"You remember when we were in that glade," Tanji said, addressing Kevin, "Just before we reached the entrance to the tunnel?"
Kevin looked dazed and confused for a moment, then realised what she was talking about. He nodded. Bret was already listening intently to what Tanji had to say.
"Well, it seems that wasn't the only still-functioning piece of old magic that had been left around," she continued, "There were two pieces of magic in that tunnel - maybe more, for all I know. Proscribed magic, I think - I'm certain no-one uses these kinds of enchantments any more."
"But what was this magic?" Bret asked, leaning forward and speaking before Kevin could even draw breath.
Tanji looked slightly smug.
"Did you notice the side rooms at the end of the tunnel?" she asked.
"Yes, of course," Bret replied, looking puzzled, "But there wasn't anything interesting in them."
"Are you sure?" she pressed, "How hard did you look?"
"I don't remember," Bret answered slowly, "I was much more interested in the blocked archway, the old crossing point."
"Exactly," she said, "A suite of rooms, some quite large, and the end of a mysterious tunnel - and you weren't really interested. I'm certain there was an old Distracter in operation there."
"Of course!" Bret exclaimed, so loudly that Kevin half-expected the man to slap himself on the forehead with the palm of his hand, "I should have been on the lookout for such things. Especially after the mood-altering magic in the clearing in the woods."
"So, when Tweedledum's men arrived, you just stepped into one of those rooms, and no-one noticed you?" Kevin asked Tanji.
"Not exactly," she replied, "I think I must have stepped back a few paces when I heard them coming, but that's not what kept me hidden. Such magic is not proof against any kind of determined search."
"Then what did happen?" Kevin demanded.
"I backed into the side room. There was a short tunnel section before it opened out. It was dark" - Kevin remembered that Tanji had just handed him her magic light globe to inspect the closed crossing archway - "and I must have instinctively used a 'Reveal' gesture to show active places. I was looking for, well, I guess you would say, a light switch."
Kevin was listening intently, as was Bret.
"What I actually found was a hidey-hole, a secret room. I stumbled upon a concealed opening in the side of the tunnel. The outline suddenly became visible following my gesture. I used a standard 'Open' command, and I was able to just slip inside and close and lock the door behind me before Tweedy's henchmen reached the rest of you. That hidden room must have been there since the crossing was open, and I must have hit exactly the right spot for my gesture, entirely by accident."
Magic, Kevin knew, was a kind of step change in the state of the world. A magical mechanism - he had been discouraged more than once from using the word "spell" - once activated, kept going forever, unless it was specifically turned off again. This of course meant that magic was highly reliable and, for example, the reinforcing sprites in the Old Bridge had been working continuously for centuries. So it was entirely possible that the magical concealment might have remained undiscovered forever.
"It wasn't entire dark inside," Tanji continued, "Some faint lights appeared just after I used the 'Lock' gesture. I hoped desperately they weren't visible outside. I guess they weren't."
Bret and Kevin together shook their heads in silence. Tanji resumed her story.
"I could hear through the door something of what was happening. I tried to be as quiet as I could. If I could hear what was happening to you, then they could have heard me, too. I stayed still, afraid to make any movement. Eventually, I could hear you being taken away, and then it all went very quiet."
"I was all alone, in hiding. I decided to stay were I was for as long as I could to avoid the risk of detection. Judging by what I had heard, I didn't want to be dragged away too."
"They didn't treat us too badly," Kevin muttered, but got the impression that Tanji was not really listening.
"It had been utterly quiet for a long time, and I was getting cold and stiff. I guessed I could simply re-open the concealed door, but I thought perhaps there was some other way out. I tried my slate, to write a message, but nothing happened when I gestured 'Send'."
Eosin said something in a murmur. Tanji nodded, while Bret translated for Kevin's benefit.
"A Suppresser, still working," Bret whispered to Kevin, "Like the one at the Lyndesfarne crossing. I knew Eosin had detected something like that just before those goons arrived."
"I decided to explore the hidden room," Tanji resumed, "Which was bigger than I at first realised - although I soon wished that I hadn't. Where I was standing by the door, it was quite narrow, but it soon opened out into a larger area with a high domed ceiling. There were mouldy tables and chairs, set with plates and mugs, all covered in dust and spiders' webs. There was a fireplace, a range which was still hung with pots and pans."
"It sounds like it was once some kind of a mess room, a ready room for the Guardians at the crossing," Bret contended.
"I'm sure you're right. But it turned out that I wasn't the first to have discovered the secret room, whatever it was for. Some others had, a long time ago. And they were still there, more or less. In the far corner of the room, there were three skeletons."
She shivered at the memory. Kevin gasped in sympathy and took her hand in his own. Tanji smiled wanly, looking up at him for emotional support. He tried to imagine what it must have been like for her, hiding in the darkness and encountering such horrors.
"I'm sure I screamed and ran away in a panic," she continued quietly, "I couldn't think clearly. I was terrified that there was no way out, that the same fate awaited me. But eventually I got a grip on myself and realised that they were long-dead, and I wasn't going to be able to help them that way."
Tanji was silent for a moment, a haunted look on her face.
"I could not but help having another look," she said, "I couldn't bring myself to touch them, but they had some fascination. The bodies were sprawled in a corner, piled up awkwardly, still wrapped in rotten and decayed clothes that looked fifty years out of date. It was such a strange combination. I didn't at the time realise what it was but, now that I've had a chance to think about it, one of the dead people wore a hooded cloak, while the other two wore jackets in the style of the Other World."
"It was too scary for me. I had to get out. I ran back to the door in a panic, frantically making 'Unlock' and 'Open' gestures. I had that horrible sinking feeling that it would not open, that I would be trapped here forever. At the third attempt - my hands must have been shaking too much - the door opened, and I dived though."
Tanji paused again, her eyes wide as she relived the experience.
"The hidden opening closed silently behind me," she continued eventually, "When I picked myself up and turned around, there was no sign of the doorway. I wasn't very interested in trying to get back in, anyway." Kevin could entirely understand that. He squeezed her hand sympathetically.
"It was very dark in the tunnels," Tanji went on, "Just a little gloomy daylight working its way down the corridor from the entrance. I remembered that the floor was smooth and flat, and I was fairly certain, once I had calmed down a bit, that I could find my way out. Even so, I picked my way along carefully, feeling the floor and walls with my hands so often that I was practically crawling."
Kevin could feel the roughness of Tanji's fingers where her hands had been marked by the rocks and dirt.
"It got easier as it got lighter," she said, "Finally I made it to the cave entrance. I hid as carefully as I could, in case there was still someone lurking. But I couldn't see anyone, so after ten minutes holding my breath and trying not to make any noise, I made a run for it."
Kevin knew that Tanji kept herself fit, and was probably able to make the entire length of the trail back to the main road at the run, especially if she was understandably very frightened.
"Before I knew it, I was at the portal building. Only then did I think of trying my slate again. I worked immediately, to my relief. I scribbled off a message to the Ferryman, and similar messages to everyone I could think of, including people at the Guild of Directions and a couple of the Guardians. I felt safer now that there were people around. I sagged onto a seat in the portal building. I must have looked in a bad way, since someone came up to me and asked if I was OK."
"Shock," Kevin said. Bret nodded.
"It was not long afterwards than reply messages started to arrive, and shortly after than a squad of Guardians, including one I knew personally from the crossing. I explained what had happened, as best I could."
Tanji stopped and looked around.
"Then I was whisked away in the company of the Guardians," she said, "I'm not sure I can remember exactly what happened or where it was. I guess I wasn't paying very much attention."
Kevin imagined it was some secret secure location used by the Guardians in this world.
"Then I had to explain it all again to your mother" - Tanji clearly meant the Ferryman, judging by the way she glanced at Bret and then across the room - "I've already asked her to send someone to have a closer look at the secret room, and the dead people."
Kevin had not been paying very much attention to what was going on elsewhere in the room. Rather, he had been concentrating on what Tanji was telling him. So, it was something of a surprise when the Ferryman clapped her hands and said something loudly that Kevin did not immediately understand. She immediately repeated in English, presumably for his benefit.
"Could I have everyone's attention, please?"
|© 2007-2009 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved.||Webmaster||Last updated 20 September 2009|