Should I trust her, Kevin thought. Am I just being paranoid? Is there really any kind of conspiracy? He was not sure how to find out, but thought he could get some idea by asking about the Guild.
He looked over at Tanji, who was now inspecting his collection of books on the other side of the room. In the dim lighting Kevin preferred in his living room, Tanji's luminous hair and elfin features stood out as if a spotlight was trained on her.
"Tanji? Can you tell me about this Guild you work for?"
"Of course," she replied immediately, "What do you want to know?"
"Well, I'm not sure. What does the name really mean, for instance?"
"Hmm. It's usually translated as the Guild of Directions, although I don't think that is particularly good English. Perhaps Visitor Escort Bureau might be a more idiomatic version."
"And what do they do, exactly?" Kevin pressed.
"Our purpose is simply to provide support and guidance to visitors from your world. Many visitors find Lyndesfarne a very confusing place, and we are here to help."
This last remark rang a chord with Kevin. His early visits to the Island, even after the briefings from NISSA and help from Ricard and Bret, had been disorienting and full of sights he had found incomprehensible.
"But does everyone get a personal guide?" he asked.
Tanji laughed. "No, of course not. That would not be possible. But we do try and provide a guide for every Visitor who asks for one."
"Well, I didn't ask for a guide, but I still got Ricard, and now you. How come?"
"I don't know. But surely someone from your firm asked on your behalf. Or maybe the Board of Construction?"
Kevin could accept this, although he made a mental note to check with his company's Human Resources division. Not that he would actually trust the morons in Human Remains to actually answer his questions correctly, mentally adding some remarks about the complete absence of their party organisation capabilities, even in beer manufactories.
"So, can anyone from here go over to Lyndesfarne?"
"Well, yes, I think so. I'm sure the Guardians would stop anyone known to be a criminal or a troublemaker, but lots of people cross every day. In both directions."
Tanji's manner had become slightly stiff under the onslaught of Kevin's questioning, but he still got the impression that this was more from confusion rather than a desire to hide anything.
"So, if I wanted to cross over to Lyndesfarne, wander around on my own, explore a little - you know, be a tourist - would I be allowed to do that?"
"Yes, of course," she replied, sounding shocked, "Why? Do you want to?"
It was Kevin's turn to laugh. "No, not really. I was just wondering if you had any special instructions about me."
This time, Tanji looked more confused than shocked.
"Special instructions? I don't know what you mean."
Kevin told her about the night he went wandering around on his own, and Ricard's reaction, although he chose not to mention what he had seen going on at the bridge.
"Well, I have no instructions to prevent you from doing anything," she said, sounding rather huffy. "I have only just returned to the Guild after a long absence - you must remember that I told you about that."
"I have been away for nearly five years, and you are the first Visitor I have guided since I returned," she continued, "I am just doing my job. You don't want to send me away, do you?"
This last question sounded incredibly plaintive, and Kevin smiled to make it clear that this was the last thing he wanted.
"So, what are you going to do?" she asked.
Kevin thought about it for a moment.
"I need a coffee," he replied.
Still wearing the towel, Kevin made his way through to the kitchen, trailed by Tanji.
"Do you like coffee?" he asked her.
Vaguely relieved to be doing something entirely normal, Kevin ground coffee beans and fired up the coffee maker, then warmed some milk in a pan to make big mugs of cafe latte for them both.
They sat at the kitchen table in silence for a few minutes, sipping their hot coffee, each apparently intent on their own thoughts. Finally, Kevin broke the silence.
"Do you know what stops magic from working here? At least, normally," Kevin asked Tanji.
"No, I don't," she replied, "It just doesn't. I don't understand how this could have happened."
"But you told me once that some magical objects did work here, in this world, certain talismans and potions. Surely this is just another example of one of those things?"
"Well, no," she replied immediately, "Those good-luck charms and so on are very weak magic - about as weak as you can get. But that paperweight is a reliable predictor, and an everlasting light source. That's a completely different class of magic - two different classes. Much more powerful. And that's why I was so shocked when I realised the thing was actually working."
"Perhaps we should go back to Lyndesfarne, even back to that shop," Kevin suggested. "We could buy some more things, then bring them back here and see if they work too."
Tanji shook her head.
"What would that prove? And what would we do if we did find more things that worked?"
"Yes, I guess you're right. I for one want some kind of explanation."
Kevin was one of those people who did not function well on an empty stomach. The shocks of the morning, not to mention the exertions overnight, meant that he was now beginning to feel very hungry.
"Let me make you some breakfast. Fancy some eggs?"
"OK. I'll go and get dressed."
He looked down, suddenly realising that he was still wearing only a towel.
"Good thought. Perhaps I should dress too."
Kevin dug jeans, shirt and underwear out of a cupboard and dressed rapidly, while Tanji disappeared into the bathroom. By the time she re-appeared in the kitchen, he had made toast, scrambled some eggs in another pan, and thrown the debris of last night's dinner into the dishwasher. She watched him whizzing about the kitchen for a few moments, until he noticed her in the doorway and motioned her to sit down. He put plates of scrambled egg on toast on the table in front of her and topped up the coffee mugs.
"Bon Appetit," he said cheerily.
"Looks wonderful. Thank you."
They both tucked into the food with gusto, while Kevin mentally chewed over the situation. He wanted to talk to someone from his own world, rather than from Lyndesfarne, about this inexplicable phenomenon. The candidate list for such a discussion was naturally rather small, and the conclusion was obvious.
"Look, why don't we visit NISSA?" he asked Tanji.
"NISSA? That's one of your organisations teaching visitors about my world, isn't it?"
"Well, yes. It's more-or-less on our way back to Lyndesfarne. I'm assuming you'd like me to take you back today, yes?"
"Please," she confirmed, adding "I'll need to get some clean clothes fairly soon."
"Fair enough. We'll see if we can get to talk to Professor Wilmington, or one of his colleagues. They're the people who've been briefing me," he explained, "And I can't think of anyone closer who might be able to shed some light."
"Yes, OK. I can't think of anything better."
With a decision made, it seemed like only a few minutes before they were ready to leave. Kevin bustled about, rapidly tidying up his flat and set the dishwasher going. He then emptied and repacked his rucksack, carefully re-wrapping the paperweight and placing it in the top of the bag. Meanwhile, Tanji had gathered her stuff, and went to stand by the front door. Smiling at the thought that she was ready to leave before him, he collected together bag and outdoor clothing, and guided Tanji out through the door.
Kevin locked up the flat, and bundled all their stuff into the Volvo ready for the drive back north. It was another fine day, as correctly predicted by the paperweight, and he was rather looking forward to the drive. On starting the car, however, he realised that the tank was almost empty. He drove around the corner and stopped at a local petrol station to refuel.
"What are we doing here?" Tanji asked.
"The car needs petrol," he answered.
"Ah. Of course. I should have realised that."
Kevin got out to fill the tank with fuel, and to arrange the transfer the usual small fortune to the petroleum company using his credit card. He was feeling much better now that he had got a plan of action, and he got back into the car trying, and failing, to set the words "We're off to See the Professor, The Wonderful Professor of NISSA" to the tune from "The Wizard of Oz". This did have the success of making Tanji laugh out loud, and went quite some way to easing the last of the stiffness that had developed between them after their discovery concerning the paperweight.
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