gardeners. Its bole was blue, somewhat crooked as it climbed skyward, and looked metallic in nature. The crooked trunk spread at the top like many leafless branches, all of which were as equally crooked as the base that supported them. Such a thing could not be alive.

But even as he watched it, it moved. One of the branches twitched, pointed in their direction, and a light briefly glowed at the end of it. Jamie felt a familiar tingle to his senses; but in the same instant, another of the amazing rounded things flashed past their window, heading in the opposite direction from the first one. So sudden was the movement that Jamie and Garvin both took instinctive steps backwards, Geert extending a hand to stay Garvin, while Jamie backed straight into Snave's unmovable form.

Jamie heard the gargoyle laugh. "Had I been of flesh, I would have jumped back, too."

Jamie turned and smiled up at the wooden face, while briefly rubbing the back of one shoulder. "You are as solid as a wall, dear Snave."

But then something else took his attention, the memory of the tingling against his senses, pushing its way insistently back into the fore of his mind. He recalled the feel of it now, and nodded. "Snave, as yon speedy messenger car swept past, that odd tree pulsed a light. I felt at that moment a brief but very potent jolt of electrums passing. It is my belief that the tree intended those for the...the rapid car that passed."

"To what end, Jamie?"

Jamie scratched his chin a moment, and then laughed. "I haven't the faintest of ideas."

"A communication of some kind?" Geert mused aloud.

Jamie turned to stare at the boy. Could that be it? Could electrums actually be made to contain messages? Again he recalled the burst of energy that had passed him, and the way it had varied in its intensity on a most minute level. A pattern? "You may just be right!"

Geert looked surprised by the idea, and then pleased. "Well, the odds are that I would be right some of the time."

Jamie laughed at that, and patted the other boy's shoulder. "Snave, I think our Geert has the way of it. The electrums I sensed contained a definite pattern in the frequentness of their oscillations." He snapped his fingers, another idea coming to him then. "Snave...the room at the top of the red tower, where we spoke with Porvus by way of the window of the ancients? Communications, by way of electrums?"

The gargoyle gave a grunt. "How so?"

Jamie shook his head. "I am not certain as yet. But think...the electrums that gave away our location several times now, in secure rooms of the ancients? They were of a certain pattern, or several certain patterns. Other electrums I sense in other locations, they are of other patterns. I think they may all be communications of a sort, which have sailed right by us in our ignorance. The patterns are the key!"

Garvin cocked his head at Jamie. "Are you saying that the ancients had methods for patterning these flows of electrums in certain ways, and that each pattern or sequence of patterns had its own meaning?"

"That's exactly what I am suggesting." Jamie thought it over, and nodded. "The variety of patterns must be nearly infinite. By sequencing them in just such a way, and varying the sequences, very complicated messages could be sent. It would be the cipher of all ciphers!"

"But some of the patterns of electrums you have detected have not given away our location," Sir Dorf pointed out.

"No. But of course there will be all sorts of communications going on. The machines of the ancients must speak to each other in some way. Otherwise, how does all that we have seen function? But only certain patterns of these electrums are purposed towards securing the places of the ancients, and not all places were deemed necessary to secure. It is the same way in our own world. The castle of the king has many guards, but the pubs and markets on the square have little, or none. Places meant to be used by all are relatively unsecured, while places meant for only a few are protected."

"It makes sense," Snave said, after a moment of thought. "It makes very good sense, in fact. I am sure you have come to something important, Jamie."

Bastyin gently cleared his throat. "Jamie, as you have become adept at recognizing electrums, and even joined them in their travels, might it not be possible for you to reorder their purpose as well?"

"Reorder their purpose," Jamie repeated slowly, the idea fascinating him. "But I would have to know their purpose to begin with, and I see no way to know that."

"Not necessarily, Jaime," Snave said. "You do not need to know the secret of a ciphered message in order to set flame to it and let it be consumed."

Jamie stared at the gargoyle. "Are you suggesting I simply disrupt the patterns of the electrums, so that they cannot perform the duties to which they were assigned?"

"It would be some way of controlling their purpose, anyway."

"It might be a way of disrupting the operations of these machines, too," Bastyin continued. "If they run on electrums set in purposeful patterns, would not disrupting these patterns also disrupt the operations of the machines?"

"And is that a good idea?" Irik put in then. "Some of these machines might be dangerous, or cause harm, if let loose of the magick that controls them."

"A good point," Jamie agreed. "I guess this is yet another area for us to study, before taking any steps that might endanger even us." He looked out the window again. "Whatever moves at the speed of these cars that flow past here, imagine such a machine suddenly unguided, and allowed to crash into something else. The impact would be horrendous, and no doubt highly destructive."

"A point," Snave admitted. "Interfering with the science of the ancients could have consequences, and some could be severe."

"We also do not know what might live in this place," Garvin said. "Interfering with the machines here could endanger other lives than our own."

"I don't want to injure or kill anything," Geert added, shaking his head. "I mean, not without cause. Porvus and Urvan, I can see we might do in of necessity. But things that simply live, and wish to keep living, and harm no one...I will not war against such as these, even by accident."

"Not good idea to start trouble with things that live here, for any reason," Gorge added.

Jamie smiled around at his circle of friends. "I can see we all have thoughts on this, and I agree that we cannot rush into anything. But Bastyin's idea has merit, and I must explore it. Come the confrontation with our dark friends at Methuwan, we may need to dispossess them of any ancient machines they may try to use against us." He smiled at Dorf. "Does that not seem a good idea to you, Sir knight?"

The man laughed. "You don't need to convince me, lad. I can well imagine facing off against Porvus and Urvan, only to have several of those battle machines like the one we faced before coming at us from each quarter. If your experiments can prevent such a scenario as that, then indeed they should be explored, and well!"

Jamie looked around the room, and then back at the knight. "What say you on using this place as a temporary base of operations while we explore a bit? This small room seems as secure as it can get here. And should we be off exploring from here now, or settle down for the night?"

Sir Dorf looked around the room, and frowned. "It is still early in the day, not much past the noon hour, by my feeling. Too early to call it a night, I say." He turned to Gorge then. "What is there close to here that might be of interest? Do you feel it wise to explore from here now, or should we settle in until the next day?"

Gorge also looked around the room, and then scratched his head, thinking. "Have sheltered in this room before. Tunnel beyond door go interesting places in both directions. Could explore some, and come back here later to sleep."

"The tunnel itself seems safe?"

The Pertwee looked uncertain. "Have only been here once. Was safe then. Not have way to know what happens here when Gorge not around."

Jamie laughed at that, and Sir Dorf smiled. "Fellow has a point," the knight said. He swung to face Jamie. "I am for looking around a bit, if that's good with you. While this room may be a safe place to spend the night, I would feel much better knowing more about what lies close by it."

"That's fair," Jamie said. He looked around at the others. "Anyone else have something to offer?"

"I'm for looking around," Geert said. "Seems like a smart idea to me."

"I have to admit to wanting to know more about our surrounds before settling in for the night, too," Snave said. "While we may want to use this room as a base, we may find we don't need to."

Jamie smiled at Bastyin. "And you?"

The Lachess returned the smile. "I am along to learn new things, Jamie. I expect that means seeking out knowledge, rather than waiting around hoping it chances to pass us by."


Jamie's friend smiled sweetly, and gave a little shrug, the unsaid words clear. I go where you go, my Jamie.

Jamie sighed, and turned to Irik. "I did not mean to leave you to last."

The wolf's gaze held a note of humor. "My ears suggest interesting things may be somewhere near. I am for seeking them out."

Jamie nodded. "I guess we can look around, then." He nodded at the door. "You hear anything immediately beyond?"


"Sir Dorf?"

"No. I am ready to go, if you are. Shall I block the door, while you reach past to open it?"

Jamie nodded. "It has the sound of a plan, Sir Knight. Shall we?"

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