The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 30

Urvan was placed in the ground, covered, and left to his rest. The event was somber, as was right for such things, and no one said anything poorly about the man. But that was because no one said much of anything at all.

That everyone was relieved that Urvan had been dealt with seemed clear to Jamie; yet so did the lack of satisfaction they had taken from the act of ending his life. Their journey was defining itself by sudden acts of violence, and the true weight of what they were about had become clear. Jamie had heard his share of tales told by firelight, of quests joined in noble cause to accomplish every precious goal imaginable. Many of those tales had been steeped in the retellings of glorious deeds, time and again, until turned into legend. Yet such stories recounted within the crowded comfort surrounding the tavern's hearth lacked the steely edge of reality that seemed most vivid to Jamie just now. The truth that lay behind the romantic deeds, the exciting encounters, the wondrous travels to faraway lands.

People died in such conflicts, and the events of their lives ended, and the loves, the hopes, and the dreams they had held dear, died with them. These most special of things were unrecoverable, their unique shapes and colors lost forever, pages torn from the book of human life, never to be read again. The loss of even one such life and its immeasurably personal perspective, Jamie was coming to see, was a tragedy.

Even those like Urvan would be missed. Jamie still felt the loss keenly, just as he did the others that had perished in the battle at Cotrin. Men he had not known, faces he had never seen, yet all precious lives just the same. That these others had been engaged in a likely evil endeavor seemed to matter less than the weight of the payment exacted. If only there were other ways to solve such problems, than to simply swing a sword of any flavor, be it of magick or cold steel, against the fragile spark that was life.

Sir Dorf perhaps said it best, as they turned away from the silent mound of earth beneath the gently waving trees near the Forest of Night, to head back to the purpose of their mission. The big man paused and looked back one last time, and shook his head sadly. "A final act, the last line gasped, and the close of his play." His voice held a melancholy air, one that Jamie was feeling himself.

"A quote?" Snave asked quietly. "It seems a familiar one. Are you going literary on us, Sir Knight?"

"From Henvar's theater, Travels Between Worlds. I saw it elegantly performed at the castle one evening by the King's troupe." Sir Dorf sighed. "A tragedy, in eight acts. Even the title seems apt for our own journey, just now."

"A play about a mage who loses touch with reality," Snave replied. "I recall it now. In the end, the devil he fights is himself, and he is his own slayer."

The knight smiled at him. "Just the way I'm feeling, I guess. This trip started with the flavor of an adventure. It seems we've edged into deeper and darker waters now."

"The noble gilt has faded some," Geert agreed. "I feel less elated at this victory than I had supposed I would."

"We've changed," Garvin offered, giving a little sigh. "And that has changed the world for us."

"But not permanently, let's pretend," Jamie decided, smiling at his friend. "We shall have the world back, and in the order we best like it. The sooner we complete this mission, the sooner all can enjoy daily life once again."

"Some of us, anyway," Snave said quietly, turning away from Urvan's grave.

"Yes." Jamie nodded, and also looked back at the mound of earth a final time. "I hope that Urvan will rest more lightly in death, than he did in life."

As a last act, he drew a magickal tie that hardened the earth of the mound to stone, lest some hungry animal dig up the old mage's remains for food. Let Urvan's bones rest in the peace he seemed not to have found in life.

They returned to the small alcove in the Crescent, and for the first time in several days, Jamie allowed himself to relax. The defeat of the first member of the dark triumvirate of mages based at Methuwan had left him feeling that their mission was not an impossible one. The battle with Skoda had been a wild card event. They had not even known of the man's existence until he'd been met. Urvan was totally different. He had been the cause of their entry into this matter to begin with, the first link in a chain of events that had made them aware of dark plans afoot in the world, plans that, even now, they had yet to fully understand. But if the story was as yet still vague, the antagonists had become known, and the number had now been reduced by one. In spite of the sadness he felt at the death of anyone, defeating Urvan had been a much needed bolster to Jamie's confidence, and had even now allowed him to focus his attention upon another task.

"I must think some more on the meaning of what I witnessed at the battle in Cotrin," he told Garvin. "That I saw tiny things like electrums swirling about the knacks of each mage, and moved as they cast magick, but not moved by their own normal travels. We must understand this stretching of...of reality I witnessed as the magicks were cast."

"Yet you witnessed this with the sight you have come by to view electrums, my Jamie. Are you sure this is not just a new aspect of the travels of these tiny friends of yours?"

" It is not at all clear to me how this sense of magick on the move relates to the electrums I have come to know. I saw electrums as well as these new tiny engines, all circling about your knacks. The similarity between them seemed clear, yet so did the fact that they were not one and the same. It is just a sense I have that I was seeing something new and different."

"Ah, but you have said that many of these tiny forces are similar, but different," Garvin reminded, smiling. "Perhaps to explore the similarities, before the differences?"

Jamie sighed, and tightened his arm around his friend's shoulders. "Always, you are one step ahead of me."

Garvin laughed, looked briefly at the others in the room, and then pecked Jamie on the cheek. "I have learned much from watching you work."

"This needs to be something we all do," Jamie explained. "The understanding by all may mean the difference between success and failure."

"But we do not possess your sense for viewing electrums and other things small," Garvin said slowly. "This is part of your own special knack, my Jamie. How can we follow what we cannot see?"

"Some provision must be made. A solution discovered. Everyone must have the same understanding before we present ourselves before Porvus and Lodda." He smiled. "A way will be found."

Snave, standing nearby, floated over to them. "I don't mean to intrude on your moment."

Jamie sighed, and smiled. "You are never anything but welcome, friend Snave."

The gargoyle laughed. "Perhaps you will feel less so after I say what I have to say."

Garvin rolled his eyes and gave a little sigh. "Here it comes!"

Jamie grinned. "So tell us this news," he urged. "It can't be that bad."

The gargoyle moved a little closer and lowered his voice. "I hope we did the right thing, sending Seeri and Rier on their mission. Rier has only the few basic new defenses you learned him before they left, and Seeri herself is not much better off. Should Porvus get wind of what they are up to, I doubt they could stand long against him. Not even against his proxies, if one such as Skoda or Urvan."

Jamie shrugged. "I see no easy way their task could be discovered. I sent them on this mission in part to protect them. Being with us would have surely led to their harm." Jamie shook his head resolutely. "I do not intend to teach the magicks we know to everyone that comes along. Some of our methods might, by that action, eventually fall into the wrong hands. And since I was unwilling to pass on some magicks to these two they would need to accompany us, getting them away from us was their best protection."

"They seemed a nice couple," Garvin said, still smiling.

"I thought so, too. But I don't really know them, and they do not have time to be with us while I get to know them better and feel they can be trusted to keep what they learn to themselves."

"You instructed Bastyin, and Gorge, without knowing either very well," Garvin pointed out, playing the foil with a twinkle in his eyes.

Jamie laughed. "That was a matter of necessity, as much as it was inexperience on my part. I am more cautious now about trusting just anyone with our methods."

Garvin pointed a finger at Snave. "You trust Snave's senses, do you not? And he said they were good people."

Jamie groaned. "Are you on my side in this, or not? The magicks we have come to know are simply not for every mage that we meet. There is some responsibility that comes with keen learning!"

Garvin and Snave both laughed softly, and Garvin squeezed Jamie's arm to him. "I am playing with you, Jamie. I know we must be careful. I also think it a wise idea to limit the spread of much of what we have learned.."

Jamie briefly laid his forehead fondly against his friend's, and then turned back to Snave. "You are worried about them? Believe me, the farther they are from us, the safer they will be."

"Perhaps." But Snave did not sound so certain. "I was thinking of some of the things Lautan has told us, especially about the search for the book of maps, and perhaps doing some late arithmetic on the numbers of mages involved. It occurs to me that Urvan and Porvus probably have agents in many places. That they may yet have agents in towns all along the plains and the coast. Urvan was surely not the only one of his group in Lyrix. "

Jamie considered that, and nodded. "A chance we have to take. Seeri and Rier were cautioned not to trust anyone but those we sent them to meet. I feel that if they abide by this warning, they will be fine."

"Hopefully." Snave gave a sigh, and then his tone changed to one more upbeat. "Have you any thoughts on your observations at the battle?"

Jamie could not help releasing a sigh. "Many. But how to sort them out?"

Garvin leaned against Jamie's shoulder. "Perhaps a visit to Flitch?"

Jamie brightened. "Perhaps. It's something that cannot hurt, I'm sure."

Sir Dorf looked around the small alcove." Maybe one of us should remain here, on guard?"

Jamie smiled at the man. "Remember? No time passes while we are away. No one can walk up on us while we are oblivious, if that's what you're thinking."

The knight looked only mildly embarrassed. "It was what I was thinking. But I see there is no need to post a watch."

Jamie extended his arms in front of him. "Everyone touch, then, and we can be off."

"Trying to discuss these things has been difficult for us," Flitch explained. "I have struggled just as you to relate ideas into the terms of a different reference system than I have ever known."

"You mean magick," Jamie stated. "It is different from the science we are even now relearning."

"Yes. But there seems to be more of a relationship here than I first suspected. Because magick acts and reacts, it must be determined to be a force of some kind. Therefore, there must be some form of medium by which it propagates itself. An action and a reaction must be linked in some manner. This is actually a rule of science, too."

"You mean that magick must be applied in order to obtain a result?" Geert asked. "Long have we known this!"

"Oh, but sympathetic magick seems not to be so," Garvin pointed out. "Hexes and charms seem to operate remotely, with no magick moving between caster and receiver. We have experienced this ourselves, first hand."

"A conditional operation, is my thinking on this one," Flitch returned. "The very word sympathetic describes it. The power of magick is applied, in the making of the hex or charm and assigning it a purpose. Rather than operating directly in the moment by application of force on the subject, the magicks of these instruments operate by imposing a new set of conditions on a particular place or thing remotely, which allows specified actions to occur. The magick is in the conditions created, rather than the direct action."

"But still these actions must be directed," Garvin argued.

The nether being's eyes smiled at him. "Yes. But from your descriptions, some of these charms and hexes are 'always on', and the conditions they set always active;"

Jamie held up his hand and gazed at the wristlet he wore. "Like my charm for luck. It does not need to be directed to operate."

"Precisely. Yet the magick that this Skoda used to try to strangle the life from you was a directed version of the same thing."

Jamie winced, and touched his fingers to his neck, remembering the moment. "A most unpleasant direction it was, too."

Garvin squinted. "Yet these things do not seem to operate by force of Jamie's electrums."

Jamie quickly shook his head. "Right. I don't sense that electrums are the manner by which magick operates, even though magick does readily interact with electrums."

Flitch waved his tendril-like hands in agreement. "Sadly, what I can directly sense of your world is not enough for me to come to final conclusions about its physical nature. But from what I have learned from you, I do feel it operates along similar lines to my own."

"Similar?" Jamie frowned at that. "And yet you told me once before that neither of us could visit the other's world without some form of cataclysm occurring."

"Ah, yes. But that does not preclude the basic physical laws from being identical. Rather, I suspect the sense of doom I feel at the prospect of visiting your world is due to the fact that the charges are reversed between your space and mine."

"How's that?" Sir Dorf asked. "What do you mean by charges?"

The nether being gave another whispery chuckle. "I feel no need to confuse you even further. Suffice to say that all matter is composed of very tiny parts like your electrums, which are themselves composed of particles holding a positive, negative, or neutral charge. I have decided that the feeling I get of danger at the idea of myself physically entering your world or you entering mine comes from the fact that the particles of our respective universes hold opposite charges. One of us entering the other's universe could result in a very large release of energy."

The knight frowned, but quickly replaced it with a wan smile. "That has the threatening sound of cannons in the distance."

"Exactly. The destruction could possibly be considerable. I have no plans to experiment to find out."

"And yet we can meet here without peril," Garvin said, waving a hand around them.

"The aether is outside the realm of what we both would consider our normal worlds. It is a domain of thought and material memory, and some rather unusual conditions and forces. The rules for its use are quite different from the places we each know as home."

"A wonderful place, then, for finding new friends," Jamie offered, smiling.

Flitch's eyes seemed to radiate his own pleasure at the idea. "Thus far, it has proved a wonderful experience for this particular traveler, yes."

"Isn't there some kind of life here, born of this place?" Geert asked. "It is said that some of the odd creatures that visit our world, such as snoopfilches, originate in the nether."

Flitch looked to consider the question. "It seems that the aether exists in several parts," he said carefully then. "This place, where we meet, is not inhabited by other creatures, that we have been able to determine. But it has been proven by explorers of my kind that there are other...levels, perhaps is the word, to the aether, that are indeed home to some strange forms of life."

"Have these creatures entered your world?" Jamie asked, curious now.

"It is the main reason we know of the aether at all," Flitch confirmed. "We were quite surprised to finally get here and find it was not the same level that our visitors had come from. Yet that disappointment has been vastly offset by learning that this level of the aether allows one to construct all manner of marvelous devices."

Jamie smiled at that. "As we have well learned!"

Flitched waved a branch-like hand at the scenery around them. "It is a place of wonders, certainly. And yet, there is much about the aether that is a mystery, still."

Bastyin held up a hand then. "Aren't we getting away from our reason for visiting?"

Gorge, who had been bent forward, eyes wide, listening intently, suddenly settled back onto his heels. "Party over!"

That produced a round of laughter, and Jamie smiled at the small man. "I'm still trying to figure out what to do next. Have you something to offer?"

The Pertwee laughed. "Would have to ask many unimportant questions before able to ask important questions! Content so far to watch and listen. Learn much, even if not understand all."

"There's something I can agree with," Irik added. "Much of this has passed my own level of comprehension."

Jamie frowned at that. "I'm sorry. I don't mean for any of you to feel left behind. This experience has just been something of a runaway since it started."

Geert released a small, resigned puff of air, and swept his smile in a circle around the group. "All I can say is that it's a good thing I don't have to understand all the magick I have learned, or there would be trouble."

"I don't understand it all, either," Garvin said plainly. "But I also realize I don't need to understand why the magick works in order to use it."

"That is what matters," Bastyin agreed.

"Definitely, that is what matters," Snave offered.

Jamie looked around at his friends. "I hope it will not alarm you to know that I do not understand everything I have learned, either."

Sir Dorf threw up his hands, but the smile on his face could not be missed. "All is lost!"

Jamie grinned at the man. "You're not worried?"

"The time for worry was passed long ago, m'lad. The odds of us surviving even this far were never very good."

"Yet we have done just that," Geert pointed out.

"We have," the knight agreed. "That tells me that odds matter not. We either prevail, or we do not."

"I have an insight that we do prevail," Jamie said cautiously. "As I have said before."

The older man smiled, but Jamie sensed a catch to it. "An omen of good fortune? Then why worry at all?"

Jamie looked around at the group of his friends. "Because there are different levels of prevailing. My intention is to prevail without losing any one of us in the process."

The knight nodded then. "That is exactly my own feeling in this. It is why we must always remember that the uncertainty we feel may be a safeguard against foolish acts. So let us not rush to adopt new thinking on magick without looking further into the matter."

"So you are worried," Jamie decided, smiling again.

The knight gently rolled his eyes. "Somewhat."

"I am, as well," Irik responded, offering a distinctly wolfish grin. "I feel better now that it is out in the open."

"We all worry some," Garvin agreed. "It is a sensible response to danger, if not carried to extremes. But while we worry we should also learn as much as we can. Where to start in this latest quest for knowledge?"

"Perhaps to observe your memory of the event in question?" Flitch asked, as a way of speeding things along.

Jamie nodded. "Everyone touch, so that all can see."

Once that was done, Jamie closed his eyes and brought back the memory of what he had seen when Bastyin had loosed his magick on the ancient's battle machine at Cotrin.

"Your memory is startlingly visual," Flitch offered. "A part of your extreme ability to visualize things not seen with the oculars, I presume."

"He means the eyes," Garvin whispered to all, a hint of humor in his voice.


The memory was extremely detailed, Jamie had to agree. It had found a place in his mind marked by its unusual nature, and he watched again as Bastyin cast his tie, while the electrums and electrum-like engines seemed to swarm around his knack. And once again, there was the strange stretching of the space between Bastyin and the machine, that seemed to move the tiny things in that direction...and then the explosion that had sat Jamie down hard.

"Remarkable!" Flitch said, sounding excited. "Can you repeat it?"

Jamie did so, feeling even more amazed at what he saw the second time. "It was as if the world stretched between Bastyin and the battle machine for a moment."

Flitch made a noise of agreement. "Note, too, the humans in the background."

"What?" Jamie replayed the memory a third time, this time allowing his inner eye to go past Bastyin and observe both his friends and the gray mages in the background. He gasped at what he saw.

As each mage cast a magick, the space around him also stretched in the direction of application.

As Jamie's group traded blows with the battle machine and the gray mages, tiny strands of the reality around each mage darted out to stretch towards the target of the magick. In most cases the stretching was string-like and swift, a darting filament of distortion, so quick that the eye might not have noticed it at all had not attention purposely been brought to the moment. But Bastyin's magick had been a very large one, full of power, and due to his nearness to Jamie, the stretching of the reality between the Lachess and the machine had been more noticeable. But now that he was focused upon it, Jamie could see that this same bizarre stretching was happening with every cast of magick, by every mage, friend or foe!

"I don't know what I'm seeing!" Geert called, sounding distressed. "It looks as if the space between each mage is briefly sundered with each tie!"

"I concur," Snave said, sounding excited. "I believe we are actually seeing magick in action!"

"But what is it?" Irik asked. "What causes this strange pull of the picture between caster and receiver?"

"Is it a pull, or a push?" Bastyin asked quickly.

"It looks like a sudden current or eddy in a muddy river," Sir Dorf observed.

Jamie was startled by that comparison, and reran the memory another time. This time he viewed Bastyin's cast most carefully, not allowing himself to be distracted by the peculiar stretching itself, but rather following it from Bastyin to the battle machine while noting its effect on the space around it. And...yes!

Like a current in a muddy river!

The lens warmed upon Jamie's chest, and a sudden flurry of thoughts and images flooded through his mind, conclusions coming almost too swiftly to handle. The rate was alarming, only made bearable by the comfortable presence of the life within the lens as it reassured him that these new understandings were actually something good. Even as that reassurance was offered, Jamie could sense that the volume of new information was already being sorted and indexed and made ready for use.

He dispensed with the memory, and opened his eyes. "Sir Dorf, you have given me an idea!"

"Me?" The knight looked surprised, and then pleased. "A good one, I hope!"

Jamie turned to Snave. "What is the first thing an apprentice mage learns?"

The gargoyle couldn't look confused, but his slowness to respond indicated he'd been caught unawares. "I'm not sure what you mean. The first magick a young mage learns?"

Jamie shook his head. "The first lesson. The first thing he is told."

Garvin reached out and laid a hand atop Jamie's. "I know."

Jamie laughed excitedly, smiling at his friend. "Do you?"

"Yes. I have heard it said from your very own mouth more than once, ever since Master Thorvil first started your instruction." He turned to Snave and grinned. "Magick is where you find it."

Jamie nodded his head vigorously. "Exactly!"

"Where you find it?" Snave sounded skeptical now. "That's an old saying, Jamie. It just means that magick is in the object of your tie."

Jamie shook his head. "No. You're right - it's a very old saying. And I think we have lost its true meaning in time."

"So what, then, do you think it means?"

"I think it means exactly what it says! Magick is where you find it, because magick is everywhere." Jamie waved a hand to take in the aether, though what he really meant was the world they knew. "Not just in the things you seek to manipulate. Magick is all around us, all the time. Because we are immersed in it, as if diving in Sir Dorf's muddy river. And when we use magick, it creates a current in that river, between us and the subject of the magick."

"Immersed in it?" Snave sounded unsure. "That runs contrary to what has been taught about magick in my lifetime, anyway."

Jamie shook his head. "Does it? Does it really? Mages have interpreted that saying to mean a certain thing. But that does not mean it's correct."

"It has always been said that magick is created by the mage," Geert said then. "By his knack. That is why those with no knack cannot do magick, is it not?"

"We have assumed that magick is created by the mage," Jamie countered. "Or, rather, that the force of magick comes from the mage himself. I don't think that is so now. I think now that those with knacks are able to prod and pull at something that exists all around us, and that the result is magick. But we simply utilize this force. We don't create it."

"That could well be!" Bastyin agreed quickly, sounding excited himself now. "When I first became aware of my abilities, I sensed something of that very nature. That I was a part of something larger...all around me!"

Snave gave a soft grunt of surprise. " may also explain something else." He ceased his pacing and revolved to face Jamie. "Perhaps the primary reason our kind had no magick until they came to this world."

For a moment all were silent.

"Because magick is a property of this world, and not of the one that birthed our kind," Jamie answered slowly.

Geert stared at him for a long moment, and then nodded his head. "I see some reason to that idea, actually." He closed his eyes and placed a hand to his forehead. "We know from the new history we have learned that the ability to use magick came to our kind slowly. But, if...those that use magick do not create it, as we have supposed, then they simply learned to use it? That would mean this magickal force was here all along!"

"Then how did we come to use it?" Sir Dorf asked. "If it was here all along, why could our kind not use it from the day they first arrived here?"

Geert's face briefly drew into a frown, but he did not open his eyes."Because the learning was still required. We were not of a kind that could use it when we first arrived." He opened his eyes then, and the light within them was one of excitement. "We came from elsewhere. We were not born of this world. We know that a lot of time passed between the arrival of our kind to this world and the first appearance of magickal usage. We knew something changed, and magick came to us. But it has been thought that this new talent was one of creation - that we create the magick ourselves, and that it is born of the thing we use magick upon. What Jamie is saying is that living immersed in this force changed us, but not to create magick, just to use what has long been here."

"Isn't this what we have been saying all along?" Irik asked. "That this world evolved your kind to the use of magick?"

"Yes, and no," Jamie explained. "Yes, we have been saying that our kind changed after coming here. But what that change was has not been clear until now, I think. Rather than change us to somehow create magick, this world has changed us to live harmoniously with it, because magick is the norm here."

"The norm?" Garvin asked. "But all creatures do not use magick. Not even all men."

"But we are moving in that direction," Jamie countered. "More and more, the children of commoners are awakening to magick."

"There is Irik's kind, too," Geert pointed out. "And Bastyin, and Gorge. All can use magick, it seems."

"There may be something to this notion," Snave agreed slowly. "But it would be a fundamental change in the way we view magickal usage. The power of a master mage is thought to lie in both his knowledge of magick and his ability to project the force of magick. But if the mage does not project the force of magick, but simply utilizes the force that is already all around him..."

"Then his real power rests in the knowledge he amasses to use this force." Jamie looked around at the others. "It is the applications he learns that makes him a master."

The gargoyle was silent a moment. But then he grunted. "Perhaps. I am reminded of when Porvus moved to steal the book of maps from Crillis. After the battle, Crillis told us that Porvus mostly used the same magicks that he, himself, used, but at twice the power that Crillis could muster. We assumed then that meant the beggar mage was one of great power."

Garvin laughed. "Porvus is a mage of great power!'

Snave turned quickly to face the boy. "Yes. But it is not that his personal power was greater than that of Master Crillis. Porvus had an edge in knowledge. We know from our own learnings to now add extra ties for power to our magicks, making them much greater in force than the average master mage's. We've learned a multitude of enhancements to the tying of the knot locks that have given us great ability, great security, and tremendous offensive power. But we ourselves have not grown more powerful. It is our knowledge of the art that has placed us where we stand today."

"But what of knacks?" Geert asked. "Clearly, some have different knacks than others, and some knacks seem stronger than others."

"Clarity," the gargoyle said softly. "A mage's knack supplies him with the ability to both understand and use the magickal force around us. Some mages are more able because their knacks are simply stronger in some areas than the knacks of others. But that is the same with any human talent. Not everyone can paint a portrait, write a momentous novel, nor wade into battle with the speed and agility of our Dorf. Talents and gifts vary widely among the human race. Everyone is different. And that includes knacks."

Jamie smiled. "So you think I am right?"

The gargoyle chuckled. "The speed with which this falls into place within my mind would have me agree. We have supposed that magick draws its power from the things around us. But rather than being in the objects themselves, this power may simply be a product of the entire world."

"Isn't that the same thing?" Sir Dorf asked. "Whether in the things all around us, or simply all around us?"

"No." Snave made a decisive sound. "It's not. If I use a magick to start a campfire, I would once have supposed the power was drawn from the wood itself. That the magick was in the object itself. Where I found it. But what Jamie is saying is that the power of magick is simply everywhere around us, not just in the objects we use magick upon. Battle magicks have been thought to draw power from the very air itself. But if we are instead immersed an ocean of this force - then it changes the notions of power altogether."

Sir Dorf held up a hand, and waved it for silence. "I would advise some care here, Jamie. This is speculation, at best. We cannot allow it to rule our thoughts without some sort of proof, lest it cause us to make crucial errors when we come to face Porvus and Lodda."

"We are even now seeking that proof," Jamie assured. He turned to Irik. "You said once before that to leave the Forest of Night would cause some of the life that lives there to lose its protections. That the perfect disguise they wear to hide within the forest will not follow them outside its bounds."

The wolf bobbed his head. "That's true. Only my kind seem able to retain our magick outside the forest."

"Higher brain function?" Snave mused. "Something different in a thinking and reasoning brain?"

"Perhaps just capacity," Bastyin suggested. "More mental power, more ability?"

"Surely magick is not a property of the forest?" Sir Dorf asked. "I have never noticed any lessening of my abilities the farther from those woods I travel."

Garvin let out a whistle. "Once, the entire world was covered by the forest. Our kind cleared most of it from the land, Kundun said, and allowed to remain naturally just what we know today as the Forest of Night."

Jamie squeezed his eyes shut, imagining the first humans arriving to this new world only to find in it cloaked everywhere in a stygian forest, in which lived the sort of horrors that now claimed the lowlands of the Forest of Night. The danger would have been significant, even for those with the level of science the ancients had possessed. Their only recourse if they had wanted to stay would have been to tame the forest, and put away from them the terrors that lived within it. And they had accomplished that, cutting the forest down to size, and containing only a remnant of it within the walls of a continent-sized lowland, where the life that lived there could be held at bay.

The very idea was intimidating. The task would have been immense! It would have taken time to change this world to a place that was safe for humans.

How many lifetimes? How many lives?

And yet, even as the forest was substantially reduced in size, magick still came to humans. So the forest itself could not be the source. The only solution, it seemed, was clear. Magick was something born of this world, not the life that lived upon it. And because the world had been here long before the arrival of humans, so must have magick been a part of it.

Humans had come to this world, and set about to tame it, remake it in their image. And in those same years, unbeknownst to the settlers, something else was also happening. Even as those long ago humans were adapting the world to suit them, the world was adapting them to suit it! Evolving them slowly, in each generation, for life on this strangest of worlds. So when the first stirrings of magick had started to appear in humans, the surprise must have been intense. They could have hardly known what was happening to them!

And yet, that had been a time of science. Of great science. Those early settlers must have surely studied the advent of so remarkable a new talent in their kind. What had their science told them about it? What had they learned?

He remembered then the hand locks that only opened to a magickal touch. This indicated a very high level of understanding of magick, so much so that it had allowed magick to be incorporated into the daily science of the ancients. That seemed to say that they had understood how it worked, and how it could be measured.

So what had happened, in those first years after the beginnings of magick, in this era of first discovery? This was a part of the story that had apparently been lost. What had come later was known, at least by legend. The wars between those with magick and those without. The terrible forces that had erased cities and populations from the lands. The slow comeback, and the present uneasy alliance between mage and non-mage. Now history, as much as legend.

But how much had the science of the ancients understood about magick, really?

"Amazing," Jamie breathed. He proceeded to relate his ideas to the others, and when he had finished, no one said a word.

Finally, Snave made a soft sound, almost a sigh. "So why would the animal life in the forest lose their abilities should they leave the confines of the trees?"

Jamie smiled at that. Trust dear Snave to be focused on the smaller matters of the moment! But Jamie's imagination was fired now, and he turned his thoughts to that very problem.

"Perhaps...perhaps, being animals, their abilities are smaller than ours? Could the forest act like a well, where magick pools in greater force? The numbers of living things there is surely immense. The concentration of magick-using has to be much higher than just about any other place I can think of. Perhaps magick, for the lesser creatures, is a group enterprise? There, in the forest, with so many of them together, they are able to use the power of magick. But to leave on one's own is to lose the benefit the group shares?"

"A radical idea," Snave warned. "One we have no way to test at this time."

Irik shook his head. "You forget, that the life in the forest below does not use magick in any obvious way we understand. Only the life above, where my kind live, have this power universally."

Bastyin patted his chest twice. "It is thought among my kind that the life in the world below is of no relation to ours, while the life above, or at least much of it, shares traits common with your kind or my kind." He smiled "Even Gorge's kind."

"Know that tale," Gorge agreed. "Say we bring some animals here when first arrive."

Jamie stiffened, absorbing the idea. He turned to stare at Irik, who was so much like the wolves that lived outside the forest - and yet, so different. And then he remembered how they had glimpsed many other kinds of the living things that abounded in the upper forest, when looking through the window that provided sight by heat. Animals like the birds he knew, the squirrels he knew - animals much like many of the creatures he knew that shared the lands in which humans lived. And yet not like them, too. Changed. And now he had to ask, where had the animals he knew come from, if humans had arrived here from another world? Again, the answer seemed clear.

They had been brought by humans from the world from which they had come.

And, not only that, but if the Iricawa, and the Lachess, and the Pertwee had been friends of humans, out there among the stars, and all had come to live here together...then each kind must have brought with them animals from their own worlds, to populate the lands from which the bulk of the original forest had been removed. To replace the dangerous lifeforms which had been eradicated.

And, over the many long years, some of these animals had made their new homes in the upper portion of the Forest of Night, and been changed by this world to use magick, just as humans had been. Surely, Irik's own species had evolved far beyond the wolves of the world beyond the Forest. The Forest had to be a place of special magick, where the rules were just slightly different than outside its bounds, in the land of men.

"The forest seems a more potent place of magick," Jamie mused. "The animals that live above are mostly like the animals we know in our own world. But living here has changed them, when those same species outside the forest have not."

"The only real difference between the uplands of the forest and the world beyond...are the trees," Geert said.

"Ah!" Garvin breathed, looking excited. "And those trees are native to this world, for once their kind covered its entire surface. Perhaps, even the trees here are magickal, and to live among them forces change much more quickly then elsewhere?"

"I feel no more powerful there, myself," Snave argued.

Jamie nodded. "Not for us. We are visitors, while the life that has come to live here from our world has been among these trees for thousands of years. Perhaps that is the difference in action."

"Hmm." The gargoyle gave a small grunt. "Which gives credence to your idea that, for animals, magick is a group endeavor. And that magick has changed all the life that came here from elsewhere."

"And more slowly for those that live outside the forest, than for the ones that live directly within? There, in the mass pool generated by their usage, the changes may be quicker?"

"Perhaps." The gargoyle sounded doubtful. "All we can do is guess at this point."

Jamie scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Odd, that the beasts that were born of this world seem not to use magick."

"Perhaps not quite true, in light of what we have now learned," Irik said then. "Just because we do not observe the creatures of the lowlands using magick does not mean the do not. Some beasts born of this world do use magick, though not in the ways that your kind does, or ours. That leaves open the possibility that all creatures of this world use magick in some way, just not in a way that we can fathom."

"The treef and his horn," Snave said then. "It was able to attune to our shields and penetrate them."

"And that is not the primary use for that magick," Irik confirmed. "The treef use their abilities normally to help them find things to eat, even when all are hidden from their sight. This is not the learned and considered use that your kind and mine utilize." The wolf paused, and seemed startled then. "Then perhaps the life of the Forest below does use magick in some fashion, but just in ways we cannot understand."

"Didn't you say the treef below had no magick, while those above do?" Jamie asked.

The wolf bobbed his head. "Yes."

"An accommodation," Snave said, sounding surprised. "Somehow, far in the past, some treef escaped from the world below to the uplands. And there, they were faced with life that was effectively invisible. So they developed a magick to counter the perfect disguise, and help them to find food. Something the treef in the lowlands had no need of to learn."

Garvin raised a hand. "Perhaps for life born of this world, this force has a different purpose? Something that nature sees as perfectly normal here? And it is our difference, and the differences of life like ours, from our own worlds, that manifests this force as magick?"

Jamie blew out an exasperated puff of breath. "Enough questions for a lifetime! We will need to further explore these ideas." He shook his head. "But not this instant. What we need now is an understanding of this force itself, and how it works within us."

"Agreed," Flitch said then, sounding satisfied. "We have now determined that the force which you employ as magick is most likely a byproduct of the world you now live upon, or the space in which your world resides. You have taken this force from something once imagined to be produced by yourselves, and recast it as perhaps a natural force able to be used by your kind. That is a substantial leap ahead."

Garvin laughed, and leaned up against Jamie. "I like the way this one thinks. He makes us feel much more as if we know what we are doing, than we really do."

Jamie grinned at that. "He does have a way about him, doesn't he?"

The nether being radiated good humor. "I merely observe, Jamie, and comment upon what I observe. In all of this, since we first met, it has been your own group that has supplied most of the answers."

Bastyin brought his hands together and gently interlaced his fingers. "In unity, there is discovery."

Snave made a polite coughing sound, which sounded funny coming from a large, wooden gargoyle. Jamie and Garvin both laughed. "I think we are boring Snave," Garvin offered.

"Not at all," Snave said. "It just seems that now that we have magick designated as an exterior force of some kind, that we find a way to observe it and perhaps better understand it."

"It seems we have at least observed it, or observed it in action," Bastyin said. "Perhaps a closer examination of an actual magick usage, with Jamie's extraordinary inner sight?"

"I was just going to suggest that!" Geert said, grinning toothily.

"But how?" Garvin asked. He looked around at the nether. "Can we even do such a thing here?"

"I think we need to go back in order to properly investigate this," Jamie decided. "In order to properly view this thing, it must be observed where it happens."

Flitch made a resigned sound. "You do not physically exist here, as such. You are visitors in your mind, just as I am. I regret that I cannot go with you to observe your experiments."

"Then we will need to be returned," Jamie decided. He smiled sadly at the nether being. "It would be wonderful if you could accompany us."

"I cannot. But--"

Jamie blinked in surprise. "But...what?"

Flitch moved closer to Jamie. "We speak together within the aether by way of our thoughts. I am wondering if a way can be found to carry those thoughts from here into your own realm."

Jamie gaped at that. "You mean for us to stay in contact, even if we are not together in the nether?"

"Yes. I have some ideas, actually." Flitch emitted another whispery laugh. "Go. I will work on this new idea here, and see what comes of it. Perhaps by the next time you visit, I will have an answer."

Jamie nodded, and reached out a hand towards the nether being. Flitch extended his own branchlike arm, and for a moment they touched. "Be safe, Jamie. All of you."

"We'll certainly try." Jamie smiled. "Until our next visit, Flitch. And we will return. I feel it."

"As do I, Jamie." Flitch backed away then, and raised a tendrilled hand towards all of them. "Until that time."

And then he was gone.

"Why is a mage a mage?" Snave asked. He laughed then. "Or a witch, a witch?"

Garvin gently cleared his throat. "You ask this now?"

"Oh, humor me. I ask this as a way of concentrating our minds upon the task at hand. So, follow me, if you will."

Jamie laughed. "Certainly. Please proceed."

They were once again clustered in a circle within the small alcove in the Crescent, all touching Jamie's arms so that they could be together in mind. They had eaten, and relaxed a while, and then come right back to the task at hand.

The gargoyle grunted. "Firstly, of course, one must have the knack for magick. Without this innate understanding, one can go no further. Next, one must know the magick, or, that is, the method of producing it."

"Or using it, maybe," Jamie suggested, not without some humor.

"Whatever. One must know the correct ties for the lock, and tie them correctly. What always followed was magick, plain and simple. Any arguments?"

There were none.

"Locks are the key to using this magick," Jamie mused. "We see this in our minds as a process of tying, but in reality we are creating specific patterns that channel this force of magick, and give it direction in very definite ways."

"Agreed." Snave grunted again. "But now, it seems, we are missing a step in this process. Having the knack and knowing the ties of the lock will still get you magick, but why the magick happens is now no longer clear. If Jamie is right in his ideas, and we are not the source of magick but simply its users...then what is this force, and where can it be found?"

"Magick is where you find it," Garvin reminded. "It's everywhere."

"Yes, but where? We cannot see it, and, other than Bastyin, we have never really sensed it all around us. If we are truly immersed within this force, as Jamie suggests, why are we not aware of it? And how can we see it, or feel it, or otherwise get to know it in a way that will allow us to learn its secrets?"

"We witnessed it, in Jamie's memory of the battle at Cotrin, did we not?" Irik asked.

"We saw movement," Snave clarified, "between mages and the subjects of their magicks. Currents, perhaps, as Sir Dorf suggests, but currents in what?"

Jamie closed his eyes a moment, thinking. "Perhaps I need to view a small use of magick with my electrum sight, and see what I can determine from that."

Geert rose, keeping a hand on Jamie's arm. "I'll do it. What would you like?"

" a simple messenger bird."

The other boy nodded, and his knack spun above his head. Jamie watched closely, and frowned at how quickly it all happened. He was aware of the briefest line of movement between Geert's knack and where the message bird formed, but it happened so quickly he could scarcely call it observing. The white bird appeared in the air nearby, and fluttered to a landing near Geert.

"That was far too quick to possibly understand," Snave said then.

Jamie turned to the gargoyle, who rested against his arm. "But you did see?"

"Yes. By us touching you the lens can apparently provide us with even this keenest of your inner sight. But what transpired in the creation of the messenger bird was just too rapid to follow."

"What we need is to slow the process down." Jamie turned to the lens then. Is that possible?

The small life within the mysterious glass seemed to bounce around excitedly then. But instead of Jamie's perception slowing down, something else happened then.

There was a sudden, strange feeling of removal, and Jamie found himself - or his perspective, anyway - hanging just below the ceiling of the alcove, looking down at himself. And the others. They were clustered around him, touching, and Jamie was struck by how odd that whole scene looked. Anyone that did happen upon them in such a configuration would surely wonder what was happening.

"Are you seeing this?" Geert whispered.

Jamie took a startled breath. "Are you?"

"Yes," Garvin said, and Jamie could both see his boyfriend nod and feel that action next to him. Next to his seated self, that is.

"Very strange," Sir Dorf said, slowly. "I seem to be in two places at one time."

"I don't think so," Snave injected. "It is simply our inner sight that has become removed from its original perspective."

"Give headache," Gorge said, though Jamie was sure he could hear humor in the remark. "Like after much ale."

"I've never had alcohol," Bastyin put in. "But it feels very odd, nonetheless."

"Are we flying?" Irik asked. "I mean, in our minds?"

"In Jamie's mind, I suspect," Snave answered. "We are just along for the ride."

"Geert," Jamie said swiftly, "dispense with that messenger bird, and create another."

Jamie could see the boy nod, and the pale bird next to him vanished. "Ready," Geert said.

"Wait just a second." Jamie felt the lens urging him on, and tried moving his perspective. They seemed to float slowly around the alcove, to finally return to where they had started.

"That was interesting," Snave said, his voice tight with excitement. "You can control the movement?"

"So it seems. Geert, produce the bird."

The boy nodded, and his knack spun furiously. Jamie prodded the view to move closer to Geert, and it did with a rapidity that was breathtaking. They swooped closer to Geert's knack, and Jamie almost threw up a hand to fend them off from hitting the boy. But they stopped immediately, even as the thought came to Jamie. The twirling maelstrom of Geert's tie completed, and once again a messenger bird floated down to land at their feet.

"Still too fast," Snave said quickly, "though this time I had a much better view. Can we try again? And this time, Jamie, see if you can slow the action."

"I'll try. Geert, would you release that bird and create another?"

"Yes." The second messenger bird vanished.

This time, as Geert's knack again spun into furious motion, Jamie sent a thought to the lens to slow things down. But he realized immediately then that the lens was not controlling the view. He was.

Even as he realized this, the world suddenly slowed before his eyes.

"It's working!" Snave said softly.

It was. The furious light of Geert's knack slowed, until they could actually see the ties happening. Slower, Jamie thought. And now, the ties proceeded slowly indeed, the working end forming loops and turns and diving between them as it tied the knot of the messenger bird.

"Are you slowed, too, Geert?" Garvin asked.

"No. I feel fine, and I am seeing what you are. But the magick has been tied. The bird is at my feet. What we are seeing is following behind what has actually happened!"

"Shh!" Snave called. "Let us observe!"

As the ties neared completion, the glow of the knack seemed to spread to the air around it. Jamie focused on this new glow, and was stunned to see that, at first appraisal, it seemed composed of a swirling mass of his tiny friends, electrums. But his senses now told him these were not electrums, but those others - the tiny engines he had observed right before the stretching of reality between Bastyin and the ancient war machine, just before the latter was destroyed.

Desperately trying to understand, Jamie formed the mental hand in his mind and reached out with it, to see if he could touch and maybe even hold some of these fascinating energetic mites. He reached them, closed his hand around some of them, and fully expected to be dragged along with them as they moved --

But that did not happen. Instead, the entire scene froze. Jamie could somehow feel the small bits within his hand, but instead of pulling or pushing, they seemed oddly quiescent. For a moment more nothing happened at all. Jamie could hear those around himself breathing, sense the warmth of their bodies, feel the tough wood of Snave's gargoyle form against his arm. But nothing at all moved.

And then, slowly, there was movement. Geert's magickal tie completed, and the glow spread outward. Within his hand, Jamie felt a vibration - the incredible oscillation of the tiny cloud within his fingers, as they somehow vibrated in place. The sense of movement passed beyond his hand, and a ripple extended outward from Geert's knack, distorting the view through it. It moved outward slowly, and as it did Jamie became aware of what was rippling.

Everything. A wave was finding its way through the reality around him, a wave that was intensely intricate in its motions. Waves within waves, actually, forming peaks and troughs of amazing diversity, rising and falling, no two alike, and seeming to come together in the air nearby, to go no further. Jamie created a second mental hand, and reached towards this terminus, even as he sensed a new cloud of the tiny engines there. For a moment his two mental hands touched both clouds of light, and in that instant he understood that they vibrated identically. The vibrations he could feel within his left mental hand felt the same as the vibrations he sensed within the right mental hand. They were one and the same, yet separate. The distortion that traveled between them, the waves he could see, were certainly the cause of the synchronization.

Jamie could feel the power building now, as it seemed to draw in from everywhere around them. Here were electrums this time, in amazing quantities, attracted to the two clouds of light, and adding to their growth. Jamie withdrew his mental hands and ended them, loosening the two clouds to finish what they had started. It was the more distant cloud that strengthened now, while the one by Geert's knack slowly diminished. Even as Jamie watched, the tiny, newly-birthed cloud intensified, took on the shapes of wings, a head, and a tail; and in another moment the messenger bird appeared, glowing with energetic pseudo-life, and slowly sank towards the floor nearby.

Back to normal, Jamie thought, and the speed of the view resumed at a regular pace, just as the messenger bird reached the floor.

Geert took a breath and bent and retrieved the bird, careful not to take his other hand from Jamie's arm.

"I saw the formation," the boy said slowly, "but I have no idea what I was seeing."

Jamie closed his eyes, revisiting what had just happened. He replayed the scene again and again, until he could finally nod his head in understanding. Or, the beginnings of understanding.

"I think I understand what happened." He opened his eyes and relaxed his inner sight, feeling his perspective return to normal. He was again within himself, watching those around him.

Garvin opened his eyes and leaned against him, squeezing Jamie's arm fondly. "I saw amazing things, but cannot now put names to them."

"It was a puzzle to me, as well," Irik declared, though Jamie was sure he could see excitement in the wolf's eyes. "Though the importance of the moment somehow has touched me deeply."

"I have to agree," Bastyin said quietly. "Jamie, that was a moment of tremendous import." The Lachess smiled. "Now if we can just figure out what it was we witnessed."

Jamie nodded. "I think I know."

Snave moved against his arm. "Do you? I have some small idea myself."

"Yes." Jamie turned to Geert. "You tied your knot of magick. As that was being done, it energized these new motes I am seeing, which are everywhere around our knacks."

"They live around our knacks?" Geert asked.

"No. They are everywhere. Literally, everywhere. All around us. But they do not present themselves to my inner sight until they become energized. And it is our knacks, as we cast magick, that energizes them."

"So, we do create the magick?" Geert asked.

"I don't think so. I think when we tie our knots, cast our magicks, create a pattern of force, this is what energizes these tiny engines. In their energized state, I can see them with my inner vision. But in their normal state, I suspect, they are at all times everywhere around us, but not visible to my inner senses."

"So, using magick energizes them." Snave repeated. "And then they seem to emit something, some amazing vibration."

"Yes." Jamie nodded. "And therein lies the secret of the distortion we saw. When a mage ties a knot lock, he energizes these tiny motes " -- Jamie broke off then and frowned -- "we need a name for these things. Like the one I have given to electrums."

"Magickons?" Bastyin offered, smiling.

Jamie grinned. "As good as any, I think. Very well. When a mage ties a knot lock, he energizes the magickons around his knack. The ties of each magickal lock are different, and energize the magickons differently."

"Why?" Garvin asked. "Because each magick is different?"

Jamie squeezed his friend's hand. "Exactly."

"And the distortion?" Snave asked. "I notice that when that happens, another small cloud of the energized magickons forms at the place where the magick is taking place."

Jamie nodded excitedly. "Yes! In fact, the two groups of magickons vibrate exactly the same way. Because they are the same thing."

Garvin squinted at him. "The magick is made twice?"

"In a way, yes." Jamie closed his eyes a moment, trying to find the words he needed. "If you remember an earlier conversation, we discussed the mysterious vibrations we detected at some places of the ancients, and decided that some of these vibrations were designed to recognize intruders and to report their presence to others. That was how Porvus detected us in the control room of the first red tower we visited. And how we were again found when we sought shelter for the night in the underground room just before we fought Skoda. These vibrations can do what they do because they are like an intricate cipher, each vibration of a slightly different frequentness, that, in sum, can carry a huge amount of information. I think the magickons are the same."

"Information carriers?" Snave asked.

"What sort of information?" Sir Dorf asked.

"Magickal information," Jamie supplied. "It goes like this: a mage ties a knot lock for a specific magick. Each lock is different, because each magick is different. So, each lock energizes the magickons around the knack differently. What happens next is still beyond my understanding. But what I think I see is that where - as in the location where the magick is to be performed - is somehow part of the information that is contained within the knot lock. The will of the mage, transcribed somehow into where the magick is to be directed. And it is at that location that a second cloud of magickons is energized, identical to the first."

"How can be same?" Gorge asked. "Is far away, sometimes."

"Nevertheless. A second group of magickons is energized, identical to the first, and it is this group that performs the actual magick."

Garvin squeezed Jamie's arm. "So magick is created twice?"

Jamie nodded. "Yes, more or less. I don't know for certain, as some magicks are done close at hand. But for the sake of argument, let's say that yes, there are always two clouds of magickons involved."

"And the distortion?" Snave asked. "Some manner of information sharing?"

Jamie patted the gargoyle's arm fondly. "You do understand! Yes. The distortion we see is the information from the first group of magickons around our knacks being carried to the second group of magickons, located where the magick is to happen, through all the magickons that exist between them. It seems to be in the form of very complex waves, like a code of some sort. But it's powerful enough to distort the view in my inner sense, and cause Sir Dorf's current in the ocean of magickons all around us. But these magickons don't actually move to carry the information. They simply pass it on to the next magickons. That is the distortion we are seeing. The actual travel of the information that becomes magick, moving from the mage's knack to the point where the magick is to be performed."

Irik cocked his head at Jamie. "What happens to the first cloud of magickons after the tie is completed?"

"It seems to pump the magickal information to the destination, and then simply diminishes and goes quiescent, even as the magick is being performed. I no longer see them because they are no longer energized. Their task has been completed."

Irik managed to look amazed. "So, the knack creates the information that defines the magick, which is formed in a cloud around the knack. This information is then transmitted somehow through all the intervening magickons to the place where the magick is to be performed, where it is recreated as a copy of the first cloud, and performed?"

Jamie grinned. "You seem to have it as well as I do!"

"But how do these tiny forces even know to do what they are to do?" Geert asked. "Why do some magickons form the magick, and why do others only carry the how of it to the place it is to be performed? And how do the ones at that place know to perform the magick?"

Jamie shrugged. "I don't know that yet." He leaned closer to the others. "But there was something else I noticed. As the magickons do what they do, they draw in vast numbers of electrums to power the process. So while electrums are not responsible for magick, they do seem to be the power source for it. The ties of the magicks we perform all have draws for power. Electrums are what respond to this draw, apparently."

"But some magicks seem to emanate directly from the mage!" Geert argued. "This we have seen, ourselves. Cast a crimson fire, and it seems to come from the mage to strike the target, not be created at the target."

"Perhaps a sort of leakage of some kind?" Snave offered, sounding excited. "Something that becomes visible to the eye along the path between the two clouds of magickons?"

"Many magicks are accompanied by visual proof of their existence," Bastyin agreed.

Jamie frowned at that. "I'm not certain how that works. But I am reminded of the machine in Thorvil's rooms upstairs at the shop, that, when cranked, produces a small bit of lightning between the two small orbs of metal. Could it be that magick that seems to flow from the mage is like this, the mage being one small orb, and the target being the other?"

"Then how do shields interfere with this action?" Snave asked. "If one of these orb-spots is created right at the target, than no shields would keep the magick from it."

"Perhaps shields interrupt the flow of information between the two locations, and the magick only can get as close to the destination as the shields allow? And if the magick is superior in strength to the shields, it pushes them back until they collapse. But if the shield strength" -- Jamie instantly shook his head -- "perhaps the word I want is efficiency...outweighs that of the magick attack, that attack is held at bay?"

Svane groaned. "We make many assumptions here."

Jamie laughed. "Most learning of new things requires assumptions be made, and only discarded when proved to be wrong. The knot locks we know today are mostly ones that have been passed down through the ages. We have modified many ourselves, and thus learned new magicks in the process. But our magicks are still based mostly on original work. And that work was all guesses, I would think. So the magicks we perform today may actually be able to be refined in ways we have yet to imagine."

"We have done that, with some, already," Garvin pointed out.

"Yes, we have." Jamie frowned in thought. "But it seems now an important fact has been established. These tiny new engines of magick we see are apparently everywhere, all around us, and only become visible to my inner eye when we harness them to actually do work. And, more importantly, when they do become active, they draw in quantities of electrums to power the process."

Snave grunted. "That seems an important point. For if electrums are crucial to the performance of magick, then stopping them would also stop the magick, would it not?"

"Probably. And that notion has given me an idea."

The gargoyle laughed. "I would be surprised if it were otherwise."

Jamie waved a hand. "No, really. The shields we have developed, that divest magicks of their electrum content? If a way can be found to make those shields more extensive, to cover large areas, then we can dampen the movements of electrums in these large quantities."

Geert frowned at that. "And kill ourselves in the process! Do not our own bodies and minds need electrums in order to function?"

"Yes. "Jamie laughed. "There is that little problem. Such anti-electrum protection must of course be kept away from our own selves."

"Seems there is still some work to do," Sir Dorf said, frowning.

"But we may now have the basics of it in hand," Jamie decided. "What is left to do now will entail forming a method to work with what we have discovered. But I do believe we know enough now about how magick works to produce better ways to manage its use by others." He turned to Garvin a moment. "But first...a small mission. Come with me?"

"You're leaving us?" Geert asked, sounding alarmed at the idea. "Is that wise?"

"Only briefly," Jamie reassured him. "Garvin and I have one task to perform, and then we will be right back."

Sir Dorf narrowed his eyes at them a moment, wondering; but then he smiled. "To argue would be pointless, so go. We will keep, I am certain. But you will be quick?"

"Yes," Jamie promised. He stood, and pulled Garvin upright by his hand.

"Where are we off to?" Garvin whispered.

"Shh. Trust me."

Jamie looked around at the others. "Snave, I expect you and Geert and the others to have solved the secret of creating an electrum blanket by the time we return."

The gargoyle emitted a startled laugh. "Oh, well, certainly. We were just about to begin, weren't we, gentlemen?"

Gorge made a rude noise, to which Bastyin laughed silently. Irik offered a wolfish smile, but didn't say a word. Sir Dorf gave a small roll of his eyes, and nodded. "Hurry back."

Jamie smiled, took Garvin by the hand, and gave his head a small bob in the knight's direction. "See you shortly."

They appeared in the anteroom to the prince's chambers, the anti-translocation protection that Jamie had installed to protect the castle keep not interfering with the signature of his own magick in any way. The window at the far end of the room showed darkness beyond, and the caged firefly lights on the walls above them were somewhat subdued, metal baffles having been partially rotated about them to confine the light.

"It looks to be the middle of the night here," Garvin whispered.

Jamie nodded. "I would suggest our shields, just in case," he said. "I would hate to enter yon door only to be skewered by Getrell's sword in a moment of defensive zeal."

They put their shields against physical harm in place, and Jamie carefully opened the door. Beyond was a large bedroom, easily twice the size of the room the prince had given them for their stays here at the castle. Here, too, the metal baffles had been rotated around the magickal lighting, to leave the room mostly in darkness. Jamie was aware that he and Garvin glowed slightly in the darkness due to their shields, and wondered what anyone seeing them might think. That they were more than a little spectral in appearance was possibly not a good thing.

The bed was over by the far wall, scarcely visible in the darkness there. They approached it slowly, hoping not to alarm anyone that might see them coming.

"It's good I recognized you," a voice said softly then, from the darkness to their right. "Or I might have harmed you."

Jamie smiled, recognizing Getrell's voice. "We are not here to do battle," he said, just as softly. "But to complete a promise to our prince."

"A promise?" said another voice, and then a baffle was rotated on one of the firefly lamps. Soft light chased away the shadows near them, and Prince Sedwick stepped closer to them. "Which promise was that?"

Jamie grinned. "Hello, Seddy."

The prince's smile could be seen easily as the boy stepped closer, his arms outstretched. "Jamie and Garvin, returned. Come, let me hug you both."

Jamie and Garvin dropped their shields, and the three of them embraced warmly. Then it was Getrell's turn to hug and be hugged. The knight set his sword against a chair, and opened his arms. Both he and the prince were dressed only in brief underclothing, and Jamie was hopeful that they had not interrupted anything intimate.

"Now, what is this promise you speak of?" Prince Sedwick asked. "And why now, in the dark hours well before morning?"

Jamie gently cleared his throat. "Urvan is dead."

The prince winced, but nodded his head. "I am sorry to hear that. And not sorry, at the same time."

"I understand." Jamie leaned closer. "Before his end, I took from him the magick needed to restore you to full health."

The prince took a breath, and Jamie saw his eyes start to water. Getrell moved immediately to the prince's side, and placed an arm around his shoulders.

"I am to be restored?" the prince asked.

"It's why we came," Garvin affirmed.

"So the battle is won?" Getrell asked, his eyes searching their faces. "The conflict is over?"

Jamie and Garvin exchanged glances. "No," Jamie said quietly. "But soon. I simply did not want to take the chance that something might happen to keep me from restoring you."

The prince looked from one boy to the other, questions plainly visible in his eyes. But he did not ask them. "I see."

Jamie nodded. "I would do this thing quickly, so that we can get back to the others."

The prince nodded again. "Raimey and Mort and Miles will be upset that you visited, and did not see them."

Jamie grimaced. "Don't tell them. I would love to see them...but we are short on time. Please, Seddy."

"Very well." The prince dropped his hands to the waistband of his undergarment. "Shall I disrobe?"

"Not necessary," Jamie said, smiling. "In fact, Getrell doesn't even need to move away from you."

The prince gave a short sigh. "Then I am ready, when you are."

Jamie nodded. He had sorted out the magick from the volumes of ties he had taken along with Urvan's knack, and felt he understood it now. It utilized the tiny locks within the body that told it how to be. Undoing what Urvan had done should be a matter of simply returning those locks to their original form. Urvan had specifically altered the magick for that purpose, and so its secrets had been preserved.

And, the red mage had coded the magick with a cipher only he would know. But that cipher had come to Jamie with the other knowledges of Urvan's magick. Jamie sighed now, not wishing to relive the memory of the red mage's end.

He forced away the thoughts of Urvan, reviewed the magickal lock, and then smiled. "You want it back just as it was?"

The prince gaped at him. "What does that mean?"

Garvin and Jamie both laughed. "Well," Jamie said, grinning, "what can reduce in size can also increase in size."

Prince Sedwick turned to Getrell, who looked a little bit amazed. "I have always loved you as you were, My Prince. But this is your choice to make."

Sedwick turned back to Jamie. Jamie noted the play of emotions across the prince's face: surprise, temptation, reconsideration, satisfaction. "No. Make me as I was."

"I thought so," Jamie said. He tied the knot, cast the magick, and stood back.

Prince Sedwick's eyes grew larger, and his hand dropped to gently cover his crotch. "That was...a most amazing feeling!" He pulled out the top of his undergarment and looked inside. And then his face came up, beaming! "I'm restored!"

"Oh, Seddy! I'm so happy for you!" Getrell simply pulled the prince close and embraced him, and then kissed him rather ferociously. Sedwick gave a little squeal and looked delighted, and finally managed to turn his head to Jamie. "And it still works as well as always, too!"

Garvin took Jamie's hand and squeezed it, the pleasure he was feeling for Sedwick and Getrell plain.

Jamie nodded. "Then we must go."

The prince's face fell. "Already?"

"Yes. You are restored. Now we are off to finish this affair. But rest assured, we will return."

They were hugged again by the prince and Getrell, made slightly awkward now that both seemed aroused by the restoration of the prince's maypole. Both kept their hips pulled back as they hugged Jamie and Garvin; even so, Jamie felt a stirring down low, and a very real wish that he and Garvin could go off together and be alone for a while. That Sedwick and Getrell would enjoy the rest of the night together seemed clear.

But...they had to get back.

"Remember," Sedwick said, as they parted. "On your return, a night shared."

Garvin grinned, and Jamie laughed. "We won't forget."

"Stay well," the prince said, his tone more serious now. "We want you back as you are."

Getrell nodded. "And as quickly as you can manage."

"We are almost done with this affair," Jamie said, also more seriously. "Our next call will be upon Porvus, and, we hope, Lodda, himself."

They waved, and then Jamie tied the knot to teleport them back to the alcove and the others.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead