While they waited, Gresh thought over the situation.
It seemed to him that they were reaching a satisfactory conclusion to matters. With any luck his message had been received and understood in the world from which spriggans were reflected, and the mirror would be shut away in a box somewhere, ending the supply of spriggans. That removed it as any serious threat to the World. The half-million spriggans already in existence might be a nuisance, but they could be accepted; he did not want to aid in exterminating them. Ending the existence of half a million beings bright enough to talk, answer questions, and do all the other things that spriggans did struck him as a horrible idea, an unnecessary and unfair slaughter—after all, a good many of the spriggans had never bothered anyone, but had stayed here in the mountains guarding the mirror. That was almost noble, in a way.
As long as the mirror produced no more, Gresh considered the problem to be adequately solved.
His actual agreement with the Wizards’ Guild had been to deliver the mirror to Tobas, and he had every intention of doing that, so there was no problem there—except for the usual one of getting the Guild to live up to its end of the agreement. Tobas would undoubtedly tell them how he had not used any amazing magic or superhuman skills, but had merely backtracked the spriggans with common sense and a little sorcery, and there would also be the issue of not actually ensuring the mirror’s destruction, so the Guild might well try to wiggle out of paying him the promised youth spell. He would need to have arguments ready, pointing out that he was more than living up to his end of the bargain, and that the Guild would be well-served to see that he continued in his business as their best supplier of exotic ingredients.
Aside from preparing his arguments, there were still a few other loose ends, as well. He would need to see that the mirror was secure, tucked away somewhere no one untrustworthy would meddle with it, and where the spriggans couldn’t easily change their minds and steal it. If possible, he wanted to convince the Guild not to destroy it; that would be simpler if he could offer them a way to deal with troublesome existing spriggans. While he wanted the mirror shut away somewhere, it needed to be stored in such a way that if any more spriggans did emerge, the Guild would be alerted, and the matter could be dealt with.
Whoever was in charge of the mirror would want to be very sure that if it did produce more spriggans, those newly emerged spriggans could not carry the mirror off somewhere and hide it, starting the whole thing over again.
Besides the various aspects of the mirror and the spriggans and the Wizards’ Guild, there was one other loose end. He glanced at her.
The reflection of Karanissa’s reflection was sitting on a rock in the dimming twilight, watching the spriggans curiously.
She considered herself a person, but Gresh was not at all sure she was right. Presumably she was just as indestructible as the mirror’s other creations, just as bound to the mirror’s condition. She did not seem hostile or difficult—in fact, she seemed more passive than the original Karanissa—but simply letting her wander off into the mountains did not seem safe or humane.
Karanissa had said she wasn’t whole—perhaps something could be done about that. Gresh looked down at his open pack and the box of magical powders in the top.
Javan’s Restorative would not do any good; she had never been complete. Lirrim’s Rectification, though, might turn her into the fully human creature she was meant to be. She would still look just like Karanissa, but that was not really much of a problem. Gresh had met identical twins who seemed to lead individual lives.
Lirrim’s Rectification turned things into what they were meant to be, more or less. It was not always clear just what that was, since whatever power guided the spell did not always seem to use human logic, but in this case Gresh could see very few possibilities. It might do nothing, as it had on the mirror itself, but he thought it was more likely that it would turn a solidified image into whatever it was an image of. If so, it would turn the copy of Karanissa into a human being, and it would turn an ordinary spriggan into a real spriggan.
If it worked that way, then the Guild could use Lirrim’s Rectification on troublesome spriggans. They would become real spriggans, which were presumably mortal and could be harmed, imprisoned, or killed. Such a transformation would surely be an adequate threat and appropriate penalty for misbehaving reflections.
It would also mean there would be no need to destroy the mirror, though doing so would probably be far, far easier than casting Lirrim’s Rectification half a million times.
Of course, no one knew just what real spriggans were like. They were presumably somewhat larger than their images, but there might be other differences, as well. Gresh was not about to try the Rectification on any spriggans. Let some wizard make the experiment.
Gresh was not going to rush into using the spell on the image of Karanissa, either. For the present he just wanted to get the mirror safely stashed away somewhere such as Dwomor Keep. Once that was done….
“There,” Karanissa said. “It’s returned to normal.”
“Ah, good,” Gresh said. He lifted the pack off the mirror and quickly wrapped the glass in soft cloth, then tucked it away in the pack, below the box of powders.
Dozens of spriggans watched him do this; none moved to intervene. Apparently his partisans had convinced the rest.
He hoped his message had gotten through and been acted on—if not, he was going to have spriggans appearing in his backpack, which would be inconvenient, and he would need to find some other way to render the mirror harmless.
“You’ll let us go back to Dwomor now?” he asked the spriggans.
“Make promise! Make promise!”
“Yes, of course—but then we can go and take the mirror with us?”
“Take spriggans with you,” a large one said as solemnly as an eight-inch pop-eyed creature with a squeaky voice could.
Gresh stopped. “What?”
“Take spriggans!” several voices chorused.
Gresh considered for a moment.
They couldn’t mean they wanted to jam all half a million onto the carpet, or even just the thousand or two guarding the cave; even spriggans weren’t that stupid.
“You want to have a few spriggans there to make sure we take good care of the mirror?”
“How many?” he asked.
“I’ll take four,” Gresh announced. “That should be enough.”
There was some squeaking and muttering in response to that, but the objections did not seem very serious, so Gresh ignored them and started for the mouth of the cave.
The sun was well down now, the sky darkening. Clambering over the rocks was not particularly enjoyable in the fading light. Gresh had to watch his footing. Once he emerged onto the meadow, though, he looked up and found a pair of huge red eyes staring at him.
“Has anyone ever mentioned to you,” Tobas said conversationally, “that dragons have exceptionally good hearing?”
Gresh blinked. “I can’t say I knew that,” he replied warily.
“I hadn’t known it myself until I became a dragon,” Tobas said. “But I’ve found it’s quite true. Remarkably so. I heard every word you said to the spriggans.”
“Ah,” Gresh said, noticing just how large the dragon’s fangs were and that he could see a faint smoldering glow coming from somewhere behind those fangs.
“Tobas….” Karanissa began, from behind Gresh.
“Fortunately,” the dragon said, interrupting her, “I think it’s a reasonable agreement. Still, I would appreciate it if in the future you would at least try to obtain my consent before casting spells on me.”
“I was planning to,” Gresh said, trying to hide just how relieved he was. “I just wanted to get the hard part out of the way first, and I was fairly sure it would be easier to talk sense to you than to a horde of spriggans.”
“Hmph,” said Tobas, producing a faint shower of sparks. Gresh quickly brushed off one that landed on the shoulder of his tunic. “Shall we get on with it, then?”
“Keep the Spell of the Revealed Power handy, in case the spriggans change their minds,” Karanissa urged.
Gresh glanced at her, trying to assess whether she was genuinely just trying to offer a helpful suggestion, or if there was some other reason she might want her husband turned into a dragon again, or if she was being sarcastic.
He couldn’t tell. He liked to think he was fairly good at figuring women out, after growing up among twelve sisters, but he could read nothing from Karanissa’s expression. He decided not to worry about it as he readied the jar of orange powder that would cast Javan’s Restorative.
“You might want to tell Ali what’s happening,” Karanissa suggested.
“She’s feeding the baby,” Tobas said.
“All the more reason to avoid any big surprises.”
“Um,” Tobas said. He lifted his head and called, “Ali, Gresh is about to turn me back!”
“Good!” Alorria shouted back. “Your clothes are… well, I did my best.”
The dragon’s immense head swung back around and lowered down toward Gresh as he raised a generous pinch of orange powder. He flung it at the dragon and shouted, “Esku!”
The transformation was not quite as spectacular in this direction; rather than a golden flash and extensive reshaping, there was merely a flicker of blue, an odd shrinking, and then Tobas was standing in the meadow in human form, naked and blinking.
“Hai,” he said. “That was odd.” His voice was faint and unsteady. He turned his head to one side, then to the other. “It’s so stiff,” he said. “And everything’s so dim and warm and quiet.”
“What’s stiff?” Gresh asked.
“My neck.” The wizard stretched, rolling his head from side to side. “That long neck was really rather convenient.”
“You’ll have to tell us about it sometime,” Gresh said. “But first….” He flung a pinch of dark red powder at Tobas and proclaimed, “Never give anyone the spriggan mirror—esku!”
The powder flashed and vanished.
Another pinch followed before Tobas had even finished blinking.
“Never harm the spriggan mirror in any way—esku!”
Several nearby spriggans applauded at that.
Tobas raised an arm to shield his eyes as Gresh flung a third dose and announced, “Never take the spriggan mirror to a place where wizardry does not work—esku!”
The spriggans applauded more vigorously as Gresh capped the jars of powder and put them away. Tobas stood, looking around at the hundreds of leaping, cheering creatures.
Then Gresh pulled the wrapped mirror from his pack and ceremoniously handed it to Tobas.
“Your mirror, sir,” he said. “I expect my fee will be paid at the first opportunity.”
Tobas accepted it gingerly. He partially unwrapped it and peered at it in the gloom as he said, “You might have waited until I had my clothes on. And I can hardly see anything in this light!”
Karanissa stepped forward with a hand raised; a dull orange glow illuminated the glass disk in the wizard’s hand.
“That looks like it,” Tobas agreed, studying the mirror.
“We saw it produce spriggans,” Gresh said. “Unless there are two of the confounded things, that’s it.”
Tobas looked up. “But it’s not producing any spriggans now?”
“No. And with luck, it never will again. I can explain it to you later, if you like.”
“I heard most of it—dragons really do have good ears—but I’ll want you to do that.” He turned. “Ali, are you all right?”
“I’m fine. Can we go home now?”
“Yes,” Tobas said happily. “Yes, we can, as soon as I’m dressed.” He trotted toward the carpet holding the mirror triumphantly before him, while the spriggans cleared a path for him.
“Come on,” Gresh said, following in the naked wizard’s wake.
Karanissa hesitated. “Wait a minute,” she said. “What about my duplicate?”
Gresh paused, startled, then looked back.
The other Karanissa was still in the cave, watching events with evident incomprehension.
“Come on,” Gresh called to her, beckoning. “We’ll take you with us.”
The reflection hesitated, then followed.
A moment later, when the mirror was safely tucked away in the wizard’s leather valise and Tobas was pulling his rather damaged tunic over his head, Gresh and the two Karanissas arrived at the carpet; Alorria stared up at them in shocked horror.
“Two of her! Tobas, what’s going on? How can there be two of Kara?”
“We had a little magical accident,” Gresh explained. “Don’t worry about her; she’s quite harmless—and she’s not really another Karanissa. She just looks like her. See, she’s two inches shorter?”
“But….” Alorria was plainly not happy, but was having trouble finding the words to express her displeasure. She looked down at baby Alris, who had fallen asleep at the breast and was not helping her mother convey her annoyance.
“Ask her, Ali,” Karanissa said. “She’ll tell you she isn’t me.”
“I don’t know exactly who I am,” the reflection said. “I was only created a little over an hour ago.”
“Are you married to my husband?” Alorria demanded, pointing at Tobas as he struggled to get his left arm into a badly sewn sleeve. Her motion jiggled Alris, who burped without awakening.
“Not that I know of,” the image replied, puzzled. “Wasn’t he a dragon originally? You were married to a dragon?”
“Only for a little while,” Gresh said. “I turned Tobas into a dragon for a few hours, and now he’s back to his proper form.”
“Oh,” the reflection said, sounding unconvinced. “I’m fairly sure I never married a dragon. Or anyone else, for that matter. Isn’t there some sort of ceremony when one gets married?”
“It is customary,” Gresh agreed. “So if we’ve established that Tobas has not acquired a third wife, could we please get moving? It’s already almost dark, and it’s a long way to Dwomor Keep.”
“But if she isn’t really Karanissa, why is she coming with us?” Alorria asked.
“Because stranding her alone in the mountains at night seems rude,” Gresh said. “Now, may we please find seats?”
Alorria did not seem entirely satisfied, but she moved to one side and let the others crowd onto the rug.
“Four spriggans!” a spriggan reminded Gresh, as he pushed several of the little creatures clear of the carpet. “You take four!”
“Right,” he said. He pointed to four who happened to be nearby. “You, you, you, and you. The rest of you, clear away.”
The chosen four squealed with delight and clambered onto Gresh’s lap, pushing at one another to make room. One of them yipped, “Fun!”
“We’re taking them with us?” Alorria protested, staring at the foursome in horror and clutching her sleeping child to her breast.
“Yes,” Tobas and Karanissa said in unison, as they took their own seats. Karanissa took a moment to get her reflection settled onto the fabric; then Tobas turned to look at the others. He gave Alorria an embarrassed glance, then whispered to Gresh, “Could you use the Restorative on my clothes? I know it’s waste to use high-level magic for such a thing, and Ali did her best, but she hadn’t come prepared, and I’m afraid these breeches are chafing horribly.”
“If it will get us airborne,” Gresh said, fumbling to find the right jar of powder. Karanissa provided a handful of light, and a moment later a faint blue shimmer suddenly settled Tobas’s rumpled garments back into their proper shapes.
Gresh was still tucking the box back into his shoulder-pack when Tobas settled cross-legged on the fabric and gestured. The carpet rose silently and smoothly.
“Can you see well enough to get us safely back to the castle?” Gresh asked, as he looked around at the blackening sky and shadow-filled landscape. Stars were appearing overhead, and he wondered whether the greater moon would be visible that night, and when the lesser would next rise. He could not see either of them at the moment.
Some of the stars didn’t seem to be staying; apparently clouds were starting to gather, which would not help matters.
“I hope so,” Tobas said, turning the carpet to the southwest. “I’m hoping to navigate by the glow from the castle windows.”
“They don’t close the shutters?” Gresh asked, startled.
“They usually miss a few,” Karanissa reassured him. Tobas was too busy peering into the gloom to respond.
“We could stay up here on the mountain until morning,” Gresh suggested, as he noticed the carpet drifting closer to a sharp-looking tree than he liked. “It might be safer than flying in the dark.”
“No!” answered Tobas and both his wives. The carpet picked up speed.
“I wish I knew where we’re going,” the reflection said plaintively, as she looked around in obvious consternation. “It’s windy up here.”
“We’re going to Dwomor Keep, assuming we can find it in the dark,” Gresh told her. “It’s a big old castle, but reasonably comfortable.”
“Is it? Why are we going there?”
Gresh tried to explain, with both the human reflection and the four spriggans listening intently and asking questions, and that kept him and the real Karanissa busy for the better part of an hour. By then the sky was overcast, hiding the stars and moons, so that the carpet seemed to be soaring through nothingness. Alorria was dozing, and Alris was still sound asleep.
Gresh leaned forward and whispered to Tobas, “Do you know where we are?”
“No,” Tobas admitted. He explained that he no longer had any idea where they were. He was just looking for a light, any light, that he could aim for. Gresh pointed out a faint orange glow far off to their left, but Tobas shook his head.
“That’s not it,” he said.
“How do you know?” Gresh demanded.
“Because that’s the Tower of Flame,” Tobas said. “I’ve seen it before. It’s a good thirty leagues away. It would take hours to get there, and there’s nothing there we want.”
“Oh,” Gresh said, staring at the distant glimmer. He had heard of the legendary Tower of Flame all his life, but he had never seen it before.
From this distance it really didn’t look like much.
“There’s a light,” the reflection said, pointing ahead
“Where?” both men asked, turning to see.
She was right; a faint flicker of orange was visible, and Tobas steered the carpet toward it. He did not know what the light was, but it appeared man-made and was not the Tower of Flame. At this point that was good enough.
They wound up as guests for the night at a small farmhouse where the man of the house had been out with a lantern, checking on a soon-to-calve cow.
When they first arrived and asked the startled and drowsy farmer where they were, they were assured that they were only a mile or two from Dwomor Keep. Upon hearing the castle was close Tobas wanted to continue on and try to find it, despite the now-total darkness, but just then the first drops of rain began to fall, and the others unanimously overruled him. They hastily hoisted their luggage, rolled up the carpet, and hurried into the cottage, Gresh almost banging his forehead on the lintel.
After the wife and teenaged sons were awakened, Gresh paid the family of farmers generously for a late supper and the use of several beds, even though the beds were just piles of straw and some rather malodorous blankets crowded into various corners of house and barn.
Unlike the sleeping accommodations, the meal was entirely satisfactory, as the family had just that day butchered a hog and had a good supply of vegetables and beer to accompany the fresh pork. The entire party ate heartily after their long and weary day, then tottered off to bed with as little conversation as possible.
Gresh had slept on worse bedding on occasion, on various buying trips; he awoke feeling fine. Most of the others had no real problems, but Alorria had not done as well as some and was alternately yawning and complaining as the company gathered in the main room of the farmhouse shortly after dawn.
Gresh was mildly surprised to discover that all four spriggans had stayed the night and not wandered off seeking fun, but there they were when he arose, clustered around Tobas and his luggage, ready to continue their adventure. As their hosts fried up a pound or so of bacon for breakfast, Gresh and Tobas studied the spriggans carefully and concluded that these were, in fact, the same four, and there were no others to be seen, either running loose or in Tobas’s valise. The mirror had not produced any more during the night. Presumably the mirror in the spriggans’ world was safely shut away in a box and would never again spew unwelcome visitors into the World.
Since they had opened the valise to check for spriggans, Tobas lifted out the mirror for inspection. “You really did it,” he said, marveling as he turned carefully wrapped glass over in his hands. “You got me the mirror.”
“It’s my job,” Gresh replied gruffly. “You saw it last night.”
“But it seems more real by daylight. Before I’d only just been turned back to my natural form and was surrounded by spriggans. It was hard to be sure just what was real under those circumstances!”
Gresh could not argue with that.
An hour later the ten of them—Gresh, Tobas, Alorria, Alris, Karanissa, the reflected Karanissa, and the four spriggans—spilled off the carpet onto the platform outside the tower window at Dwomor Keep.