The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 27

The tunnel reminded them of the maintenance tunnels they had traveled before, though this one had no running water alongside. And where that other tunnel system had been alive with the sound of moving water, this one was almost eerily silent. Their footfalls echoed briefly from the flooring, and then seemed somehow absorbed, so that only one truly distinct repetition reached their ears. It made it sound like there were more of them than there were, and also put Jamie in mind of a horse passing by the window of the room he shared with Garvin at master Thorvil's shop. Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop...

"My ears make puzzles for me," Geert finally remarked. "I feel twice the lad I was only moments ago!"

That brought laughter.

"The confines are actually well managed, considering the emptiness of this corridor," Sir Dorf said. "I have been in unadorned hallways at the castle that are quite hard upon the ears. It is the why of the many tapestries hung in most hallways at Cumberstone. The fabric absorbs footfalls made against the stone floor."

They had chosen the right-hand path on leaving the small alcove. Gorge walked ahead of the knight, just behind Irik, pointing out features of the corridor as they passed them. There were many of the streamlined metal boxes on the walls and high ceiling, connected with clear tubes through which light seemed to shine with considerable brightness. There were also doorways to each side, some of which Gorge had opened on his last visit, and others which he was careful to say must open only upon the unknown.

"We go to the end of this corridor?" Jamie asked the Pertwee, when they had paused at yet another side door so that the little man could recount what lay beyond. The man had quite the memory, it seemed, for every door looked the same to Jamie, with only a varying description of some sort written upon each panel in the script of the ancients to mark the difference. Yet the Pertwee seemed well able to tell them apart on that basis alone..

"Last door go out into Crescent," Gorge returned, looking less than happy at the idea.

"We have to go out at some point," Sir Dorf commented. "Unless you know of some way to get to the tunnels going west whilst still inside this corridor."

"No." Gorge turned back to face them. "Must make danger clear. You already see things go fast by window. Many other things moving about, too. Some fast, some slow. All see us, come."

"They'll chase us?" Geert asked, sounding appalled by the idea. "You mean everything out there will chase us?"

"Most everything," the Pertwee agreed. "Very dangerous."

Sir Dorf put his hands on his hips. "Where do we need to go to get to the tunnels going west?"

Gorge looked uncomfortable. "Must cross Crescent to other side. Is why Gorge never been further. Could not cross."

"We could fly across," Bastyin suggested. "It would seem that being up off the floor of this place is the first precaution we need to take."

"Some bad things fly, too," Gorge said unhappily.

The entire group exchanged uncertain glances then, until Garvin broke the spell by laughing. "You all look so worried!"

"It sounds like a real challenge to get across this place," Geert said.

Jamie smiled at his best friend. "You have something you want to say?"

Garvin nodded. "We are not like anyone that has come this way before. I mean by that, not like any explorers from the Three Nations." He looked around at them. "The mages associated with Porvus and Urvan come through this place routinely to get to the eastern side. Surely they don't fight their way across on each passage. And even if so, are we any less able to defend ourselves than them?"

"Lad has a point," Dorf said, smiling. "If others can cross, so can we."

"There was never any doubt in my mind," Jamie said, grinning. "I was just waiting for everyone else to catch up!"

Garvin closed one eye and gave Jamie a look that said he didn't quite believe him, but that he was willing to forego the argument. Instead he leaned closer and bumped his shoulder against Jamie's. "Then lead, and we shall follow!"

Geert laughed. "He was afraid you'd say that!"

Jamie shrugged and offered a small smile. "Actually, I was already of a mind that the gray mages of Methuwan must somehow make their way through this place without trouble. They have made themselves at home down here, and that tells me it is because they have found it hospitable to them. I think now we have time today to experiment with this theory. If we can cross this Crescent more easily than we now suppose, it would do us good to move onward and take refuge somewhere else for the night than the alcove first suggested, which I must point out, is already behind us."

Gorge looked like he didn't like that idea. "Don't know of safe places on other side."

"Then we'll make a safe place," Jamie said firmly. He looked around the inside of the corridor. "This hallway is familiar, even though we have never been here before. I think now that the places of the ancients are not the abodes of evil spirits and demons as the stories tell, but are home to their machines, which are just machines, no matter how strange. I feel our protections are sufficiently strong now to guard us, at least long enough to look around. If the mages of Methuwan can pass here, so should we be able to do."

"Unless they control the machines, as Porvus controlled that very large spider that assailed us," Geert reminded. "The gray mages may pass safely here, while all others are attacked on sight."

"We won't find out by simply standing here," Sir Dorf decided. "I am not convinced that machines will be so easily able to differentiate between mages in the service of Porvus, and those that are not. The hand locks on the doors we have all used thus far have not made the distinction. Nor did the devices that catered to us at the inns. Nor the many tunnel cars we have traveled in, for that matter. All responded to us with ease. The many-legged machine that attacked us was guided by Porvus himself, somehow, as we heard it speak in his very voice." The knight waved a hand at the mammoth cavern around them. "Could he then control every one of these demon machines as easily?"

"It's a reasonable argument," Snave agreed. "We have seen no evidence beyond the mechanical spider that Porvus controls anything down here. In fact, it seems obvious he does not, or we would have been caught by now. So if we do not need to backtrack, that will be in our favor. Finding a safe place for the night further along would give us a good step towards reaching the tunnel network heading west on the other side."

That seemed the final word on the matter. They followed Irik and Gorge to the end of the long hallway, at which point they faced a larger and heavier looking door, which the Pertwee said led to the area outside.

"Jamie, if you please," Sir Dorf said, drawing his sword. They all raised their shields and other protections, save Jamie, who needed to be able to contact the lock plate of the door with his bare hand. The knight stayed visible so that Jamie could see him, but the others disappeared then, only their auras, and the twisting flames of their knacks showing above their heads.

"Ready, Sir Knight."

The man hefted his sword and nodded, and Jamie reached past him to open the door. The moment it slid to the side, Jamie activated his own defenses and went invisible, and the knight immediately disappeared as well.

Beyond the door was an area floored in darker stone than the wide expanse they had seen outside the window of the alcove. A waist-high wall separated this new area from that travel lane, and there was a pass-through in the wall that would allow one to walk from the emergence area out onto the main way. Jamie thought that an unwise direction to take just yet; but the wall did confine an area large enough for all of them to safely emerge from the tunnel without fear of being run down by one of the speeding machines.

"Outside, everyone," Jamie said then. Sir Dorf's knack immediately moved through the doorway, and Jamie followed, and the others fell in behind. Presently they were all outside the corridor, and the door whispered closed behind them.

They had emerged from a low building nestled between two taller ones, and the windowed sides of the giants soared above them. Their tunnel had been a hallway or corridor then. In the world of the ancients, the distinction was not always easy to make. Jamie studied the air overhead, and decided that the two walls of the neighboring towers afforded very good protections. Should they rise into the air here, they would only need initially watch two directions for the approach of trouble. He passed this idea onto the others, and Sir Dorf responded with a grunt. "I suggest we all move as one from this point onward. Splitting our force for any reason might endanger all of us."

"Very well." Jamie nodded, though none could see the action. "Then I am ready to rise, and see if we attract any attention here."

Knacks visible as they were, it was no hardship for all of them to rise together to a height of ten tall men. There they stopped, and waited, some watching to their front, others watching to the rear. Nothing moved in the air with them that they could see.

But around them, and into the distance, the ground simply crawled with movement. The ghosts of the very fast machines could be seen everywhere, tearing about like mad, yet seeming to easily avoid every other thing on the ground. Slower things, indistinct in body from their current position, also moved everywhere, and of a variety of shapes that suggested a multitude of purposes. It looked as a busy town might look from the air, save for the precision with which everything moved, and the lack of a form which could be identified as a living person.

"There!" Irik said softly. "Something moves in the air!"

Their invisibility posed a problem following up on that, and Jamie realized that being unseen might be more of a liability than a protection. The air around them virtually hummed with electrums, which shied away from their protections, some even returning back upon their own paths, suggesting that invisibility might not be a shield to machine spying, anyway. He manipulated his defenses, and became visible. "Which way, Irik?"

The wolf also flashed into view, and spun to point with his nose. The others appeared, and everyone turned to face the oncoming apparition.

"I have our rear, " Snave said quickly then. The gargoyle could see in all directions, and was well up to the task of keeping guard on what lay behind them. Jamie nodded, and focused then on the apparition now visible in the distance.

"What is that?" Garvin breathed, the sense of surprise and wonder clear in his voice.

Jamie understood those emotions all too well as he watched the thing heading in their direction. Or, it was heading in their general direction, and seemed not to be heading directly towards them.

It was a mix of the visible and the near-visible, its shape ever-changing as it appeared to swim through the air. It was as if a portion of the summer sky had folded in upon itself, taking vast areas of an unsettled afternoon with it. Here it roiled like a cloud, gray shading to white; there it was as the sky, almost poetically blue. Bright speckles of light fluttered about within its depths, and Jamie's senses sang with the voices of electrums performing an incredible variety of tasks. That they had to be tasks seemed clear now, as he could distinguish intricate and repeating patterns in the swirl of their dispersal from the thing in every direction.

"Bad!" Gorge said then, the fear as clear in his voice as the sense of wonder had been in Garvin's. "Must leave now!"

Dorf extended a hand towards the Pertwee, and gently waved his fingers. "Do not move, my friend."

Gorge gnawed at his lips, but remained silent and in place.

The apparition then did seem to change course, and to be coming their way. But the move seemed unhurried, sedate, as if it merely wanted to eye them in passing, not stop for a chat. It grew in size as it neared, and Jamie realized it was much bigger than it had originally looked. The energies within it spoke of potent forces waiting to be unleashed, and the aura of danger and purpose about the cloud seemed plain. Yet Jamie felt no immediate need to take action, as if there was danger here, yes, but that it was not directed now at them. The cloud continued to advance, and came much closer than he would have liked; but then it paused, and the twinkling lights within swirled even faster for a moment of time...and then the cloud moved on, turning and circling back the way it had come, rising a bit, and then slowly fading with distance.

It took Jamie a moment to realize he'd been holding his breath. He let it out then, and gave a small laugh as he realized that the others were doing the very same thing!

Jamie turned to look at Gorge. "What did you expect to happen?"

The Pertwee appeared both amazed and confused at the same time. "Have seen cloud before, or one like it. Came at Gorge and brothers and spit fire. Only quick dash back to tunnel save lives."

"It came at you slowly, as this one did?" Snave asked.

"No. Much faster. Was on us almost too late to run." The Pertwee managed to smile then, and pat his backside with both hands. "Remember well heat of that cloud!'

Snave spun then to face Jamie. "I have a theory."

Jamie and Garvin both laughed, and Geert and Sir Dorf both smiled. Jamie put out a hand and made as if to pat the gargoyle's big forearm, but did not, not wishing to bring their shields into conflict. Instead he made patting motions, and smiled. "I thought you might."

Snave chuckled. "That tells me you have thoughts on this happening, as well."

"I do, but I want to hear yours, first."

"A sentinel," Snave said then, turning briefly in the direction the cloud had gone. "A guard."

"I was thinking much the same thing."

"As was I," Garvin put in. "And yet, somehow I did not feel it was guarding against us."

"I also felt this," Dorf admitted. "The sense of very great forces, yet not directed at us."

Gorge shook his head. "Not understand. Last time, cloud attack!"

Bastyin smiled, and pointed at the Pertwee. "You were not a mage last time you were here, my friend."

"That's exactly my thinking," Snave said excitedly. "All of us are mages here now. I think what looks out for this place is set not to interfere with the travels of mages."

"That would make some sense to me," Irik said, looking up at Jamie. "The fearful stories of this place all come from those that live in the underground."

"Who are not magickal; or, have not been, until now." Jamie nodded. "This place may actually hold no danger for us at all. It's possible we can simply stroll across to the other side, unconcerned, as perhaps the gray mages of Porvus have long done."

"This is a place only for mages, you mean," Garvin decided. He shook his head. "One that bears ill will towards those that are not magickal in nature. I do not like such thinking."

Jamie shook his head. "Nor do I." He frowned in thought. "But in light of the things we have learned, not such a surprise. Consider this place in a different light, Garv. As a bastion in a war, one between those of science and those of magick. Mages would safeguard their places from their enemy, don't you think?"

"That was not a defense of magick!" Geert interjected. "It was one of science!"

"Yes. Those of magick that fought in the great war were surely double-edged in nature, just as a fine battle sword. They had at their disposal the science they knew, as well as the magick they had learned."

Garvin frowned at him. "Think you that this was such a place? One inhabited by those ancient magickal warriors?"

"I do. I find the mixture of science and magick in this underground place to be fascinating. On the one hand, marvels of the ancient's sciences are everywhere to be found. On the other, magick seems a requirement to do many things here. Even just to be here safely. I have to wonder if this was not first a place of science, and only later repurposed to be a defensive position for those who wielded magick."

"Consider," Snave said, "the time of the great conflict. Magick grew slowly among men at first, and may even have been welcomed. But as the numbers of mages grew, one of two things likely happened. Either those without magick grew fearful of the ones that had it...or, those with magick felt it then their right somehow to wrest control of the world away from those that did not."

"Or a combination of those two ideas," Dorf said bluntly. "The rising fear among the common men may have spurred those with magick to action. In either scenario, they fought."

"Yes." Snave rotated in a complete circle, as if taking in the entire scene of the Crescent. "Whatever the purpose of this place originally, at some point it was seized by those with magick. Perhaps they were even driven here at some point. The Forest of Night may have been their last redoubt in that war, even."

"But then what happened?" Geert asked.

"I don't know. Something was loosed upon the surface of the world that erased nearly everything. All that survived outside this forest, perhaps, were those non-magickal humans smart enough to find natural cover before it happened."

"Caves, perhaps," Dorf mused. "The mountains, maybe."


Geert suddenly snapped his fingers excitedly. "The red towers! Only they protrude above the forest canopy. And the crowns of every one we have seen are shattered. Perhaps by whatever did away with the other places in the world?"

"A defense, perhaps?" Snave mused. "The towers may have provided some sort of shielding that protected this place. Only overwhelmed at the very end, perhaps, even as whatever blight that scourged the world above faded away. But they lasted just long enough to protect this place. That would explain why they and the forest still exist."

Jamie took a breath, stunned as he always was at the idea of powers that could ravage entire worlds. What sorts of minds could consider such deeds, and still carry them out? He shuddered then, already knowing the answer.

Minds like those of Urvan, and Porvus; and Lodda, who led them.

"Still just guesses," he admitted. "Though frightful and potent ones, indeed."

"But those with magick and those without live together in the world now," Geert pointed out. "How did that come to be?"

"I don't know that, either," Snave admitted. "Surely new mages were born into the surviving population."

"Would they have been tolerated, though, after so great a conflict?" Geert asked, looking doubtful at the idea.

The gargoyle grunted. "Magick comes to the fore as the body arrives at puberty. What parent could easily kill children they had loved and cherished for a dozen years of time?"

"It wouldn't have been easy," Geert agreed. "Not for parent, or child."

"There is the possibility that some mages returned to the world from this very place," Bastyin pointed out quietly. "The stories of my own people say that mages were once much more numerous here."

"If mages returned to the world from this place, they did not fight with those other survivors, it seems," Jamie said. "No stories of such conflicts are told today. Maybe some time had passed. Perhaps the very reason to fight may have been gone by that point."

"Perhaps," the gargoyle agreed. "Or there might have been just too few of warlike mind left to continue the dispute. In every war there are those on both sides who prefer not to fight, yet go along with those that do. The survivors were surely weary of conflict by then. So they continued with life as they had been before the great conflict, with those of magick living among those without. "

Geert shook his head. "All that conflict, only to go back to the way it had been before war arose and took them? The waste must be commented upon, surely."

"All was not quite the same," Snave countered. "Gone was the science that had separated them. Without that science, perhaps the danger to those with magick had also expired."

"So the two sides reunited, which has led to where we are today?" Dorf asked. "The story was not so easy as that, I would guess."

"It probably wasn't," Snave agreed. "A wariness for those with magick remains today in the non-magickal population. We are tolerated, and we are feared. And we are approached when our talents are needed. But we are not considered a part of general society, and we are not overly trusted."

"Perhaps with good reason," Garvin said, a note of sadness in his voice. "Even if that reason is now forgotten in name."

Geert grunted. "If the ancient mages became greedy like Porvus and Urvan, I can well see why a fight broke out."

"Some surely did," Sir Dorf said then. "It is the nature of some, whether with magick or not, to prey upon the rest of the people, to strive for power over them, and even to feel some right to seize it no matter the cost in life. The selfish, the greedy, the ruthless. It is a problem in our kind that predates the arrival of magic, surely. Perhaps the new magick of some simply emboldened their natural urges to take what was not rightfully theirs."

"This is a problem among your kind," Bastyin agreed boldly. "It is why those of us that live below are careful of you."

Jamie sighed."I'm sorry. Not all of us are that way."

The Lachess patted his chest twice. "I know this now. And I will be sure that others of my kind know, as well."

Jamie frowned at Bastyin. "Your kind are not numerous within the forest, like humans are in the greater world. Neither do the Iricawa, nor the Pertwee, it seems, exist in numbers similar to humans."

"Old tales say we came here in small numbers," Gorge offered. "Not many to start with, so not many today."

"It is the same with my own kind," Bastyin agreed, lightly tapping his chest through his shield. "The exact story of how we came to be in the forest has been lost. Only, it is known, that we came here from elsewhere, and in small numbers. It has taken us much time to number in the many thousands that live here now."

"That suggests that the people of the three nations never came to this world in the numbers that humans did," Garvin theorized. "And since none of these people exist out in the greater world, it also says that their kind came here to live, or perhaps work, in the forest. The great war between humans may not have touched them, save as a glancing blow."

"Even a glancing blow can be painful," Sir Dorf offered, shaking his head.

"This ancient war intrigues me," Snave said. "From what we have learned from Kundus, and what we have learned on our own, I feel now we have the way of it, that it was fought between those with science and those with magick. We have speculated on this before, but now the certainty seems clear. The clues are too many to be avoided."

"Yet it seems there was no victor," Garvin said, shaking his head. "All lost out, in the end. The world was destroyed, and even now struggles to be reborn."

Sir Dorf offered a resolute grunt. "I tend to go along with Snave's view. Survivors of any conflict often have a different view of things than those that fought. With the world all but destroyed, those that survived likely had little stomach left for conflict. Those of magick and those without probably went their own ways, and only came back together after many years - many lifetimes, even - had passed. Today there is no firm memory of what went before between the two. And yet --."

"Something, Sir Knight?" Jamie prodded, after a moment of silence.

The knight turned to gaze at him. "The Council at Arthros is very concerned about the image of the mage population. They try to ensure that mages are useful members of their societies. They try to maximize understanding between mages and commoners, and to minimize fear. And, they engage in active missions to bring to justice those mages that become predatory against the general population. They ensure that justice prevails between mage and non-mage."

Jamie nodded. "It has been so for my lifetime, or that part of it I have engaged in magick."

"It has been that way for a lot longer than that," Dorf told him. He smiled. "Know you any rogue mages strutting about Lyrix, causing troubles for all around them?"

Jamie laughed. "None. Porvus was the closest we have come, in my memory."

"There you go. The council ensures that mages abide by the law. Mages themselves assure that their community stays honorable as much as they can. The magickal world governs itself most carefully, Jamie. Perhaps the reason for that now is clear."

"They don't want a recurrence of what happened before, you mean?" Geert asked.

"We are just learning of the true nature of that conflict, I must remind you," the knight said. "I have no idea how much the Mage Council actually knows about that. They seem, at least today, to be more concerned with what mages are up to now, than in that long-distant past. There has been a considerable effort on the part of the League of Masters to assure that their kind do not abuse their talents."

Jamie stared at the man hard. "League of Masters? I have not heard of them."

"You haven't?" Sir Dorf grinned. "Oops. I hope your master Thorvil will not hold it against me that I have revealed his group to you."

Jamie and Garvin gaped at each other.

"His group?" Garvin repeated.

"Yes. I'm sure that I heard that Thorvil is the current head of the League. The Conferences On the Arts deals with more than just the trading of magickal knowledge, Jamie. There is also the trading of information on what mages are doing everywhere, and decision-making taking place about what to do about the troublesome ones."

"Then they would know of Urvan," Garvin considered. "And likely are even aware of the danger of Porvus and Lodda?"

Sir Dorf twitched his shoulders in a brief shrug. "Now you press me on facts I cannot guarantee. But in my own thinking, I rather suspect that more is known of the doings at Methuwan than has become public knowledge."

Jamie mulled that over, but it only took a moment for him to feel that Sir Dorf had it right. Thorvil missed very little of what was happening in the world around him. That dark forces on the order of what Urvan and Porvus attended could build in the world without being known by others now seemed improbable. Thorvil was very closed-mouth about mage business, especially about what his fellow masters were doing. And yet he was known far and wide, and knew so now seemed hard to believe that if a group of masters such as Dorf had just revealed existed, they could not know all the happenings of the mage world around them.

And...even Wanda Pegfoot had sensed the unease in the world, and commented upon it.

But Thorvil had not.

Jamie turned to Garvin. "Master Thorvil seemed to know we would be off on this quest. and yet he never once mentioned it before the day he left, and even then, only obliquely."

Garvin nodded. "That's true. What are you thinking, my Jamie?"

Jamie gnawed on his lip a moment, and then nodded to himself. "Wanda Pegfoot sensed that things were going on in the world. She told us, remember? And yet the master never once mentioned it in our presence."

Garvin squinted at him. "Are you suggesting he knew exactly what our futures might hold?"

"I am. It is possible that the master not only knows our whereabouts, but what will become of us when we arrive at Methuwan."

"Let us not get ahead of ourselves," Snave cautioned. "It is true that my brother foretold that the two of you would be off on a quest, but if he knew the exact nature, he did not reveal more to me."

"He may not have," Jamie returned. "Master Thorvil seldom spoke of the business of other mages." He smiled then. "But the impression I got from him upon his leaving was that he considered our futures to be interesting. So bland was his comment at the time that I placed no weight upon it." He leaned forward then. "Had he sensed our deaths or capture, I feel he would not have been so easy about it."

Snave emitted a patient sigh. "He would not. I know my brother loves you both as his own sons. He would not have simply gone away and left you two to such a fate."

Geert looked from one face to the next and back again. "So reason to be hopeful?"

Jamie smiled at that. "With all of us together? I think that raises our chances considerably." Jamie turned to look again the way the sparkling cloud had gone. "I say we start west now, and see how we fare. If we can freely travel in this place, we are wasting time not doing just that."

Dorf opened his mouth to reply, but a sudden sound cut him off and turned every head in one direction. From afar came the unmistakable reverberation of a tremendous crash, which washed over them and seemed to echo back from every surface. Jamie flinched at the volume and implicit violence of it, which surely could have nothing but ill tidings attendant.

A brief roar followed the crash, putting Jamie to mind of the waterfall they had witnessed within the tunnels, but it faded too quickly to be certain.

"What was that?" Geert blurted, his eyes darting about. "It sounded like a building collapsed!"

"Or perhaps two of those speedy cars colliding," Garvin added, nodding. "Nothing good could be behind it, to my imagining."

"Perhaps go and look?" Dorf said then. "But without being seen. All defenses should be in place, I think."

Jamie nodded. "Watchers active, all. Let us not move anywhere from this point without that guardian attendant."

They formed a close group and moved off in the direction the sound had come from. Below them the mechanical city - for it did seem a city now - continued to move fluidly, with thousands of machines going about their mysterious business at every speed from a sedate creep to a speed just short of a blur. If the sound Jamie and the others had just heard signified a catastrophe of sort, it could not be told by the traffic below them. None of the many machines on the ground seemed in any hurry to accompany them in the direction they were now going. If anything, the seeming disregard for so great a noise was puzzling.

"Yon machines seem unconcerned that a building has fallen to the ground," Garvin said, frowning. "Perhaps they are not equipped to hear as we are?"

"For all we know, such a sound is commonplace here and signifies nothing of import," Snave returned. "We are in the dark as to what is normal here."

"Not hear such noise when here before," Gorge put in. "Had sound of something breaking, I think."

"Is that one of those cloud things ahead of us?" Gert asked then.

It was. Whether or not it was the same cloud that had approached them earlier was impossible to tell. This one was hovering above a gaping hole in the side of a large cylinder of some sort, from which what appeared to be water was still flowing. A vast area of wet stone surface surrounded the gash, evidence that a great deal of water had rushed away from the hole. Watermarks on nearby buildings supported that idea, though the ground here being covered with stone didn't allow for much other evidence of a flood. A large pile of twisted metal lay beneath the hole in the cylinder, all that remained of the curved outer wall.

"An accident of some sort, perhaps," Snave theorized then. "I see no one about."

Jamie was about to nod in agreement when an utterly disquieting feeling came over him. It was reminiscent of something he had felt not that long ago, but...what? But even as he posed that question to himself, he had the answer. It was the same feeling he had had when Wanda Pegfoot had come into the master's shop invisible, before their adventure had started.

"Snave," Jamie whispered.

But the gargoyle was ahead of him. "I feel it now, too. Someone is here, unseen."

"Make no sound," Jamie whispered to the others.

The cloud continued to hover above the wreckage while the many twinkling lights swirled about its interior. To Jamie's eye it seemed more agitated than the cloud that had examined them earlier. But even as he thought that the swirling lights slowed, and the cloud simply turned and floated serenely away from them, as if no longer concerned about what had happened here. At the same time, a pair of strange machines rolling on many wheels showed up, each with a complement of steel arms with steel claws at their ends, and began pulling at the wreckage, separating the debris. Two other machines appeared on their heels, each also riding on many wheels, but with very large open hoppers on their backs. These new arrivals positioned themselves near the machines with arms, and to Jamie's wonder, the metallic claws on the first two machines picked up pieces of the wreckage, swiveled on their long arms, and began piling debris into the waiting hoppers.

But Jamie's attention quickly moved elsewhere, trying to home in on the odd feeling he remembered from the master's shop, when Wanda Pegfoot had entered under a spell of invisibility. Jamie was sure by now that a witch's spells and a mage's magicks were often one in the same thing, the difference being that some formula of the words spoken in a witch's spells served to guide their minds through the same ties of a magick that a mage simply tied with thought alone. Those words now only served to reinforce the idea that magick was much the same for all, and that men and women differed only in their approaches to the art of the tie.

So since this feeling he had now was the same as the one he had felt when Wanda Pegfoot had used a spell of invisibility...what did that mean?

Snave made a small sound then, and Jamie sensed somehow that he and the gargoyle were now facing in the same direction. The odd feeling of another presence was strong now, and Jamie's eyes had landed on a small, square block of raised stone to one side of the cylindrical tank, just as the gargoyle said in a whisper, "There."

The stone block was waist-high, and about of a span in each direction as Jamie could make with his arms extended. He focused on that now, until he was certain he could almost...almost, but not quite...make out the figure of a person standing atop it.

Some bit of further intuition spoke to him then, coalesced into a plan of action. Jamie drew in a breath, and then called out, "It's safe to come out now."

For a moment nothing at all happened. And then a voice called out in return, "I'll be the judge of that. Who am I speaking with?"

The voice was clear and strong, not the one his intuition had prepared him to hear, yet still of the nature he had expected, and which now somehow felt right in his ears.

It was a woman's voice.

"I am called Jamie Grimmstone, late of the town of Lyrix. We mean you no harm."

"Lyrix?" The voice seemed surprised, but also suspicious. "What might you be doing here, so far from home?"

Jamie laughed. "Much the same as you are doing, I suspect, investigating the doings of these gray mages."

He interpreted the silence that followed as being one of surprise. "I assure you, we mean you no harm," he repeated.

The woman's voice returned then, sounding very much cynical of Jamie's statement. "Then you won't mind letting me see you. Just so I know you are not wearing gray?"

"Is that wise?" Geert whispered.

"We'll find out," Jamie returned, and made himself visible.

All his other shields and protections remained in place. The difference between being visible and invisible meant nothing to his overall defense.

For a moment nothing happened. Jamie smiled, and waved at the raised stone block. "I see you there."

And then the air above the stone block clouded, and the figure of a woman came into view. Jamie simply stared, not knowing quite what he had expected, but certainly not this!

The woman was young, perhaps of an age as Sir Dorf. Her hair was long and dark, and tied in a long ponytail, which was pulled over her shoulder and hung down the front of the forest green jerkin she wore, to dangle above the black belt about her waist. A green leather cap with a green feather in it covered her head, and served to accentuate her eyes, which were also a striking green in color, much like Garvin's. Her features were plain if pleasingly uniform, but set in a way that bespoke of intelligence and determination. The lower half of her body was clothed in trousers like that of a man, though these looked to fit a bit more closely that any Jamie would dare to wear. Black boots upon her feet completed her outfit.

Over the shoulder opposite the one her hair hung from was slung a bow, and the top of a quiver full of arrows could be seen above the other shoulder. A small leather travel bag was hung from her belt, suggesting that her movements were on the order of Jamie's own travels thus far.

"It's not polite to stare so," the woman finally said, smiling at Jamie's obvious surprise. She peered closer then, and shook her head. "I'm sure I heard others whispering. If there are more of you, why don't you join us?"

Jamie considered that, and then smiled. "Geert? Garvin? Why don't you let her see you now?"

In a moment the other two were also visible. The woman frowned at them then. "'re all so young! What are you doing here? This place is dangerous!"

Jamie chuckled at that. "I could say the same for you!" The sense of the familiar in the woman was strong now.

Garvin smiled then. "Do we know you?"

The woman looked surprised at that. "I don't think so. But...Lyrix, you said? I have been there many times."

Something... "You have relatives there?" Jamie dared.

The woman's striking eyes immediately narrowed. "I don't think I'll say, just yet. Not until I know more about you." She leaned forward then. "And about how you spied me here. That was a guaranteed spell of invisibility!"

The sense of deja vu struck home then, and Jamie laughed. "Wanda Pegfoot!"

The woman stood straight then, her eyes wide. "You know her?"

Jamie and Garvin both laughed.

"We do!" Garvin said, smiling. "She's one of our favorite people!"

"And a friend, we would like to think," Jamie added. "She comes into the shop of our employer often."

The woman put her hands on her hips then, as if trying not to believe what she was hearing. "And who would your employer be?"

"The Master Thorvil," Jamie supplied. "His shop is called The Incomplete Enchanter."

The woman gaped a moment, then converted it into a genuine smile. "I know of the shop, and of its master!"

"And we have been in Wanda's shop many times," Garvin supplied. "In fact, we saw her just before setting out on this journey."

"I take it you know her as well?" Jamie asked.

The woman looked from Jamie to Garvin to Geert, and then let her gaze come back to Jamie. "She's my twice-great aunt."

Jamie turned, as if looking at nothing. "Snave?"

"I sense she speaks the truth, Jamie."

The woman blinked then, and took a careful step backwards. "There are more of you?"

Jamie held up a hand. "We did not intend to deceive." He waved a hand around them. "As you said yourself, this is a dangerous place. We could not let down our guard until we felt safe with you."

The woman frowned, but nodded. "Well, I haven't bitten anyone in years. Perhaps if the rest of you showed yourselves?"

Jamie nodded. "Do it."

Snave, Sir Dorf, Irik, Bastyin, and Gorge appeared, all in the same instant.

The woman tried to hide her surprise, but only halfway made it. Her gaze lingered a moment on the knight, before going on to the others. "Quite a group you have there."

"A name would be nice," Garvin said then, smiling.

The woman absorbed his smile, and returned one of her own. "Um, yes. I'm Seeri Deeping."

Garvin bowed his head and smiled. "We are pleased to meet you, Seeri Deeping."

The woman laughed. "Just Seeri will do."

Garvin nodded. "I am Garvin Kinsmith. This big fellow is Sir Dorf. And these are Snave, Geert, Bastyin, Irik, and Gorge."

Seeri's eyes promptly turned to Snave. "I know of you. The spirit of a mage captured inside the wood of a crypticon tree. My aunt has spoken of you before."

"Hardly kindly, I would imagine," Snave said, the humor apparent in his voice.

"Actually, she speaks of you with great fondness." Seeri snapped her fingers then, and pointed at Jamie. "Aren't you Thorvil's apprentice?"

"Smile when you say that," Geert interjected, grinning.

Jamie also grinned. "I have been apprenticed to Master Thorvil these two years, that is true. Actually, it is nearly three now."

"He's outgrown it, just a bit," Sir Dorf said. He smiled at Jamie. "So this is someone you actually know?"

Jamie shrugged. "Wanda never mentioned her, no. But Wanda seldom speaks of her private business, so that does not seem unusual to me." Jamie scratched at his chin a bit. "But I had a feeling, even before we laid eyes upon her, of familiarity. A sense of knowing. The spell of invisibility, for one thing, is identical to one that Wanda used when entering Master Thorvil's shop one day. Both Snave and I could still sense her."

One of Seeri's eyebrows arched upwards. "It was I that shared the spell with Aunt Wanda! I was told it would make one undetectable." She gave a little annoyed grunt then. "Far inferior to your own magick, apparently, as you were able to sense me, while I had no idea you were there until you spoke."

Sir Dorf looked around then, before returning his gaze to Jamie. "Should we perhaps find a better place to speak? This one has too much openness about it for my own liking."

"Probably a good idea," Seeri agreed. "I'm sure they're still looking for me."

Jamie glanced quickly around then. "The ones in gray seek you?"

"Yes. And they will be especially unhappy with me now that I just killed two of their number."

Jamie looked over at Sir Dorf, who frowned. "Here?"

Seeri turned and pointed at the large pile of wreckage, which the two clawed machines were still cleaning up. "Under there." She pointed up at the large cylindrical tank behind her. "I used a movement spell, and pulled the wall out on them." She grinned. "I had no idea there was water behind it, and was nearly washed away myself. But it served its purpose, and I am still free to stand here and speak with you."

"Quite a movement spell," Jamie had to observe.

"Yes. It has my own enhancements to its power, but even I was surprised at the results."

"We shall not provoke you, then," the knight said winningly. "Jamie? A safer place to speak?"

"Back to the alcove, perhaps? Just until we can figure out where to go from there?"

The knight nodded. "That seems a good idea to me."

Jamie looked around at the others. "If you would gather close." He smiled at Seeri. "If you wish to translocate with us, you will need to come closer."

She stared at him in astonishment. "What? All at one time?"

Jamie nodded. "Please? We can talk once we have reached a place of safety."

The woman gave a little shrug, and moved closer. "I hope I know what I'm doing."

Jamie translocated them all back to the glass-faced alcove, at which Seeri stared almost uncomprehendingly. "I...I would have thought it impossible to move so many at one time!" She smiled at Jamie then. "Your master must be quite the teacher."

Jamie smiled. "He is." He waved his hand at the room around them. "This place seems secure so far. Now, perhaps you might tell us why the gray mages of Porvus seek you?"

Seeri gave a little gasp. "You know of Porvus, too?"

"Yes. And of Lodda. It is one reason we are here. Please. Your story?"

Seeri looked around, mumbled something to herself under her breath, and then sat down on the carefully tied bundle of hay that appeared behind her. Jamie and the others stared, and the woman laughed as she saw their expressions. "Well, I wanted to be comfortable while I talked."

"Wouldn't a chair have been better?" Sir Dorf asked.

"If I could do a chair, I would have," Seeri said, matter-of-factly. "I learned this spell to feed a tyrbeast on the road. I have yet to figure out how to produce a chair from it." She blinked then, and smiled around at them. "Oh, I'm sorry." She mumbled again, repeating the spell several times, until enough bales of hay had appeared to seat them all. "Better?"

"Much," Jamie agreed, sitting and sighing. The bundled hay was scarcely soft, but it was much better than standing.

"I'm from Binterhost, in the plains south of your Lyrix," Seeri began.

Jamie nodded. "I know the town. I have traveled there with master Thorvil. The chemist, Reemy Abernot, resides there."

Seeri brightened. "Exactly! It is old Miss Reemy I get my best potions from, too." She sighed, and her shoulders relaxed. "It is good to hear you know of it, as Binterhost has been the last true island of surety in my life of late."

Sir Dorf leaned forward. "How did you come to be here?"

Seeri looked from face to face, and then smiled at the knight. "I'll tell you my tale, if you will tell me yours." She waved a hand around at those seated before her. "I would love to know how such a group as this has come together!"

"I think we can promise that," Jamie said.

"Very well. My own story begins with Rier, to whom I was betrothed."

"You're wed?" Sir Dorf asked. Jamie smiled at that. Was there a note of regret to be detected in the knight's voice?

"No, I'm not. And now I never will be, most likely."

"What happened?" Garvin asked quietly.

Seeri doffed her cap and gently shook her head, and brushed some top hair from her eyes. She shrugged off the bow and the quiver of arrows, and set both upon the floor beside her. Then she made herself comfortable on the bale of hay, and sighed. "Rier is a mage, and he is a good one. Or, he was. We had a good life coming to us, or so we both thought." There was a definite undercurrent of bitterness in her voice now.

"Where is this Rier now?" Sir Dorf asked.

"I don't know. But he is not concerned with my whereabouts any longer, I do know." Seeri closed her eyes a moment, and gave a brief shake to her head. "My thoughts go back to one evening in Binterhost, with the visit of an old friend of Rier's. Kaunavah, was his name." She looked over at Jamie. "I did not like him from the first, but I thought it was just his manner. Brusque, he was, though not unfriendly. Rier said he had always been that way, but meant well. That I should give Kaunavah time to grow my liking."

"That didn't happen?" Garvin asked.

"No. Kaunavah's mission was to recruit Rier for some project that he, himself, was at work upon, one that they talked about alone, but kept quiet in my presence. All I was told was that Rier had a job offering. He seemed to think it was a good one, too."

"He accepted it?" Sir Dorf asked.

"Yes. At first Rier said I was to stay behind, which was not to my liking at all. 'You would go off and leave me, so close to our wedding day?', I asked him. 'Do you then not love me anymore?'"

Jamie looked at Garvin, who smiled with his eyes, but said nothing at all. "His reply?" Jamie asked.

"He went back to Kaunavah and told him I was to accompany them. I could tell from his reaction that the man did not like that, not at all. But he apparently wanted Rier's service more than he did not wish me along, and gave in. So off we went, translocating to some strange place neither Rier nor I would have ever guessed to exist. A tower in a forest as grand as any ever imagined."

Jamie sat up straight then. "A red tower?"

Seeri's eyes grew puzzled. "How could you know?"

"I had a vision," Jamie replied. "A portent. Please go on."

The woman nodded. "The first thing we were told was not to go outside, that fearsome beasts roamed the land. It only took one look through one of the windows of the place to convince me. Horrifying creatures, like none I could have dreamed of in my worst nightmares."

"We know of them," Sir Dorf. "Did you know where you were?"

Seeri frowned at him. "I'm not sure what you mean. That we were in some far land seemed apparent. But I had no idea where it was located."

The knight indicated the room they were in, and then waved a hand to take in the spaces beyond. "The red towers stand guard in the Forest of Night. Even now we are beneath that forest, in the places once occupied by the ancients of old."

Seeri's face became a mask of disbelief. "Should I have guessed? No, I had no idea that we had been taken to that awful place. I thought the world of that tower and that forest lay somewhere beyond the Blacktooth Mountains, perhaps, but never would I have guessed the Forest of Night." She frowned again, and then looked resigned. "That would explain the sinister doings here. I see myself a fool now for not having realized my true predicament."

"You could not know," Jamie said kindly. "A translocation can be to anywhere. With no destination specified, you had no reason to suspect you were in the Forest."

"Still, it seemed obvious to me right away that whatever assignment Rier had taken, it could not be a good one. We were assigned a room in the tower in which to live. The men that visited Rier there were mostly of a sort I would never have associated with, otherwise."

"All mages?" Jamie asked.

"Yes. And all dressed alike in gray, save the one dressed in red."

"Urvan," Garvin said, his voice heavy with distaste. He and Jamie exchanged glances then.

Seeri nodded. "You know much. This Urvan, with his eyes that burned as hot coals - he frightened me the most. He would look at me in a way that told me he would be rid of my presence if he could, and by means that might not be good for my health. Rier grew so he asked me to stay in the back room when others came to consult. He also did not like the way that some of the mages looked at me."

"You expressed your discomfort to Rier?" Sir Dorf asked.

"Yes. At first he brushed it off as nerves, just our wariness at being in such a bewildering new place. But it did not take long for him to agree that something was not right with the gray mages."

"What happened with that?" Geert asked.

Seeri gave a long sigh then. "That was the start of the end. Rier decided to speak to Kaunavah about our discomfort, and to perhaps even suggest that accepting the assignment had been a mistake. Kaunavah tried to reassure him, and then said he would take Rier to someone who could better explain the mission the gray mages were engaged in."

A sense of dread descended upon Jamie. "Porvus."

Seeri cocked her head at him. "How is it that you are always a step ahead of me?"

Jamie sighed. "We know the story of these mages, if not of you and your Rier. It is not difficult to guess how they both come together."

"Rier went to see Porvus?" Snave asked. "And he came back changed?"

Seeri stared at the gargoyle, and nodded. "When he returned, he was no longer concerned about my fears. He was not concerned about anything anymore, except his new mission." She compressed her mouth a moment, obviously upset at the memory. "He was no longer concerned about me. He told me to stay in our rooms, and to not even walk about the tower any longer. He made of me a prisoner." Her eyes closed at the memory.

"So you left," Bastyin said simply. "As any would have done, in your place."

Seeri's eyes opened. "I tried talking to Rier. Every time he would come in, I tried. But his distance by then was so clear it could not be missed. It was as if love had never bloomed between us. I knew...I knew I had lost him, and that there was nothing left to do but go home."

"You left the tower?" Jamie asked.

"First I told Rier that he had been right, that here was no place for me to be while he worked. I asked that he translocate me back to Binterhost, where I would wait for him to return. He refused. He said I knew too much now about what the gray mages were doing." She held up a hand in disbelief. "I knew nothing of what they were doing, save that they seemed to be met for no good purpose. But I could not convince Rier of that. He would not take me home." She nodded then. "So, yes, I left the tower."

"How did you arrive here?" Snave asked.

"When we first arrived at the tower, we were shown around by Kaunavah. We were taken below the tower and shown the shuttle cars, and taken for a trip in one to another location. Kaunavah wanted us to get a sense of the wonder of the place, I guess. To impress Rier. He impressed both of us!"

"Shuttle car." Jamie repeated the unfamiliar word, and nodded. "That's what the gray mages called the cars below?"

"Yes. There were a number of them, each meant to go to a different destination. We were warned not to go exploring, however, as some of those destinations could prove perilous. But once Rier went to see Porvus, I was not even allowed to walk about the tower any longer. I was told to remain in our rooms, which quickly became intolerable for me."

"So you escaped," Snave stated. "How did you wind up here?"

Seeri shrugged. "My imprisonment was in name, only. Rier had no way to lock me in the rooms, as my touch upon the magick squares by any door bade them to open. So, one morning after he and Kaunavah left for the day, I assembled my things, and went below to the shuttle chamber beneath the tower.

"No one tried to stop you?" Geert asked, sounding disbelieving.

"No one. During the day there were very few of the gray mages about. I simply acted as if I was doing as I was supposed to, and no one even glanced my way. When I arrived in the chamber below, I selected one of the cars, got aboard, and it took me away from the tower, and Rier, and the future I thought we had shared."

No one said anything for a moment. The unhappiness that Seeri was feeling was apparent.

"I'm sorry," Sir Dorf finally said. "It has been hard on you. We only ask questions because we know there is danger with these gray mages." He leaned forward. " The shuttle car brought you to this place?"

Seeri shook her head. "Oh, no. I've come far since I left the red tower, with many stops at many stations between. I've been traveling for much of a week, I think."

Jamie turned to stare at the knight. "She could have come very far in that time." He returned his gaze to Seeri. "Was your direction always east?"

The woman held up her hands. "I had no way of knowing my direction at all. I simply chose new destinations at random." She grunted, a little angrily. "It seemed not to thwart those that pursued me."

Jamie remembered the pile of wreckage beneath the cylindrical tank water now. "The two gray mages that followed you?"

"Yes. I became aware they followed me two stations back. But my invisibility seemed to confuse them, and they could not locate me exactly."

"They wanted to recapture you?" Garvin asked.

Seeri grimaced, and shook her head. "No. Once they were close enough to me, I heard them talking, and learned their mission. It was not to recapture me. It was to silence me."

Sir Dorf narrowed his eyes at that. "To kill you?"


The big knight flashed a look at Jamie that could only be one of anger, though Sir Dorf seldom expressed much in the way of strong emotion. That the man didn't like what he was hearing was plain, though.

"So, you kill them, instead," Gorge finished. "Only thing to do."

Seeri's head drooped. "It wasn't fun, believe me."

Jamie nodded at that, knowing what the woman was feeling. "So the tunnels beneath the tower were the only way you had to leave, then?"

Seeri didn't raise her head to respond. "Yes. Rier can translocate, but he would not take me home. The world beyond the windows was filled with frightful beats. The shuttle cars were the only way I had to escape the tower."

Jamie turned to the knight. "I've been to Binterhost several times. I can easily translocate her home, and be back very quickly."

Seeri's head came up then. "I don't want to go home. Not yet."

Jamie returned his gaze to the woman. "You don't?"

"No. I don't." Seeri shook her head. "What I do want is to find out why the man I love was taken from me. Why, and how, and...and whether or not I can get him back."

Jamie nodded. "He is under the spell of mind control. Porvus has done this to him."

Seeri seemed to think about that, and then her eyes widened. "Then...then his actions now are not his own! His new disinterest in me is not his own!"

"I would say that is true," Jamie agreed.

"It would be hard for you to get him back," Garvin said then. "We know the power of the magick Porvus wields."

Seeri rose to her feet. "But I must try! If he is enslaved in his mind, I must free him!"

Sir Dorf sighed, and smiled at Jamie. "It's what I would do, in her place."

Jamie also smiled, seeing Garvin out of the side of his eyes. "I would do the same."

Garvin seemed to sense Jamie's sidelong gaze, and smiled himself. "So, we will help Seeri get her love back?"

Jamie nodded, and turned back to the girl. "It cannot be our primary mission, for that is even more grave a task than the finding of lost love. But if we can help you recover your Rier, we will."

Seeri nodded, and sank back to the hay bale. "I will go with you, then."

Sir Dorf stood, stretched himself, and smiled at Jamie. "Now it is later in the day, with afternoon upon us, and perhaps a good idea to stay the night here. I believe Seeri can tell us much about what lies ahead of us, too. So perhaps something to eat, some discussion and plan-making, and then a good night's sleep? And then off again in the morning?"

Jamie also stood. "It sounds good to me. Anybody have anything to add?"

Geert leaned closer to Jamie and lowered his voice. "Think you there is one of the shining rooms of the ancients close at hand? Some relief in such a room would be welcome."

Jamie nodded at that. "Gorge?"

"To left, in tunnel outside," the Pertwee responded. He smiled at Geert. "I show you."

"I believe I'll tag a long, "Garvin said, grinning at Jamie.

"I will, too," Jamie decided, feeling a certain fullness within himself.

"We may as well all go," Sir Dorf said. "Better to stay together."

"Where are we going?" Seeri asked, standing and gathering her things.

"Um..." Jamie looked helplessly at Garvin, who looked just as helplessly at Geert, who turned to the knight, who actually managed to look unsettled, himself.

"Well...perhaps best discussed when we arrive." Sir Dorf nodded at Seeri. "Shall we?"

The woman's eyes moved from one male to the next, noting their discomfort, and then she smiled. "I think I already know."

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