The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 36

Jamie turned away from the large window and shook his head at Lodda. "You are setting the ship in motion as we speak. And the ring looks like it is awakening. I warn you now that we will not allow ourselves to be taken through it."

The old mage looked surprised, and then narrowed his eyes at them. "Nor will I be kept from going through! So, you can either leave this instant, and remain here in this system, or stay and fight, and go through, anyway."

Sir Dorf laughed at that. "Or, I could start cleaving in two every machine in this place, until something gives way." He turned to Jamie. "This one is begging for a thrashing, Jamie. He plays games with lives, and enjoys it!"

Jamie was also getting fed up with the wordplay. "You will not be allowed to reopen the gate," he repeated, frustrated. "The dangers are clear. I am at a loss as to why you would even try!"

The older mage watched them for a moment, obviously considering that. "I feel no need to explain my plans to you."

"Because they are not worthy of other ears, perhaps?" Bastyin offered, smiling.

Lodda's eyes narrowed at the criticism. He leaned at them, and jabbed a finger at Bastyin. "This world has gone wrong! It now stands upon its head! Commoners, given the same rights as mages! Inferior breeds, coming to magick and influence! And no way with those of vision to move forward! It's wrong!"

"It's the way of the world!" Garvin countered, hotly. "Everyone has a right to live and be prosperous!"

"Hah! The views of a pauper, imagining himself a king! In time you will see that the Council of Mages at Arthros has our world too firmly held within its grip. Those of magick that do not come to heel at their wishes, come to trouble. I refuse to come to heel, and I am tired of the trouble!"

"You can't get along with others, you mean," Sir Dorf said. "We have laws because of those like you, who feel that what they want outweighs the needs of all others! It's why we have the Council of Mages, to oversee the lands and ensure fairness to all!"

Lodda hissed at that. "Those at Arthros are no different than I am! They have the power to take, and they have!"

"The council is comprised of superior mages, you mean," Jamie accused. "You can't be part of that, or dominate it, so you choose to find a way around it."

"I am leaving its range of authority completely!" Lodda bellowed. "I will take myself elsewhere, where there are nothing but commoners, and where I will be the one to make the rules!"

Silence descended than, as Jamie and his friends stared at the other mage. Lodda's philosophy had been laid barren for all to see, and it was a most unappealing view, too.

"I fail to understand such thinking," Geert said softly.

"It does strike the ear poorly, when heard that way," Porvus mumbled. Jamie took a second to be surprised at the distaste he heard in the old mage's voice, but could waste no time considering its meaning.

But Snave laughed at what Porvus had said, and more than a bit harshly. "And didn't you think the same way?"

Porvus grunted unhappily.. "Not just that way, no."

"It runs without reason," Sir Dorf said, shaking his head. "Our way ahead is now clear." He waved an impatient hand at Lodda. "This one must be taken down, Jamie."

Jamie nodded, his view of Lodda now settled. The man was narrow in his thinking, spoiled and prone to tantrums, like an unruly child. And a powerful child, playing dangerous games, without any apparent care for the consequences to others.

"You will not be permitted to go," Jamie said forcefully.

Lodda made a face at them, one of pure hatred, and did something among the lights on the slanted table beside him. Jamie felt the immediate intensification of the magickon presence in the huge room, and then his entire group was suddenly awash in a variety of attacks, offensive magick at a power level he would have scarcely believed before now. He immediately spun more calls for power into their group defense, while calling for the others to mimic him on their personal defenses. Then he added these same calls to the defense that shielded Porvus, so that man would be protected, too.

"These are normal offensive magicks, Jamie," Snave called. "Just at an extreme level of power. Yet not enough to breach our defenses." The gargoyle grunted appreciatively. "But I see now what Lodda plans. Turned outward, at a target outside the ship, this attack would be very hard for non-magickals to defend against. This vessel must not be allowed to go through the gateway! Lodda could start a war that might end us all!"

The magicks striking their shields varied, as if slowly working through a list of all the offensive magicks that Jamie had ever heard of. Fires and lightnings of every color struck at them, projectiles of every sort smashed against their shields and gnawed hungrily at them, or splintered into thousands of smaller projectiles, each of which attempted to claw its way through to get at them. Frightening faces stared at them as nether-born horrors attempted to crush them, eat them, or poison them with enormous stingers. Other magicks smashed against their shields and flared and flowed, corrosive energies that would have surely eaten them to the bone had they not been protected. These things, and more, now assailed them. Some of the magicks were unfamiliar, as would be expected of the arsenal of any master mage. The problem for Lodda was that none were powerful enough to breach the defenses Jamie's group had at their command.

"Flitch?" Jamie called. "It seems you are correct. The magickal machines here seem only able to use the normal sequence of attack magicks."

"Their nature did not seem complex enough in comparison with your own accomplishments, Jamie. Perhaps your task here will be easier than you thought?"

"That would be wonderful! Stay around if you can."

"I can see what transpires there, Jamie. I would not miss this for all the Onsal in Phyrilix!"

Jamie laughed. "Whatever that is!"

"Quite a mess Lodda is making of this platform," Geert said, pointing at the railing of the walkway to either side of them. Those rails, surely made of the ancient's fine steel, were now warped and sagging under the onslaught, even the works of the ancients unable to withstand the forces at play here. Jamie had to wonder then, were the machine magicks now assailing them at the full power the magickal machines were capable of producing, or simply at the maximum level that was safe to use within the confines of the ship. There had to be a cut off point, lest Lodda and the oracle damage their own vessel.

A consideration that Jamie and his friends need not make!

"Do we fight back?" Garvin asked. "He clearly cannot get at us."

But before Jamie could even answer, the attacks simply ceased. Lodda, who had been leaned forward and watching the onslaught with great intensity, looked startled, and immediately looked down at the lights on his slanted table. "What are you doing? You've stopped the attack!"

"It is plainly not working," the oracle responded. "We vastly underrated their ability to produce power, and the hangar is even now sustaining some damage. We can't risk more damage to the area where they have placed themselves. I have another idea that I wish to try."

Behind them, the high pitched hum of the large cylinder suddenly altered in tempo, taking on an insistent whine that sounded threatening. Jamie felt a sudden sense of unreality come over him, as startling to his senses as a sudden cool breeze on a sweltering day. He had to steady himself, such was the feeling of dizziness that now assailed him.

"What's happening?" Geert asked, sounding equally distressed.

Jamie felt a warmth at his chest then, the call of the lens, now one of warning.

Across from them, Lodda staggered on the dais, and put out a hand to steady himself on the table beside him. "What are you doing? Stop!"

The lens was now fully active, beating out a warning that could not be ignored. In the new perspective, Jamie's electrum sense of view was now augmented, and what he was seeing now was frightening.

All around them, the magickons within the room, so overabundant before, were dwindling in numbers rapidly, turning from their paths and literally diving into the squat, humming cylinder nearby,

And in a flash of insight, Jamie understood what was happening. The huge cylinder was a collector of magickons. It drew them in, somehow, and sent them...where?

A movement at the end of the room caught his eye then, and he turned to look. A large door in the rear wall had slid to one side, and now one of the spider tanks of the ancients was entering the large room. It crossed the open floor at a run, its legs of seemingly solid energy making a thrumming sound against the steel deck that could be heard even above the whine of the huge cylinder. The tank positioned itself below them, and a blue circle of light appeared on its fore, like an eye staring up at them.

The blue lance!

"Amazing machines!" Flitch called. "Be careful!

"Jamie, our defenses are fading," Snave said, sounding horrified at the idea. "I am adding calls for power as fast as I can, but we are falling behind!"

"The magickons here are being stolen away!" Jamie called back. "It's the magickons that summon electrums to power our magicks. The oracle is trying to deprive us of our power source. If it succeeds, yon spider will do us in with its blue lance!"

"There!" Bastyin called, pointing at the magickon collector. "We must follow the route to see where the magickons are going!"

Without another word, Jamie pushed the new perspective at the humming cylinder, and through its steel hide. An incredible maelstrom of spinning forces nearly took them away then, the magickal interface that was the perspective briefly hard pressed to keep their view stable. Jamie turned them, spied a stream of magickons passing by, and reached out with the hand of his mind and grabbed one, and held on.

Their perspective turned wildly, and raced away with them. On all sides, the tiny, glowing engines that were magickons moved along, heading for some common destination. Jamie could feel intense, confining powers around them all along the way, as if they traveled through one of the glowing pipes the ancients had used to channel light. But this pathway was not lit as one of those pipes would be, the light of the magickons everywhere a cold, glowing cloud in otherwise total darkness.

For an immeasurable time, they continued onward, before the way ahead began to grow light. And then, without further warning, they emerged into a vast, glowing cloud of magickons, packed densely together in some enormous space, that density only growing by the second, as magickons in incredible numbers were forced inside with them.

"What place is this?" Geert asked. "How can we know?"

Jamie turned the perspective, willed it to come back to where they stood atop the other long cylinder turned on its side.

The sense of travel he got confirmed his suspicion as they returned to the walkway near where Lodda stood. Jamie pointed his finger downward. "There, below us, in the long cylinder. There is where the magickons are being stored! That is why the oracle cannot risk damaging this spot!""

The spider below them loosed the blue lance at them then. It was a tribute to how far their powers had come that, even with their defenses diminished, they were not immediately thrown from the walkway. Had such a beam struck them the first time they had met one of the battle tanks in the tunnels beneath the forest, Jamie had been certain that the impact of such force striking their shields would have at least seriously injured them. The battle at Cotrin had shown their defenses now a match for the blue lance, but here those defenses were now hard-pressed.

But even their depleted shields seemed up to the task, at least for the moment. Jamie felt himself and the others being shoved backwards to the warped railing of the walkway as the beam was torn by their prismatic shielding into sheets of energy that fired off in every direction. But the force of the impact was still too small to harm them.

But perhaps not so for Lodda.

"You fool!" the mage screamed at the oracle, ducking down behind his slanted table now. "You'll kill me, too!"

Jamie set his magick that learned magicks to adding new calls for power to their shields, and turned to Garvin. "We must take out that collector. And release the magickons from the cylinder beneath us."

Garvin nodded, looking much more sure of himself than Jamie was feeling.

"Do not the magickons come from the sun?" Irik asked. "How can they cut them off so?"

"They're not," Jamie said quickly. "Cutting them off, I mean. Magickons must flow from the sun at a prodigious rate, yet this collector can simply grab them faster than they enter this room. It is slowly depleting the available magickons around us. It is the magickons, in working magicks, that summon electrums to power them. As the magickons become unavailable, so does the power." He frowned. "The magickons are being stored in the rather large cylinder atop which we stand, but are somehow shielded there from our usage." Jamie snapped his fingers, understanding coming then. "That is how Lodda intended to carry a magickal war to the old worlds! They can collect and store enormous quantities of magickons, and take them with them through the gateway. These magickons would operate the magicks taught to their machines wherever they went!"

"And allow Lodda to retain his own magicks, and thus a superiority over non-magickal humans," Irik added.

"A bold plan," Snave said, "but a foolish one. This ship and the machines it contains mark the level of science the ancients had four thousand years ago! Where must that science be today? Basing an attack on how things were so long ago is bound to go awry. The ancients may now be as gods in what they know!"

Jamie snorted at that. "We once viewed them as gods for what they knew before the wars that brought them down!"

"Learning changes one's view of things," Sir Dorf said quickly. "We have come a long way in knowing things, ourselves. We started this quest in a world of magick, yet here we stand in a world of science, having learned that our magick is but another aspect of that science."

"Exactly," Jamie agreed. "And now we must find a way to victory that takes into account that science!"

Another blast of the blue lance hit them again, driving them back against the railing and throwing ragged splinters of energy in every direction.

Lodda roared another angry oath at the oracle, as even the dispersed energy of the blue lance was almost overpowering his shields.

"We are losing ground," Snave said gravely. "The next shot will start to hurt us."

Porvus shook his head. "The oracle seems unconcerned about Lodda's health. I had a feeling I knew which of them was actually in charge here. Lodda was allowed to believe this was his project, but the oracle had its own agenda all along!"

"It seems that cunning deviltry is not confined to the living," Bastyin said. "Hard to believe a machine can perform truly evil deeds."

And then, to make matters worse, the large door at the end of the room opened again, and a second spider tank charged across the open floor towards them.

"That settles it!" Jamie reached out and patted the railing next to them. It had sagged under the onslaught of magicks, but further along it still looked straight and strong. Jamie turned to Garvin and leaned closer to his friend "Knowing your love of using railings as weapons, I am wondering what would happen if you thrust a length of this one through the skin of the cylinder beneath us?"

Garvin looked happy at the idea, and nodded. "Won't know unless I try!"

He surged into incredible motion then, flowing down the walkway as a blur. The railing shrieked horribly as Garvin ripped a length of it from the uprights, and then he was bending over the rail and thrusting downward. Jamie heard the fierce clang of metal against metal, and then Garvin was back at his side.

"No good, Jamie. The hide of the cylinder is too strong. The rail simply bent and was destroyed."

Both battle tanks fired at them then, shoving them back hard against the railing. Their shields absorbed most of the impetus of the attack, but the effect was unpleasantly rough, just the same. Their shields were ebbing, for lack of electrums!

Geert was at his side then. "I noticed something, Jamie. Just before the tanks fire their blue lances, the eye from which they come gets brighter."

Jamie nodded. "Your plan! Quickly!"

"Movement magicks, Jamie. I think, when we see a tank is about to fire again, we all grab it at one time with movement magick, and redirect the lance to the cylinder beneath us!"

"It's worth a go," Snave said. "We must all act together as one!"

"Which tank?" Jamie asked.

"The one on the left will fire next," Geert said. "It seems they must pause briefly between attacks. Perhaps to rebuild the forces needed for the lance?"

Jamie smiled. "Your love for the ancient's secrets has made you a keen observer!" He nodded. "We'll try it." Jamie turned them slightly, and brought their minds together again within the new perspective. "It needs to be all at a time. We have already seen the power of these tanks in battle!"

"Can we act quickly enough?" Sir Dorf asked. "These machines are frighteningly fast!"

"I will slow the perspective," Jamie said. "We need every advantage we can get!"

The world narrowed down then to the tank beneath them. Jamie slowed the action, and brought their entire focus upon the blue eye of the huge machine.

A brief moment of seeming eternity passed, while Jamie felt his friends close all around him. Only Porvus was restrained from action, an observer in a play with no part yet written for him.

The blue eye on the tank below slowly began to brighten...

As one, movement magicks were tied, and their focus handed to Jamie, who deployed that focus against the huge machine below them.

It happened so swiftly that the eye could scarcely follow it, even in their slowed perspective. Even as the blue lance burst forth, Jamie was seizing the battle tank and lifting its back side high. The fore of the globe descended, and the beam, aimed high at them, traveled downward instead, and struck the cylinder beneath them.

The battle tank reacted inhumanly fast, cutting off the beam, but the damage was done. There was an amazing sound of tearing, and the walkaway trembled beneath their feet. And then a stream of Magickons, bright and beautiful within Jamie's special sight, jetted forth from the rent in the side of the cylinder below them, propelled, perhaps, by the very compression that had allowed so many to be packed together, and began to fill the room once again.

Lodda roared in anger, and slammed a fist down against the top of the slanted table beside him.

The other battle tank below loosed a lance at them, but it exploded into lightnings that shot everywhere against their already strengthening shields.

Jamie turned to look at the ring, visible in the great window at the end of the room. It was much nearer now, the edges glowing brightly, and it was clear the ship was swinging around to make for the center.

And then again, they were under attack, offensive magicks flowing at them like a demon wind to strike against their shields. The battle tanks both fired at once, and Jamie felt their shields ring with the impact. But they were almost back to full strength now, and held.

"A wonderful Idea, Geert!" Jamie said approvingly. "I propose we use it again. This time, when a tank goes to fire at us, we turn it in the direction of that line of magickal machines against the wall!"

They set up for that, and once again, when a tank went to fire at them, they spun it around, causing the blue lance to rake along the line of machines at the far wall. These machines wore magickal shielding, but they were of the type that Lodda and Porvus knew, and not up to absorbing the energy load. The line of machines were propelled back against the outer wall of the room with stunning force, to shatter and die and go dark.

Lodda loosed an incoherent scream, and began working at one of the machines at his back, but Jamie couldn't spare the man much attention just yet.

"Another idea," Gorge said. "Can move those tanks, despite size. How about throw one at big machine there?"

Jamie turned to stare at the magickon collector, which was still running at full speed. The magickons it was collecting were pouring forth from the breached cylinder as fast as they went in now. But all it would take was a repair to the cylinder beneath them for it to once again be stealing the tiny engines away again.

Both tanks hit them with blue lances again. The offensive battle magicks had dropped considerably in number, with the line of magickal machines at one side of the room mostly destroyed. But the combined impact was still considerable, and Jamie knew they needed to end this, once and for all.

Snave!" Jamie called. "Could we possibly use movement magicks to lift such a monstrosity as that tank? It must weigh as a hundred full wagons or more!"

"It would require many calls for power, I think. But, yes, it can be done."

"It should be with some velocity, I think," Bastyin suggested. "Not just push it against the collector, but throw it at it."

Jamie laughed at that, despite their situation. "I would have never thought that the battle with Lodda would come down to such simple magicks! I had envisioned something much more extreme!"

"If it works, that's all that matters," Garvin said.

The tanks hit them with the blue lances again. It was still a massive energy load for their shields to dissipate, but by now they were back to full strength again, and only hummed furiously as they worked to defend them.

"I don't know what will happen if we do this," Snave said. "I recall the violence with which the battle tank in the tunnels beneath the forest exploded. It was considerable."

"Ah!" Jamie nodded. "What worked once, can work again. Not only shall we propel the tank against the collector, but at the moment of impact, I will translocate some portion of it away, opening its bowels. I suspect the reaction will be similar to what we witnessed before."

"Perhaps we should not wait here to see how violent the reaction is," Sir Dorf suggested. "I say we leave, even as we cause this to happen."

"A good idea." Jamie looked down at the two tanks. Lifting the back of the one had not been that hard at all. Lifting the entire machine and throwing it would require considerably more power, however. "I think it will suffice to simply push the tank against the collector and translocate some portion of it away."

"This is amazing," Porvus said slowly. "Such power is hard to understand!"

"It's not that long ago I would have agreed with you," Jamie said. "Events propel destinies, it seems."

They arranged the act in their minds. It was decided that Jamie would create the translocation magick with his hand augment to increase its size, and then hand off the actual application to Snave, so that Jamie could concentrate on getting them away as it happened. The others would supply the movement magick needed to push the tank against the collector. They arranged the sequence jointly within the new perspective, so that it would all go at one time.

"What about Lodda?" Porvus said then. "He may be killed."

Jamie sighed. "Would you have us take him away to safety?"

The old mage looked to think about it, and then slowly shook his head. "I guess he would not appreciate such a gesture, no."

Jamie looked over at the enemy mage, who was still furiously working at a machine at his side. "He has set his own fate."

But even as they all turned to watch, Lodda finished whatever he was doing. He pulled a part of the machine at his side out of the housing that held it, clasped it to his chest, offered them a look of unbridled fury, and then disappeared in a glow of green light!

Jamie gasped. He hadn't thought the enemy mage might flee while they were still so hard pressed here!

Porvus whuffed loudly, and then laughed. "He has gone back to Methuwan, surely. I would suggest we follow at once!"

"In a moment," Jamie said. "We have to keep this vessel from going through the ring."

They fell into concentration within the new perspective, and Jamie loosed the sequence of events that might possibly end this part of their quest.

The tanks below fired at them again, and the magickal machines left working loosed new magicks at them. But it was to no avail. They had moved past such things now.

One of the tanks suddenly jumped, and slid violently across the floor toward the massive side of the collector cylinder. Just as it arrived, it became cloaked in green light - and Jamie took them away from the hangar of the ancient star ship.

They found themselves floating in space, facing the mammoth vessel some distance away now, just as the side blew out of it midway along its length. The light that struck them was fierce, a wind of tiny light engines and electrums, but which flowed harmlessly around their shields. The big ship, now nearing the ring, veered in response to the explosion, and began to deviate from its path.

"It's heading for the ring!" Geert said.

The giant rings around the rear of the vessel grew bright then, and Jamie sensed a struggle of forces as the oracle tried to correct the course.

To no avail. The big vessel struck the edge of the ring with force, tearing a tremendous gash in it and crumpling some part of the bow of the ship. The glowing lights about the ring struggled a moment, and then died into darkness. Jamie expected there to be an explosion of some sort, but nothing else happened.

"I can see all the way through the ring at the point of impact," Snave said quietly. "I think it is done, at least for now."

Jamie noticed then the ring was turning in response to being struck so forcefully, starting to show an oblique angle to them. An almost mysterious warping of the structure occurred then, and the spot where the ship had rammed the ring began to widen as the shock wave propagated about the circumference of the gateway..

And then, almost magickally, the ring began to tear itself apart.

They reappeared within the dome in the city of Methuwan.

"I'm tired," Geert said. "And hungry. Perhaps a quick break before we hunt down Lodda and deal with him?"

But Snave was turning in a slow circle now, examining the room. "Something is off here."

Jamie looked around then, too, and it was immediately apparent that something had changed.

"That machine wasn't there before," Porvus said, sounding puzzled. "Nor that one. Someone has been at work here."

"It couldn't have been Lodda," Snave said. "He only left us a few minutes ago."

"Now, there's where you're wrong," a voice said.

They turned, to find Lodda standing atop another machine, gazing down at them. He waved a hand around the dome. "I'm responsible for most of what's here, in fact."

Porvus stared up at the man. "How can you be? The dome only became active when you went out to the ring."

"That's actually not true. I've been working in this dome for several years now."

Porvus huffed in annoyance. "I didn't know about it!"

Lodda laughed. "I didn't intend that you did."

"You realize this is over, don't you?" Jamie asked. "The ring is destroyed. You've no place to go now."

The older mage shook his head. "It just means I have to revert to my original plans. Going through the ring was an afterthought. A challenge. A way to carry my authority to others, that did not require me going through the mages at Arthros in order to do it."

"Pretty bold planning, isn't it?" Sir Dorf asked. "Considering it looks like you are defeated here."

"It may look like I'm defeated, but you have only interfered with part of my plans."

Jamie stared up at the man, wondering. Lodda acted as if he had the upper hand here. What was going on?

He let his senses out, roving around the room, the perspective pushed to the front so that it could inspect the new machines. It immediately zeroed in on one of them, but then stopped.

Move closer, Jamie prodded.

But instead of going closer, his perspective reared back. What?

From seemingly out of nowhere, a scintillating curtain surrounded them. Their defenses flared, but then settled down again.

"And, now, I have you," Lodda said, sounding happy.

The man's features were blurred through the curtain that surrounded them, but Jamie could tell that Lodda was smiling.

"What is this you've placed around us?" he dared to ask.

"Why, it's nothing," Lodda said. "Attack it, and see."

Jamie took a stab at the curtain with an attack magick, but it simply vanished as it touched the curtain. He followed with another, but the reaction was the same.

"Try as many as you like," Lodda said. "Have fun!"

Jamie cycled quickly through two dozen magicks, all of which touched the light curtain and simply vanished. He tried translocation, but it simply fizzled without moving them anywhere. No amount of power applied to the magick made a bit of difference.

And then he tried to take them away in the new perspective. But it got to the curtain of light, and simply circled within it, unable to leave. Jamie was aghast, having come to view the perspective as immune to any interference. He turned it, dropped it to the floor and tried to push it through, but the curtain was there, too.

And, finally, he walked up to the curtain, and attempted to thrust his hand through it. But his hand could not get near to the curtain, bouncing away with a rubbery sensation that was disconcerting in the extreme.

They were trapped.

"What is it, Porvus?" Jamie asked. "Do you know?"

"I have no idea. I am probably more astonished at this than you!" Porvus turned to look up at his former partner. "How could you do all this without my knowledge?"

Lodda waved a hand. "You were more than happy to be off on various missions, raising havoc and starting trouble." He laughed. "Chasing down these troublesome mages, even. It was easy to assign tasks to you that seemed important, and which kept you occupied, while I worked here." The man pointed at Jamie then. "Have you figured it out yet?"

All the magicks that Jamie had tried had simply vanished as they had struck the light curtain. Now he tried a movement magick, seeing if he could give a push to the machine beyond the curtain, the one his perspective had originally shied away from.

But nothing happened. The knot tied, the magick deployed...but then died as it touched the light curtain.

"Something that nullifies magicks," Snave said then.

Lodda brought his hands together in a clap. "Very good!"

"If you had this, why not use it at the ship?" Jamie asked.

Lodda did something, and the light curtain cleared a little, so that they could see him better. Jamie could see now that the man held a small device in one hand, covered with lights.

"Oh, no," the older mage said. "I had to be careful which magicks I shared with the oracle on the ship. I knew it wanted to go through the ring badly, and be away from our sun and our world. Enough so, that I suspected it might wish to turn against me the moment it thought it was able to do so."

"Why would it do that?" Sir Dorf demanded. "The machines of the ancients have seemed very loyal, to me!"

Lodda laughed at them. "Because, you fools, that ship belonged to the others! Those beyond the ring. The unmagickals!"

That information stunned Jamie. But now he realized he had never once questioned why the ship had been there at all.

"It was one of the ships that attacked our world?" Jamie asked, anger coming now.

"Exactly. One ship, left as station keeper at the ring, while the rest of their fleet decimated our planet. But our own magickal people destroyed that fleet, and at the end, damaged both the ring and the ship that remained, so that it could not leave."

"The ship was still alive, though," Jamie guessed. "It repaired itself."

"Yes. Although that task took a great deal of time, such were its wounds. But it did finally become whole again. And the oracle of the ship immediately began searching for ways to escape this system. It used the science with which is was so well-endowed to search and explore and discover. And so it soon learned that our world had not been totally decimated, and that those of magick were again coming back to power." The man leaned down at them. "And, it became aware of Methuwan, and that the city was still whole."

"What good would that do it? Methuwan was a city of its enemies!"

"Yes. But it had been left unattended, and its defenses had weakened over time, because its own oracle was slowly failing. The oracle on the ship was finally able to overpower the oracle here in Methuwan, at long last, after time had crippled its abilities enough. A thousand or more years ago, that happened. The ship set the rocket launchers to working again, bringing materials out to it with which it could complete repairs to itself. and then began reconstruction of the ring. It used the cargoes of these rockets, and then cannibalized the rockets themselves. In that way it regained much of what it had lost. But it could not go home."

"I'm surprised it didn't attack us," Geert said.

Lodda laughed at that. "It was afraid of us. Such was the lesson our ancestors taught to that fleet, it left a lasting impression on the oracle on that ship. It would not come anywhere near to our world."

"Afraid," Jamie repeated. "And yet, it is a machine."

"And a marvelous one, it is," Lodda agreed. "So much like a living being that it could even feel fear. And caution. It proceeded slowly, trying to get the facilities that remained in operation here on our world, to help it. And it succeeded. But only marginally. The process of repairing the ring was infinitesimally slow."

"Until you came along," Jamie said. "You helped it."

"Not at first. At first, I only intended to learn what I could from it. But as time passed and it became apparent to me that those at Arthros had taken notice of our work here, I began to consider what it might be like to take an ability for magick back to worlds that did not know that power. To commoners, who could not fight that power. And so, the story you now know unfolded."

Lodda sounded proud of himself.

"Devil," Garvin said under his breath. "We must do something, Jamie."

Jamie had been letting the lens use the perspective to sample the light curtain around them. But now it signaled to him that it had drawn a blank. There was nothing to be done.

Jamie was stunned and appalled. He had come to view the lens as almost omnipotent, but now he could see that it wasn't. It could only know what Jamie knew, and what the libraries of three master mages had known of magick and the world. This new thing was beyond any of those resources.

Jamie turned back to Lodda, and pointed at the light curtain. "And this new magick?"

"'s not exactly a magick. It's the absence of magick, to be more concise."

"You could have used it to great effect against us on the ship."

"And let the oracle there get it? I think not!" Lodda held up the device in his hand. "This is a machine that remembers things. Within I have placed everything I have learned about magick and machines. I allowed the oracle on the ship to access some parts of it, but not all of it. My best secrets, I kept for myself. I certainly was not going to give the oracle a way to negate magick!"

Negate magick? How could that be done?

Lodda smirked at them. "And now, I need do nothing more. You will remain right here, until the end."

"The end?" Sir Dorf asked. "I have seen nothing to threaten us."

"Oh, my, you won't. Your powers are amazing, and I would love to have your secrets. But you are simply too dangerous to be allowed to roam loose. So you will stay right where you are."

"I think I understand," Irik said. "He means we will be unable to move from this spot."

"That won't kill us," Geert argued.

The wolf turned to look at him. "We must have water and food to live."

Geert's jaw dropped. "We...we have our packs! Our supplies!"

"They won't last forever," Garvin said. "In fact, not much longer at all. We are overdue for resupply."

As their fate began to sink in, Jamie turned to his closest friend. "There must be some way."

Garvin smiled, and touched his arm. "If there is, you will find it, my Jamie. I have faith in you!"

Jamie winced at that, but nodded. "Flitch? You heard?"

"Yes, Jamie. Your predicament would seem to be a dire one."

"Any ideas? These are obviously machines that are doing this to us."

The nether being made a wistful sound. "If I could affect things in your universe, I would try, Jamie. But I cannot."

Jamie ground his teeth together. There had to be a way out of this!

And then, he remembered something. A memory came back to him then, a vision he'd had, a foretelling, of he and his group standing in the forest, near one of the red towers. That vision came back to him now, and he looked up, staring at the splintered crown of the tower within his mind. The towers were all this way, but each unique in appearance, no two alike...

And they hadn't been there yet!

Jamie closed his eyes then, and sought out the lens. You have no answer, because this very question has never been posed before. But now, it has. So, we must seek an answer, we must find one, ourselves!

In response, a rainbow ribbon of light swirled through the back of his mind, and he sensed laughter from the lens. Let's go!

Jamie turned to the others in his group, and spoke them only in mind. "We must do this together, I think."

The new perspective still worked within the boundaries of the light curtain. He brought them together, and then took their perspective right up to the curtain. At that point it shied away, and started to circle the inside of the curtain. Jamie stopped them.

"Why does it do that?" he asked the group. "It acts as if it is still moving in the straight line to which I set it, yet it veers around the inside of the light curtain."

"It is unable to go through," Bastyin said, sounding curious. "Yet it passes through everything else."

Jamie frowned at the impossibility of that. The new perspective had not been bound by anything they had met before. Why now?

"What are you doing?" Lodda asked, sounding suspicious. "Why are you so silent?"

"You've worried him," Porvus said, gleefully.

"Let him worry," Jamie responded.

"It's not that it cannot go through," Jamie told his friends, and the lens. "It cannot even get to the curtain. It is forced around the interior, even though we have moved in a straight line."

Jamie shifted to their enhanced sight, and then to the special sight the new perspective allowed them. He stared at the curtain, and found that he could see electrums, light particles, and even magickons coming to them from the outside.

Coming in, as if there was no barrier there at all.

He watched these small engines, marvels of nature, to see what they did after they came inside the curtain. Most crossed to the other side, and simply passed through the screen and were gone.

How could that be?

He continued to watch, until something was suddenly apparent to him. The tiny electrum engines, and those of light, entered the screened area, crossed its breadth, and passed through the other side, and were gone.

But not the magickons! Each and every one reached the other side of the curtain, and turned to follow its interior. None exited, not a one.

"I see," Jamie said then. "I think this is the force they used to confine magickons within the large cylinder we stood upon aboard the ship. They can enter, but they cannot leave."

Bastyin patted Jamie's arm. "But aboard the ship, we entered that cylinder in the new perspective, and were able to leave it again. Yet here, the perspective cannot pass."

"We were outside the cylinder, "Geert said then. "Only our perspective went in. Here, we are also inside the screen. That must make the difference."

"This is why we can still do magicks," Snave said. "Magickons come in, electrums come in. We have the ability to do magick, and the power to perform them. And, we can see that electrums are getting out again. But the magickons cannot. Since we know that magick is performed between two groups of magickons, one at the mage's knack, and the other at the target of the magick, it is clear now what is happening. The magicks originate and are performed, but whatever it is that allows them to communicate with magickons at the target is being stopped."

"How?" Jamie asked.

Snave chuckled. "That, as they say, is the question."

"We've determined that every magickon between the mage and the target plays a role in the usage of magick," Geert reminded.

That made Jamie think. "The new perspective must utilize all magickons, everywhere, then. Our apparent movement is simply that we have instant access to every single location where magickons exist." He smiled at Bastyin. "I think that answers your question as to whether we could go to another star. At the edge of our system, where the effects of magickons stop, so would we."

The Lachess looked intrigued. "I would settle with visiting the limits of our system. It means we could visit the other worlds around our star!"

Despite the situation, Jamie joined the other in laughing at that. "We'll save that for later, I think."

Garvin grunted. "Then, whatever this curtain is, it acts as a real barrier to the communications that all magickons normally have with each other."

"But most everything else goes through," Snave mused. "I have a feeling we are missing something."

Jamie looked around them at the curtain. "This is a machine generated magick. That means it is subject to the limitations of the power that machine has to hold it in place." Jamie looked up. "I suspect this curtain is in the shape of a cone, that wraps beneath us. But some force must hold it in place."

Sir Dorf gave a shrug. "Perhaps some way to shove it away from us?"

"Magick can't get out," Jamie said slowly. He smiled. "An idea comes to me."

Snave chuckled. "I am all an ear, as it were."

Jamie closed his eyes a moment, thinking. "The new perspective has access to every magickon, everywhere. But it cannot go through this curtain, because whatever it is that allows magickons to speak to one another cannot pass. Magickons come in, but cannot leave. We can use this, I think. Watch."

Jamie took the new perspective to what felt to him like the middle of the curtained area, and then he gave it a command. Become larger.

The others gasped as they seemed to expand in size, and rise higher from the floor. The effect stopped then, and Jamie knew it had done so because it had reached the limits of the inside of the curtain. It was still a hand's breadth from the inner wall of the curtain, held back by the rubbery resistance of the wall.

Still larger, Jamie commanded, as all of them fed more power into the perspective. It grew again, pressing closer to the walls of the curtain, which pressed back with equal force, not allowing the perspective to actually touch the walls.

Larger, Jamie pressed. And still larger.

The machine beyond the curtain suddenly displayed a sequence of red lights, and a thin chirping, clearly a warning, filled the air.

Jamie turned them so that they could see Lodda. The man looked alarmed, staring at the distressed machine in amazement now. He raised the device in his hand, and Jamie felt the perspective gently pushed back. The lights on the machine died, and the warning sound cut off.

"Nice try," Lodda said, but now he sounded worried.

Much larger, Jamie now commanded, swelling the perspective in size again. The machine outside immediately went back to displaying its red lights, while the warning sound once again filled the air.

"How are we doing this?" Garvin asked, in amazement.

"The new perspective is basically composed of magickons," Jamie said. "And magickons cannot pass the curtain. So, by swelling the size of the perspective, we are applying real force to the inside of the curtain. Since electrums enter freely, and magickons call them to power magickal processes, we pretty much have an infinite source of power with which to push. I am betting that yon machine is not so gifted!"

Larger still, Jamie commanded.

The warnings from the machine beyond increased in intensity now. Lodda tapped his handheld device, but it no longer silenced the warnings from the machine.

"I think he has reached the limits of the power he can utilize," Snave said. "It's working!"

Lodda swore, and then floated himself down from atop the machine he'd been using as a base to watch them. He ran to the front of the machine, and did something with the rows of lights there. Nearby machines suddenly faded, their conduits of light stilled to darkness. The rows of red lights on the machine before Lodda moderated to a still warning amber, and the chirping sound died to silence. The screen pushed back hard against the perspective, but Jamie simply added calls for power that harnessed the unending supply of electrums in the area.

"I am going to swell the perspective to an enormity for a moment," Jamie told Snave. "I hope that will overpower yon machine and shatter the screen. I want you to be ready to cast the magick that will deny Lodda translocation. I don't want him to escape again."

"I will be ready."

Jamie smiled at his other friends. "Everyone be ready. Defend or attack, as the situation requires."

"Do we want Lodda alive?" Irik asked. He offered a wolfish smile. "Just so I know not to damage him unnecessarily."

Jamie considered that, and turned to Porvus. "What think you?"

The old mage looked surprised. "You're asking for my opinion?"


Porvus frowned. "He will kill you all if he can. I would not spare him mercy at the expense of anyone here."

"Then we won't." Jamie turned to Snave. "Ready?"


Jamie had been multiplying the calls for power feeding the perspective, and they were now beyond anything he had ever done before, even in the battle aboard the ship. He relaxed himself, and fixed his eye on Lodda, who was watching them now with a look that could only be described as alarmed.

Now, Jamie directed the perspective. As large as the inside of this very dome!

They could feel the perspective swell then, so suddenly that the machine powering and directing it had no time at all to react. The lights across its face went back to red, and the machine chirped briefly, and then the perspective burst through the screen and was free, even as the machine went dark.

Lodda was fast, but Snave was faster. Both mage's knacks spun furiously, but Snave was incrementally faster. A glow of green surrounded the enemy mage, but he simply blinked and returned to where he had been standing. Again, he tried to translocate away, and was stopped.

But then Lodda's knack spun a third time, and a line of darkness appeared behind him, rising from the floor to reach his own height. It suddenly widened to the width of a doorway, and Lodda spun and stepped through it.

The new perspective had filled the dome when Jamie had expanded it, and so Lodda was within its confines. Even as the dark mage turned and went through the doorway he had created, Jamie wrapped him in a coil of the perspective and held on. Lodda disappeared within the thing he had created, which narrowed again to a mere line of darkness, settled to the floor, and was gone.

"He's escaped!" Geert yelled, sounding frustrated and angry.

"No," Jamie said immediately, still feeling the tie to Lodda. "I still have part of him. We must follow him!"

Porvus waved a hand at Jamie. "He has entered his own nether. It will be dangerous to follow him!"

Jamie stared at the elder mage. "Entered it...bodily?"

"Yes. Lodda's nether is like no other I have ever heard of. He can not only take things physically to his nether, but himself, as well."

That went against everything Jamie currently understood about the nether. Things could be stored there, but a mage, himself, only went mentally!

"He cannot be allowed to escape," Jamie said firmly. "Anyone that does not wish to go may stay here."

That aroused an immediate and vocal group complaint, and it quickly became apparent that everyone was going. Jamie turned back to Porvus then. "You may stay, if you wish."

The old mage laughed. "Not a chance. I want to go and see this marvel!!"

Sir Dorf offered a grin at that. "It seems that age is no guarantee that common sense will prevail!"

Porvus looked delighted. "One is never too old for adventure!"

Jamie turned back to where Lodda had disappeared, and tugged at the filament of perspective still attached to the fleeing mage. He felt right away he could not pull Lodda out of his nether, but he did feel that he could reel himself and his group to the escaped mage.

Now, he commanded.

Their group surged forward, and the reality before them parted, and darkness closed in around them. At the same instance, the tie of the perspective he was feeling, which he thought had linked them to Lodda, evaporated, followed immediately by an audible thud.

Jamie stopped, stunned at the utter darkness. They couldn't see a thing! But, perhaps, the gift that Flitch had given them would work here?

"Idrinytz", Jamie said aloud to the others. "Wish to see!" And the darkness lit up around him.

"Oh!" Garvin said softly, and Jamie immediately understood why.

Around them stood cabinets and chests, and piles of other materials. Lodda's nether stores!

Nearby stood the mage, himself, his back to one of the cabinets, his eyes wide as he stared at them in disbelief. "Impossible! You can't be here!"

Jamie's eyes darted around, examining the space around them. Unlike Jamie's own nether, where the stores occupied a field surrounded by a rainbow-colored forest of trees, Lodda's nether appeared to occupy the top of a pinnacle of stone, overlooking a desert world below. Jamie looked around quickly, and saw there was no place to run. In every direction, a sheer drop presented itself. Just the sort of place he'd expect from someone of Lodda's ilk!

He turned back to the enemy mage. "Surrender. There is no other option."

Lodda stared a moment longer, and then shook his head. "You cannot remove me from this place. It is my own, and I control it."

"And yet, we are here," Jamie said, firmly.

"Your magicks will do you no good in this place," Lodda returned."This nether will not support them."

Jamie had already come to the idea that there was more than one nether, more than one type of nether, and that the rules could be different in each of them. He could no longer feel the new perspective here, nor any of the quiet signals that magickons accompanied them, and allowed them to walk in magick. This nether of Lodda's felt as a void, lifeless and bereft of the warmth in which magick could be born.

But - there were others ways to apply force, than magick. He turned to Sir Dorf then. "Sir Knight. Your sword."

The big man pulled it slowly from its scabbard, the metal-on-metal sound unnervingly large in this strange place. It was plain steel here, not encased in the knight's shields, its edge only as sharp as its maker had manged to make it by honing. Still a fine edge, but with no magick to it now.

"I am not a soldier," Lodda said then, his voice sounding unnaturally calm. "But it matters not. I cannot be killed here. This place is mine. There is no death in its making."

"There may be no death here, but I see no reason there cannot be force," Sir Dorf said, stepping towards the mage. "And that will come to you as pain, I think. You will come back with us now."

Lodda's eyes grew large, and he backed slowly away from the cabinet. His hand was clutched before him, still holding something. Jamie squinted at it, and realized it was the small device that Lodda had claimed remembered things. All he knew about machine magicks - all of his discoveries!

"How does it feel?" Bastyin asked softly then, leaning forward, his eyes intent on Lodda. "To be facing a superior power, and to have no magick with which to defend yourself?"

"You're as a commoner, now," Geert called, hoarsely. "One of the lesser peoples!"

"No!" Lodda turned and ran, and Sir Dorf surged after him. The two men sped across the the top of the pinnacle, until Lodda drew up at its edge. There he turned, lifted his arm, and threw the box with all his might at the knight. Yet, despite its speed, Sir Dorf deftly reached out his free hand and caught it.

"I will not be taken!" Lodda bellowed. "And, neither will you escape this place!" He turned, and then stepped off the edge of the precipice.

Jamie froze in shock, as did all the others. Sir Dorf shook his head, lowered his sword, and stepped close to the precipice, and looked over it. He watched below a moment, and then he turned, and came back to Jamie and the others. "What manner of nether is this, that a man can step off a cliff, land far below, and get right up and run into the desert?"

Jamie blinked at that. "He still lives?"

"Yes. He landed in the rocks below, jumped to his feet, and ran." The knight looked as if he could scarcely believe it.

Garvin moved to stand beside Jamie. "We will need to go after him."

But Jamie laid a hand on his friend's arm and closed his eyes then, feeling for the lens. It was there, and still could talk to him in its own way, but there truly was no magick in this place, and the perspective did not operate. All that Jamie could feel now came from his own intuition.

"Lodda could not see this place as we did. He had no idrinytz in his eyes. So, he could only see where looked. To him, stepping off the precipice was as stepping into utter darkness."

"Yet he knew he would not die, apparently," Sir Dorf said. "He said there was no death here."

"A moment," Jamie said then. He walked past the knight to the edge of the precipice, and looked downward. And then he slowly walked around the circumference of the pinnacle, examining its sides, until he came back to where had had started.

"Something, Jamie?" Garvin asked.

Jamie nodded at him, but moved back among the cabinets, his hand extended before him, and passed Snave, stopping just beyond the gargoyle at a certain place. He sighed then, and turned back to the others. "Here is the exit. But I am unable to open it."

"Only Lodda could access this place," Porvus said slowly. "I think he thought it his ultimate fortress, where even the potent mages of Arthros could not reach him. His last redoubt, in case all of our plans went wrong."

"We cannot get out?" Geert asked, his tone one of disbelief.

Porvus shook his head. "Only Lodda could come and go here." He sighed. "I did not think--"

"We must go and get him!" Geert said then.

Jamie shook his head. "I have examined the sides of this pinnacle, all the way around it. They are straight and smooth. If we jump as Lodda did, there will be no climbing back again. And the only way out is up here."

"Maybe something in his stores?" Garvin offered. "A rope, perhaps?"

"It would take a great length of it," Sir Dorf offered. "I have looked over the side."

For a moment, no one spoke.

"What say you, Snave?" Jamie asked then.

But the gargoyle did not answer. Jamie turned to him now, saw his friend sitting upon the ground, his wooden figure cocked at a slight angle. "Snave?"

And then it hit him! No magick! Snave had come through into Lodda's nether, and...that had been the sound Jamie had heard, just as they had entered. The solid wooden body of the gargoyle, striking the ground!

"His movements are born of magick," Jamie said slowly. "His voice, a magick of my own creation. Here, he has neither. He is a prisoner in his wooden body!"

"We must find a way!" Geert said then.

Gorge made an unhappy sound. "Have felt helpless many times before. Not like it now, after feeling power of magick!"

Jamie understood that. Even though his powers were recent, he had come to depend on them entirely.

He turned back to Porvus. "Is there anything you can think of?"

The old mage looked genuinely saddened. "No. This place can be touched by magick from the outside, but within, there is none. Only Lodda knew the trick of leaving this place. Perhaps because it was his own."

Jamie looked around once more, unable to believe that it would all end here. "This cannot be it. This cannot be our end." He brightened then. "Still, we have not been to the red tower of my portent!"

Garvin grabbed Jamie's arm then, and pointed past him.

Jamie turned, not knowing what to expect...and froze.

There, where he had felt the exit of this nether to be, was a hand, floating in mid air. And then it grew, and became a hand with an arm attached to it. The arm waved insistently now, as if demanding their attention.

"Someone on the outside!" Garvin breathed. "Quickly! We must grab the hand!"

Jamie stepped forward, but then stopped and turned. "No one must be left behind. We must take Snave with us. Sir Dorf? You are strongest here. Would you help me to lay Snave down? And then we will pick him up, and carry him. All holding onto him, and hopefully that will ensure that we all leave together?"

"We will all help!" Geert said, stepping forward.

"I am unable to assist with carrying him," Irik said, looking unhappy.

"Wait!" Jamie said then. "Sir Dorf? All of you - assist me!"

They grasped Snave, and laid him down on the ground. Jamie turned to Irik then. "Get onto him. And hold on as best that you can!"

Irik did not argue. He climbed aboard the gargoyle, and wrapped his forelegs around Snave's arm, and interlaced his small fingers as well as he could.

"Everybody grab hold, and lift," Jamie instructed. "And do not let go, not for any reason!"

Jamie wrapped one arm around Snave's neck to lift him, knowing the wood could not be damaged, that Snave could not be hurt. They heaved Snave upwards, and Jamie turned towards the flailing arm. "Now!"

They moved forward, and Jamie reached for the hand, and grabbed it.

It seized upon his own, and tightened its grip on Jamie's hand, and then it began to pull. Jamie stepped forward willingly, and the others followed. The light around them faded, and for a moment Jamie felt suspended between worlds--

And then light blossomed around them again, and they were once more within the dome in the city of Methuwan. Jamie felt the new perspective return then, and knew immediately that all of his friends were there with him. Still, he turned, his eyes darting among his friends, and relief only finally flooding through him as he saw with his own eyes that everyone was there. And Porvus, too!

Jamie grinned at Garvin, who returned the smile, just before his eyes widened as he looked past Jamie.

Jamie turned then, to see whose hand he had hold of, and gasped.

It was Master Thorvil!

The mage stood at the fore of a semi-circle of other mages, a couple of whom Jamie recognized. One being Garson, the current head of the Council of mages!

"Put me down!" Snave whispered loudly, and the gargoyle was set to the floor.

And then Thorvil was opening his arms, and Jamie and Garvin were rushing into them. Jamie imitated the squeak of joy that Garvin emitted as Thorvil threw his arms around them, and hugged them tightly. Jamie hugged back with all his might, feeling the brief warmth of happy tears within his eyes.

After a moment more they stood back, smiling up at the man, whose face was filled with an almost uncharacteristic joy. "I am so happy to see you both, hale and hearty, and all in one piece!" Thorvil leaned down then, and lowered his voice. "I am swelled with pride for you both!"

The affection Jamie could see in the older man's face brought joy to his heart.

Jamie became aware of motion behind them, as Snave righted himself. Jamie turned then, still within the circle of Throvil's arms, and made to tell Snave to speak to his brother, when another motion drew his eyes past the gargoyle. And so he saw Porvus beyond his friend, with a glow of green light just rising around him. The mage was translocating!

In a rush of thought, Jamie berated himself for not thinking about containing the man. In the same second, he threw out the new perspective and wrapped Porvus within it, while drawing in his friends at the same moment.

He was unprepared for what happened next. There was a flash of light, and a blur of motion as they seemed to sweep across an indistinct landscape with such speed as to make them nauseous. In a moment's time they were standing among trees, with the sounds of the Forest of Night all around them. The base of one of the red towers was nearby them. Porvus was there, upon the stone apron before the large double doors, his eyes widening as he saw them standing there nearby. Despite the upset to his stomach, Jamie tied the knot for the magick that would keep Porvus from translocating again. The old mage flickered, returned, flickered again, and returned again. There was a new flash of light then, and the blue and gold cylinder of shields surrounded the mage.

And then, no one moved.

"Well," Porvus finally said, sounding resigned, "it would seem that you've got me."

"You were leaving," Jamie said. His stomach settled then, and he sighed. "And without saying goodbye!"

"Yes. Well, I have no liking for throwing myself upon the mercy of the council. My feeling is that it would not go well for me."

Jamie blinked at that. Certainly, Lodda had been the far greater of the two evils. But, Porvus was not an innocent, either. The man had certainly killed, and planned the deaths of even more. His hands were stained with blood, no question.

Jamie sighed. "What to do with you?"

Porvus looked surprised, and then hopeful. "You could simply turn your back, and let me steal away."

"And what would that teach you?"

The old mage made a face. "Teach me?" But then, the gaze of his single eye softened, and he smiled at Jamie. "You would be surprised, what I have learned, since our meeting."

Garvin sighed. "I hope you are not suggesting we have reformed you."

Porvus looked pained, and shook his head. "No. But you have changed me. I have learned to see a few things in a different light."

"He did place the safety of the world ahead of his own wants," Geert said, carefully.

Jamie stared at his friend. "What of your grievance on behalf of Crillis?"

Geert winced. "Harming Porvus will not bring the shop back. master lives. We will start anew."

"Revenge is a wasteful act," Bastyin said then. "It teaches a form of justice that is not beneficial to either side."

"This man planned to exterminate your kind from the forest," Jamie reminded.

Bastyin turned to gaze at Porvus. "He did not do so. And, now he cannot."

Jamie turned to Snave. "And you? Yours is, perhaps, the greatest grievance of all."

The gargoyle stood silently a moment before speaking. "I have learned to see a few things in a different light, too."

Jamie licked his lips. "Are you saying that we might turn our backs a moment?"

In answer, Snave slowly revolved to face away from Porvus.

Geert sighed, and also turned his back on the man.

And then Bastyin, and Gorge, and Irik.

Sir Dorf watched Jamie quietly, and then looked over at Porvus. "If you make us chase you down again--" But then the knight went silent, leaving the rest of his promise implicit. And then, he also turned his back on Porvus.

Garvin moved closer and leaned up against Jamie. "Let him go, my love."

Jamie looked into his friend's eyes, and nodded. Garvin smiled, and turned his back on Porvus.

Jamie eyed the man, and then held up his hands. "Will we see you again?"

Porvus looked as if he did not believe what was happening. "I can't rule it out."

But there was no threat implied in the man's words, and Jamie felt no anger from Porvus. Just a weariness, and a desire to get on with life.

Something Jamie could well understand.

He waved a finger, and the magick against translocation was removed from Porvus. He nodded at the man. "Farewell."

And then he turned his back on him.

There was a flash of green light from behind, and when Jamie looked again, the old mage was gone.

"I feel we did the right thing," Garvin said, placing his arms around Jamie. "And I will sleep better tonight, for it."

Jamie smiled at the idea. "And in a bed again!" He leaned forward, and gave his boyfriend a quick kiss. He sighed happily then, and looked up into the sky. There was more than enough of a clearing around the base of the tower to see the heavens, and he could tell by the position of the sun that it was late afternoon now.

"I think we will--" Jamie froze then, still looking up.

Garvin tensed, and turned to follow Jamie's gaze. "What is it? What do you see?"

Jamie examined the splintered cap of the tower, and then was certain. "It's the one. The tower from my vision!"

The others came closer, and everyone turned to look up.

"Are you sure?" Snave asked. "These towers all look similar to me."

Jamie compared the top of the tower to the image within his mind. "I am certain."

"Then, we have come full circle," the gargoyle said. "I feel we have completed our quest."

"There's so much to talk about yet," Jamie countered. "I have a hundred questions for the master!"

Snave laughed. "Jamie, I already know what he will say. That all of this, every second of it, played out exactly according to the vision that some seer in Arthros had of it all. It is the way of magick, you must understand."

"I still have questions," Jamie insisted.

"And so, you shall have answers. But later. For now, let us get back to Methuwan."

Jamie smiled. "You think Thorvil is worried about us?"

"No." The gargoyle chuckled. "I'm sure it was all a part of the plan!"

The chamber was large, but somehow managed to remain cozy in feel. The tall windows spaced regularly along the hall let in the morning light, but it was not enough to fill the room, and the same firefly globes Jamie had seen at Cumberstone Castle lined the walls above the windows, to make up the difference. The long conference table that dominated the center of the room sat beneath a wonderfully complex, wrought iron chandelier, upon which other firefly globes were perched, and shaded above to direct their warm lights downward.

The table was full, every chair taken. Jamie sat with Garvin and their friends in the center on one side, flanked by Thorvil on one end, and Snave on the other. A chair had been removed so that the gargoyle could stand by the table.

Along the other side of the table, the Council of Arthros sat, composed of mages and witches, both, sixteen in all. At one end of the table, a small, balding man was busily entering notes into a ledger. The other end of the grand table was occupied by Garson, the current head of the council.

The buzz of conversation ebbed as that man held up a hand. "Please. Let's call this meeting to order. Sasandra?"

One of the witches stood, and let her eyes roam around the table. She was a handsome older woman, a far cry from Wanda Pegfoot's ancient ugliness. "This has been a difficult task to complete. Many mages and witches have been involved, and some did not even know their parts." She smiled at Jamie and his friends. "And, despite that, the quest was completed exactly as foreseen."

She turned to take in the others at the long table. "Lodda has banished himself more completely than we could have managed ourselves. From what we have been told, the nether he has confined himself to is without magick, but, also, without injury or death. He will not be able to climb the pinnacle which holds the only exit from his domain, and so will wander the desert below, forever."

Snave grunted softly at that, but added nothing to it. Jamie gave a shudder, trying not to imagine the fate the old mage had consigned himself to.

"There is the matter of Porvus," Garson said then.

"Yes." Sasandra gave a small shrug. "It has been decided not to search him out, but rather to simply keep a watch for him to reappear in any sort of troubling way. It was foreseen that he would aid in the defeat of his own partner, and then steal away into banishment...for a time. There seems no reason at this moment to pursue the man."

Jamie felt a small relief at that. Porvus was not to be trusted, definitely. The man had been involved in actions that Jamie clearly felt were evil in nature, and normally would have wanted to see him punished for. But...there was something about the wily old mage that bothered Jamie, some feeling that he might again be valuable in a time of troubles. A portent?

Sasandra looked around at the seated mages. "So, unless anyone has questions to ask, I would call this affair completed."

Bastyin held up his hand. "I would like to ask something."

Sasandra smiled at him. "Feel free."

"What will happen to the knowledge of machine magick that Lodda possessed?"

Garson nodded. "A fair question. Sir Dorf was so kind as to bring back the small machine of Lodda's that remembers, as was foreseen. It will be studied, but its knowledge will also be secured. It is not something we want afoot in the world, when we have so little understanding of the ancient's machines, ourselves." The man smiled at Bastyin. "The city of Methuwan will become a center for study of the ancients, open to all mages, but with access to the knowledge of the ancients guarded carefully. The city of Cotrin, or what remains of it, must and shall be closed to visitors, and placed under the watch of the council. As a potential source of knowledge on the machines of the ancients, it must be secured."

Jamie raised his hand. "You don't plan to end all access to machine knowledge, I hope. Some of the ancient's machines may be quite useful in the world today."

Sasandra shook her head. "No. We, also, feel that some of this science will benefit the world. Our primary concern is that the weapons of the ancients not be reintroduced to these lands."

Garson sighed. "There is enough to keep up with watching for rogue magick users, without seeing them armed with devices no mage can stand against."

Sasandra leaned across the table, her eyes moving between Bastyin and Gorge now. "We were going to ask you later, but now seems as good a time as any. The peoples of the forest must be included in all future decisions, if they so wish it. If they choose to retain their privacy, the law will be that no intrusions into your realms will be permissible by humans, unless with invitation."

"But we're hoping you would rather participate with us, than stand alone," Garson added then.

"Yes." Sasandra used a hand to indicate the two mages. "Would the two of you care to act as representatives of your people here at council? It will not require that you stay here in Arthros. Just that you come to assist in making decisions of note. With regards to the Forest, at least, no more unilateral decisions will be made by humans. This world belongs to all of us."

Bastyin nodded his head. "I would be honored to participate. Subject to the approval of my people. Our leaders must also be consulted."

Gorge rolled his eyes at that. "Must ask first, surely. But feel leaders will approve, as am only mage available for job just now."

Garson and Sasandra, both, smiled, and indeed, all the council members smiled at that.

"There will be more, and soon," Sasandra confided. "The future would seem to be full of mages from the peoples of the forest."

"A representative of the watchers of the wall is also needed," Garson hinted, smiling at Irik. "We would be honored by your participation."

Irik cast a surprised look at Jamie, but then bobbed his head in approval. "I would also be honored to participate. But I, also, must speak with my people, first. And with all the leaders of the Clan of Sevens."

"What of the Iricawa?" Snave asked. "They should be included, too."

"They will be," Sasandra said. "For they are on their way to magick, also." She smiled at Jamie. "We were hoping you would contact them for us, considering that you have met with them before."

Garvin found Jamie's hand beneath the table and squeezed it, his excitement clear.

"We will be pleased to do that," Jamie said. "But, first, a short rest is needed. Time for us to wind down a bit. I have a feeling that when we return to the Iricawa, we will spend the first several days just recounting our journey to eager ears."

"The Iricawa have adventurous hearts," Snave added, chuckling. "They will be happy to be included, I think."

Garson folded his hands together before him. "I cannot tell you how pleased we have been to have learned some key elements of our world's history that have been missing. The puzzle of the war of the ancients has been made clear, at long last."

"It's a shame the gateway had to be destroyed," Sasandra said, "But I must say, we all feel safer for it."

Jamie considered that, and nodded. "For now. But we must consider that those that built it may return some day."

"We have considered that." Garson nodded his head. "And should that happen, we wish to be prepared."

Jamie licked his lips, knowing his next question was a hard one. "Would you accept them as friends, if they returned as friends? I was thinking that, so much time has passed for them, too, that perhaps their fears of us have passed to regret now."

Sasandra sighed. "The future is unclear on this matter. But it is safe to say that we do not foresee them returning anytime soon. In fact--"

She stopped, and turned to look at Garson. The mage smiled, and nodded. "It is unconfirmed as yet, but you may tell them."

Sasandra smiled at Jamie and his friends, and then surprised them when a trace of wonder entered her gaze. "The farther away the future, the harder it is to see. of our seers, a witch most gifted in the craft, has suggested that the ancients will not come looking for us, but, rather, that we will go looking for them."

It was hard to part with their friends.

"It isn't permanent." Bastyin pointed out cheerily. "I am only a quick translocation away. And, our link through the new perspective seems permanent. We can talk quickly, whenever we wish."

"Will still have questions," Gorge agreed. "Still not sure how messenger bird works!"

They all laughed at that. Jamie understood. The Lachess and the Pertwee had to get back to their people, to let them know what was coming. And, to see if, perhaps, others of their kind had been touched by magick.

"Well, you two are now the official representatives of your people at the Council at Arthros. I'm sure we'll see each other there, too."

Bastyin noted Jamie's somewhat forlorn look at their parting, and moved closer to lay a hand on his arm. "I owe you much. My people, too. You will never be without my friendship, Jamie Grimmstone."

Jamie relaxed at that. "I'll miss you. All of you."

The Lachess smiled. "You won't, because we will always be with you. I have a feeling there will be other adventures, yet to come."

Jamie nodded, and moved on to Irik. He squatted, and put his hands on the wolf's shoulders. "We owe you our lives, Irik. Thank you."

The wolf shook his head. "It was fated that we meet, Jamie. Together, we have changed the world. And that journey is not over just yet. I will always be where you can find me."

Jamie smiled. "You can visit anytime you wish."

Irik offered a wolf smile. "Yes, I can. As can you, visit me."

Geert, when his turn came, offered him a hug, and surprised Jamie with a kiss to the cheek. "Don't get any ideas," the other boy said cheerily. "My affection is brotherly." He leaned closer and dropped his voice. "And Garvin would be unhappy with me, were it otherwise!"

"You'll visit?" Jamie asked. "Your new shop is just a quick walk away."

"Every day," Geert answered, smiling. "Well, when I am not off on some duty for Master Crillis!"

"I'm wondering if your position in his shop will change now?" Jamie hinted. "You are an apprentice, no more!"

The other boy nodded. "Crillis has said as much. But I am in no hurry, Jamie. For a time, I will enjoy returning to my old duties." He grinned then. "Until Crillis and I can find new apprentices, anyway!"

And, finally, Sir Dorf.

"No long faces, Jamie," the man said, smiling. "I can be found at the castle most days, as you well know. My service to the prince remains." He laid a hand on Jamie's shoulder. "And, we are blooded together now, remember?"

"It will be strange, not having you around," Jamie said quietly. "I've come to rely on your strength."

The older man sighed. "Jamie, you are stronger than you will ever know." He bent closer then. "I am happy to call you friend."

They smiled at each other a moment, and then Jamie laughed. "You never did tell me about your senses, you know. How you can see and hear so well?"

Sir Dorf grinned. "I will. Ask me again" -- he winked -- "the next time we meet."

They parted ways then, but Jamie understood then that they would always be together. There would never be a distance so great, that friendship could not span it.

And then there was but one friend left. "Flitch? You've been very quiet."

"There was no need to interrupt, Jamie. I would have, had it been necessary."

"It seems we have completed this quest."

"So, it seems. But that does not mean you have completed your education with your lens. Your journey there is only just begun. I am certain you will be coming back to the aether many more times. We will have much to talk about."

The idea was a pleasant one. "Thank you, Flitch. For everything."

"There is no need. I have learned as much from you as you have from me, Jamie. And that will continue. Your lens is only just yet born. Its future is to be another story."

Jamie felt a small thrill at that. "There's more to come?"

"Oh, yes. I think you're just getting started. But only the future will truly tell."

They stood in the street before the shop, and watched the two men on ladders maneuver the sign. Jamie did not understand why Thorvil was leaving this job to others, when all he needed to do was to use magick to change the sign he already had. But, Thorvil had simply grunted, and said that sign painters had to eat, too.

The streets of Lyrix were busy, as usual. Wagons passed them, giving Snave an unusually wide berth, but no one looking overly concerned about the work going on here. Passersby gazed curiously at the sign, but no one stopped to ask questions or offer observations. Lyrix was a town where magick was at home, and people were used to it, even if they preferred to maintain their distance.

"A little to the left," Thorvil said, waving a hand at the men on the ladders. "Good. Now, bring the right side up a bit...there. You've got it. Nail it home, gentleman."

The workers nodded, pulled hammers from their belts, and proceeded to attach the sign. Thorvil watched a moment longer, and then came over to where they were standing, all smiles. "Like it?"

Jamie looked up at the sign, a sense of pride filling every inch of his body:

Condegrast, Grimmstone, and Kinsmith, Magickers - Always Offering and Seeking the Finest in magicks. The Masters, Thorvil, Snave, Jamie, and Garvin, Proprietors. And then below, in smaller print: Sorcery by command; necromancy, thaumaturgy, and alchemy performed; enchantments lifted or laid; auguries read, devilries interpreted, astrologies compiled, and exorcisms laid down. Science explained in everyday terms. Reasonable rates, no job too small, financing available. See proprietors, within.

Garvin came closer, and bumped up against Jamie. "It is truly wonderful, is it not?"

"Yes." Jamie smiled at Thorvil. "It is an honor to be in business with you."

The older man snorted, and Snave laughed.

"I think we'll be good for each other," Thorvil answered. "What do you say, brother?"

"I think I agree."

Thorvil sighed then, his stern look fading away, to be replaced with a very clear helping of happiness. He clapped Snave on the shoulder, and smiled at Jamie. "Thank you for bringing my brother back to me."

"Don't thank him just yet," Snave countered. "When we were boys, you said I talked your ear off!"

Thorvil smiled at that. "I'll let you know." The old mage turned to Jamie then. "We will need a new shop boy, I think. Masters such as yourselves cannot be expected to do the daily work!"

Jamie and Garvin exchanged grins at that, and Jamie remembered what Geert had only just told him. "Garvin and I will fill in, until new help is found. It will be like a vacation, after the last two weeks!"

Thorvil nodded, and leaned closer. "We will be needing a few apprentices around the place, too. I will expect good things of them, as with my last two shop's boys" He smiled then. "Know you anyone that might like the job?"

Garvin grabbed Jamie's hand and squeezed it. "You think Raimey--?"

Jamie laughed. "We don't even know if he has the knack!"

Garvin rubbed up against him. "One way to find out!"

"One last thing," Thorvil said, his expression turning serious. "You must know that I worried endlessly over the two of you, but that I could not interfere in what was happening. The plan had been laid out by the seers in Arthros, and none could move to change it."

"We know now," Garvin said, nodding. "And, Snave said as much, along the journey."

Jamie smiled. "That you showed up at the end was what mattered most."

Thorvil nodded then, looking content. "So. How about a celebration this evening? A fine dinner out, and perhaps some shopping in the square? You boys could use a new change of clothing. The ones you wear look a bit travel worn!"

"Oh--" Jamie smiled at Garvin, and turned for a moment to look up into the hills outside town, at Cumberstone Castle, before returning his smile to Thorvil. "Tomorrow evening, perhaps? Garvin and I have an invitation from the Prince Sedwick, to spend an evening and a night at the castle, at the conclusion of this affair. I would hate to disappoint him."

"And Raimey," Garvin added, smiling.

Jamie laughed. "And Kundun! He will want to hear our story!"

Thorvil's eyes widened a bit, but then he smiled. "Of course. I should have remembered. No, it will not do to disappoint the prince. Tomorrow night will work for us, just fine." He looked up at the late afternoon sun, and nodded. "You should be getting on to the castle then. The dinner hour approaches."

"Give my regards to the prince," Snave said.

Jamie was surprised. "You're not coming?"

"Um, no. No need for me to come. I would just be in the way, and, well...I find it difficult to be around you two when you're,, I'll just stay here."

Jamie placed a hand on the gargoyle's wooden arm. "I wish there was a way to make you as you were, Snave."

"So do I." Snave laughed. "But Thorvil and I have much catching up to do. I'll be fine. So get you moving, to the castle. The prince will be happy to see you, and Raimey, and the others, too. Enjoy your evening, and your night."

"I think we will," Garvin said, smiling.

"I believe you're right," Jamie agreed.

"So do I." Snave moved closer, and lowered his voice. "Have a wonderful time. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

Jamie and Garvin, both, laughed at that. "That's a lot!" Garvin said.

"Never you mind all that," the gargoyle admonished happily, perhaps having a portent of what the night would bring. He sighed at that. "Just go, and have fun, and enjoy the company of friends. Be kind to Raimey, and smile at Getrell for me. Give my regrets to Sedwick that I could not attend, and tell him how happy I am, that he is a short prince no more!"

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