It was all over in a matter of moments. The force which had just arrived with the Ferryman - Guardians, Kevin assumed - speedily disarmed the group which had abducted them. The erstwhile captors, now themselves captives, were shackled using similar devices to the ones that Kevin, Bret and Eosin still wore, although one of the Guardians retrieved a device - some kind of magical key - from one of the guards which instantly disabled the shackles that bound their wrists.
The new prisoners were revealed as three men and a woman when their hoods were pulled back, none of whom were familiar to Kevin and were, so it seemed, similarly unknown to Bret or his mother. After a short conversation between the leader of the Guardians and the Ferryman, they were quickly bundled away, no doubt for some close questioning. Tweedledum had been similarly shackled and was now sitting in one of the rows of chairs which lined the briefing room. Two Guardians stood either side of Tweedy, who looked around in a kind of belligerent daze after the sudden change of circumstances, frequently scowling in the direction of the hidden portal that his compatriots had used to escape.
At the far end of the room, several people had gathered, facing the wall and bookcases where the vanished portal had been located. They were intent in concentration, gesturing at both the wall and at a variety of small devices held in their hands. Kevin thought that they must be some kind of magical technicians, trying to find out more information about the portal and its concealing glamour. As far as he could tell from their frustrated movements, they did not seem to be making much progress.
Now released from his wrist restraints and supported by Eosin, Bret limped over to the Ferryman and said something quietly in the Lyndesfarne language that Kevin was unable to catch, but appeared to be an apology of some kind. The Ferryman put her hand on her son's shoulder, a reassuring gesture which fell some way short of a full embrace but seemed to accept that he had done his best under what Kevin could only describe as very difficult circumstances. The Ferryman spoke briefly to Eosin, who nodded soundlessly, then she beckoned to Kevin, who was still having the magical handcuffs removed by one of the Guardians.
"Are you OK?" She asked seriously.
"Yes," he replied, "I'm fine."
"Once again you seem to have been in the thick of things," she continued, "And once again I need to apologise to you for putting you in danger."
"I was asked to come," Kevin said simply, "I accepted. There's no need to apologise. Besides I'm still very confused about what's been going on."
"We'll talk about it later," The Ferryman said, "Right now, I've got a lot to do to sort things out here."
Kevin could see the sense in this and politely stepped back, leaving the Ferryman to issue a stream of instructions to the Guardians, more of whom seemed to be entering then leaving the room. Indeed, this room seemed to have become the de facto gathering point for the more senior members of that force, probably because of its convenient location within the tunnel. The Ferryman was surrounded on the dais by half a dozen or more robed figures, all with their hoods thrown back to reveal older faces framed by grey hair, and the grim and serious look of those in a position of responsibility who job it was to prevent and contain this kind of incident.
Kevin imagined that the entire tunnel complex was now being explored by contingents from the Guardians - and presumably other police forces too - and that all those he had seen labouring at magical tasks on his arrival would be taken away for questioning. He had a suspicion that many of those questioned would say that they were simply employees, retained for a day or a week to complete some specific and specialized task before being released, and never really understanding the illegal nature of what they had been asked to undertake.
But there was one thing that Kevin could get a direct answer to, right now. He strode over and confronted Tweedledum, who was still sitting on one of the briefing room chairs.
"Why?" Kevin asked the other man, "What was in it for you?"
Tweedy scowled in response.
"I needed the money," he growled, "They needed someone with contacts in civil engineering. Now go ahead and gloat somewhere else, and just leave me alone."
Kevin suspected this was not the only reason. Tweedledum had clearly relished the feeling of power he had been able to exert within the conspiracy, judging by the attitude he had been unable to hide when he was threatening Kevin and the others only a few minutes before.
He realised he would get nothing more out of Duncan Tweedy, He looked around and saw Bret, who was looking at the amulets which still lay on the table. As Kevin approached, Bret picked one up gingerly and inspected it closely, handling it in the way Kevin would have associated with an unexploded bomb. The bulky jewel, suspended from a cord of what looked like plaited leather strips, glinted malevolently, with green sprites moving just visibly inside the gem.
Bret turned to Kevin.
"Where do they get these things from?" he asked softly, more rhetorically than in a genuine attempt to solicit an answer, "They're supposed to be restricted, impossible to obtain outside the most senior governance circles."
Kevin was not sure how to answer him, but a reply did not seem to be expected in any case, which was just as well, since he was distracted for the best of reasons.
"Kevin!" a familiar and very welcome voice sounded behind him.
He spun around. Tanji had just entered the room, accompanied by two younger members of the Guardians, both female. "Tanji!" Kevin called back, intensely relieved.
Tanji rushed up to him and threw her arms around him, holding him tightly.
"Oh, I was afraid I would never see you again," she said, tears welling uncontrollably in her eyes.
She kissed his face, his lips, again and again, perhaps trying to re-assure herself that Kevin was no apparition, but rather the real flesh-and-blood. She seemed too emotional to talk, and Kevin was more than content simply to hold her close, trying to provide support at the primitive, almost animal level, that she seemed to need at this moment. Around them, people were still coming and going in the briefing room. As he held Tanji close, Kevin noticed the arrival, over the next five minutes or so, of an even larger number of senior figures, including at least one that Kevin actually recognised. The sombre-faced leaders seemed determined, or so it seemed to Kevin, not to be seen to be treating this incident with anything less than total seriousness.
The Ferryman clapped her hands for attention and said a short clear instruction in the Lyndesfarne language which Kevin understood to mean something like "please be seated."
Kevin took Tanji by the arm and guided her wordlessly to a couple of chairs in the second row. All around them, there was a degree of scraping and clattering as the people in the room arranged themselves on the chairs. A few still stood, some with the alert posture of armed guards, their eyes continuously roving around the room but most people's attention was already fixed on the front of the room.
Tanji seemed to be sufficiently reassured that she could begin to pay attention to what was going on around them, although she still clung to Kevin as if her life depended upon it.
Four people remained standing on the dais together with the Ferryman. One of them came forward, her head twisting this way and that until the remaining sporadic chatter in the room died away. She was a tall and slender woman with short-clipped steel-grey hair who was, Tanji informed him by whispering in his ear, the leader of the Guardians in this world. Tanji, who had trained for years as a Guide and interpreter at the Guild of Directions, seemed unable to prevent herself from translating the older woman's words, speaking softly directly into Kevin's ear.
The chief Guardian spoke in a strong voice, so clearly that Kevin might have been able to pick up the gist of what she was saying, even without Tanji's translation. Her briefing was on the topic of the portal which had existing briefly at the far end of the very room they still occupied. As Kevin had surmised earlier, there was little specific information to be had; it was a special kind of one-shot portal, with a direct link to another place in this world, and appeared to be part of a large private portal network. This network, she explained to the hushed attendees, was illegal, operated outside of the control of the Guilds and Boards established for millennia to oversee this kind of transportation. It was one whose existence has been suspected for decades, if not longer, but never before now proven.
The Ferryman thanked the Guardian leader in a formal tone of voice and then turned to a second figure on the platform. This man was the one Kevin had recognised earlier. He was Warden Derek Williamson from Cliviger Grange which was, Kevin knew from previous experience, both the headquarters and the training centre for the Guardian force in his own world.
The Ferryman said something to Williamson in the language of Lyndesfarne, who replied briefly in the same way. He then strode to the front of the dais, clasped is hands behind his back and addressed the assembly in a distinctly military style. He chose to speak in English, in his characteristic plummy Public School voice, although his tone was low and serious. In one or two places around the room, there was the sibilant hiss of translations being whispered in official ears, in the way that he had so often experienced from Tanji.
Williamson's briefing was also short and to the point. He explained that, in cooperation with the official authorities in France, he and his colleagues had investigated all of the tunnels being constructed on and around the new TGV route through the Champagne region. After such a thorough search, it was unlikely that anything could be hidden and, indeed, they had found a secret tunnelling project not far from the railway line and heading directly into the circle where the old crossing had once been. Finally, as some kind of reassurance, Williamson said that the official authorities had been given to understand that the hidden excavations work was part of a plot to smuggle illegal immigrants around Europe.
After Warden Williamson had finished speaking, there were several questions from the floor, none of which, nor their answers, seemed to add a great deal to the message already communicated. A hubbub of conversation broke around around the room, with some people twisting in their seats to speak to someone in the next row, and others getting up and walking around to join groups elsewhere in the room. The handful of people on the dais also seemed to go into a huddle, the group being joined briefly by others from the assembly, or by Guardians who were even now still leaving the room on mysterious errands, or arriving with news.
Kevin sat dumbly for a few moments, unsure what - if anything - was expected of him now. Then he turned to Tanji, who was sitting close to him, holding his hand, and asked the question which had been vexing him since the moment of their abduction.
"What happened to you, in the other tunnels?" he asked.
Tanji smiled up at him. Bret, who was sitting just on the other side of Tanji and next to Eosin, turned his head at the question.
"That's a story I've been asked about several time today," she replied, "Everyone seems to want to know what happened."
She paused, then spoke again.
"Think back to the time the four of us were approaching the tunnels along that old lane."
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