“Oh,” the dragon that had once been an ordinary wizard named Tobas of Telven said. “Perhaps I misjudged.”
“Perhaps you did,” Gresh agreed, looking at the rubble and silently thanking whatever gods might be listening that he had not yet stepped into the cave when the roof collapsed. The dust was clearing, and he could see now that most of the cave was still intact; a section of roof perhaps ten feet wide had fallen in, but that left a good twenty feet of cave on either side.
He tried to judge exactly where he had seen the mirror in there. With the whole area so utterly transformed, it was not an easy calculation to make, but he estimated that the mirror should be just under the left edge of the wreckage.
“It’s there,” Karanissa said from beside him, pointing to roughly the same spot he had been estimating.
“No touch mirror!” shrieked a spriggan from inside the remaining cave.
“Shut up!” the dragon bellowed in reply, spraying sparks.
“No no no no no!” the spriggan insisted, jumping up and down.
The dragon did not argue further, but instead, moving with amazing speed for so large a beast, reached in with one huge talon and flicked the spriggan far back into the depths of the cave. Then he withdrew the claw and turned to Gresh. “Get the mirror, and let’s get out of here.”
“Right,” Gresh said, hurrying into the cave.
The sun was getting low in the west, behind the mountaintop, so even with a big piece of the wall and ceiling removed, the interior of the cave was shadowy and somewhat dim. Gresh knelt by the edge of the pile of debris, looking for the mirror.
“It’s over there a little farther,” Karanissa said. She had followed him in and was pointing at a small mound of rubble.
“If the ceiling fell on it, it’s probably smashed,” Gresh said. “That would be an end to the matter right there!”
“It isn’t smashed,” Karanissa said. “I can sense it.”
“I knew it couldn’t be that easy,” Gresh grumbled. He pushed aside a few rocks where Karanissa had pointed, and sure enough, there was the mirror, dusty but intact.
“No no no no no!” shrieked a spriggan, leaping on his hand and startling him so badly he fell backward onto the hard-packed dirt of the cave floor.
“Get away!” Karanissa shouted, diving toward the spriggan. It sprang aside, and she snatched up the mirror.
Half a dozen other spriggans seemed to appear from nowhere, jumping and squeaking and trying to grab the mirror away from the witch. She ignored them as she straightened up. Then she looked down at them, lifted the mirror high above her head, and shouted, “Get back, or I’ll smash it on the rocks here and now!”
The spriggans immediately stopped leaping at her skirts and backed away, whimpering. For a moment no one moved or spoke—then the silence was broken by the squealing of several voices out on the meadow, squealing that continued and grew in volume.
Gresh sat up, brushing himself off, and stared up at the mirror gleaming in the witch’s hand. He paid no attention to the shrieking and babbling outside the cave. He could not see how the spriggans could stop them now, no matter how upset they were. The dragon should be able to shoo them away well enough. “We have it,” he said.
“I have it,” Karanissa said. “Now what do we do with it?”
“We get it out of here,” Gresh told her. He got to his feet and turned toward the opening.
Then he stopped dead, as Tobas said loudly, “Gresh? We may have a problem here.” He sounded worried.
Gresh had not known a dragon could sound worried, but Tobas unquestionably did—and looking out through the hole in the hillside, Gresh could understand why.
Tobas’s right wing blocked much of his view, but by leaning a bit Gresh could see out, and he did not like what he saw. Save for the area immediately around the dragon, the meadow was completely covered in spriggans— and that included the flying carpet. Spriggans were climbing on Alorria’s lap, tugging at her hair, and poking at Alris, who was, quite understandably, crying.
Alorria had been screaming for some time, Gresh realized, but her high-pitched voice had been lost in the noise the spriggans made.
“I can’t chase them away,” Tobas said. “I might hurt Ali or the baby. Or the carpet. There are so many of them!”
“So I see,” Gresh said.
Like Gresh, Karanissa had turned to see what was happening outside the cave, but she had continued to hold the mirror up above her head, well away from any spriggans—except now Gresh saw movement from the corner of his eye and turned to see a spriggan climbing out of the mirror onto Karanissa’s wrist.
“Augh!” she shrieked. “It tickles!”
The spriggan itself looked confused and clambered awkwardly down her arm to her shoulder, then slid down her dress to the ground, where it said, “What happening?”
Several other spriggans started to reply, but Gresh shouted, “Get away from her!!”
The newborn spriggan squealed and scampered away, but the other spriggans nearby—there were at least a dozen in the cave with the two humans—stood their ground.
Alorria, out there on the spriggan-swarmed carpet, was still screaming, and a glance upward showed Gresh that Tobas was becoming seriously agitated.
Gresh did not want to be around a panicking dragon.
“Calm down, everyone!” he shouted. “Just calm down a moment!”
“And then what?” Tobas demanded.
“You tell them what I say, so they can all hear,” Gresh said.
“Tell them what?”
“First off, tell them we have their precious mirror, and if they don’t get off Alorria right now, we’ll smash it on the rocks!”
“Yes! You hear that, spriggans?” The dragon’s roar seemed to shake the mountainside, and a few loose stones tumbled from the broken edges of the cave roof. “Get off my wife and daughter, or we’ll smash the mirror! Now!”
The spriggans hurried to get off Alorria and Alris—but they did not, Gresh noticed, get off the carpet.
“Give back mirror!” a spriggan shrieked from somewhere in the mob.
“Why is it so important to them?” Karanissa asked.
“I don’t know,” Gresh admitted.
“What should I do with it?”
Gresh considered that for a moment before replying.
They did not know whether they actually could smash the mirror; the only way to find out would be to try. The spriggans seemed to utterly dread that possibility; might it be that the mirror’s destruction would mean they, too, would perish? More than one had said they might die if the mirror was destroyed; did they even know what would happen, any more than the humans did?
He had come here to see that the mirror was destroyed; why not try to do it? Yes, wizardry could have unforeseen effects, but really, how likely was it that smashing it would be any worse than leaving it alone?
It would upset the spriggans—if it didn’t make them vanish—and that was bad, but he and the women had a dragon on their side. Surely, they could fight their way through a horde of toothless eight-inch pests. After all, the spriggans would no longer have anything to fight for, and they had never struck him as vindictive or vengeful creatures. Despite their numbers, they had not yet actually harmed anyone.
He and his companions had come here to dispose of this magic mirror, and now was as good a time as any to see if they could simply do it in the most obvious way.
But still, he hesitated. He had been reckless in using the Spell of the Revealed Power on Tobas, and he did not want to make it a habit. Carelessness with magic would sooner or later get him killed, or at least turned into something unpleasant.
Another spriggan began to emerge from the mirror as Karanissa held it, startling him. Without really meaning to, more thinking aloud than giving instructions, he said, “Break it.”
A chorus of horrified squeals arose from every spriggan close enough to have heard his words, and Karanissa did not try to speak over the cacophony. Instead she nodded and looked down.
Spriggans were rushing toward her, to catch the mirror if she threw it against the rocks at her feet. Instead she swung around, arm outstretched, flinging the newly arrived spriggan aside and then slapping the mirror broadside against the stone of the cave wall.
Gresh almost reached out to stop her, but not in time. Glass cracked loudly, and the mirror fell from her hand in four jagged pieces. Countless spriggans screamed—and so did the dragon, with a deafening sound like nothing Gresh had ever heard before. Gresh looked up, startled.
“What did you do?” Tobas roared, spewing flame into the sky.
“What?” Gresh had had his attention focused entirely on Karanissa’s hand, but now he looked around.
There were more spriggans than ever; they certainly hadn’t vanished. In fact, there were many more. They were no longer just a mob, but covered the meadow at least two layers deep. The carpet had completely vanished, and several were spilling onto a screaming Alorria—not deliberately, but because they could find no other footing.
“Oh, blast!” Karanissa said. Gresh turned to see her staring down at the four chunks of mirrored glass that lay at her feet.
Four identical spriggans were squeezing themselves up from the four separate pieces. It took longer than previous emergences, since all four were full-sized but the fragments of mirror were not.
Gresh looked around and realized that all the existing spriggans had also been multiplied by four. Obviously, the link between the mirror and the spriggans was stronger than he had realized, and the breaking of the mirror had to be undone immediately.
That called for magic.
“Oh, gods and demons!” he muttered, as he snatched the pack from his shoulder and hauled out the box of powders. As he did he was imagining all those poor innocent people throughout the World who had been being harassed by spriggans, and who suddenly found each of the little monsters transformed into a quartet. Something had to be done now.
Well, that was why he had brought all these countercharms. He popped open a jar of sparkling orange powder and strode over to the broken mirror, kicking aside four spriggans that happened to be in the way, then unceremoniously dumped a pinch of the powder over the four shards and barked, “Esku!”
The powder vanished in a golden flash, and the four pieces snapped together as if drawn by magnets, then healed back into a single mirror, which Gresh quickly snatched up before a spriggan could get it. A quick glance out at the meadow showed that the immense mass of spriggans had been reduced by three-fourths, restored to its original still-alarming size. The cave’s population was similarly reduced. Even the four that had emerged from the broken mirror appeared to have merged into one.
“What spell was that?” Karanissa asked, as Gresh struggled to get the cork safely back into the mouth of the jar without dropping the mirror.
“Javan’s Restorative,” Gresh told her.
“Don’t waste that!” Tobas said, peering in from above. “We need that to turn me back.”
“There’s plenty left,” Gresh assured him. “I’m not going to waste it. Besides, wouldn’t Lirrim’s Rectification or the Spell of Reversal work?”
“I don’t know,” Tobas rumbled. “The Rectification turns things into what they ought to be, not necessarily what they were, and for all I know the spell might decide I should be a dragon. The Spell of Reversal only reverses things so far—if I stay a dragon more than half an hour or so, it won’t do the job.”
“It hasn’t been half an hour yet,” Gresh pointed out. Despite all that had happened since Tobas was transformed, it hadn’t really been very long at all. “I doubt it’s been a quarter of one.”
A spriggan—one spriggan—began to climb out of the mirror and found Gresh’s palm in the way. Gresh quickly turned the disk over and lowered his hand so that the creature could escape.
“So we have the mirror,” he said. “And smashing it isn’t a good idea—if we’d broken it into a hundred pieces we’d probably all have smothered to death.” He glanced up at the dragon. “Well, all but Tobas, anyway.”
“No smash,” a spriggan said timidly. “Please?”
Gresh looked down at the little creature, which blinked up at him from a niche in the cave wall. “No smash,” he agreed.
For a moment he wondered why the spriggan didn’t want the mirror broken. After all, it only seemed to produce more spriggans. Perhaps the little creature didn’t like crowds, or recognized that the World didn’t have room for all those spriggans?
Though that made the creatures’ unwillingness to give up the mirror that much more mysterious. If they didn’t want more spriggans, why were they so determined to protect the mirror?
“Then what do we do with it?” Karanissa asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“Well, it seems to me that our first goal here is to prevent it from making any more spriggans,” Gresh said. “Isn’t it? The Guild’s worried that the whole World might fill up with spriggans, so if we can stop the mirror from making more, that’s a good start. Dealing with the spriggans we already have is a separate issue, as is destroying it permanently. The first thing we want is to stop it from producing more.”
“How do you propose to do that, if we can’t just smash it?” Karanissa asked.
“We could take it to the dead area….” Tobas began, but the resulting squeals and screams from the spriggans deterred even a dragon from finishing the sentence.
“Give back mirror,” a spriggan called from atop a nearby rock. “You give back, spriggans take it and go away, and give back flying rug and lady and baby. No give mirror, no lady, no baby, no rug.”
“And we’d be back where we started,” Gresh said. “No, I don’t think we’ll do that.”
“I don’t know, Gresh,” Karanissa said. “What about Ali and the baby?”
“They aren’t trying to hurt them,” Gresh said, though not as confidently as he would have liked.
“If we tried to take the mirror to the no-wizardry area they probably would.”
“True enough,” Gresh admitted. “If we can’t take the mirror to the dead zone….” He looked up at Tobas. “You made that no-spell place, didn’t you?”
“The one over there?” Tobas said, waving his head toward the opposite slope. “No. That’s been there for centuries. A wizard named Seth Thorun’s son did it.”
“What about the one in Ethshar of the Sands?”
“I made that, yes.”
“Could you do it again, here?”
Several spriggans squeaked in protest at this suggestion. The dragon ignored them, as he snorted smoke and said, “Not in this shape. Not to mention that it’s forbidden—the Guild outlawed the spell long ago. They gave me a special dispensation for what I did before, but I don’t have any dispensation to do it again. On top of that, I didn’t bring the ingredients, since it is forbidden, and I never expected to have a use for it.”
“Well, what ingredients do you need?”
“Oh, no—I’m not telling you that. It’s forbidden. Using it carries the death penalty. Besides, I can’t do it as a dragon, and if you turned me back now, how long do you think it would be before all these spriggans swarmed over us and took the mirror away from us? Not to mention that they’d interrupt the spell—it takes several minutes.”
“Swarm…?” Gresh looked out and realized that Tobas was right. The dragon had interposed himself between the cave and the horde filling the meadow. A few spriggans were indeed in the cave, but the main body was out there, apparently kept away only by Tobas’s presence.
So Tobas would have to remain a dragon for now, and that meant they had no wizardry available except for the powders and potions in Gresh’s box.
Well, he had chosen those spells for exactly this purpose. None of these were intended to destroy the mirror outright, but he hoped one of them might break the enchantment on it and turn it into a harmless disk of silvered glass.
He would have preferred to try them under more controlled circumstances, but that didn’t appear to be an option. He had to do something to end this stand-off without giving the mirror back to the spriggans, and he had brought all this prepared magic, with the Guild’s blessing. He might as well see whether any of it would do the job.
“Karanissa, could you keep the spriggans away for a moment?” he asked, as he seated himself cross-legged on the cave floor. He set the mirror on his lap, then pulled over the box of spells.
He wanted to be as cautious as possible, starting out with the spells least likely to have unforeseen effects. That made his first choice fairly simple. Javan’s Geas could be used to command anyone not to do something, and it lasted indefinitely—but no one ever used it on inanimate objects, for obvious reasons. The mirror might be something more than a mere inanimate object, though, so Gresh pulled out the appropriate jar and sprinkled a pinch of dark red powder on the mirror.
This was exciting, using magic himself. He had certainly seen plenty of magic, but he had rarely gotten to use it himself. Turning Tobas into a dragon might have been reckless, even frightening, but it had also been fun. It had given him a sensation of power. This experiment with the mirror was far less likely to produce spectacular results, but it was still a bit of a thrill.
He could hear spriggans protesting, but none interrupted him. Apparently Karanissa’s witchcraft was up to the task of keeping them away. “Make no more spriggans—by this spell I charge you,” he proclaimed. “Esku.”
The powder flashed into non-existence, but the mirror appeared unchanged.
“Make no more spriggans,” Gresh repeated, just in case he had misremembered and the command was supposed to come after the invocation.
“How do we know it worked?” Karanissa asked, looking down at the mirror. She was panting slightly from the effort of keeping the spriggans back.
“We just wait and see whether any more spriggans appear,” Gresh answered, as he closed the jar and slid it back into its place in the box. “After all, they’ve been popping out often enough! No wonder there are half a million of the little pests, if they appear this…. Oh, drat.”
A spriggan was heaving itself up out of the mirror.
“It didn’t work,” Karanissa said.
“It didn’t work,” Gresh agreed. He reached for the box.
The glittering white powder of Lirrim’s Rectification flashed silver instead of gold, but had no visible effect at all, and after a five-minute wait the mirror produced another spriggan, demonstrating that the original spell was still working. The spriggan appeared just the same as the others. If the Rectification had had any effect at all, it wasn’t obvious.
“I’d hoped that would turn it into Lugwiler’s Haunting Phantasm,” Gresh said. “I’m not sure why it didn’t—after all, that’s what the spell was originally intended to be.”
“Maybe wizardry just doesn’t work on the mirror,” Karanissa said, as she slumped against the cave wall, exhausted.
“That’s possible,” Gresh admitted. “But I really hope that’s not the case.”
“Maybe it’s been too long since the original spell,” Tobas said, peering down through the opening where the cave roof used to be.
“That doesn’t seem likely,” Gresh said. “From what I’m told, wizardry usually isn’t time-limited that way—I mean, you can always reverse Fendel’s Superior Petrifaction, even if the victim’s been stone for centuries.” He glanced around. “It might be because there are half a million spriggans out there who think this version of the mirror is exactly what it should be.”
“That could be,” Tobas said.
Gresh tried Javan’s Restorative next, over the dragon’s objections. Tobas pointed out that they had already used the Restorative on the mirror once without removing the enchantment and argued that they really shouldn’t waste another portion of their very limited supply of a very precious spell.
Gresh ignored him and cast the spell, which did absolutely nothing. Spriggans continued to emerge from the mirror at irregular intervals.
The horde of spriggans in the meadow continued to hold Alorria, Alris, and the flying carpet hostage. They bickered and squeaked among themselves, but made no attempt to charge past the dragon. Every so often one would try to sneak past alone, but Tobas spotted most of these and chased them away.
“What does that leave?” Tobas asked, as he brushed a few unusually courageous spriggans back with his tail. “What else have you got in that box?”
“The potions obviously won’t help,” Gresh said. “The mirror can’t drink them. The two powders we haven’t tried are the Spell of the Revealed Power and the Spell of Reversal.”
“The mirror’s been enchanted for years, so I don’t know what the Spell of Reversal could do,” Tobas remarked.
“Make the mirror suck spriggans back in, perhaps?” Karanissa suggested.
Gresh and Tobas exchanged glances, man to dragon.
“I suppose it might,” Gresh said.
“Well, what would the Spell of the Revealed Power do?”
“Who knows?” Gresh replied. “It might show us why the spriggans are so determined to protect this thing, when they say they don’t care whether any more appear out of it.”
“It may be bringing the spriggans from somewhere else,” Tobas suggested. “Instead of creating them, I mean. The Spell of the Revealed Power might transform it into an actual doorway into that realm, whatever and wherever it may be.”
“And if it did….” Gresh blinked. “If it did, maybe we could send all the spriggans back where they came from! Maybe that’s what they actually want it for!”
“And maybe it’s not,” Karanissa said. “Maybe instead it’ll dump another half-million spriggans on us all at once!”
“I’ll have Javan’s Restorative handy,” Gresh said.
“The Spell of Reversal,” Tobas grumbled. “Use that, and save the Restorative!”
“Maybe I will,” Gresh said, as he pulled the jar of blue powder from the box. “Let’s just see what it does….”
“I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Karanissa said, backing away.
“She may have a point,” Tobas said. “What if it releases an infinite quantity of spriggans, and we’re smothered to death before you can use a counterspell?”
“That would be unfortunate,” Gresh said, as he sprinkled blue powder on the mirror. He had come this far, and did not want to give up. Besides, he had just cast three high-order spells that had done exactly nothing, and was beginning to think wizardry simply didn’t work on the mirror. He wanted to find something that would affect the glass.
“It would be unfortunate,” he repeated. “But I don’t think it’ll happen. Why would it? What power would that reveal? Esku!“