|"Previously on MythAdventures..."|
"I don't know what else it could be. I have to admit, I don't know what to do now."
For once I had a useful answer. "I say we ask the Daglarites. They have secret legends about Penbrius; maybe they know something, anything, that might be able to help us."
"And I suppose you know where we can find one who'd be willing to talk to us about these 'secret legends'?" Aahz commented, witheringly.
"Yes." I glanced skyward: the lightning appeared to have died down somewhat for the moment. "And if I... we... fly... we can be there in a very short time.."
"All right. Let's go talk to this friend of yours."
Gus agreed to carry Aahz, and took off. I floated up after them. Having taken to the air, we were able to get back down the hill in short order. Ixthol was still there, along with a Daglarite I hadn't see before, as far as I knew. What really caught my attention, however, was:
"Skeeve old boy!"
I dropped to the ground, followed closely by Gus and Aahz. The brother and sister team were standing next to the two natives. I looked at Ixthol. "You found them!"
Ixthol stared with open curiousity at the Pervect and the Gargoyle, then looked back at me and shrugged. "Great Skeeve. Not many trolls visit Toros. It was not terribly difficult." He hesitated, then continued "You... you have already been to Penbrius?"
"Just a second, Tanda. No, I haven't, Ixthol. I'm afraid we've hit a snag." I said, urgently, "This is very important. Your people are obviously familiar with dimension travel, maybe more than you want to be. Are you aware of any dimensions close to Toros Daglari that you can't reach? That are blocked somehow? Have you heard of anything like this?"
Ixthol looked blank.
"No, Great Skeeve. None that I know of.."
Suddenly Ixthol's fellow Daglarite spoke up, diffidently:
"There.. there is Ulliny."
"Ulliny? Is that a dimension?"
"I've never heard of it." Aahz commented.
Ixthol shot his assistant, if that's what he was, a sour look.
"Ulliny is an old fool. He used to be a magician, long ago. He babbles about things that happened scores of years ago. It is said he was found lying on a hillside near here, unconscious. He was delirious. He claimed..." Ixthol trailed off, a surprised look on his face. (And when a Daglarite looks surprised, he really looks surprised.)
"He claimed that he had travelled to the land of Penbrius." The assistant finished. "By Dimension Travelling. And that Penbrius took away his magik as punishment. Others tried to see the door through which he claimed to travel, but none could. When he fully recovered, he denied everything he had said."
"I think we need to talk to this Ulliny person."
"We... we will bring him to you, Great Skeeve.. At once. He lives close by." Ixthol and the other Daglarite immediately departed.
"Been where?" Tanda repeated.
"You first." Cut in Aahz. "The last we heard, you two were breaking out of jail? What happened?"
"Actually," Chumley admitted, "Our careers in mining went rather badly right from the start. Well, once we reached that wretched camp, at any rate. We found some miners easily enough in town and once dear little sis here went to work on them, they were more than willing to let us 'join up'."
Tanda smiled, stuck out her tongue at him, and continued the narrative.
"The group we joined was shipped off to a mining camp right away. It wasn't far at all from town. Man, I thought I'd been in some real dives before, but that place..." She shook her head of light green hair. "It made the Black Hole of Fornchopa look like... well..." she made a general, all-encompassing gesture. "...Toros Daglari. If that's how the Deveels treat all of their employees, I'm amazed that they haven't tried to unionize, really unionize, sooner."
I considered telling her what the actual inhabitants thought of 'Toros Daglari', but didn't interrupt.
"Anyway, we got to the camp and we started nosing around, looking for any hint of... what do the Deveels call it? 'Unauthorized union activity'. And you know what we found?"
"That the camp was crawling with assassins hired by the Devan Labor Collective." Aahz replied heavily.
Tanda paused, her eyes narrowed. "I see you've been busy as well. Yes, the camp was 'crawling' with assassins. And just a few hours after we got there, they came after us. Well, they came after Chumley. I think they must have been watching us from the moment we hit camp."
"They were looking for off-world union busters." Aahz filled them in on some of what we had been through, and our conversation with Brockhurst. He didn't mention Penbrius.
"Brockhurst is dead?" Tanda commented softly, after hearing about the rockslide. "That's a shame. He wasn't a bad guy, as Imps go."
"Yeah, whatever." Aahz muttered. "So what happened with the assassins?"
"They were rather insistent chaps, I'm afraid. My... disagreement... grew somewhat heated. It attracted the attention of the camp police."
"Your note said you were thrown in some kind of jail? How did a bunch of Deveel camp guards manage that?"
Chumley looked simultaneously grim and embarrassed.
"The Deveels had hired a batch of trolls to be their camp police force. My argument with them was even more... er..."
"Yes. Rather. In the end, the rotters bunged me into some sort of old ore-storage compartment, and sketched a pentagram around it so I couldn't dimension hop. I do believe they were going to charge me with Destruction of Property."
We all winced. Destruction of Property, on Deveel-controlled dimensions, ranked right up there with Murder, Breaking A Contract and Folk-Singing. Actually, Murder doesn't really belong the list; the others are a lot more serious.
"Of course, I have to admit that I am actually rather guilty of Destroying quite a large amount of Property..."
"Then what happened?"
Tanda put on an winsome expression. "Not for the first time, I officially became Chumley's co-conspirator." She paused. "And while meeting with Chumley's guards, I was reminded once again why I left Trollia in the first place." She cracked her knuckles thoughtfully.
"I can just imagine." Aahz groaned. "So you busted Chumley out of the pentagram and came here?"
"Yes. Since we couldn't very well go back to Deva, we figured this would be the next best place. We knew you'd find your way here eventually, Aahz." She flashed an impish smile. "And then that cute little native showed up where we were hiding out and said The Kid was looking for us. And here we are."
"So the question now is," Chumley continued, ignoring Aahz's bellow, "Why are some Deveels hiring us, while other Deveels are trying to get us killed?"
"No. That's not the question at all. Or it's one that will have to wait until later." Aahz contradicted him.
Then we told them about Penbrius, and Chirosovo, and the gray building waiting for us at the top of the hill.
And after that, I told everyone about my meeting with the native leaders, glossing over the matter of them hiring me, since Aahz *really* didn't need to be distracted right then by the scent of money.
"So now we know where the Deveels got the idea that someone was trying to unionize; they heard about the native meetings. But that doesn't explain where Brockhurst and the other assassins fit in." Gus commented, once I finished my story.
"Actually," Aahz said, thoughtfully, "What Skeeve just told us gets me to thinking. Kid, remember that trouble-making Gezirahan back at that moron Blox's lumber camp? I assumed at the time that he was a plant by the union organizers. But maybe I had it backwards. Maybe he was a plant by somebody else."
"I don't understand."
"Just before Blox and the troublemaker showed up, you remember I said that the Devan Labor Collective was created to help keep the workers in line, and that it was supposed to help the Devan Executive Branch? But both of those organizations are bureaucracies, and bureaucracies have a way of sometimes... biting off their own head..." He glanced at the others. "Gus, Chumley? The Financial Times of Deva said that there has been a recent reorganization of the Executive Branch, right?"
"Well, this is just a guess, but I'll bet that during that reorganization or because of it, communication between the Executives and the Labor bigwigs broke down. Somebody didn't get a message they were supposed to get. Someone didn't fill out a form, or didn't return a phone call. I know for a fact that the Executive Branch and the Collective now employ different sets of spies on Deveel colony worlds. So... the Executive spies get wind of these native meetings, and the Executive Branch then tried to hunt down and kill the native leadership. They couldn't find the natives, who were probably all off-dimension at meetings like the one Skeeve attended and the 'sabotage' was getting steadily worse, so they.."
"Sicced me on them." I concluded bitterly.
Tanda sighed and continued:
"And then the labor spies heard somewhere that someone was coming to Gezirah to break up 'the labor union', and so the Collective hired Brockhurst and the other assassins to come in and kill the intruders."
"And I'll bet my last gold piece that our furry friend was a spy working for one or the other of the Deveel factions as well, either trying to draw out 'unauthorized union' organizers, or find the 'union-busting off-worlders'. The fact that he squealed on us to Blox should have clued me in sooner. Not that it matters now, but since he and Brockhurst were working at cross purposes, I'd guess the Executives hired him."
"So you're telling me all of this happened because some Deveel bureaucrat didn't bother to look in his 'In-Box'?" Gus snarled. I shared the sentiment, if not understanding the exact meaning.
"No, of course not." Aahz commented, surprisingly mildly. "Penbrius would still be doing... whatever it is he's doing. But we would have all been saved a great deal of time and trouble. If we'd known what was going on, we could have hit the Bazaar, armed ourselves to the teeth, and gone in guns blazing. But we didn't know. And now.." He glanced skyward at the ominous clouds boiling and rumbling overhead. "..we just don't have time. We go in as-is. One way or the other, we get into Penbrius' realm, and we take him down."
"What if the story Penbrius told the natives is true? What if, whatever he's doing is actually to prevent some greater evil?"
"Greater than threatening eight or more dimensions with total destruction?"
"No. Trust me on this one, Kid. It's a standard schtick in the demon busness; 'I'm goodness and light pesonified, and there's some evil enemy off there somewhere over that hill from which only I can protect you.' It's been done more times than I can count." Aahz paused grimly for a moment, then continued. "And remember, I met the man once, if only briefly. Whatever he's doing, it is not some great humanitarian project. We're going to stop him. Whatever it takes."
We all fell silent, and listened to the thunder rumble overhead.
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