Chapter 27a

"Which part of 'Go Away' don't you understand?"
-Shih Huang Ti

You might wonder how I knew this, but it was fairly obvious. We were now all crowded into an even smaller room with a single jagged opening leading out. The only light dribbled in from whatever room lay beyond, giving the hole an unpleasant resemblence to a fang-filled mouth. Around us, above us and below us, was more of Penbrius' trademark stonework. But more than that...



"My word."

"I'll say."


For once it wasn't me asking the stupid question: Aahz glared at the rest of us as we stared around at the walls.

They were alive. Not literally, but alive nonetheless and crawling with magik, much like what Gus and I had seen on Chirosovo, only ten thousand times more intense- this dimension was overflowing with the power. I felt almost dizzy as it washed around me, into me. I imagined this must be what an inhabitant of Limbo feels like upon arriving on Deva, or any other 'normal' dimension.

"What's wrong with all of you?" Aahz snarled.

"Magik, old boy." Chumley said, still looking at the ceiling, which was about an inch from the end of his nose. "I've never seen so much of the stuff in one place before. It's almost literally oozing out of the walls."

I looked around again.

"But it's not.. natural.. if that's the word. Any of you see.. or sense.. a force line anywhere? It's like it's all just floating in the air... or something.."

"Look, people, this is fascinating, but we need to get moving. Penbrius probably already knows that we're here, and we'd better move fast. Let's go!"

"This isn't where you arrived before, Aahz?"

"No. Now MOVE!"

One by one we squeezed out of the room through the crack. Chumley barely made it.

The chamber beyond was difficult to describe. It was something like standing inside a gigantic chunk of zoorik cheese, cheese that had been carved out of stone. Thick rifts and arches of stone ran everywhere, spiralling up as high as we could see, and down into darkness on both sides of the narrow path-cum-bridge on which we stood. What appeared to be a sun sent wan orange light trickling down to us from somewhere high above, but it was hard to tell for sure. Oddly, more than anything, it resembled the broken and shattered Deveel ski lodge on Chirosovo.

"Now what?"

"I suppose we go down there." Aahz pointed.

It was another round tunnel, shooting down into the earth, much bigger than any of the others we had seen. Another difference was that it was brightly lit by large unwinking globes that hung from the ceiling.

I pried open the wards that covered it, and we started down. I felt like I was floating as I walked.

At the bottom of the tunnel was a third difference, perhaps the biggest of all: this end of the tunnel was blocked with an enormous circular door, made out of some black metal and ringed with three rows of the sullen red symbols. Black Containment tried once again to well up around me, but I shook it off.

The door had no handle on this side and it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, closed.

I don't think, in fact, I have ever seen a door that was so resolutely closed.

"Wow!" Tanda breathed. "That's almost as big as the main vault door for the Gnomes' Central Treasury on Zoorik!"

"Really?" Aahz cocked a sardonic eyebrow or at least the patch on his face that would sport such an object if he had possessed one. "And how would *you* know that?"

Tanda blinked innocently. "Oh... you hear things... you know..."

"Yeah, right. I think we can get through that, but it would be easier if you did it, Kid."

"Huh? Oh... OK..." I snapped myself back to attention and reached out with magik...

And after a few moments gave up in frustration.

"It's not working. Even with all of this extra power. It's weird, like... like I can't get a 'grip' on the door magikally. My... uh... 'fingers' keep slipping off. Have you ever heard of anything like this?"

"No. But, like I said, Penbrius can do things that I've never seen before. We'll just have to do it the hard way."

"You mean break through physically? Isn't there an easier way?" I asked, eyeing the door.

"Such as?" Aahz asked, aridly.

"Well, um..." I floundered. "Why don't we jump to another dimension, walk a few feet in that direction, and then jump back here? I mean, this dimension 'here', not 'here here'."

Aahz and the others exchanged glances.

"You forget, kid, we're underground. If we jump to another dimension right now.."

"We'd end up buried?" I asked nervously.

"No, of course not. Two objects can't occupy the same space at the same time. We'd just be shifted to the nearest available open space, most likely winding up back on the surface. If we were lucky, we might end up in some natural underground..."

"Aahz?" Tanda spoke up. "You were the one who was in a hurry. Could we possibly skip the lecture for now?"

"Besides..." added Chumley suddenly, his voice thoughtful. "It wouldn't work even if we could jump with pinpoint accuracy."

"Why not?"

"Skeeve, you're already forgetting how hard it was just to crack into this dimension. Now I know why. We're inside a Scrambling Field. I didn't realize it before, because it's been so bloody long since I've been around one of the blasted things. Can't you all feel it?"

As soon as Chumley mentioned it, I realized he was right. In addition to the wash of magic, there was something more.. a very faint tingling at the ends of my fingertips and toes..

"I assume that a Scrambling Field doesn't have anything to do with egg farms?" I joked weakly.

"If only." Aahz replied, grim. "Kid, let me see the D-Hopper for a second." I passed it over to him, and he studied the lights on it for a minute. "Yup. You're right, Chumley. Kid, a Scrambing Field is like a... well... the opposite of the method you used to D-hop off Chirosovo. It's a kind of enormous invisible pentagram that prevents anyone inside it from travelling between dimensions. Either in... or out." He twisted the D-Hopper's settings in his hands, still watching the lights. "Big ones suck an enormous amount of power, which is why they're so rare. But, as we've seen, Penbrius has power to burn. It also explains why we couldn't find this place unless we were standing clear down inside that... Temple. I imagine that that little room we arrived in is right at the edge of the field, or maybe in a weak zone between overlapping fields."

"But Aahz! If this field was in place before, how did you get in here, when you interrupted that ceremony?"

"Who knows? Maybe the field wasn't there!"

"Most likely you and whatshisface... that poor old Daglarite... and maybe others like you were the reason the field was set up." Tanda contributed. "Standard operating procedure for a place like this. If someone finds a way in, block it so it can't happen again."

"Terrific. Anyway, the upshot of all this is, we're gonna have to this the old-fashioned way. Chumley? Gus? Let's do it." He and the other two closed in on the door.

At the time, neither of us realized that he had stuck the D-Hopper back in his own pocket.

Even with the enormous combined strength of the three, the door did not move easily. For what seemed like an eternity they pulled and strained without noticeable effect. Then Aahz gasped:

"There... something's starting to... give!"

"Yes... but there's something bloody odd... about..."

With a tortured scream of metal, the door finally began to tear away from its frame.

"Hurry.. Skeeve.. Tanda... get through.." I levitated Tanda and myself up, and carefully inserted our bodies through the small hole that was now available. One by one, our friends followed, Chumley again just squeezing through. As soon as he dropped to the floor on the other side, we all turned and stared: the door was silently bending itself slowly back into shape, refilling the hole. In a few moments, it was as if it had never been damaged.

"Neat trick."

"It must be alive, Aahz, like that cell in Blut!"

"Yeah. C'mon, let's go."

Beyond the door, the hallway continued on straight for a stretch, abruptly opening out into another large room. Maybe 'room' isn't the right word, though; it was a wide circular pit that both dropped down and rose up out of out of sight into blackness. Two railling-less platforms stuck out tentatively over the abyss, one on our side, one far across the gap. We all clustered at the edge of 'our' platform and stared across. Gus squinted, and then spoke.

"A bridge! See that framework on the other side? It's some kind of drawbridge that's been pulled back!" He pointed. "I guess we'll have to just levitate our way across."

"OK." I reached out to lift myself and the others over. But Tanda interrupted, raising a slender hand and looking up into the darkness overhead.

"Hold it. There's something about this I don't like. This seems familiar..." She squinted as well, then sniffed the air and shifted her gaze to the sheer walls of the pit. I followed the look, but could see nothing unusual. (In a relative sense, of course...)

"Well," replied Gus, "How about I fly over alone and figure out how to operate the bridge controls? Shouldn't be too hard."

Tanda bit her lip, but finally nodded.

"OK. But remember to check the bridge controls for traps."

Gus returned her nod, limbered up his wings and took off.

The second he flew off the the platform, there was an intense flash of white light from the walls and a thunderclap of sound, sending us all into an instinctive crouch and clutching at our ears. We all stared in amazement as Gus went tumbling head over tail above us, back down the tunnel, bouncing to a gradual stop. The rest of us dashed back up the tunnel and clustered around him.

"Gus! Gus, are you OK?"

Gus sat up, and shook his head. For a moment, I thought I could hear a rattling noise.

"I'm... I'm fine. Whoa... what was that?"

"I remember now. I've seen one of these before." Tanda replied. "It's a magik inversion field. Penbrius seems to have a thing for this kind of field-effect magik. Any magik you pour into the field, gets amplified and reflected right back at you. Your flying triggered it off. If Skeeve tried to levitate us all across, it would be even worse."

"So we can't use magik to get across? Terrific."

"It's simple." Tanda started back up the hallway as Aahz and Chumley helped Gus back to his feet. I hurried after her, an ominous feeling forming in the pit of my stomach. Reaching the platform again, she grinned at me.

"There's a way across. The disadvantage of using magik like this is..." She took a deep breath, and jumped. Not across (into...) the pit, but towards one of the curving walls. I had to resist the almost overwhelming urge to try and snatch her back magikally.

Not that it was needed. Tanda landed, seeming to cling to the wall like a fly. She looked back at me and grinned.

" have shape and carve the walls a certain way, postion your runes just so, to get the proper focusing effect." Swallowing my heart back into its proper position, I looked more carefully and saw that the walls were not quite as smooth as they first appeared; there were indentations and lumps in the slick black stone. Still, I would have fallen off in about five seconds if I had tried to climb along it. Tanda didn't appear to have any trouble; she swarmed along the wall, hopping lightly from foothold to foothold, working her way around the edge of the pit. The others moved to join me, and we all watched in silence. Gus idly scraped a claw across the stone, and then looked at his hand in surprise; it was obviously much harder than he had expected.

It seemed like an eternity, but actually Tanda reached the other side in a very short time, and disappeared into the gloom for a long moment. Nothing happened. Then, abruptly, there were a series of unpleasant snaps and pops cut off by a single powerful click, and the bridge slowly rumbled out towards us. It clicked into place with a hollow thud, a rickety disused-looking edifice. We crossed one at a time, the inversion field popping and hissing impotently as we passed through it, the bridge creaking threateningly under our weight. Tanda was waiting for us on the other platform.

"That.. that was very impressive, Tanda.." I managed as I fell into step beside her. We started down the next tunnel.

"Hey, no problem, Skeeve. I was right about the traps on the controls, but I..."

"LOOK OUT!" Moving with surprising speed, Gus was between us, pushing us behind him. An enormous gout of flame washed up out of a hole in the floor. Gus took the brunt of it, but enough swirled around him to leave me feeling, and Tanda looking, rather parbroiled. We both staggered back a couple of steps, coughing.

"T-that was impressive, too, Gus.." I choked out.

He grinned, as another blast of flame hit him.

"Compared to Bufort, this is a summer's breeze." He stomped down heavily, and something under him shattered. The flame cut off instantly. We moved off again, this time Gus taking the lead...

There were two more flame traps, the last one blasting out of the ceilings and walls as well as the floor. Gus smashed them one at a time. I noticed as I stepped over them that like the door before them, the damage started repairing itself almost immediately. It was at this point that I also realized there hadnít been a handle on this side of the door, either.

Then we were approaching another large room. Even before we entered it, there was a problem.

"Hold up." Aahz said. "See that glittering stuff floating in from the room? That's bad news. It's magik-deadening powder."

I took a horrified step backwards. "The same stuff that took your powers away?"

"Huh? Oh, no. This stuff doesn't kill magik, just blocks it. Anything coated in it becomes immune to low-level wards. Lots of merchants in the Bazaar sell it, usually stored in a gadget that looks sort of like an blackboard eraser. Whatever's in that room, again, we'll have to face it without magik. Get behind us, Skeeve." I sighed, but obeyed. We stepped into the room.

The creature squatting in the middle of the room was enormous, even bigger than Chumley. In fact it looked vaguely trollish, with buldging rubbery limbs and a massive slab of a head nestled down between its mountainous gray shoulders. Streamers of saliva dripped from fang-filled jaws and hissed when they splatted against the floor.

It opened its bloodshot, narrow eyes and saw us. An evil rumbling growl issued from deep in its throat.


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All Contents ©2000 Robert M. Cook