Troll Sword sample

Part Five: The Arkenome

Chapter Twenty One: The Magic Circle

She finished her step into a large room. 

There were people around her, but her exhaustion, and the pain of her wounded cheek, came back to her like a blow. Her vision blurred and darkened, her feet stumbled, and she fell to her hands and knees. It had been stupid to come here before she had taken the time to heal. Her head, much too heavy, dropped forward, and she caught herself just inches from a smooth but unpolished stone floor. Didn’t anyone use wood or vinyl? Maybe it was concrete. She wasn’t ready for this. Stupid.

People were talking. She couldn’t understand them, but they sounded disappointed and frustrated, not surprised or frightened. She was intensely aware of a complexity of smells, and was distracted by the way her body felt, which was very strange, and sort of numb except for her left cheek, which hurt so badly that it made her gasp, raggedly, over and over again.

The voices went on, confused and concerned. The smells, dozens of them, were not strong, but they were clear and each was distinct. If she could clear her head, if she could think about it for a minute, she would know what they all were. But before she could follow that thought, she became aware that, in front of her eyes, where the tip of her nose should have been just barely visible and never noticed, there was what looked like a dog’s muzzle projecting from her face. It was hairless, a golden brown. Not her color at all.

Her fascination with this was interrupted when hands, strong but not rough, took hold of her upper arms and pulled her to her feet. Her legs felt very strange, as if they wanted to bend in the wrong directions and places. She made an effort to straighten up, so that she could see the people around her. There were four in front, the two holding her arms, and two more behind her, whom she could not see, though she knew that they were there. And now she knew what she looked like.

She was not ready for this. The word that came to mind was Anubis, though these people didn’t really look like the Egyptian god. Their muzzles were wider, and shorter, and deeper, and their noses were smooth and the same color as their skin. They had a more human upper face, with a high forehead and large eyes. Their ears were large and pointed, set low and rather flat on the sides of their heads. And they had Mohawk crests, four or five inches tall, from the top of the forehead to the back of the neck.

They were long in the body, short in the leg, and only two or three inches taller than Jeanette. They wore open-collar shirts, red, or maroon, or dark orange, or shades of blue, and trousers that were black, or dark brown, or dark gray. The women were slightly broader hipped, and had four breasts. Their legs were dog-legged, but quite straight nonetheless. The shape of their shoes showed that their toes — from the balls of their feet where their shoe-heels were — were plenty long enough to give them support while walking. Their fingers were very long.

Their skin, on heads, faces, and hands, was hairless, light tan or light brown or darker brown. Some were all one color. Some were shaded darker on the tops of their muzzles and heads and the backs of their hands. Some had lighter or darker bands across their muzzles and along the sides of their crests, which were black or russet or deep yellow or other colors. But what distinguished them from one another was not their highly individualistic appearance, but their scent. Each was unique, and she would recognize their scents again, though she didn’t yet know which belonged to who. It was by their scent that she knew that there were two people behind her, and that there were no others elsewhere out of sight.

She began to relate her sense of her body to these people, and almost literally found her legs. She looked down at her feet. Her boots had conformed, coming up to the lower joint of her legs — which would have been her ankles — instead of all the way to her knees. They fit perfectly. Of course they did.

Her vision darkened again, and she became dizzy. She really should have taken a couple days off.

She began to understand what they were saying. At first she caught just a few words, or phrases, which meant, but didn’t sound like, “demon,” and “poor thing,” and “now what are we —” and “…all over again,” and “are you stupid?” which last was not directed at her. Their voices were rich and complex contraltos, each as unique as their scents. There could be no disguise here.

One of the men in front of her said, “All right, all right, whoever this person is, she’s been hurt. Let’s get her upstairs.”

“We can put her in my room,” the woman holding her right arm said.

“Good,” another man said, “do that. We can’t do anything more right now anyway.”

The people holding her up — the one on her left was a man — turned her toward a door behind her, the only door in the otherwise empty room. Someone went to open it for them. Jeanette tried to walk with the people supporting her, but they had to half carry her. She wasn’t too proud to let them. 

They went into a corridor. There was polished wood wainscoting. The walls above it, and the concrete floor, were painted cream. They turned to the right, and things got all dark and blurry, and she felt herself sagging as she faded out.


She awoke in what looked like an almost normal bedroom. It had all the right furniture, though the proportions were a bit odd. There was an unlit frosted glass ceiling fixture. Maybe this place had electricity. The light coming from windows behind her, on either side of the bed, felt like late afternoon. There was a door beyond the foot of the bed, and another on the left, next to a dresser which had a mirror above it. Her face still hurt a lot, but her head was clear enough that she thought about getting up to see if she really did look like these people. The visible muzzle in front of her face suggested that she did.

She heard a page turning and rolled her head to the right. The woman who had held her right arm was sitting in a chair just beyond the window, reading a book in its light. She looked up at Jeanette and closed the book in her lap, with a finger to keep her place. “How are you feeling?” 

Jeanette guessed her to be the equivalent of about thirty. Her skin was an amber brown, darker on the upper surfaces, and her crest was almost black. “I don’t know.” Her voice, unexpectedly, was several tones lower than the woman’s. She stared up at the ceiling, at the frosted glass fixture in the middle. How was she feeling? Aside from wishing that she could have another couple hours more sleep.

She was glad to be in bed, but she was no longer exhausted. The ache in her cheek went all the way to her teeth. She was naked under the covers. The dagger’s cord was not around her neck. Her legs felt just like normal legs, even though she knew that they were not the legs that she had grown up with. Her arms were on top of the covers, cool but not chilly. Her body was different, she didn’t have to touch herself to know that. 

Her mouth was full of teeth, more carnivorous than her own, with canines that were definitely longer than the others. Her golden brown muzzle was something she could clearly see, but would normally not even notice. It felt like there was a bandage on her cheek. She touched it, there was. She looked at her hand. Her fingers were half again as long as the ones she was used to, with an extra joint. They had nails, not claws. She still had the ring. She put her hand up to feel her crest. The hairs were heavy but not coarse. She wondered what color it was.

She was hungry.

She looked at the woman, who had put her book down on the small table under the window. Her eyes were a golden green, reflective like a cat’s eyes, but with round pupils. “I feel a lot better than when I got here. When was that?”

“Early this morning. It’s nearly time for dinner. Are you hungry?”

“Very.” She sat up and let the sheet and pale green blanket slide down off her chest. Her lower breasts were slightly smaller than the upper ones. She almost couldn’t see the claw scars on her left side. Then she swung her legs around off the left side of the bed, but kept a corner of the blanket over her lap. The scars on her left hip and right thigh were also almost invisible. “Where are my clothes?”

“Everything’s in the closet. There’s a lot of blood on your shirt and trousers. You can wear something of mine if you like, we’re about the same size.”

“Yes, thank you, that’s very kind.”

The woman smiled. It would have been frightening if Jeanette had been at home, but it was really a very friendly smile. “Would you like to get dressed?”

“Yes, I would.”

The woman went to the door on the left, reached in, came back with a red shirt and gray trousers, and put them on the bed. Then she got socks and underwear from the dresser. “You can use one of my brassieres if you like, but I don’t think it would fit you.” Her figure was rather fuller than Jeanette’s.

“I seldom wear one anyway,” Jeanette said.

She pulled on the underwear, and found that she had a short tail that curved forward between her legs. Interesting. The trousers were just a bit large, and just a bit short, but they fit well enough. They closed with a hook and a zipper, and had belt loops.

The woman came back from the closet again, with Jeanette’s belt, pouch, dagger, and boots.

“Thank you,” Jeanette said. She put on the shirt. It fastened with buttons, and fit about as well as the trousers did. She tucked it in, then threaded the belt through the loops and buckled it. She pulled on the socks, over feet that were almost all toe, then the boots, then hung the dagger from its cord around her neck and put it under her shirt.

“How can you wear that without cutting yourself?” the woman asked.

“I don’t know how that works. Do you know how sharp it is?”

“Yes. It’s scary.”

Her trousers had pockets on the sides, rather than on the front or back. She looked into her pouch, saw that everything was there. Nobody wore pouches here, but she put it on anyway, so that it hung on her right hip. “Did you look inside?”

“We did. But after Hikram cut himself on your dagger, we decided not to touch anything.”

Jeanette smiled. “Probably a good idea. Thank you. What’s your name?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Lirikatli Vinados.”

“Thanks for sitting with me, and for letting me use your room. I’m Jeanette Delgado.”

“You’re welcome. It’s just about time for dinner. Do you feel up to it?”

“Yes, I do.” Not really, but … “I heal quickly.” Far too quickly these days.

They went out into a short corridor. There was another door on this side, and two on the other. The corridor ended on the left, where a balcony overlooked a two-story entrance hall. Jeanette paused. “Ah-hm, is there a bathroom?”

“Oh, yes, of course. It’s back that way.”

Jeanette went to the other end of the hall, and into the bathroom at the end. There was a switch just inside the door. The light in the ceiling came on, obviously electric, though the light was a lot yellower than what she was used to.

She used the toilet, dealt with her tail as if she had grown up with it, and found out more about her physiology. She looked at herself in the mirror while she washed her hands at the sink. Her crest was deep yellow, her eyes were dark brown, reflective like everybody else’s. And yet, despite the different face, she was still herself.

The bandage on her face, held in place by adhesive, extended from just in front of her left ear to the curve of her cheek. It was the source of an antiseptic smell, which she almost hadn’t been aware of. She carefully pulled away a corner at the front. The bullet wound had scabbed over, but the flesh around it was still red and swollen. She touched it gently. It hurt, but she didn’t think it was infected. She pressed the bandage back into place, and returned to the hall, where Lirikatli was waiting.

They went to the balcony, wide and deep. There was a broad staircase descending from the middle, and doors at either end. There was a set of high, double doors, five or six paces beyond the foot of the staircase, flanked by high windows. Jeanette could not see much of what was outside from where she was, other than a bit of rather thick lawn. “Where is this place?”

“Don’t you know?”

They started down. This wasn’t at all like her reception in Deroan. “I have no idea. Although I guess it doesn’t really matter. I felt your call and I came.”

“Well, that’s a problem,” Lirikatli said, as if Jeanette had said nothing unusual. “We weren’t calling you.”

“Maybe not, but I heard you just the same.” As if calls and responses were everyday events. “Do you know who I am?”


They came to the bottom of the stairs. Jeanette went to one of the windows, so she could see more of what was outside. 

It was a patio or courtyard, enclosed by a head-high concrete wall. The entrance, a dozen paces or more opposite the double doors, was closed by a double gate as high as the wall. Wind blew from the left, bending the tops of the taller bushes toward the right, so that they grew at a slant. Ground plants in the protection of the wall were not much affected by the wind, suggesting that there were other walls on either side, but the shorter bushes were agitated, and many of them were permanently bent away to the right as well.

She turned back to Lirikatli. “You don’t recognize me at all.”

“I never saw you before this morning.”

“Of course not, but the last place I went, people knew me anyway.”

“How could that be?” Her tone was curious, but casual.

“I was a kind of incarnation of their national hero.” The conversation was taking a decidedly surreal turn.

“So they thought you looked like their hero.” Curious, but not humoring nor condescending.

“No.” Her voice wasn’t betraying her confusion, which was a relief. “I was their hero. That was why I was there.”

“And where was this?” Lirikatli asked. She gestured to an alcove on the right. They went to it. “I’ve never heard of anything like that.” There was a set of doors in the alcove, which Lirikatli opened into a well-furnished parlor.

All the furniture here was just a bit off somehow. Windows with sheer curtains were on the left, through which more bushes and trees were visible. They were not protected by courtyard walls, and permanently distorted by the wind which blew across the front of the house. This was someone’s home, not a public building. “It wasn’t anywhere in this world,” Jeanette said.

Lirikatli stopped and stared at her.

Another person had been here recently. Jeanette recognized the subtle, lingering scent of one of the other summoners. It had been a man, but she wasn’t sure which one. After a beat she said, “It was a parallel world, one dimension away, if that means anything.”

“It doesn’t.” Her ears twitched. “I’d think you were making this up, except that I saw you come into the circle this morning. Maybe you’re a demon after all.”

“No, I’m not, and the place I come from is not your underworld. But it doesn’t matter does it? You know I’m from somewhere else.”

Lirikatli turned away. 

They crossed the parlor to a short, broad passage, and through it into a fairly large dining room. A man with a brick-red crest, his back to them, was sitting in one of the twelve chairs around the oval table. Of course the furniture was odd. Their proportions were meant to accommodate these people’s different body shape.

There was a garden outside the large picture windows on the far side of the room. All the bushes leaned away from the constant wind, except those directly in the lee of the house, which were agitated by the turbulence. The branches and leaves of the short trees streamed dramatically from crooked, slanted trunks, which looked like giant, animated bonsai. The shorter plants thrashed, and the grasses rippled.

On the right side of the room was a pair of doors, on either side of a cabinet of glassware. She knew that they led to the kitchen by the complex smells, appetizing to her present self, but which would have been slightly nauseating had she still been in any of her previous forms.

The man heard them enter, or maybe he smelled them, and rose to turn and greet them. She had not seen his face before, but she recognized him by his scent, as one of the people who had stood behind her this morning. “How are you feeling?” he asked her. He was a bit taller and darker than Lirikatli, of a uniform, medium brown.

“A lot better, thank you,” Jeanette said.

“I’m Lorathom Mishago. Will you be joining us for supper?”

“Yes, I will, thank you. My meals have been a bit irregular lately.”

He twitched an ear, as if her statement confused him. “It’s the least we can do after the inconvenience we have caused you.” He was taking this all too calmly. 

“It’s no inconvenience, believe me. My name is Jeanette Delgado.”

His ears twitched again, and he glanced at Lirikatli. “I can’t pronounce that exactly. Jana Deigo?”

“Close enough.” She gave him a small, crooked smile. At least, at home it would have been crooked. She wondered what it looked like here.

He gestured to the table as he sat back down, and she took the chair to his right. Lirikatli sat beside her. “We’ve been trying to figure out,” he said, “how to send you back to where you came from.”

“I don’t think you can,” Jeanette said, imitating his matter-of-fact tone. The table was covered with a simple, cream-colored cloth, and there was a tumbler of water at nine of the twelve places. She took a sip from her glass.

“How do you know that?” he asked.

“Because you didn’t bring me here in the first place.” How much should she actually tell him? “I just became aware of your need, and I came here under my own power.”

“I’m not sure I understand you.” Which, if she could judge by the way his ears twitched, really meant that he didn’t believe her.

“No,” Jeanette said, taking his words literally, “you don’t understand me at all.” She touched his forearm lightly. “But I don’t want to explain this more often than I have to. Let’s wait until everybody else is here.”

“All right,” he said, and leaned back in his chair. “I trust you rested well.”

“I did, thank you.”

“Those were rather strange clothes you were wearing. You must have come from quite far away.”

“From farther away than you can imagine, but that’s part of my explanation.”

“It’s going to be an interesting story,” Lirikatli said. “I heard some of it.”

Two men who had been in the summoning circle came in from the parlor. They looked curiously at Jeanette as they came around the table and took places on the other side, leaving an empty chair between them. The one on the left introduced himself as Roma Bacho. He was tan, with a white crest, and distinctly golden eyes. The other was Om Dovor. He was of a slightly darker tan, with bands of a paler color across his muzzle and along either side of his dark brown crest.

A man from the kitchen came in, pushing a wooden serving cart, and offered those present a hot beverage, served in large cups, almost mugs, with no saucers. Jeanette suppressed her residual home world perceptions and took one. The drink, a murky, ruddy brown, was both salty and sweet, with a richness like that of chocolate, but with a flavor that was oddly like bacon.

More people came in from the parlor. They each in turn greeted Jeanette, introduced themselves, took their seats, and accepted a cup of the hot drink. The light outside the windows had begun to fade by the time all eight members of the circle had come. The man with the hot drink cart went away, and two women came in, pushing carts with shelves, on which were plates of food, napkins, and cutlery, which they set out for everyone present. On the plates were a small lightly grilled steak, several strips of raw white fish, some well done pieces of what looked like English bacon, a hot vegetable like pale sliced carrots, and two sections of peeled pink melon. By the time she had taken a bite of each, Jeanette had become familiar with the taste, and was no longer bothered by the completely alien flavors and aromas.

There was little conversation, and what there was was trivial. Jeanette did not participate. These people didn’t know her, were disappointed that she wasn’t a demon, and while they were courteous, they were not ready to become friendly.

The plates were taken away as each person finished, and they were served another hot drink, this one definitely herbal, and slightly nutty in flavor. Pots of this tea were left on the table. Several people added a pinch or two of salt from little open dishes, but Jeanette did not.

It had grown quite dark outside by now. Globe lights in the ceiling had come on earlier, and had grown steadily brighter, but they never got as bright as natural daylight. Conversation resumed, but about things of which Jeanette had no knowledge or interest. It went on for a quarter of an hour or so, then Om Dovor said to her. “Who are you? And where do you come from?”

“I guess you could call me an adventurer. And I’m not from anywhere in this world.”

“I find that hard to credit,” said a woman named Lerthrop Tarpon, seated on the far right on the other side of the table. Her ears twitched as she spoke, a sign of disbelief. She was a darker tan, like Om, but with no shading, and her crest was orangey brown. “If you came from some other plane, you would not look human.” The word meant a being somewhere between the animals and the gods.

“I do not look like this at home,” Jeanette said. “It’s not by my choice. I have to admit that this is the greatest change in myself that I have experienced. I take on the form of the people in every world I go to.”

“How convenient for you,” Roma Bacho said. There was no hint that the idea of visiting other worlds was at all astonishing.

“It’s not at all convenient,” Jeanette said. “If I were to take you to my world, you would find that having to get used to a different body can be quite distressing.”

“It hardly matters,” Belagor Shintai, the woman to Lorathom’s left, said. She was a pale cream color, with brown banding on her muzzle and head, and a brick-red crest like Lorathom’s. “When we’re finished here, we’re going to send you back. You shouldn’t have been brought here in the first place.”

“Aside from your collapse this morning,” Om said, “you seem to be taking this, ahhh, translation to another world rather calmly.”

“I’ve done it before.” She couldn’t make these people out. “This is the fifth time. I’m getting used to it.” She wondered if her ears revealed how she really felt about that.

“I don’t completely understand,” Lerthrop said. Her ear twitch signified complete disbelief. “Why would you choose to go to where you are physically changed from your normal self?”

“Because I am needed. I am not here for pleasure.”

“This is ridiculous,” Hikram Rinidan, the man to the left of Roma said, though not unkindly. It had been he who had held her left arm that morning. He was a grayish brown, darker than Om or Lerthrop, shaded with a warmer brown, and with a crest several shades darker still. He wore a bandage across the palm of his right hand. It was he who had cut himself on Jeanette’s dagger.

“We don’t need just another person,” Shantar Gles, the man to Lirikatli’s right said. He was a reddish tan, with a dark, warm gray crest. “We need a demon.”

“And you are not a demon,” Belagor said. “You are not who we were summoning.”

“Maybe not,” Jeanette said, “but here I am.”

“We should have known it wouldn’t work,” Roma said to the table in general. “We’ve never summoned a demon before,” he said to Jeanette, “but we are desperate, and we were trying to use old lore that no one has practiced for centuries. We obviously did it wrong.”

“But here I am,” Jeanette said again, impatiently, and this time she could feel her ears press flat against the sides of her head.

“And we will send you back,” Hikram said.

“What makes you think,” Belagor said to him, “that we’ll be any more successful with that? If she goes at all, who knows where she’ll wind up?”

“You won’t send me anywhere,” Jeanette said, keeping herself calm, “even if your lore is true. You did not bring me here. I just heard your call, and came by my choice, on my own power. Although I suppose I should have given myself time to heal first.”

“All right,” Shantar said, “even if this were true, what could you do for us? We need someone with the ability to penetrate the Chancellor’s defenses, and restore the Main-Quey,” an archaic word that meant something like the key of a lock, or a center or focus, or the heart of something.

“Exactly,” Om said. “People have tried before, and many have died. We need a super-human agent.”

“But here I am,” Jeanette said yet again. She sighed. Then she showed them the black ring. “Does this mean anything to you?”

They looked at it from where they sat, but none of them recognized it, although several ears twitched.

“How about this?” She took the dagger from inside her shirt and held it up to them. It meant nothing to them. They didn’t know who she was. She put the dagger away. Several of them cringed. This could make her task a lot harder. She really didn’t want to be here in the first place. But she had made her choice, and she was going to have to deal with it. “All right, but did you really expect to summon a demon?”

“Yes,” they severally said, “we did.”

“Then why can’t you accept that I’m here to do what you wanted the demon to do?”

“Because you’re just a person,” Lerthrop said, “and what can one person do?”

“Sometimes a lot of things. Why don’t you tell me about it.”

“I’m sorry,” Shantar said, “it’s not your problem.”

“Yes it is.” And though her voice was even, she knew that her ears were giving away her feelings. “You called me here. The least you can do is tell me why.”

“She’s right,” Lorathom said. “Her being here is our responsibility, at some level or another. We can’t take her away from where she really belongs, and then just say, ‘oops, sorry,’ and send her home again. We have kidnapped her. Despite our need, that’s still a crime. The least we can do is explain.”

“We haven’t kidnapped her,” Om said. “If we had, do you think she’d be sitting here so calmly? If it had happened to me, I’d be furious.”

“So you’re saying,” Lirikatli said, “that she’s here of her own free will? Just like she told us?”


“But we did bring here here,” Hikram said.

“So then,” Lirikatli said, “tell her why. Even if she responded to our summons voluntarily, she deserves an explanation.”

“It’s none of her business,” Shantar said.

“So what?” Roma said. “That’s no reason to be rude. We made a mistake. Telling her it’s not her business is extremely discourteous.”

“She’s shown us nothing but forbearance and courtesy since she woke up,” Lirikatli said. “It puts us to shame if we don’t show the same forbearance and courtesy in return.”

“You’re right,” Belagor said, and eventually, after a few more minutes of discussion, everybody came to agree, even if some of them were reluctant.

“All right then,” Shantar said to Jeanette, “what we need is to return the Main-Quey to the Spiral’s Heart.”

“Empa Tethicho,” Belagor said, “is Chancellor of Shotoban. He took power from Venn Dricato, the previous Chancellor —”

“Probably killed him,” Roma said.

“Probably. Then he removed the Main-Quey from the Spiral’s Heart, and began enforcing all the worst conformist policies of the Unity Party.”

“The party slogan,” Lirikatli said, “is, ‘Pull together for the best of all,’ but what it means is, conform or die.”

“It’s not always that bad,” Belagor said, “but non-conformists can’t hold office, can lose their property, can be deported —”

“But yes,” Om said, “many are killed.”

“His followers,” Belagor said, “support him unquestioningly. They are given preferment, the wealth and property of the non-conformists …”

“His influence over people is unnatural,” Roma said. “It’s fairly obvious that he’s getting demonic assistance of some kind.”

“We don’t get much news from outside Shotoban any more,” Lorathom said. “Anything against his policies is suppressed. But we do know that other governments don’t like what he’s doing.”

“Without the Main-Quey to hold the other Arc-Stanes in focus,” Om said, using another archaic term which Jeanette couldn’t quite get the meaning of, “there’s a real possibility that Empa Tethicho will be able to take over other governments as well, one way or another.”

“I assume,” Jeanette said, “that he controls the military and the police.”

“Of course. They’re conformists by nature and necessity.”

“And what are Arc-Stanes,” she asked, “and what is the Main-Quey that it should have so much of an effect on them?” The question confused them, as if she had asked, what are my hands, and what are they good for? “I really don’t know. I’m not just from another country on the other side of the world.”

“Well, of course not,” Lerthrop said. “There is no other side of the world.”

This took Jeanette by surprise, but before she could more than wonder, Belagor said, in a tone of voice used for children, “All right, ahm, most simply put, an Arc-Stane is the symbol and embodiment of the spirit of a people, or a country. No race or nation exists without an Arc-Stane. If an Arc-Stane is lost, a new one must be put in place immediately, or the country, or region, or race, falls into chaos.”

“Which is why we know that the Main-Quey still exists,” Lirikatli said. “If the Main-Quey had been destroyed, Empa Tethicho would sink into the foam of anarchy and chaos along with everyone else. He’s just been removed from the Spiral’s Heart and hidden.”

“Wait a minute,” Jeanette said, “the Main-Quey is a person?”

“Well, of course,” Lerthrop said. “What did you think?”

“I didn’t know what to think. I’ve never heard of a Main-Quey, or an Arc-Stane before now. I’m not from here, remember?”

The silence indicated that this fact was finally beginning to sink in.

“The Main-Quey is the supreme Arc-Stane,” Belagor said at last.

“You really didn’t know?” Lorathom asked.

“Really, I didn’t know.” And her guide hadn’t told her. This was not encouraging.

It took a moment for them to digest this. Lerthrop and Om remained skeptical.

“We are not the only underground,” Shantar said, “but most of us were part of Venn Dricato’s government before he was deposed, and all of us have demonstrated spiritual strength and ability. Which is why we have chosen the means we have to restore the Main-Quey.”

“We’re pretty sure the Main-Quey is still somewhere in the Capitol Building,” Om said. “Other people have tried to get in and rescue him. Those who made it out alive say that the Main-Quey is in there somewhere, but they were either unable to locate him, or to get to him before being discovered and forced to flee.”

“Four out of five,” Roma said, “died in the attempt.”

“Worse than that,” Lirikatli said.

“But demons are not constrained the way people are,” Lorathom said, “and so might succeed where mere humans have failed.”

“At least,” Hikram said, “that is our hope and understanding.”

“I see,” Jeanette said. “And when was the last time anyone successfully summoned a demon?”

There was an uncertain pause, then Lirikatli said, “More than four hundred years ago.”

“I see,” Jeanette said, looking at the faces around her. “Well.” Even the skeptical ones were a touch chagrinned at the admission. “That sounds like the kind of thing I’m supposed to be able to deal with.” She felt herself sinking inside.

“Can you walk through walls?” Om asked her.

“I don’t know, I’ve never tried.” The Arkenome’s black belt came to mind. Did it have that kind of power? She touched the black iron buckle, but it told her nothing. “Can demons walk through walls?”

“They’re supposed to be able to.”

“And if you had your demon, how do you know it would do what you wanted it to?”

“Its service to us,” Lorathom said, “would be our price for returning it home.”

“And it would not try to exact any vengeance for being kidnapped and forced into service?”

“It’s a chance we have to take,” Hikram said doggedly.

“We have ways to protect ourselves,” Shantar said.

“Which are probably as effective as your summoning,” Jeanette said dryly.

They didn’t know how to respond to that, but the logic did not escape them.

“And you won’t take a chance with me,” she went on.

“What could you possibly do?” Lerthrop asked, a bit impatient herself. “You don’t even know what an Arc-Stane is.”

“I don’t know what I could do, but what choice have you? You are not sorcerers. You don’t know how to summon. And if by some chance you were able to summon a demon, you couldn’t contain it, nor could you make it work for you.”

“She’s right,” Hikram said despairingly. “She’s right.”

“I still think —” Lerthrop said.

“Why? All the times we’ve tried, and nothing.”

“Until she came,” Roma said.

“That’s right,” Jeanette said. “And I did come. And unlike a demon, my reason for being here is to solve your problem. And when I’m done …” she took a breath, “I’ll go home again. The same way I came. Under my own power.”

Nobody had anything to say. They just looked at her doubtfully. Even Lirikatli’s left ear twitched a bit.

Jeanette stood from the table, the others did the same. They prob-ably intended to go to the parlor, but Jeanette stayed where she was and, as if she were being guided, put her hands on her belt. She felt the power now, felt the weave of reality, thought about her home, felt a wave of darkness around her — natural, not magical. She felt it, and felt the present place so that she would be able to find her way back again. Then, while everybody was watching, she went home.


It was night in her living room. Reflected moonlight shone through the curtained windows in front of her. The refrigerator was running. She didn’t have to look at herself to know that she was in her own body. She felt the link with the other world. She could just give it up and stay here. It would mean going back on her choice, and abandoning the people who needed her….

She turned from the windows, and went up the dark, enclosed stairs to the bathroom at the top, where she turned on the light. She looked into the mirror over the sink and pulled away the bandage from her left cheek. The wound, straight forward across her cheekbone from just in front of her ear, was less than twelve hours old by her internal clock, but it was no longer red and swollen. She touched the long, black scab. It came off in her hand. She dropped it in the wastebasket with the bandage, and rubbed the remains off her face. She had healed, but she would have a serious scar. Oh, well.

It was a bullet wound. The Arkenome’s gun had been brought from another world. That was, in itself, not necessarily an evil thing. Her dagger had been brought from another world, and her boots, her ring, and her belt. Did the people she had just come from have firearms?

Knowing what she was doing, and not wanting to do it, she went to the little unfinished room beside the bathroom at the corner of the hall. There was no ceiling, just the bare slanting rafters of the roof on right and left. The sub-flooring was two inches lower than the hall. There was an old spare bed, its head against the far wall under a small, moonlit window. There were shelves on the right, on the wall adjoining the bathroom. On the left were racks of clothes in front of boxes and trunks, in front of the rafters which came all the way down to the floor. To the right of the bed was a low recess, behind the bathroom and above the back porch. She stooped into it, and went to her knees, facing the bare studs of the back wall. It was too dark to see, but she knew the box was there, and she put her hands on it without fumbling. In it was Steve’s gun. Her stomach tightened.

He had bought it second hand before they were married, and for a while he had kept it under the counter in the store, until she had found it and asked him to take it away. Who robbed a bookstore after all? He knew how much she disliked violence and firearms. She never watched the action movies he liked. So he had put the gun here, in this little unfinished room. He had taken it to a shooting range several times, always asking her first if it was all right. She knew that firearms were a part of the culture of the Delgado men, and reassured him that she didn’t mind.

She reached into the box and, without fumbling, picked up the gun. It wasn’t very big, just a little over two pounds, just a little over nine inches long, a Smith & Wesson Military and Police Model 13, a six shot revolver. They weren’t made any more. It was a 357 Magnum, but despite that, it was not a very powerful weapon with the ammunition Steve used in it, only 110 grain Winchester cartridges, the lightest he could find. Many newer handguns were far more powerful.

It was not loaded of course. But there was also a box of cartridges, nearly full. Her chest constricted at the thought of actually shooting somebody with this thing, but she knew that she would if she had to.

Or cut their throats if that were necessary. Compared to which shooting somebody was quite remote and impersonal.

She put the gun and the box of ammunition in her pouch, backed out of the recess, and left the little unfinished room. She turned out the bathroom light as she went by, and went down the dark stairs to the living room. She composed herself, felt the weave of reality without having to touch the belt, felt for the other world among how many others, found it, and went back.

She was in the dining room, not far from where she had stood when she had left, but it was a different time. Light came in through windows over which less transparent curtains had been drawn, there were the remains of breakfast on the table, and only Lorathom, Lerthrop, and Bel-agor were still there. Two men from the kitchen were clearing away. They were all startled by her sudden arrival, fumbled whatever they were doing, exclaimed one thing or another, and stared at her.

“I’m sorry I was gone so long,” she said. “Time must run differently here.”

The staff made an effort to recover themselves, Lerthrop and Belagor continued to stare at her, but Lorathom got to his feet. “It’s been eighteen days.” 

That surprised her.

Lerthrop tugged at the sleeve of the waiter nearest her and said, “Go get the others. Tell them to come here right now.” The man went off, hesitantly at first, then at a run.

“But what happened?” Belagor said. “Where did you go?”

“I went home, and now I’m back. Do you believe me now?”

“I guess we must,” Lorathom said, “or else that you’re really a demon after all.”

“You’d better hope not. A demon who can come and get you without being summoned would not be a good thing. But as far as your enemies are concerned, I might as well be one.” Her words sounded strange and alien in her ears, which she hoped did not give too much away about how she was really feeling.

Lirikatli and Om came in, followed a moment later by the others. All were equally astonished. Jeanette needed to explain herself again. She did not mention the gun.

“Can you —” Hikram asked, “can you move around the world like that?”

“No, I cannot.”

“But then,” Om said, “I still don’t see how you can be of any help, as amazing as all this is.”

“At the moment, neither do I. Have you had any success raising your demon?”


“Then it seems like you have little choice.”

“But what will you do?” Belagor asked.

“I don’t know. I’ll figure that out when I get to where the Main-Quey is.”

“That’s not very encouraging,” Lerthrop said.

“I never know in advance what I have to do, or how to do it until the last minute.” She paused. “I could fail this time, I suppose.”

“And what happens if you do?” Lirikatli asked.

“I suppose I would die.” They were silent. “Do you want my help or not?”

“Of course we do,” Hikram said.

“Then someone will have to take me to where the Chancellor has hidden the Main-Quey.” There was no response. “At least to the Capitol Building, if that is where the Main-Quey is being held.” They glanced uncomfortably at each other, ears pressed flat, but no one spoke up. “If it’s not important enough for you to put your lives on the line, then why should I do so?”

“I’ll take you there,” Lirikatli said.

“You’re crazy,” Shantar said.

“Is it far?” Jeanette asked.

“Just a few miles,” Lorathom said. He looked at Lirikatli. “I’ll come too.”

“Thank you,” Jeanette said. “Once we get there, there may be nothing more for you to do.”

“The others couldn’t go,” Lirikatli said, “because they would be recognized. Lorathom and I had nothing to do with the government before Empa Tethicho became Chancellor.”

“Good enough reason to not put them in any further danger.”

“Despite the danger you’ll be putting yourself into,“ Hikram said. “We won’t be sitting idle.”

“You will do what you can and must, but if we succeed, someone will have to step into the vacancies in government that will occur when Empa Tethicho is put down.” Then a thought struck her. “Does this Chancellor of yours, by any chance, call himself the Arkenome?”

“Yes,” Shantar said, “he does.”



Chapter Twenty Two: The Underground

Jeanette went with Lirikatli and Lorathom to a connected garage on the other side of the house. It was more than big enough for the four vehicles there, which were unlike anything she had seen before. Open tubular frames hung well below the axles of four bicycle-like wheels, each nearly four feet in diameter. Two of the vehicles were something over four feet wide and eight feet long, with two pair of low slung, almost reclining seats, like those of a European sports car. Another was a bit wider and half again longer, with three pair of slightly larger seats. The fourth had only two seats at the front, and a low, aerodynamic enclosure occupying the space behind, empty but big enough for four seats.

Each had a mast which lay folded back between the seats, with a sail loosely furled around a single boom. There was a small control wheel in front of the left front seat, parallel to the running wheels. It had handles and was connected to the mast by a rather complex arrangement of cables and gears. In its stowed away position, it was impossible to see how it all worked.

Lirikatli and Lorathom opened the double doors to an unpaved courtyard, protected by a high wall. Wind gusted in, and for a moment Jeanette was captivated by the smells that came with it. Most were of plants, each distinct, though she could not identify any of them. She could tell by the smell how moist the soil was. There were faint, distant scents of animals, which were not the same as the small, nearby smells of insects. She did not know what any of them were. She wanted to go out and explore this new sense of hers.

Lirikatli and Lorathom went to one of the four-seaters. It had a blue and green frame, and a nearly white sail with a green pattern or design that was not discernible while it was furled. They started pushing it toward the doors to the courtyard.

“Wait a minute,” Jeanette said. The other four-seater was two shades of blue, its sail pale yellow with black decoration. The six seater was red and blue, with a pale green sail, marked in dark green. The truck was a different shade of red, with a gray enclosure and a lighter gray sail with black markings. “Are you planning on taking that to the Capitol Building?”

 “Of course,” Lorathom said. “It’s nearly five miles from here.” He used a different measure of distance which meant that.

“I don’t think we should,” Jeanette said. “If anything went wrong and the police found it abandoned, could they trace it here?”

“Well, yes, eventually.”

“She’s right,” Lirikatli said. “Just on mere suspicion, they’d arrest everybody.”

“And even if they let them go,” Lorathom said, “everybody would be marked, and Belagor would lose her house.” He moved away from the car.

“Five miles isn’t that far,” Jeanette said. “I’ve walked as much as thirty in a day. We’ll get to the Capitol well before lunchtime.” They didn’t look very eager. “If you’d rather, you can just draw me a map and I’ll go by myself.”

“No,” Lirikatli said. “If you’re not familiar with our world, a map might not get you there. Besides, I’m supposed to be in charge of this expedition.”

Jeanette was surprised by that, and didn’t like hearing it, which also surprised her.

They left the house, walking more or less down wind. Jeanette’s clothes did not flap around her as much as she had expected they would, but the wind in her crest was interesting. That was the way it was supposed to feel. It oriented her to the world. The wind always blew from the same direction, so she knew, to within a degree, which way she was facing. And downwind was always the reference.

There were no roads, just thick, wind-blown grass. Their progress wasn’t as rapid as it would have been on pavement. The houses, with trees, bushes, and other plants growing near, were several hundred yards from each other. They were ramp-shaped, their thin edges upwind, rising to usually two but sometimes three floors downwind. Each had three, four, or sometimes five large tube-like structures, mounted on an extra half-story at the high end of the long sloping roofs.

The sail-cars, of which there were quite a few, tacked almost as fast against the wind as with it. There were other varieties besides those in Belagor’s garage, usually two but sometimes three colors. It was the complex symbols on the triangular sails which identified each one. The booms were longer than the cars, and passed well above the passengers’ heads.

There were more sail-cars than pedestrians. There was no smell from the cars, or from the houses. There was no pollution. In fact, there were almost no artificial smells at all. If one of these people came to Jeanette’s world, they would find the stench appalling.

They were in a better class of residential neighborhood, well within the city limits. The houses were not set out randomly, but arranged in a loose grid at angles to the wind, so that the sail-cars could tack freely. They had picture windows at the downwind ends, and part way back along the sides. There were smaller windows further toward the thin edge. The protected entrances and car yards were at the sides, all doors opening inwards so that they wouldn’t be slammed by the wind, which usually blew at twenty to thirty miles an hour, never less than fifteen, nor more than thirty five. The funneling effect of the roofs accelerated it, to sixty or seventy miles an hour, through the turbine tubes at the top. The generators they powered were in the half story below them. Wind power had been used since this world’s equivalent of the late stone age. Even the discovery that certain materials, used in the construction of windmills, could generate considerable amounts of static electricity was prehistoric. All power was direct current, and each house provided for itself.

Every unprotected plant, whether tree, bush, low shrub, or ground cover, was shaped by the wind. Trees seldom got as tall as a house, though had they been able to stand up straight, they might have been twice as tall. Everything moved. Nothing was ever still.

Some of the buildings were stores, sail-car repair shops, professional offices, and other small businesses. Their architecture was essentially the same as that of the homes, except for their downwind ends, and the downwind parts of their sides, which advertised what they were.

The city, Great Bend, was extremely low density by any Earthly standards, but typical of cities in Shotoban, and in the other countries in this world. It was fifteen to eighteen miles across, but had a population of only twenty two thousand. Manufacturing was in another part of town.

It was in a rich agricultural area. Most of the farms were ranches, although there were some which grew crops, such as the carrot-like vegetables and the melons. There were forests, deserts, and what they called mountains in other parts of the country. A major river, the Ashapili, a bend of which gave the city its name, ran on the north, or left-wind side, and provided a variety of fish. Magnetic directions were known but seldom used. Orientation by wind, being biological, was immemorial.

They came to the commercial district less than two hours after leaving the house. The buildings here were set closer together in a more uniform diamond pattern relative to the wind. There were fewer trees or shrubs between them, and there were no walled gardens or car yards, but there were separate, sheltered parking lots. The buildings here were usually three and sometimes four stories tall, plus the generator half-floor and turbines at the top. 

There was also of a variety of different architectural styles, which Jeanette’s local sensibilities recognized as commercial rather than domestic. Most of them had two or three different shops on the ground floor, with various offices and services on the smaller upper floors. There were more pedestrians, but there were fewer sail-cars. Some of these were smaller vehicles for one or two passengers. The place was, in many ways, completely familiar, while at the same time utterly alien.

There were no sail-cars at all in the city center. This consisted of six buildings, each with a much larger ground plan, at the corners of a hexagon, and a seventh, not quite as large or as tall, at the center. They were set only twenty or thirty yards apart. The central building was architecturally distinct, and obviously the Capitol. The building left-downwind was also, apparently, municipal rather than commercial. The winds were more complex here, eddying around and between the buildings. There were quite a few pedestrians, and occasional patrolling police officers, both men and women.

They had come to the city center somewhat to the south, or right-wind of it. That side of the Capitol Building was glass-fronted at the downwind end on the first two floors, and on the first floor all the way back to a staff entrance, somewhat forward of where the roof came to the ground. The other side windows, on the second and the full length of the two top floors, were small. 

They walked left-wind across the front to the main entrance, four large glass doors set in a slight recess at the center. People and guards were clearly visible inside, and on the balcony of a mezzanine. The picture windows on the left-wind side of the two first floors went back only half way, to a large, heavy, double door, not quite as far upwind as the staff entrance on the other side, after which there were no windows at all. There were smaller windows on the upper two floors all the way back to the slanting roof.

“We shouldn’t stand around,” Lorathom said. A guard inside the Capitol building was watching them.

They went to a park downwind. Lirikatli and Lorathom needed a rest after their walk. Jeanette had completely recovered from her previous ordeal, even while walking, and felt no fatigue. There were several police officers on patrol here, but there were quite a few other people as well — crossing the park, sitting on shrub-protected benches, or strolling among the wind-distorted specimen plants. There were some adolescents but there were no children. They found an unoccupied bench.

“So,” Lirikatli said to Jeanette, with a hint of skepticism, “what’s your plan for getting inside?”

“I’m working on it.” She was paying more attention to the park and the people than to why they were there. “Are you sure the Main-Quey is in there?”

“He was eight months ago,” Lorathom said. The actual term he used was a reference to the different orbital periods of this world’s two moons.

“He was seen?”

“No, but Anjaro Denet was there, and she recognized his scent.”

“But nobody actually saw him.”

“No. Why?”

“He might not really have been there.” A image came to her. “He might have been made to wear absorbent pads under his arms, and under his tail, and then, when they were good and smelly,” a very rude way to say it, “they could have been put somewhere in the Capitol while he was being kept elsewhere.”

“But why would they do that?” Lirikatli asked.

“As a decoy, so you’d waste your time trying to get him out of the Capitol, instead of looking for him where he really was.”

This had not occurred to them. Deception was hard for these people to understand, since they gave away so much of what they were thinking and feeling with body language, voice, and scent. A fact of which the Arkenome probably took great advantage.

“Where does the Chancellor live,” Jeanette asked. “He might be keeping the Main-Quey with him.”

 “In the Capitol Building,” Lorathom said.

“Has he been seen?”

“Oh, yes,” Lirikatli said, “three or four times a week,” which was eight days.

“Do you know where his apartments are?”

“They would be on the top floor, but I couldn’t say more than that.”

“And you don’t know where the Main-Quey is being kept.”

They did not.

“It makes little sense,” Jeanette said, catching a whiff of something interesting coming from upwind, “to get inside if we don’t know where to go once we get there. Especially with — how many armed guards?”

“Maybe twenty,” Lorathom said. He could smell it too. “Maybe more.”

 “Have either of you been in the Capitol Building?”

“No,” Lirikatli said, “but Roma was Venn Dricato’s steward, and Hikram was his butler, so we have a pretty good idea of the layout of the place.”

“Could you draw me a floor plan?”

“Ahh, no.”

“How many stairways are there?”

“Two, I think, plus the main stairs from the lobby to the mezzanine.”

“No,” Lorathom said, “it’s three.”

“Are you sure?” Jeanette asked him.

“I think so….”

Maybe her wanting to come here was a waste of time. “I’m going to try something. Keep a lookout, and if anybody starts to look at me suspiciously, just talk to me. About anything.” She stood, moved away so that she could see the Capitol through the streaming foliage that sheltered the bench, and put her hands on her belt. 

She felt the weave of reality. That should have surprised her more than it did. She knew how to slip between worlds. She had just done it, home and back, but if she thought about it, it was amazing that she could. She knew where her home was, but if she went there again, far too much time would pass here. Even a minute there could be more than half a day. If she could return to any predetermined location, other than where she was now — something Steve had read about in one of his fantasies — it might be worth it, but she didn’t think it was possible. As far as other places in this world were concerned, she could feel nothing, not even the house from which she had come. Maybe, after she had some experience…. She sat back down.

“What about Bonir?” Lorathom asked Lirikatli. “Do you think he’d help?”

“Who’s Bonir?” Jeanette asked. The interesting scent was gone.

“Bonir Vinadeen leads another group here in the city,” Lirikatli said. “They’re mostly concerned with getting people to safety when the police suspect them of non-conformism. But some of them worked in the Capitol, I think.”

“Then maybe we should go talk to these people.”

“It’s been a while. We’ve been pretty involved with the summoning. The last I knew, they had a contact at the The Harper’s. That’s a restaurant. Besides, I could use some lunch.”


The Harper’s occupied half the ground floor of one of the major buildings right-wind of the city center. It was not all that different from restaurants with which Jeanette was familiar. After they were taken to their table, she explained that she wouldn’t be able to pay her share, and showed them some of the coins from Deroan. They were fascinated by the gold and silver, since their own currency was printed on paper. Lorathom told her there would be no problem.

She looked at her menu. “I don’t know what anything is.” Lirikatli made suggestions. The food, when it came, was not as good as what had been served at Belagor’s house.

Jeanette played the role of a first time visitor, asking careful questions, which Lirikatli and Lorathom answered equally as carefully. By the time they had finished, she had learned a lot more than what her questions had implied, and Lirikatli and Lorathom were beginning to accept the idea that maybe she knew what she was doing. She wished herself that she did.

Their waiter, when they were nearly finished, came to ask them if they would like tea. They would, and Lirikatli asked her if The Harper’s had the “som doro” variety.

“Let me check,” she said, and went off to the kitchen. After a few moments she came back. “I’m sorry, we don’t have som doro at the moment. If you’d like to talk to Rigashen, our manager, he might be able to order some for the next time you’re here.”

“We’ll do that,” Lirikatli said. “May we have the bill, please?”

Lorathom paid, left a generous tip, and the waiter directed them to a door at the back, next to the kitchen. A short hallway went past the glass-topped kitchen door on the left, and three doors on the right. They knocked at the second. There was a brief pause, then a man’s voice told them to come in.

Lirikatli pushed the door open. The smell of the six people inside revealed their tension. Lirikatli, Lorathom, and Jeanette went in as if there was nothing unusual. A man behind the door pushed it shut.

Two men stood behind a desk facing them. Behind them was another door. A woman on the right stood in front of a set of cabinets, and a man on the left stood in front of some shelves. Another woman was on the other side of the door where they had come in. They all carried big knives in their hands, and had banded steel guards strapped to their off-hand forearms. They did not threaten, but they were alert and ready to attack if necessary.

One of the men behind the desk, with a bronze crest and shaded brown skin, said, “Lirikatli, what are you doing here?”

“Hello, Cheledon. We need help. This is Lorathom Mishago —”

Cheledon nodded. “I’ve heard of you.”

“— and this is Jana Deigo. She’s not from around here. She came to Belagor’s circle nineteen days ago, ahh, in response to our summoning. We believe she may be able to get into the Capitol Building. At least, we’re going to let her try.”

Cheledon looked at Jeanette, a bit cautious, and a bit dubious. “All right then, if Belagor can vouch for her.”

“She can.”

“All right then. Is anybody else with you?”

“No, they’re still working on a summons.”

“All right then, come on in.” He opened the door behind him, and preceded them into a small storage room which held mostly office supplies. The other five did not follow.

He led them through another door into a larger room which held, for the most part, more typical restaurant supplies: shelves of linens, glassware, plates, cutlery, boxes of canned food, racks of wine bottles, cleaning equipment, and so on. But the middle of the room had been cleared away. There was a table, with four chairs around it, where a man and woman sat; a sofa to the right of it; and a very small desk where another man sat. None of them were armed.

The man at the desk, dark brown banded in russet with a nearly white crest, stood when they came in. “Lirikatli,” he said, giving Jeanette and Lorathom only the briefest of glances, “good to see you. Have you had any success?” He gestured to the table. The people sitting there moved to the sofa.

“Not really.” She, Lorathom, and Jeanette sat. The man who had spoken took the fourth chair. Cheledon sat at the desk.

“You’ll have to tell me about it,” the man said. He looked at Lorathom and Jeanette, as if expecting an introduction, which Lirikatli provided. 

This was Bonir Vinadeen. The other man was Borosh Teven, brown with a crest of nearly the same color, and the woman was Chernis Redovar, dark amber with a ruddy brown crest. They were all relaxed but watchful.

“We’ve had no success,” Lirikatli said. “We’ve not been able to summon any demons, or any other extra-mundanes. We’re beginning to think that we never will. Lerthrop thinks it’s because the old texts assume common knowledge no one has any more. Sometimes we seem to get a flicker of another plane, but it never lasts for more than a second, and we’ve not been able to figure out just which plane it is, or even if it’s the same one each time.”

“We’re going to keep trying,” Lorathom said, “once Lirikatli and I get back. Lerthrop’s been rereading the texts, and she has some ideas for the next time we try.”

“Okay, then,” Bonir said, “but who is this?” He tipped his head slightly at Jeanette.

“She appeared in our circle during our last summons,” Lirikatli said before Jeanette could answer. “That was nineteen days ago.”

“But she’s not an extramundane.”

“She says she’s from another world altogether, and came to our circle because she heard us calling, or something like that.”

Jeanette had intended to reply. She didn’t like being talked about as if she couldn’t speak for herself. Bonir stared at her, aware, by her involuntary ear twitches, of her frustration. She kept a bland expression on her face, kept herself calm, tried to make her ears relax, and hoped that she wouldn’t smell of her displeasure.

“I don’t believe it,” Bonir said.

“We didn’t either,” Lorathom said, “until she showed us she could leave and return at will.”

“You couldn’t be mistaken about that?”

“We work in the cellar,” Lirikatli said. “There’s only one door in that room. We were performing a summons, and suddenly she was there, in the middle of the circle. She was rather the worse for wear, I’m afraid, as if she’d been in a fight. We were convinced that we had accidentally brought her in from somewhere else mundane, but that evening, after dinner and a remarkably speedy recovery, she just, ahhh, sort of rotated where she stood, with all the rest of us around her, and was gone. She didn’t come back until after breakfast this morning.”

“I was there when she came,” Lorathom said. “Lerthrop and Belagor were there too, and two waiters. We actually saw her sort of — rotate, I guess that is the right word — back into the dining room.”

“Rotate,” Bonir said. He had been watching Jeanette the whole time, but he glanced at Lorathom as he said this. “Can you do it again?” he asked Jeanette.

“I can, but time runs differently in your world and mine. I might be gone for, well, I don’t know for how long. I have no control over that.”

“Show me.”

She met his eyes and sighed. “All right.” She stood, stepped away from the table, and stuck her thumbs into the front of her belt, a perfectly normal gesture which revealed nothing. She felt the weave, felt this world in it, and her home. It was light there. She went to a mid-morning living room, and came back almost instantly.

People were in different places. Chernis was still on the sofa, but Borosh had gone. One of the men from the office had taken his place. Lirikatli and Lorathom were still at the table, but Bonir had returned to the desk, and Cheledon was standing beside him. They were all staring at the place where Jeanette reappeared, and they all startled, even Lorathom. Jeanette smelled their surprise, and a subtle overlay of fear.

“I don’t believe it,” Bonir said.

“How long was I gone?” Jeanette asked.

“About six minutes,” Lorathom said.

“It was just a fraction of a second to me. And no,” she said to Bonir, “I can’t move from one place to another in this world.”

Bonir was silent for about two seconds, then he said, “That’s too bad. It would have made things so easy.”

“These things are never easy,” Jeanette said.

“Well, they certainly haven’t been so far. So. Why are you here? And what can you do for us?”

“I am here to restore the Main-Quey to the Spiral’s Heart. At least, that’s how I understand it. I don’t know yet how I’m going to do that, but it starts with getting into the Capitol Building, and finding where the Main-Quey is being kept. After that, I’ll have a better idea of what to do next.”

“But that’s the problem,” Cheledon said. “No one has been able to get into the building at all during the last six months.”

“All right, but having seen what I can do, do you trust me enough to tell me what’s been tried so far?”


Not everybody had been happy when Empa Tethicho had become chancellor, despite his almost overwhelming charisma. But the real protests hadn’t begun until several years later, when he had removed the Main-Quey from the Spiral’s Heart, a small, compact complex of buildings, downwind and left of the city center, and put him in a suite in the Capitol Building.

That was more than two years ago. A crowd of nearly a thousand people had gathered outside the building in protest. A number of them had forced the front doors on the third day. Guards at the back of the lobby and on the mezzanine had killed thirty or more before the mob outside stopped trying to push their way in. Then the guards had come out of the building and started taking prisoners, including the wounded, until the rest of the crowd went away. A few days later a mass trial was held. Those who had been wounded or captured inside the Capitol Building were convicted of treason and executed. Those arrested outside were convicted of criminal trespass and conspiracy and sent to prison, though many people thought that they had just been murdered elsewhere.

A tense several weeks passed, and then a group of ten people had waited until an hour after the building had closed. Chernis, who had been on the cleaning staff at the time, had let them in through the right downwind side entrance. She had detected the Main-Quey’s scent up on the residence floor, but the group was discovered before they could get there. Only one of the ten, besides Chernis, had managed to escape. The other nine were tried as traitors and executed.

Nothing more was tried until some months later. Then, late at night, a similar group managed to force open the staff entrance at the rear of the right-wind side, but they never came out again, and there were no trials. Similar attempts were tried at the garage door, near the rear of the left-wind side, but all failed because the doors were too strong, and too heavily bolted and locked.

Several people, who had legitimate business, tried to bluff or sneak their way to the Main-Quey. All but one were found out. Those who were important enough were imprisoned, those who were not important were executed. The woman who escaped, Anjaro Denet, had scented the Main-Quey on the residence floor, but had no idea where he was.

Several times a man or woman of a more criminal nature, but otherwise sympathetic to the resistance, secreted themselves inside during the day, intending to try an assassination late at night. They were never heard from again.

One attempt was even made to get in through the service hatch on the roof, on the downwind end of the turbines. Two people went up the roof from the back, equipped with ropes and pry bars, but the height of the roof, and the funneling effect, increased the wind speed near the top to maybe seventy or eighty miles an hour, and before the two could get around past the turbines they were sucked in. At least, that was the assumption. Two of the turbines were damaged, presumably by the pry bars, but they were repaired by the next morning. Nothing was officially said about the cause of the malfunction, even though blood and chopped body parts had been sprayed out over the front of the building.

The Capitol Building had a cellar, but there was no outside access to it as far as anybody knew.


“I’m beginning to understand,” Jeanette said, “why Lerthrop is trying to summon someone who could walk through walls. I wish I was able to do that.”

“It would be a help,” Bonir said. “Do you have any ideas?”

She thought about it. “The garage doors. I think I can get in through there.”

“The bolts and locks are too strong,” the newcomer from the office said. He was Sen Trikaloi, a pale ruddy brown shading to brick, with a golden blond crest.

How easy it had been when everybody had just followed her lead. “I’m sure they are,” she said, “but I have an idea, and I’d like to give it a try.” Not that she really knew what she was doing after all.

“All right,” Bonir said. “And what will you do if you get inside?”

“Somebody will have to lead me to where the Main-Quey is being kept. I don’t know his scent.”

“I can do that,” Chernis said.

“Okay,” Bonir said. “If you get in, there will be other locks and alarms. Cheledon is a mechanic, he can go with you.”

Cheledon nodded.

“And we’re going too,” Lirikatli said, speaking for Lorathom.

“Good,” Bonir said. “You’re in charge then.”

Jeanette felt her ears twitch, but kept her mouth shut.

“When do you want to go?” Bonir asked Lirikatli.

“Why not tonight,” she said, with a glance at Jeanette. “There’s no sense putting it off. We’ll need weapons.”

“We’ll arrange for that elsewhere.”


The others left, and Jeanette, with Lirikatli as her guide, spent the afternoon pretending to be a sight-seer. They went into some of the shops about which Jeanette was curious, but they didn’t buy anything. They had supper at a place outside the city center, then went to a house, a half an hour’s walk right-downwind of the commercial district, where they would meet the others much later. This was a clean house, with absolutely no hint of a connection to the underground, and would not be used again after tonight. Lirikatli was pretty well tired out by now, so they took the opportunity to get some sleep. They were awakened well after midnight when Lorathom, Cheledon, and Chernis arrived.

Their weapons were large knives, which would be worn in sheaths on their hips inside their trousers, lightweight banded steel guards for their off-hand forearms worn under their shirt sleeves, and smallish crossbows which could be disassembled and carried wherever convenient under their clothing.

Jeanette had never handled a crossbow before. Cheledon started to instruct her in how to assemble it, but she figured it out for herself, and had it together before he got very far. That rather impressed him.

“You want to try it out?” Lirikatli asked her.

Jeanette thought it would be a good idea, so they went up to the half story attic where the turbine-powered generators were, and set up an impromptu target. Again, Cheledon started to tell her how to draw the string with its lever but she already knew. Her guide hadn’t abandoned her completely. She put a bolt in it, held it up to her shoulder, aimed, felt herself and the crossbow come together, and pulled the trigger. The bolt hit the target dead center. She had known that was going to happen, but she was still impressed with herself. She loaded another bolt, and this time she held the crossbow beside her at mid-chest, looked at the target, imagined the line of flight and, when it felt right, she pulled the trigger. That was where the bolt went, striking the target just to the right of the first shot. She felt a little unreal, and nobody else made a sound. She loaded it a third time, held the bow with one hand out in front of her at arm’s length, and put the third bolt just to the left of the first.

“Pretty neat,” she said to the others, struggling for nonchalance as she turned the crossbow in her hands to examine its workings. She was self-conscious about showing off, but she hoped that it would help give her some authority.

“I think we’ve got a winner here,” Lorathom said quietly.


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