The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 28

"You must say it clearly," Seeri instructed, her eyes on Jamie. "It's fine to say it under your breath, but the words must be completely clear."

Jamie nodded, and again said the spell, this time going slower and speaking as clearly as he could.

T'was twice we stopped upon the road
the tyrbeast pulled a heavy load,
In my belly had hunger set,
my poor tyrbeast was hungrier yet!

This time, two things happened almost simultaneously. Jamie sensed the core form within his knack, and instantly tie into a reasonably complicated knot. It completed and flashed away from the focus of his inner eye, and at that same moment something bumped against the back of his legs. He turned and looked down, and then grinned at the bale of hay he had produced. "Well!"

Garvin smiled and clapped him upon the shoulder. "Well done! We'll make a witch of you yet!"

Jamie rolled his eyes at the teasing, and smiled at his friend. "Thanks!" He turned to Seeri then. "Where does it come from?"

She frowned at him. "The bale of hay? I have no idea."

Jamie frowned now himself, and turned to examine the bale more closely. It was reasonably square, a little longer than wide, and bound by two cords of rough twine. He bent and poked the bale, found it identical in density to the ones Seeri had produced for them to sit on. The bale appeared to be just like those he had seen made in the courtyard at Cumberstone Castle, to be used as feed in the animal barns. A wagon load of dried grass was brought, and two men would use pitchforks and rakes to load the grass into a box press, where the grasses were compressed into a block. The completed bales were tied with cords, and the doors of the box opened, and one had a new bale of hay.

But someone had to make them.

Jamie now dissected the tie produced by the spell, and then laughed. He looked up at Seeri, and smiled at her. "Guess what? You can translocate!"

Her jaw dropped in amazement. "What?"

Jamie nodded. "Yes. This spell produces a magickal lock. There are ties for translocation, and some for what amazingly appear to be a very specific location for something to be translocated from." He eyed her carefully then. "May I ask where you learned this spell?"

"Why...from the same place I have learned many useful spells. Aunt Wanda!"

Jamie squeezed his eyes shut. Of course!

He turned to Garvin then. "Recall the animal pens we saw on the ward at Cumberstone Castle, and the many stacks of hay stored there to feed that same livestock?"

Garvin nodded. "A huge supply, it was."

Jamie smiled at him. "Those were tied as these. I suspect our dear Wanda has set a spell that pilfers hay bales from the King, himself!"

Garvin looked stunned, and then dissolved into laughter.

"Are you serious?" Sir Dorf asked, turning to examine the bale he had been sitting on. "They do look familiar, now that my memory is prompted." He turned back, and laughed. "A bale leaving the pen yard now and then would never be missed. In fact, many tens the number we have brought here to sit upon could go missing, without visibly reducing the supply there."

Everyone smiled at the idea of it, save for Seeri, who now looked alarmed. "I have no desire to be stealing from the King!"

Jamie shook his head. "Relax. I doubt very much it has been noticed, nor that the few you have borrowed would ever be missed. Wanda would consider such a spell a fine jest, I'm sure. Your twice great aunt has always impressed me with her sense of humor."

But the woman still looked unhappy. "It could get me into trouble."

Jamie sighed. "Is this spell widely-dispersed?"

"No. You are the only one I have shared it with. Aunt Wanda did caution me to keep it close, now that you ask." Understanding dawned then. "Why, of course! If others were given this spell, she knew that the sudden loss of many bales of hay from the King's supply would be noticed!"

Jamie nodded. "Certainly. As it is, one now and then would never be missed. Nor even a few."

"I would like to examine this spell, if I may," Snave said then. "Translocation has always been tied to the mental image of a place one wishes to go. It's why a mage cannot translocate to places never visited. But a translocation produced with the ties of this spell could allow one to go anyplace that could be coded into the tie. It's understanding the code of the tie that intrigues me."

Jamie nodded. "It was a best guess on my part that that's what I was looking at. The ties are new, and must be experimented with to get the full value of them. A moment--" He closed his eyes again.

Another bale of hay appeared, right atop the one Jamie had first brought behind him. He opened his eyes and turned to examine it. "Well...that worked just fine."

Seeri eyed him incredulously. "You didn't say the spell!"

"I didn't need to." Jamie smiled at her. "I learned the ties the first time I said the spell. It can now be tied simply with thought."

Snave chuckled. "Apparently, the idea that a mage's magick and a witch's magick are one and the same is correct."

"It would seem so." Jamie scratched his chin thoughtfully, his gaze on Seeri. "It is the execution that is so different. I don't quite understand how the saying of the spell generates the ties. There is some harmonious pattern in thought to reciting them that allies with the desire to create the tie, I suspect. But apparently, intent to do magick is important here, otherwise simple, daily conversations would be casting magicks all over the place."

Snave seemed in good humor over the prospect of a new angle to magick to explore. "I'm sure if we set our minds to understanding this mystery, all will become apparent in time." He chuckled again. "We can always pose questions to Wanda, under threat of exposing her pilfering to the king's guard, if needed."

Seeri eyed the gargoyle worriedly. "I hope you jest!"

"He does," Jamie reassured, smiling. "But some good can come of this discovery. It means we can teach you some of our own protections. If you are set on accompanying us, you will need them."

The woman looked uneasy at that. "This is not something normally done. Rier would never teach me his magicks, saying they were only for mages."

"And yet you did not mind teaching me a spell," Jamie pointed out, smiling.

The woman laughed. "Well, it's such a small spell, and I do think the rule of not sharing with mages is a stupid one." She cast a quick, nervous look around her then, as if perhaps fearing there might be some sort of unearthly retribution for her statement.

Jamie's smile widened at that. "Relax. We are friends here."

Snave grunted in agreement. "Yes, we are. I see no reason why a ridiculous social convention should keep you from being secure while accompanying us. If you don't learn some protections, one of us will always have to take the duty of protecting you, instead."

Seeri mulled that a moment, and then nodded. "I don't wish to be a burden. Perhaps a little protection won't hurt."

Jamie and Garvin smiled at each other over that. "The nether?" Garvin asked.

"The nether," Jamie agreed. He held out a hand to Seeri. "Will you come with me?"

Seeri looked unsure for a moment, but then smiled at an encouraging nod from Garvin. "Very well. I just hope I know what I'm doing."

She took his hand, looked around the small alcove, and then watched him expectantly. "I guess I really should ask where we're going?"

"Here," Jamie returned, as they both slid into the nether. He felt Seeri's grip tighten against his hand, and turned to smile at her. "There's no danger. We're in the nether."

She gave a little gasp at that. "Really? Oh, I've heard about this place!"

He eyed her curiously. "I've never talked magick with a witch before. Do witches have nethers?"

The woman gave a little toss of her head. "Some do, according to rumor. I think Aunt Wanda does. They don't like to talk about it, though." She gave a little sniff, but smiled at Jamie. "Men!"

Jamie laughed at that. "I see. Well, this is my nether."

For Jamie, the nether was alive with motion, as the trees surrounding the field in which they stood moved gently in a breeze he was unable to feel. The cabinets and shelves of the master's stores stood in the grass all about them, but Jamie had accepted the idea now that this was not the master's nether. It was his own, copied from the only one he had known at the time. But for Seeri, who lacked indrynitz in her eyes, all that would be visible were these selfsame cabinets and shelves.

"Rather gloomy, isn't it?" She looked around, and smiled. "It could use a feminine touch, I think."

Jamie grinned at that, but turned and looked off across the field. "Flitch? Are you present?"

There was a faint rustling sound, which Jamie had come to think of as the ghostly movement of unreal air, and he sensed the nether being coming. "Don't be alarmed by what you see, Seeri. This is a friend."

She had barely had a chance to nod when Flitch appeared, and came close to them. "Ah. There you are." He immediately leaned closer to peer at Seeri. "Well...what have we here?" The nether being's surprise was almost tangible, and Jamie smiled.

Seeri simply gaped, obviously stunned by Flitch's appearance.

"This is Seeri," Jamie said, smiling at the woman. "Seeri, this is my friend, Flitch."

The nether being gave every evidence of being amazed. "Jamie! This one is not like you! Nor like the others I have met!"

"She's a girl," Jamie said, trying to hide his smile with a hand. "The other sex I told you about."

"Ah, yes. Procreation." Flitch's interest intensified yet another degree. "Perhaps now you can now show me how this is done?"

Jamie felt embarrassment leap up his neck and burst at the back of his head. It immediately clouded his thoughts, and he stammered a moment before finding his voice. "Um, no, Flitch." He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper, even though Seeri was right there next to him. "You don't mention such things in front of a lady!"

Flitch drew back quickly, and performed a small bow of his upper body to Seeri. "Please forgive me if I have offended. I did not know."

Seeri, who had drawn in a stunned breath at the nether being's suggestion, immediately made an effort to regain her composure. Her eyes moved from Jamie to Flitch and back again, her surprise abundantly visible. But Jamie must have looked extremely uncomfortable at that moment, for the surprise quickly faded as she watched him, and a look of sympathy took its place. The humor in the moment surely must have become apparent to her then.

A slow smile took hold of her. "It's okay. We're all grown up, I think."

Jamie closed his eyes, found his direction again, reopened them, and focused them on Flitch. "I brought her here to provide her with the protections against thought domination, the Breath of the Dragon, and to provide her with enhanced sight."

Even as he said these words, a nether machine appeared and began its job of collecting the raw materials. In short order, and after carefully explaining to Seeri the startling elements of the applications, he had provided her with these necessary additions to her magickal arsenal.

"I feel...I feel different," she said, after the last had been applied.

"Not harmed, though?" Jamie asked.

"No." The woman smiled. "Though you were right that the applications were frightening. But I feel...better. Stronger, somehow."

Jamie nodded. "You are safe now from the very mental dominance that has stolen your Rier from you. Porvus can not affect your thoughts now. The other protection guards against the Breath of the Dragon, a particularly venomous weapon of the old one's science. And the enhanced sight--" he smiled. "You understand the concept of the knack for magic?"

"Of course!"

Jamie nodded. "Then wish to see mine."

Seeri frowned at him, and her face pinched in concentration. "To see it? I don't really know how--" and then she took a step backwards. "Oh! A fire such as I have never seen before! It spins above your head!"

Jamie smiled. "Here is how you can identify a mage or a witch. And, it is how you can keep track of our whereabouts when under the protection of invisibility." He shifted into his own enhanced sight, and found no surprise in the energetic strength of the knack that whirled above Seeri's own head. The woman had the knack strong!

Seeri shook her head, but then smiled. "Your invisibility, I hope you mean, as the one I know seems to have a few holes in it!"

Jamie shrugged. "I'm not sure what it is with that. We can't actually see you. It's something else that alerts both Snave and I to the spell and your presence."

"Well, I can't rely on it, now that I know it isn't perfect."

Jamie nodded. "We can teach you some more effective protections."

Flitch, who had been listening quietly, now moved closer. "This one has promise, I think."

Seeri beamed at that, and waved a hand at the nether being. "Oh, you're only saying that to be nice!"

Jamie smiled at her words. "If Flitch says you have promise, then you have promise."

"Indeed." Flitch moved closer, and slowly extended one of his branched arms towards Seeri. "I have a gift for you, if you will allow me the honor."

Seeri's eyes met Jamie's, the question of safety obvious in her gaze, to which Jamie just smiled. "If Flitch has something to give you, it can only be to your benefit."

She smiled. "Then I would be delighted, Sir Flitch."

The nether being moved his arm closer, and for a moment Jamie would have sworn that it passed through Seeris' head. And then Flitch drew back, and Jamie knew the nether being well enough by now to register the satisfaction in his eyes.

"Indrinytz," Flitch said. "I have regenerated that which I have given to others of Jamie's group, and again have more than enough to spare."

Jamie couldn't help laughing briefly at the woman's look of utter incomprehension. He waved a hand at the cabinets and shelves around them. "Tell yourself you'd like to see this place as it really is."

Seeri's eyebrows went up at that. "This place is not as it seems? Then what...?" She gasped then, her eyes wide and staring as she turned to look around her. "Oh, Jamie! It's beautiful!"

She continued to turn slowly, taking in her surroundings, until her gaze came back to Flitch. She gasped again, and took a startled step back. "How regal you look, Sir Flitch!"

"You look pretty good, yourself," Jamie said, smiling. Seeri shifted her gaze to him then, and a hand came up to cover her mouth. "Do I look like you now?"

"Yes. What you see is the power that courses through me, the life, the wishes, the hopes, the dreams. All that I am within, written now without."

She pulled her hand away from her smile. "You are quite fetching, Jamie. If what you're saying is true, you are quite beautiful within your heart, I think."

Jamie felt his face warm. "It's pleasant to see, I know. You are a treat for my eyes, as well! It reinforces my view that having you along with us will come to a good end."

"I think you are done here," Flitch said then. An agreeable sound issued forth from the nether being, which Jamie had come to hear as a chuckle. "Until you return, I mean. And you will."

"Thank you, Flitch. Once again your assistance has proven invaluable."

"This is your place in the aether, Jamie. I only watch and comment at your visits."

Jamie smiled at the size of that understatement. "Be well, Flitch. Until the next time we meet."

"Carry with you my good tidings for the others, Jamie. Be safe in your travels."

And then they were back among their friends.

Seeri looked around the small alcove, and Jamie could see the amazement in her eyes. "It is as if we never left!"

Geert smiled at her. "To us, you never did. Time spent in the nether is not reflected here. Jamie took your hand, and then released it. Yet even I can sense the changes in you."

"You seem well, and happy," Sir Dorf agreed. "A pleasant visit, then?"

Seeri nodded. "It was an experience like no other. I had no idea that such things existed!"

"So you feel enlightened?" Bastyin asked. "So was my journey with Jamie to meet Flitch. A wonder, truly."

"Great story to tell grandchildren, if live to have grandchildren," Gorge agreed. Jamie noticed the twinkle in the Pertwee's eye, and smiled.

Irik, who had been silently watching and listening, now raised himself to sit on his haunches. "So this will change our plans, it seems to me."

"I would agree," Sir Dorf said. His eyes moved to find Jamie's. "A thought. Seeri traveled a week to arrive here, a considerable distance, I think. You were considering retracing her steps?"

"The thought occurred to me," Jamie admitted. "Finding a base from which the gray mages operate might be a great step forward in our task."

The knight nodded. "Perhaps we have an opportunity to take an even greater stride forward than you now are considering. Rather than retrace Seeri's route through the tunnels, we would seem to have another option."

Jamie frowned at that. "What do you mean?"

A patient expression covered the knight's face. "The location of the red tower from which she began her journey is certainly within her mind."

Jamie blinked in surprise at the implication. Oh!

Gorge clapped his hands together at that. "Jamie can see tower in woman's mind, the same way he see Crescent in mine!"

Seeri turned to Jamie. "What does he mean?"

Jamie rubbed at his nose a little pensively. "Well...we arrived here in the Crescent - this place - by ranslocation. But I have never been here before." He indicated the Pertwee. "Gorge had. By seeing this place in his thoughts, I was able to translocate us here, even though I had never been here myself."

Seeri stared at him. "And you're an apprentice?"

That brought a round of laughter from the others. "He has somewhat outgrown the title, as I said," Sir Dorf reminded. "We have all grown on this journey, often in leaps and bounds."

The woman licked her lips, her eyes on Jamie. "And you are now offering to teach me some magicks?"

Jamie smiled. "Do you object to learning new things?"

"Well..." Seeri thought about that, and her own expression relaxed. "No. I enjoy learning new spells and potions."

Jamie shrugged. "Then consider what we can teach you as new spells and potions, if it makes you feel better. But learn you can, no matter what you choose to call it."

Seeri raised a forefinger and tapped it against her chin, her eyes growing thoughtful. "Have you a girl who likes you, Jamie?"

Garvin moved closer at that, to stand beside Jamie. But he remained silent, awaiting Jamie's answer.

Jamie smiled, and reached over and took his friend's hand. "I have Garvin. He is my one love."

Seeri blinked in surprise at that announcement, obviously not expecting that particular answer. But Garvin looked elated at Jamie's words, and moved closer to bump against Jamie, and Seeri didn't fail to notice that. She watched them together a moment, and then gave a little sigh, and smiled wistfully. "I guess that's all that needs saying, then."


"I only asked, as I have a younger sister. I think she would have been enchanted with you!"

Jamie laughed. "Matchmaking is a pursuit I'd expect from your Aunt Wanda. It wears less well on someone as young as yourself."

The woman smiled at that. "All things are fair, in romance, young man. I'm sure you'll learn that, someday."

Sir Dorf leaned forward, just a bit. "All things?"

Seeri's smile turned his way. "Well, most things, Sir Knight. To be fair, conscience has a role that cannot be denied."

"Aren't we drifting away from the topic?" Geert said then, doing his best not to look impatient.

Jamie sighed. "Yes. You pose an interesting question, Sir Dorf. Might we take the gift of Seeri's presence among us to make a great leap forward in our journey? I would have to think about that. The rightness of it should become apparent, if this is an action we are to take."

Bastyin smiled at him. "You believe in predestination, Jamie?"

Jamie was surprised by the question. "No. Or, not as I think you mean. Predestination would imply that we have no will in this matter, and I have felt all along that we do. But I do trust some part of my intuition, and thus far it has seemed accurate as far as the direction and speed we must take in reaching Methuwan." He smiled. "If a bit cautious, even by my own thinking."

Seeri gasped. "You go to Methuwan? The evil city, itself?"

"Yes." Jamie smiled at her. "I can still take you home, if you like."

The woman's eyes traveled among them, estimating and considering. But then she shook her head, and offered a wan smile. "No. I cannot just leave Rier. If that means facing down the demons of Methuwan, then I must."

Sir Dorf nodded appreciatively. "I hope your Rier is worthy of such devotion."

Seeri nodded, looking resigned. "I just hope I know what I'm doing."

Garvin laughed. "You say that a lot."

"That's because I am always wondering if I know what I am doing!"

That brought a round of laughter, and Jamie could feel the air of relaxation drift among them. His fellows liked Seeri, and he took that as a good sign. Jamie also liked her, and felt that she had some place among them, though one yet to be defined.

He held up his hands. "Then I suggest that we make ourselves comfortable, have something to eat, and see what plans we can draw. We must teach you a few things if you are to accompany us, Seeri."

She nodded. "I'll do my best. I promise."

Jamie looked among his fellows, and could see no indication that there were objections to the woman going with them. That fact itself was enough to convince him that the choice was the right one to make.

"You learned that one well," Jamie said, smiling at Seeri approvingly. "The magick that learns magicks works as well for you as any of us. That tells me certainly now that Magick is all of a kind, for all those that can use it."

"It seems to be," Bastyin agreed. "We have learned the many spells from Seeri as easily as she has learned our magicks." The Lachess tapped his chest twice to accent his smile. "My head feels so full now it has little room to think."

Jamie laughed at that. "Learning is much like eating, in that respect. One eventually gets full, and needs time to digest."

"I am amazed at the ease with which we now learn," Irik said. "Yet that it is work cloaked in the joy of discovery seems obvious. I am weary, myself."

Seeri shook her head in amazement. "I can hardly believe that I can perform spells without saying the words. It's new thinking for me to visualize the, um, ties that form the spell. It's like writing without holding the quill."

"It's faster and less cumbersome, I think you will find," Geert agreed. "Yet I do see the resonance of spoken words with the twists of ties to be quite fascinating. I will join with Snave in studying this thing in more depth, I think."

"We've all learned a lot," Jamie agreed. He smiled. "And, as always, it feels good to do so."

Garvin squeezed Jamie's wrist fondly, and then looked around the small alcove again before nodding at the window and smiling at Gorge. "You are certain that is a one-way glass?"

The Pertwee nodded. "Walked along outside wall with brothers. Never saw windows, yet rooms along tunnel all have them."

"Must have been quite an adventure, walking around this place without magick," Sir Dorf said, smiling.

Gorge rolled his eyes. "More scare than fun. Not dare go any further than here."

"I don't blame you." The knight turned to Jamie. "Any thoughts on my earlier suggestion?"

"Yes. I have been thinking over the idea of teleporting to the red tower from which Seeri came." He turned to the woman then. "You said that the gray mages are often absent during the day?"

Seeri held up her hands uncertainly. "That was what I observed while I had the run of the place. Once Rier confined me to our rooms, I cannot say. But I did get the impression that more of the gray mages were absent during the day, and even at night the place was far from busy. Many mages had rooms there, but stayed out in the field most of the time."

"But during the day, there were even less present?"


Garvin frowned at him. "We handled many of the gray mages while fighting Skoda. And the three in the great dome when we first met Bastyin. They are of a lesser caliber, it seems, than the leaders."

"But the more magick that is arrayed against us, the bigger the risk we use all our time fighting," Jamie told him. "I would prefer to get there and have some time to look around before engaging anyone."

"Reconnaissance is an important prelude to battle," Sir Dorf agreed. "I also would prefer to have the lay of the place before drawing my sword."

Jamie nodded and turned back to Seeri. "What of Urvan, the red mage? He was also gone during the day?"

"He did not live there," she responded. "But he seemed to be there every evening, hearing the reports of those that had been out during the day. That one was a devil for the details, too. Any man that answered he did not know something, incurred Urvan's wrath."

Jamie smiled coldly at that. "Sounds like the man. Expects more of others than he expects of himself."

Seeri leaned forward to look at him. "I heard quite a bit about this Urvan while there. He is not a mage to be trifled with."

"I don't intend to trifle with him. I intend to break him, if at all possible."

Seeri's eyes widened at that announcement, and Jamie felt a certain sadness within. That he would almost certainly have to kill Urvan at some point seemed abundantly clear. There would be no making peace with these mages, at least, not the leaders. Urvan, Porvus - Lodda, if he was even really there, as they had heard some of the gray mages speak of him almost as a myth - they and any other mages in the hierarchy of this group had to be dealt with permanently. Otherwise they would be back, seeking revenge; or, if not so motivated, simply move somewhere else and start anew. This affair had to be ended, not simply postponed.

And Prince Sedwick had to be restored to his rightful self. Jamie had no plan yet on how he would wrest from Urvan the secret of the magick the man had used against the prince. But take it he must. If the red mage could be defeated, there would be a chance perhaps to bargain with him. Not that Jamie really felt that would do any good. Urvan was a spiteful man, as evidenced by what he had done to the prince. He would likely take great pleasure in frustrating Jamie's attempts to recover the magick. In his heart, Jamie knew how it would end. In order to learn the magick Urvan had used, Jamie would need to take his knack from him, and that would be the same as executing the man by other means. Urvan would be just as dead.

It's the killing I hate.

"You think you can?" Seeri asked. "You're so..."

"Young?" Jamie finished, smiling. "I'm small, but my bite has become a large one."

"Here, here!" Sir Dorf said approvingly, bringing his hands together in a soft clap. "Our Jamie is a scrapper!"

Seeri looked around at the group, and nodded her head. "There is a singular unity among those gathered here, one I have never felt anything like before. Your strength can be felt. You may even be able to do as you say."

"We believe in what we do," Garvin said, leaning his shoulder against Jamie's. "If there can be no justice in the world, then none are free."

"Many wrongs will be addressed, when our adversaries are met," Bastyin said. "And those of us who live in the lower forest must know we are safe from the errant whims of human mages."

"As do we in the world above," Snave added. "We can only guess at what Porvus and his cohort are doing. But the glimpses we have had clearly indicate that their task holds ill for all the world."

Seeri sat back, watching them, and seemed then to make up her mind. "It's hard to know the time down here in these warrens, but by my feeling it is late afternoon above. The gray mages would not have returned just yet."

Jamie glanced at Garvin, who only could shrug. "What are you suggesting?" Jamie asked her.

"That perhaps now is the time to go. I have learned the protections you offered, and have your watcher to keep me. I have also learned these other destructive magicks you offered, though they do more to unsettle me than to make me feel secure. There is no reason to delay, by my thinking."

Sir Dorf smiled at that. "The lady speaks well. A look at where we are to go might be in order. At the worst, we are forced to translocate back here. And none can follow, not even Urvan."

"Probably," Jamie agreed. "I have yet to find a way to trace a translocation, myself. But that does not mean that Porvus or Urvan cannot."

Geert grunted. "I would get on with this task. We have been too long waiting."

"We have been building our own power and knowledge," Jamie pointed out. "All that has come before this moment was necessary."

"But is it still necessary?" Geert asked. "How much more can we learn? And when will we finally feel the waiting is over?"

Jamie sat back at that. When, indeed?

To his own amazement, he did not feel averse to the idea of going to the red tower. Nor even to facing Urvan. Jamie was under no illusion that they were now ready to take on all comers; but...Urvan? Somehow the man no longer frightened him as much as he once had. Jamie remembered their first meeting at the castle, and how he had forced Urvan to flee. Granted, it was because Jamie had pulled out a very rare magick from Thorvil's library, one that Urvan had not encountered before. But...

But. The man had been unable to deal with it, plain and simple. Urvan had finally had to flee before being crushed, because he had been unable to cope with that magick on the spot. That he may have done so by now was a good assumption, but that he had not been able to do so on the spur of the moment meant--

He was unable to adapt as quickly as Jamie.

Because he did not have the lens to aid him, nor the magicks that Jamie had come up with to deal with certain forms of energy. That Urvan was a learned, very powerful mage was something Jamie had always assumed to be the case. But that Urvan might be a very conventional mage was something Jamie had not considered. The man might be very good at what he knew, just as Skoda had been; but without a lens....could he know the things that Jamie did? It seemed unlikely, in retrospect.

Just as Skoda had gone down under normal magics, so might be said for Urvan. Had Skoda not had the hex of the bracelet he wore, he would have died even sooner. That did bring to mind the possibility of other such sympathetic magicks being used against them, which was a worry. Hexes did not operate as did normal magicks, and countering them could be problematic. But Jamie didn't think that Urvan could block him from translocating, nor follow him if he did, and the worst that would likely happen would be that they would need to withdraw from an encounter and revise their plans. But much could still be learned, even in that case.

Jamie remembered Kundun's words then, that Jamie must find the source of magick before taking on Porvus. He had yet to do that, because he had been unable to create in his mind a laboratory to study the matter as he had electrums and light. In order to study the propagation of magick, he needed to be exposed to a lot of it so that the lens, in conjunction with his own mind, could trace it back to its roots. Perhaps a confrontation with an able magick user was just what he needed!

And yet...still, the old unease at moving too quickly plagued him. It was a vague thing, a sense that they were not up to the task, not ready to fight, not ready to end this matter. Not ready for war.

Was it simply a lack of confidence in himself?

Garvin smiled at him. "I see the wheels turning, my Jamie."

Jamie laughed. "I am trying to find arguments against this quicker approach, and can find none. And...there are elements to having another encounter with the gray mages that may even aid me in my study of magick."

Geert looked amazed. "Do you say we are going to the tower?"

"Was that not you just pushing for the very idea?"

The apprentice seemed taken aback. "Well...yes, but...I didn't think you would..." He gave a little shake of his head. "Up until now we have tried to avoid conflict. We have tried to stay hidden, instead of acting out in the open. I have agreed that this caution was a safeguard to our success, even while chafing at the necessity of it. But to now abandon that approach, and take one more active in nature... "

"I still feel the need for caution," Jamie inserted. "And yet...I don't know why we should not go and try this thing."

Geert's eyes widened, and he took a deep breath, and let it back out, sounding almost weary. He smiled then. "I feel you are a better judge than I. I express impatience, while you speak with a more practical mind. While I know we pursue larger goals, in my heart I still yearn to be repaid for the injury and injustice done to my master. I am not as good a judge of how to proceed as you are." He nodded. "I trust you, Jamie. If you now feel it is time to leap ahead instead of walk, I will be right there with you. But if you still feel we need to move slowly...I am also there with you."

Jamie sensed the feeling in Geert's words, and nodded solemnly. "I have come to trust you, too." He looked around at those watching him. "I have come to trust all of you. So..." He turned to Seeri. "Let us see what we can see."

Using the lens as an interface once more, Jamie examined the images of the red tower in Seeri's mind, the place she had fled from a week before. As with Gorge's images of the Crescent, he had to look deeper, seek out the surety that this was a place Seeri had been before. This time he simply willed a copy of the images, along with that sense of being there, to his own mind, and stored them among the places he himself had visited. He felt that he could get them to the red tower now, and only that choosing one of the many images was left to do.

"I hesitate to appear within your own rooms, lest Reir be there," he told Seeri. "We wish to rescue him at some point, not confront him too quickly while he is under the control of Porvus."

"He will not return until darkness falls," Seeri offered. "There is still time, I think."

"What we need is our method of shielding a mind from Porvus, but that can be used to release someone already under the spell," Snave said. He paused then, and such was the pause that Jamie suspected the gargoyle had had a new idea.

"Something, Snave?"

"I don't know. I just was reminded of the battle machine that Porvus sent against us in the tunnels below. He spoke to us from that machine, and I had every sense that he was somehow in control of it from afar." The gargoyle turned to face Jamie. "But surely Porvus cannot be in control of all these gray mages from afar? The task of guiding so many, moment to moment, would be all-consuming."

Jamie frowned at that. "When Porvus worked through the gliftok at the inn of Sir Dorf's brother, and clouded my mind, I did not know he was there until after. I was able to follow his tracks back to where he had first altered my perceptions, and see what had been done. He had me undo my own protections, but all I felt at the time was that somehow I was being overcome. I had no sense that it was from within."

Sir Dorf held up a hand. "It was a devious assault. But it sounds less an attack of direct control than a deception of thought somehow levied from behind your back."

"Yes. I was convinced that my protections were unraveling, but totally unaware that I was doing it myself."

Garvin shook his head. "Is this then really control? Perhaps Porvus simply rewrites some of what is there in the mind, so that the mind cannot tell these new perceptions from what is real. The person will then act as if the thoughts in his head are his own, when they have in fact been written for him."

Jamie held up a finger and pointed at his friend. "That may be exactly right." In fact, it seemed almost certain now that that was what had been done to Jamie at the inn. He had not been controlled, so much as misled!

He closed his eyes, remembered back to his tracing of what had been done to his own reality in the attack at the inn. Once focused upon the discrepancy in his memories, he had been able to retrace the false perceptions back to the beginning and unravel them. But that had been within his own mind. How could such repairs be made to the mind of another?

The lens at his chest grew warm, and the tie that appeared in Jamie's inner vision was immediately recognizable as the one he had devised to diffuse electrum fields. Tied to disperse from within, it was the one he had used to take the life of the gray mage Artagon within the great dome where they had first met Bastyin. Even as he watched, it slowly began to untie, stopped, and then retied itself...but differently. And Jamie immediately knew its new function. Here, for the first time, was a magick that recognized the patterns that electrums could take.

But this was not just the lens showing him something. This was his own mind, having assimilated many facts, now responding with what he had learned. The lens facilitated the process, gathered Jamie's own learnings together; but Jamie was aware that a new understanding on his part had engendered this new magickal tie. I teach myself, he thought with wonder. He examined the new knot, and could right away see how it worked.

Thoughts within the mind were based in memories, which in their totality represented the framework of the reality in which each person operated. This reality was built, one brick at a time, from the day of birth up until the day of death. New thoughts based upon the existing framework were the fluid that extended and reshaped the reality with the experiences of each day. But the reality itself was a remembered thing, reborn each morning upon awakening, and stored safely away each night to absorb the day's experiences and integrate them into the world as it was known. Facts and thoughts that disputed what had heretofore been known were able to modify that reality, change it, and were then stored away once the mind was convinced of the right of it.

Every mind was unique, which made every reality unique. What came to Jamie now along with the understanding of this new knot was that the memories that were stored by each mind had a sort of ownership stamp upon them, a pattern, one that he could now see indicated their authenticity. What this new lock allowed for him to see, among other electrum secrets, was the personal nature of thought and memory, stored as a curious yet unique pattern of electrums within.

I must test this upon myself.

Jamie allowed the magick to complete, and saw in his mind's eye a ball of light appear just before his eyes. It was of a size as his head, and he knew he was meant to move it to encompass his skull. He did that, and was surprised at what happened next.

After the affair at the inn of Dorf's brother, Jamie had retraced the false steps in his memory that Porvus had placed there, and unraveled what had been done. Or so he had thought. At that time he thought he had found all the changes. Yet now he could see that he had missed one. It was there yet, within his mind, a memory that did not bear the unique stamp of his own making. Because it had been made by another mind, not his own, and inserted into his head as if he had originated it himself.

That memory was of a fear. An uncertainty. A vague but motivating unease born of Porvus, of Urvan, of Methuwan, and of whatever the dark mages were doing there. It was a fear that urged caution, one that colored his perceptions of the future encounter there with blood. It was a fear that had been subtly guiding his steps from that very day.

The fear of losing. The fear of death. The fear that I can never be the warrior mage I must be in order to prevail.

It was there, in his mind's eye, an obvious interloper now, an ugly blemish on the face of his reality. Jamie circled the false memory in his mind, viewed it from all sides. It was a menacing thing, definitely; but it was not of his own making. And it did not belong. Manipulating the globe of electrums about his head now, he enveloped the intruder memory in light, and then extinguished it.

He had to take a breath, so sudden was the sense of calm that overcame him. And in that moment, he knew for certain that the time for action had arrived.

What was it that Kundun had just told him, only that morning?

"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. 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, are you well?" It was Garvin, sounding concerned.

Jamie opened his eyes and smiled. "Yes. For the first time since that night at the inn, I am as I should be."

"What happened?" Snave asked.

Jamie recounted his experiences with the new magick, and then turned to Seeri. "This means we can extinguish the false memories within your Rier that have altered his reality. This means he can come back to you, as he was."

The woman squeezed her eyes shut a moment, and opened them over a smile. "I don't know what to say."

Jamie smiled, himself. "Nothing needs to be said. We will do what we must."

Geert looked around at the others, and then fixed a look of disbelief upon Jamie. "So we are going?"

"Yes. It's time. At's time for this much, anyway."

Even as they sat to make their plans, Jamie wondered if Urvan would be at the tower. And how he would get the mage to part with the magick needed to cure the prince, if they did manage to corner him there.

That is, if he could be cornered, at all.

They materialized beneath the red tower, in the cavernous room below that was home to two tunnels on opposite sides of the platform. That there were so few tunnels here told them this was not one of the great hubs on the map, but simply a stop along the way to somewhere in the west. Probably its location was why it had been selected as housing for the gray mages, though of course that could only be a guess.

They appeared behind several of the small domes used for storage, an out of the way area that Seeri had examined while she and Rier had first looked around the place. It was her feeling that no one would be here at any time of the day, since the domes had not been of interest to the gray mages during her stay.

They were invisible, and hopefully, undetectable, their locations known only to each other by their auras and knacks viewed with enhanced sight. There was only silence to greet them, with no indication that anyone was about.

"It looks unthreatening," Snave mused quietly. "Always a sign of trouble."

Jamie smiled at that, though no one could see. "A whisper is what we should confine ourselves to," he cautioned all. "Unless danger impends, and then a shout will not matter."

"I sense nothing nearby," Irik said, equally softly. "Nor, even, that anyone has been where we stand anytime recently. The scents here are many days old."

"I'd agree," Dorf said. "For the moment, we would appear to be unnoticed."

Jamie loosened his sense for electrums, adding in his newest magick that could recognize distinct patterns. There were none about them now that showed the same several signatures as had the ones he suspected had detected their presence in other places of the ancients in the past. If they were here, he felt they would be just inside the entry to the stairway that led up to the tower. He had sensed them inside every access to the surface structures from the tunnels below, he now understood. So there would be where they needed to be careful.

Best not to take the stairs upward.

He reviewed the images of places within the tower he had gleaned from Seeri's memory. Each seemed too open, or too likely to be occupied. Until he came to one image he recognized - mostly. It was of the top floor of the tower, complete with rents in the walls like the towers he had seen before. Whatever disaster had befallen the red towers, this one appeared not to have escaped an equal treatment.

The floor was covered with old, desiccated leaves, which had blown in through the rents, including a sizable split that Seeri had apparently looked out upon the world through. "The top floor of the tower," he whispered to her now. "When you visited it, were others there?"

"No. No one ever went up there. Even Kaunavah declined to accompany Rier and I as we climbed the steps to see it, saying there was nothing there of interest. Only Urvan ever went there, and one mage named Lautan. There was a room at the top they made use of, for somehow speaking with Porvus."

"We know of it," Sir Dorf said. "Why did no one else use it?"

"I don't know. But even Urvan and Lautan used it infrequently. Urvan apparently did most of his reporting in person each night after leaving the tower. And Lautan only used the room for those times when he needed to communicate and Urvan was not present. Others were not permitted to access that room."

"So these gray mages did not regularly translocate to meet with Porvus?" Jamie asked her.

"No, never. Not even Lautan. He was in charge of the tower, and Urvan was in charge of him."

"What are you thinking, Jamie?" Garvin asked. "That we go all the way to the top, and then descend?"

"It seems a direction no one would figure intruders would come from. I am intent on circumventing the electrum safeguards of the ancients that might reveal our presence,"

"You did not detect these electrums in the other towers whose spire we visited?" Snave asked.

Jamie thought back on it. His ability to recognize electrum patterns had been elementary at that point; but other than in the room with the magick window that had allowed them to speak with Porvus, Jamie could not remember sensing electrums at all. "I do not think so."

"Makes sense," Snave returned. "The ancients would seem to have constructed these places before men came to magick. At that time, the only way to get within these places would be through the approved entries. So no thought was given to detection in places deemed not accessible save by those already inside the tower."

It did make sense.

"I could teleport alone, to have a look, and come right back," Jamie offered.

"I don't like that idea," Garvin said in a whisper. "I will go with you."

Jamie heard a patient sigh from Sir Dorf. "Either the electrums are there, and one intruder will be detected, or they are not, and no amount of us will be detected. As I said before, we should keep our group together from now on."

"Never argue with a man with a sword, I always say," Snave whispered, the humor apparent in his voice. "We shall all go."

Jamie had one more question for Seeri. "You had to walk up the stairs to get to the top floor? The lifts here don't work?"

Her silence indicated her puzzlement. "I don't know of any lifts."

"Doors, near the stairways," Jamie prompted. "There is a car inside that goes up and down, we think, meant to save one from requiring the stairs."

Jamie could imagine the woman shaking her head. "I recall the doorways now, yes. If such a thing existed, no one used them while we were here."

"They may not work," Geert guessed. "They seemed not to in some of the other towers. Remember?"

"Yes." Jamie made up his mind then. "Very well. We will all go to the top floor. There is one image where Seeri walked away from the stairs and the doorway that led into the room of control."

"I did walk all the way around," Seeri agreed. "There was one especially large gap in the wall where I could lean out and see the forest floor below."

"That's the one," Jamie agreed. "I will take us there. Please, everyone, come close."

He looked around, counted knacks as everyone moved closer. Then he formed the knot for the teleport, and moved them.

The hallway, when they arrived, was empty. Jamie immediately sent out his feelers for electrums, and was gratified to detect nothing that could be described as organized. There were no watchers here.

They paused, listening, but could hear nothing save for the voice of the wind, a light breeze, that found the many openings in the wall of the tower and came inside to play in their ears.

"I sense no one," Irik whispered.

"Nor I," Sir Dorf agreed. "My watcher senses nothing within its span."

Jamie's extended watch didn't, either. "No one is present on at least the half-dozen floors below us." He paused, closed his eyes, and received the final verdict from his electrum-monitoring senses. "And there are no electrums set here to watch," he reported. "We can move slowly around the tower towards the stairs."

He led the way, stepping lightly, listening, but hearing only the wind. They moved slowly around the tower, until the stairs came into view, and beyond them the doorway that opened into the control room of the tower. In such a room in another tower, Porvus had detected their presence from afar, so Jamie had little doubt that entering that room would not be advisable.

He was about to say so when the air before them fluttered, and two men appeared just before them.

One was tall, dressed all in gray, and wore a thick beard. The other was shorter, dressed in red, and wore a scowl that Jamie knew he would never forget.


"I want the search area expanded," Urvan was saying, as the two turned towards the door into the control room. "They have to be here somewhere."

The other man, the one in gray, nodded. "It confounds me how they continue to elude us. But I will get with Sherbun and Kaffery right away, and we'll redraw the search pattern."

"Good. I tire of this nonsense, Lautan. We have already wasted too much time on these meddling fools. Porvus wants to move the plan forward, and he will need us with him."

Lautan looked surprised. "Will he be calling the men back from Cotrin? They are still assembling the equipment there Porvus will need for the skylift."

"No. That mission is too important to wait. But everyone else will be needed for the activation. I think it best if--" Urvan suddenly stopped in mid-sentence, and turned to look around him. His eyes passed right over Jamie and the others, invisible as they were.

"What's wrong?" Lautan asked, also turning to look. "You heard something? It's just the wind."

Urvan's amber eyes narrowed, and moved around again, once more passing over Jamie and the others...but then they stopped, and came back...and settled right where Jamie and the others were standing.

Jamie did not wait for recognition to dawn. Here then, was the moment he had been waiting for!

He loosed an amazingly rapid sequence of ties, that encased the two enemy mages in a mirroring field so that they could not teleport away, while also encircling them with fields that would dissipate electrums from within. Added to that were layer after layer of further protections, so thick that when Urvan loosed a furious bolt of crimson fire their way it traveled scarcely three feet before exploding into a cloud that quickly dissipated.

There followed a barrage of powerful and violent energies, and literal hordes of sharp and merciless things that winged their way towards the hidden group, only to smash into dust against their shields. For all of a minute, a fury of magicks such as Jamie might never have imagined beat and burst around them, only to fail against their latest protections, or be countered with the same magick set to defend. The light and the sound were incredible, a battlefield worth of clamor all confined to a single hallway.

Urvan was every bit the competent mage that Jamie had imagined. His speed and accuracy, born of centuries of practice, were amazing, and the varieties of the magicks he knew was astonishing. Yet Jamie learned each and every tie even as Urvan tied them, and such was his speed of interaction with the lens now that his responses were nothing short of blindingly swift.

Jamie was aware of the small life within the lens upon his chest, laughing with glee and dancing about in a swirl of colors as it helped him to coordinate in nullifying Urvan's attacks. No more did pages flutter in the back of Jamie's mind as magicks came into play; so fast was their application that all was a smooth blur of efficient motion, a seamless stream of magicks and countermagicks, winging forth to thwart and threaten, all at a time, without pause between. And even as this happened, the life within the lens was analyzing, weighing, studying the formations of magick as they happened.


A group of things, like living wisps of darkness, appeared before him, men as they would be if dead and long buried, and only now remaining from the waist up. Malevolent eyes of orange set into their rounded heads were their only features, and these glittered with a terrible ferocity as they raised twisted arms and assailed Jamie's defenses with blades of serrated light that bit hungrily at his shields, but died without breaching them. The lens produced the magick involved, and Jamie swept them backwards to crash against Urvan's own shields, there to scatter to the four winds.

A red door formed nearby and tried to open, once again to fill the world with wraiths born to do Urvan's bidding. But Jamie turned the doorway to that world back upon itself before even the first malevolent spirit could pass through, and the door vanished as quickly as it had formed. Jamie could feel the floor of the tower vibrating now as he and Urvan traded powers at a level that only recently would have stunned Jamie, the red mage throwing magick after magick at Jamie's protections, only to have the counter force appear in Jamie's thoughts as fast as Urvan produced them. The lens was there, in and among Jamie's thoughts, steadying him, keeping him focused, helping him to organize, but not doing the work of battle. Jamie was doing that himself, at a speed and efficiency that simply amazed him.

Lautan, overwhelmed and concentrating only on defense, flickered as he tried to translocate away, his features turning to horror as each time he returned to the battle. Jamie was not attacking him at all, but the man was too close to Urvan not to receive some of what was being exchanged, and that the gray mage was overtaxed seemed clear. Jamie regretted that, but he could not contain both men at the same time and exclude one from the punishment of battle.

Jamie was aware of the others in his group standing by, their defenses also extended to assist Jamie's, but allowing Jamie to do the actual task of battling on his own. They were there if needed, but so far Jamie was up to the task of taking on Urvan by himself. In fact, Jamie intensified things then, throwing magicks so fast now that he was hitting Urvan with two for each one the enemy mage managed. The red mage's shields had retreated until they were a close veil about his figure, so pressed by Jamie's attack that it was all they could do to fend off the storm assailing them. Even so, Jamie was not trying to kill Urvan - not just yet. What he wanted was for the enemy mage to realize that he was overmatched, outperformed, and surely beaten.

What he wanted now - what he demanded - was a surrender.

The tempo increased yet still, and the look of fury and determination on Urvan's features slowly gave way to one of disbelief as his every attack was nullified, beaten off, or turned back upon him. The time arrived when no more magicks assailed Jamie's protections, Urvan's total energies concentrating on defense. The red mage's image wavered then, but returned immediately to its place as an attempt to translocate away was defeated. Lautan had sunk to the floor now and wrapped himself into a ball, his shields now the only thing keeping him from sure death. Slowly, Urvan sank to his knees, the rage in his face now mixed with fear, and the sure knowledge of his coming defeat. Jamie waited until the last possible moment before Urvan's protections would disintegrate, and simply cut off his attack cold.

Urvan, shocked at the unexpected cessation of hostilities, sat down hard on the floor, his hands out behind him, his amber eyes fixed upon the apparently empty spot where he knew his tormentor was hidden.

"Do you yield?" Jamie asked then.

Urvan started at the sound of Jamie's voice. "What manner of devil are you?" He whispered harshly, peering more closely at the place from which the voice had emanated.

Jamie became visible then, and watched the fallen mage without sympathy. "One you know, certainly."

A dozen emotions flashed across the enemy mage's face, the last one arriving being a renewed, if subdued fury. But still the man made no move to resume the attack. "I suspected as much."

Jamie nodded. "You have been seeking us. And now you have found us."

Urvan looked around then, as if just realizing for the first time that Jamie might have others with him. "There were many of you in the attack?"

Jamie shook his head. "Just me. One was enough to deal with the likes of you."

The red mage's jaw clamped tightly a moment, but he was too wary now to lose his temper. "Just who are you?"

"I am the mage who just defeated you."

Urvan blinked those demon eyes of his, and laughed. "You cannot kill me. And until I am dead, I am not defeated."

Jamie shrugged. "That can be arranged, if necessary."

"I think not." Urvan watched him now, and Jamie saw a dangerous sense of speculation enter the man's eyes. "I know what you want. The magick I used to...reduce the Prince Sedwick in stature."

"You will give that to me," Jamie said, with assurance. "If you force me to take it, it will kill you in the process."

Urvan smiled. "Take it? I seriously doubt you can do that. If you could, you already would have done it."

"I wanted to talk to you first," Jamie countered. "To see if there was anything left within you worth saving."

Urvan shook his head. "There isn't. Nothing that would be of value to the likes of you, anyway."

Jamie sighed, seeing now where this was heading. "You could tell me what Porvus and Lodda are up to."

The man laughed. "You have chased me this far, without even guessing their plan? Perhaps you are not as able as I was thinking."

Urvan raised a hand then, as if to scratch his cheek.

"One wrong move, and you are dead," Jamie said stonily.

The certainty in Jamie's voice must have transmitted itself to the red mage. Urvan froze, watching Jamie's eyes; and then he slowly lowered his hand again. The fury in his gaze moderated somewhat, and curiosity took its place. "Are you as young as you look? That talk about you being age-regressed was nonsense."

Jamie smiled thinly. "You're one to talk. You were the apprentice of Porvus some three centuries ago. You were called Leemus then."

Urvan's eyes widened, and his head pulled back slightly. "Who are you? How do you know this?"

Jamie sighed, getting tired of the game. "The magick you used on the Prince. Give it to me now."

Again the red mage watched him in silence, and Jamie could almost hear the man's thoughts. He would not wish to give up the magick he had used on the Prince, fearing that once done, Jamie would have no further use for him. That Urvan had not yet conceded defeat seemed plain. To his mind this was a temporary setback, one that could possibly be capitalized upon.

He cocked his head to one side, a different sort of expression taking hold now. "Do you know the history of this world?"

Jamie nodded. "More or less."

Urvan smiled. "I rather doubt it."

"I know that our kind originated elsewhere," Jamie began, watching Urvan. "On the planet of another star. That we came here by the use of science, by way of a method of machine translocation. I know that this world was once covered with the Forest of Night, and that our kind tamed all areas of the surface but what is left of the forest around us now. This was saved, for the purposes of study." Jamie nodded. "And I know that once there was no magick among men, that it came to us after we came here, and that its rise so alarmed those without it that they warred against those that did."

That Jamie was correct in his summation was evident on the red mage's face. Urvan's eyes were upon Jamie's now. "Those that lack magick are a burden upon us all."

Jamie shook his head. "All are brothers and sisters, regardless of their abilities. In time, all of our kind will catch up. The world moves that way, even now." Jamie leaned forward. "That includes those that live below. The Lachess. The Pertwee. The Iricawa."

Urvan's face clouded. "Vermin. They occupy places that rightfully belong to us!"

Jamie shook his head. "Their peoples came to this world with humans, as allies. They are our friends, not our enemies."

Fury returned to the red mage's face. "You are a poor liar!"

"It is you that lie, Urvan. You, and Porvus, and Lodda. You lie to yourselves. In your minds you have assigned the three tribes of the lowlands to a status less than your own. Yet the truth is that these three peoples were joined with our kind as they explored among the stars. They were our friends then, and they are still our friends now. You will not be allowed to harm them."

Urvan wrestled a moment with his control, and then relaxed as he regained it. "You're a fool, whoever you are. With your sort of power among us, we would be unstoppable!"

Jamie laughed. "My powers will never serve you." He leaned closer, his patience at an end. "The magick you used against the Prince. I will have it given, or I will take it from you. And if I must take it, your life will end."

"This one is not worth saving," Sir Dorf said, from within the invisibility behind him. "He plots even as he sits there."

Lautan, prone on the floor beside Urvan, chose that moment to groan and roll over. It was an unexpected action, and Jamie's eyes were drawn to the gray mage for a brief moment. In that instant, Urvan's hand again darted upwards. Jamie heard the sound of Dorf's sword being drawn, even as his own defenses surged in power.

But there was no attack. Urvan's fingers dipped quickly into the collar of his jerkin, and produced a metallic-looking bauble suspended upon a silver chain. The look in his eyes as he squeezed it within his fist was triumphant. "I'll see you again, my pretty one."

His image fluttered oddly, and then he was gone. Jamie stared at the spot where the mage had been, disbelief quickly turning to annoyance with himself at the red mage's escape. I should have simply taken his knack and have been done with it! Fool!

Sir Dorf materialized beside him, sword in-hand. "What happened to him? Was that some sort of translocation?"

"It seems so."

Quickly, the rest of the group became visible. They moved closer to Jamie, almost protectively. "He got away," Garvin said, some of the same disbelief Jamie had been feeling evident in his voice."How?"

Jamie gave a brief shake of his head, remembering the bauble that Urvan had produced from his clothing. "I don't know. But I suspect it was a different sort of translocation than the one we know." He turned to his friend. "I had them cut off from translocation through magick. This must have been something else. Translocation by way of science."

"The science of the ancients," Snave said, with just a bit of wonder. "Such magnificent learning, a tragedy to be in the hands of devils such as these."

Again Lautan groaned, and then he opened his eyes.

Jamie, by now berating himself for not simply taking Urvan's knack and all the magickal learning that would have come with it, leaned closer to the man. "If you so much as move the wrong way, I will turn you to dust. Understand?"

The man blinked, and his eyes took in the others standing over him. He nodded, and then remained unmoving.

Jamie tied the knot for his new electrum pattern magick, and encircled Lautan's head with it. There, within the man's mind, he found a series of perceptions that were not his own. Rather, they bore the same signature as the memory Jamie had erased from his own mind. This, then, was the pattern of Porvus. Jamie encircled each of the false perceptions, and extinguished them.

Lautan gasped, and his eyes closed. "What...?"

"You are returned to yourself," Jamie said quietly. "That which Porvus forced upon you is no more. So bear in mind that your actions from this point on will be deemed your own, and that you will be held responsible for them. Understand?"

The man opened his eyes, and nodded. "I wish no trouble with you, or anyone else."

Snave moved closer, and spoke in a whisper. "Jamie, we cannot remain here. Once free of your restraints on his magickal translocation, Urvan can again go anywhere he wishes. He could be back here quickly, with reinforcements. Perhaps even Porvus himself."

Jamie nodded. "We shan't stay long. Sir Dorf?" Jamie indicated Lautan with a wave of his hand. "Stand over this one with your sword drawn. If he makes any unpleasant moves, you have my permission to make two of him."

The knight grinned with an evil delight that was worthy of the best of the King's stage players, and took up a position just above the gray mage.

Lautan's eyes grew at that, and he swallowed hard. "Believe me, I do not wish trouble. Now that my thoughts are freed, I only wish to be away from this place."

Jamie nodded. "Sit up, then, and face me."

Lautan did as he was told. Jamie could plainly see that the man did not want to fight. There was more shame in him than guile, it seemed, and Jamie could well understand it. For while he had erased the false perceptions that had allowed Lautan to follow the will of Porvus, the memories of what Lautan had done in the name of the evil mage were still with him.

Jamie watched the man a moment before speaking again, until he was fairly certain that the answers he would get would be honest ones. "During the battle, you tried to translocate away?"

"Yes. I was returned to the very same spot."

Jamie nodded. "That was my doing. And I did the same for Urvan. Neither of you could run away."

Lautan licked his lips nervously. "I don't know who you are, but expect you are the ones we have been searching for in the tunnels below. I can understand now how Skoda met his end." He looked around then, as if realizing for the first time that he was alone. "Urvan is no more?"

"He escaped," Jamie corrected, again feeling the flash of irritation at his poor judgment in dealing with the man. "Just before you regained consciousness. He pulled a metal globe from within his shirt and squeezed it in his hand."

Understanding dawned on the other man. "Ah. The portal. He has gone to Cotrin."

Jamie frowned at that. "A place?"

The gray mage nodded. "A city of the ancients, far away, on the other side of the world, I was told. Or, what is left of a city, as I saw it. Most of it is buried in the desert, yet what is below remains as new as much of Methuwan still looks today."

Jamie leaned forward. "You have been to Methuwan?"

"Yes. In the service of Porvus, I was taken many places."

"I see. And this...portal. It's a device for translocation?"

"Yes. But it only will take one to Cotrin. There are no other destinations left, it seems."

Jamie looked back at the others, to get their impressions, and his eyes settled then upon the look of urgency on Seeri's face.

He turned back to Lautan. "There is a mage here named Rier?"

"There is. He is out in the field today, but should be back any moment."

Jamie thought quickly. "When he returns, will he go straight to his rooms?"

The gray mage shook his head. "I have a room on the first floor. He would normally go there first to report to me before going to his own rooms."

"Anyone else in your rooms?"


Jamie sighed at that. "Listen to me, Lautan. This is a game of high stakes we play with Porvus and Urvan. If you will assist us, I will see that you are allowed to return home."

The gray mage blew a small sigh of relief. "I want no more of Urvan's dark plans. I will cooperate."

"You can tell me what these mages are up to at Methuwan?"

"Some. Not everything was told to me."

Jamie turned to Snave. "What do you think?"

The gargoyle was silent a moment before responding. "I sense the ring of truth to his words. He will do as he says."

Seeri came forward then. Lautan, seated on the floor, had not noticed her standing in the background. He spied her then, and his face filled with surprise. "You! I did not think I would see you again!"

The woman offered a faint smile. "And yet, here I am."

The gray mage gave a slow nod, and his surprise was replaced with regret. "I'm glad, actually. It was Urvan that had me send Orman and Castel after you. I'm sorry."

"So are they," Seeri said bluntly. She leaned forward. "And if Rier is harmed, so will you be."

"He was healthy, the last time I saw him, if also under the influence of Porvus. But as you are all here, there is no danger for him out there. He will return."

Garvin moved closer to Jamie. "You have a plan?"

Jamie nodded, and turned back to Lautan. "You are certain that no one will be in your rooms?"

"I assure you."

Jamie looked over at Sir Dorf. "Then we will go there to pick up Rier." He smiled, and fixed his eyes on Lautan again. "And then we shall all go someplace quiet, and listen to this one spin his tales."

The knight smiled, and waved his sword at the gray mage, in just such a way to suggest he would love to use it. "Then I very much hope, for this one's sake, that he has something we wish to hear!"

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