There was a startled moment of silence around the group as everyone, now including Kevin, tried to get some kind of a mental handle on what was going on.
The new arrivals appeared to be formed from two completely disparate factions. The larger group were dressed in garments which Kevin thought would not be in the slightest out of place in his world. At a first glance, their garb could be mistaken for the everyday working clothing typical of those frequently employed out of doors. Nevertheless, the sameness of the blue windcheaters and the dark blue trousers, together with a certain undeniably military stance, made it clear to Kevin that they really were uniforms.
It was this paramilitary group who were acting to prevent any movement. Even with no one apparently giving orders, they moved with the competence and precision of the professionally-trained and well-briefed soldier.
The remainder of the newcomers were dressed in dark robes with their hoods pulled well up so that their faces were mostly obscured. These outfits appeared black when glimpsed at a distance, but on closer inspection a more complex colouring became apparent. It was a strange and shifting mixture of dark shades which Kevin was not entirely sure he could reliably identify, let alone describe to anyone else.
The three people in this second group noticeably walked more slowly that the others, with a certain suggestion of stealth about their careful movements. After a few moments observation, it seemed to Kevin that there was a suggestion of embedded magic in their garments, and he speculated that they included some property which allowed the wearer to be difficult to see, or perhaps even invisible.
Despite the instruction to stay where they were, everyone sitting in the arbour got to their feet, or at least made a move to do so. They moved at the same moment, instinctively and quite unconsciously. Later, when he had collected his thoughts, Kevin would have a clear, if slightly surreal, recollection of the synchronised scraping of the chair legs on the stone patio.
Several of the uniformed individuals were carrying items which at first glance looked like heavy cudgels. When Kevin had collected his wits sufficiently to start paying attention, he noted that they were actually thick black sticks, with large bulges at each end and smaller ones elsewhere along their length. The smaller swellings sparkled busily, indicating the presence of magical sprites of some kind. He had not seen anything like the clubs before, but they were being wielded in a fashion that left Kevin in no doubt that they were some kind of weapon, and he had no wish to find out exactly how they were used.
When Kevin was finally able to drag his eyes away from the weapons and uniforms, he found to his considerable surprise that he recognised several members of the paramilitary group. He was sure that they were Guardians from the bridge, and from the Mainland side too, he thought. These were men and women he had at least nodded to politely on many occasions, or with whom he had even passed the occasional inconsequential pleasantry. At least a couple of the Guardians clearly recognised him, too, although they made no move to acknowledge the fact.
Several of the Guardians were standing close to both Tanji and Kevin, not touching or restraining them in any way, but making it clear in subtle ways that any attempt to run would be quite definitely futile and very probably painful.
Kevin looked around in time to catch Tanji's Aunt being escorted from the direction of the stables by a pair of Guardians. She was looking distinctly bemused, although not particularly frightened. Tanji's Uncle's reactions were more telling. He looked absolutely furious, but seemed intent to avoid saying or doing anything, although the effort made him look like he was going to explode at any moment. Kevin decided that this was good advice: to try and avoid being vocal, or drawing any attention to oneself, until the situation became clearer. Assuming, he thought, that it would become clearer, of course.
The same voice they had all heard earlier spoke again.
"On your feet, all of you."
This was a largely pointless instruction, since all except Tanji's Uncle were already standing. Kevin was not at all sure where the voice was actually coming from. It certainly did not appear to be any of the people he could see, who were speaking. The others seemed to have noticed too, since several of them were looking around to try and locate the speaker.
The same voice then instructed them in no uncertain terms to move into the house. They were directed, politely but in a manner which made it clear that they had no choice in the matter, to the kitchen where Kevin and Tanji had enjoyed their breakfast only a few hours before. As they walked, her Uncle moved closer to Tanji and said something to her which Kevin could not understand, but he took to be an enquiry that she was OK.
Kevin was feeling extremely anxious about Tanji's wellbeing, and was trying to find some opportunity to move closer to her. As they filed in through the kitchen door, watched carefully by the squad of Guardians, Kevin hurried to catch up with her. He attempted to move casually and naturally, and without looking at all surreptitious. This seemed to work, since no one prevented him from sitting down next to her at the kitchen table.
The Guardians appeared to be waiting for something, or someone. A contingent stood guard, stationing themselves at the doorways to the large open room. The remainder left quickly, and it was not at all clear to Kevin where they might be going, or what they might be doing. The black robes had congregated in a group, and now stood silently, their faces still concealed in their hoods.
After a few moments silence, the prisoners - Kevin could not think of themselves as anything else - started whispering amongst themselves.
Kevin leant over to Tanji, and spoke softly into her ear.
"What's going on?"
"I wish I knew."
"The people in the blue outfits, they're Guardians, aren't they?"
"Yes," she replied softly.
"So who are the people in the black robes?"
"Watchers, I think. But I've never seen so many together, or even heard of such a gathering. I've never seen one up close, and I've always understood that they were solitary individuals. They're not supposed to reveal their identity to anyone, not even other Watchers. There are stories that say that you could live with a Watcher for years and never know!"
Before Kevin could enquire further, a group of the Guardians re-entered the kitchen, escorting two newcomers. He was surprised to recognise the new arrivals, who were Ricard and Professor Alan Wilmington. Ricard looked distinctly nervous, even more so than when he had "rescued" Kevin from his nocturnal ramblings all those months ago. He was visibly looking to Alan for guidance, and seemed to Kevin to be entirely unable to make a decision on his own.
Alan, on the other hand, looked like he was in control of things. The Guardians appeared to be deferring to him, taking his instructions. Kevin found himself wondering whether it was Alan's voice he had heard earlier, perhaps projected over a distance though some magical means.
The two men rapidly became the centre of attention in the room. Their arrival had provoked an outburst of what Kevin took to be questions or complaints, with almost everyone speaking at once. The Professor appeared to be unfazed by the barrage of questions, and raised both his hands for silence. The torrent of voices abated, with the Professor seemingly willing to wait indefinitely for silence.
Kevin noticed that Amiss did not seem in the slightest bit surprised or concerned by the turn of events. He was now standing to one side of the room, looking calm and very sure of himself. Amiss caught Kevin watching him, and smiled in return, a look which Kevin thought appeared faintly menacing rather than reassuring.
There seemed to be some unspoken communication between the Professor and Amiss. Kevin had noticed the glances flying across the room, which seemed to be both acknowledging each others presence, as well as communicating something else that he could not fathom. Kithyn, by contrast, looked distinctly frightened, and seemed to be looking to Tanji for some kind of help or reassurance.
Once the noise in the room had died down, the Professor addressed Kevin and Tanji, very rudely ignoring everyone else.
"You too have caused me a lot of trouble," he began, walking up and down the room in a fashion Kevin had seen before, "I really don't like having to be dragged over here like this."
"You seem to be a bit annoyed," Kevin said, stating the obvious, with at least the subconscious objective of being as irritating as possible.
"Too right I'm annoyed," he responded, fuming visibly.
"So what's getting to you?"
"You've caused an almighty furore, both here and in the Other World," the Professor ranted, "Why did you have to take a predictor with you? Can you imagine the impact of such a thing?"
"What do you mean?" Kevin said, genuinely confused.
Professor Alan sighed, his incandescent temper subsiding a little.
"There's a certain class of sprite, we call them 'predictors', who can, in various ways, tell the future."
"Yes, I know," Kevin replied, "Tanji told me that the paperweight had some ability to predict the future weather. And it's a light source as well."
"Exactly. But it is the knowledge of the existence of 'predictor magic' that must be protected. It cannot be allowed to be known about in the Other World."
"Why not?" Kevin persisted.
"Well, there are certain vested interests in the Other World," the Professor said, suddenly sounding cagey to Kevin's ears, and glancing at Amiss.
Their conversation was being followed with interest by everyone in the room, included the Guardians and, Kevin noticed to his surprise, the Watchers. There was a sudden silence, as if everyone was waiting to hear the Professor's explanation.
"There are various established organisations and companies," he said in a manner that suggested to Kevin that the words were being dragged from him, "Sports groups, team managers and so on - who do not want the results of matches yet un-played to be so predictable."
The Professor did not make any mention of another obvious interested party. Nevertheless, it occurred to Kevin that there must be a considerable vested interest from some less respectable groups with formidable amounts of control in certain, legally rather grey areas. He suspected that organised crime groups would be extremely interested in this particular form of magic. Surely, he reasoned, there must be criminals who were making astronomical amounts of money from a huge range of gambling activities, both legally sanctioned or otherwise, not to mention the use of betting as a way of facilitating money-laundering.
Assuming the existence of gambling organisations operating beyond the law, then the use of predictors would be a considerable threat to their incomes if the ability fell into someone's hands, someone who might use the capability to make huge sums of money by laying bets on races and matches when already knowing the outcome.
Only later would it occur to him that he might have got that analysis quite wrong. He would realise that the criminals themselves would have wanted such a device. What an advantage it would be, he reasoned belatedly, for crooked bookmakers to be absolutely sure of the results of a race or match before it had actually happened.
"It's too dangerous," Alan continued, "We're going to have to take some extreme measures."
Kevin was suddenly apprehensive.
"What do you mean?"
"We've been worried about the New Bridge project for some time," the Professor said, "It's just too dangerous to allow it to be completed."
"But why?" Kevin demanded, "Surely it's exactly what was asked for by the Board of Construction?"
"Perhaps it was. But the Board do not seem to be able to learn from the past, despite the prompting from the Board of Control. Our analysis tells us that the amount of steel used in the construction of the bridge was almost guaranteed to allow some magic to leak through to your world. We've got to shut down the New Bridge project."
Kevin had been wondering about the use of "we" in the last few utterances. He supposed that the Professor was speaking on behalf of some powerful group or groups in Lyndesfarne. His suspicions were more-or-less confirmed when Amiss spoke up at this point.
"We have been trying to prevent or at least delay its completion for ages," he said, "But now, we will be forced to destroy the New Bridge."
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