“Thirteen,” the spriggan said.
Gresh frowned. He was using up his twenty questions faster than he liked.
He had made progress, though; knowing that the spriggan had turned aside at the Gulf of the East and crossed the toll bridge on the Great River meant that it had, indeed, come from the Small Kingdoms.
But how far had it come? Where in the Small Kingdoms had it started? Gresh couldn’t very well search all of the two hundred or more little principalities for one little hand-mirror.
“How long did it take you to walk from the mirror to the first big water? How many mornings?”
The spriggan turned up empty palms. “Don’t know,” it said. “Didn’t count. Is fourteen?”
“Yes,” Gresh admitted, annoyed with himself for wasting a question. He knew the spriggan couldn’t count, and the stupid little thing probably hadn’t maintained anything like a steady pace in its journeying.
A thought struck him. Had it started in the Small Kingdoms? What if it had started east of the Small Kingdoms, in the Great Eastern Desert?
“Have you ever seen a desert?” he asked. “A big sandy place, where no one lives and there are no trees or farms?”
“No,” the spriggan said. “Would be no fun, huh?” It hesitated. “Fiveteen?”
So the mirror was definitely in the Small Kingdoms. He had five questions left to narrow it down.
“Do you know which kingdom the mirror is in?”
“No. Not good with names. Or kingdoms. Sixteen, yes?”
That was no surprise. “Is the mirror in the mountains, or on the plain, or in the forests?”
“Um….” The spriggan was clearly struggling to think. “Yes,” it said. “Seventeen. That almost twenty?”
“Getting close,” Gresh said. “But you didn’t answer the question—which is it, in the mountains or on the plain or in the forest?”
“Mirror is in mountain,” the spriggan said. “Eighteen.”
“No, that’s just seventeen! You didn’t answer the question the first time.”
“Wasn’t same question! Did answer!”
“It was the same question! You just didn’t hear it right the first time.”
“Was two questions!”
Gresh glared at the spriggan, and the spriggan glared back. Then something registered.
“Wait a minute,” Gresh said. “Did you say the mirror is in a mountain? You mean inside a mountain?”
“Yes,” the spriggan said, folding its spindly arms across its narrow chest. “Said that, meant that. Nineteen.”
“It’s in a cave?” Gresh said, before realizing that he might have just thrown away his last question.
Gresh caught himself, closed his lips tight, closed his eyes, and did not correct the spriggan. Instead he tried to think what else he could ask.
He opened his eyes and glanced at Twilfa, who had obviously been listening and had, just like him, barely caught herself before calling out a correction. He could see her biting her lip as she turned away and hurried down the passageway to the kitchen, out of sight.
Gresh had no idea how many more questions he could get away with; it could be just one, or it could be a dozen before the spriggan caught on. He couldn’t afford to waste any.
“What time of day does the sun first shine in the mouth of the cave?” he asked.
The spriggan considered that for a moment, then said, “Middle of morning, maybe? Not sure. Um…. eleventeen?”
Then the cave mouth faced more east than west and was probably on the eastern slope of a mountain.
“From the mouth of the cave, what buildings could you see? Castles, towers, farmhouses, villages, anything?”
“Only building was broken one. Castle or tower or something. Don’t know names of buildings.” The spriggan looked puzzled. “Is eleventeen? Said that before?”
“No, you didn’t say it before,” Gresh lied as he considered that. “Eleventeen is right.”
A ruin. Nothing else. That made sense; if there were inhabitants in the area they might have noticed the steady stream of spriggans coming down from the cave. Word would have gotten around.
Or up from the cave, he reminded himself. Caves could occur at the bottoms of mountains as well as the tops.
This one, wherever it was, was in sight of a ruined fortification in otherwise uninhabited terrain, far enough from civilization that no one had recognized it as the source of spriggans.
Unfortunately, to the best of Gresh’s knowledge, that described a good-sized portion of the mountainous central Small Kingdoms, from Zedmor in the northwest to Lumeth of the Towers in the southeast.
Lumeth of the Towers…could the cave be in sight of those towers, the gigantic ancient ruins rumored to be older than humanity itself?
But there were three of those, not just one, according to the travelers Gresh had spoken with.
“When you came out of the cave and went west over the mountains, what did you find?”
The spriggan blinked at him. It hesitated.
“Rocks,” it said at last. “Trees. Lots of trees. Twelve…twelveteen? Not sound right.”
“Twelveteen,” Gresh said. “You saw forests.” That narrowed down the search; Gresh knew that the southern end of the mountain range extended into open grasslands, and the forests that had once covered the northern end had been cleared for farming. He had had reason to learn such details, since some of the ingredients he sold included forest products—leaves from the topmost branch of a sixty-foot oak, for example, or dew from the underside of a fiddler fern.
Forests—so it wasn’t in Lumeth or Calimor, or anywhere north of Vlagmor. What could he ask that would narrow it down further?
“Did you see a lake as you traveled westward through the forest, or cross a river?”
“No. No lake. No rivers in forest, just little streams. Didn’t cross big river until the long bridge with the guards. And that…thirteenteen? No, that twenty! Twenty, twenty, twenty! Right, twenty?”
“Twenty,” Gresh admitted.
So the mirror was in a cave on the eastern side of a mountain somewhere between Vlagmor and Calimor, and not in the central area where the spriggan’s westward march would have encountered Ekeroa’s lake, or the river that drained the lake and much of the western mountains into the Gulf of the East.
Karanissa had mentioned Dwomor and Aigoa. Gresh was not sure exactly where those were, but he thought they lay somewhere not too far from Ekeroa. If the mirror were still in Dwomor, and Dwomor was where Gresh had thought it was, and the spriggan headed west, it should have seen the lake—but it hadn’t.
That was interesting, but not necessarily significant. Even if the cave was directly east of the lake, if the creature hadn’t headed due west over the mountains it might have missed the water. Depending what time of year it had emerged from the cave, the sun might have risen well to the south of due east, so that it might have headed northwest….
“Go now?” the spriggan asked, interrupting his chain of thought. “Please?”
“Fine,” Gresh said. He did not think he was going to get any more useful information out of the creature. He had used up his questions. He glared at the spilled blood and broken glass, thinking he hadn’t gotten much for the price. “You can go—but don’t come back, ever!” He shook a warning finger at the little creature. “I don’t want ever to see you again!”
“Yes, yes. Not come back. Promise.”
“Good enough.” He stepped aside and even opened the door. The spriggan dashed past him into the street, squeaking wordlessly.
Gresh stood in the door for a moment, watching it flee. He saw his sister Chira approaching, her sorcerer’s pack slung on her shoulder. She waved cheerily, and he waved in return. Cleaning up the blood would have to wait—it had probably already spread as far as it was going to and would have soaked into the planking anyway. It might well need magic to remove it. Talking to his sorcerous sister was more important; he tried not to waste anyone’s time but his own.
A moment later, after apologizing for the mess, he was ushering her to the chairs in the corner and calling to Twilfa to fetch tea.
“So, little brother, what can I do for you?” Chira asked happily, as she tucked her skirt under her and settled onto the velvet. She gave the broken jar a quick glance, then looked at him expectantly as she slid her bag from her shoulder and lowered it to the floor.
Gresh smiled at being called “little brother.” He was over six feet tall, at least six inches taller than Chira, and given his solidly-muscled build and her slim figure, he probably weighed twice what she did. All the same, the four-and-a-half-year difference in their ages ensured that he would always be “little brother” to her.
“I need to find a particular enchanted mirror,” he said. “It’s in a cave somewhere in the Small Kingdoms, in the central mountains—not the area right around Ekeroa, but somewhere between Vlagmor and Calimor, probably on the eastern slopes. A couple of magicians have tried to find it with various methods and failed, but so far as I know they didn’t try sorcery.”
“What kind of mirror?”
Gresh held out his hands as Karanissa had. “A hand mirror, roughly this size,” he said.
Chira looked down at her pack for a moment, considering. “Nothing comes immediately to mind,” she said. “It’s in a cave, you said?”
“So I can’t follow the sunlight to it. And mirrors don’t have any special smell to track. What sort of enchantment is on it?”
Gresh hesitated. “A faulty version of Lugwiler’s Haunting Phantasm,” he said.
“Yes, of course.”
“No ‘of course’ about it,” Chira said, reaching for the shoulder strap of her bag. “There are plenty of other kinds of enchantment.”
“Well, yes, but…you know I work mostly with wizards. And what other kind of magic would make it so hard to find?”
“Demonology. And some kinds of sorcery—we do work with mirrors sometimes.”
“True, true. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be sorry.” She waved a hand in dismissal. “You’re right, you mostly work with wizards, I know that. And I owe you. We both know that. So tell me about Lugwiler’s Haunting Phantasm—is that one that produces smoke?”
“No, that’s one…well, it doesn’t matter what it ordinarily does….”
“It might,” she interrupted.
“…but this mirror produces spriggans.”
Chira stopped moving, one hand holding the strap at her knee, the other tucked at her side. She stared at him.
“Spriggans?” she said. She glanced at the pool of dragon’s blood. “Like the one I saw running out of here?”
“Yes. Like that one—and yes, that one broke a jar of very expensive blood. Spriggans are a huge nuisance, and this mirror generates them. In fact, it may be the only source.”
“Someone knows where the spriggans came from?”
“So they tell me.”
“And they’ve hired you to find it?”
“Why are we negotiating? Because we haven’t agreed….”
“Why do they want you to find it?”
“To destroy it, I think.”
“They don’t know where it is?”
“No. Spriggans carried it off and hid it in a cave, apparently.”
“Your customer told you that?”
“That spriggans carried it off, yes. I found out about the cave myself.”
“How did…. No, never mind. I’m sure it’s a trade secret. Except…if one of our sisters could tell you it was in a cave, why couldn’t she tell you where?”
Gresh smiled. Chira did indeed know his methods. “It wasn’t anyone in the family,” he said. “It was an independent informant. He’d seen the cave, but didn’t know the route, or exactly where it was.”
Chira shook her head in amazement. “How do you find these people?”
Gresh turned up empty palms.
“Well, so someone’s hiring you to find this mirror and destroy it. You’re sure about that?”
“I’m sure about hiring me.”
“But destroying it? Not changing it to make something else, something worse?”
That possibility had not even occurred to Gresh. He wondered if Karanissa’s good looks had biased him, and had perhaps kept him from considering potential dangers. “I don’t know for certain,” he admitted. “But rest assured, now that you’ve pointed out the risk, I’ll make absolutely sure of their intentions before I let anyone else touch the thing. Assuming, of course, that I find it.”
Chira snorted. “You’ll find it,” she said. “You always find what you go after, one way or another. You always have. Remember when Mother hid the candy when we were little? It didn’t matter where she put it; you’d always have a piece by bedtime.”
Just then Twilfa emerged, carrying a tray bearing a pot and two cups of tea.
“Just two?” Chira asked, as she accepted hers.
“Mine’s in the kitchen,” Twilfa said.
“You’re welcome to listen,” Gresh said. “It’s all in the family.”
“No, that’s all right,” Twilfa replied. She set the teapot on a nearby shelf, then turned, tray in hand, and retreated toward the kitchen.
Gresh frowned at her departing figure.
“I make her nervous,” Chira said quietly, cradling her teacup.
“You’re her sister,” Gresh protested.
“I’m twice her age,” Chira pointed out. “I was halfway through my apprenticeship by the time she could crawl.”
“Well, I was about thirteen, and an apprentice myself,” Gresh said. “It’s not as if we were playmates, either.”
“But she works for you. She sees you every day. And you don’t carry around a bag of mysterious ancient talismans.”
“No, I sit in a shop full of magic! Blood and body parts on every shelf and a vault with explosive seals only I can open!” Then he waved it away. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
“We’ve always been a competitive family,” Chira said. “You were special, being the only boy, so maybe you didn’t….”
“I noticed,” Gresh interrupted. “I definitely noticed. But that doesn’t mean I like it when Twilfa treats you like a stranger.”
“Not a stranger,” Chira said.
“Not a sister, either!”
Chira raised her empty hands. “Never mind that. I’m not here to see Twilfa, or to talk about her.”
“Fine. At any rate, I want to find the mirror. Can you help? And rest assured, I won’t just hand it over to my employer with no questions asked.”
“I can’t see how I can find the mirror directly,” she replied. “It doesn’t give off light or sound or odor, so far as you know?”
“And it was an ordinary mirror before it was enchanted, not made of anything unusual?”
“Just a mirror—polished metal, or glass and silver, I suppose.”
“Then I can’t think of anything that would find the mirror itself.” She hauled her pack up onto her lap as she spoke and began unbuckling the straps. “But I do have something that might be useful.”
She rummaged in the bag as she said, “I have something you can use to find and follow spriggans. Maybe when you get close you can use it to backtrack to the mirror.”
Gresh nodded thoughtfully. “That might help,” he agreed.
She pulled a talisman from the pack, a dully gleaming metal disk that looked rather like a hand-mirror itself, and held it out. “It isn’t specific to spriggans,” she said. “But it can tell you when anything is moving within a hundred feet of you and follow the motion, even if you can’t see anything yourself. You can tell it to watch one movement and ignore another, or tell it to watch for a particular size or speed.”
Gresh accepted the disk warily and looked at its round surface; his reflected gaze looked back at him, far more faintly than from an actual mirror, but still clear enough.
“How does it work?” he said.