That night, and the following day, were a fog of coincidence, both
surprising and tiresome. In the late hours, when only Ahab and I remained
in the dining hall, Hickory flew in, having judged that Jackie would not
be quite vindictive enough to lose sleep. Ahab attempted to persuade the
fairy that sprinkling the love dust on Jackie could only heighten the
amusement, but the little fellow had sufficient respect for his quality of
life to resist that particular temptation. He flitted up to his room,
what looked to be a bird's house nestled in the rafters, and I had to
admit that the local causal effect appeared to be winding down. When Ahab
gave up and went to bed, I enlisted Ariel's assistance in structuring the
raw data. There had to be a pattern to it, and I felt that uncovering it
could be extremely useful, if only as an exercise in observational
technique. At least it would distract me from the larger question of how
to retrieve the Jewel from a demon mage who had the definitive advantage
The night wore on. Outside, Laughter screamed Foster's name.
Intense light flared in the windows. I sensed a renewal in the region's
karmic influence. Felix stalked in, followed by Foster and Laughter.
Towards dawn, their entrance was dwarfed by Alex's. The doors blew
inward, and Alex swooped into the dining hall in the clutches of what
turned out to be a rather pleasant vampire named Ona. The bizarre
workings of this Plane rendered even the undead quirky and likable.
Behind them came Ariana, ensuring that at least someone would question the
More or less accidentally, it was revealed that Alex was present
in body only, his mind being currently pre-empted by that of a deceased
wizard named Reeshau, whose best quality seemed to be that he was not
really Alex. Hickory and Keimo rushed out to greet him, however, and it
became apparent that he formed part of the Disc's native posse. I was
beginning to suspect that Cedric need not be altogether much of a threat
after all, since he'd not managed to eradicate such opponents yet.
Our latest arrivals left to secure lodging, and Ariana approached
me to request my attendance at Driscoll's auction. I stifled my annoyance
at being affected by that which I observed, and briefly declined. She
expressed a belief that my magic might be useful to the endeavor, but I
maintained that the less complicated the purchase arrangements were, the
more likely it was to go off without a hitch. I later wished that I had
pressed the point, since it was ultimately the support efforts which got
them into trouble. She seemed disgusted with me, but she accepted my
excuse that I was engaged in spell research. I had by that time begun to
suspect the true nature of the place, and I really had no intention of
leaving until I'd confirmed that intuition.
As that conversation lay down to rest, a large pulse of magic
swept across my vision. Ariana and Laughter sensed something amiss as
well, and rushed outside to investigate. They returned with Alex's body,
as well as Keimo, proudly sporting a ridiculous pointed hat.
What little remained of the night passed quietly, and the morning
saw the departure of a three pronged posse. As I recall, while one group
actually bought Driscoll, a second would watch the crowd, and the third
would intervene violently. I don't know how they were going to
communicate between groups, but it really is irrelevant. I remained at my
table, ironing out a formula which could explain why Tallefellow's was so
frenetic. A few hours later, I sat amazed at the result of our efforts.
With Ariel's help, I had wrangled the statistics into something with a
recognizable structure. Through a seemingly random set of events,
Tallefellow's had written a spell which had stumped me for well over a
year. I cast it immediately, of course, and well pleased with the
results, I left Ariel to continue observations while I took a short nap in
the room we shared with Usires.
I returned to the dining hall in the afternoon, refreshed and
excited by the possibilities of our discovery. Moving towards Ariel's
table, I caught a glimpse of lurking magic, denoting the presence of a
certain ring of my acquaintance. Alex had returned, then, or Reeshau, or
whoever. The retrieval was over for one person at least. I settled at
the table, and Maggie brought me a pitcher of water. Ariel and I
discussed spell theory, and the unexpected windfall which the inn was.
She seemed not to notice her new size, but then I suppose she really
shouldn't have. The spell had not enlarged her but had established a
correlative point transition between her and the rest of the Plane. It's
not the easiest concept, but basically she interacted as though she had
grown, when in fact she had done no such thing. I was uncertain as to how
perfectly she could now act as human, and frankly I found this line of
thought conjoined to several uncomfortable related topics.
One of these was raised shortly after Jackie called Alex outside.
Everyone reentered the dining hall except for Laughter, Foster, Felix, and
Looks Twice, who had some understandable difficulty with stairs. This
accomplished, they stared at Ariel, who of course resembled Laughter, who
apparently had gone missing. Their confusion cleared, I was left with an
ambient sense of having transgressed somehow, though it can hardly be my
fault, as Ariel had been created some years before I'd laid eyes on my
cousins. Still, the disturbing fact was that I'd meant for her to embody
my notions of physical perfection. Thank whatever powers that be,
Laughter's mind was so unbearably flawed as to nullify any interest,
before I could seriously entertain them. Ariel, however...
Ariel took the majority of our notes for a while, while I reminded
myself of certain resolutions. I became aware, at one point, of a
discussion involving spell-tracing. Concerned, lest my earlier bit of
work had aroused outside interest, I questioned Jackie closely about the
timing of the search. She satisfied me that it had transpired while I had
been sleeping, but I believe she still considered me somewhat perverted.
I offered silent thanks that Fiona had not been present, else the
embarrassment would have showed all too clearly. It was a relief when
everyone filed off to Foster's room, to see what they couldn't do about
the Laughter situation.
My professional interest thus returned, I plugged Ariel's
observations into our equation and was startled at how relevant was the
result. Freshly armed, I cast a baffle which would diffuse source
emanations over at least a few radial miles. A smart tracker could make
some educated guesses as to where spells were coming from, but not with
the pin-point accuracy to identify the caster, nor teleport said person
into custody. While I was resting on my cheap wooden chair, Usires came
down to tell me that an afternoon posse was in the works. I declined, a
decision which he found worthy of repetition.
Left more or less alone, I again chose to spend my time immersed
in magic theory. Ariel ordered another pitcher of water, while I thought
about our greatest current difficulty. Since our arrival on the Disc, we
had been unable to communicate, except via Laughter's talking bones, which
were a poor substitute for Trump. Not only cumbersome and inefficient,
they apparently lacked a range greater than one Shadow. Now, it had come
to my attention that magic was operable in this Plane, and one function of
spells with which I was well versed was that of connecting one Shadow to
another. Another aspect, which I had not overly explored, was the ability
to establish a mental connection. Combining the two would be the work of
a few moments, since at essence they were really very basic components.
The problem was that if the respondent resisted the contact, and if said
person was possessed of a respectable strength of mind, then the link
would collapse, unestablished. This, largely, explained my aversion to
mentally invasive magics.
I thought about Trump for a long while, essentially concluding
that it would be swell if mine worked. See, Trump had an advantage over
my hypothetical spell in that they allowed for a dawning recognition of a
certain feeling, which the receiver learned to encourage. My spell would
have the same effect, provided someone would pick it up the first time at
all. Trump didn't have this problem, being an active process completely
unlike the passive approach a magical link provided. Everything stopped
for a moment. The answer had come, and it was a little too easy. I
didn't want to spook it. When time restarted and it was still looking
nonchalantly around, I knew I was on a winner. I consulted Ariel briefly,
and we collaborated on the mechanics. Reproducing the slow tingle would
be relatively simple, but to complete the effect we would need to piggy
back a visual link to the mental. That and a few other details should
complete the illusion. A few hours later, I cast our new spell in
She answered, and the facade of Trump was so convincing that I
missed her obvious agitation at first sight. In few words, she explained
that Oberon had returned, and beaten Gerard to prove his identity. If I
had not grown up hearing her stories of Grandfather, this gesture would
have sufficed to frighten me badly. To hurt your own son is bad enough,
but when that son is Gerard, then you would have to be utterly devoid of
conscience. Vialle and her husband had fled to Rebma, apparently
unpursued. I decided against telling what had been happening, giving her
a line meant solely for royal channels: that we had located the fragments
and were working on their retrieval. As it was important, I also passed
on that we seemed to be going half-speed, so the King should not be overly
anxious over any delays. I hoped that would hold him off for awhile. I
let Mother go, and sent my link to Ariana, after a moment's thought.
We traded information, and I fear that I wound up the loser,
having had little interest in Laughter's incomprehensible trial. All I
could gather was that she'd blown up some assholes, and they were
negotiating how many toes that was worth. We decided to sit on the news
from home until a less stressful moment. I broke first.
The second posse had returned, more or less successful, and
everyone was pretty hungry. Laughter still had not come in. Ariana and I
were discussing how to distribute the information, agreeing that we at
least must tell Driscoll soon. Suddenly, I noticed that Laughter had
returned, completing our number for the first time in this Plane. The bad
side of the coin was the way in which she was noticing Ariel. There were
certainly worse times to reveal the return of the King.
Afterward, nearly everyone wanted to link to loved ones back home,
Laughter twice!, and I agreed readily. A few requests were rejected
simply for my lack of familiarity with the target in question. Ahab did
not wish to talk to anyone, but got people to ask around for him. I
didn't ask. I was starting to feel popular in a bad way, when Felix
thanked me earnestly for my efforts. Somehow that made it okay.
Then Fiona arrived.
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