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The Spriggan Mirror - Chapter Fifteen

For their second day of searching Gresh insisted on an earlier start and told Tobas to start just to the west of the ruined town. He also stuck a long-handled net through his belt before departure and added a few snares to the items already in his little shoulder-pack.

They spent an hour or so exploring from the air, and Gresh was able to locate what appeared to be a point of origin from which spriggans were radiating to the north and east—but not to the south, because that would have led them through the no-wizardry area, and very few to the west, directly over the mountains. That neatly explained why so few found their way to Dwomor, which lay to the southwest.

Gresh had Tobas circle over the area, looking for a cave.

The area was a mountainside facing east, and much of it did indeed have a view of the ruined town on the western slope of the next mountain over. The fallen castle lay beyond that, at the foot of the cliff east of the town. A trail led off to the southwest, and Tobas assured him that that led, by a somewhat circuitous route, back to Dwomor, but it passed through the no-wizardry bubble, so the spriggans presumably avoided it.

The forest did not completely cover this particular mountain; several areas were bare brown rock. There were grassy and mossy patches, as well, and brush-covered areas where the slope was too steep or the soil too thin for trees. Gresh scanned these carefully, looking for a cave-mouth, but he saw none.

Chira’s talisman was sparkling and sizzling with spriggans as they circled, and here they were moving in every direction, so that no exact center could be found, no spot from which they all radiated. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of spriggans in the bushes and trees below. Gresh saw a few running across open country, as well.

It was obvious that some of them did not immediately leave the area once they had emerged from the mirror. Gresh wondered what they found to eat; some of the bushes had apparently been nibbled on, but that would hardly feed the numbers the talisman was reporting. The wizards had assured him that spriggans didn’t need to eat, that they were incapable of starving to death, but they certainly liked to eat and felt hungry when they didn’t. There couldn’t possibly be enough food for the spriggans below unless they were eating tree bark and dry grass, or just dirt.

In fact, the number of spriggans below was rather intimidating. Somehow Gresh had assumed that as soon as they came out of the mirror they all promptly marched off looking for people to annoy, but apparently that was not exactly the case. Karanissa had said there were half a million of the little pests in the World, and Gresh had pictured them being fairly evenly spread over the entirety of it, from Vond to Tintallion, but now he was beginning to wonder whether a significant portion hadn’t stayed right here. Chira’s talisman was glittering as if a wizard had cast some sort of glamour on it.

For the first time it occurred to Gresh that he might not be able to simply walk into the cave and pick up the mirror. If there really were hundreds of spriggans down there, and they wanted to defend it, he might face a real challenge.

Even after a dozen circles he could not see a cave anywhere. He had to conclude that it was under the trees somewhere. He didn’t want to go over the whole mountainside on foot, but it didn’t seem he was going to spot it from the air.

“Land,” he told Tobas.

“Anywhere in particular?” the wizard asked.

“No. Wherever is convenient.”

Tobas nodded and sent the carpet downward, landing it on a relatively level patch of meadow well up the mountain. Spriggans fled squealing as its shadow swept over them, and the carpet came to rest, crushing a few square yards of delicate yellow wildflowers.

Gresh stood up and looked around. Downslope to the east the meadow ended in a rocky outcropping and a sudden drop-off, and below that was a patch of forest—mostly birch and aspen, from what Gresh could see. To the north was a stretch of broken ground and tangled brush. Westward the meadow rose gradually for perhaps fifty yards, then suddenly gave way to steep bare stone jutting upward toward the peak. To the south the meadow dropped away at the shoulder of the mountain, providing a spectacular view of forested hills rolling away into the distance.

Gresh pulled the net from his belt, holding it halfway along the handle, and looked about. He had seen dozens of spriggans as the carpet descended, but they had all apparently taken cover. “Hai!” he called. “Anyone here?”

“They were all over the place a moment ago,” Tobas said.

“They still are,” Gresh said. He had spotted several of the silly creatures, crouching down to blend in with the tall grass, weeds, and flowers. It appeared there was a reason they were green. “Anyone want to talk to me a little?” he called.

“We have fun?” someone ventured warily.

“We might,” Gresh said.

“You put down net?”

“If one of you comes out to talk to me, I’ll put down the net.”

Several squeaky voices whispered to one another; then one spriggan stood up. “Spriggan talk,” it said.

“Good!” Gresh tossed the net onto the carpet, then knelt down in the grass. “Come and talk.”

The spriggan approached cautiously. “You want what?”

“I want to know where the mirror is that you came out of,” Gresh said. “I know it’s in a cave somewhere on this mountain, but I don’t know exactly where. Can you show me?”

The spriggan considered that for a moment, then said, “That not sound like fun.”

“Could you show me anyway?”

“Promise no net?”

“If you show me, I won’t net you. I promise.”

The creature hesitated, clearly thinking hard.

“No tell!” another spriggan called.

“Not think it good idea….”

“I’ll give you candy,” Gresh said, before the spriggan could complete a firm refusal. He reached back and unslung the pack from his shoulder. He had thought he might need to bribe the little pests at some point, and his pack held a pound of honey-drops.

A pound might not be enough for the occasion, though—he glanced around and realized there were hundreds of spriggans surrounding the carpet. They were not bothering to hide very carefully anymore. He had never seen anything remotely close to this many at once before.

“Candy?” the spriggan said brightly. Several other little green heads popped up here and there.

“First show me where the mirror is.”

“Um. Not sure….”

“Well, whoever shows me gets the candy.” He opened his pack, found the bag of candy, and pulled a golden honey-drop the size of his thumb out of the paper sack. He held it up for the spriggans to see. It occurred to him that a candy that a human could pop in his mouth and suck down to nothing in a couple of minutes would be the size of a whole meal to one of the little creatures.

Oooooh!

“Show! Show!”

“I show you!”

Half a dozen eager spriggans jumped out of the tall grass, reaching for the candy he held high above their heads.

“Show me, and I’ll give you the candy,” he called.

“This way! This way!” shouted a dozen spriggans, even as a dozen others tried to shush them. Gresh had trouble keeping track of any individual in the tall grass, but he could plainly see the general movement toward the west, toward the exposed stone of the upper slope. He followed, holding the candy high in one hand, the open pack again slung on his shoulder and held in place with the other hand.

“Gresh?” Tobas called.

“Stay with the carpet,” Gresh told him. “In fact, you might want to get airborne, in case we need to make a quick escape.”

“Yes, of course,” Tobas called. The grass rustled as the carpet rose a foot or so. Gresh did not look back, but kept his attention focused on the spriggans as he followed them toward the rocks.

As he walked he studied the stony slope ahead, but he still did not see a cave mouth; it must, he thought, be hidden somehow. Could someone have cast an illusion spell, perhaps? Spriggans seemed to have some magical abilities, such as their talent at opening locks, but surely they couldn’t have done such a thing. Had some wizard done them a favor, for some reason? If not, then the spriggans had been either very lucky or very clever to have found such a well-concealed refuge. There were a few cracks and crevices in the rocks, but no cave….

Then one of the spriggans hopped up on a rock and thrust its hand into one of the cracks. “Here! Here!” it called. “Cave here!”

Several others quickly joined it, squeaking and pointing. Gresh’s heart sank as he broke into a trot.

He began cursing himself for a fool as he approached the rocks. He had been thinking of the cave as one a grown man could fit in, but that was stupid. Why in the World would spriggans want one that big? They would undoubtedly feel much safer with their precious mirror tucked into a cave a human couldn’t fit in—an opening an eight-inch spriggan could slip through would be just a useless crack to a six-foot man!

He strode up to the rocks and peered into the crack the spriggans were pointing to; sure enough, he could see no back to it. Instead of ending, it seemed to open out into darkness inside the stony wall. The crack ran about four feet across the slope, between two stone slabs, and when he thrust in his arm he could not feel anything but cool air.

But the opening was no more than six inches high at its widest point.

He turned and looked at the opposite slope and discovered that the trees hid most of the ruined town from here, but one moderately large stone structure happened to be plainly visible. It was not a castle or tower, but to a spriggan it might well look like one—it was round on one end, and roofless.

That was obviously what his informant had seen. Everything fit. He turned back to the horizontal slit in the rocks.

“The mirror is in there?” he asked.

The shrill chorus of “Yes, yes, yes!” was deafening.

“Candy now!” a spriggan said. The chorus began chanting, “Candy, candy, candy!”

“You promised!” shrilled one voice.

“Can you bring the mirror out, so I can see it?” Gresh asked.

The hundred voices were suddenly stilled. For a moment the only sounds were rustling leaves and the wind in the grass.

Then one shocked voice said, “Not allowed!”

“Mirror stays in cave,” another added.

“Spriggans could die,” said a third.

“Promised candy if we showed cave,” someone said. “Didn’t say fetch mirror.”

“How do I know it’s really in there?” Gresh countered.

The spriggans looked at one another; then a large brownish one said, “Wait.” With surprising agility, it hopped up to the crack in the rocks and trotted into the opening—it barely had to duck at all

Gresh ducked his head, though, to peer into the cave after the spriggan. He shaded his eyes and tried to follow the creature’s movement.

It was sliding down a slope; Gresh could see its brown back as it slipped into the gloom of the interior. The crack did open out, and the spriggan vanished into the darkness.

“Bring light!” the spriggan called.

Gresh blinked, then looked around. He pulled up a clump of dead weeds and twisted them into a makeshift torch, then called to Tobas, “Do you have a tinderbox?”

“Something better,” Tobas called back, as he fumbled at his belt-pouch. “Hold that thing up.”

Gresh obeyed, and a moment later Tobas did something with his dagger and a bit of orange powder, and one end of the bundle of weeds burst into vigorous flame—so vigorous, in fact, that Gresh had to move hastily to avoid being burned. He flung the flaming stalks into the cave.

Then he stooped and peered in after them and saw the brownish spriggan dragging the burning twist of weeds. The flame illuminated the cave’s interior quite well.

Gresh was astonished by what he saw; once past the impossibly narrow entrance the cave was really quite good-sized. It extended at least fifteen or twenty feet back into the mountain, and much of it was high enough that a man could stand upright. It seemed to extend across the full width of the rock face, at least fifty feet from end to end—it was hard to be sure, with only the central portion lit. This whole section of slope, it appeared, was hollow. It looked as if a chunk of the mountainside had folded down upon itself, long ago—as if a cliff or ledge had collapsed and wedged itself across the top of what had been a small gully, covering it completely but not filling it in.

There were dozens of spriggans in there, shielding their eyes against the sudden glare, as the brownish one stood in the center of the cave holding his improvised torch near a small shining disk. As Gresh watched, a pair of scrawny green arms rose up out of the disk’s surface, as if it were the surface of a tiny pool, and then a spriggan pulled itself up with those arms, hopping out of what could only be the infamous mirror.

“There!” the brownish one called. “See? See?”

“I see,” Gresh acknowledged. “Come on up and get your candy, then.”

“Me, too!” shrieked one of the others, and a wild chorus of squeals erupted.

The brownish spriggan left the torch in the cave as it scampered back up to the opening, and out into the sunlight; Gresh waited until it emerged, then handed it the large honey-drop.

The spriggan promptly stuffed the candy in its mouth and smiled stickily at Gresh.

A hundred others shrieked, and two hundred hands stretched out hungrily. Gresh quickly began distributing the candy, making sure no one got more than one piece.

The bag emptied very quickly, and he handed it to a spriggan while saying apologetically, “All gone.”

Nooooo!” wailed a score of high-pitched voices, as the one with the bag turned the sack inside out and began desperately licking the last bits of sweet from it. Gresh held out his empty hands and retreated away from the cave mouth.

“Tobas,” he said in a conversational tone. “I think we should go now.” He glanced back over his shoulder.

The carpet had risen to perhaps three feet above the ground, and Tobas was watching uneasily as spriggans jumped up and down around it, trying to leap up onto it.

“Tobas?”

The carpet drifted higher, but no closer.

Tobas!”

The wizard finally looked up and noticed Gresh moving away from the cave. He wiggled his fingers, and the carpet came swooping across the meadow. Gresh turned and ran for it, leaping onto it as Tobas brought it past.

A moment later the two men were seated safely on the carpet, Tobas at the front and Gresh near the back, sailing some twenty feet above the ground. The meadow below them seemed to be covered in spriggans shrieking for candy or shouting about mirrors and promises.

“It’s in there,” Gresh said grimly.

“What is?” Tobas asked.

“The mirror, of course. It’s in the cave there.”

“What cave? I saw you poking at the rocks, but I didn’t see a cave.”

Gresh let his breath out in an exasperated sigh. “There’s a cave,” he said. “But the entrance is much too narrow for humans. The spriggans can climb in and out easily, but we can’t.”

“Oh. And the mirror’s inside? You’re sure?”

“I saw it,” Gresh said. “I saw a spriggan climb out of it.”

“So it’s really there? It’s not a fake?”

“Unless someone is casting some rather sophisticated illusions, it’s really in there.”

“We have to get in there, then.”

“Yes, of course,” Gresh agreed. “I had figured that much out myself. We need to get in there, or get the mirror out somehow. The question is, how? The spriggans don’t want to bring it out; they seem to have some sort of agreement among themselves that it must stay in there.”

“Why?”

“How should I know? One of them said that if it was brought out they could die, but I don’t have any idea why.”

“So we can’t just bribe them to fetch it? I saw how much they liked that candy of yours.”

“I don’t think so—not unless we bring enough candy for the entire half-million of the little pests, and I’m not sure even that would do it.”

“Then how can we get it out?”

Gresh grimaced. “You’re the wizard,” he said. “I was hoping you might have an idea.”

“You’re supposed to be the expert on fetching things.”

“And I can find a way, don’t you ever doubt it—but I hoped you might have a nice easy one.”

Tobas considered that for a moment, looking down at the rocks and the seething mass of spriggans. “Ordinarily I might suggest using Riyal’s Transformation to shrink down to mouse size, but somehow I don’t think I want to go down there while I’m smaller than a spriggan,” he said.

“We might keep that as a last resort,” Gresh said.

“The Cloak of Ethereality would let me walk through the stone,” Tobas said. “But it only works on the wizard casting the spell, so I’d need to go in alone, and I couldn’t carry anything while ethereal, so I’d need to stay in the cave until it wore off and then hand the mirror out to someone.”

“That might work.”

“Then I’d need to use it again to get out. It takes eight hours to wear off—there’s no known way to reduce the time.”

“It still might work.”

“I’m not thrilled by the idea,” Tobas said. “Are there spriggans in the cave? Because they might not be very happy to see me in there, ethereal or not. And whoever I pass the mirror to… well, I wouldn’t be able to help much if anything happened before the eight hours were up.”

“Is there some way you could levitate the mirror out?”

Tobas considered that for a moment, then turned up an empty hand. “Varen’s Levitation would work if I could touch the mirror, and if wizardry will work on it—if it’s magic-resistant, like spriggans….”

“You need to touch it?” Gresh interrupted.

“Yes.”

“That won’t work, then, unless you get into the cave; it’s much too far back to reach from outside.”

“Oh.”

That exchange reminded Gresh of something, though. “Could your wife levitate it out?”

“Who, Alorria? She’s not a wizard….”

“No, your other wife. Karanissa. She’s a witch, and she can levitate. I saw her do it in Ethshar of the Spices.”

“Oh! Oh, of course. I don’t know—she probably could. But I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“Well, you have some time to think of a better one on the flight back to the castle.”

Tobas considered that, looked down at the meadow, then asked, “What if the spriggans move the mirror again, now that they know we’re looking for it? What if they hide it somewhere even worse?”

“If we’re quick we can be back here by mid-afternoon. I don’t think they’re organized enough to move it that fast. Besides, where would they find a better hiding place than that cave?”

“You’re probably right,” Tobas agreed. He looked up at the sun, only just past its zenith, then down at the meadow, where there were no signs of organized activity of any kind, but merely dozens of silly little creatures running about aimlessly. “You’re right. If we’re quick.”

“And…?”

“And we should go.” He gestured, and the carpet surged forward, picking up speed. As the wind whipped Gresh’s hair back, the carpet curved its path to the southwest, toward Dwomor Keep, leaving the spriggans, the meadow, the cave, and the mirror behind.