NaNoWriMo 2011

MURDER IN THE CASTLE OF WIZARDS

(1)

I found myself sitting, breezily naked, in the center of a five-pointed star
inscribed on the floor of a large room whose walls and ceiling were nearly
lost in darkness. The only light came from five tall tapers, each set in its
own richly-glowing silver, or silver-colored at any rate, stand, one at each
corner of the star.

The air was thick and musty with odd smells of fire, and herbs, and hot metal.

“Do you know where you are?”

Standing in an arc in front of me, on the worn wooden floor beyond on star,
were six singular figures. It was one of them who had spoken.

I turned my head tenatively, carefully at first, but my neck seemed to be in
working order. I shifted my position, and looking down saw that I was seated,
not on the floor itself, but on a circular disc of stone. Rather chilly
stone, at least to one sitting naked upon it.

“Do you understand our speech?”

I looked up again, at the singular person who had now spoken for the second
time. He seemed to be of middle height, one of the smaller of the group,
and dressed in what appeared to be a collection of elegant, but perhaps
somewhat bulky in the circumstance, carpets.

His beard nearly reached the ground, and his head was round and shiny as
a boiled egg.

“I believe,” I said, choosing my words with some care, “that ordinarily one
has some memory of not only where one is, but also how one came to be there,
and of events before that, and also of one’s own identity.”

My voice, which I was hearing as far as I knew for the first time, struck me
as somewhat reedy and thin, but not a bad voice all around.

The six figure variously nodded at me and exchanged ambiguous glances among
and between themselves.

“And…” ventured the carpet-clad speaker.

“I, as far as I can tell, lack all of these advantages.”

Which was entirely truthful. I had no memory reaching beyond the last five
or ten seconds, and no knowledge of anything about myself, or the place in
which I found myself, or the people facing me.

I did, however, have a great desire to find out.

“Come,” said a female voice, from a tall and strikingly thin creature, hidden
except for the one bony-fingered hand that she now extended toward me, within a
loose green robe that draped her like a canvas on a loose stack of sticks.

“I would appreciate some clothing,” I said, standing carefully and finding my
legs entirely up to the task, if not particularly athletic. I looked from one
of them to another, finding myself automatically cataloging and categorizing
them, putting them into mental boxes and pigeonholes that formed of themselves
within my mind as I looked. It felt good, like exercising a healed limb.

Besides the small carpet-clad speaker of the beard and the bald pate, who
stood in fact a step or two closer to me than the others, and she of the
drape and bony fingers, the others in the room, as they first struck me at
this initial meeting, were these: a large and somehow royal figure, the more
royal perhaps for being seated in a substantial chair or throne, nearly
invisible in the gloom because he was a bit behind the others, also bearded
but with a thick head of hair that fell in ringlets about his face; a woman
in a rich brocade gown with a face that might have been lovely had it not been
hard to the point of scowling, with bright somethings woven into the strands
of her hair; a dark-skinned man, tall again, with a neatly-trimmed beard and
moustache framing his thin-lipped mouth, dressed in pale brown leather; a
man who might be that last one’s brother, with no beard, and the pattern of
a closed eyelid in the center of his forehead; and finally a small woman in
grey robes, her eyes hidden behind a black veil, holding or leaning on a
long wooden staff.

I was about to step forward, having completed my initial survey of the group
before me, when I blinked and looked up again. There were six figures there
in the room with me, clearly waiting for me to move; and yet in my mental
pigeonholes I had filed away, more or less tentatively and as first
impressions, yet entirely certain as to those impressions, seven.

I looked again, from one face to another. I counted, carefully, six forms.
Again I studied each one: short bearded speaker, bony-fingered beckoner,
dim throned man, scowling woman, brown leather, closed eye, grey woman.

“Come,” said the voice again, and the extended hand crooked a finger.
“We will explain.”

As I stepped over the star in the floor there was a gust of wind that, warm
as it was, raised the hairs on my arms. The bald bearded one drew a cloth
robe from somewhere on his person and handed it to me, and the party walked
into the darkness at the edge of the room. All but the enthroned figure,
who seemed simple to melt into the dimness, and was gone.

(2)

I worked it out, somewhere in that lengthy walk, out of the room of the star
and candles, up the sloping corridor lit by smoldering torches that seemed to
light half-heartedly as we passed, and gutter out again behind us. Now that
the ringletted one in the throne had gone, there were always five figures ahead
of me, but which five of the six was inconstant.

In particular, of the tall man in pale leather, the other with the closed
eyelid drawn or tattooed or otherwise patterned above his nose, and the woman
in gray, only two were ever visible. I tried to catch the moment that one
vanished or another appeared, but was entirely unsuccessful. On one survey of
the party, the two tall men would be shoulder to shoulder, walking up the
slope almost in step, and then if my eyes strayed to the side to find the staff
of the woman in grey moving in rhythm to her steps, on looking back I would
find only the one, or only the other, of the pair of men.

This struck me as unusual, although unusual compared to what I could not say.
A new box, a new category, appeared in my mind, I stored the fact away within
it, and then felt much easier in myself for having done it.

“Drink,” said the voice of the crone again, for crone my mind had named her,
or named the box that the idea of her had now settled into, the thin woman
of the beckoning bony finger and the green drape.

I was seated now in a comfortable-enough chair, in a slightly better-lit room,
with a flagon of some liquid on a table at my elbow, and the cloth robe wrapped
about me and tied at the waist.

Was it safe to drink? Were these people that I could trust? Was I in any
danger if I drank? If I did not drink? All of these questions fell into the
absence of my memory, and vanished silently as stoned into the deepest and
darkest of chasms.

I drank.

The drink was rich and restorative, and although I had not realized until that
moment that I was tired, that my heart was beating too fast and my stomach
aching too emptily, now that the drink had lessened both of those I felt it
most gratefully.

“We will explain,” said the carpet-clad one, who had settled into a chair of
his own, and now appeared as an eggish head set atop a pile of rugs, with
rug-wrapped arms and legs emerging a little way, as for decoration.

In the back of the room the grey-haired figure caught my eye from his throne,
and nodded at me. I had not seem him arrive, but there he was, and his look
seemed to be conveying something, or trying to, or testing me to see if I would
recognize what was in it. I filed that away in my mind as well.

“I am,” said the head on the pile of rugs, “for your purposes, named Adolphus.
This is the Castle of Castles, the Tower within the Tower, the Palace of
Wizards.”

“And we have brought you here to solve a murder.”

Something deep in me quickened at the words, something warm and expanding and,
while not a memory or anything like a memory, seemed to be taking the place
where otherwise a memory might have been, and I was instantly intent. This
was that I wanted to hear.

“Oh, very good, buffoon, very dramatic.” This, in an acid voice, from the
hard-faced woman, still scowling, now at Adolphus the carpet-pile, and now
at me, as her eyes (glinting with steel or impatience or despite) raked over
me.

“Here it is,” she continued, overriding anything Adolphus might have meant
to reply or interject. “We are the High Council of Wizards, met as we do
every one hundred and forty-four years, despite ourselves, in this ancient
and dreary artifact, for reasons that need not concern you. Adolphus as
identified himself, I am Luna, these are Leo Prevarious,” the throned figure
nodded his head, “the Stork,” the drape over the crone’s head moved slightly,
“Petri and Jacobus Devries,” the one in pale brown and the one of the eyelid,
both visible at the moment, nodded, with similar ironic smiles, at their
respective names, “and…” and here the speaker paused with a small and
impatient sigh, “and finally She of the Grey Mountain, who is too proud to
have a mere name.”

“You have already noticed that the latter three occupy only two persons-worth
of the world; you may delve further into that on your own time, as it may be.”

“Of these six,” and here there was a shuffling or snickering from one or more
unidentifiable points in the group, and the woman Luna gave another small and
irritated sigh, “of these six, there ought for all good reason to be seven, but
the seventh is dead, and because we can agree on nothing and trust each other
on nothing, we have brought you here out of nothing to determine why that
seventh is dead, so that we may get on with the world.”

“Is that to the satisfaction of all?” And she turned her head quickly around
the rest of the group. Seeing no objection, she stood, barked “Get on with it,
then” toward me, and strode to one of the room’s many doors, disappearing
through it.

The remaining five, or six, sighed, or exchanged glances, or remained silent
and enigmatic behind pale green drapes.

I looked at them, observing and refining and working with mental boxes and
categories and pigeonholes that opened and shut of themselves in my mind,
and steepled my fingers together in front of my face, and waited.

(3)

“Yes, well,” began Adolphus again, looking about at the others in a way that
sent ripples down his beard, “that does sum it up. But you will need to know
more than this! Shall we now — that is…”

“Perhaps we should allow him to examine the body.” This from Petri Devries,
whose voice was at the same time sharp and resonant, and who the moment after
saying it briefly ceased to be.

“What does he think?” asked She of the Grey Mountain and no name, during one
of the two moments out of three that she was present.

I looked about at them, and beyond them at the room, observing and cataloging.

Leo Prevarious, he of the throne, which I could now in the slightly brighter
light see was truly a throne, if a modest one, of carved wood inset with stone
and metal, tall enough to lift him somewhat above the level of the others, even
those who were standing, gave the impression of being, although or because he
was in the back of the group, in a superior position, observing or overseeing.
And the ironic smiles of the Devries brothers (not necessarily brothers, but
so I had tentatively classified them from their names and seemings) put forth
a similar message, that they were aware of a private joke, not really part of
the group as such, but observers or critics merely along for the ride, or for
their own amusement.

The woman Luna, of course, had most effectively signaled that she was not part
of the group, by leaving it.

That left the crone, called The Stork, whose face (if in fact there was a face
behind the cowl of the drape) conveyed nothing, and whose form and manner were
all mystery, and She of the Grey Mountain whose manner seemed so far the
simplest of the group, and Adolphus, who by having put himself forward as
spokesman had also somewhat diminished himself; or so it appeared to me at
that time.

“That would be fitting,” I replied, although really at this early point any
reply, any action, would have been as good as any other; I was an empty vessel
into which anything at all would pour new memories, new knowledge.

“And then,” I added, “I will need to interview each of you, in turn. And in
private.”

Again looks passed, or did not pass, between the members of the group, and my
boxes and pigeonholes began to encompass not only the five, or six, or seven,
of them, but also the various patterns and relationships between them, by
pairs and severally.

It was exquisite.

(4)

“You cannot get any closer than this, because of the time-bubble.”

Standing now with only Adolphus, and the Stork, and She of the Grey Mountain
(for whom I found my mind casting about for a shorter name), in a corridor
connecting two rooms, I looked through an odd transparent shimmer in the air,
into a scene of blood and destruction.

“He was Virinax, called The Wise,” continued Adolphus. “He was the seventh
of us, and in some arts the most skillful.” Here I heard a small sound from
within the Stork’s cowl, and I thought She of the Grey Mountain’s red lips
quirked slightly.

“And now,” the Stork’s voice thin and harsh, “now he is dead.”

He did indeed appear dead. Unmoving within the time-bubble, within the room
that appeared to be some sort of wizardly work-room or laboratory, the body
that lay on the floor was entirely headless, and much of the room was
colored and spotted by various thicknesses and colors of blood, brains,
and gore.

“Who put the time-bubble in place?” I asked, in order to know.

More flashes of glance or thought passed between them, more for my boxes and
categories.

“We all did,” said Adolphus, after a pause, “it was the first action that we
agreed upon. So that nothing could change.”

“So that nothing could be hidden,” She of the Cold Mountain.

“So that nothing could be taken,” from the Stork.

I nodded.

“And how do we know,” I asked, eyes still on the grisly scene in the room,
“that that is in fact Virinax the Wise, and that it is all of him? Could
his brain, or his mind, or his soul-essence, have been stolen, or for that
matter have escaped itself into some other place, still living, leaving this
body behind as some ruse in an elaborate wizard game?” For, although I had no
memory, I did have some knowledge, and these were wizards.

“We have made certain of this now by divers magical means,” said She of the
Grey Mountain, her voice like a warm wind through mist, “and you need not
concern yourself overly with it. Here, though,” drawing a pipe or rod from
out of her robes, “observe with the thanatoscope.”

Looking through the device, a tube whose ends were covered by clear glass
disks, and whose weight was surprisingly heavy in the hand, I saw together
a standing man, pale-skinned and with a shock of white hair gathered at the
top of his head, overlaid across the bloody scene before me, and in some
gut-wrenching way saw how every piece of the standing figure corresponded
to some piece of bone, or splotch of brain-matter, or speck of gore, that
befouled the walls and furnishings of the room.

“This tells us that no part of him has been stolen,” said She of the Grey
Mountain, taking the thanatoscope from my hand and vanishing it back into
her robes, “and other magics tell us that with the destruction of his head,
his soul-essence, as you so poetically named it, also died.”

Adolphus nodded; the Stork was silent.

“I see,” I said, considering. “I may, of course, explore this question
further when I conduct my interviews, and in my further investigations.”

“Of course,” she replied, and somewhat to my surprise the hint of amusement
that I caught in her voice cut me like a small, but very sharp, knife.

(5)

I was led to my quarters, not by any of the six, or seven, Wizards of the
Council, but by a silent and essentially faceless servant who (that?) glided
ahead of me down the long and mostly doorless corridors, and finally unlocked
and opened a door, put a fire on in a grate, opened a window, turned down
the sheets on a bed, and went wordlessly out.

Comfortable enough, I thought to myself, comfortable enough. My mind was
busy thinking things, opening and closing boxes, dividing boxes in two, writing
labels and notations on other boxes, processing new experiences all on its own,
like an eager machine. I felt both energized and exhausted by the frantic
activity, which I sometimes found myself busy in the heart of, and sometimes
standing aside and watching like an observer on a catwalk over some vast and
complex machine.

Not looking out the window, I lay on my back on the bed and closed my eyes.

“Have you developed any theories yet?” asked a smooth voice from rather near
my head. I admit I jumped, and sitting up very suddenly looked around.

The speaker was evidentally a large black-and-white cat, or something like a
cat, only with a thick bushy tail quite as long as its entire body (which was
itself long as a very long cat), and with a markedly mobile and expressive
face. For a cat.

(I noted somewhere off to the side of myself, in a folder or small letter box
not in the center of things so to speak, that while I had no specific memories
of any particular cats, as I had no specific memories of anything else that I
had not seen since coming to myself in the five-pointed star, I did have a
sense for what a cat was, and what was normal or usual in the way of cats, and
this was not quite one of those.)

“It is early yet,” I replied, sitting cross-legged on the bed, a reasonable
distance from the cat and its tail.

“It is,” replied the cat, and yawned to show a mouth sufficiently full of white
sharp cat-like teeth.

“Who,” I enquired, “if I may ask, am I speaking with?”

“Who am I, do you mean?” the cat, or the something like a cat, replied, not
really asking, “As to that, I am a familiar of Leo Prevarious, whom you have
encountered, and whom,” the cat’s ‘whom’s were surprisingly sonorous, “you
will soon, I understand, be interviewing.”

“And did Leo Prevarious send you to speak to me?”

“Speaking frankly, he did. He thought it might be helpful to you haave a sort
of a peer to speak to, as a sounding-board. Someone other than the Wizards
themselves (who are both wizards, and presumably suspects as well), and other
than the servitors, who are not prone to interesting or stimulating speech.”

We were silent then for a long moment, the cat’s eyes (slit pupils open wide
and black in blue-green irises) not staring, but not straying, fixed more or
less on mine. Its tail twitched and rolled in furry waves.

“I’m not sure what it would be proper,” I said, “to spend too much time, or to
share too many of my thoughts, or allow myself to be influenced by, a familiar
spirit, or with no offense intended effectively an ally or hireling, of one
or another of the wizards. They being, as you have just said yourself, all
presumably suspects.”

The cat nodded (a gesture at once familiar and disturbing, in a cat), and
curled itself into a more comfortable (and more permanent-looking) position
on the matress.

“That reaction was expected,” the creature said, something languid and
satisfied, almost syrupy, in its voice, “expected, and yet here I am.
So no theories as yet?”

This struck me as a non-sequitur, and I wondered idly for a moment to what
extent one ought to expect logical discourse, following the laws of order and
rhetoric, with a thing like a cat.

“I believe we have not resolve the issue of the propriety of my speaking with
you in this comparatively intimate setting. Would the other wizards, for
instance, approve?”

“They know that I here; nothing within this Castle can be hidden.” The cat
looked up at me, eyes open wider again. “That is, while we are on the subject,
something that you should know, and make note of.”

I nodded, noting it indeed in several of the folders and boxes that opened
themselves in my mind, but did not permit this to distract me from the main
point. “And knowing, they do not object?”

“They do not object effectively, at any rate,” the cat replied, settling down
again, “or I would not be here, now would I?”

I frowned at this for a moment. Along with my lack of memory of any specifics
of my life, if any, before the five-pointed star, I also lacked knowledge of
what ground-rules might cover my investigative work. The wizards had provided
no information on the subject. I made a decision, at least for the time, and
drew a breath.

“One obvious possibilty,” I began, “is that there is something special and
fixed about the number seven, as the number of wizards in the Council –”

Here the cat nodded, eyes still half-closed.

“– and someone eliminated the victim, in order to take his place in that set
of seven.”

“It is,” the cat murmured, “most likely that the murderer was one or more of
the Council themselves, so…?”

“So clearly,” I continued, “the suspects would be the three who are currently
merely two: the Devries brothers (are they in fact brothers, do you know?), and
She of the Grey Mountain.”

The cat smiled, again a disconcerting event, in a cat.

“They are brothers indeed, Petri and Jacobus. So you imagine that they and
She of the Grey Mountain have disposed of old Virinax, called The Wise, in order
that they might, so to speak, expand, and become three members of the Council,
rather than being only two between them?”

“It was the obvious thought. But it may be only because the novelty of their
number, violating the usual rules of cardinality as it does, has drawn my
attention.”

The cat nodded again, as if to itself, eyes comfortable slits. “Admirable
self-knowledge,” it murmured, “They have made you well.”

“Made me?” I asked. This phrase, this thought, struck another chord within me,
not as a memory, but in that place where memories might otherwise be.

“Yes, made you. I expect until this moment you have not given much thought to
your origins, your manner of coming here?”

“I admit I had not, except as it related to the case of the death of Virinax,
called The Wise.”

“Just as it should be,” said the cat, its eyes now half-open, and looking at
me. “Having been given that first problem, that is where your mind has
naturally, or perhaps I should say artificially or by design, turned itself.
Well, I give you now, as perhaps a side-project, this new problem; the nature
and origin of yourself, and your role here.”

Although the frisson within me continued, I framed my reply dismissively.
“Taking your comment at face value,” I said, “and combining it with the lady
Luna’s earlier statement, that the wizards can agree on nothing and trust
each other on nothing, and have therefore brought me here out of nothing,
the obvious conclusion is that I was created, or called forth from the void,
which as a working hypothesis amounts to the same thing, for the purpose of
solving the riddle of Virinax and his death. Which explains my lack of memory,
having no past from which to draw memories, as well as my instant fascination
with the riddle, having been created, or selected, for the purpose of solving
riddles.”

I stopped for breath, and to examine my own reactions to this new theory.
It was, I found, not particularly disturbing to me, as my general knowledge
of human and wizard nature suggested it might be to creatures of more
conventional origin. But I did find the lack of being disturbed slightly
disturbing, as a second-order effect; I filed this in yet another folder
that the ever-active filing system of my mind presented for the purpose.

Just then there was a knock at the door, and the cat vanished with a flick
of its tail (whether under the bed or into some invisible magical continuum
I could not have said). It was a servitor, come to summon me into the
presence of Adolphus, who would be the subject of my first investigative
interview. I asked it to bring me another flagon of the restorative drink
when we arrived, and followed it off into the mazy corridors.

(6)

“Magic,” the Wizard Adolphus said, taking a breath from the flexible stem of a
large water-pipe every few sentences, “is a matter of studying ancient arts on
the one hand, because the ancients were in some ways far more knowledgable than
we are today, and on the other hand of extending the knowledge and techniques
of those ancient into new directions, and developing and honing our own skills
in the subject.”

The water-pipe burbled soothingly.

We were in a sumptuously-decorated room somewhere in the castle upslope from
my own rooms, the castle’s corridors having a tendency to slope upward and
downward rather than resorting to steps (although it had those as well) between
otherwise level floors. The decor was so sumptuous as to be stifling, to an
extent overdoing comfort in the direction of heavy cloth, thick soft rugs, and
upholstered furnishings. My interlocutor himself was again clad in carpets,
if somewhat less formal and multi-layered than at my first site of him, and
as he was sitting on a wide and richly padded divan, it was not at all clear
where his clothing left off and his seat began.

“Some have written that magic is a mystical unity with the underlying nature of
the universe, or the mastery of demons and invisible inimical forces, or the
channelling of the energy of the Gods. But all of these systems are mistaken,
because magic may be any or all of these, according to the occasion. However a
magical act works in the end, it is accomplished by a prepared practitioner,
taking certain known steps, in a specified environment, to acheive a particular
end. These steps, these recipes if you will, have been recorded for the use
of those brave enough, learned enough, skilled enough, to make use of them.
That is all, and that is enough.”

Another long drag at the pipe.

Adolphus had been going on like this for some time, launching into this
discourse on the nature and origins of magic immediately after greeting me,
inquiring if I had found my rooms to my liking, and vaguely asking if I had
made much progress in my investigation, although he had not seemed to take
much interest in my answer to that question.

Of the cat, he had made no mention. Whether or not he was actually aware of its
presence in my rooms, as the cat itself had claimed all of the wizards would be,
he gave no sign of it.

“We gather in this place,” he went on, and I roused myself from what had begun
to become a stupor, “which is itself an artifact of the ancients, a locus of
power that we could not ourselves create today, or at least not without much
new research and study, every twelve twelves of years, because that is the
period which is proper, and we share among ourselves, ourselves being the seven
most powerful and significant practitioners of the age, because the number
seven is proper here, for reasons known since ancient times, to share our own
most recent studies, to add to the books of the Library, and to renew the ties
that allow the Council to continue to exist.”

I basked in the inflow of information, the constant stream of words that said
and implied things known and unknown, all fodder for the boxes and folders and
cubbyholes of my mind.

“The Library?” I enquired mildly as he paused for another breath of the
aromatic smoke.

“Mmmh,” he nodded, “the Library. Probably,” and he looked at me with his eyes
a bit narrowed under his shiny scalp, “probably you will not see the Library
itself, although I suppose you might. But you should know of it.

“My books,” and here he gestured at the wall behind and to his right, where
shelves half-hidden behind overlapping wall-hangings held a number of volumes,
richly covered in cloth and leather, “my books are, as are the books of most
wizards, although not all of the Council admit to using books or allow others
to see them, my books are among my most precious possessions, containing my own
discoveries in researching the mysteries of the ancients, in plumbing the
depths of forgotten dimensions, contacting forces of nature and beyond, and in
developing my own skills in the arts and practices of magic. Mine are in a
language and lexicon known only to me, and both magically and by way of that
language made incomprehensible to any other.”

Another draw from the pipe, and a self-safisfied waggle of the long beard.

“But in the Library are the books that we share among ourselves, in the
Council, every twelve twelves of years, each writing to expand the library
with a fair share of new discoveries and notable experiences, and each reading
and transcribing whatever time and inclination allow, for use until the next
meeting of the Council. It is the one time that we seven –”

He looked up at me here.

“– or eight these days, depending on just what one counts, or even six now
that we are without Viridax — but at any rate, it is the one time in the
centuries that the most powerful and significant wizards of the realms gather
in something like mutual trust, and mutual cooperation.”

“How far does that trust and co-operation extend, would you say?”

Still looking at me, in a self-consciously considering way, he replied slowly.

“We are all students of the same ancient arts. At times, in the twelve twelves
of years between gatherings of the Council, our goals conflict, and we compete
for knowledge, or power, or resources of one sort or another.”

He sucked at the pipe again, still looking at me.

“Could that competition,” I asked, “lead to murder? Here, at the Council
gathering?”

It did not seem to be a thought he enjoyed.

“Anywhere else, perhaps. Here…”

His voice trailed off.

“And yet,” I pointed out, “one of the seven is now dead, and I have been…”
I paused, “… brought, to find out how, why, and presumably by whom.”

“I am not convinced that it was murder,” he said, “although I seem to be a
minority in that regard. Certainly not that it was murder by one of the
Council.”

“There are other things that could have so altered the head of Virinax the
Wise? An accident, in his workroom? Was it a careless man?”

Adolphus shook his head, in denial, or to dismiss the question, or both.

“Wizardry is not a safe or a comfortable course of life,” he said, “there are
many fatal energies within our art. But to be fair on the subject, Virinax is
the least likely of us, was the least likely of us, to be careless in that way,
to have looked into the wrong end of a Deconstructive Beam, or materialized an
Orb of Whirling Earth in the middle of his cranium.”

“Is there some other way in which he was more likely to be careless.”

Adolphus took an especially long drag at the pipe; halfway through it he closed
his eyes.

“Careless in trust. He was far too trusting a wizard.”

“And yet,” I said, “called The Wise.”

“The name,” he replied, “may not carry the obvious meaning.

(7)

That was essentially the end of that conversation, for that time. The ways
of wizards being vague and mysterious (or one because the other), Adolphus had
offered no more significant answers to any of my questions after that. It was
my suspicion that, as well as the mysterious ways of wizards, the possibly less
mysterious effects of the aromatic smoke he sucked from the water-pipe may have
contributed to his loss of interest in our conversation.

Eventually one of the silent servitors arrived, to escort me back toward my
rooms. As we walked the sloping corridors in a generally downward direction,
it occurred to me to evaluate the consequences of not following that silent
moving form, but striking out along some other hallway at some dim crossing,
or trying some of the divers doors and archways that we passed by.

The immediate consequences were minimal. I turned right at a four-way junction
where my servitor went straight ahead, and unheeding it moved on, disappearing
into the dimness, or around some farther corner.

I was alone.

The corridor in which I found myself sloped only very slightly downward. It
was also very dark, and I wondered in fact at my ability still to see. The
servitors, now that I thought of it, seemed to emit a general dim glow,
although as far as I had seen they carried no lamp or candle. Here that glow
was absent, though, and my eyes told me the darkness was unrelieved. Still,
in a way that my knowledge told me was unusual, I was able to see, or perceive,
something of my surroundings regardless of the absolute dark.

It was my impression at that time that the basic structure of the castle was
a rough set of levels, four or perhaps five, linked by the sloping corridors,
a few staircases, and a pair of large open galleries; where the lower level
or levels were given to work-rooms and storage and what might be called the
ceremonial rooms (both the room of the five-pointed star, and the room where
Viridax, called The Wise, had met his end, were on the lower levels), the
central level to the bustlings of servitors, and the higher levels to the
living spaces of the Council themselves, although so far I had seen only
one of the latter. My own rooms were in the central area as to height, and
at the opposite side of the sprawling structure from the rich and richly
smelling rooms of Adolphus. Where the Library might be I did not know,
although I was eager to find out.

The corridor in which I was in at this present time, dark but still somehow
seen, slightly sloping downward, deserted, was ordinary enough, floored in
worn wood, with walls of wood and plaster, and widely-spaced doors along
the sides, with a larger double door at the end. No other corridors or
arches led off of it, unless concealed behind one of the doors.

I walked, slowly in the dimness, to the end of the hallway, and pushed on
the double doors. They swung open easily. Beyond them, in if anything a
still deeper darkness, staircases, in dark wood with thick carved rails,
ran upward and downward out of sight.

I took a step forward, holding the doors open, looking up the one stair
and down the other, considering whether and which to climb, or descend.
Then, at a noise behind me, I turned.

There in the corridor, in the darkness, stood a tall sticklike figure,
robed and cowled, very much like the crone, called The Stork, except that my
impression of the color of its robes (and how I could tell, or think I could
tell, color in that blackness I could not have said) was more blue than green,
and paler.

I stepped forward, intending to greet The Stork, have a conversation there in
the depths of the castle, glean more information for my pigeonholes and folders
and mind-boxes. I let the doors swing gently shut behind me on their smooth
weighted hinges.

Before I could speak, the figure perhaps in blue extended an arm like a thin
tree-branch, and a finger like a twig, and some ravening force of still thicker
and infinitely more malicious darkness threw itself at me. I braced for a
shock, for pain or destruction or immediate death, but inches from my chest the
beam spread and stopped, as though I were surrounded by some invisible bubble
of my own, and I felt myself only gently nudged backward, my back coming
against the doors.

The figure jerked, and gestured again, more strongly, and again a beam threw
itself at me, and again it was thwarted and turned aside, and again I was
pressed gently backward, between the doors, toward the stairs. I turned and
scrambled, rolled, half-fell down the first flight of those stairs, away from
the cowled pointing figure, falling into a half-crouch on the first landing,
turning for an instant to look up.

I was not followed. No more beams of eldritch menace came plunging at me from
the corridor, and the doors swung slightly back and forth against each other,
coming to rest securely closed.

I crouched there, stilling my breath and my heart, waiting for my pulse to
pound less loudly in my ears so that I could hear what there might be to hear
in the darkness. The doors stopped their swinging, the thudding of my pulse
quieted, and silence absolute descended again. I realized that the attack on
me, and I had no doubt then that it had been an attack, had happened in utter
silence on the attacker’s part, the only sounds of violence being my own shout,
if in fact I had shouted, my soft impact against the doors, and my no doubt
noisy scrambling tumble down the stairs.

Still silence.

I turned and straightened and slowly ascended again, one step at a time,
breathing as softly as I could, listening, and watching.

I pushed the doors open quickly, onto a dark and empty hallway.

Then I summoned a servitor to conduct me back to my rooms.

(8)

Walking behind the glow of the gliding servitor, among the whirling speculation
on the attack and the attacker, about what danger I might be in and from what
quarter, it suddenly struck me that I had summoned this servitor, casually,
without any special conscious thought. How had I done it? How does one lift
an arm, open a hand, take a step? I had wanted to return to my rooms, so I had
summoned a servitor. Could I have summoned one, or summoned something else
more warlike, to defend me from that attack?

I knew now that I could have. And the next time, if there were a next time, I
would.

In my rooms, I found the cat waiting for me on the bed, with its tail curled
comfortably around it.

“You will not be accompanying me to these interviews, then?” I asked.

“Would you permit it?”

“Not if I could avoid it, since your particular master should not have any
special knowledge of what passes in them,” I said. “But tell me, familiar of
Leo Prevarious: you have said that nothing within this castle can be hidden,
including the fact that you yourself are here.”

The cat nodded, licking a broad paw.

“But,” I continued, “if nothing can be hidden, why is the murderer of Viridax
the Wise not already known? Why need I be here at all?”

“The obvious question,” purred the cat, “I was disappointed that you did not
ask it at once. I spoke only approximately when I said that nothing can be
hidden. In fact nothing can be hidden except around the wizards of the Council
themselves; but all of them hide themselves and their surroundings very well,
and very thoroughly, from each other. So whatever was occurring in that room
just before the death of that Viridax, is as opaque to the Council as it is to
you.”

“And just after?”

“Ah,” the cat smiled, “just after, it was just as you have seen it. Instantly
as Viridax’s mind was no longer inhabiting his body, the Council acted in
concert to freeze and preserve the scene, the area, the evidence.”

“Acted in concert? That quickly?”

“Hm, yes, well,” murmured the cat, licked the other paw thoroughly.

Waiting for it to continue, I summoned a servitor with yet another flagon of
that drink, and some bread and cheese. I felt the castle respond, and the
slow gliding in my direction.

“When necessity arises, and the Council are all of a mind,” the cat said,
“they can act with nearly infinite speed, and unstoppable purpose.”

“All of a mind.”

“Yes,” it purred, “all of a mind in the most literal sense. When all agree,
the Council becomes the single mind of the Council, and that mind is a more
powerful wizard than any, or even than all.”

“And all agree…?”

“Almost never. Which is,” and here the cat began carefully grooming its tail,
“which is probably fortunate for all of the rest of us.”

Here the servitor I had summoned rapped politely at the door, and I opened to
admit it. It lay the tray on a side table and glided out again.

I picked up the flagon to drink, and turning back met the eyes of the cat,
which looked away quickly. I was, and am, certain that I saw surprise in that
feline gaze, and something like worry, or even fear.

“Very good service here,” I said. But it was absorbed again in groomings its
tail, and did not reply.

I considered telling the cat what had happened in the corridor, or at least
asking about a pale blue version of the Stork, or about ravening beams of
eldritch darkness. But I decided against it, kept my own counsel for the time,
and lay down again to wait for the next interview.

(9)

“Adolphus is a fool,” the lady Luna said, pacing among the whirring machines
and sealed jars and oddly-colored fires of her sittingroom. “Is that why
you spoke to him first?”

“I did not make that decision; it was up to the Council, or perhaps the
Castle.”

She looked sharply at me. “Frippery,” she said, nearly spat. “You are here
to do a job, do it and get on.”

I nodded. “That is why I am here, after all.”

“So. What shall I tell you? I know nothing about the death of Viridax, and
care little. Let the mystery be solved, and this tedious Council end.”

“You have other things to be doing?”

Here the lady only snorted, and tossed a handful of herbs from a lidded box
into a greenish flame. Sparks flew up, and a strong smell of cinnamon.

“Ask your questions, questioner,” she said, “and be quick.”

“Who,” I asked, “had reason to want Viridax dead?”

She nodded. “Everyone,” she replied, “everyone and no one. Every member of
the Council is an obstacle to every other, but an obstacle that cannot be
removed by anything as simple as death.”

“Viridax is not removed, then?”

She made another rude sound. “He is removed, well enough, but the Council
will soon enough be seven again, and there will be as many obstacles as ever.”

“So whoever the new seventh will be would have reason to hasten that process?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head and settling down in an armchair of steel
and red velvet, “it is not that simple. Not nearly that simple. Once the
Council lacks a member, the lower ranks will surge and churn for a dozen years,
and some one of them will come out on top of the waves, and rise into the
Council, and become a new annoyance to all.”

“So any member of those lower ranks…?”

“Any member of those lower ranks would be fried to a crisp before it got within
a league of this castle,” she hissed. “It is not to be thought of.”

“One of the other Council members, then, you suggest?”

“It is the obvious hypothesis.”

“Was it you?”

She laughed, and my skin crawled from the cruelty of it. “Would that it had
been, and I could simply confess and have it done with.”

“Why not do so, then? Simplifying the process.”

“You are ignorant. A lie of that magnitude would distort the firmament. Would
lessen my power, and tangle the strands.”

“So it was not you.”

“It was not.”

“Should I simply gather all six, or seven, of the Council again, then, ask each
to declare innocence, and see which declaration tangles the strands?”

She shook her head again. “Never that simple. The tangling is not something
that even a wizard can simply see. You, of course, would be hopeless.”

The very constancy of her insults robbed them of all sting. I steepled my
fingers again before my face, sitting on the low settee, and considered.

“What will happen,” I asked, “to the guilty party, the murderer of Viridax,
called The Wise, when that party is identified?”

“That is not,” she declared, “something that need concern you.”

“I must respectfully differ, Lady Luna,” I said, sitting back and recrossing
my legs. “Unless I know what the punishment might be, I will not know how
strong a motive the murderer must have had, and if I do not know that, what
hope will I have of divining who that murderer was?”

She narrowed her eyes. “I will bring the matter to the Council’s attention.
That is not something that I will tell you of myself.”

I shfited again on the seat. “So let us assume it was one of the Council.
Is there one of them that had more to gain than the others? Was Viridax a
particular obstacle to one, that would have driven that one to murder, despite
the risk of discovery and whatever punishment might follow?”

This got me a dismissive wave of one gloved hand. “I neither know nor care;
the intrigues and peculiarities of the Council are of interest only as they
interfere and slow my work. Find them out elsewhere, that is your task, not
mine.”

“What were you yourself doing when Viridax met his end?”

“I was in my workroom, which you may not see, at work on endeavors that I will
not describe, and that you would not understand if I did.”

“And when he did meet that end, I am told that the Council instantly became
of a single mind?”

She looked at me more fully, raising her eyebrows. “Is that how Adolphus the
fool described it? I suppose it is accurate enough.”

I did not make mention of the cat.

“And did all of the remaining Council members, all six or in fact seven of you,
arrive at that one mind at once? Were any delayed, or absent, or –”

“Or arriving with blood dripping from their hands?” she interrupted derisively.
“No, nor sobbing nor screaming nor guiltily avoiding the others’ gaze, nor
emitting a miasma of psychic evil as might befit a recent murderer. Had there
been any of those things, we would hardly have had to — summon you.”

The pause before her “summon” was, I thought, meant to be significant. I
ignored it.

“What of the three who count only as two? Will the Devries brothers, and She
of the Grey Mountain and unnecessarily long name, have the opportunity now to
become three members of the Council, rather than the two that they presently
are?”

She stared at me for some space of time.

“These questions are –”

“These questions,” I boldly interjected, “are the main tool that I have to
solve that mystery that you claim so much to desire solved.”

She stared again.

“Those three are two, not for any trivial reason in any way related to the
doings of the Council of Wizards, and they cannot become three again in any
way at all. The issue is irrelevant. And, as I was about to say, these
questions, however long you vex me with them, not going to undo your deep and
thorough ignorance of all the matters relevant to your inquiry. You had best
leave me, learn the elementary facts of our existence, and return when you know
enough to spend my time to better ends.”

“And where might I learn these elementary facts of your existence, besides from
the wizards themselves?”

She blew an exasperated breath. “From the _other_ wizards, I expect. The will
be all eagerness to speak to you, some of them, I am sure.”

“But perhaps some of those most willing to talk are merely fools?” I suggested.

“It is true,” she said, bending forward to look within a box on the side table,
“altogether too true. But speak to the Council, with its fools, see if they
will give you access to those parts of the Library that you might survive, and
return when you can ask sensible questions that will not waste my time.”

“Why would the rest of the Council be any more patient with my questions than
you are?”

She blew out her cheeks and gestured emphatically that I should now leave.

I did.

(10)

“So she suggested you might get access to the Library, did she?” The cat was,
as usual, curled on my bed.

I walked to the window and, for the first time, looked out. It was apparently
night, and nothing was visible but vague and distant suggestions of trees, a
sky, stars, and possibly hills. With the window open, there was a small and
cool, rather dampish, breeze.

“She did,” I replied, “Do you think that that is likely?”

“It would be unprecedented as far as I know,” it replied, turning luxuriously
on its back, “but so is your presence here.”

“As far as you know.”

“As far as I know. But that is really quite far.”

“It was not a very productive interview. I am learning at a furious rate, but
the primary thing I am learning is that I know almost nothing. Access to the
Library might be a blessing. Might even, her words implied, prove pleasantly
fatal.”

The cat sat up on its haunches and looked at me, its head quirked to one side.

“Pleasantly, you say?” it purred, “Does the notion of death attract you?”

“I was created, if this theory of my creation is correct, solely to solve the
mystery of this death. The probability of my solving it, clouded as it is by
the machinations of powerful wizards, and by my own profound ignorance, seems
small. The thought of continued ignorance is unbearable to me; the thought of
death only slightly unpleasant.”

“Not a common human attitude, as I understand it,” the cat countered.

“I barely exist!” I replied vehemently, surprising myself by the strength of my
reaction, but finding that strength also interesting and invigorating. “People
and wizards and I assume also talking cats are formed from the memories that
they have; relationships to prior experience define present experience, define
purpose and character and identity. And I have no memories!

“Even an anmesiac, whose memories are stolen or buried, still has the patterns
of reaction that the former memories built within. I have not even that; my
own patterns of reaction are built upon — built upon I know not what.”

“A plausible point,” said the cat, curling up again within its thick tail, “but
built in fact upon a most singular and interesting substrate, that of the
complex and various thoughts and designs and gifts and divers specifyings of
six, or so to speak seven, ancient (or presumed ancient) and powerful wizards.
Surely that counts for something.”

I lowered myself onto the bed beside it.

“A fascinating theoretical speculation, I suppose. Still, what those six or
seven plurigenarian thaumaturges have created, has here,” tapping or thumping
myself on the chest, “only two things: a desire to solve the puzzle of the
death of Viridax, called The Wise, and beside that a hollow and perfect vacuum,
an emptiness that would devour everything around it, and finally itself.”

“Well, then, it seems that you have two puzzles to solve: the morbid one of
Viridax, and the somewhat livelier one of yourself,” and it began again licking
one paw with a pinkish-brown tongue.

I rolled onto my back and looked up into the dimness of the ceiling beams.

“Is there known,” I said, “to be another wizard, or familiar, or entity, or
emanation, within this castle, which might resemble the one called The Stork,
except blue where that one is green, and perhaps somewhat paler in the color
of the enfolding robes hanging from the spindly frame?”

“And here is a change of subject,” the cat noted, “and a very concrete question
that is. Have you come across such an entity, somewhere in the last day?”

“Don’t you know?” I returned, “Since nothing in the castle can be hidden?”

I had no knowledge, at that point, of talking cats in general, but I thought to
myself that this one produced a rather disturbing sound when a laugh and a purr
collided.

“You will haunt me with my words forever, I think. Nothing in the castle
except the doings of the wizards themselves may be hidden from the wizards
themselves. Much may be hidden from a mere familiar cat. Or,” it added,
one eye closed, “from a mere conjured investigator.”

“No doubt,” I said, “but on the subject of bluish versions of The Stork, you
are ignorant?”

“I am not entirely ignorant. The Stork is, first, not bound by any eldritch
forces to wearing only the one color of garment, so she herself, might well go
about the castle in blue for obscure wizardly reasons, or merely personal whim.
The Stork, secondly, is known to employ familiar spirits that greatly resemble
their summoner, to the occasional confusion and consternation of all.”

Here the cat stopped, tail-tip twitched, and considered me, perhaps waiting for
some further question, or some relevation. I considered it in return, keeping
my silence.

“Perhaps,” the cat said, standing and arching its back in a most boneless and
luxurious manner, “you should enquire of The Stork herself, if you have any
more questions along that line.”

“Perhaps I should,” I agreed, “perhaps I should.”

(11)

For the first two interviews, a servitor had merely arrived and indicated that
I should follow. With my newly-awakened ability to summon the servitors at
will, I was confident, perhaps unjustifiably confident, that I could summon
one at will, to convey me to whichever of the Council I determined to speak to
next.

Before doing that, I passed through the outer door of my rooms, into the
corridor beyond, and mindful of what had happened the last time I had explored
the castle alone, I tried to summon a protective agency of some kind, forming
in my mind the image of a sort of servitor-with-sword, and attempting to
project that image in some appropriate metaphorical direction. This had no
more effect than it ought to have had, and I stood there for some brief time,
attempting various equally ineffective variants of that, and feeling rather
foolish.

When I grew weary of that, I turned and began walking down the hallway,
summoning a guardian servitor casually as I went. The easy and unthinking
summons worked where the inner and conscious ones had failed (the difference
again between ineffectively thinking of raising an arm, and merely raising it).
The guardian strode to me from around an unexplored corner of the hallway,
a grim-faced man, tall and burly, with a light crossbow, and daggers and
truncheons hanging from the leather straps crossing his chest.

I kept to myself any doubts I had about the effctiveness of a truncheon in the
fact of ravening beams of eldritch darkness.

The next door in the corridor, on the same wall as the door to my rooms, was
locked. Flush with my success summoning my guardian, I reached out and
unlocked the door, with no particular key or latch, but merely by unlocking it.
It gave a very satisfying click.

The rooms beyond were markedly less satisfying, and it was not obvious why the
door been locked at all. It was a suite of rooms, similar to mine, mostly
unfurnished, and smelling of dust and disuse. Perhaps, it occurred to me, most
or all of the castle’s doors were similarly locked against anyone without the,
well, without whatever it was that allowed my to summon castle servitors and
unlock castle doors.

I went out again, into the sloping hallway, my guardian following, silent but
for efficient footsteps and the occasional clink of a dagger-blade against a
truncheon-handle, and walked purposelessly into the darkness. This guardian
glowed, a general dim light that accompanied him rather than being emitted by
him, or that was my impression, in the same way that the other, less-armed,
servitors had, and so we walked along in a vague nimbus of light.

Along the sloping corridor to an archway, through the archway into a small
gallery with a carpeted floor, turning and through another archway, up a
short flight of steps, through a doorless hall what led to one of the large
open galleries I had noted before. Here I stopped, and stood, and thought.

I had been brought here, perhaps created here, or at the very least I most
undeniably _was_ here. I had no memory, but I had knowledge, and speech. I
had certain unusual abilities, to see in darkness, to summon various denizens
of the castle, to unlock at least some of its doors.

I had been shown what appeared to be a dead man, or a dead wizard; I had been
shown what was said to be a thanatoscope that had confirmed his death. A cat
had spoken to me, various people, called or calling themselves wizards, had
spoken to me, saying various words. It was my purpose, I had been told, to
solve the mystery of the wizard’s death.

And the idea of solving that mystery had glowed warm within myself, in that
place where memories ought to be.

The cat, I now recalled, had given me the question of myself as, it had said,
a side-project. Could I solve the one problem without solving the other?
In my mind the various boxes and sorting-holes, the folders and shelves and
bins, spun efficiently, and arranged themselves into meaningful patterns.
The question of Viridax, it seemed to me, was intimately tangled with the
question of myself, and although it might be possible to solve the one without
solving the other, I found I had no interest in doing it that way, and a very
great interest in solving them both.

Behind me in the large gallery, my guardian shifted his weight, quietly, from
one foot to the other. I wondered if he felt we were too exposed here, and I
smiled to myself.

“Onward, then,” I said, to both of us, and had him convey me to the rooms, or
whatever dwelling there might be, of The Stork.

(12)

It was a place of mists, of narrow stone staircases rising railless over
a swirling endless abyss, of odd memory-taunting scents (even to me, who had
no memory to taunt), of angles that mocked the eye and floors that turned
seamlessly into walls, and walls into floors, as one approached. A place
with no visible entrance or exit, where winds rose suddenly, tore past, and
died in an instant. Where sounds swelled and diminished, crashed and fell
and overlapped, and gave way to echoing silences.

It was a place, the domain of The Stork within the castle, designed to confuse
and disorient, to disturb and disquiet. Had I come here first I might have
been entirely overwhelmed; but now I could feel how it nestled in the larger
body of the castle, how its magics were merely tricks of the eyes and ear and
nose. Even while I stood on a platform that swayed unsteadily in a misty
void, buffetted by sudden winds and with the sound of an invisible sea in my
ears, at the same time I held the entire domain in my hand, like a child with
a snow-globe.

“There is no mystery to solve,” said The Stork, sitting in the only chair on
the platform, if chair it was; seat in any case, a mossy-looking rock seemingly
landed at random in the midst of the chaos. “No mystery to solve, no death and
no life, no investigator and no suspects.”

I folded my legs and sat on the platform.

“An appropriately mystical philosophy,” I said, raising my voice over the loud
cacaphony of seabird cries that rose as I spoke, “but not of any particular use
at the present moment.”

“Why do you speak of uses? If there is no truth to this puzzle, to this death
or murder, then there is no use to your being here.”

I sighed inwardly.

“It was you, as well as the others, that summoned me up within that circle of
candles and that five-pointed star. Do you not have, necessarily, an interest
in my succeeding in the task for which I was brought here?”

“Your senses,” said The Stork from within the muffling drape, in a voice at
once droning and harsh, “are unreliable, and your logic misleads you.”

“No doubt,” I replied, “but still I am here, and I am taking up your time, and
the more quickly this mystery is resolved, the more quickly that will stop,
and you may return to whatever you were doing. Is that not desirable?”

The Stork reached up one thin arm to her cowl, and threw it back. Her head was
thin and hairless, almost fleshless, skin tight over the bones, and bones in a
shape not usual among human skulls, sharp and (perhaps unsurprisingly) almost
avian. The skin was brown and pitted. Altogether not an edifying sight.

When she, or here it seems better to say “it”, spoke again, its thin lips, mere
sheets of dry skin, pulled unpleasantly away from the axe-like point of its
mouth and teeth.

“You know nothing of me, or of the circumstances of your summoning. You do
not know what questions you ask, and you neither hear nor understand the
answers.”

“I’m sure,” I replied, with a less inward sigh, “and yet here I am. Are you
recommending solipsism to me? It has never been attractive, as a practical
matter.”

Here it laughed, or shouted, or perhaps cackled or cawed, and I winced.

“I am only what your senses create for you to perceive. The maze that you put
up between reality and your mind distorts everything beyond recognition. No
part of the real world reaches your perception unaltered, utterly changed,
effectively unrelated to the reality you fool yourself that you perceive.”

“That is possible,” I allowed, “and I am sure this discussion would be
fascinating if we had, as the poet says, world enough and time. But –”

“Your every utterance depends upon unproven assumptions, upon foundations
which rest on less than sand. You believe that you are here, and that you are
discussing something with some other thinking being. You assume that the
universe contains places, and multiple thinking beings. No discussion, no
discourse, no argument is possible without knowing all of these things, and
yet you cannot know them, you cannot even have evidence for them, since
they are also required prior to having any evidence, and to have any evidence
you would have to know of the connection between your perceptions and the real
world; but that also you can never hope to know.”

“In quite a quandry, then, amn’t I?” I answered, in what I hoped was a patient
tone, “Given this serious, and in fact hopeless, pickle, there is clearly no
point to anything in particular. But then there is also no point to doing
nothing. So what say we continue? Let us pretend that we know each other
exist, that we have some rough knowledge of the external world, that we are
capable of communication, and so on. Just for the moment.”

A miniature cyclone of wind, smelling of cayenne and filled with the sound of
clanging metal, swirled in from nowhere and beat around our heads.

Impatiently I flung it outward so that it dissipated against the outer wall of
The Stork’s domain, where it sat within the walls of the catle. That walls was
sorcerously invisible to my eyes and other usual senses, but I found that I
knew very well just where it was, and that batting the eldritch wind aside was
easy and quite satisfying; another formerly-tied limb now loosened.

I smiled to myself.

“Let us assume, for instance,” I went on, the nuisance banished for the moment,
“that you are the Council member that caused the death of Viridax, called The
Wise.”

“Your senses –“, the grating voice began, I thought perhaps a little less
confidently.

I cut it off.

“My senses are no doubt just horribly inadequate. And yet if The Stork is
found to be the killer of Viridan the Wise, perhaps The Stork will, quite
apart from the paucity of my senses and the impossibility of true knowledge
of the external world, still suffer certain indignities? Punishments, even?”

Here I found myself standing in a hallway, outside of the sphere of The Stork’s
domain, with no door to be seen. I flexed my shoulders and my inner senses,
with an idea of forcing myself back in. But then decided that I had had enough
of that particular discourse for the time being.

(13)

“Tell me,” I said to the cat, “about the Castle itself. Where is it situated,
how is it reached, how defended, what is nearby? Are we on the coast or on a
mountaintop? In a city or a desert plain? All I see from this window is vague
night. Is it never day here?”

The cat stood up on the bedspread, stretched, and curled up the other way
around, tucking its tail again under itself.

“Well,” it said, “knowing those things would seriously cut down the size of the
space of possibilities.”

“An odd thing to say,” I observed, “since I am here exactly to cut down the
space of possibilities until it contains just the single truth.”

“A quaint notion, the single truth.”

“If you are going to start down that road, I will find a way to evict you; The
Stork was quite obsessed with the hopelessness of knowledge. I need a single
truth only to the extent that I must unravel the death of Viridax the Wise.
You may make yourself useful by answering the questions I’ve asked.”

The cat’s tale twitched vexedly. “If you insist,” it muttered, “the Castle is
situated atop a mountain peak that caps one end of a range of mountains that
extends from a larger range to the West. There is a rather ragged village,
which swells and shrinks with the centuries, at the base of the mountain, and
not much else of note anywhere nearby. It can be reached by a sorry and steep
and dangerous cart-track, or by various mystical means known to the Council and
passed down from one to the next.

“It is defended, as you might imagine, by its location and situation, and by
hosts of known and forgotten, ancient and modern, evident and secret, magical
devices and fields and beings.

“And out your window, as you have noticed, it is always night.”

“Is that part of the mystical defenses of the Castle, or just a way of putting
the occasional summoned investigator in his place?”

“That, I cannot say,” said the cat, and tucked its head under one broad paw,
and rather definitely closed its eyes.

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