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Chapter 8: Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are Two for the Price of One


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Five:

On Things to Watch Out For

Chesric hefted his sword, his armor having already been excavated from his bottomless bag. “All right. Let’s go get her.” He headed away from camp in a random direction, as far as Erwyn could tell.

“Hold on just a second. Chesric, do you know where you’re going?” Erwyn surprised himself by being the voice of reason.

The old man hesitated. “Uh, no.”

“So how are you going to find her?”

“Um ...”

“It’s not like you to go off like that without thinking. I know you’re worried. We all are. But don’t you think we should determine which way she went, first?” The conversation sounded strangely familiar.

Chesric nodded. So did the rest of the crew. It appeared that Erwyn was once more in charge, whether he liked it or not.

“So let’s consider the evidence: one torn bag of personal belongings, scuff marks in the dirt ...”

“Drops of blood.”

Erwyn glowered at Devydd, then glanced toward Chesric. The old knight tried to smile bravely, but his mustache barely twitched.

“Drops of something which may or may not be blood, either Aralia’s or her attacker’s. Did anyone find tracks leading away from the scene?”

“I did.”

Lariyn usually remained silent, deferring to Kerissa. Her report startled Erwyn.

“Go on.”

“Three sets of them, none belonging to Mistress Aralia, headed west.”

“None belonging to Aralia?”

Lariyn smiled without humor. “They were carrying something very heavy, though.”

“Wonder what that could be. Thank you. Okay, now we can go after her. Is everyone ready?”

They all nodded.

“What about me? You’re not going to leave me here all alone, are you?” Fenoria pouted to emphasize her unhappiness. “What if someone carries me off next?”

We should be so lucky. Erwyn kept the thought to himself as he looked around. One ancient knight, one thief of dubious qualifications, two Marlian warriors, and a journeyman sorcerer. Not the best of odds. Taking the princess would make the job more difficult.

His mind racing, he smiled as warmly as he could. “You’re welcome to come with if you wish, Princess. Devydd, would you mind loaning Fenoria a pair of pants and a dagger?”

“No problem.” Devydd grinned as he turned to rummage in his saddlebag.

“Pants and a dagger?” Fenoria’s voice squeaked. “Whatever for?”

“That’s right. Whatever. We don’t know what we’re up against. Anyone who can capture a fourth-level sorceress isn’t going to be easy to catch, especially if they know we’re after them. And who knows what kind of terrain we’re up against. We might have to abandon the horses. The breeches will protect your legs.”

“And the dagger?”

He shrugged. “You might have to kill someone.”

“C-could I just stay here and wait for you?”

“By yourself?”

“Viona can stay with me.” That was a new one.

“Yeah, sweetie. I’ll stay with her and keep her company.” The damselfly flitted over to land on Fenoria’s shoulder.

Erwyn didn’t like the idea of leaving them by themselves. “Devydd, I don’t suppose you could ...?”

The thief considered for a moment. “Sure thing, kid. Someone’s got to guard the home front. Even if it is just a bunch of rocks in the middle of nowhere.”

“Thanks. Okay,” Erwyn sighed, “let’s go.”

Their path turned out to be surprisingly easy to follow—for about fifty feet. Then the trail vanished. To the naked eye, anyway.

Erwyn knelt beside the prints, hunched his shoulders and frowned. He knew now how someone could abduct a fourth-level sorceress. Magic. Lots of it.

“I don’t understand,” Lariyn stared at the end of the trail. “What happened to the prints?”

Chesric eyed Erwyn. “The boy knows, don’t ya Erwyn?”

“Yes ... and no.” He sat on his heels, studying the last of the footprints. Staring hard at one of them, he could see the residue left from casting a powerful spell. Most likely the one that transported Aralia and her abductors. “Wherever they went, they used magic to get there. And it’ll take magic to find them.”

He stood abruptly and tossed a handful of earth on top of the prints. If only they’d been there to help her, instead of being distracted by other, petty problems. Wiping his hand, he turned to the others.

“Wait here. If I’m not back by this time tomorrow, don’t come looking for me. There won’t be enough of me left to save.”

“Just what do you think you’re going to do?”

The tone of command in Kerissa’s voice almost brought a sharp retort from Erwyn. He swallowed it and answered calmly.

“I’m going to try to follow the trail left by that transportation spell.”

“What trail?” Kerissa sounded dubious.

“Transportation spell?” Chesric sounded worried.

“This one, right here.” He knelt down to touch the greenish glow of one of the prints, his hand flat within its glowing edges. “Can’t any of you see—?” Suddenly, it didn’t matter what they saw, because they disappeared. Actually, from their point of view, it was probably Erwyn who disappeared.

Around him, everything went dark. Dark and quiet. He felt himself being pulled through a gate, like a thread through the eye of a needle. His stomach twisted, writhing like some tortured snake. His head throbbed and his fingers itched. Time disappeared, then reappeared somewhere in the vicinity of his toes.

Reality exploded into his consciousness as he landed, hard, on the floor of a torch-lit tunnel. He coughed and spat, reflecting idly that he’d tasted better floors. Then he shoved himself into a more or less vertical position.


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Four:

On How to Have a Safe Trip

The tunnel rolled wildly for a couple of seconds, then settled into a slightly less sickening up-and-down motion.

He swallowed thickly, trying to keep his dinner where it belonged while he rubbed the back of his neck. “There has got to be a better way to travel than that!” Like his feet, which seemed to be what he would be forced to use to finish the trip.

Bracing himself against the tunnel wall, he slowly stood. The tunnel didn’t seem inclined to roll anymore. That gave him the courage to try an actual step. To his relief, his dinner stayed down.

“Well, at least the hard part’s over with—I hope.”

He smoothed his tunic and started cautiously down the torch-lit tunnel, choosing his direction at random. There were only two ways to go from his entry point. He figured he had a fifty-fifty chance of choosing the right one.

After a few yards, the tunnel narrowed considerably and Erwyn wondered if he’d chosen the wrong direction. Any smaller and Aralia’s kidnappers wouldn’t have been able to get the sorceress through.

Erwyn stopped to examine the walls of the passage. Then he grabbed a torch from its sconce and looked again. He hadn’t really expected to find anything, but there it was: a tiny strip of dark-colored cloth impaled on an equally tiny protrusion. The last time he’d seen that particular shade of material was on the missing sorceress.

Setting his jaw, the boy started resolutely down the tunnel once more. He kept the torch, just in case.

“Mind where you’re putting those great, ugly feet!”

Erwyn stopped, one foot raised in mid-stride. “Who said that?”

“I did, ye big oaf,” replied a voice reminiscent of Chesric on a bad day.

The voice came from somewhere beneath his big toe. Erwyn lowered the flaming branch enough to see a six-inch worm crawling slowly out of harm’s way. The boy moved his foot to a less precarious position, lowering it carefully to the ground (in case there were any other miniature fauna around). Then he knelt for a closer look.

“What are you?” Erwyn had never before seen a bright green worm with purple rings and blue fuzz. Frankly, he wished he hadn’t now. His stomach wasn’t in the best of shape after his sudden trip.

“Gor-r-r. I’m a gor-worm, I am.”

“Gaaak!” Erwyn scrambled away from the creature.

“Hey, no need to go bein’ rude.” The worm inched a bit closer.

Erwyn tried to move back a few more feet, but the wall of the tunnel got in his way.

“I’m not being rude, I’m being cautious. I’ve heard what gor-worms can do.”

“Really? Like what?” It peered intently at him from beneath its blue fuzzy brows.

“Like oozing stuff that causes blisters on unprotected skin, and spitting liquid that stinks for weeks.”

“Ye mean, like this?” The worm reared up a little, puckered its mouth and started to spit.

“Gaaak! I mean, yeah, like that. But I don’t need a demonstration.”

“Good thing,” the creature settled back to earth, “’cause it’s nothing but an old wives’ tale, anyway. The worst thing that could happen is, if you squash me, I’ll leave an awful purple stain on your boot sole.” It sounded like it wished otherwise.

“Okay. Good to know.” Erwyn filed the remark in a mental folder labeled “Potentially Useful Information.”

“Um, you don’t happen to have seen anyone else come through here, have you?”

“Like whom?”

“Like a large, possibly unconscious woman dressed in a dark blue robe?”

“Oh, her? Yeah, they’re back that way.” The worm indicated the way Erwyn had been going.

“Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll just head...” the boy edged around the worm.

“Sure thing, don’t mind me, I’m just a worm.”

Erwyn thought he heard a small sigh as he headed down the passage.

The tunnel was long, with torches at infrequent intervals, and the one in his hand began to gutter long before he reached his destination. Finally, he heard sounds around the next corner, sounds that could only mean the presence of other humans. Or something bigger than a gor-worm, at least.

Thinking about sandcastles and lightning, he turned the corner, prepared to fight for his new friend. But the spells faded from his thoughts as he saw what awaited him.

“Hiya, protégé. It’s about time you got here to rescue me.” Aralia’s robe was torn and, in the flickering torchlight, Erwyn noted that her face bore several bruises and smudges. She had a cut above her left elbow, with a trickle of blood dripping down her arm. Otherwise, she seemed unharmed.

“Yeah, sugar. I thought you were never going to get here. I’ve been bored out of my gourd.” The second Aralia was in the same shape as the first, right down to the cut and bruises.

“C’mon,” they said in unison, “let’s blow this dump. I want to get cleaned up and into some un-ventilated clothes.”

Erwyn looked from one sorceress to the other and back. How in the names of the Four Hells was he going to tell the real Aralia from the false Aralia?

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