The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 31

In the distance, Methuwan sparkled in the ghostly light. The moon's orb was full this night, and its reflected light lit the scene before their eyes with a certain cool majesty that was compelling. And, a bit haunting.

The ancient city was just as Lautan had described it, perched atop the great wall that circled this end of the lowlands holding the Forest of Night. The walls that surrounded and protected the shimmering towers and domes stemmed seamlessly from that great valley wall, as if city and wall had both been created in one stroke of the painter's brush. The taller towers and minarets caught the milky moonlight just so, giving the place a fairytale quality that could scarcely be called sinister. The ancients had built some beautiful places, and it was hard now to view this obvious jewel of a city as a place of evil. Once again, it seemed, legend had painted fact in colors darker than deserved.

"It's beautiful," Sir Dorf admitted, shaking his head slowly. "Hardly what I imagined."

"Beauty and evil often mix company," Bastyin offered, staring at the distant towers. "But I must agree that this was not what I expected to find, either."

"The city looks one with the wall," Jamie agreed. "And far less than a threatening place." He squeezed Garvin's hand a moment. "Can you have your flyer move closer?"

"I'll ask her."

In response to Garvin's query, the view of the city moved closer as the small dragonette that Garvin had contacted via his ring descended in its flight. But it was a small improvement only, the mini-dragon again stopping to hover in place well above the city's towers.

"I sense she wishes to go no closer," Garvin said into their group viewing. Once again, the things that one of them could see and experience were being shared by all via Jamie's lens. "I sense that it may be dangerous for her to do so."

"That's fine, then," Jamie returned, his eyes roving over the walls and domes below. Methuwan looked peaceful in the night, no sentries visible atop the city wall's walkways, no one at all seeming concerned about visitors from the sky above. The place looked uncannily quiet, which fact pricked Jamie's senses in a revealing fashion.

"No eyes need to watch, if the ancient's science can watch for them," he decided.

Just then he did see movement below. One of the very large shadows in the lee of a dome seemed to bulge outward, and then a familiar shape detached itself from the darkness. Large, multi-faceted eyes glowed in the moonlight as a hideous face looked directly up at them, and broad, powerful wings suddenly spread as the creature shuffled forward towards the edge of the wall.


"Have your dragon away from the city!" Jamie hissed. "Now!'

But it seemed that the mini-dragon needed no prompting from Garvin. It wheeled suddenly, and plunged for the trees below, in an arc that carried it away from Methuwan, and the giant beast even now launching itself from the city walls. The dragonette's wings beat furiously as it gained speed, even as it turned its head to look back at the ugly beast now in the air and in pursuit.

But it was an unequal contest. No doubt the gliftok could attain considerable speeds with its great wings after a time, but in its initial jump from the walls, it had descended first with its own gravity, and had to beat its huge wings with effort to gain altitude. And, in that time the dragonette gained the shelter of the canopy of the forest, and moved in among its branches, to light on a large one near the bole of the tree, where it could watch the sky through a gap in the leaves.

A huge, black shape swept past overhead, briefly eclipsing the moonlight, and the ends of the branch swayed in sympathy to the gliftok's passing.

"She will wait a while now, before re-emerging," Garvin told them. "She knows the danger posed by the evil flyers."

Jamie blew out a relieved breath, and nodded. "Please thank her for us, Garv. And wish her well. And then release us from her sight."

His friend did as he was asked. Jamie sighed, and allowed the lens to return their sight to their surroundings. The alcove they had made their base within the Crescent appeared around them.

He smiled at his friend. "Your gift with the ring has multiplied tenfold. You can sense the dragonettes at great distance now, and ask their assistance from afar."

Garvin laughed. "Everything I can do seems to have become larger, my Jamie. It is the result of being in your own orbit as you learned and grew powerful."

Jamie felt his face warm, but smiled at the affection he saw in Garvin's eyes. For a moment he wanted to reach out and pull the other boy closer...

Sir Dorf cleared his throat gently, breaking the spell. "So, we know what our destination looks like," the knight reprised, giving a small shake to his head. "I fail to see how that helps us to get there."

Jamie sighed, pulling his gaze away from Garvin's. "Lautan has been to the city, but only within its walls. Porvus moved about the city when he took Lautan there, but the areas they visited were all were crowded with the ancient's mysterious machines, and all attended by gray mages. None of these places is suitable for a stealthy entry, and I do not simply wish to appear and start brawling with an unknown number of forces. So, we cannot just retrace Lautan's steps, without an immediate confrontation. I think now that it would suit our purpose better to approach the city from without, and make entrance by our own means."

Geert frowned at that. "We could leave as quickly as we entered, if the need arose."

Snave gave forth a grunt. "I see Jamie's point. He is worried about the science of the ancients resident in that place, as well as the mages we might encounter. The two, together, present considerable danger to unwary visitors."

"Just so," Irik agreed. "My thoughts, exactly."

"We already know the old ones have protected the places they used to control their machines," Jamie said. "What greater place of control could exist than an entire city?"

"It seemed we were not detected by the ancient's devices upon our arrival at Cotrin," Geert reminded. "We surprised Urvan completely."

"That city had been abandoned for some time, and had fallen into a state of disrepair," Snave answered. "Porvus and his cohort have been at Methuwan for several centuries, it would seem. More than enough time to become acquainted with its security devices."

"So, you think they would have the ancient's means of detecting intruders, then?" Garvin asked.

"It's a point we must assume," Snave returned. "They have apparently mastered these detection devices in other places where we have been attacked. I think our entry to this place must be made most carefully."

"Especially as this Porvus awaits us," Bastyin reminded. "We cannot let him know we can now translocate within his very stronghold, if that information comes with a forced retreat on our part. He would be doubly prepared for us on our next visit."

Jamie held up a hand for silence. "Right. They expect us, this we know." He smiled. "So I would prefer not to arrive by any means they would consider normal, and thus have covered. We need to be --"

"Sneaky," Sir Dorf injected playfully, as Jamie hunted for the correct word.

"Yes," Jamie agreed, grinning. "Thank you, Sir Knight."

The man laughed. "A sneaky approach is one of the oldest of an attacker's tools. Seldom do they march up to the castle gate and ring the bell for entry."

"We could dress ourselves in gray and translocate in," Geert suggested. "We would seem to be just more of the gray mages returning."

"But we don't know their routine," Snave countered. "Even as gray mages, appearing out of turn with procedure might be our downfall." He chuckled then. "And, I much doubt that even a suit of gray would convince these mages that Irik or I was one of them. Not to mention Gorge and Bastyin."

Geert laughed. "I am only throwing out ideas to see what might float, friend Snave. That all fall to the floor quite thunderously is another matter."

Everyone laughed.

"All ideas are encouraged," Jamie insisted. "This is an endeavor of one purpose, but all involved have voices."

Irik made a slight sound, as if a new idea had come to him.

Jamie smiled. "Something?" he asked the wolf.

A toothy canine grin was the response. "I was just thinking, that I do believe this city has a world below, like the House of Fire. Surely, the underground cars of the ancients came here, too?"

"An arriving car would likely be noted by the security in place here," Sir Dorf figured. "I would not allow such transports to come and go unwatched."

"And we been making our way west in tunnels," Gorge pointed out. "Would be first place they look."

Irik gave a soft growl. "I agree. The tunnels and their cars will be guarded. But if we arrived beneath the city without the benefit of a car?"

Geert laughed. "Sneaking into the cellar now, are we?"

The wolf bobbed his head. "This Porvus does not know we can take images from the minds of others and translocate to destinations we have never been. To arrive in the cellar of this place, as you put it, we would either have to have been there before and translocate, or arrive in a shuttle car, by that old mage's standards."

"These would be our own standards, as well," Bastyin pointed out. "For we have not been to the cellars of Methuwan. And neither had Lautan. So, arrival by transport car would be the only way."

Irik closed his eyes a moment. "Perhaps not."

A moment of silence ensued, as everyone watched the wolf.

Finally, Snave sighed. "You keep us in suspense, my friend."

Irik's eyes opened, and he favored them with another wolf grin. "The clan of Appek watches the walls near Methuwan. My sire has traveled before with one Moket, who has been said to have entered the world beneath Methuwan. He is an explorer just as is my sire, who has been everywhere beneath the house of fire, where all of us first met."

Dorf's eyes narrowed. "The wolf clans. I forgot about their proximity to the ancient city."

"All around the walls, everywhere, my people watch," Irik reminded. "So that the safety of the world above is never breached by the things that live below."

Geert's eyes widened in excitement. "If this Moket has been beneath Methuwan--" His eyes whipped around to find Jamie. "Perhaps you could gain an image from his mind, and translocate us within?"

"That was to be my suggestion," Irik agreed. "And I have been to the part of the forest Appek calls home. Jamie can gain that image from my mind, and take us there to find Moket."

Jamie looked around at the others. "It seems an idea worth investigating. Does anyone have anything else to add?"

When no one said anything, Sir Dorf nodded, and looked around the alcove. "Let us leave nothing behind we value. For I sense we will not be returning here again."

Geert gave a sigh at that. "Hay bales, I can get most anyplace. Let us be gone from here, and serve to Porvus and the others that justice they have long been avoiding."

They adjusted their shields to provide for the vision that allowed them to see by the heat that all things emitted or reflected, and followed Irik as he made his way among the upland forest. The view provided was colorless, yet as detailed and active as if they watched by the light of the sun. Here, there was life everywhere, just as Jamie had remembered seeing it when they had first discovered the means of circumventing the perfect camouflage behind which the creatures of the upper forest lived.

It had been a simple enough matter to find the mental pictures within Irik's mind of the land above the wall where the clan of Appek lived, and then to translocate their group there. One of the Seven Clans, and allied with Irik's own clan far to the east, the wolf expected them to be welcomed by the leaders of Appek, even though humans were regarded even more warily here than in Irik's land. If Jamie and the others traveled with Irik, a possessor of a A Mother of Tongues, it could only be for good reason.

Long-tailed birds sailed among the thick branches of the tall trees, sometimes startling the saucer-eared squirrels that lived there. Creatures of every sort, some almost familiar, while others completely strange, moved among the brush, and in the distance they could hear the heavy progress of a treef as it made its way among the trees, moving away from them. The sounds here were almost nostalgic, reminding of a gentler time, before they had faced the horrors that lived in the world below. That even the sounds of the distant treef inspired no fear at all in Jamie now was evidence of how far they had come since they had last walked the upland trails.

"Busy place," Snave remarked softly, a hint of humor in his voice. "Yet, with a different feel than our previous visit."

"We're a lot stronger now," Sir Dorf said, with assurance. "And have faced much greater dangers than are present here." He turned to smile gently at Jamie. "We are blooded, are we not?"

Jamie offered a smile of his own. For a moment, a ghostly glimpse of Urvan's face as he perished warred with Jamie's conscience, and then slowly faded away, pushed aside by the memory of Bastyin's dead brothers, murdered atop the stairs beneath the fantastic dome in the forest below. Events must equalize, Jamie thought now. The world come right again. It had been a necessary thing for Urvan to lose, to ensure the safety of many others. Perhaps, even, for the safety of all the world. Just as it was necessary for Porvus to lose next, and then Lodda after him.

"So, it would seem, Sir Knight," he said slowly. "And, you were correct in your wisdom, offered in the tunnels below. It has become less difficult to do the things we know we must do."

The knight nodded, his eyes full of affection for Jamie. "I knew you would come to see. Battling evil seldom comes without pain. There are usually no easy pathways around the difficult things that must be done."

Jamie sighed. "And yet, I still see room for regrets at the loss of some things. And some people."

"That's always the case," the knight agreed softly. "And still, we move on."

Irik, in the lead, stopped and looked back at them. His large ears flicked to and fro, and a glimmer of excitement was visible in his eyes. "They come."

Jamie looked around, but could see no movement that might be wolves making their way among the undergrowth. Nor could he hear anything new. He sighed. "My senses are not good enough to find them."

"That way," Sir Dorf remarked, waving a hand to their left. "Quite a welcoming party, it would seem."

Jamie's eyebrows went up at yet another display of the knight's unusual abilities, but he said nothing. Garvin grinned at him, but also seemed not inspired to comment.

"I believe I hear them now, too," Snave said, rotating slightly to face the direction the knight had indicated.

They watched, and in a moment the underbrush parted, and a wolf face looked out at them. The newcomer's features were kin to Irik's, with perhaps a slightly shorter muzzle. But the eyes held a similar intelligence, and their gaze moved among them, finally settling on Irik.

That wolf took a step towards the newcomer. "I am Irik, of Clan Chuwa, Second Speaker to the Clan of Sevens." He spoke in the human tongue, so that those with him could understand.

The other wolf watched him a moment, and then moved forward to emerge from the brush. Three more wolf faces took the place of the first, but simply watched, not coming forward into the open.

The first wolf moved closer to Irik, and it was then that Jamie could see that this new wolf also wore a small leather pouch upon her brisket. And the notion that this new wolf was a female startled him, because he had no real way of knowing that. It was just something his senses conveyed, without reason for the opinion.

The new wolf moved closer, daintily sniffed at Irik, and then sat back on her haunches. "I am Pula, of Clan Appek, Third Speaker to the Clan of Sevens. I know of you, Irik."

Irik's head bobbed once. "I know of you, Pula. Our sires have journeyed together, beneath the eastern house of fire."

The three wolves behind Pula moved out of the underbrush and quietly sat back on their haunches behind her, while three more faces took their place, watching from the bushes.

Pula's gaze found Jamie, but her words were directed at Irik. "You walk with human mages. You speak with their tongue."

Irik sat back on his haunches as well. "They are my friends, as well as my travel companions. Together we have been investigating the doings of the human mages at Methuwan."

Pula's eyes widened marginally. "They investigate their own?" The doubt in her voice seemed clear.

"They come from the wider world, beyond the forest. There, humans have taken notice of the actions of their kind in Methuwan, and within this forest, and these have come to investigate. And to put an end to any evils."

Pula digested that quietly, her eyes moving among the humans. When they returned to Jamie, he touched the lens through his shirt, and sent out a thought of friendship.

Pula's eyes widened again, and she pulled her head back, staring at Jamie. "One of them speaks to my mind!" And then her surprise deepened. "They can see us!"

The three wolves to Pula's rear immediately rose to their feet, as if prepared to run. The three faces behind them pulled back into the bushes.

"Stand your ground!" Irik urged immediately. "And have no fear. Yes, they can see you. And, I say, it matters not."

Pula stared at Jamie again. "You send a message of friendship. This I could feel with my mind."

"We consider your kind as friends and allies." Jamie returned. "We are here to deal with the mages of Methuwan, and no one else."

Pula stared a moment longer, and then visibly relaxed. "A sense of truth follows your words." She gave an almost puzzled shake of her head, and then looked in wonder at Irik. "I like this one."

Irik cast a quick look back at Jamie, and emitted a soft laugh. "He has many talents, that one. I, too, felt the offer of friendship he sent. It is an honest one, I can tell you."

Pula stared at Jamie a moment longer, and then offered a distinctive wolf smile. Her gaze returned to Irik, and she leaned closer to him then. "I sense much from you. You are no longer just a speaker."

"I have learned from my friends," Irik admitted. "Especially, the knowledge that simple magicks are not the only sort our kind can do."

Behind Pula, the three wolves again sat back, looking relieved. Three more of the wolves slowly emerged from the brush, and took up positions next to the three behind Pula. They, too, sat back on their haunches, clearly at ease now, and wanting to listen. Pula turned her head to look at them, and then seemed to make a decision.

Her gaze returned to Irik. "You have come to us for assistance? How can we help?"

"It is your own sire I wish to speak with," Irik offered. "It is said he has explored the caverns beneath Methuwan."

"This is a true statement," Pula agreed. "As far as it goes. Even I do not know what to make of the wonders he speaks of."

"But he has been there," Irik pressed. "And we wish to go where he has been."

Pula looked unsettled by that. "You wish him to lead you? His explorations took place in times when Methuwan slept, in comparison to today's troubled actions. My feeling is that such an intrusion into the depths beneath the city would be a hazardous journey today."

Irik grunted. "No. We do not wish to take him from you. We simply wish to gain a view from him of what is there. We will...make our own way there, after speaking with him."

The other wolf relaxed. She had obviously been worried about her parent leaving on such a dangerous venture. Jamie sighed inwardly at that, understanding that Irik's people loved their own just as humans did.

"We bring your sire no danger," Jamie said then, carefully. "We simply wish to understand what is beneath Methuwan. And how your sire got to be there."

Pula bobbed her head. "That, he can tell you." Her eyes went back to Irik. "I am instructed to bring you to the den, and to use my own judgment on whether to bring your companions as well."

"They pose you no harm," Irik reiterated.

"And I believe you. So, we shall all go."

The delegation of wolves rose to their feet, and Irik followed suit. He turned to gaze at Jamie. "We will follow them."

They made their way through the forest, taking their cue from the wolves ahead that it was safe to travel that way. Their ears offered them no reason to dispute that notion, and the busy life they could see with their eyes all around them through the heat view seemed quite content to avoid them in a most casual manner. It was fascinating the way that the creatures went unmoving and silent as they passed, or even drew slowly back into the undergrowth before they arrived, all in the apparently certain belief that they could not be seen by the approaching wolves and humans. At what level of thought the creatures operated was undetermined, but surely their thought processes were on the level of similar animals out in the human world. The magickal camouflage they wore must be so ingrained within their defensive mechanism that fight or flight were never immediate reactions. Silence, and no movement when danger presented itself, seemed to have been found the best defense.

"How do these creatures eat?" Geert whispered, as if mirroring Jamie's own thoughts. "They cannot see their prey, nor can their prey see them."

"Most are plant-eaters," Irik offered, his voice also quiet. "The treef eat anything. They have the power to sense life behind the perfect disguise, but mostly seem to simply plow through the forest and scoop everything up in their mouths as they pass."

"Your kind are not plant-eaters," Jamie said quietly. "Or, at least, not exclusively."

"My kind hunts," Irik agreed. "We have methods of dealing with the perfect camouflage, as well."

When the wolf did not elaborate, Jamie asked no more. It wasn't important now, though he knew this item would lodge in his curiosity until answered.

They could see now that they had entered a well-traveled path, though one not beaten down to bare ground. Only the absence of larger plants marked this as a roadway of sorts. A carpet of soft grasses and lesser weeds covered the route, and Jamie figured these were probably plants that grew so quickly that it was simply hard to trod them fully away.

Ahead of them, a large wolf appeared from the brush to one side of the path, and came towards them. Pula increased her pace and went to meet the new arrival, and they quickly exchanged a series of soft growls punctuated with tiny yelps.

Irik dropped back to stand between Jamie and Sir Dorf. "Part of the guard," he explained. "We near the den. It is always under watch."

Jamie inspected the new arrival with interest. This wolf was larger than Pula and Irik, heavier and more muscled. His gaze passed above the female wolf as they spoke, and inspected the humans closely. There was intelligence there, and caution, and a measuring quality that was pronounced. Jamie was reminded of when he and Garvin and Snave had first arrived at Cumberstone Castle, and had met with Getrell at the gate. There had been another man there, another soldier - Merthon was his name, Jamie recalled - and that one had watched them in the exact same manner when told that the new arrivals would be entering the castle. Jamie smiled at the memory. Defenders were of a kind, apparently, and not all suspicion was a human creation.

But after a moment the large wolf bobbed his head, and stood back from the trail. Pula turned and cocked her head forward, an invitation to follow. The group started moving again. As Jamie passed the guard wolf, he smiled at him, touched the lens through his shirt, and sent a message that all would be well. The wolf's eyes briefly widened, and then narrowed; and then something that could be called a grin spread across the fellow's furry features. But that it was a bit of a cynical grin, seemed sure.

Dorf noted the exchange, and chuckled. "Only time will reassure that one," he said to Jamie.

"It doesn't hurt to let him know it's safe for us to pass," Jamie returned.

The big knight grunted, but said no more.

They continued on for a while longer, and then the path turned, and they were presented with a widening of the grassy area into a sizable circle, which was rimmed by large rocks, some of them enormous. Spaced within the walls formed by these boulders were a series of domes, taller than a man, and broad enough to offer considerable room within. Jamie breathed a small gasp of surprise, having expected the habitat of the wolves to be a natural cavern, or even something constructed of local woods. But these domes looked to be made of the smooth white stone of the ancients. The round circle of an entryway was visible upon the face of each dome, and a light could be seen within.

The group stopped, and Pula turned to them. "If you will wait here a moment, I will gather the council."

She left them, moving off among the domes.

Jamie turned to Irik. "These look like buildings of the ancients."

"They are. Each clan has a compound such as this one."

Garvin made a surprised sound. "Your own people live in domes like this?"

"Yes. It has always been so. My kind was set to watch the walls even before the first memories we have recorded."

Snave came up beside Jamie. "A compound this size could hold many hundreds of...citizens."

"Thousands," Irik corrected. "Each dome has two levels below ground, too. My own clan numbers over three thousand."

Jamie huffed at that, astonished. He had simply never considered the size of any of the wolf clans. But certainly, they had to be large, in order to be self-sustaining.

"And there are other compounds, not a part of the Seven Clans," Irik continued. "Though most are allied in some fashion. All are peaceful and cooperative, at least with each other."

Sir Dorf made an amused sound. "You could teach our kind something, it would seem."

"It was not always thus," Irik returned, guardedly. "Our own history is not without turmoil. But the reminder of Methuwan, and the world below, always serve to remind that the true danger lies elsewhere."

Jamie sighed at that. Humans, always the troublemakers! "We're sorry about that."

Irik offered a wolf smile. "It is not your fault, Jamie."

Bastyin reached over and patted Jamie's shoulder. "It is wrong to blame an entire kind for the ills of a few."

"Not be here, didn't like," Gorge added, giving Jamie a toothy grin.

"It's not our fault that mages like Urvan and Porvus went bad," Geert said. "Each of us is only responsible for the conduct of ourselves."

Jamie nodded. "And yet, through inaction, we often unintentionally support the dark schemes of others."

"We are acting," Sir Dorf said. "And rather strongly, too."

"But how long has this been going on, with nothing being done?" Jamie returned. "How long have Porvus and Lodda been allowed to build their plans, while no one acted to counter them?"

"We did not know of their plans earlier," the knight pointed out, watching Jamie with interest.

"Someone must have known," Jamie argued. "The Council of Mages at Arthros are sensitive to all the doings of the mage world."

"And they have surely known of Porvus and Lodda," Snave ventured, "And simply were waiting for the right time to act."

Jamie turned to the gargoyle. "They have not acted! It has fallen to us to act for them!"

Even as the words came out, Jamie settled back on his heels, shocked. It has fallen to us to act for them!

The gargoyle gave a soft laugh. "We are part of a larger plan, I think. All things come in their own times, Jamie. The council simply had to wait on us, because we had to wait on you."

"Me?" Jamie shook his head at that. "I am not that important."

"I argue that you are. Your discovery of the lens has proved critical to our successes thus far. And your understanding of the forces that drive magick itself. If we are to prevail against Porvus and Lodda, I feel your singular knowledge and abilities will be critical."

"But I have still not quite determined the full nature of magick," Jamie argued.

The gargoyle chuckled. "But you will, Jamie. You will."

"Snave does not mean to push you," Garvin said, wrapping an arm around Jamie's and pulling him closer. He favored Snave with a warning grimace. "We are not going to be pushed into anything."

"I do not push. I merely observe. We are acting against Porvus and Lodda. My feeling is that our actions cannot have gone unnoticed by the Council of Mages. And, perhaps, have even expected."

Jamie took a deep breath at the idea. "So, Master Thorvil has known what we've been doing, all along?"

"I would say he has had some inkling, yes," Snave agreed. "And that he certainly does know more fully now, after we have sent Seeri and Rier to Arthros to apprise the Council of our discoveries."

"And yet--" Jamie paused, considering this new idea. If Master Thorvil, and the Council of Mages, really knew what was happening...why were they not here, assisting?

He voiced the question aloud.

Snave sighed. "We are back to things happening in their own times, I think."

Jamie frowned at that. He had always been certain that Thorvil cared for him and Garvin. If the man knew what they were facing, and had not come to aid them--

"Thorvil is a master," Snave said quietly, his ebony eyes turned to Jamie now. "With all the responsibilities that brings. And he is head of the League of Masters, a part of the Council of Mages, and concerned with what happens in the mage world. He will not let us face Porvus and Lodda alone, I think."

"And yet, he is not here."

"I have faith in my brother," the gargoyle said.

Jamie let that sink in, and finally had to smile. "So do I."

"Then rest at ease, Jamie. The truest test has yet to come."

Pula returned to them then, with another wolf in tow. The young speaker came to a stop by Irik, while the other wolf favored the group of visitors with a curious glance, but kept going, finally disappearing between two of the domes.

"The council will meet with us momentarily," Pula told them. Her eyes moved back to Jamie, and he was sure he saw something different there now.

"Something is amiss?" he asked.

The wolf gave a slow shake of her head. "No. The council is already met, and waits upon us. Your arrival was...foreseen, it seems."

Irik looked surprised. "The council knew we were coming? How can this be?"

Pula turned to gaze at him. "There is a cub here, one Intha. She is but a year in age. But she has been having...visions, is the word, I believe. At first, it was believed she was ill in the mind. The council has not known what to make of her offerings, since there was no way to prove they were real. But Intha apparently foretold of your coming, even down to describing the one that lives within wood." She glanced at Snave. "This is proof that her gift is real and that the things she sees are true. The council was already met to discuss this when news of your arrival in our forest came in."

Snave chuckled. "That must have been a little bit of a shock."

Irik turned to the gargoyle. "What does this mean?"

Snave somehow managed to convey excitement in his manner. "It means that our ideas on this world are correct. In each new generation of humans, more children with the gift of magick are born." He turned to Bastyin. "You are the first of your kind to come to magick. And Gorge has shown that his kind can learn of it, as well." He turned now to face Pula. "This new thing, with this young wolf, shows that your own kind are coming to higher magicks on your own. This Intha is likely a seer."

"A seer." Irik and Pula breathed the word in unison.

Sir Dorf laughed. "We are less surprised at this development than you are, it seems."

Irik turned and offered a wolf grin to the knight. "It is a shock to come to the idea that my kind may start birthing mages."

Jamie pointed to the Mother Of Tongues that each of the wolves wore. "What is occurring now is a new growth to an old talent. Your kind came to magick long ago."

The wolf that had come back with Pula and gone on ahead returned then, and made two small yips in their direction.

"They are ready," Pula said. "Come."

The two wolves started off, and Jamie and the others fell in behind.

The council dome was one large open space within, with a small raised dais against the back wall. The height of the dais was such that the three council members could be seen clearly by all, but not so high as to imply a marked separation in status. It was clear that great numbers of the clan could gather here should the occasion arise; yet, at this moment, it was just the council, and Pula, and Jamie's group before them that were met.

Overhead, small strips of luminescence, the technology of the ancients, cast a warm light down upon them. Even so, a small stone bowl at each end of the dais held a nesting of logs that burned brightly, adding the warmth of hospitality that only fire can lend to a room. The thin trails of smoke emitted by each flame seemed to soar towards the rounded ceiling of the dome with lives of their own, there to disappear into grates in the stone overhead, without even marginally contaminating the air of the room. More of the ancient's superb know-how, this marvelous drafting just another display of knowledge since lost.

Pula had introduced them to the council, comprised of Dacek, Irinan, and Chard. Dacek and Chard were males; Irinan, a female. The three simply sat on their haunches upon the dais, without any other sign of office or authority. That these wolves were elders among their kind was apparent from the gray fur edging their muzzles, and the eyes that watched Jamie and his friends now shone with a steadiness born of long experience with the ways of the world.

The gazes of the three moved among them as Pula introduced the visitors, and seemed to find an extra measure of curiosity when Snave was introduced.

The wolf called Chard offered a series of yips and growls.

"Truly, you are a human spirit cast somehow within wood?" Pula translated, as Chard watched Snave with a mixture of interest and reservation.

"It's a long story," Snave replied, sounding vaguely as if he hoped he would not have to recount it. "But, yes, I was once as human as my companions."

Pula translated, and Chard turned to look at his companions.

Dacek offered something then, which Pula again translated. "He says that the ways of humans are strange, but that their magick is even stranger."

Jamie certainly couldn't deny that! "You knew of our coming," he said then. The eyes of the council turned to him as one.

Pula again translated, and Jamie became used to her intermediary presence within the back and forth flow of their conversation.

"It is the nature of our kind to watch, and to learn," Dacek told them, from his position between the two other council members. "We were aware of your presence in our woods almost as soon as you arrived."

Jamie shook his head. "I mean, you knew we were coming before our arrival."

"He speaks of Intha, and her visions," Irinan said, casting a quick look towards Pula. It was Irik that softy translated her words this time. "News travels fast," the female councilor concluded.

"It is welcome news," Jamie said, smiling. "The wolf clans are coming full upon the magick of this world, it would seem. You should expect more surprises among your young in the future."

"That may or may not be good news," Dacek returned, guardedly. "In our experience, the humans of Methuwan are jealous of their magicks."

"They're just a small portion of the human community of this world," Snave pointed out. "And, it would seem, an unpopular group, too. I don't think you need worry of them much longer."

Chard released a small grunt of surprise. "Your people will view us differently?"

"Our people don't really know of you," Jamie explained. He turned, and extended a hand to Irik. "We have come to know your kind through this one. He has proven himself to be a wonderful friend and companion in our travels."

Dacek nodded at Irik. "I know of you, Irik, son of Orald, the explorer. Our own Moket speaks highly of your sire."

"And mine of him," Irik said, bowing his head briefly. "It is Moket we have come to see."

"As Pula has conveyed. Moket has been summoned to this chamber." Dacek gave a little shake of his head. "You are fortunate to catch him here. He has only just returned from a journey."

The wolf did not specify where Moket had journeyed to, and Irik did not ask. Jamie took his cue from that. The wolves could be expected to have their own priorities, too.

"I believe he comes now," Sir Dorf whispered then, from next to Jamie.

Jamie gave a short laugh at the man's extraordinary senses, but joined the knight in turning back to look at the doorway framing the outside world. Two wolves entered, and came forward to the dais. One wolf nodded briefly at the three council members, and then retraced his steps to the door and left. The remaining wolf scanned Jamie and the others with great interest, and then sat back on his haunches to face the council.

"Moket," Dacek acknowledged, smiling. "It was good of you to come so quickly."

Introductions were made, and the new wolf stood and walked over to Irik. No translation was offered here, but Jamie was surprised to find that he could understand the gist of the conversation, anyway, some part of his own knack for languages filling in.

"Irik. It's been a long time."

Irik bowed his head, but Jamie knew the wolf well enough now to see the pleasure in his bearing. "I was but a cub when we last met."

"A fine man you are now. Your father must be proud!"

Irik offered a wolf chuckle. "He does not seem disappointed, at least."

"Surely not." Moket leaned closer to Irik. "An amazing assembly of friends you walk with these days."

"And friends they are," Irik assured. "No better have I among our own kind."

"High praise." Moket's eyes came up then and met Jamie's, and a brief, startled look entered the wolf's eyes. "That one understands our tongue?"

Irik turned, saw that it was Jamie that Moket meant, and offered a barking laugh. "Nothing would surprise me about that one. Come, and meet them."

Irik turned and moved closer to Jamie, with Moket in tow. "This one is Jamie, leader of this group."

Moket eyed Jamie in an appraising manner. "He is young." But then the wolf smiled at Irik. "Like you. And, accomplished, I would say. Like you."

Wolves could not blush, but Irik came as close to it as was possible for his furry face, and Jamie did his best not to smile.

Moket looked up at Jamie. "I am told you would ask my assistance in relating the things I have learned about the caverns beneath the city of Methuwan."

"Yes," Jamie said, without waiting for Irik to translate.

Moket, like many dwellers in the forest, apparently understood a fair amount of the human tongue. "I can assist with that," the wolf returned.

"Perhaps allow Irik to translate, so we all can follow this conversation?" Sir Dorf said quietly.

Jamie turned to the knight. "Sorry. Irik? If you will?"

Irik turned to the others. "Moket has agreed to assist us."

"What will you need?" Dacek asked, through Pula.

Jamie shrugged. "Just a quiet place to talk for a brief period of time."

The three council members spoke lowly among themselves a moment, and then all three stood. "You may use these chambers. We will leave to grant you some privacy."

"That's not needed," Jamie reassured.

"Nevertheless. This is an issue between yourselves and Moket. There should be no distractions. Moket may fill us in later on what he wishes us to know."

Jamie opened his mouth to offer further assurances that it was fine for the council to stay, when he caught the look in Irik's eyes as the wolf gazed at him. Let it go.

"Their culture, their rules," Snave whispered, from beside him.

The three council members left then, taking Pula with them.

"The council must act on the things it knows," Irik explained, after the others have left. "In this case, they felt it best that they not know what is happening until Moket fills them in. Under certain circumstances, they would be forced to refuse to allow him to assist you."

Jamie blinked at that. "I can't imagine what circumstances."

"I can," Sir Dorf said. "Let's just move on."

There were no seats available here, and Jamie didn't want to saddle the wolves with having to get rid of bales of hay later, so they simply stood as they talked.

"You have been beneath the city of Methuwan," Jamie stated. "We wish to go there."

"You wish me to lead you?" Moket asked, looking interested.

"That will not be possible," Jamie returned. "Only those capable of battle magicks and the appropriate defenses will be safe on this journey, and even that cannot be assured. We just wish to know what you found beneath the city."

A brief look of disappointment crossed the wolf's face, and then his eyes flicked to Irik with new interest. "You will go?"


The implication that Irik could perform greater magicks than were now known among the wolf clans was clear. "Truly, you have become accomplished!"

Jamie leaned forward. "Can you tell us how you gained entry to the places beneath Methuwan?"

"Yes. I will try to give you the best instructions I can for finding your way beneath the city. Still, it will not be an easy journey."

"That won't be necessary. First, let's discuss what you saw there. And then, all I will need from you is a picture in your mind of where you were. A safe place we can go to, preferably. I can then take us there by translocation."

For a moment Moket simply stared at him. And then the wolf gave a slow shake to his head. "Magicks can be fearful things."

In the brief silence that followed, Jamie could hear the distant yips and barks of wolf speech out in the compound. This was a thriving community, on its way to a bright future. Yet the wolves lived within a shadow cast by humans, which surely lent them caution. These people had good reason to fear those that made their base in Methuwan.

"We try to use our abilities to balance the books on the side of right," Snave reassured then, in a quiet voice. "You have no reason to fear us."

Moket examined the gargoyle closely. "I do not fear you, friend. I respect your power. Just as I respect the treef that make their homes in our forest." A trace of a wolf grin tugged at Moket's muzzle. "My people have an old saying."

Jamie tried to smile. "What is that?"

The wolf's eyes shifted to him. "Those that do not respect the treef, and move from his path, will most surely be eaten."

They appeared in a dense patch of woods, to the sound of roaring water. They were cloaked in invisibility and protected by their shields. Each of them was visible to the others by his knack, and nothing else.

Jamie immediately closed his eyes and scanned for the organized electrums of the ancients, that might give away their position here. He took a breath then, able to detect electrums in fantastic numbers, but none were of the patterns that he thought might be used to locate them and report their presence to Porvus. Somewhere close by, an amazing amount of energy was being generated, but of the raw variety he had only felt like this once before.

Jamie opened his eyes and turned towards the sound of the water. He briefly became visible, and pointed. "That way."

Sir Dorf stepped past him and led the way, and Jamie smiled and followed. The big knight's intention to always place himself between Jamie and any possible danger was by now something that Jamie accepted. Sir Dorf had been tasked with Jamie's care by the prince, and nothing was going to stand in the way of his duty.

And that the man liked Jamie, and cared about him as a friend, had also become clear.

They moved carefully through the underbrush, which, Jamie noted, was of the kind found out in his own world, and not within the Forest of Night. The trees around them were oaks and pines, for the most part, familiar friends from the world of humankind. That they had been transplanted to this world now seemed apparent, and briefly Jamie spared a wonder about the world that they had come from.

The world they had all come from, long ago.

Sir Dorf slowed, and so did Jamie and the others. "Our new wolf friend was right," Sir Dorf said, forced to raise his voice to be heard over the sound of the cascade. "It is a river."

They moved forward, and parted the undergrowth.

A section of the great wall that surrounded the lower level of the Forest of Night was before them, except that here, they were viewing it from the outside. This end of the fantastic lowlands was open, apparently, forcing the ancients to create a semicircular wall to contain the life forms within. They had seen this wall from the other side through the eyes of one of the dragonettes, and it was atop that section that the city of Methuwan was perched.

Jamie looked up.

Above them, the wall flared outward, curving away into the distance in such a way that it seemed obvious that the top of the wall here would have to be very wide, indeed. It was upon this bulge that Methuwan sat, and by craning his neck, Jamie could spy small outthrusts here and there that seemed to be balconies and walkways, and perhaps other things to which he could put no name. Here was Methuwan from outside the great wall, and it was from this side that Moket had found his entry.

It was not their intention to follow his path. Another surprise gained from the wolf had been the knowledge that a river apparently flowed beneath the wall here, and thus beneath the city itself. Rather than coming from within the wall, the river approached it from outside, far around the curvature of the wall, and vanished into a series of gargantuan tunnels that dove beneath the wall. Moket said he believed that river flowed somehow beneath the city, itself, and then was released again on the other side, issuing forth from the mouths of large, dark tunnels, and diving into a valley below in a spectacular waterfall, which was exactly the sound they were hearing now.

It was through one of these large exit tunnels, or, rather, an ancient walkway clinging to the side within, that Moket had made his entry into the grand caverns beneath the city. The idea that he had intrigued Jamie. Did that mean there were no electrum guardians along that path? Or, if those small dervishes were there, watching, had those within Methuwan simply not been alarmed by the entry of a single wolf? Even though Moket had made his entry in years past, at a time during which he spoke of Methuwan as sleeping, Jamie and the others had decided that Porvus, Lodda, and Urvan had been based at the city for at least two centuries, and so would have been there at the time. This led to questions about the security at Methuwan, that it seemed they could not answer.

"Amazing," Snave said, gazing out at the jets of water as they poured forth from the tunnels. "The scale of the things the ancient's did never fails to impress."

Jamie was aware of Sir Dorf turning to him. "We've had the look you wanted. You don't intend to proceed this way, do you?"

"No. Having seen the image of this place from Moket's mind, I did want to confirm my suspicions about what he was referring to. This set up looks remarkably like the one at the dam we visited. The water there was used to generate enormous quantities of electrums. I suspect the usage is similar here, as I feel that Methuwan is also home to energies of heroic proportions."

"Ah," Geert said, from Jamie's left. "That makes good sense. If the water flowed past this point when the wall was built, why not use it to create the forces they needed to operate such a city?"

"That was my thinking," Jamie confirmed. "And so, it does explain the huge devices that Moket spoke of within the bowels of the city. Just as at the dam, these giant cylinders are creating electrums."

"So, we can expect Porvus and Lodda to have substantial power at their disposal," Garvin mused.

"And that suggests many machines at their beck and call, as well," Bastyin added. "We must be careful."

"No need worry about me," Gorge said. "You go first, I follow."

Bastyin chuckled at that, and Jamie grinned. At least their moods were good.

"This other picture you got from Moket's mind," Garvin said. "You're sure it's the one you want?"

"I believe so," Jamie replied. "Moket said it was a quiet place, where his senses suggested that no one had ventured in a very long time."

"So, we go now?" Sir Dorf asked.

Jamie licked his lips. "I was thinking I would go in alone first, just to see if there are electrum sensors there that might detect us."

There was a blurring of the air, and Sir Dorf became visible. "No. We have agreed that no one will proceed alone. That includes you."

"It's just to see if they might detect us. I can translocate right out again if I feel those particular electrum patterns."

"No." The knight crossed his arms and looked stubborn. "If we all go, and you detect these sensory electrums, you can translocate all of us out again. But no one goes alone."

The two stared at each other a moment longer, and then Jamie smiled. "Yes, Sir Knight."

Sir Dorf blinked, and then smiled, himself. "We have come all this way together, Jamie. We will end this quest together, too."

"Yes," Garvin said firmly. "Be sensible, Jamie."

"Here, here," Geert added, sounding as resolute as Jamie's love.

"It is the voice of reason, Jamie," Snave put in. "We are wasting time now, on something that needs no further discussion."

Jamie laughed. "I said we'd all go. Let us return to invisibility, and I will move us."

One by one, the others faded to invisibility, and Jamie did, too. "Gather close, now."

He looked around, counted knacks, and was assured that everyone was near. Then he drew the tie for translocation, amplified by the nether-created device upon his right hand, and it was as if giant wings passed over them, briefly cutting off the light.

The roar of rushing water vanished, to be replaced by a steady whirring sound that was familiar. Jamie immediately opened his senses wide, scouring their surroundings for the peculiarly patterned electrums that might report their presence here...and found none. He breathed a sigh of relief, and looked around them.

They stood upon a balcony overlooking a vast hall, one reminiscent of the hall beneath the huge dam they had visited, but perhaps half the size. Here were four of the same giant cylindrical devices that had performed the task of generating electrums at the dam, powered by a flow of water passing far beneath the floor of the hall. The hall itself seemed empty of life, and, despite the assurances of his watcher that no one else was there, Jamie strained his senses looking for someone he might have missed.

"We are alone," Bastyin's voice came, with a great certainty attached. "No one has been here for some time."

"I agree," Irik said. "The scents here are old. There is no trouble to be found here."

"Should we allow ourselves to become visible?" Geert asked. "It is annoying for everyone to be out of sight, if there is no reason for it."

Jamie considered that, and then shook his head, even though he knew no one could see him. "No. Let us stay as we are. It occurs to me that, just as there are sensors that operate by electrums, there may be others that operate by light. The rectangular windows the ancients used to talk to each other can obviously see the speaker somehow, in order to transmit the image. Suppose this place is set up to watch in that fashion with light, without using electrums I can detect that would give them away. Porvus might somehow see us coming, and we would never know until too late."

"A wise precaution," Snave decided.

"Do we go down?" Sir Dorf asked.

Jamie turned slowly, surveying the balcony. There seemed no obvious way to reach the floor of the hall below. He moved forward then, his hands extended, and encountered a sheet of the ancient's nearly invisible glass covering the view of the grand hall below. There was, apparently, no way to get from the balcony into the generating room below.

"It's blocked," Geert said, sounding surprised. "For looking, only, I guess."

Jamie nodded, turning to the back wall of the balcony. There was a doorway to their rear, in which he could see a staircase, with flights going both upwards and downwards. Moket had come up those stairs to reach this spot, gazed out at the miraculous hall below, and gone no further in his explorations, fearing that now he was in the realm of the mages.

"No. To those stairs at our rear, I think. We must go upwards to find Porvus, not down. Come."

But Dorf turned and was first to go, and Jamie followed the knight's knack. A small shiver ran up his spine as he did so,

The had arrived within Methuwan, at long last.

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