Chapter 29a


"Just because one problem has been solved doesn't mean your troubles are over."
-The Pied Piper


The silence that followed this statement was one of the most profound I have ever experienced.

Usually it is Aahz who first recovers his voice in such circumstances, but this time, I was the one who finally replied.

"But... that was just the Black Containment spell... He didn't really die... did he?"

The creature looked at me blankly, nervously fingering the blunt-pronged implement he held in his long fingers. I noted absently that the tool glowed with a strong aura, but its user did not.

"I of course do not know what you experienced while in the grip of Black Containment, Mr. Magician, but the master is most assuredly dead."

"You actually personally saw Penbrius die?" Aahz, speaking as if to a Deveel who had just offered to sell him the sun, moon and, for just a slight additional fee, the stars.

"Yes. I was there. The Master is dead."

"And who are you, exactly?" Tanda asked, eyebrows raised.

"Ah!" The figure scrambled to his feet and gave her a surprisingly graceful bow. She smiled. "A hundred pardons, Miss Assassin. My name is Snafyu. Snafyu of Penbrius. As my father before me, and his father before him, I am... I was the Master's chief assistant... Before his most unexpected and perhaps untimely demise."

"I say, old chap, how did you know little sis here is an assassin?"

Snafyu turned and was looking at Chumley's stomach. He blinked yet again, and lifted his gaze so he could see the Troll's face. "Is it not obvious, Mr. Troll?"

"Dead... how is that possible..." Aahz looked perhaps the most stunned I'd ever seen him.

"That is a long story, and very complicated..." Suddenly there was a loud sizzling sound, and something started glowing on the wall, an unpleasant orange jag bubbling along in the cracks between the stones.

"Ah! A moment, all of you. Please! This is what I was waiting for!" Snafyu leapt across the corridor in a single bound, and jammed the tool he was holding directly into the color. There was a loud snap, and the color flashed out, leaving a sickly sweet odor behind. With an effort and a grunt, Snafyu extracted the tool and turned back to where the rest of us stood staring at him. "Fixed. For now. Until the next one." He sighed. "Always a next one. Well... not always..."

"Snafyu?" Aahz spoke almost gently.

"Yes, Mr. Pervect?"

Aahz paused, his chain of thought obviously derailed for a moment. He spoke an aside to the rest of us. "You know, I almost like this guy already." He focused his attention back on Snafyu. "What is going on around here? If Penbrius is dead, then.. WHY IS EVERY DIMENSION WITHIN SHOUTING DISTANCE APPARENTLY ABOUT TO EXPLODE!?"

"Ah. Yes. Very bad. It is the Device. The Device continues to run, and run. Without the Master to control it, regulate it, it runs faster and faster. Draws more and more power. Does more and more damage. Warps the force lines... sucks them dry... I try to... to keep all of the plates spinning, but it is harder and harder. Soon... very soon..."

"Plates?"

"Then why don't you shut this Device off?" Aahz bellowed, ignoring my question.

"Would. Can't. Unless... No. Not enough." He looked around at us, then refocused his attention on me. "At least now you are here, Mr. Magician. One problem is solved.."

"I don't understand." For once when I said this, I was sort of lying. A horrible suspicion was beginning to form in my mind. "What is this... Device?"

Snafyu smiled almost proudly and stretched his arms wide.

"This whole structure is the Device. All corridors, all rooms. Even the empty spaces in between. And more. "

"More?"

"Oh, yes. Tunnels. Or channels if honorable intruders prefer. Running in from other dimensions. Pull and focus power from force lines, bring it here!"

"Tunnels filled with icy cold air?"

"Yes. Cold is side-effect of magik channelling. You have seen the tunnels?"

"We've seen what's at the other end, yes."

"But what does this 'Device' do?" I demanded.

"The Master desgined and built the Device. So that he would have magik. More magik than anyone. Channel more magik into himself than anyone. And I helped to run it!"

"So he would have magik?" Chumley queried closely. "Are you saying that this Penbrius chap wasn't a magician at all? He was a.."

"Mechanic." Aahz stared at the nearest wall for a moment and then back at Snafyu. "All these years, and he was JUST A STUPID MECHANIC!?"

"No, no. Not a stupid mechanic, Mr. Pervect. A great mechanic. The greatest mechanic who has ever lived in all the dimensions. He built the Device, and it channeled the magik of a dozen dimensions into itself. Into him. Gave him much power."

"That's... mind-boggling..." I murmured, although I had already been scrabbling around the edges of the idea for some time.

"But not terribly original, you know." Chumley commented. "Those great ruddy fools the Krell built one. Remember what happened to that lot?"

"And JíMis of Hyperion." Gus chipped in. "Built that Great Gadget, or whatever it was called. Five years later they found his bloated, white-haired, corpse curled up in a corner."

"And Voimsa, the High Scribe of Rotnart." Tanda added "Built the Omnivac machine. They had to scrape what was left of him off-"

"Yes, yes." Snafyu cut in impatiently. "The Master studied all of those, many more. Knew he could do it better. Do it properly. Took the best of what had been done before, and improved them all. Structures. Ideas. Even assistants." He touched his own chest. "Others not take power from man dimensions. Only gathered power from own dimension, focused it. The Device much bigger, much more powerful. And it seemed as if he had succeeded in task. Worked for centuries. Performed wonders beyond imagining. Then one day... very suddenly... The Master die during power transfer. Nothing left but ashes. Massive explosion barely averted by myself and others. Since then, Device falling apart. Running out of control. Soon it will explode. Taking all nearby dimensions with it."

"Like Chirosovo?"

"Yes. No. Maybe much worse. Once, already, I cannot keep magik contained. Large blow-out before control is regained. Blowout of magik wash out of Transfer Stations, over Dimension #5. Chirosovo, it is called? Do very bad things, I imagine. You have seen, I gather? But Chirosovo will recover, some day. Many centuries perhaps, but it will recover. If Device explodes, perhaps nothing will recover. All dimensions Device touch, will be destroyed..." He shook his head, and corrected himself. "Not if. When. Soon Device will explode. IS inevitable."

"Nothing is inevitable." Aahz snarled.

"Well... there is way. Maybe. Come. I will show you.." Snafyu went bounding off down the corridor. We exchanged a complex group glance and shrug and hurried after him.

He led us unerringly through the endless warren of passageways, until we rounded a final corner and stood before a third imposing-looking black door, if anything even bigger than the first one Aahz and the others had ripped through. Snafyu casually kicked it, and it opened in a slow, almost grudging fashion.

"Wish we'd known that little trick before." Someone muttered behind me.

We stepped through the door and into the fair-size round chamber beyond. It was like being at the bottom of a well: the familiar monotonous stonework circled us to form the walls, which then reached up out of sight into darkness. In the center of the room loomed a bunched collection of large stone pillars and cubes, all covered with bumps and knobs that flashed different colors. Dozens of screens, like those of the Dispatcher on Blut, flashed what appeared to be colored reams of garbled nonsense. An ominous off-kilter wavering sound filled the air. There was so much magik bouncing around the room I felt my feet trying to leave the ground of their own accord. I glanced at Aahz and knew, without having to ask, that this is where he had encountered Penbrius so many years ago.
TO BE CONTINUED...

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All Contents ©2000 Robert M. Cook