The Remnant: Part Three
Jeran had fetched his sword and Lockwood stood leaning over his dressing table, deciding upon the best way to formulate a spell that would show him not only the location of Mr. Duplicity, but the surrounding area as well. This, he thought, was absolutely necessary. For obvious reasons he had no wish to materialize immediately next to Mr. Duplicity, and furthermore he did not trust his teleportation skills well enough not to allow for a large margin of error. In theory, it should be doable – using a mirror and a rather tattered copy of Mage Spells.
In practice, he quite suddenly felt enervated and uneasy. There were so many things that could go wrong; perhaps he had not been clever enough. What if Sly somehow knew? It was perfectly possible to detect the traces of magic unless they were very cleverly concealed; and if Sly had sent Duplicity, then he would almost certainly have checked.
But there were too many possibilities to consider. They would simply have to hope for the best.
He gazed into the mirror and dipped into his magic, ignoring the faint voice that he thought he could hear somewhere quite far away. There was a spidery image of Mr. Duplicity pacing along what appeared to be a sort of hallway; the difficulty was in expanding the magic to include places that the Krawk himself could not see. It did not help that, to Lockwood’s mind, this seemed impossible – it seemed to violate his admittedly shadowy ideas of the principles of sorcery.
“I think,” he said slowly, “we are just going to have to choose a fairly wide radius and see where it takes us.”
Jeran nodded thoughtfully. “I think I see what you mean, although I don’t know what you’re looking at – assuming of course that you can see more than a coating of frost on the mirror.”
“Yes,” said Lockwood, mildly surprised to hear that Jeran could not see what he saw, as it was really nothing more than a focused projection onto the mirror. Come to think of it, of course, it had been extremely careless of him not to make sure. Jeran probably would not recognize Duplicity if he saw him, but there was no sense in taking chances.
“Anyway, we may as well play it safe,” Jeran continued. “Would a distance of two or three miles do?”
Lockwood pondered the amount of walking that promised itself, sighed, and agreed.
Jeran nodded. “Three would be safer, really, I think... just on the off chance that wherever Sly is staying is in a city. And honestly,” he added, “we’re talking about Meridell here. What are the odds of landing in a populated spot?”
“Hopefully quite low,” Lockwood replied gloomily, beginning to pull together the transportation spell. As an afterthought he removed a small emerald pendant from a drawer and handed it to the Lupe. “If you are touching this at all times, then you should be able to escape notice, although I confess I have not tested it myself.”
“What is it?” Jeran inquired with interest, turning the jewel over in his hands.
“An Amulet of Stealth, or so it was described to me. If I am correct it will help, and I cannot imagine that it will hurt... Are you ready?”
“Very well then,” said Lockwood. He blinked, and they were somewhere else entirely.
He knew even before he opened his eyes that they were not quite where he had intended that they should be. However, it appeared that they were in a pretty, green Meridell forest, and so he heaved a sigh of relief.
He also felt terribly disoriented, and a quick glance at Jeran confirmed that the knight felt much the same.
“I don’t mean to offend,” Jeran gasped, “but you are honestly very bad at this.”
“No fear,” Lockwood agreed weakly, leaning against a tree. “I think it may have something to do with my terrible sense of direction.”
“I suppose that explains why Lisha is so good.”
They remained still for a minute or two until both felt sufficiently recovered to begin walking. “The important thing,” Jeran said reflectively, “is that we didn’t end up anywhere dangerous. I suppose you know which direction to go in from here?”
“Yes,” replied Lockwood, feeling for his tracking spell and setting off confidently in the direction of the hills.
It was late afternoon by the time that they reached the large, sprawling stone castle perched on the side of a steep grassy slope; and if they had not been relatively certain that their location was correct, they would very likely have believed it to be absolutely deserted.
“Incredible!” muttered Jeran as they crouched behind a boulder to observe their destination. “This must have been one of the castles of the Kavanagh dynasty... it never occurred to me that they might still be standing. I wonder who owns it now?”
“Somebody very friendly, no doubt,” replied Lockwood, whose temper had deteriorated steadily with the ground they had covered.
“Well,” the Lupe said thoughtfully, “how should we approach this? As a fortified base? A residence?”
Lockwood considered this. “Invisibly,” he said at last. “At least to them. We have no way of knowing who is there, how they will react and whether they know we are coming; the safest thing will surely be to conceal our presence.”
“Oh.” Then, “Invisibly? That sounds a bit uncomfortable...”
The sorcerer smiled his lazy, one-sided smile. “It would be, if we intended to become invisible to ourselves... but I believe a simple spell of concealment will be easier. On my part, that is. You are already quite effectively concealed.”
Jeran looked down at himself cautiously. “Am I really? I don’t feel very effectively concealed, although my sword is a slight comfort.”
“I suppose you’ve forgotten the amulet I gave you? – and that recalled, you are no doubt wondering why I can see you. I believe it is because you have no desire to conceal yourself from me.”
Jeran cleared his throat slightly. “You believe.”
“Oh! I do more than believe, I hope. It will be a little awkward if we discover that they can see you perfectly. Perhaps a trial...”
“Yes, well, it might be a good idea,” he agreed. “What do I do? Just – imagine I don’t want you to be able to see me?”
Even as he spoke, he vanished. Lockwood did his best to conceal a shiver; there was something unnerving about the completeness of his disappearance, as though he had never been there; and there was something unsettling about the magic that he could not quite place. But what? He felt nothing unusual...
And that, he realized, was what struck him as so strange. He had not felt the amulet’s magic at all. It must be more powerful than he had suspected – which, at the moment, suited them quite well. He resolved not to give it a further thought.
“Very clever,” he called out, feeling rather foolish to be addressing thin air. “I have no idea at all where you are, which I think we may consider a success.”
Without a whisper, Jeran was before him once again, grinning. “I’ve come across a fair amount of magic in my time, but that was one of the stranger experiences... useful, isn’t it?”
“Most excessively,” said Lockwood with a sudden touch of nervousness. “If, that is, it works against anybody but me.”
He quickly set about devising a spell of concealment for himself, though he had to admit with a twinge of regret that his was nowhere near as elegantly constructed as the amulet’s. However, he had done the magic before with no very high degree of difficulty. The only real challenge was in altering it so that he would not be hidden from Jeran; and even this was the work of a moment, and then they were ready to begin.
Jeran naturally took the lead as they set off for the castle, and Lockwood did not begrudge it him. It was not so much that he lacked courage – although it was very probable that he was not so brave as the King’s Champion – but he lacked experience, and at the moment he felt quite uncharacteristically unsure of himself.
And yet at the same time he had a sense of exhilaration – after all, whatever happened, this little undertaking promised to be very interesting. He was glad to be here, with Jeran at his side (or rather in front of him, holding up his sword), absolutely without the permission of the King or anybody else. It was – liberating.
There were many doors on the castle’s grey face, and by tacit mutual agreement they had made for a smallish one on the far east wing. Everything was as silent and deserted as it had been twenty minutes ago; the only change was that it was somewhat darker. Jeran hesitated. “Do we just open the door?”
“If the magic is working correctly, nobody should notice us,” Lockwood answered more or less confidently.
“This is insane,” muttered the Lupe, slowly lifting the gargantuan iron latch. “I have no idea why I agreed to this.”
“Neither do I,” Lockwood admitted as the door swung open with a series of hideous creaks.
It occurred to the sorcerer to wonder why the door was not locked, but he saw no sense in introducing the subject as a topic of conversation. In fact neither of them felt at all inclined to speak, despite the knowledge that nobody would be able to hear them.
Inside sat what appeared to be a small grey Wocky, slouched in a rather depressing manner against the stone wall. It was not particularly threatening, but Lockwood noticed the fur raise on Jeran’s neck as he edged his way past.
What Lockwood saw, however, was significantly more alarming. The grey Wocky was an illusion, and a good one too – around it was the great shadowy shape of a massive Grarrl in full sentried uniform, carrying a gleaming steel spear.
“Jeran,” he murmured as they crept carefully away, “nothing could be farther from my heart than a wish to alarm you, but there was more to that Wocky than met the eye. When I say eye, of course, I really mean your eye...”
“It was spelled, then?” Jeran asked grimly.
“Yes – its true form has been concealed, and very well too. Suffice it to say that they are a good deal more prepared than they seem.”
“Never a good sign. Still, at least we know – now, which way?”
They had reached a split in the torch-lit stone hall, each path as gloomily enigmatic as the other. There was no sound to be heard, and no one to be seen; it could almost have been described as dull, had not their tense circumstances precluded any possibility of boredom. As it was, the lack of event served only to fuel their nervousness, for it seemed that perhaps somebody was waiting for them, watching them, biding his time...
“This way,” Lockwood replied decidedly, leading the way to the left. He was quite confident as to the direction, and yet still he could not shake the intensely uncomfortable sensation of being watched.
But they reached the end of the hall without event, and Jeran stood waiting expectantly at a large iron door.
He was spared the trouble of asking whether or not they should proceed, by the simple expedient of two people coming through it. Jeran and Lockwood both slipped back against the walls of the passage – it was one thing knowing that the two figures could not notice them, but it was quite another to believe it.
One of the two people was, as Lockwood’s magical senses had already alerted him, Mr. Duplicity. The green Krawk walked by the side of a trim, simply dressed Halloween Kougra of average height whom Lockwood had never seen before in his life.
“Follow them?” muttered Jeran.
Lockwood shrugged his assent, and they walked cautiously behind the pair.
“That was beyond your authority, Duplicity,” the Kougra was saying. His voice was calm, dry, and rather quiet, so that Lockwood had to strain to hear his words in the vast dark hall.
Mr. Duplicity smiled his most ingratiating smile, and replied in his smoothest way. “Perhaps you are right, my dear Mr. Sly. Yes – you must accept my apologies, you know.”
Ah, thought Lockwood. So this was the new Mr. Sly. He had to agree with Mr. Duplicity that the Kougra had not his father’s presence; he lacked that chilling turn for – performance, even, one might say, that the original Mr. Sly had possessed in full. But in his very unremarkableness there was a certain menace, though Lockwood could not quite put his finger on it...
“I am under no obligation to accept your apologies.”
“Just so, of course,” Mr. Duplicity answered sweetly. “But you know, I grow rather weary of all this, and I am quite sure that he did too. I was doing him a favor! We were such very good friends after all.”
For one highly unpleasant instant, Lockwood felt certain that they were referring to himself, and that it had been a trap after all. His fears, however, were removed by Mr. Sly’s reply.
“Glad to hear it. And were you the one hiring him?”
Mr. Duplicity was silent.
“And while we’re on the subject, you say you are growing weary of...’all this’?”
It was clearly a dangerous question, and Duplicity took a moment to mull over it. “Why, yes,” he said at last.
“You are being well paid,” the Kougra replied coldly. “Where is the problem?”
The Krawk inspected his gloved hand and gave his explanation very candidly. “Well I’m bored, you see, and the climate is quite dreadful.”
“Do you think I hired you to have fun?” Sly halted suddenly. “You know there’s only one way you can be released from your contract. Perhaps you’re ready now.”
“Oh, no,” Duplicity said with his dazzling smile.
But his companion was no longer listening. Instead the Kougra was scanning the hall with pale yellow, calculating eyes. And if Lockwood had not known better, he might have sworn that they were fixed directly on him.
By sheer force of habit, he took a step back.
“Stop right there,” said Mr. Sly.
To be continued...