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     Robert Asprin
     MYTH-ion Improbable
     

Origin: Библиотека "Артефакт" -- http://andrey.tsx.org/


http://www.meishamerlin.com/Myth-IonImprobableExcerpt.html

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     Chapter One
     "Here we go again!"
     C-3PO
     When my teacher/mentor Aahz grumbles or  rants about my being stupid or
having done something stupid, I make a  big show of being apologetic, but it
really  doesn't bother me all that much. I figure it goes with the territory
and is part of the price of learning magik.
     I mean, first of all, there's the point  that Aahz  is older than I  am
and  has  been around  more.  A lot  more.  He's  an  experienced  dimension
traveler, or 'demon' for short, and compared to his knowledge and experience
I really am stupid and naive.
     Then,  too,  the dimension he  hails  from,  Perv,  is  noted  for  its
short-tempered, hostile inhabitants. Other dimension travelers tend to avoid
Perv whenever possible, and give the green, scaly Pervects a wide berth when
encountering them in other dimensions.
     To cap it all off, while  he was once an accomplished magician himself,
Aahz lost his powers when we met (See Another Fine Myth). Watching me fumble
and  stutter while  learning  what are, to him,  some of  the simplest, most
rudimentary  spells, all the while  being aware that, at least for the  time
being, he's dependent on  me in the magik department, is bound to make him a
bit testy from time to time.
     I can understand and accept it when I do something he thinks is stupid.
When I do something that, in hindsight, I think is  stupid... that's another
matter entirely.
     We  were ensconced  in the  Royal Palace of  the  Kingdom of Possiltum,
enjoying my cushy position as the Royal Court Magician, a job that Aahz  had
coached me through the auditions for. That is, Aahz was enjoying it. For him
it was comfortable  surroundings  and a steady, generous salary. For  me, it
was  living  in  constant  close contact  with  a  grouchy demon  who seemed
determined that I practice my magik lessons night and day.
     Needless to say,  this gets boring  after a while. The few adventures I
had been on  since I had apprenticed myself to  Aahz had whetted my appetite
for  travel, and I  was eager  for  more.  Unfortunately,  Aahz  steadfastly
refused to even start teaching me how to dimension-travel on  my own, saying
it was far too dangerous for someone with my meager magikal abilities.
     That's when I decided to try  something really stupid. I decided to try
to outwit Aahz and trick him into taking me dimension traveling again.
     An item had come to hand that  I thought  might be just the ticket,  so
one afternoon when he seemed a bit bored himself, I sprang it on him.
     "Aahz,"  I  said, holding out a folded  piece  of parchment  to him, "I
think you should take a look at this."
     Aahz glared  at the paper in my hand as if it might bite  him. And when
someone from Perv glares, it is really something to see.
     "And just what is that?"
     "It looks like a map." I shrugged. Actually, I knew it was a map. While
Tanda and I had been jumping dimensions, shopping for a birthday present for
Aahz,  I had  been offered this map by  a  beggar on a  street corner. Since
Tanda had been, at that  moment, off  talking to some sort of businessmen of
that dimension, I had bought the map for a few coins, thinking it would be a
fun small gift. I had stuck the map in my belt  pouch, and then proceeded to
forget  about  it because  of  all  the  problems  with  the Big  Game three
dimensions  later.   Actually,  forgetting   about  the   map  was  entirely
understandable, since  Tanda  ended up captured  and our main  focus  was on
freeing her. And the only way we could free her was  by winning the game. So
forgetting the map was reasonable. I had had enough on my mind.
     But today, while searching through my pouch for something else, I found
the map.  While I honestly didn't know  what it  was, I thought it might  be
what I needed to bait Aahz into taking me dimension traveling again.
     Aahz  still  wasn't about to  touch the parchment.  He  motioned to the
fire.
     "Throw it in there and then get back to your practice."
     "I'm done with my practice," I said.
     "You're never done with your practice."
     I ignored him and pushed on.
     "Besides, I paid good coins for this map."
     That was my trump  card. If  there's anything Aahz  hates, it's wasting
money.  He got angry with me every time my dragon,  Gleep, tore up something
while playing,  and the cost  of repairs were  taken  from my wages. When it
came to my money, Aahz was in complete control. And by the way he talked, we
were always broke and about to go hungry.
     "A scam, I'm sure,"  Aahz  said, turning away. "Just like you to  waste
money."
     I frowned. This  was  going to  be harder than I thought. Normally,  if
there was any chance of making money at anything, he jumped at it.
     Then it dawned on me I hadn't told him what the map led to.
     "Aahz," I said to his back.
     He didn't move.  Instead he  just kept staring  out the  window at  the
courtyard.
     "Aahz, you might really want  to look at this. It's a map to a creature
called a cow."
     "So?" Aahz said, shaking his head. "Remember the  last  time we were at
the Bazaar at Deva? Where do you think that steak you ate came from?"
     I stared at him. I had  no idea steaks came from creatures called cows.
I had just assumed they came from creatures called  steaks. Trout  came from
trout, salmon  came  from  salmon, and  duck came from duck. It was logical.
Besides, there  were no cows  in this  dimension. At least,  none that I had
ever met.
     "Well," I said, glancing at the parchment in my hand, "this is a map to
a golden cow that lives in a golden palace and gives gold-laced milk."
     Aahz slowly turned to stare at  me,  his eyes slit as if he were trying
to figure out if I was actually joking or not Then, in  two steps, he was in
front of me, snatching the map from my grasp.
     "So there really is such a golden  beast?" I asked while he studied the
paper.
     He didn't  respond, so  I stood and watched  him stare at the  map. The
writing on  it was  odd,  actually. It  didn't  show  roads, but  more  like
dimensions, energy points, and vortexes. Most of it I didn't understand, and
almost none of the map had any  names on it, but there was  a massive amount
about jumping from dimension to dimension that I didn't understand.
     Aahz  had told  me once there were so  many dimensions, no one knew the
total  number, and  it was  easy  to  get lost and  never make  it back when
jumping  from dimension  to dimension. After my shopping trip with Tanda  to
thirty or forty different dimensions, I was starting to believe him.
     Finally he looked down at me, a  frown on  his ugly face. And when Aahz
frowned,  which was  a  great deal  of the  time, he looked  like an  animal
snarling. His  green skin  and bright eyes  and sharp  teeth  could be  very
intimidating if a person wasn't used to it. Luckily, I was.
     "So where  exactly did you get  this?" He fluttered the parchment in my
face as he asked the question.
     "Bought it from a man on  a street  corner," I said. "I  think it might
have been some beggar."
     "What dimension?"
     "Not a clue."  I  shrugged. "One of the many  Tanda and I visited.  You
could ask her."
     Aahz frowned even more at that.
     "What made you buy it?"
     Again I shrugged.
     "I  honestly don't  know.  I  thought  you'd have fun with  it for your
birthday, and the guy said I was the first traveler he'd seen in a long time
who might be able to use it and live to tell the tale."
     "Could he see through your disguises?" Aahz asked, staring at me.
     I tried to remember back  to the day.  I had used my  standard disguise
spell,  and  on  that  dimension,  the spell had not been hard.  Most of the
residents  stood four  feet  tall, and had two  feet. Compared to disguising
Tanda and me as slugs on one of the previous dimensions, that had been easy.
But the beggar had clearly picked me  out of a  crowd, and he seemed  out of
place among the short people, being almost five feet tall.
     I looked at Aahz and nodded.
     "Maybe. But I don't know how he could have."
     Aahz waved his hand in disgust.
     "Apprentice,  there are a  thousand ways, especially  with  someone  so
unpracticed as you."
     I said nothing.  No point  in  even  trying  to defend my talents. Aahz
always won those conversations by making me try something I couldn't yet do.
And  that  was  just about everything  when  it came  to  magik.  But making
disguises is my best ability.
     Aahz  spun around and  moved back to  the window, keeping  the map with
him. He stood there, staring out over the courtyard, letting  the silence in
the room just build and build. And if there was one thing I hated more  than
anything, it was the sound of someone thinking, without telling me what they
were thinking about.
     "So,  is there such a  golden cow?" I  asked, moving  over and standing
beside him in the big window so he couldn't ignore me.
     In the courtyard below the window, Gleep was running in circles chasing
his tail.  Thank  heavens he wasn't  near anything, because  when  a  dragon
started chasing his  tail, things got knocked down,  trampled, and just flat
destroyed. Especially when it was young dragon.
     What was  even more amazing  was that  Aahz didn't seem to  be noticing
what Gleep was doing. Clearly the map meant something to him.
     "The golden cow?" I asked again, "Is it real?"
     Aahz slowly turned and looked at me.
     "A myth. There are a lot of them in the different dimensions."
     "You're kidding! You mean there is more than one golden-milk-giving-cow
myth?"  Considering that  I had  never heard of a cow before  today, I found
that a little hard  to imagine. I'm not sure exactly why I thought  even one
golden cow was easy to imagine, but dozens of them were just too much. Maybe
there was an entire dimension with a race of them.
     Aahz  sighed. When  he sighed like that,  it  usually meant I was being
extra stupid or dense.
     "Every  tenth dimension  has  a  myth about an animal  or person  doing
something with gold. One has a goose  laying golden eggs, another has a fish
touching things  and turning  them to gold, another  has  a duck with golden
feathers."
     "One heavy bird," I said, trying to imagine the duck covered in gold.
     Aahz sighed again.
     "The feathers become gold when they fall off."
     "Got you," I said.  "You ever  been near or  seen  one  of these golden
animals?"
     Aahz laughed, his demon-sound shaking the room.
     "If I  had,  would  I  be here,  in  this  dump of a  palace,  with  an
apprentice as stupid as you?"
     I had to admit he had a good point,  but I didn't really  want to agree
with him.
     "So that is a sham map," I said.
     "Most  likely," Aahz said, staring out at the courtyard where Gleep had
now managed to catch his tail. He bit it so hard, the poor dragon jumped and
looked around, startled. Gleep was smart in many ways, but not about his own
tail.
     I glanced  over at Aahz. When he said 'most likely,' and didn't look at
me, it meant he thought there might be a slight chance the map was real.
     "Why only most likely?" I asked.
     "Because," Aahz said, "I saw a golden deer-dropping once."
     "Deer dropping?" Again I had no idea what he meant.
     "Deer poop," Aahz said, his  voice showing he was getting very tired of
my stupid questions. "Deer turds.  Deer crap. Deer excrement. One  dimension
has a myth about a deer that drops gold. I saw one of the droppings. And..."
     He stopped,  still  not  looking  at me.  In  all the time we  had been
together, I had never seen him like this before.
     "And what?" I asked.
     "And I saw part of a solid-gold elk antler at the Bazaar at Deva."
     I  was  stunned. A  deer  that  pooped gold and an  elk that had golden
antlers.
     "So the map might actually be real?"
     "I doubt it," Aahz said, glancing at it.
     "But you don't know for sure, do you?"
     He shook his head.
     "Not for sure."
     "So we're going to check it out?"
     He looked down at the map in his hand, then folded it and stuffed it in
his pocket.
     "I'll be back in an hour."
     He pulled out the  D-Hopper and twisted it to a setting. Back before he
met me and  lost  his  powers,  he  used to  be able  to  jump  through  the
dimensions  without the  use of a D-Hopper. Now  he  needed the help and  he
hated it.
     "Wait!" I shouted. "You can't go looking for it without me."
     "I'm  not," Aahz said.  "And  get that  dragon of  yours  under control
before he breaks something again and we have to pay  for it. Be ready to go.
One hour. And the dragon doesn't come with us."
     With that Aahz was gone, vanished off to another dimension with a faint
BAMF.
     By the time Aahz  got back I had  Gleep in his stall in the stables and
had arranged for someone to feed and walk him until I returned from wherever
we were going.
     I was standing  near  the foot  of the bed in my room when suddenly the
air next to me sort of went BAMF again. Not real loud, but startling when it
happened two feet from you. I jumped. Aahz was back, and he had my  favorite
demon in the entire universe of demons with him.
     "Tananda!" I shouted,  stepping  toward the beautiful creature with the
long green hair and a body that, with a deep breath, could stop a parade.
     "Skeeve!" she shouted back, laughing.
     Then she pulled me into a hug that I hoped would never, ever stop. Now,
granted,  it had  only been a month since  I  had last seen  her, drunk as a
skunk at Aahz's birthday party.  But every time I saw her I figured it was a
great excuse for a very long hug. And she sure didn't seem to mind, either.
     Tanda was a former assassin and member of the guild. I wasn't sure what
she did now besides shop and go on adventures. What's more,  I didn't really
want to know. We were friends, and that was enough for me.
     Aahz cleared his throat  after far too  short  a  time in her wonderful
hug. He did seem to mind that  she didn't mind. Oh,  well. I still  believed
she liked me better than him, and that was all that mattered.
     She pushed me back and looked at me sternly, her wonderful eyes glaring
at me with mock anger.
     "Why didn't you tell me you had bought a treasure map?"
     "Actually, I was going to when we stopped for the night," I said with a
shrug, "but then the  game  and you getting captured  and everything sort of
pushed the map out of my mind."
     "So do you remember how many dimensions before Jahk you bought it?" she
asked.
     I knew  exactly  how  many,  since I  had  done the  disguises in every
dimension on the trip. "Three," I said.
     "You're absolutely sure?"  Aahz asked,  his  golden eyes staring  at me
like they were about to shoot daggers.
     I held up my hand.
     "Jahk, the dimension with the Big Game."
     I pointed at my thumb.
     Tanda nodded and  Aahz just glared, his expression of annoyance  making
me take my time.
     "Counting  backwards,"  I  said,  pointing  at  my index  finger,  "the
dimension before that was where we had to look like  a form of a three-nosed
pig."
     I wiggled my  index  finger at both of  them. Tanda nodded.  "Yeah, fun
place."
     "Not really,"  I said.  Aahz's glare got  deeper, so I went on. "Before
that was the dimension where  we had to be  eight feet  tall and have  three
legs." I  pointed  at my  middle  finger. Tanda laughed.  "That  was  a  fun
dimension, too. Wasn't it?"  It hadn't been, since  walking on three legs is
something that is a factor  harder  than trying to fly by flapping your arms
and jumping off a cliff. But I ignored her this time and went on.
     I pointed to my next finger.
     "Dimension  where we had to be four feet tall  and where  I  bought the
map."  I  held  up  the three fingers.  'That  many  in  front  of the  game
dimension."
     I wanted to add that  I could go over them again if Aahz wanted, but he
was clearly not happy with me, so I didn't offer.
     Tanda smiled. "I thought so. Mini."
     "So what's so special about  that dimension?" I asked. It hadn't seemed
like much to me, although Tanda had  not wanted to stay  there  long on  our
shopping trip.
     "Actually," Aahz said, "it makes this map more likely to be real."
     "Almost certain." Tanda laughed.
     "You're kidding?" I  asked. "You really think there is a golden cow out
there?"
     "I didn't say  that," Aahz said. "I just said the map  was likely to be
real."
     I frowned and Tanda laughed.
     "Mini is  populated  by  Minikins, who  have  this awful power of never
telling a lie about anything. They do not do well at the Bazaar at Deva, for
obvious reasons."
     "But what happens if the guy who sold it to me wasn't a Minikin?"
     "If  he had been  there for more  than a day, he had  to tell the truth
about the map as well.  That's why we got out of there so fast. Truth is not
a good influence when you are shopping."
     At that  I  had no  firsthand knowledge, but I figured  Tanda  was  the
expert.
     "Come on,"  she  said to Aahz. "Dig  out the map.  We're  wasting time.
Let's do this."
     "Why do I have a  bad feeling about this?" Aahz asked as he pulled  out
the  parchment,  unfolded it, and put it on the bed so all three of us could
look at it.
     I had no idea what I  was looking at, but Tanda  seemed to. She pointed
at the upper left corner.
     "That's Minikins' Dimension."
     Even I knew that, since it was labeled Mini.
     "So we start there?"
     Aahz  nodded. So  did  Tanda,  for  which I  was grateful. If they both
agreed, at least we had something solid.
     Tanda ran her finger along the only line leading from Minikin. It ended
at a dot  that was labeled Vortex #1. She  studied that  for  a moment, then
glanced at Aahz.
     "You have any idea what that means? Or where it's at?"
     "Not a clue," he said.
     Now I was stunned.  It wasn't often that my  mentor  admitted he didn't
know  something.  In fact, I  couldn't remember the  last time that  it  had
happened, if ever. I  wanted to point that  out to him, but this just didn't
seem to be the right time, so I went back to studying the map.
     I could see that on the map Vortex #1  had six lines leading off to six
unlabeled points  on the paper. And lines led off of each of those points to
other  vortex dots.  There were  seven more  vortexes listed,  and a big "X"
marking the cow in the lower right corner of the map. Only one line led from
Vortex #8 to the cow.
     It was clear that there was no straight line  from Mini to the cow. And
no right path.  From  the looks of it, we could go any of a dozen  different
ways, through different  points labeled vortexes, taking different lines. If
nothing else, this was going to be an interesting puzzle.
     Aahz had told  me that dimension-hopping was dangerous because a person
could  hop to an  unknown dimension and never get back.  I wondered now  how
safe  it was going to be following a map  through some of  these dimensions,
especially when even the map was confusing.
     "Well," Tanda said, turning to Aahz. "It looks like we're going to need
some more help if we're going to find this golden beast."
     Aahz looked  at  her and  then slowly  shook  his head.  "You  can't be
thinking what I think you're thinking."
     "I'm thinking it," she said.
     "No!" Aahz said, his voice firm. I knew for a fact that when he said no
like that there was no changing his mind.
     "Yes," Tanda  said,  smiling  at  him with a  smile  that could melt  a
belt-buckle right off  a  guy's pants. She reached up and touched one of the
green scales on his cheek.
     "No," Aahz said, but  this time it  wasn't as  firm. Not even a Pervect
could stand up against Tanda's charms.
     "Yes,"  she said,  turning  the smile  up one more  notch  and stroking
Aahz's green neck just below his ear.
     I was glad she wasn't doing that to me. As it was, just watching  I was
almost a puddle on the floor. And  I didn't even know what they were arguing
about.
     Aahz wasn't faring much better. He shook his head, then  said,  "It's a
mistake."
     "How else are we going to find what dimension to jump to from Minikin?"
     She stroked his cheek and then moved right up against him.
     No sentient male being could have withstood that attack. Aahz didn't.
     I was sweating hard just watching. Much more and I would need to change
into one of my clean shirts.
     "All  right," he said, his voice  so soft I could almost  not hear  it.
"But trust me, this is a mistake."
     "Oh,  we're not showing  anyone the map,"  Tanda said, moving away from
Aahz and turning down her  convincing body language and  smile  to a  normal
level.
     Both Aahz and I took a deep breath.
     "Then why?" Aahz asked.
     "We're just going to find out what, or where a vortex is," Tanda said.
     I couldn't stand it any longer.
     "Would someone please tell me what this is all about?"
     "No," Aahz said.
     He  picked up the map, then took me by  the arm and stepped over beside
Tanda. A moment later we were in the Bazaar at Deva.
     Chapter Two
     "How bazaar!"
     RIPLEY
     The Bazaar at Deva was like no other place in the universe, or at least
that's what Aahz kept  telling me.  And from my few times in the Bazaar, and
what little of the different dimensions I had seen, I was beginning to agree
with him.
     The Deevels, the residents  of Deva, were known as the best traders and
negotiators. Now, granted, Aahz, as a Pervect, could be tight  with a penny,
but as Aahz had warned,  a  Deevel could trade you out of the penny and  the
pocket you kept it in, and leave you naked and thinking you were better  off
for the deal.
     The Bazaar was the logical  extension of that ability. They had set  up
the  trading  capital of all  the dimensions,  a bazaar  that  now stretched
seemingly forever. Demons, which was a catchphrase for Dimension  Travelers,
were allowed to set up booths and try to make a living doing whatever it was
they did best.
     I don't think anyone really knew how far the Bazaar extended, since the
tents and booths seemed to always be changing  and moving. When  I asked how
long Aahz thought it would take me to walk  across the Bazaar, he said if  I
was lucky, only five or six months, but he doubted I would make it alive.
     It seems that the Bazaar at Deva was also a very dangerous place, which
was why I was doing my best to  keep up with Tananda and Aahz as they headed
through the crowds. I had  no idea why this  area was so jammed with Demons.
It  smelled  like someone was boiling old  shoes, and most of the demons  in
this area were covered in white and red scales that  flaked at the slightest
touch. And in my hurry I was bumping into a lot of them. By the time we came
to  a stop  in front  of  a blank-looking tent with  the  flap closed, I was
sweating like it was a hot summer day, and scales were stuck all over me.
     "Might want to brush those off,"  Aahz said, glancing at me and shaking
his head.
     Neither  he or Tanda seemed to have any on them at all.  I  had no idea
how they had managed that and still moved so fast.
     "Why?"  I asked, half-heartedly pushing the white and red scales off my
sleeve.
     "They're acid," Tanda  said, reaching  over and flicking a scale off my
forehead with a polished nail.
     I picked up the speed of my brushing,  working at getting  every one of
the hundreds of scales stuck to me.
     Tanda and Aahz just laughed.
     "Little help with the back?" I asked, shaking my entire body as hard as
I could.
     Tanda laughed even harder as I  turned around and her hands worked over
my shoulders, down my  back, and across my  rear. Any other  circumstances I
would have enjoyed the feel, but standing in the middle of a crowd with acid
scales all over me sort of deflated any thoughts of enjoyment.
     Aahz  just stood and  shook his  head, staring at the tent, until I was
finished and  Tanda had  inspected  my  hair and neck and other areas  for a
stray scale. I didn't know that we had both missed one in my left shoe until
I looked down and saw that my shoe was smoking. It was one of my best pairs,
too.
     As I kicked off  the shoe and emptied  the acid scale onto  the ground,
Aahz looked at me and bared his teeth in a grin.
     "Just count your blessings it didn't go down your pants."
     I looked at the hole the scale had burnt into my shoe and shuddered.
     "Want me to check you to make sure?" Tanda asked, smiling.
     "Thanks," I said, putting my shoe back on. "Maybe later."
     "I  still don't like this  idea,"  Aahz  said, turning to  stare at the
tent, which was clearly why we were on Deva.
     Tanda shrugged.  "Neither do I, but we don't have much  of a choice, do
we? You know anyone who might know what or where a vortex is?"
     Aahz shook his head, obviously trying to think of someone.
     "I just don't like the price we're going to pay."
     "It doesn't have to be that bad," she said.
     Aahz said nothing.
     I  finished one more last  check for scales and glanced  at the tent we
were standing in front of.  There was no sign, no indication that anyone was
even in it. The crowd in the street seemed to give it a wide berth as well.
     "I just wish I  knew what we were walking into," I said. "A little hint
would be nice."
     "You're staying out here," Aahz said.
     I glanced around at the flowing crowds  of  white-and  red-scaled  acid
demons and shook my head. "Not a chance."
     "We need to stick together,"  Tanda said, taking my side.  "We may have
to move quickly."
     "That doesn't sound good," I said.
     Aahz made his disgusted noise, then looked me right in the eyes.
     "Not a word comes from your mouth in there. Understand?"
     "Sure," I said, making a motion across my mouth that I had sealed it.
     "Here," Tanda said, smiling at me. "Let me help you with that."
     She put her wonderful  hand against my mouth. The smell of her skin was
that of distant flowers; her touch was soft. She ran her hand along my mouth
as I had done, then patted my shoulder.
     "That was-"
     My mouth wouldn't open!
     I tried again.
     The words  sort  of jumbled  inside and the only noise  that reached my
ears was "Thrrrgggg wgggggeeee."
     I tried to shout "What did you do?"
     What   got   to  my   ears  was  "Wgggggghhh   dggggggghhh   ygggggghhh
dgggggggghhh"
     My lips were completely glued together. And the harder I tried to force
them apart, the more painful it became.
     "I  didn't know you  knew  that one,"  Aahz  said to Tanda,  completely
ignoring my struggle. "I've wanted to use it a hundred times."
     She smiled at  my mentor. "There are  a lot  of things you  don't  know
about me."
     Well, as far I was concerned, sealing  my  lips  wasn't something I had
ever  wanted Tanda to do with anything except maybe a kiss.  I tried to tell
her so, but again nothing sounded like a word.
     "Let's do this," Aahz  said, nodding  in satisfaction  at my condition,
then stepping toward the tent.
     "Don't worry," Tanda said,  smiling  at  my struggle as she took my arm
and followed Aahz. "It's just temporary. Trust me,  it's for your own  good.
And ours as well."
     Not for the first time, it occurred to me that for someone  who claimed
not  to  have enough  magikal  talent  to be a magician, Tanda  occasionally
displayed a lot more knowledge and skill than I had as the Royal Magician of
Possiltum.
     At  the  tent flap  Aahz didn't even hesitate or knock, if knocking was
possible on a big tent. He just stepped inside and Tanda led me right behind
him.
     The place was huge.
     No, huge  didn't describe it. On either side of  us the  tent seemed to
fade off  into  the distance. This was  the first time I had seen one of the
Bazaar tents that had bigger insides than outsides. Aahz had mentioned them,
but until I  stepped  into the massive room on the  other  side of the  tent
flap, I had no idea that such  a thing was  really possible. I was going  to
have to have Aahz  teach me  the magik involved so I could do  that with our
rooms back at the palace.
     The  tent was  dimly lit  and  had a  polished  marble  floor and dark,
wooden-looking walls.  There was almost no  furniture. A simple  wooden desk
sat on the side of the room facing where  we had come in.  A massive map  of
what looked like dimensions filled the wall behind it.
     A  woman  sat at the desk, not looking at  us at all. Whatever had Aahz
and Tanda so worried about being here wasn't clear on first glance. The room
felt odd, but  not threatening, besides it being a hundred times larger than
the tent holding it.  We all stopped a few feet in front  of  the desk, with
Aahz clearly in the position to do the talking.
     The  woman  looked up at him and smiled. She had deep orange eyes and a
pug nose that looked more  like a  hog's nose  than anything like Tanda's. I
had never seen a demon like her before.
     "Yes?" she asked.
     I  almost fell over backwards. Her voice was deep,  rough, and  clearly
that  of a man. It was with the voice that I actually looked at her. Or him,
as I was  coming to realize. I had no idea why I had thought he was a woman.
His arms  and shoulders were built like a  man's, and his  brownish hair was
cut  short. Yet I had  sworn,  until he spoke, that he  was  a  woman.  Just
thinking about it was getting me confused. Aahz got right to the point.
     "We  are looking for directions to a dimension  called Vortex." The man
who sort of looked like a  woman  smiled at Aahz. Now he was back to being a
woman again. And his pig nose had vanished, leaving a wonderful pointed nose
and red lips. And as  I watched her face shifted  slowly. The transformation
was amazing. Her eyes changed color, from orange to blue, her skin darkened,
her cheeks rose, and her hair grew to her shoulders.
     "How the-" I started  to  ask how she changed like that, but  my sealed
lips stopped me cold. Aahz and Tanda said nothing. Clearly they had expected
to meet a shape-shifting  demon in  here.  It was as if  she were constantly
working through disguise spells. Interesting trick, that was for. sure.
     "Well,"  she  said, her  voice now soft and rich  and  alluring, "which
Vortex are you looking for?"
     Aahz seemed to struggle for a moment with the answer. I wanted to blurt
out that we needed  the first eight of them, but luckily my  mouth was glued
shut. I had no idea why I wanted to blurt that out.
     "Vortexes #1 through #8," Aahz said.
     The  demon  behind the  desk was slowly  shifting to  look like a stone
statue, her clothes vanishing into her body  as she changed into a rock-like
demon with scales for skin and arms  as thick as trees. I also  noticed that
the chair it was on  changed with  the size of  the  creature at the moment.
More than likely the chair was part of its body as well.
     "What is  the nature of your  reason for  wanting the location of these
places?" the shifting creature asked, its voice rumbling like thunder inside
the massive room.
     Again Aahz  struggled with the answer. I  had no  doubt in  my  mind  I
wanted to  blurt  out  that we  had a  treasure  map. Something  about  this
creature  clearly forced demons standing in front  of it  to tell the truth.
Now  I  was grateful that Tanda had closed my mouth. I had no idea how  they
were keeping quiet. What I was  feeling was clearly very  powerful  magik or
mind control.
     "We are  searching  for a treasure," Aahz said, his words  measured and
slow, "and our path  leads us through the Vortex dimensions,  starting  with
Vortex #1."
     "Logical," the creature said as it shifted toward a pig-body shape.
     "The price is 10% of your find."
     I could see the anger growing in Aahz's body, his green scales stiff on
his neck.  Giving away anything to  do  with money was beyond something Aahz
could do without undue stress.
     Tanda put her hand on his arm and stepped forward.
     "Your price  is  high  for simple directions. We  will  give you 5%  of
anything we acquire on this venture, no matter what  the value. Otherwise we
will look elsewhere for help."
     The creature now looked like a quatra-piggy, a type of demon I had seen
in the street on an earlier trip here. But that body was quickly changing to
a new shape.
     "You will not find help elsewhere," the shifting  demon said. "But your
offer is fair  and  I will accept.  I  assume  you  need to  go to Vortex #1
first?"
     "Yes," both Aahz and  Tanda said  at  the  same time. The creature, now
shifting back into a beautiful woman again, nodded. "That can be arranged."
     She looked at  Aahz  and  Tanda with a serious look. Her voice was firm
and  very  solid.  "Since  I  have a  financial  stake now in what  you  are
attempting, I must warn  you that a Vortex dimension is not a  place to take
lightly. It is a  very dangerous, and  sometimes tempting, place. It will be
very easy to miss your path and become lost."
     Then she looked at me, her beautiful blue eyes boring into my heart. In
my best  dreams I would remember what this creature looked like forever. She
had transformed into  the most  striking female I could have ever  imagined.
Every part  of my body wanted  to move to her,  to touch her, to never leave
her. Her  gaze seemed to  bore deeper and deeper into me as my legs got weak
and  my stomach did flip-flops. I desperately wanted  my lips to  be free to
tell her how much I loved her.
     "You must  take  care of your  friends," she  said, her wonderful voice
melting every thought I had. "Understand?" I managed to nod.
     "Good," she said, winking at me. "I will know if  you succeed  or fail.
Good luck to you."
     With that the tent and the beautiful woman were gone. Around us  a wind
whipped over the plains, driving dirt and dust into my face.
     "Vortex  #1," Aahz shouted over  the blowing wind. "Here  we go," Tanda
shouted back.
     I just wish someone had warned me we were jumping dimensions.
     "Pgghhhhh ugghhhhh mgggghhhh mggghhhh" was all I managed to say.
     The  dust  blew  around my head, reducing visibility to near zero.  The
changing demon back in  the big tent on  Deva had said the Vortex dimensions
were dangerous and full of temptations. The only temptation I had about this
place was an instant desire to go home.
     "This way! Hurry!"
     Tananda motioned that we should follow her.  Since there was nothing to
be seen but swirling dust, I figured I had nothing to lose.
     It  seemed that  my closed-lip problem was as  temporary as  Tanda  had
promised it would be. By the time she had led us a hundred  staggering paces
through the storm to what looked to be an old log  cabin, my lips were again
free.
     The old cabin that Tanda  had  led us to  had been made of cut-together
logs  and had to  be  a hundred years old. She shoved the  door open  and we
stomped inside. Wind  blew in through at least a hundred cracks in the walls
and the only things that now lived in the place was rodents.
     "What was  the big  rush?" Aahz  said, brushing  dust  from his clothes
after shoving the door closed.
     "Didn't you see it?" Tanda said. "There was something moving out there.
Moving toward us."
     "I must have missed it," Aahz said, and looked at me.
     All I could do  was shake  my head  and shrug.  I hadn't seen  anything
either, but Tanda seemed a bit spooked.
     I got  a  pretty decent fire  in the  middle of  the dirt  floor, using
nothing but my mind and a  bunch of wood,  as Tanda put  a containment field
around the room to keep out the wind.
     As it turned out, both Tanda and Aahz had expected  something to happen
when  we  went into that tent. They were pretty  much  prepared. I just wish
they had warned me to get ready.
     After I finished the fire,  Tanda hung a  translation pendant around my
neck, then another around Aahz's  neck, just in case we ran into someone  we
couldn't understand when we jumped from here.
     "So," I said, holding my hands  out to warm them over the  fire, "could
you  please explain just what happened, who the  shifting demon was, how  we
got here, and where 'here' is?"
     "You  know," Aahz  said  to Tanda,  ignoring me,  "I  think I liked him
better with his mouth sealed."
     "Sealing a guy's lips isn't a nice thing to do," I said. Then I thought
back to what I had wanted to  say while  in the tent and luckily hadn't been
able to. "But I understand why you did it. A compulsion spell, right?"
     Aahz now looked at me with a shocked expression as Tanda laughed.
     "I think your apprentice is starting to learn,"  she  said,  smiling at
Aahz. "Might as well answer his questions."
     Aahz just sighed and sat down on the floor.
     "The tent we  went into was a Shifter's tent. The person we had  talked
to was a  Shifter. The Shifter moved us here, and my guess is this wonderful
place is the Vortex #1 dimension."
     I had to admit that he had answered my questions, but not very well.
     "So  why were you  so reluctant to  go see a  Shifter  for help?" Tanda
laughed at that as she too sat  down on the floor. "It wasn't  just Aahz.  I
didn't want to  either,  but we had no  choice,  if  we really were going to
follow the map."
     "Why?"
     "Because," Aahz  said,  "Shifters have  made it their  business to know
where dimensions are. Remember  I told you that when  jumping to a dimension
you need to have a clear image of that dimension in mind, as well as a solid
place in the dimension?"
     I  nodded. Every  time  I  asked  Aahz  to  start  teaching  me  how to
dimension-hop he brought that problem up.
     "I might  be able to jump to  a few hundred,"  Aahz said, "if I had  my
powers  back and I was close  enough to them. Maybe between Tanda and  me we
could find three  or four hundred. With a really expensive D-Hopper we might
find  another  few  hundred on  top  of that.  But  there are thousands  and
thousands of dimensions. Maybe even millions, for  all I know.  The Shifters
are the travel agents of dimensions."
     "What's a travel agent?"
     I looked at Tanda, then at Aahz. Both were just shaking their heads.
     "Never mind," Aahz said, waving the question away with  his hand. Every
time  he did that, I knew  he  considered  the question  too  stupid  for an
answer.
     "So they charge for the information  and  the jump," I said,  going on.
"Sounds reasonable to me."
     "Well,  it  is  and  it  isn't,"  Tanda said.  "No one  knows where the
Shifters  come from.  They are  masters  of  disguise, and  if  you  try  to
double-cross them you will disappear, never to be seen again."
     "More than likely off to some deadly dimension," Aahz said, shaking his
head.
     "So  we make sure they get their  five percent of the  golden cow if we
find it."
     That seemed logical enough to me.
     "I hope that's all it will take," Aahz said.
     Tanda just nodded.
     I didn't like that  at all. Disappearing was not something I considered
in my  possible future. I  had  plans.  Better, bigger plans. Yet  now I was
risking my life chasing a cow. Not smart at all as far as I was concerned. I
tried  to think about something else besides  a future where someone made me
vanish.
     "How do the Shifters keep changing like that one did?"
     "Disguise spells, maybe.  I  don't know."  Tanda  shrugged. "I've never
seen one really stay the same for very long."
     I considered myself good at disguises, but I was a  long way from being
able to do what that  Shifter had  been doing. Which meant that if they were
that good, it was possible that one of  the shifters  was with us right now,
disguised as something around the room.
     The  thought  almost  made  me  jump. I glanced around, trying  to  see
anything odd about the old log  cabin. There was nothing but a dirt-littered
floor and old logs. Yet I now had a feeling we were being watched.
     "So  let's see if we can figure out where we  are and  how  to take the
next step," Tanda said, scooting over beside Aahz.
     I walked once around the small room, then moved over  to where Aahz had
pulled out the map and spread it on the floor.
     "Would you look at that?" Tanda said, pointing.
     I  saw  instantly what she was talking  about.  The map  had changed. I
studied what was there now, comparing it to what  had been there before. Now
the lines from Vortex #1 were different, and the points at the end  of  each
were labeled. And the upper corner of the map had Deva listed, with a direct
line from Deva to Vortex #1.
     "Amazing," Aahz said, his voice just a whisper. "A true treasure map."
     "How did it do that?" I asked. Aahz laughed.
     "Just as everything is done," he said. "Magik."
     "It's a magik  map, a true treasure map of the dimensions," Tanda said.
"I've only heard of such things."
     She reached  over  and gave  me a  big hug, something I  was more  than
willing to continue as long as she wanted it  to. Finally, far  too quickly,
she let  go and  looked at me. "This was  a great purchase  on your part." I
shrugged. "Not unless it leads somewhere."
     "True," Aahz said, not looking up from the map. I went back to studying
the map as well. As far as I was concerned, it was just lines and points and
a few names. I couldn't use it to  find my way back to where we had appeared
here on Vortex #1, let alone to  jump dimensions. "So the map  changes. What
does that mean?"  Tanda  pointed at the point labeled  Vortex #1. "Thanks to
the  Shifter, we're here. From this point we  have five choices of dimension
jumps."
     She pointed to the five names the lines lead to from  this  place. "The
one  called  Bumppp  looks  the  most  promising."  Aahz  nodded.  "And  the
straightest line through the map as well."
     "You know this Bumppp world?" I asked. "Or any of those places?"
     She slowly shook her head.
     "Aahz?"
     "No, I don't."
     I looked at him, then at Tanda, remembering what Aahz had told me about
dimension  hopping.  You had to know exactly where you  were  going, or  you
couldn't jump.
     "So we're stuck here?" I asked. "That's the end of the trip?"
     "No," Aahz said,  reaching  into  his  belt  pouch and  pulling  out  a
D-Hopper.
     He quickly  scrolled through the listing of dimensions  on  the Hopper,
checking them with the names on the map. Finally, he sighed and put it back.
     And with that sigh I  knew we were  done. The  five possible places  we
could jump to from this place was not on the D-Hopper either.
     "Damn," Tanda said. "I was afraid this might happen."
     She pushed herself to her feet and brushed off her pants.
     "I hate this," Aahz said, standing. He carefully folded the map and put
it in his belt pouch.
     "What are we doing now?"
     Tanda motioned that  I should come  closer. Then  she  reached up,  and
before I could stop her, she sealed my lips again.
     "Sorry," she said. "Can't take the chance."
     I tried to object, but the only thing that came out was "Wggghhh."
     This was getting old. Too  much  more of this kind of treatment  and my
lips were going to be sore for a week.
     A  moment later, without a warning  from either Tanda or Aahz, we  were
back standing in front of the Shifter in the big tent.
     Chapter Three
     "There's no such thing as a free ride."
     M.T.A.
     "Ten percent for  your solution," the Shifter said, its voice  deep and
strong as it studied Tanda and scratched what seemed to be part of its neck.
     I stared at it,  not  really looking at  what it was at the moment, but
more studying how it was changing constantly. It was as  if there was always
a part of it moving, morphing into the next character. The hair shifted, the
skin changed, the arms lengthened, nothing  really staying complete for more
than a few seconds before starting to change  into  the next shape or color.
Its  voice, its chair, its eyes all  changed as well. That really  impressed
me. When I did a disguise spell, I could do clothing and size and shape, but
never the quality of  the eyes. From this Shifter's eyes it looked as if  it
was actually fifty or a hundred different  beings all melding  together. For
all I knew, it  was. I wanted to ask  it  how it  did what  it did, but then
remembered my lips were again sealed.
     "Ten  percent!" Aahz said through  his  teeth, his  voice barely  under
control.
     "On top  of  the  first  five  percent,  bringing the total  to fifteen
percent."
     I thought I could see a blood vessel in Aahz's neck trying to break out
from under the green scales. Any moment Tanda  was going to have to seal his
mouth as well, from the looks of it. I wanted to tell the Shifter how greedy
it was being, but luckily I couldn't.
     "No,"  Tanda  said. "We  will  give you another five percent, and  five
percent more for each time we require your help in this journey, but not one
bit above that."
     The  Shifter had  become a  tall  creature  with a very thin  face  and
hundreds of tiny teeth  crammed into  a very ugly mouth. And  at that moment
the mouth smiled, or at least did something I thought was a smile.
     "Agreed," it said.
     Aahz looked like he  might have a small fit right there, but somehow he
managed  to  contain himself. I was impressed. It  wasn't  often that  large
percentages of a possible  fortune were taken from him and he didn't destroy
something. Aahz and money were not  easily parted, and if we  did find  this
golden cow, there was no doubt  in my mind that Aahz would not want to  part
with much of the golden milk. But now  he would have no choice, for at least
ten percent of the find.
     And I had no  doubt we were  going to be back here a number more  times
before this little venture was over.
     "What is your destination now?" it asked.
     "Bumppp," Tanda said.
     For a moment the creature hesitated,  and I thought I  saw the morphing
hesitate as well. Then it said, almost sadly, "Very well."
     A moment later we ended up in  the middle of a wide meadow filled  with
thick plants and orange flowers. The sky overhead was a faint blue and pink.
Dark-green  trees surrounded the meadow, and in the distance there were pink
mountains. I had been  ready  to  use my disguise spell on  us to protect us
from any storm, but the air was warm and humid, just the way I liked it.
     Actually, all in  all, this was one of the most  beautiful dimensions I
had visited. I wondered what kind of lucky people lived here.
     Tanda turned a full  circle, her sharp  eyes  taking in things I knew I
didn't see.
     "Ten percent?" Aahz said, his teeth still grinding.
     Tanda put her  finger  to her mouth  for Aahz to be silent. I instantly
started searching the tree-line for  any sign of danger.  There was  nothing
that I could see. No natives with  weapons, no crouching tigers, no charging
bears.
     Nothing.
     But clearly from Tanda's actions and the attitude and hesitation of the
Shifter, this wasn't a friendly place. Beautiful, but not friendly.
     "The map," she whispered to Aahz. "Quickly."
     Then she motioned that we should all crouch down.
     The  weeds and flowers covering the meadow were  no more than knee-high
and  would give us no  cover at all. They smelled like my dragon when he got
wet.
     I  figured  we should move to  the edge of the trees. At least there we
might  have a  fighting  chance  if something came at us. But Tanda was  the
ex-assassin  among us. She  knew what she was doing. Or at least I hoped she
did.
     Aahz  opened the map and laid  it out carefully on top of the weeds. It
was clear instantly that the map had again changed. Bumppp, the dimension we
were in, showed  clearly, with only one path  leading from this world toward
the dream of our very own golden cow. And that path led to Vortex #4.
     Not #2, as I would have expected, or even #3, but #4.
     Tanda nodded and motioned for Aahz to quickly fold up the parchment and
put it away. Then she stood.
     I stood right with  her, and the moment I did I saw movement.  Not just
some movement, but all around the edges  of the meadow the weeds and flowers
were jerking and swaying as if something was running under them at us.
     Then  a  head poked up about  a  hundred paces from us. A massive snake
head  that was larger than my head, with yellow, swirling slits for eyes and
huge fangs. There was no telling how long the snake's body was, and I really
didn't want to wait around and find out.
     And then another stuck its  head  up to the right of the first one. And
another and another.
     I  spun like a  dancer.  We were surrounded by giant  snakes  with very
nasty-looking fangs. If we didn't do something quickly we  were going to end
up the main course for lunch.
     "Nice place,"  Aahz  said  as  the moving grass got  closer and  closer
around us.
     "Any time now," I tried to suggest, but the only thing that came out of
my still sealed mouth was "Aggghhh tgggghhhh."
     .
     What's  the matter?" Tanda asked, smiling  at me.  "Afraid Of a  little
snake?"
     I  nodded  vigorously as another  monster snake head popped up not more
than fifty paces from us. It looked not only hungry, but angry.
     "Yeah," she said, "me, too."
     With that we were back in the dust storm on Vortex #1.
     "Skeeve!" Aahz yelled as the dust pounded into us.
     Before I could even act, Tanda said, "Don't bother."
     Then we were  back in  the Shifter's tent,  staring at the creature who
now looked just a little too much like the snakes we had just left.
     "I am glad for my percentage to see that you have returned," it said.
     "I'll bet," Aahz said.
     "Vortex #4 please," Tanda said, getting right to business.
     "The total is now fifteen percent."
     "I understand our agreement," Tanda said before Aahz could say a  word.
"Vortex #4 please."
     The  snakelike-shaped Shifter nodded, and again we were whisked through
to another dimension.
     And right back into the same stupid dust storm.
     Okay, I have  to admit that when we dimension-hopped back into the dust
storm, I was shocked.
     Tanda motioned that we should follow her. It took me almost all the way
to our destination before I realized where we were.  Now granted, I  had the
excuse  that  it was blowing heavily. And to me,  one dust storm looks  just
like another.  But  it wasn't until the  old log cabin  loomed up out of the
dust like a ship in  the fog that it dawned on  me that we were back  in the
same place.
     Only it wasn't the same place. This was supposed  to be Vortex  #4, not
Vortex #1.
     Inside the  old  building it became clear  that we were in  a  slightly
different place. This  time,  instead  of  being bare, the inside of the log
cabin was filled with branches and some old furniture, and there was no sign
of the fire I had built.
     "Did you see them this time?" Tanda demanded.
     "See what?" Aahz frowned.
     "Out there in the storm." she  said.  "This time  I got a  good look at
them."
     "What was it?"
     "Dust  bunnies. A whole pack  of  them."  She  wrapped her arms tightly
around herself and shuddered.
     Aahz  and I looked at each  other and  shrugged. Again we seemed to  be
oblivious to whatever it was that was setting Tanda on edge.
     By the time I  got a new  fire going  and Tanda had  put a  containment
protection around the cabin to keep the wind out, my lips had unsealed. They
were chapped and sore, but at least they were loose.
     "So Vortex #4 is a lot like Vortex #1," I said.
     "Makes  sense," Tanda said.  "Otherwise,  why give them the same  names
with only different numbers?"
     "Any other  dimensions  so similar  that  they could  be  numbered like
this?"
     "More than  likely,"  Tanda said, "but I've  never seen or  heard about
any."
     "So we paid another  five percent to  that thief for this?" Aahz  said,
dearly disgusted. "We could have found this on our own."
     I  had  no idea  how  he thought  we could  have done that, but since I
didn't know much about dimension-hopping, I said nothing.
     "Not likely," Tanda said.  "We  are a long, long way  from  Vortex  #1.
We're  farther away in number of  dimensions from the  Bazaar at Deva than I
have ever been before."
     "Oh," Aahz said.
     "And you know that how?" I asked. "Is there some sort of mileage marker
I keep missing in the blink of eye it takes to hop to a new dimension?"
     Tanda laughed. "Don't we wish."
     "When a person is dimension-hopping,"  Aahz said, "and they have powers
to do  it, like Tanda does, you get a sense of how many  dimensions away you
have jumped. Not precise, but just a sense of distance."
     Tanda nodded. "And the farther away in number of dimensions, the harder
the jump. And the greater the  chance  of  missing  the target  and  getting
lost."
     "So that's why you took us back through Vortex #1 from Bumppp?"
     "Safer that way," she said.
     "And each  of our  jumps following  this map is getting  us farther and
farther  away from home?" I didn't much like the  idea of that happening. My
job as the Royal Court Magician wasn't much, but at the moment it was better
than this place.
     "So far," Tanda said. "But this is a treasure map  we're following.  It
isn't supposed to be so easy that just anyone could do it."
     I didn't like the sound of that, either.
     Aahz pulled off his gloves and took  out  the  map, spreading it on the
floor so we could all see  it by the light of the fire. As expected, the map
had changed  again. There were now six lines  leading from Vortex #4, all to
points that now had names. All six lines  headed in the general direction of
the point  marked as the treasure, but none directly. This map wasn't making
anything easy, that was for sure.
     The names  on each  dimension  this time were stranger than normal. All
were combinations of  the same  five  letters.  Starting from the left,  the
names were Et, Cet, Era, Etc, Etc, and Ra.
     "You know any of those dimensions?" Aahz asked.
     "No," Tanda said. "You?"
     "No," Aahz said. "There goes another five percent."
     Tanda  shrugged.  "Can't be helped.  I suggest we  head  for the center
one."
     "Etc it is, then," I said.
     All Aahz did was growl deep inside his  throat  as he stood and put the
map away.
     "I hope this means we're going back to Vortex #1  again." I said. "Tell
me we're not visiting the snakes again."
     "It would be safer if  we hit  Bumppp  again,"  she  said. "No point in
taking the chance."
     "You can't be serious," I said. Just at the mention of those  snakes my
stomach clamped up into a knot.
     She laughed. "Don't worry.  From  here I  can hit  Vortex #1. No snakes
needed."
     She made sure Aahz was ready, then we hopped.
     The dust pounded at me for all of five seconds while Tanda made sure we
were there and all  right, then she hopped us again right back into the tent
of the Shifter.
     He was now shaped like  a sofa with eyes on the arms and pillows  where
the  ears would be. A massive, orange tongue hung  out  of the face, forming
the seating  area. From that moment onward, sitting on a sofa  was  going to
take on a whole new meaning for me.
     "We need the Etc dimension," Tanda said.
     "Your  total is now  twenty percent,"  the creature  said, its  massive
tongue moving as if someone was fluffing the pillows.
     "We are aware of that," Tanda said.
     The next moment we found ourselves standing on a wide  and, mercifully,
empty  street.  Plain-looking  wooden  buildings framed both  sides  of  the
street.
     The sky overhead was  cloudy and gray, the air was cold  and crisp, but
at least it wasn't blowing. I was glad I still  had our heavy coats and hats
on as disguises.
     I turned slowly  around.  There  was no doubt  there  were some strange
dimensions in this universe. The road seemed to  go off into the distance in
both  directions  from where  we  were standing,  framed by exactly the same
types  of buildings  on both sides, all the same height. Each building had a
strange shape to it as well, with two doors, and matching windows. There was
no way  to tell what was on the other  side of the buildings,  since it  was
like we were standing in a canyon.
     I had no  idea  how anyone living  in  this place  found his or her way
home.  Every building was exactly like the  one it butted against,  with  no
numbers or colors or any kind of distinguishing marks.
     "Wonder where the people are?" I asked.
     "Let's check the map and not wait to find out the answer to that," Aahz
said as he headed for the side of the street.
     "Yeah," Tanda said as she looked around, dearly on guard. "I don't like
the looks of this."
     Aahz pulled the map out as he got near the edge  of the road and opened
it.  On the map  the dimension we were in  was now marked clearly, with only
one path leading away  from it. Vortex #6 was our next stop. At least we had
jumped over Vortex #5 just like we had over #2 and #3.
     Tanda glanced at the map and shook her head.
     For a moment I thought Aahz  was going to wad the thing  up and toss it
away, but then he folded it and put it back in his jacket.
     Suddenly, in  the  window of  the  building closest  to  us, a creature
appeared.
     "We have company," I said softly.
     Tanda  and  Aahz both  looked up as  another  creature appeared in  the
window beside the first one.
     I  glanced around. Every  window of  every  building  now  had  someone
standing in it. And every one of them  looked exactly alike. Gray suit, gray
hair, gray face, two arms. They were all the same shape and same height.
     And when one  of them moved, every other creature I could see moved the
same way.
     "This is creeping me out," Tanda said.
     The next instant the dust smashed into my face.
     "Warning next time," Aahz said.
     "This  is Vortex #4," she shouted over  the wind. "We're hopping  again
before the bunnies find us."
     For an instant there was no dust, then it hit again.
     I knew  this had to be Vortex #1. I mean, with  the  dust and all, what
else could it be?
     Then we were  back  in the tent  with the Shifter.  And right  at  that
moment what I really  wanted to do more than anything else was just walk out
of the tent and forget this entire thing.
     "Vortex #6  please," Tanda said to  the Shifter, who had lost his couch
shape and now looked more like a cross between a cat and a table.
     "Twenty-five percent."
     Aahz ground his teeth, the sound filling the tent.
     "You're making my friend angry by repeating that," I said.
     Then I realized I had spoken my  mind. Tanda  hadn't sealed my lips for
this visit. Aahz glared at me and I shrugged.
     "It is a bargain at twice the price," the Shifter said.
     I was  about  to  tell him that dealing with a  Deveel was a bargain as
well, but  Tananda put  her hand over  my  mouth and  spoke to the  Shifter.
"Vortex  #6  please.  We have agreed  to  twenty-five percent total to  this
point."
     The  Shifter nodded, which looked  a lot like  a table lifting its leg,
then we were back in the dust storm.
     It seemed like the same dust,  and was as  hard to walk in  as the last
two Vortex dimensions.  But as we got near the old cabin,  I noticed  a very
large and very important difference.
     This time there was a light in the window.
     Someone was home.
     Chapter Four
     "Don't pick up hitchhikers!"
     D. ADAMS
     The yellow light coming from the cabin window  was like a warning sign.
We all stopped about twenty paces short of  the door and stared through  the
blowing dust  at the light.  I know  I was annoyed. After using the cabin in
two other dimensions,  I was starting to feel like  it was  an  extension of
home. How dare anyone actually live in it? "Now what do we do?" I shouted to
Aahz over the sound of the storm whipping around us.
     "Anything else close by?" Aahz asked  Tanda.  His  green scales on  his
face were plastered  in dust. I  knew for  a fact he hated being  dirty, and
after giving away so much of an as-yet-unfound fortune to a travel guide, or
agent, or  whatever he had called the Shifter, the dust and wind couldn't be
helping his mood any. Tanda shook her head.
     "No  dust  bunnies  and  nothing else  I know of. The  Shifter only put
directions to this place in my mind on the first hop."
     "So we knock," I  said over the wind. Tanda and Aahz seemed to  have no
other idea, so I slogged through the deep dust to the door and rapped on it.
     Tanda  moved over  to my left and  Aahz stayed  five  steps away in the
background, his face covered. If I had to, I would disguise him quickly. His
green scales and looks tended to frighten a lot of people.
     The  door opened suddenly  and  I found myself  facing  a girl. She was
wearing a  long-sleeved shirt, dark  pants, and had her hair pulled back off
her  face. She had a smile that lit up  her deep brown eyes and warmed every
nerve in my body. I figured her to be about my age. Her face brightened when
she saw me.
     "You must be Skeeve," she said. "Come on in. My dad said you'd be along
eventually."
     I stood in the dust, staring at her. In all my life I had never been so
surprised at anything anyone said.
     She knew my name.
     She had been expecting me.
     God  knew how many  dimensions from home and in the  middle of a raging
dust storm, she had been expecting me!
     My  first thought  was to back slowly  away before turning  and running
into the storm. But my legs remained frozen in place, my mind too stunned to
even try to reason out anything.
     "Come on," the girl said. "It's windy out there!"
     Nothing on me was moving.
     Tanda finally pushed me forward and the girl stepped back, holding  the
door for all of us to go inside.
     If I hadn't known this was the same  cabin as  we had seen in the other
dimensions, I would have  never  have recognized  it.  Now it  had a  wooden
floor, the  cracks  in the walls  were  all  filled, and  it  was  warm  and
comfortable.
     There was a table  with a bowl of fruit on it, four chairs, and kitchen
counter with  cabinets on one  side  of the room. A fire  was  burning  in a
baking stove, keeping the cabin comfortable. A bed was against the far wall,
with a beautiful blue and gold quilt neatly covering it and a pillow.
     The young lady  didn't seem to be at  all surprised to see Aahz,  which
worried me even more. Pervects tended to scare people, either by their looks
or their reputations.
     I finally managed to find the words I needed to ask.
     "How do you know me?"
     "She knows you?" Aahz asked.
     Clearly  he had been too far out in the dust storm to hear her over the
blowing wind.
     The  girl  laughed  and  I got  even more  afraid of her. The laugh was
perfect, sort of gentle, yet free and high, like a soft breeze on a summer's
afternoon. The exact laugh I would expect from a young lady as beautiful  as
she was, yet never got, at least from the few I had met.
     "I doesn't really know him," she said, again laughing. "At least not in
the traditional sense, or  any other sense for  that matter. Although I must
say, I wouldn't mind, if you know what I mean."
     I had no  idea what she meant. I wanted to  ask just how many senses of
'know' there were, but figured I'd wait to do that later.
     Aahz snorted and Tanda laughed.
     She went on.  "My father said I should expect a young, good-looking man
named Skeeve to come here. I just assumed you were Skeeve, since you are the
first person to visit this place in the two weeks I've been here."
     I think I was staring at her, stunned. At least that was how it felt. I
didn't know her and I had no idea who her father might be.
     She smiled at me and then turned to Tananda.
     "You  must be the one Skeeve  was  traveling  with  before,"  she said.
"Don't worry. I've taken care of the dust bunnies. You know, don't you, that
they're completely invisible to guys."
     Then she glanced at Aahz and frowned slightly.
     "But I don't know you and your connection to this, big guy"
     I was so shocked, I couldn't  say anything.  She had  called Aahz  'big
guy,' and knew I had traveled with Tanda.
     No one said anything.
     Clearly  Tanda and Aahz were shocked as well. From what Tanda had said,
we were a lot of dimensions away from our homes. Yet in the middle of a dust
storm, in a strange dimension, we  had found someone waiting for us. Someone
who knew my name.
     "Cat's got your tongues, I see," she  said, laughing. She turned around
and motioned that  we  should sit down at  the  table. "I bet you're getting
hungry by now, after all the dimension-hopping you've been doing."
     I wanted to ask  why  she thought a cat had my tongue, and how she knew
what we had  been doing, then decided against asking  that, in  exchange for
what I thought was a better question.
     "Are you a Shifter?"
     Again  she laughed, the wonderful sound filling  the cabin and blending
in with the faint crackling of the fire in the oven.
     "Not hardly. But  my father said you might be getting a little tired of
their costs by now. How much  of  the  treasure have you  given away so far?
Thirty-five percent? Forty percent?"
     "Only twenty-five percent," I said.
     Then it dawned on me that she knew about the treasure as well. And that
we  had  been negotiating  with the Shifters. How much did she know, and how
did she know it?
     Aahz  gave  me a stern look and  I shrugged. He always thought I talked
too much, and clearly this was one of those times he just might be right.
     "Wow, you must be a great negotiator," she said, smiling at me.
     "Not hardly," Tanda said, moving over and sitting down at the table.
     Aahz and I did the same.
     "So you know our  friend Skeeve here,"  Tanda said.  "Could  you please
tell us what your name is, and how you know him?"
     The girl smiled at me, holding my gaze in her beautiful brown eyes.
     "My name  is Glenda.  My  father sold Skeeve the  map you  are using to
search for the golden cow."
     Glenda turned back to the  counter and opened  a cabinet that contained
what looked to be a freshly baked loaf of bread.
     Tanda glared  and me  and  I just shrugged.  I had told  her  and  Aahz
everything that had happened when I bought the map. This young lady had been
nowhere around That much I was sure of. I would have remembered seeing her.
     Now I was even more confused. Why had the  guy who sold me the map sent
his daughter here to meet us? For what reason?
     "So the map  was a scam after  all," Aahz said,  scowling at her,  "and
you've been waiting here to collect something from us. Is that it?"
     Glenda laughed and smiled at Aahz. "The cynic of the group, I see."
     Then she smiled at me again.
     I smiled right back at her.
     "He does tend to look at what could go wrong a lot."
     "He would make a great lawyer," she said.
     I wanted to ask what a lawyer was, but just nodded instead.
     She turned to look directly at Aahz.
     "No, I assure you that, as far as I know, or anyone knows, the  map  is
real."
     "So what are you doing here, then?" Tanda asked.
     Glenda shrugged. "My father thought you might need some help about now.
And  when my father told me about Skeeve  after he bought the map, I thought
he might be cute. I was right."
     I think I  blushed from  the  ends  of  my toes  to the top of my head.
Luckily the only thing visible to her was my face.
     Aahz snorted even louder, an ugly sound that seemed to just hang in the
warm cabin like a bad smell.
     "Why would your father think we need help?" Tanda asked.
     Glenda  went back to cutting the fresh bread as she answered.  "Because
no one has ever made it past this point before, and returned alive."
     "Ohhhhh," Aahz said, "now I understand. Your  father keeps  selling the
map over and over and your job is to get it back."
     "Actually, he's tired of selling it," Glenda said. "And getting it back
has  never been a problem. He usually just  pops  in here  every  spring and
takes it off the bodies."
     The faint crackling of the  fire and the wind  against the eaves of the
cabin were the only noises. I didn't want to think about the fact that a map
I had carried around for a week had been on dead bodies.
     "Why does  that happen?" Tanda  asked, but  I  noticed that she  wasn't
really putting as much anger into her voice as before.
     Glenda   smiled   at  her.   "You're  the  one  with  the   ability  to
dimension-hop. You tell me."
     Tanda's eyes  seemed to fade  out for a moment, then she  looked  up at
Glenda and said softly, "We're too far away from any place I know, including
the last place we jumped to."
     "Exactly," Glenda said, putting the cut bread on  the table in front of
us. "The Shifters have  done that to six groups  of treasure-seekers that my
father sold the  map to.  Vortex #6,  this place, is  just too far  from any
known  dimension, and any other dimension on the map,  for almost anyone but
the  most traveled dimension-hopper. And until I fixed this cabin  up  a few
weeks ago, there was nothing here but a shell of old logs."
     "We would have starved to death," I said.
     "Given time, you  would have starved, or jumped to some other dimension
and gotten lost," Glenda said, pulling out the chair and sitting down beside
me. "My father tracked two groups with the map  who did that.  Both met very
ugly ends at the hands of creatures they never should have faced."
     My memory of the snakes was clear enough to understand exactly what she
was saying.
     She took a piece of the wonderful-smelling fresh bread and bit into it,
never taking her gaze from mine.
     "And your price to rescue us is...?" Aahz asked.
     I  glanced at him. Typical  Aahz,  always leading with  the  pocketbook
first.
     Glenda smiled at my green-scaled mentor.
     "What's your name?" she asked.
     "Aahz," he said. "And you haven't answered my question yet."
     "I want to go with you," she said. "And for helping you find the golden
cow and getting us  all back to  a dimension near the Bazaar at Deva, I want
the same share as each of you are getting, after paying off the Shifter."
     It still wasn't making sense.
     "So why haven't you just gone after the cow on your own, before now?"
     "Honestly," she said,  looking directly into  my eyes  while answering,
"my father thought you, Skeeve, were the  first one he had ever sold the map
to that had a chance of actually getting to the cow."
     "You didn't answer his question either," Aahz said. "And  why should we
give you such a large share of the treasure?"
     She  laughed. "Besides getting you out of this place? This is  only one
of the problems  you face. My  father  tried a  number  of times to  go  the
distance before he sold the  map the first  time, but he  always had to turn
back. There are many problems ahead. I know what they are. You need me."
     "And your father thinks Skeeve can make  it?" Tanda asked. I would have
been  unhappy with the sound  of disbelief in Tanda's voice if I didn't feel
exactly the same way.
     Glenda reached  over and  touched my hand on the table. Electric shocks
went up my arm and I am  sure  my face again turned a bright shade of red. I
couldn't even begin  to  think  about moving my hand away  from hers. And  I
didn't want to. She was  doing things  to me I had only dreamed  about,  all
with a single touch of her hand.
     "My  father  has the ability  to see the true nature of people," Glenda
said, "and their true strengths."
     She rubbed the  top  of my hand and it was everything I could do to not
let out a long, loud sigh.
     "If  he  thinks  Skeeve can  get to the golden  cow  and  win over  the
problems that lie ahead, then I believe in Skeeve as well."
     I just  smiled  at Aahz, giving him my widest  grin.  In  all  our time
together, I had never seen him look so disgusted.
     It felt wonderful.
     And so did Glenda's hand on mine.
     Okay,  so there  was  tension in the small  cabin. Lots  of it, of  all
kinds.  I have  to admit that having a girl my age along on this crazy quest
sounded just  fine by me. Especially one that thought I was special  without
really  knowing me, and could  make my entire body tingle at  the touch of a
hand.  I liked  the  advantage of  that. With her, I  didn't have  any  past
mistakes to climb over or make up for.
     Aahz  and Tanda, on the other  hand, weren't  so  certain  about taking
Glenda along and cutting her in on the possible prize. And  that wasn't good
tension at  all.  And  since none of us knew her,  there was that tension as
well.
     But  the  way  I  figured it, there really  wasn't  much choice.  Tanda
couldn't hop us back  to any dimension she knew of. It was just too far, and
we  didn't dare just risk hopping dimensions trying to get close enough.  We
would end  up lost, or more likely  dead from something like those snakes or
creepy identical-people on that street.
     We  needed  Glenda.  And  besides, I wanted her along. It would  be fun
getting to know her.
     "So now there's four of us," I said, smiling across the table at Glenda
and ignoring the scowls coming from my mentor.
     "Great," Glenda said. "You won't regret it."
     I doubted I would either.
     "We split the treasure four ways," Aahz said, making the deal clear.
     "After the Shifter's part is taken out," I reminded him.
     "Yeah, after the Shifter's twenty-five percent."
     He  almost spat the last few  words  of  the  sentence as he  glared at
Tanda.
     "There'll  still be more than enough for everyone," Glenda  said as she
offered everyone some fresh bread. "If we can get to the golden cow and make
it ours."
     I took a large piece and them some of the wonderful apple jelly she had
on  the  table. After  one bite  I knew that  fresh bread and jelly  was the
best-tasting  thing I remembered having in a long,  long time. It  more than
melted  in  my mouth  as it turned  my taste-buds into  a wonderful world of
flavors. Man, if Glenda could  make all the food  she  cooked do that, I was
never leaving her side.
     After we were all eating-and I noticed that even Tanda and Aahz enjoyed
the bread-Glenda looked  at me. "Dig out  the map and let's figure out where
we're headed next."
     I pointed to Aahz. "I'm letting the big guy carry it."
     I thought Aahz would choke on the bread.
     Tanda laughed, and the tension in the room eased a little.
     Aahz took out the map and unfolded it on the table.
     Glenda moved  around so that  she stood beside Tanda. I scooted over to
get a better look as well.
     Again the map had changed.
     No  surprise  there.  We  were  on  Vortex #6,  which  was  now clearly
highlighted on the  map. There were  four lines from our dimension headed to
four different places. I didn't like  the  sounds of  the four dimensions at
all.
     Febrile was the one on the right, Hostile the next one, Durst the next,
and Molder the farthest left.
     Tanda shook her head. "I don't know any of them."
     "Neither do I," Aahz said.
     "No  way  that you could," Glenda said. "They are  even farther removed
from Deva than this place."
     She  glanced at me  to  make  sure  I  was  listening, then pointed  to
Febrile.
     "That  place's coolest temperature  is over one  hundred and twenty. We
wouldn't last five minutes there."
     "Nice that the map designer put it on the map," I said.
     "Traps,"  she  said. "The  Cartograms  loved  to make  these  sorts  of
things."
     "Cartograms?" I asked.
     She gave me another of her wonderful smiles.
     "They  are an  entire race who explore and map dimensions, and any time
they find a treasure, they  do one of these treasure maps to the location of
the treasure, and then sell the map."
     "I'd heard about them," Tanda said. "Never  bothered to buy a  map from
one of them, though."
     "They have booths in  the Bazaar at  Deva," Aahz said.  "Never had  the
need to use their services."
     "Did they do the map on the wall in the Shifter's tent?" I asked.
     Glenda nodded. "I'd  bet  that  any kind of  map that  shows  different
dimensions was done by a Cartogram. Every treasure map they do is magik  and
often contain puzzles and traps just like this one."
     "Good  to know," I said, glancing at Aahz. It was clear he hadn't known
about the traps when we started out after this golden cow.
     My mentor just frowned at me.
     Glenda went on. She pointed at the dimension with the name Hostile.
     "We  don't even want to think  about  going  there. Makes  Febrile look
cool."
     Aahz nodded.
     Glenda pointed to  the next  one. "Durst  no longer  exists.  Something
destroyed the entire dimension thousands of years ago."
     "That leaves Molder," I said. "What's it like?"
     "Only been there  for  a  few  moments  with  my father, tracking  what
happened to this map three buyers ago," Glenda said, shaking her head. "It's
a dark, damp place where  everything always seems to be  changing.  Even the
ground seems to grow and move under your feet."
     "So tell me," Tanda  said  to Glenda. "You've gone after  this treasure
with your father, and seen others do it. You  must know the path  at least a
few steps ahead. Why can't we just jump over this step. Don't you know where
the map will lead us?"
     I  had to admit that Tanda had a good point  there. It would sure  be a
lot easier.
     Glenda sighed, and  even the sigh was a wonderful sound to my ears. She
could sigh at me all she wanted.
     "I wish I could," Glenda said.
     "The map is magik," Aahz said. "It's never the same. Right?"
     "Exactly,"  Glenda  said.  "Except  for   going  through  these  Vortex
locations at one  point or another, the map  changes the  correct  path with
every user, and every attempt."
     "Hmmm." Aahz said, staring at the piece of parchment. "Too bad we can't
just take the magik out of the map and have it tell us the only true path to
the dimension with the golden cow."
     That gave  me an idea.  It was so simple  it was probably stupid,  so I
didn't  say  anything aloud. Still, the thought kept  rattling around  in my
head as the others continued their conversation.
     What if I  tapped into the  magikal energy of the map, just  like I did
with the energy lines when I was casting a spell? Wouldn't that draw off the
magik?
     I made myself relax, then reached out  with my mind and touched the map
Aahz was holding, working at absorbing energy as I did.
     At  first nothing happened. Then the  parchment began to tremble and an
energy line sprang into being, running from the map to me.
     It was a cool, tingly sensation, but  strong, almost  too  strong,  and
getting  stronger and  stronger. I  quickly opened up,  letting  the  energy
channel through me and into the ground,  just  as Aahz had taught me in some
of our earliest lessons.
     "What the..." Aahz exclaimed, letting go of the map.
     Instead of falling, it hovered in midair.
     "Skeeve!" Tanda  shouted, but I  ignored  her, keeping my  attention on
what I wanted to happen.
     Finally the energy flow slowed and ebbed until it was merely a trickle.
I released my mental contact, and the parchment fluttered to the floor.
     "Try looking at it now," I said.
     All three of them were looking at me as if I had suddenly grown another
head.
     "Someone want to explain to me what just happened?" Glenda said, taking
her gaze away from me to look back at the map.
     Aahz frowned as he did the same.
     Tanda laughed. "Master Magician  Skeeve here just solved a whole  bunch
of our problems."
     I stared at the map, not believing what I was seeing.
     Now there was only one line  from Vortex #6 to Molder, then a line from
Molder  to Vortex #5, then a line to a  dimension called Baasss, then a line
back to here, Vortex #6, then one final line to our cow dimension.
     And the cow dimension now had a name.
     Kowtow.
     We could jump directly from here to Kowtow.
     Glenda laughed  and  gave me  the  best hug I could ever  remember. Her
entire body  pressed  into mine,  and I tingled in  more places than I  ever
wanted to admit.
     "My father was right," she  said as she squeezed  me  even harder. "You
really are special."
     The sound of Aahz snorting didn't take away one bit of my  enjoyment of
the moment.
     Chapter Five
     "That's wild!"
     J. WEST
     "What kind of name is Kowtow?" I asked, pointing at our  destination on
the map after Glenda released me from the hug of the century.
     No one answered me.
     "How did you  do that?" Glenda asked, staring at me.  "I've never heard
of anyone taking the magik out of a treasure map before."
     Her beautiful brown  eyes were huge and there was a look of what I took
to be slight worry. Then I realized that what I was seeing wasn't worry. She
was in awe  of me. And having someone in  awe of  me was not  a circumstance
that often happened.
     "Honestly," I said to her, "I'm not sure."
     "Why is that no surprise?" Aahz said, his eyes rolling in disgust.
     "Aahz  said  something about taking the  magik out of the map," I said,
going  on, explaining to her what had  happened while  ignoring Aahz,  "So I
gave  it  a try. I tapped into its energy like I would a force line and just
let it flow through me and into the ground. That's all I did. Honest."
     Tanda looked as if she understood, but was saying nothing.
     "The  vortex  dimensions are  known  to  be powerful places for magik,"
Glenda said. "That's why no one lives here very long."
     "So while we're here," Aahz said, glaring at me, "be careful!"
     I pointed at the map. "What? Didn't I help?"
     "I think  you  did,"  Tanda said.  "Glenda, do  you  know  this  Kowtow
dimension? Or do we have to go back to the Shifter to get there?"
     Aahz moaned at the mention of the Shifter.
     "I've  been there a number of times," Glenda said. "Never thought of it
as a place with a great treasure, though."
     "Are there cattle there?" Aahz asked.
     "More than you could ever imagine," Glenda said.
     "So our next adventure," I  said,  smiling at  Glenda,  "is  finding  a
single cow in a proverbial haystack of cows."
     A puzzled frown came over her  face, telling me clearly she had no idea
what I had just said,  and since  I  had no idea  what a cow looked  like, I
didn't want to try to explain a haystack of them to her.
     "What our young friend  there was trying to say," Tanda added, "is that
if there are a lot of  cows, how  are  we  going to find  the one that gives
golden milk?"
     Glenda shrugged. "I have no idea.  No one has ever gotten this far with
this  map before. It would have never occurred to  me  that  the map  led to
Kowtow."
     Aahz wasn't adding anything, so I figured it was safe to say what I was
thinking.
     "Wouldn't a cow that gave golden milk live in a golden palace?"
     Again they just all three stared at me.
     "More than likely," Tanda said, nodding slowly.
     Silence  again filled the small cabin. At  that point I figured  it was
better to just eat more bread and leave the thinking up to them.
     After an  hour  of planning and talking,  at Aahz's suggestion,  Glenda
dimension-hopped  us to  Kowtow,  to  a  location isolated  enough  that  we
wouldn't be seen by anyone. He figured that way we would have time for me to
get us in disguises so that we looked like the local residents.
     Before we hopped, Aahz made real sure that either Glenda or Tanda could
hop back to this  cabin. And he had Glenda help him set  his  D-Hopper so he
could  as  well.  It seemed I was the only  one who didn't have an emergency
getaway.  I planned  on making  sure  I  was  always close to one  of  them.
Preferably Glenda.
     After  the hop, we ended up standing near a large  rock cliff face. The
air was warm and dry, and the sun was high overhead at the moment.
     The area around us  looked like desert, but the ground sloped away from
us down to a lush, green valley. A road came over the hill beside the cliff,
wound  past where  we were, and down the  hill to what looked to  be a small
town  built out of  wood.  From what I could tell there was no building over
two stories  tall.  The  buildings seemed  to  be  centered around  the main
street.
     "That town is called Evade," Glenda said. "Mostly cowboys and bars."
     "Cowboys?"  I  asked.  Since  I had no  idea what a cow looked like,  I
couldn't imagine what a boy cow would be, or why they would build a town.
     "Cowboys  are  men who  take care of  the cows," Glenda said. "For some
reason  they're called that  in just about every dimension there are cows or
cattle."
     I wanted to ask her what a woman who took care of cows was called.
     "In this dimension," Glenda said, "the cowboys are a strange bunch, let
me tell you."
     Aahz stood, staring at the town in the valley below them.
     "In what way?"
     Glenda shrugged. "They seem to treat  the cattle almost like they  were
sacred.  They never hurt a cow,  they  never  push a  cow too hard, and they
always talk nice to the cattle. And they protect them against anything."
     "Now that is weird," Tanda said.
     "Why?" I asked.
     Aahz looked at me with one of his looks that said I was asking too many
questions. I knew that look well, since I saw it two or three times a day.
     "Because, in most dimensions, cows are nothing but  food. Here, killing
a cow is a hanging offense."
     "So what do these cowboys look like?" I asked. For once, courtesy of my
earlier adventures, I knew what a hanging offense was. In fact, I knew about
it intimately enough to not want to dwell on the memory.
     "Actually,  in this dimension, they look  a  lot like the three of us."
Glenda  laughed. She glanced at Aahz. "We're going  to have to  do something
about  you,  though, big boy.  They don't know about demons here,  let alone
Pervects."
     Aahz  said nothing. I  think  he was just  glad she  didn't  call him a
Pervert, as so many did.
     Suddenly, over  the hill behind us, along the road, there was the sound
of something coming. Glenda had us move back behind  some rocks  at the base
of the cliff and watch. I made sure I had  a pretty good view of the road so
that I could disguise us all in the right clothes.
     A minute later, two men appeared at the  top of the rise. They were  on
horses and were headed slowly down the hill toward the town below. They both
were dressed pretty much  the  same.  They had  on plaid  shirts, jeans-like
pants, high boots,  and wide belts. Their skin was tan from a  long  time in
the  sun,  and they  wore wide-brimmed brown hats on their  heads. One was a
little older than the other and both had short hair and mustaches. They rode
side-by-side  in  silence. After they got a  distance  down the  hill, Tanda
turned to me. "Get what they look like?"
     "Easy," I said.
     Pulling  in  the  energy I needed, I changed  all of us into our  local
disguises. I  gave us all black  hats, and basically  similar plaid  shirts.
Since I  couldn't see beyond the clothes what  my magik did when I disguised
someone, I glanced at Glenda. "How do we look?"
     "Perfect," she said. "Even Aahz's tan is red instead of green."
     "Are we going to need horses?" I asked. "I can't do them."
     "We might," Glenda  said, looking frustrated. "Especially if the golden
cow  isn't close by. We might have  to do  some traveling, and, from  what I
remember, horses are the only means of travel here."
     "Money?" Aahz asked. "We're going to need money as well."
     "I don't think so," Glenda said. "This place doesn't use money."
     I thought Aahz was going to  have  a heart attack.  It was like telling
him the sun would never come up again.
     "So  what do  they use to trade and buy things with?" Tanda asked, also
shocked at the very idea.
     "Work," Glenda said. "Work is their capital."
     Now I was just as lost as Aahz and Tanda looked.
     Glenda  went  on.  "You work for someone  when  you want something from
them. They keep everything  on IOU's. So if you want  a drink  or some food,
you sign an IOU and then later you have to work off the debt."
     "This is a strange place."
     Glenda agreed and we  started off down the hill, four strangers walking
into a town full of cowboys. I just hope my  disguises worked. Just in case,
I stayed real close to Glenda. Not that that was a hardship or anything.
     The town  of  Evade  was  active  and  primitive. The  only  street was
appropriately enough called Main Street. It  was  dirt and hardened mud  and
very rough. It  split two  rows  of  wooden  buildings  with  covered wooden
sidewalks in front of them.  Outside the main street  were houses  scattered
through the farmlands, tucked into groves of strange-looking trees.
     Music  and laughter were coming from a number of the  doors  along Main
Street. Bright-colored signs were over some  of the  doors, with names  like
Battlefield, Wild  Horse, and Audry's. I had no idea what any of those names
meant.
     Horse-drawn  wagons and  single horses were tied up  on rails along the
wooden sidewalks, and the entire town smelled like horse droppings, of which
there were some pretty good-sized piles spaced along the road.
     A man with a white hat and  a big shovel  was  slowly picking up  fresh
horse leavings  and  tossing them onto the piles. I wanted to  ask him  what
debt  he  was trying to  pay  off,  or what he was  trying  to buy,  because
whatever it was, the price was too high.
     When we reached the main area of town we  stepped up on the sidewalk on
the left side and into the  shade. Suddenly I realized just how hot our walk
from the cliff  had been,  and how lucky it was these people wore  hats. The
sun hadn't seemed that hot at first,  after coming  from Vortex #6, but  now
that we were in the shade, I realized how bad it was.
     We  strolled  along  the  wooden  sidewalk,  trying  to  look  as if we
belonged.  Of course, in  a town that couldn't have more  than a few hundred
full-time residents, four newcomers stood out  like  a bad  blister  in  new
shoes.
     "Howdy," the first man we passed said to us. He tipped his hat and just
kept right on moving.
     By the time I tipped my hat back, he was past us.
     A woman in long  skirts and a flower-patterned blouse walked  past us a
few moments later.
     "Howdy," she said.
     I tipped my hat, as did Aahz.
     She smiled at us, showing some pretty strange-looking teeth.
     After she  was  past  us I  glanced  down at my  neck to make  sure the
Translator  Pendant that Tanda had given me was still there.  It was, but it
couldn't be working, because I had no idea what "howdy" meant.
     I glanced at Tanda who just shrugged.
     About a quarter of the way up  the street into the town  we stopped and
leaned against a wooden wall and tried to look as if we were relaxed. No one
was bothering  us,  or even paying us  much  attention.  Across  the street,
high-energy music was coming out of the door labeled Audry's. I could see  a
number of people through the open door sitting at tables.  It looked  like a
bar or restaurant of some sort.
     "Now  what?"  Glenda  asked, studying the  man  in  the street who  was
picking up horse droppings.
     "We're going to need information," Tanda said.
     "And we just can't come out and ask for it," I said.
     Everyone agreed.
     "We're also going  to need horses," Glenda said. "Unless you want to do
more walking in this heat."
     I glanced down the street at the open countryside  beyond the limits of
the small town. Walking back out into that for  any distance would be a very
bad idea.
     We all agreed that we didn't want to do that as well.
     "Well, we need two things," I said.  "Information about the golden cow,
and horses to get us to the treasure."
     "Skeeve and I will try the place across the street,"  Glenda said. "You
two head for another one farther along."
     "All right," Aahz said, surprising me by agreeing to Glenda's plan. "We
meet back in the cabin on Vortex #6 in one hour."
     I made sure Glenda  understood, since she was my ride out of here. Then
we stepped into the street, making a wide turn around one of the large piles
of horsepoop the guy was collecting.
     He just smiled at us and said, "Howdy."
     I tipped  my hat at him and  he seemed satisfied  enough to go  back to
work.
     I was right in all fashions  about Audry's  Place. It  was clear as  we
went through  the door that it was both a restaurant and  a bar. The bar was
wooden  and  long, stretching the entire length  of  the  left  wall  as  we
entered. A hatless guy wearing a white apron stood behind the bar, a  rag in
his hands.
     Three  of the tables were occupied with a total of  ten patrons, all of
them eating what looked to be large plates of vegetables. The music was loud
and had a pretty good beat to it. It seemed like it  was coming from a piano
in the back, only there was no one sitting at the piano.
     Every person  in the place  glanced up at us as  we entered,  then went
back to eating  and  talking  as if  they  saw  strangers every day and just
didn't care. I considered that a good sign.
     "Howdy, folks," the guy behind the bar said, wiping a spot off the wood
surface in front of him. "What's your pleasure?"
     I had no idea what the  guy meant. I sort of understood the  words, but
standing in the middle of a  bar, I sure didn't understand why he was asking
me  about  pleasure. Just a  little  too personal a  question for  someone I
didn't know.
     I glanced at Glenda, who seemed confused for a moment as well. Then she
indicated I should follow her lead as she stepped toward the guy.
     Glenda nodded her  head at the bartender, sort of like  tipping her hat
as we reached the wide bar.
     "A little something to  drink,  a little food, and a decent way to work
off the debt." Clearly it had  been the right  thing to say, since  the  guy
smiled like he had just hit the jackpot.
     "Strangers  are always welcome in my place," he said,  reaching  behind
him and getting two glasses off the counter on the back wall. He put them on
the bar and looked at Glenda, then me. "What'll wet your whistle?"
     At that moment I was  really glad that Glenda was doing the  talking. I
was fairly certain  he was asking what  we  wanted to  drink,  but  I wasn't
totally  certain, and I had no idea what he  had to offer that could do that
to a whistle.
     "Oh," she said, "whatever you have will be fine with us."
     The guy grabbed a large bottle of orange liquid and filled both glasses
to the top. Then he slid them to the edge of the bar in front of us.
     "Thank you, kind sir," Glenda said.
     Again the guy. beamed.
     "Just grab a seat and I'll rustle you up some of my best grub."
     At  that moment I wanted to  bang my translator  pendant on  the bar to
make it work right.
     "Nothing special," she said, smiling at the guy and winking.
     He beamed again, his face red as he turned and headed for a  back room.
It seemed Glenda could charm just about any guy, no matter what dimension. I
wasn't sure how I felt about that.
     She picked up her orange  drink, indicated that I do the same, and then
headed for a table  in the corner, a  little ways away from the  rest of the
patrons. I followed her, taking a chair with my  back to the wall so I could
see everything going on.
     After we were both seated I whispered to her, "You can understand him?"
     She shrugged. "Mostly going with the flow."
     "So we're going to  have to eat grubs," I whispered,  "to  go  with the
flow?"
     I had never eaten a grub, and wasn't excited about having my first now.
     She laughed and  patted my hand. "I think  'grub' means  food  in  this
dimension."
     "Well, that's a relief."
     "Yeah, isn't it."
     I took a tentative  sip of  my drink and damn near spat it all over the
table.  It  wasn't orange  juice  at all.  It  tasted  like  pulped carrots.
Sour-tasting carrots.
     "Interesting," Glenda said after taking a drink. Then  she turned to me
and made a face that only I could see. She didn't much like it either.
     I  glanced  around at the  other  patrons in  the place. Everyone had a
glass of the carrot drink in front of them. It looked as if it was the  only
drink the place served.
     At that moment the guy  came out of the back room  carrying two plates.
With  a  smile and  a flourish  he  slid them  in front  of us.  Vegetables.
Asparagus, carrots,  celery, a few sliced tomatoes, and part of a  cucumber,
artfully arranged on a bed of what looked like grass.
     "Wonderful," Glenda said, smiling  at the man with her biggest and most
alluring smile. "I hope we can find a way to repay you for this feast."
     The guy  had  the common  decency  to blush.  "I'm  sure  we will  work
something out." At that  he beat a hasty retreat to the bar. Fingers  seemed
to be the preferred method of getting the food from the plate to  the mouth,
so I picked  up one piece of celery and bit into it. It was soft, not fresh,
and had a faint taste of horsedung.
     I hope I  managed to swallow it without looking too insulting to anyone
who could see me.
     Glenda  tried a piece of cucumber. I  could tell it wasn't  good either
from how slowly she chewed and then forced herself to swallow.
     "We're  in  a  vegetarian dimension,"  I whispered as Glenda  gave  the
bartender an okay sign that the food was good. "What do they do with all the
cattle you claim are here?"
     "I have no idea," Glenda whispered. "But if I have  to eat or drink any
more of this garbage I think I'm going to be sick."
     "Yeah, me too."
     "Pretend to eat and I'll see if I can get some answers" she said.
     She stood and moved over to where the man stood behind bar. I  couldn't
tell what  she was saying, but after a moment he laughed and looked at me as
if I were the brunt of a joke. I  pretended to bite and chew on a  asparagus
spear and just smiled back.
     At  that  moment Aahz and Tanda came in. They glanced first at  Glenda,
then saw me and came over and  sat down in the other two chairs, their backs
to the main part of the room.
     "Started without us, I see," Tanda said.
     "Couldn't resist," I said  loud enough for  the bartender  guy to hear.
Then I whispered, "This stuff is awful."
     "What is she doing?" Aahz asked, his voice a barely audible whisper.
     I pretended to eat a tiny bit of grass, covering my mouth as I answered
him.
     "Getting information. And for heaven's sake,  don't order the food. You
have any luck?"
     "None," Tanda said.
     A  few  seconds later  the bartender  pointed  down  the street  in the
opposite direction from  where we had entered the  town.  Glenda  smiled and
came back over.
     "Horses are sold down at a stable just outside the  edge of  town," she
said. "I told him we'd clean the kitchen for our food and drink."
     "I wonder what we'll have  to do for horses?"  Aahz asked, shaking  his
head.
     Glenda shrugged and kept pretending to eat.
     "Besides,", I said. "We don't know where we're going yet."
     "True," she said.
     "That's our biggest problem," Aahz said.
     Suddenly it dawned on me that we should know where  we were going. What
kind of magik map would simply lead to a dimension without giving directions
to the location of  the treasure in the  dimension? After all, a world was a
very large place to be looking for one cow.
     I had taken the magik out of  the  map as far  as getting to this crazy
dimension. But it hadn't occurred to us to check the map once we were here.
     "Aahz," I whispered. "Check the map."
     He frowned at me. "Why would I-"
     He must have  had the  same thought I had. Maybe, just maybe, the magik
was back for local directions.
     He  reached into his pouch and pulled out the  parchment Since his back
was to the bar, he kept the map in front of him so no  one else in the place
could see it. Then, slowly, he opened it
     It was  instantly  clear to me,  as  I  pretended  to  love  a  hunk of
cucumber, that the map had  again changed. It was no longer a dimension map,
but now a map of Kowtow.
     The customers closest  to us finished off their veggie plate and got up
to leave. That left only two other tables and the guy behind the bar. And at
the moment he wasn't looking.
     "Open it all the way and see where we are," Glenda said. "It's clear."
     Aahz, much to his credit, didn't turn around to check to see if she was
right.  He simply opened the map and spread  it out over our  plates of  bad
food.
     No one paid any attention.
     The  golden cow  palace was marked on the  map.  Well, at least we knew
where that was.
     Evade, the town we  were in now was also marked.  The road between them
was marked as the lines between dimensions had been marked. There were a lot
of other  towns  along the way, and one thing  was very, very clear. We were
still a long way from the golden cow.
     Glenda studied the map hard, almost as if she were memorizing it.
     "See anything that will help?" Tanda asked.
     "If we go back to Vortex #6 I can get us a lot closer."
     "Thank heavens," I said.
     "Don't  be  thanking  anyone  yet," she said, staring at the map. "It's
still going to be too far to walk."
     Aahz folded up the map, put it back in his pouch, and stood.
     "Tanda and I will go find  a secluded place to hop back," he whispered,
leaning forward so only  the three of us  could hear him. "Think you two can
get out of here without being noticed?"
     "Easy," Glenda said.
     "See you there," Tanda said, standing and moving toward the front door.
     After we had pretended to eat more of our lunch, pushing the stuff into
a pile on  one side of the plate like I used to  do as a  kid, Glenda got up
and went back over to the guy behind the bar.
     I  kept  pretending, wishing the  stuff tasted good, since  the idea of
eating had made me hungry.
     After a moment the  guy in charge  nodded  to Glenda, smiling as if she
had promised him more than I wanted to think about.
     She motioned that I should join her and I did, carrying our plates. The
guy led us through the door and into what might be called  a  kitchen. There
were barrels of  the  different veggies against  one wall,  and  some  dirty
plates and glasses stacked near a  water barrel. No wonder everything tasted
so bad. I didn't want to even think about the  fact that I had  eaten a bite
of some of the stuff from this room.
     "Wash water  is in the  barrel," he said. He tossed me  a  dirty towel.
"Dry the dishes before wiping down everything else."
     Glenda put her hand  on his shoulder  and eased him around  toward  the
door.
     "Don't worry," she said. "We'll get everything all cleaned up."
     "I know you will," he  said. The guy was more putty in her hands than I
was, and for some reason that thought just annoyed me.
     He went back out through the door and Glenda turned to face me.
     "Well, handsome,  my father was  right. You  are special." I could feel
myself blushing. "Thanks."
     "No, thank you," she said, "for everything. In all the  years of trying
to find the silly  treasure  on that map, I  never thought I'd know  exactly
where it was at."
     "Well, now we do, and we can  get there pretty  soon," I said. "Jump us
back to Vortex #6."
     She smiled and shook her head.
     "Sorry, my prince in a white hat. Maybe next time."
     With a slight wave and a kiss motion, she vanished in a slight POOF!
     "That's not funny," I shouted, staring at where she had been.
     The guy came in, looking puzzled.
     "What's not funny? And where is your beautiful friend?"
     I glanced around, then pointed at the back door.
     "I told  her I'd get started on the dishes.  She'll be  right back, I'm
sure."
     "Good,"  he  said. "Let me know when  she returns. She said she  had  a
surprise for me."
     He  headed back out into the main room, leaving me standing there alone
in a strange kitchen.
     In a strange dimension.
     It seemed he wasn't the only one Glenda had planned a surprise for.
     Chapter Six
     "Alone again...naturally."
     R. CRUSOE
     Now  I have  to admit  that  my first  reaction  after  Glenda  left me
standing there in  that  restaurant kitchen was to scream and shout and call
out her name, along with Aahz and Tanda's names.
     Screaming would have covered up the panic I felt, but I knew for a fact
that screaming  would have  done no good. But  I still wanted to,  more than
anything.
     I didn't.
     My second  reaction was to run like crazy out the back door, but then I
would  be a wanted man for skipping out on the lunch bill, and considering I
might be stuck here for some time, I managed to not run either.
     But I sure wanted to.
     The third reaction I had was to go into automatic to  give my poor mind
time to sort through what had just happened. That  was as good as anything I
could  do, so  I  turned and  started  washing off the dishes,  dumping  the
garbage  in a big  pail, and dipping  the  plates enough in the dirty barrel
water that they pretended to be clean.
     I could imagine that on the outside I looked calm and collected, but on
the inside I was a mess.
     "Don't  panic.  Don't panic. Don't  panic,"  I  kept  saying to myself,
timing the phrase  with deep breaths  and the dipping of the dishes  in  the
water.
     Finally I got myself under enough control to ask a few questions.
     Why had she left me?
     No easy answer. At least none that I wanted to  really admit, yet there
was nothing else that made sense.  She  had left. That simple. She had  seen
the location of the  golden cow treasure and  that was  the last  thing  she
needed from me or Aahz or Tanda. On the first opportunity she had headed off
on her own.
     Leaving me alone in  a kitchen in a strange dimension. "Don't panic," I
said to myself, dipping more dishes. I dumped more half-eaten food into  the
bucket,  dipped  another plate,  and asked the  next question. Had I been  a
fool?
     The answer to that one came clearly in Aahz's voice. Yes.
     He would also say it was nothing new or unusual. She had played me, and
Aahz and Tanda, like a finely tuned musical  instrument, using my heart  and
my emotions as the strings.
     "What a fool," I said aloud.
     There was no one in there to agree with me, but I didn't need anyone to
agree. I knew I had been a fool.
     I scraped, dipped, and went on to the next question.
     What do I do now?
     I had no idea.
     Nothing. I was stuck here for the  moment.  Maybe  forever if something
happened to Aahz and Tanda, or if they couldn't find me.
     The thought made me panic, so I kept washing dishes.
     After a few minutes the guy came back in with more dirty plates. He was
clearly disappointed that Glenda was not  back yet, but he said nothing.  He
put the plates down and then left.
     I dumped  the awful food and dipped  the plates, doing my best to  keep
calm. But pretty soon I  was out of dishes to  wash. I used the dirty rag to
wipe off all  the plates  and stack  them, then I  wiped off the  counter as
well. After I was done I  couldn't  think of anything else to do, so  I went
back out to the bar.
     "My friend came in a few minutes ago," I said. He looked as if he might
cry, so I went quickly on with my lie.
     "She said she will be back in about an hour with your surprise."
     That brightened him right up again.
     "You want to check what I have done back there?"
     "Nope," he said, smiling. "Everything  is even with  you  as far as I'm
concerned."
     "Great grub you got here," I said, patting my stomach  and then tipping
my hat.
     "Thanks,   partner,"  he  said,  smiling  and  showing  me   the   same
ugly-looking teeth the woman had. "Anytime. You come back now, ya hear?"
     "Sure will," I said, and headed out into the street.
     The sun was still cooking the hard center of the street, so I stayed on
the sidewalk, tipping my hat and saying "Howdy" to anyone who passed me. The
guy with the shovel must have  finished cleaning up the street, leaving only
the big piles of horse droppings as evidence of his work.
     It  hadn't  been much longer than fifteen minutes since Glenda had left
me, even though it felt  like an  eternity. There was no sign of her or Aahz
or Tanda.
     I kept moving, fighting down the  desire to shout out Aahz's name.  And
the desire to just run. I didn't know where I would run, but for some reason
running was a massive desire.
     I reached the edge of town  and stood on  the last board of the covered
sidewalk looking up the road that wound toward the cliff where we had hopped
into this dimension. I was sure Tanda and Aahz would come back for me.
     Unless, of course, Glenda had done something to them on
     Vortex #6.
     I didn't want to think about that. If that happened,  I was going to be
stuck right here for a very long time.
     There was no sign of anyone  on the road coming down the hill. I turned
and headed back up the sidewalk, doing  my "Howdy" bit to anyone who passed,
with the hit-tipping routine added in. When I reached the  other end of town
and the end of the shaded sidewalk, I  stared off into the distance to where
the road vanished into some low hills.
     Then I turned around and started back.
     At the moment there was nothing else left for me to do.
     I managed to walk  the entire  length  of the town six  times before  I
decided that  my behavior  might attract  attention I  didn't  want.  When I
reached the end of the sidewalk again, on the end of town where we had first
entered, I sat down with my back to the wall.
     Overhead the sun was slowly dropping.  It didn't  look like it would be
more than a few hours before it set. Then what would I do?
     I didn't have a clue.
     The  question as to  why Aahz and  Tanda  hadn't  come  back for me yet
bothered me  a  lot. I  figured that with  my washing dishes and pacing  the
length of  the town, a good two hours had gone by. The  pacing had helped me
some, allowing me to work off some of the panic and  fear. For the moment it
felt as if my mind was working pretty clear again, and I was proud of myself
for how well I  had done so far. I just hoped I would have a chance to  tell
Aahz and Tanda and let them be proud of me.
     I stared out at the empty road. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck
on  a  vegetarian  planet with  some  weird,  hat-tipping people who  didn't
believe in money.
     Down the street a  couple  people  looked at me, seeming almost shocked
because I was  sitting on the  sidewalk. I stood, tipped my hat at them, and
leaned against  the  building instead. They smiled as if I were now suddenly
all right, and went about their business. For the next few  minutes I stared
out at the  empty road leading off toward the rock cliffs, trying  to decide
what to do. Should I walk back up there or stay right where I was?
     What would I  do  if I got to  the cliff face  and they weren't  there,
which was likely? It would be almost dark by then and I  would have to spend
the night out in the wild. And, for some reason, that idea didn't sit well.
     And what would I do if they never came back here? Should I head for the
city with  the golden cow in it? I remembered enough from  the map that  the
city's name was Dodge. I could work my way there, given time.
     I'd make that decision if Aahz and Tanda didn't come  back, Right now I
just  needed to make sure  Aahz and Tanda  could  find me when  they did get
here.  This little town was where they had left me;  this  was  where  I was
going  to  stay. At  least for the immediate future, however long that might
be. If Glenda had managed to  do something  awful to Aahz and Tanda, I would
face that problem later. Much later.  And somehow make  sure Glenda paid for
her sins.
     With one  last look  at  the empty  road, I turned and  headed  back to
Audry's.  At  least  there I could  sit in the window and  watch  the street
without being obvious.
     The music was still coming from what looked like a  piano,  even though
the place was empty.  The guy behind the bar smiled at me, then frowned when
Glenda didn't follow me in the door.
     I decided I needed to have him on my side. I walked up to the bar.
     "Has my friend been back here yet?"
     "No,"  he said. "You ain't  found her?" There  was instant worry in his
question.
     "Haven't seen her since I left here earlier," I said. "Been walking the
length of your fine town looking for her."
     "I was a wonderin' what  you were doin'," he said.  "Can't imagine what
might have happened to her, though. The  full moon is still  a few days off,
so the round-up couldn't have taken her. At least not yet."
     I  desperately  wanted to  ask him what  the full  moon had to do  with
anything, and what a round-up was, but he said both so matter-of-factly that
I knew I would blow my cover if I asked.
     "Yeah, couldn't be that." I said instead.
     "She  was askin' about horses,"  he said. "Maybe she got one and headed
down the road?"
     I shook my head. "I checked. She  didn't. Mind if I just sit over there
and wait?"
     "Not at all," he said,  reaching down and grabbing  a  glass.  Before I
could think of a reason to stop him  that sounded good, he poured me another
glass of the carrot juice.
     "On  me," he said, sliding the glass  toward  me  across the bar. "Just
tell your friend when you see her that she still owes me a surprise."
     "Oh, trust me," I said. "When  she promises a surprise, she always pays
off."
     He didn't know how truthful that statement was.
     He  beamed at  that and I took my glass of juiced carrots and went over
and sat down so I could see out the window. The  shadows  were  growing long
and  the  heat  was  leaving the main street of Evade. It looked  as  if the
nights in this area were pretty chilly. I was glad I hadn't decided to go up
to the cliffs just for that reason.
     Let alone whatever a round-up was.
     I took a sip of the carrot juice  just  to quench  my  thirst, than sat
back and watched the few people still out on the street. They all  seemed to
have tasks and walked purposefully, tipping their hats to each other.
     An hour  later  I  had  managed to sip down almost half  a glass of the
juice.
     My bartender  friend was looking a little worried, and the shadows were
almost completely across the street. I figured there wasn't much more than a
half-hour until sunset.
     "I'm afraid I got to close up, you know," he  said finally after pacing
back and forth a few times near the bar.  "You got a place to  bunk for  the
night?"
     I  assumed  bunk meant sleep, so  I  said, "No,  haven't  given it much
thought."
     He looked shocked. It was as if I'd told him I'd killed his mother. His
mouth opened, then closed, then opened again, but no words came out.
     One of the main buildings right in the center of town had a sign  on it
that said Hotel Evade, so I tried to cover.
     "Just figuring on stopping  in the hotel. Sure hope they got rooms, now
that you mention it."
     He looked relieved. "I'm sure they do," he said. "That's the law."
     He laughed and I laughed  with him, even though I had  no  idea what he
was talking about.
     "Thanks for the drink,"  I said,  sliding the glass across the table to
him and standing.  "I guess it is getting dark enough for me  to get going."
The promise of me leaving had him back to his old happy self.
     "I'm sure your friend will get inside all right," he said, "Maybe she's
already  at  the  hotel. When you  see her tomorrow, bring her  by here  for
breakfast."
     "It'll  be my pleasure,"  I said. "And  your surprise." He  laughed.  I
laughed.
     Then I stepped out onto the sidewalk.  He slammed and latched  the door
behind me, bolting it as  if a thousand thugs were  going to try to break it
down. Then the shutters on the inside of the window closed.
     The shadows were  long on the street and there wasn't a person in sight
anywhere. Every window was shuttered, every door closed.  The sound of music
that had come  from a few  different establishments was now replaced  by the
silence of the coming darkness. My stomach started to clamp up, not from the
little bit of carrot juice, but from worry. Something very major happened at
night  on  this dimension.  I didn't  know  what it  might  be,  but it  was
something that made this town bolt its  doors and  get off the street before
the sun went down. And if I was smart, I would do the same thing.
     I walked to the end of  town and  looked  up the road  toward the  rock
cliffs.  In  the  fading light there wasn't a soul on the road. Finding Aahz
and Tanda would have to wait until tomorrow.
     But  I had a  feeling that, with every  hour, finding them was going to
become less and less likely.
     I  turned and  headed down the sidewalk toward the hotel. The  door was
closed and shutters were  covering the  windows, but when  I pounded a  very
nice  woman behind the  desk let me in. She didn't ask for anything, or even
suggest something I could do  to pay for my room. She just said it was lucky
I got  it when I did, then showed me a comfortable room on the second  floor
with a window that was bolted dosed and the shutters drawn tight.
     There was a bed, a small water basin on a dresser, and an indoor toilet
down the hall.
     I thanked her and she went away.
     I checked to see if I  could open  the shutters, but they were  secured
solidly. Whatever was going to happen tonight, I  wasn't going to be able to
see it from this window.
     I  lay down on the fairly comfortable bed, not  even bothering  to take
off my clothes.
     Images of Tanda and  Aahz floated through my  mind. If  Glenda had done
something to them on Vortex #6 there wasn't a darn thing I could do to help.
I was  stuck  here, without the ability  to hop dimensions, in a world where
everyone ate vegetables and was afraid to go out at night.
     Even though there wasn't a sound from outside, it  was a very  long and
sleepless night in that little room.
     Chapter Seven
     "You can't go home again."
     PRINCESS LEIA
     At the first sign of light through the shutters, I went downstairs. The
sun was barely up, the shadows still long in the street, yet  the front door
to  the hotel was wide open  and all  the  shutters on  the windows had been
retracted. These  people  didn't  like  the  night,  that  was for  sure.  I
desperately  wanted to  ask them  what they were  afraid of, but  there just
wasn't a way to ask the question without giving away  the fact that I didn't
belong  here, in this dimension.  And at the moment I had enough problems to
face without bringing more down on my head. Aahz had always told me to solve
one thing at a time.
     The problem I had right now was that I wasn't sure I could solve any of
my problems.
     I went  down the street to Audry's, tipping my hat to the  guy with the
shovel who  was back in  the street  picking up  after  the horses.  My  old
bartender  friend and employer from yesterday had  the door to  Audry's open
and the shutters retracted. I was the first customer.
     "Didn't find her, huh?" he asked as I entered.
     "She must  have got sidetracked and  stayed  with  a friend,"  I  said.
"She'll show up pretty soon, I bet."
     He winked. "Yeah, pretty women can lose track of time."
     I didn't want to think about how he came up with that.
     I had decided about halfway through the night that I was  so hungry,  I
could even eat old veggies.
     "Mind  if  I have  a small  breakfast  and  a  glass of  your wonderful
beverage?"
     "You bet," he said, pouring me some of the carrot juice.
     I looked at the glass of  orange  liquid.  Given  enough time  I  might
actually only loathe the stuff.
     "You're lucky  this  morning," he said. "Just got a fresh wagon-load of
the best from the fields."
     "Terrific," I said.
     He vanished back into the  kitchen and I took up my seat at the window,
taking  a  sip  of the juice.  It wasn't as  bad  as  I  remembered it  from
yesterday, but I was sure that was because I was another day hungry. From my
seat at the table I could see the entire street and all the activity along a
part of it. If Aahz and Tanda came down the Main Street, I'd know it.
     The  bartender brought me a  small plate of veggies  that were actually
hard  and fresh. I was shocked  and  managed to eat them all  over  the next
three  hours, plus  finish  the  entire glass of carrot juice.  Surprisingly
enough, after that I was no longer hungry.
     But I was a lot more worried about ever seeing Aahz and Tanda again.
     After another hour I decided that I was going  to  head back up  to the
cliffs. I offered to wash the plates and  clean up the kitchen to pay for my
breakfast, but my  bartender friend  told  me  to come back later, have some
dinner, and do  it  then.  I agreed, hoping I'd never see him or his kitchen
again.
     It took just over an  hour in the mid-day heat to walk up  the  road to
where we had first arrived in this  dimension.  I  didn't meet anyone on the
road, and the air was so hot and silent near the cliffs, it felt as if I was
walking through my own tomb.
     I shook myself off and tried not to let my thoughts go to the dark side
of this.
     I moved  over to the rocks where we had hidden to watch the two guys go
by. My head was sweating under my hat so that  when I reached the shade near
the cliff I took it off.
     I  was setting  my  hat on a rock  when I saw the glint of metal tucked
down in a crack in the rock. I glanced around, but no one was watching, so I
leaned down and looked closer,  not believing my eyes. There, tucked into an
opening in one  rock, was a short metal cylinder, like nothing I had seen in
this dimension so far. It was the D-Hopper.
     I  carefully pulled it out,  noticing that a folded piece of paper came
with it. The map!
     For some reason Aahz and Tanda had  left me the D-Hopper  and  the map.
More than likely they had suspected Glenda, while I had been too blind  with
lust or love to see anything.
     I looked at  the D-Hopper  to  make sure I  wasn't hallucinating in the
heat. It  was real. I held it up like an idol and did a little  dance of joy
right there behind the rock. For the first time I had  some options. I could
do something instead of  just waiting and hoping. The relief was almost more
than I could take.
     "Slow down  and think,"  I  said to  myself, hearing Aahz's voice in my
head as clearly as if he were standing beside me.
     I took a few deep breaths of the hot air and looked out over the valley
toward the town below. If Aahz and Tanda had walked up here to hide this for
me, Glenda had beat  them back to Vortex  #6. And  more  than likely she had
gotten the jump  on them,  which was what had kept them from coming back for
me.
     That thought  took all the excitement out of  the moment.  I just hoped
they were still alive. Glenda didn't  strike me as being bloodthirsty, but I
had been wrong about her before. More than likely if she considered Aahz and
Tanda competition  in  getting the treasure, she  would do something to stop
them. She hadn't considered me a problem.
     But something had stopped  them  from coming back, that much was clear.
They were the ones  that now needed rescuing, not me. The  tables had turned
and I needed to make sure I did  this  right.  The life  of my friends might
depend on it.
     I tucked the map in my pouch and sat  on the  rock with the D-Hopper on
my lap, trying to  make myself think what  I needed to do next. The D-Hopper
was set for Vortex #6. That was good, but if I went there, and couldn't find
Aahz and Tanda, could I get back here? At  least here I could live on carrot
juice and  bad veggies. I didn't give  myself much of a chance on Vortex #6,
even with increased magik powers in that dimension.
     I had a slight working knowledge of the D-Hopper  from carrying one  on
the shopping trip with Tanda. There was a place on the D-Hopper that set the
current dimension as a return point. I carefully looked over  the  cylinder,
then without changing the setting for Vortex #6, I set the current dimension
as a return point.
     I double, then  triple-checked  myself. If I triggered  the  D-Hopper I
would jump to Vortex #6. If I triggered it again, I would jump back to  this
spot.
     Okay, that problem was solved.
     I stood and  was about to hop when I remembered what I  might be  going
into.
     "Stop and think," I said aloud, again with Aahz's voice echoing through
my head.
     With luck, the D-Hopper would put me back  into the cabin,  but in case
it didn't, I needed to be ready.
     What happened if  Glenda  was still there with them? I needed something
to fight her with. I picked up a good-sized rock that fit nicely in my hand.
It wasn't much, but it might be enough if it came to a fight.
     "Okay," I said aloud. "Anything else?"
     I couldn't think of anything. And  in the heavy coat  I was starting to
sweat more than I had before.
     "Think,  then act,"  I said,  repeating  what Aahz  had said a  hundred
times. "It's time to act."
     With one last look at the town of Evade down in  the valley,  I took  a
deep breath and triggered the D-Hopper.
     The storm slammed into me like a hammer.  I tucked the D-Hopper into my
shirt and focused  on how Tanda  had led us  the  other  three times to  the
cabin. The dust didn't let me see anything around me,  but I knew there were
some scattered trees. We had passed them the last two times.
     Tanda had  gone slightly downhill  and to the  right, so I figured  out
what  I  thought was directly downhill, then  angled a  little to the right,
counting my steps to make  sure that if I was on the wrong path, I could get
back.  After  twenty steps could see  the faint shape of  a tree. I was sure
that had been there the last time, so I kept going.
     Another  thirty  slogging  steps  and  another tree  loomed  out of the
blowing dust. I thought that had been there as well. So far so good.
     I kept moving for fifty more steps before I saw the faint light  in the
window of the cabin below me. I had almost missed it, walking too high-along
the hillside.
     I eased  my way down to the  cabin and tried to look in the window, but
the dirt and shades made it so that I couldn't see anything.
     It  looked  as if I was going to have to  go in, hard  and fast, like a
soldier going after a dangerous outlaw.
     I got to the door,  braced myself,  and eased open  the door latch then
shoved hard, the rock from Kowtow ready in my hand as I stumbled in.
     My momentum pushed me three  steps  into  the  room before I  caught my
balance and stopped. I had  the rock raised to hit at Glenda, who I expected
to be standing there, ready to fight me.
     She wasn't there.
     The cabin was warm and comfortable,  just like the last time I had seen
it.
     Tananda  and Aahz were sitting  at the  table, eating what smelled like
beef stew with slices of homemade bread.
     "Nice entrance," Tanda said, smiling at me. "What took you so long?"
     Aahz just shook his head.
     "Shut the door, would you?"
     I  stood there  with the  rock in  the  air over  my head,  not  really
believing what  I was seeing. I  had so convinced myself that Aahz and Tanda
were in trouble that I couldn't believe  that they were simply having  lunch
and waiting for me. Why  had they let me stay the  entire  day and  night in
Kowtow?
     Why had they chanced that I would even find the D-Hopper where they had
left it?
     "Door!" Aahz said. "You born in a barn or something?"
     Behind me the storm was raging, blowing dust into the  cabin. I lowered
the rock, tossed it out into the dust, and then closed the door.
     Tanda stood and came up to me, smiling.  "Aahz, I told you he'd make it
just fine," she  said, giving me  a hug that  convinced me that she was just
fine, and I wasn't dreaming all this.
     Aahz  snorted. "After  all the mooning over our friend Glenda, I didn't
think his brain would ever work again."
     I asked the one question I wanted to know most of all.
     "Why didn't you come back?"
     "We couldn't," Tanda said, patting me on the back and leading me to the
table, where she slid some bread toward me as I sat down.
     I stared  at my  mentor,  who was  just  eating  and  not  paying  much
attention  to me at the moment. He did that when he was very  angry  or very
happy, and at the moment I honestly didn't know which it was.
     "Stew?" she asked,  holding up a pot  of what was making the room smell
so good. "Glenda left us enough food to last for a few weeks at least."
     "Nice of her," Aahz said, the anger clearly there.
     "When you didn't come back for me I thought you were both dead."
     "We would have been  dead in four or five weeks," Aahz said. "When  the
food ran out."
     Tanda  served me  up a  dish  of the stew  and then sat down next to me
after patting my shoulder.
     "So  why couldn't  you come back?" I asked, not wanting to eat  until I
had some answers. "What happened?"
     "Well," Aahz said, still not looking at me, "we both knew Glenda was up
to something, and was going to try to double-cross us."
     "And we expected her to leave you on Kowtow," Tanda said.
     "You expected that?" I was stunned and suddenly angry.  "Why didn't you
at least warn me?"
     Aahz  looked  me  directly  in  the  eye.  "Would  you  have  listened,
apprentice?"
     "Yes," I said defensively.
     Now they both laughed.
     Clearly they thought I had been too  much under Glenda's spell. And the
more I thought about it, the more  I saw that they were right, at least to a
point.  When  Glenda  started  her act on the  bartender,  I  started to get
suspicious, but not enough to think it through.
     "You were the  closest to her, apprentice," Aahz said,  his voice stern
and in  lecture mode. "You  should have been warning us about  her,  not the
other way around."
     As normal, Aahz was right.
     "So what happened here?" I asked, trying to not admit I had been wrong,
even though we all knew I had been.
     "We headed up  to the rocks  and left  the D-Hopper and the map," Tanda
said, "then I jumped us here."
     "And right into Glenda's waiting arms,"  Aahz said.  "Just as  she  had
been planning."
     "She used a dimension-blocking  spell on me," Tanda said. "She searched
us for the D-Hopper, wished us both luck  when  she  couldn't find it or the
map, and hopped out."
     "I  assume she's  going after  the treasure," Aahz said. "And now she's
got a full day's start on  us."  So  what I had been  feeling from  Aahz was
anger,  both at me and at  the fact that we might  lose the  treasure, after
getting so close.
     "So what's a dimension block?"
     "A spell that keeps another person  from  jumping out of  a dimension,"
Aahz said.  "Some cultures use  it to imprison  people. It's a  pretty basic
spell."
     "That you haven't taught me yet," I said.
     He shrugged. "There's a lot  I haven't taught you. And after falling so
easily for this Glenda's  charms  and  smooth talk,  I'm not sure  if I ever
will."
     Tanda patted Aahz's green hand across the table.
     "Easy  on your apprentice. He's young  and full of hormones. He did get
back here, didn't he?"
     I  wanted  to  ask what  a  hormone  was,  but  figured  I'd  get  that
information  from  Tanda later, when Aahz wasn't around to  make  fun of  my
stupidity. He was disgusted enough with me as it was. And this time around I
agreed  with him. I shouldn't have been so  easily taken with Glenda.  She'd
given me a couple of compliments and I'd been putty in her hands.
     I looked at Tanda. "So once you jump out of here with the D-Hopper, the
spell is broken?"
     "Exactly," she said.
     "Finish up," Aahz said. "We've  given her enough of a head start  as it
is."
     "So how  do we get  the  treasure home once we  find it?" I asked, then
instantly  realized just how stupid my question was. It had been  Glenda who
had told us we were too far  from any of  our known worlds to  dimension-hop
safely. That had been another of Glenda's lies.
     Tanda shook her head. "I think  that's where Glenda got me. She blocked
my sense of dimensions  when we got near her. When we  jumped back here from
Kowtow,  into the  storm,  I could sense Vortex #4 and Vortex #2. We can get
home any time we want."
     My relief  at that, combined with  my relief at finding  Aahz and Tanda
all right, was more than I could handle. I stared at my stew, trying to make
myself eat  as  much of it as I could. Doing anything  else and I just might
fall apart completely.
     "So what did you do when she left you?" Tanda asked.
     I shrugged, making myself focus on what I had managed to do right.
     "Paid our bill by doing the  dishes so no one would be chasing me, then
explored the town to see what I could see, then sat and  waited,  staying in
the open so that you could find me."
     "And slept?" Aahz said, his voice sounding disgusted.
     "Not  really,"  I said. "I  got a  hotel  room because those people are
deathly  afraid of  being  outside  at  night.  And  of  something called  a
round-up."
     "Really?" Tanda asked.
     I glanced up from my stew. Even Aahz was now showing interest.
     "Yeah,  they bolt their doors and shutter every window, every night," I
said. "I  couldn't  think  of a  way  to ask  them what they were  afraid of
without tipping  my hand that I was  a demon.  And at that point I had other
problems to figure out, like what to do next if you two didn't come back."
     Aahz nodded. "So we need to be careful at night."
     "The bartender guy said the round-up was still a few days off, since it
wasn't the full moon yet."
     "I wonder what they're rounding up?" Tanda asked.
     "Or  who's doing the rounding?" Aahz added. "There's a lot to Kowtow we
don't know. You have the map?"
     "I sure do," I said, taking it out of my pocket and handing it to him.
     As  I did I had another realization. The map was magik. It hadn't shown
us  the right path to Kowtow until I  took  the magik out of it, but back on
Kowtow the magik had returned to the map.
     "Aahz," I said, smiling at my mentor, "you  know, don't you,  that  the
magik returned to the map when we reached Kowtow?"
     "Yeah," he said, almost sneering at me. "So? Glenda saw it as well."
     "Exactly,"  I said, smiling at my green mentor,  "Glenda  looked at the
map while we were in Evade. Right?"
     Suddenly Tanda burst out laughing, long and hard  and so loud I thought
she might hurt herself.
     I smiled at the puzzled expression on my mentor's face. Considering how
stupid I  had been lately, getting back on top and giving him some good news
felt good.
     "The  map  is  a puzzle,"  I said. "That basic nature of  the map won't
change just because we reached Kowtow."
     Suddenly the  light  in Aahz's eyes brightened and slowly a smile crept
over his green-scaled face.
     "Glenda has the wrong location."
     "Exactly," I said. "The map changes every  time we get  closer, just as
it did with dimensions. I'm betting it will do that on Kowtow as well."
     Aahz put the folded map back in his belt pouch and stood, suddenly in a
hurry.
     "Great thinking, Skeeve," he said. "Let's get back to Kowtow. Glenda is
going to come looking for us to get the map when she discovers she has wrong
information. And when she does, I want to be ready for her this time."
     I liked that idea a lot.
     Chapter Eight
     "Flying. It's the only way to travel!"
     B. HOLLY
     We arrived back at the cliff face on Kowtow with less than two hours of
daylight left. The day was still hot and dry, and nothing had changed in the
general  area  since I had left a few hours before. I  quickly disguised all
three of us again in the standard wear of the people of this dimension.
     We had packed some food and containers of water. Aahz didn't much  like
the  idea of  eating  vegetables. Pervects  were  mostly  meat-eaters.  Aahz
checked  over the  D-Hopper and then reset the dimension  and hid  it in his
shirt.
     "Ahh,  that feels  good," Tanda said,  stretching toward  the sun,  her
white hat tipped back, her large belt buckle glistening in the sun.
     "The heat?" I asked.
     "Nope. The dimension  block being lifted. Amazing how much you miss the
ability to hop after you've had it and then it's taken away."
     "Yeah, I know," Aahz said.
     "Oh, sorry, big guy," she said.
     "Gotten used to it," he said.
     I  couldn't even imagine how  Aahz felt, once being a powerful magician
and then having his powers taken away  from him because  of a practical joke
by  my previous mentor. My mentor had  been killed  before he could lift the
joke. Now Aahz  just had to wait for the joke to wear off and his  powers to
come back, which he said would take more time than I wanted to think about.
     Aahz unfolded  the  magik map and  laid it on  the top of  a rock so we
could all study it.
     The town of Evade was clearly marked as our starting point, with a road
leading from it to a town called Baker. In Baker  two roads split off to two
other  towns, then two  roads left each of those towns. Eventually  a few of
the roads led to Dodge, where it was marked that the treasure was.
     Where Glenda was heading.
     But was  the golden-milk-giving cow there? I was betting  it wasn't.  I
was  betting  the  map would change  when we reached Baker. And then keep on
changing with every city after that until we finally found the right city.
     Glenda was going to be angry, and it served her right. I didn't want to
see what Aahz would do to her the next time he  saw her. Pervects are not to
be  messed  with,  and she had left him to die on  a  frozen planet. What he
would do to her wasn't going to be pretty.
     "So we're back needing  horses," Aahz said, tracing along the distances
between the towns. Then he looked at me. "Unless you think your flying spell
is good enough here to work for us."
     Flying wasn't the strongest of my magik, but it was  one of  the things
Aahz had  trained  me to do first. It  had saved us from a hanging and a few
other  tight spots in  our last few adventures. But I wasn't sure if I could
lift all three of us and carry us any distance.
     "I  can  try," I said,  wishing I hadn't said those words the  moment I
heard them come out of my mouth.
     "Concentrate," Aahz said, going into  teacher mode.  "Search  for  your
lines of power and use them, pull them in, let them flow through you."
     "You can do it, Skeeve," Tanda said.
     I wasn't so sure. Each place had power lines, invisible things that all
magicians got  their energy from. Some places, like the area of the cabin in
Vortex  #6 were jam-packed with power. Back at the  cabin I could have flown
fifty people, but  here there wasn't much magik power.  In fact,  it  seemed
almost empty.
     I stretched out my mind, holding  onto the power that I could feel, and
then concentrating on bringing it in and using it to lift all three of us. A
moment later we all were off the ground and into the hot air.
     "Not too high," Aahz warned. "Keep us just three or four  paces off the
ground."
     I was glad to do that, because it was easier. And much safer to boot. I
lowered  all  three of  us back to  a  position just  above the top  of  the
boulders and held  us there for  a few  moments  to make sure I could do it,
then I lowered us back to where we had started.
     When I let us go I could feel the energy drain away. I was sweating and
short of breath and needed a drink of water, but at least I had done it.
     "Nice job," Tanda  said, handing me a canister of  water.  "How long do
you think you could keep that up?" Aahz asked,  watching me with a look that
I knew meant he could see through any extra bragging I might try.
     "Honestly, I  don't  know," I  said  after  I took a long drink of  the
wonderfully cold liquid. "With rests,  and touching each of you as I  do it,
maybe fifteen minutes at a time. The  lines of power are weak  in this area.
They may be stronger in other areas and then I could last longer."
     Aahz nodded, seemingly satisfied with my answer. He turned to Tanda.
     "Can you do a cushion spell, in case he drops us?"
     "Not a problem," Tanda said.
     "What do  we do if someone sees us?" I asked. "I'm  not sure that I can
do a bird disguise spell as well as keeping us flying."
     "We're  not  going to  worry about that,"  Aahz said. Clearly he didn't
think I could either.
     "We'll walk when we see someone," Tanda said, staring at the town below
us in the valley. "Just keep us close to the ground and over a road."
     I nodded. "Whenever you're ready."
     "Good," Aahz said. "Take us  down to Evade, we'll walk through town and
out the other side."
     I nodded, glancing at how low the sun was getting in the sky. We'd have
to deal with where we were going to stay later.
     I doubted that Aahz would want  to  stay in Evade. With luck we'd reach
Baker, and they'd have a hotel there as well.
     I moved over and stood between Aahz and Tanda, putting a hand  on  each
of their arms. Then I concentrated on  taking in what power I could find and
lifting us about a pace off the ground.
     "Hold on to your hats," I said as we lifted into the air.
     I floated  us down to the  road  and then picked up speed,  skimming us
toward Evade a lot  faster  than  even a running horse  could take us. To an
outsider we must have  looked very strange. Three  strangers  seeming  to be
just standing, but moving along the road at a very fast clip.
     After  only two  minutes I was starting to feel  the wear, but before I
had to stop Aahz said, "I think we're close enough now."
     What had cost me an hour of walking earlier had only taken two or three
minutes of flying. Why hadn't I thought of that this morning?
     I slowed and put us down at a normal walking pace. The moment I  let go
of the power I stumbled, but Tanda  kept me from falling on my  face. It was
as  if every bit of  energy had been drained from  my muscles,  leaving them
weak and noodle-like. "You'll be fine in  a  moment,"  Aahz said, keeping us
walking at a good pace toward the now close edge of town.
     He  was right.  A few  more  steps  and I was sweating  like a  dam had
broken, but I was able to walk.
     Tanda gave me some more water, and that  brought even more of my energy
back.  I was starting to  believe that I  could do this.  And  flying,  even
though it tired me out, was a lot better than riding horses, let alone doing
the job it would take to pay for one.
     We  got into town as people were starting  to close up their businesses
and shutter the windows.
     "You weren't kidding, were you?" Tanda said as  we walked down  the now
mostly deserted sidewalk.
     "They're afraid  of something that comes out at night," I said. "I have
no idea what it might be."
     As we passed in  front  of Audry's, my friend the bartender  waved from
inside the  window.  I tipped my  hat back  at him.  These  people might  be
strange vegetarians who were afraid of the dark, but they sure were nice. We
passed the hotel without Aahz  even  hesitating.  And I didn't  say anything
either. The last thing I wanted to let  my mentor know was that the fear the
locals felt had gotten  to me as well  during my one-night stay here. On the
other side of town we stepped off the sidewalk and just kept walking, past a
few  homes with  the shutters already drawn  and bolted. Ten  minutes later,
with the sun still not touching the tops of the hills to the west, Aahz gave
the all-clear.
     Again I  touched  each  of  them, pulled in the power, and  lifted  us,
sending  us down the  road as fast as I dared take us, considering  I had to
make sharp corners and steep hills.
     This time I lasted  ten minutes before I had to stop. Water and a quick
rest got me going again, just as the sun  started to set. From what I  could
tell, we were a  long way yet from Baker. It was  getting noticeably cooler,
which was also helping me.
     "Can you keep going?" Tanda asked  as  I stopped for a second  time and
sat down on a rock beside the road.
     "We're  making  good  speed,"  Aahz  said, clearly  satisfied with  our
progress.
     "We are," Tanda said, "but this is hard on Skeeve."
     "I can keep going," I said, taking one more drink and then standing. "I
just need to rest every ten minutes or so."
     "Understandable," Aahz said. "For someone of your level of skill."
     "For  someone  of  any level,"  Tanda said,  stepping  to  my  defense.
"There's not much power in this area. He's having to pull from a ways off."
     "That true?" Aahz asked me.
     "It is," I said. "But I said I can keep going and I can."
     "Then we go  when you're  ready," Aahz said. "We  don't have much light
left and we won't be able to make the speed we are making now at night."
     It was clear we were going to spend a  night outside on Kowtow and face
what an entire population was afraid to face.
     Aahz didn't seem to be worried.
     Tanda had said nothing.
     I was just the apprentice. What place was it for me to say anything?
     In the west the sun was slowly setting. In the east an almost full moon
was starting  to come up over the horizon. In a few days the full moon would
signal another fear in the people who lived here: the round-up.
     I pushed the thoughts and fears from my mind, focused on bringing in as
much power as I  could, then lifted  us knee-high off the ground and  headed
down the road as fast as I could take us.
     The sun had  almost  set completely by the  time I stopped for my  next
break. There was still no sign of the town of Baker.
     Okay, I'm the first to admit when I'm being stupid, if it's pointed out
to me. Luckily  I had had enough common sense to not tell Aahz and Tanda how
worried I was about the darkness, so they didn't get the chance to point any
of my stupidity when we ran into no problems at all after it turned dark.
     The first  part of the trip was fairly easy. It took me three more rest
stops,  and,  it was well after the sun had set by the time we got to Baker.
The town was  buttoned  up tighter than  anything  I  had  ever seen. In the
moonlight the buildings looked haunted and  strange, more like monster-boxes
than structures. Very little light got  past  any of  the shutters,  but the
almost-full moon was giving us enough light to see by to stay on the road.
     Baker looked  to be  about twice the size of Evade,  and was spread out
over  more than just a Main Street. It was tucked into a small valley,  with
flat farmland going off in both directions from it.
     We  walked into town, following  the  road and staying  off  the wooden
sidewalks so that we wouldn't make any  noise. The town was just flat empty.
Not even a horse had been left outside. Nothing was moving, and as far as we
could tell, nothing lived here, even though we knew better.
     "This is very strange," Tanda said as we got  near the  center of town.
"How boring  would it be to go to bed when the  sun set  every night? I'd go
stark-raving crazy in a matter of days."
     Tanda was the kind of  person that always  had  to be  doing something:
going on adventures, shopping, or partying. I had no doubt that it  wouldn't
take her days to go crazy here.
     "I just wonder what  they are afraid of,"  Aahz said. He pointed to one
building. "Those shutters  look as if they could take a pretty good pounding
and still hold."
     "It  was the same way in Evade," I said. "But I was awake all night and
never heard a sound from outside."
     "More than likely  this is just an old custom," Tanda  said, "and we're
still so far out in the sticks, away from any larger cities, that the custom
remains."
     "Are there larger cities in this dimension?" I asked.
     "Who  knows?"  Aahz  said. "Just  stay  alert and  watch  for  anything
unusual."
     He didn't have to tell  me to  do  that, since I was  already  on  full
alert. And even  though flying, combined with no sleep the night before, had
me exhausted, I doubted I could sleep now even if I wanted to try.
     Aahz found a sliver of light coming from the  shutters of one store and
stopped. He unfolded the  map and we gathered  around, trying to be as quiet
as we could while we looked for our next destination.
     "You were right, Skeeve," Aahz whispered, patting me on the back.
     The map had changed.
     Baker, the  city we  were standing in, was now  the focal point of  the
map, and two roads led  toward two other towns from  Baker. The treasure was
now marked in a town  called Silver City. Dodge City wasn't even on the map.
Glenda was going  to be mad. I  wished I could be there when she  discovered
how stupid she had been.
     "So which way do we go?" Tanda asked.
     The two  towns  next in  line from Baker were named Bank and Keep. Both
looked to be about the same distance from here, but Bank was to the right in
the north and Keep was to the left in the south.
     "Bank," I said, before I even realized the word was out of my mouth.
     "Why?"  Aahz  asked,  staring at  me, his intense  eyes  scary  in  the
semi-dark.
     "I don't know,"  I said. "It just seems right, and starts with the same
letter as Baker."
     Tanda laughed, but had the decency to not say anything.
     Aahz just shook his head, folded up the map and put it away.
     "Bank it is," he said, moving  out  into the middle  of the street  and
walking on toward the west end of town.
     "I could be wrong," I said, walking between him and Tanda.
     "More than likely," Aahz said.
     "So why go with my suggestion?"
     "Because I have none better to offer."
     "Neither do I,"  Tanda  said.  "Besides, if you're  wrong, we can blame
you."
     "Terrific!" I said. "As if I don't get in enough trouble as it is."
     Both Aahz  and Tanda chuckled, but said  nothing the rest of the way to
the edge of town.
     It was easy to  find the road  to Bank. At a fork in the road a hundred
paces outside of the main  part of town there was a sign, clear and readable
even in the moonlight, pointing to the right.
     Aahz glanced around, then turned to me. "Ready?"
     "Sure," I said.
     "Keep  it  slower than before," Aahz said. "We don't want to  run  into
anything out here."
     I concentrated on the power coming into my body,  easier here than back
near Evade. When I had enough I lifted us slightly off the ground and headed
down the road. Outside of town  the  road was straight, running between what
looked like  pastures, and even  in  the moonlight I could get us  up  to  a
pretty decent speed.
     In the pastures along both sides of the road animals were grazing. When
I  finally had to stop to rest, a number of the grazing animals looked up at
us,  big eyes glowing in the moonlight. They almost looked surprised to  see
us.
     "Cows," Tanda said, pointing at the large  creatures staring at us from
the field.
     They looked fat and heavy, with white and dark areas over their bodies.
In  the half-darkness, they seemed almost  sinister with their  big eyes and
long ears.
     "So how come they aren't inside like everything else?" I asked as Tanda
gave me more water and a little bit of a snack to eat.
     "You're asking me?" she said.  "Maybe they're not bothered  by whatever
worries the people around here."
     That made sense, in an odd sort of way.
     "Maybe they  are what worries the residents,"  I said, staring into the
deep pits of eyes of the closest cow.
     Both  Aahz and Tanda laughed  as if that  was the funniest  thing I had
ever said.
     I didn't see what was so funny. Cows looked nasty to me, and I couldn't
imagine trying to get milk, golden or not, from any of the ones I could see.
     By the  time I  was  rested  enough to get us  farther down the road, a
bunch of the nearby cows had sauntered over and were gathering near the road
watching  what  we were doing. It was creepy,  and I was glad  to get on the
way.
     From that point onward there were cattle along the road watching us, as
if something had told them we were coming.  When I asked Aahz what made them
do that, he said he didn't know. He'd never seen cattle act that way.
     Tanda said she hadn't either.
     That answer didn't comfort me at all.
     I kept us going longer and longer, not wanting to rest and have all the
cows gather  close to us. By  the time the sun came up I had flown us to the
edge of  Bank City. I was exhausted and was going to have to get a few hours
sleep before we went on.
     At first light, the  moment the sun peeked over the  edge of the nearby
mountains, the cows stopped watching us and went back to grazing.
     For some reason that bothered me a lot more than them staring at us.
     Chapter Nine
     "It's an acquired taste."
     H. LECHTER
     I was so tired that even the short walk into the center  of the town of
Bank darned near  killed me. All I wanted to do was fall  down and sleep, at
least  for a few hours. Aahz promised me that  was going to be possible very
soon, so I limped along with them.
     The merchants were  opening up  the stores  and  the  shutters  had all
disappeared from the windows. Horses  pulling wagons were lined up outside a
few  stores,  and,  just like in Evade, a guy  wearing a hat and  carrying a
shovel was  going around  cleaning up  after  the horses. Clearly that was a
standard job  in  every  town.  I  couldn't  imagine a kid wanting to be the
horse-poop  cleaner when he grew up. But maybe in this culture, that was the
top job.
     Bank  looked a lot like Evade,  just bigger. The buildings were all the
same size, and there were wooden sidewalks.
     We found a small establishment  like the one Glenda had left me in, and
sat down  at a  table near  the front window. We  were the only ones  in the
place. It felt  great to be  off  my feet and not moving. I might be able to
sleep right there in the chair if they let me.
     As  I looked  around I  realized this  place  was  almost  identical to
Audry's in Evade, with  the bar  down  the left side  and  wooden tables and
chairs.
     "What can I  get for ya,  folks?" A man asked as  he came out  from the
back room.
     He was just like  the  guy in Evade, right down  to the white apron and
the dirty towel.
     "Could we trouble you for just one glass of your best juice?" I asked.
     "Not a  problem at  all," he said, smiling. "You want some breakfast, I
just got a fresh load in this very morning. Good and crisp."
     "Sounds great," I said, "maybe later. But I think first we just want to
sit a spell."
     The guy  came  back with  the carrot juice drink and slid it  onto  the
table with a smile before he headed back into the kitchen area.
     "You've picked up the lingo pretty well," Tanda said. "A night alone in
a place do that for you?"
     "I  suppose," I said, taking a  sip of the juice. "Isn't it  creepy how
all these people seem the same from town to town?"
     "I  was noticing  that as  well,"  Tanda said. "The guy shoveling  dung
looks just like every other guy I've seen shoveling dung."
     Aahz  laughed and I just stared at her, too tired to even try to figure
out what she had just said.
     "I  wonder why there's no milk," Aahz said, staring at the carrot juice
with a look of disgust on his face.
     "I don't think you want to  ask, even if they  had any," I said. "I was
in  a kitchen  of one  of these  places, and  there  was  nothing  there but
veggies, and not a clean surface in the room."
     "Ughh," Tanda said.  "More  than likely you  could  get us arrested for
even thinking of drinking milk in a dimension full of cows."
     "You  two have  far too active an imagination," Aahz said  as he pulled
out the map and opened it.
     Again it had changed.
     I  kept  sipping my carrot juice as  I studied the parchment. Bank, the
town  we were in, was the main town on the map now. And the treasure was now
located in a city  called  Placer.  Three  roads left Bank and headed off in
three directions, all, in  one fashion or another, getting to Placer after a
few more towns.
     "Now which way?" I asked, staring at our options.
     They were towns called Chip, Pie,  and Biscuit. Weird names. Everything
about this dimension was starting to seem weird to me.
     Tanda pointed to one of the towns. "Following Skeeve's plan of going to
towns that start with the letter B, we head for Biscuit."
     "Sounds good to me," I said.
     Aahz just shook his head in amazement.
     "As good as any, I suppose."
     He studied the map for a moment  more  and then folded it up and put it
away.
     Biscuit was on  the road that stayed north going out  the  west side of
Bank. I  doubted it would be hard to  find. I  took  another sip while Tanda
wrinkled her nose at my drink and me.
     "It's an  acquired taste,"  I said, realizing what  I was  doing. I had
finished almost half the glass.
     I offered the rest to her, but she shook her head.
     "No, thanks. Not in a million years."
     I shrugged and took  another drink. The  stuff wasn't bad  at all, once
you got past the initial taste of smashed and juiced carrots.
     "So how you feeling?" Aahz asked.
     "He's going to have to rest," Tanda said, not letting me answer.
     "I know that," Aahz said. "I was just wondering how we were going to do
that. We  don't dare go back to the cabin because  Glenda  might be there. I
don't want to deal with her just yet. So we have to find some private spot."
     "Actually,"  I said, stopping the  fight before  it got  started,  "I'm
feeling pretty good. A  little juice  here and some time sitting  down and I
think I can go again for a while."
     Tanda looked into the orange liquid.
     "What did they put in there?"
     "You know," I said, looking at the juice, "I don't know, but it  really
is helping."
     We sat for another ten  minutes while I finished off  the carrot juice,
then I went over and asked how I could pay the man for the drink.
     "Come back for a dinner," he said. "That's payment enough."
     I  thanked him for  his hospitality. I had  no idea how  this bartering
system in this dimension worked, but it sure made everyone friendly.
     We  headed  toward the  west end of town, walking down the sidewalk and
tipping our hats at the smiling people  we met. I felt great again. Drinking
that  juice was like getting a good night's sleep. I had no idea what was in
one besides carrots, but I could easily get hooked on them.
     It wasn't going to be a problem taking the wrong road because there was
a sign saying  Biscuit and a big arrow at the fork  in the roads.  Around us
were buildings and homes and  several hundred of  head of cattle grazing, so
we started off walking, going slow and steady as the sun got hotter.
     Finally, after maybe a mile, we were  far enough out in  the country to
not chance being seen flying.
     "You sure you're all right?" Aahz asked.
     "Never felt better," I said.
     "You  know,  at  the next town, I'm trying  some of that juice,"  Tanda
said.
     As I reached out with my mind searching for power, it became clear that
we were in an area much more powerful than where we had started. It was easy
for me to get  enough to lift the three of us  knee-high off the  ground and
whisk us along.
     We had  to stop  flying and walk a half dozen times  over the next  few
hours when we  saw people coming, or a house was  too close to the road. And
we must have  passed at least a  million  cows along the  way.  Not one  had
actually looked at  us. And not once did  I have to actually  sit  down  and
rest.
     Amazing juice.
     By the time we reached Biscuit, it was mid-afternoon and I was starting
to get tired again. We found a place to sit in  a bar that looked  just like
Audry's and the one in Bank. Now  all  of us were  growing  bothered  by the
similar nature of the  places. I  wanted to run from the bar when a  man who
looked a  lot  like the previous two, down  to  wearing  a  white  apron and
carrying a dirty rag, came out of the kitchen and asked us what we wanted.
     "Just two glasses of your finest," I said.
     "Sure you  all don't want an  early dinner?"  he  asked. "I just got  a
fresh load from the fields. Really crisp. We  all need our energy, you know,
with the round-up coming."
     I glanced at Aahz, then Tanda, then answered the guy's question.
     "After we sit awhile we just might."
     He smiled  real big,  like I had  said the  right  thing, then went and
brought us our juice. He had disappeared into the back room before any of us
said anything.
     "So someone want to explain to me what's going on?" Tanda asked.
     "I've  never  seen anything like this,"  Aahz  said. "I thought you two
were just  imagining things at  the  last stop.  But these three  places are
almost identical."
     "Are  we going in circles or  something?" I asked. "Is it possible that
all these towns are the same one?"
     "No, there're different sizes and shapes and in different countryside,"
Tanda said.
     "No  doubt we're in different towns," Aahz  said, "all built, it seems,
off the same pattern, with the same kind of people living in them."
     "Okay," Tanda said, "now I can safely say I've seen it all."
     "Not yet," I said. 'We've still got the round-up, whatever that is. And
a golden cow."
     Tanda nodded and looked at Aahz with a serious face.
     "I'm starting to think this treasure isn't worth what we're risking."
     Aahz looked at her as if she had gone crazy.
     "Are you kidding? We've come this far. Only a few more towns to go."
     She nodded,  but I  could tell  as I  sipped my juice that  this entire
dimension was  bothering Tanda a  great  deal. And in  the  time I had known
Tanda, I had never seen anything bother her.
     Aahz glanced to make sure the guy was still in the kitchen, then opened
up  the  map and spread it on the table. As every other time, it had changed
again.
     This  time, we had four roads  to pick from, and all the towns  started
with the letter "B".  Brae was the southern most, then there was Brawn, then
Bent, and finally, to the north, Bethel. The golden treasure  was marked  as
being in a place called Donner.
     "Well, so much for that system," I said.
     "And it was working, too," Aahz said.
     "You know, maybe I could drain off the magik from the map again." I had
just finished my entire glass of carrot juice and was feeling really, really
alive and well.
     Aahz glanced at the  kitchen door again, then asked me, "You feel up to
it?"
     "I feel like I'm getting stronger the farther we come," I said.
     "Let him try," Tanda said. "Might save us a lot of back-tracking."
     Aahz looked at me, then nodded. "Give it a shot."
     I took a  deep breath  and let my mind search out the power in the map.
For an instant I didn't think anything was going to  happen. Then I felt it.
The  power rushed through me from the map as I hastily directed  it into the
ground. My head spun for a second, and it was done. The  power  was gone and
the  map  was normal...for  now. I took  a  deep  breath, again feeling  the
strain. I needed more carrot juice.
     "It worked," Aahz said. "Nice job, Skeeve."
     It wasn't often that I  got a compliment from my mentor,  so  I savored
the moment. Tanda patted me on the arm and gave me a kiss on the cheek for a
reward. Nothing like doing a job and doing it well.
     I took  her glass  of carrot juice and sipped from it while  we studied
the map.
     Only one road led from Biscuit where  we were, through Bethel and  then
to  Donner. Donner actually was the  place with the golden cow.  We had been
closer than we thought.
     But from  the look of  the map,  it was a long way  to Bethel, and even
farther to Donner. Just getting  to the first place was going to take to the
middle of the night. I just hoped the cows didn't watch us.
     "You rested enough to get going?" Aahz asked me.
     I downed half of the glass of carrot juice and nodded.
     "Put this in one of our water containers, would you?"
     Tanda nodded as I  stood  and moved to the  door into  the back room. I
knocked and the guy came out.
     "What can we do  for  you in  exchange  for  the  wonderful drinks  you
served?"
     He smiled, as if I had again said some magik words.
     "Just come back for food sometime soon."
     "I promise we will," I said. I tipped my hat at him.
     "Thanks."
     He  stood there smiling, watching  us leave like we were  his  children
headed off to school.
     We went through Bethel in the middle of the night. The town looked like
all  the others,  and, even  though it was locked up  tight and shuttered, I
recognized the Audry's-place-look-alike as we passed it.
     For the past few hours, since a stop we made right after dark, the cows
had again watched us. We were the cow entertainment for the night as we sped
past pasture after pasture. Thousands and thousands of cows lined the  road,
ready for us to come  flashing past. I  had no idea why they  did it, or how
they knew we  were coming, but there wasn't  a  stretch  of road that didn't
have  cows lined up beside it all night long. And even though there  were no
fences, none of them came into the road to stop us.
     After  a  while  I stopped looking  at  them as well. Their  big  eyes,
shining in the moonlight, just unnerved me.
     My flying was getting better and better  as the trip went on, and since
the moon was almost full the road was  easy to see. I could manage almost an
hour of nonstop flying before I had to rest, and, because of the mostly flat
land, we were making great time.
     Even though I wanted to drink it earlier because I was feeling tired, I
forced myself to wait  until we were  walking  through Bethel to finish  the
last of the carrot juice I had had Tanda save.
     Just  that half a glass gave me enough energy to keep on going, as if I
had slept a full night. It seemed to allow me to use every bit of the  power
around me to keep us above the road and speeding toward the treasure.
     At sunrise the cows stopped watching again, going back to gra2ing as if
we  didn't matter at all.  For a  while  I  felt  almost insulted, before  I
realized what I was thinking. How could a  cow not  wanting to watch  me fly
past ever insult me? Made no sense.
     About halfway through the  morning, still a long  distance from Donner,
we  came on  a small town. It couldn't have been half the size of Evade, and
not more than a dot on the map. The juice I had  drunk in the middle  of the
night had long ago worn off and I was so tired that I was just about falling
down.
     As I had hoped when I  saw the little town, right  in  the middle was a
place that looked a lot like Audry's. It  was empty and we went  in,  taking
what I was  starting to think of as  our normal table. I slouched in a chair
in front of the window, glad to still be alive.
     There was only one thing bad about the carrot juice. When you came down
off of it, you came down hard. Right now, if we were going to get to  Donner
by the middle  of  the  night,  I  needed another fix or two  of the  golden
liquor.
     This place didn't just look  like Audry's;  it could have been Audry's.
And when the guy with the  white  apron and dirty  rag came out of the  back
room, I wasn't surprised in the slightest.
     "What can I get for you, strangers?"
     "If you wouldn't mind," I said before either Tanda or Aahz could speak,
"could I trouble you for three glasses of your best?"
     The guy beamed, wiped his hands with  the  towel, and  said the words I
was expecting.
     "Not  a problem. Sure I  couldn't interest you  folks in  some lunch as
well? Just got a fresh  wagon-load in. Everything's  really  crisp.  You all
need your strength, what with the round-up coming."
     "Thanks, partner,"  I said. "That sounds really good, but I think we'll
just start with the juice right now, if you don't mind."
     "Not at all," he said.
     A  few moments later  he  came  back with three  glasses of the  carrot
juice, smiled at us as he put them down, then headed off into the kitchen.
     "Okay, that does  it," Tanda said, staring at  where  the guy had gone.
"I'm officially completely creeped out."
     "What?" Aahz asked. "All  the staring cows last  night didn't do it for
you?"
     "Okay, double creeped out," Tanda said.
     I downed about a half a glass of carrot juice and sat back, letting the
wonderful flavor warm me. How I had ever lived without  the stuff was beyond
me.
     "I  think  you might want to go easy on  that juice," Aahz said. He was
looking as tired as I had felt a few minutes ago.
     "I think you might want to  try some,"  I said, "if you're expecting to
get to the treasure tonight."
     He shook his head.
     "I think one of us hooked on carrot juice is enough."
     "Your loss," I said.
     He just frowned and pulled out the map.
     This  time the  map hadn't changed. My magik had  worked. We were still
headed for Donner, which looked to be a good distance from here. I was going
to need all the energy I could get. I downed another quarter of the glass.
     By the time we left the place, with me running through the same routine
with the guy in the apron,  promising  we might  be back for  dinner, I  had
downed  a glass  and a  half of  the juice,  and  had the rest  in the water
containers. I was  good to go through the night. As far as  I was concerned,
Tanda and Aahz could sleep while I flew. They weren't doing anything, so why
not?
     Later that afternoon I think they both  did actually fall  asleep while
flashing along knee-high off the road. It was lucky  for all of us  I had my
carrot juice.
     As it  happened, we were approaching another tiny little town along the
road to Donner as the sun set. On the map  this place wasn't even listed. It
had maybe twenty  buildings,  all of them  boarded  up and shuttered. Still,
Aahz figured there was no point in taking any chances, so we walked into the
tiny town.
     We  were just about through  the town when, at  once, every door in the
town  slammed open. It was a dark and quiet night, with the sun down and the
moon not yet  up. That much sudden noise and movement darned near  scared me
right out of my skin.
     "What's happening?" Tanda asked.
     I didn't have a clue. From what I could tell, every person in the town,
all  dressed  in  different  clothing, some  in nightshirts, walked into the
street like zombies, turned, and in a line headed out of town to the west.
     We quickly  stepped up onto the sidewalk to get out  of the way as  the
chain of people moved past down the center of the road. There was no life in
any of their eyes or fighting against what was happening to them.
     "Be ready to take us back to Vortex #6," Aahz whispered to Tanda.
     "Oh, I've been ready for days," she said.
     The last person  moved past us, leaving the town empty and  every  door
standing wide open. I had no idea what we should do. I took the canister out
of my pouch and downed the last of the second glass of carrot juice, just to
be ready for whatever was coming.
     Aahz  motioned  that  we should follow them, so,  moving  slowly  about
thirty steps behind the last person, we followed the line of people out into
the countryside, along the very same road we had planned on traveling.
     The farther out we got, the more I expected to see the cows waiting for
us, watching the zombie townspeople now. But there were no cows to be seen.
     But there were a lot of naked people, yawning  and stretching scattered
around the fields, as if they were just waking up from a long nap.
     The townspeople  kept doing the zombie march as the naked people in the
fields  moved toward them. The first naked  guy to  reach the  line  near us
grabbed an old man in a nightshirt, tipped back  the old guy's head, and bit
into his neck.
     "Vampires," Tanda whispered.
     Behind us  the  full moon  was easing up over  the  edge  of the  hill,
shining light on the  feast as more and more  vampires picked a meal and bit
in.  So this was what the round-up was  all about? I couldn't believe what I
was seeing.
     The  cows  were vampires,  and their feeding stock was  the  people. No
wonder all the people in all the towns all ate vegetables and were afraid of
the night. The people who lived in the towns were nothing more than  cattle,
being fattened for slaughter every month.
     It was the cows that were the masters.
     "You are not in the round-up line," a deep and pleasant voice said from
behind us.
     All three of us spun around as one to face  two naked people. One was a
man, one a woman.  Their bodies were  perfectly formed, their muscles toned,
their eyes large and brown, like the cow's eyes along the road every night.
     The woman was  one of the most beautiful  women I had ever seen without
clothes on. No, make  that the most  beautiful. And with one glance into her
eyes, I wanted to give myself to her. I didn't care if she bit me or not.
     The next instant the dust  storm on Vortex #6 slammed into me, snapping
me out of my desire to make a  fool of myself with a beautiful woman for the
second time in a week.
     Chapter Ten
     "I can quit anytime."
     S. HOLMES
     The  hundred slogging steps through the dust  storm to the cabin seemed
to get  longer and longer every  time I  had to do it. I had no  idea why we
just couldn't D-Hop right into the cabin and  skip all this dust and wind. I
was going to ask Tanda that, as soon as things settled down.
     As we  got near the cabin,  Tanda  held up her hand for  us to  stop. I
could  barely see the dark shape of  the building in the storm. There was no
light in the window this time.
     She  did  something with both arms I assumed was some  sort of scanning
magik  that  assassins  knew,  then motioned that it was clear and we should
move forward. Therefore, Glenda wasn't here waiting for us.
     I had the sudden image of one of the cow-vampires bending her  over and
sucking on her neck  in the middle of some  road somewhere. Considering what
she had done to me, it was one of the nicer thoughts I had had about her  in
days.
     We got inside and the door closed against the storm.
     "Are we shielded?" Aahz asked Tanda.
     "Up and solid," she said.  "Skeeve was right; there is powerful  energy
here. I can hold the shield for as long as we need it."
     "So  Glenda can't pop in and surprise us?" I asked, moving to the stove
to get it started before I took off my coat.
     "Not  a  chance," Tanda said.  "She hops back here, she's going  to get
awful dirty standing out there in the dust."
     Aahz laughed. "Couldn't happen to a nicer demon."
     "Want something to eat?" Tanda asked, working around in the cabinets as
I sat at the table.
     "Just more carrot juice," I said.
     I could feel my  body  starting to get really  tired, as if someone had
pulled the energy plug and what I had left was draining onto the floor.
     I dug  into my pouch for the canister that  I had been carrying. It was
gone. I checked again and it was still not there. I couldn't remember  doing
anything  with it, but I might have dropped it in the excitement of watching
cows become vampires and bite on people.
     "You have  the  other  canister of  juice?" I asked Aahz.  "Afraid not,
apprentice," he said. "Left it back on Kowtow when we hopped out of there."
     My first reaction was not to believe him. Then it  became clear that he
had left the rest of my carrot juice, and my reaction was anger.
     "How could you do that?" I shouted. "Easy," he said.
     He  showed  me by reaching  into  his pouch,  taking out  an  invisible
canister,  and dropping it to the floor. "But  what am I going to do without
it?"  Again I  shouted. I  needed that carrot juice; right down to the  very
bottom of my soul I needed it.
     "You're going to sleep for a long time," Tanda said, smiling at me.
     Just  her mention of sleep made me  sleepy. I couldn't believe they had
done this to me.
     "Taking a guy's carrot juice isn't nice."
     "I  know,"  Tanda  said.  "But we're doing it for your  own  good.  You
haven't slept in at  least three days. You  need to stop moving and just lie
down."
     The  tiredness was washing up over me like a wave  on the beach. It was
everything I could do to even think about saying I didn't need sleep.
     How  dare she  tell me  what  I needed?  How dare Aahz  leave my  juice
behind? Hadn't I trusted him with that juice?
     "I don't need to rest," I said, my voice sounding funny to my ears.
     "How about you  just  lie down  for  a few minutes  and then we'll talk
about  it," Tanda said, helping me to  me  feet and moving  me  over  to the
soft-looking bed against one wall.
     "Well, maybe just a minute," I said.
     What  could  a minute  hurt? I'd  get back some of my energy, and  then
convince Tanda to hop me back to get my juice.
     "Only one minute," I said.
     Or at least I  think I  said that.  I might  not have, because from the
moment my head touched the pillow, I don't remember another thing.
     I woke  up with a blinding headache and a taste in  my mouth that was a
cross between horse droppings and stale carrots. I rolled  over and the pain
hit me even harder,  smashing into my  head like someone was taking a hammer
and pounding me right between the eyes.
     "Ohhh," I said, putting both hands to my head trying to stop the agony.
     "The sleeping apprentice awakes," Aahz,  said, his voice  far  too loud
for the size of the space between my ears.
     "And in pain, it seems," Tanda shouted.
     "Please  whisper,"  I said, but my throat was so dry  the words  didn't
really come out.
     I wanted to  die.  Why hadn't  they just killed me as I slept? Or maybe
they had tried, which was why I hurt so much.
     I also wanted to be  sick, but that wasn't possible since  there wasn't
anything left in my stomach.  But  my stomach still  felt  like it wanted to
twist  inside out and  come up  through  my throat.  And the world  spinning
didn't help that feeling at all.
     And, most of all, I really  wanted to forget all the nightmares I'd had
about  cows  turning into vampires,  and  the  people  of  a dimension being
nothing more  than food stock. What  an  awful nightmare. That was  the last
time I had carrot juice if it caused those kind of visions.
     Tanda came over  and  knelt beside  me.  I could  feel her  hand  on my
forehead, then a soft energy flowing through me, washing the pain and nausea
with it. Whatever she did, it was nice.
     After a moment she moved away and I opened my eyes. My head didn't hurt
as much, and the world that felt as if it  was  smashing down on me from all
sides had retreated.
     I also  realized  that what I  had  thought  were  carrot-juice-induced
nightmares had actually happened. "That help?" Tanda asked.
     I nodded, wishing I hadn't almost at once. She had taken away the pain,
but the  rest of  the  problems-upset stomach and  spinning world-were still
with me.
     She brought me a glass of water, helping me sit up to drink it.
     "Well, hangovers are sure fun, aren't they, apprentice?" Aahz asked.
     "No,"  I managed to  croak  out  after  I took a small drink, "they are
not."
     "Good thing to remember next time you go bingeing."
     The thought of even seeing another carrot made my stomach twist.
     "Was there alcohol in the carrot juice?"
     "No, but it had other stuff in it," Aahz said, "Stuff I'm guessing make
the people of those towns good eating for the vampires."
     My stomach twisted.
     "And  maybe help keep  them under control," Tanda said, looking  at me.
"Think you can come to the table and try to eat a little something?"
     "I can try," I said, "but no promises."
     "Good enough. You need to eat."
     "How long  was  I sleeping?"  I asked as I stood and shuffled my way to
the table.
     I dropped into a chair and then  tried to remain  still while the world
spun for a moment.
     "About twelve hours,"  Aahz said. "We were just  getting ready  to head
back to Kowtow when you started to wake up."
     "Without me?" I asked, staring into the eyes of my mentor.
     He smiled at what must have been my shocked expression.
     "Just to explore and  get a little closer to  Donner while the vampires
were back being cows. We would have left you shielded and been back in a few
hours."
     "You still  want to see if you can  get to the  treasure?" I asked, not
believing that Aahz would even want to go back to the place again, let alone
try to get a golden-milk-giving cow that turned into a vampire.
     "Sure," he said. "We're too close to turn back now."
     "And just what are you going to do when you find this golden cow?"
     "I asked him the same thing," Tanda said.
     "I'll figure that out when we find it," Aahz said.
     I nodded. "Glad I woke up then."
     "I doubt you're going to be up for  coming along just yet," Tanda said,
putting a little sandwich and another glass of water in front of me.
     "I'll  be fine," I  said. "Just a little carrot  juice and I  can fly a
long ways."
     The silence in the cabin was intense.
     I looked at Aahz, then at Tanda and smiled. "Just kid-ding."
     For some reason, neither of them laughed.
     Along the way there were more and more cattle, bigger herds than we had
seen  at any other place.  I was just glad that none  of them  were lined up
along the road watching us.
     The countryside was becoming pretty hilly,  and the road looked like it
was  headed  right at a  fairly large mountain range. I hoped  Donner was on
this side of the range and not the other. My question was answered almost at
once as we topped a slight ridge and could see off ahead.
     I somehow managed  to bring us  to a stop  and lower us to the  ground.
Considering  what   we  were   facing,  I  thought  that   was  pretty  good
concentration.
     From the top of this hill we could see Donner. It had been built  going
up the side  of a  gentle hill. From here it looked as if the buildings down
low were all like the ones in the towns we had already seen, but the farther
up the hill you went, the larger the buildings, the more ornate.
     At  the  top was  the  palace. Only this wasn't like anything  on  this
planet. It was made of stone  and  inlaid  with  gold  that shimmered in the
afternoon sun. It was like a second sun, only golden.
     "Oh, my," Tanda said softly.
     "No  wonder  there's a treasure map  to this  place," Aahz  said. "I've
never seen anything like that."
     "Neither have I," Tanda said.
     Well, if the two experienced dimension travelers in the group had never
seen  anything like  the  golden palace we  were staring at, I  sure  hadn't
either.
     After a moment I asked what I thought was the obvious next question.
     "So now what do we do?"
     "We go take a closer look," Aah2 said, laughing. "See what we can see."
     I glanced at my mentor. He was always happy when  there was a chance we
might end up with a lot of money. I didn't want to ask him how he thought we
were going to get any of the gold we could see from here, but clearly he had
ideas, and the ideas were enough to make him smile.
     All his smile did was worry me.
     I flew us two  more small hills closer  to the city before Aahz said we
had better walk the rest of the  way. There was so much energy  in this area
that I didn't even feel tired  from the effort of  flying. It had come easy,
which  meant  that all magik was easy in this  place. That was both good and
bad.
     Ahead of us  on  the  road  were some  walkers, plus a  wagon  full  of
vegetables  being  pulled by two horses. Cows filled  the fields, paying  no
attention to anything.
     Up closer, the town of Donner was even bigger than I had first thought,
with  a  very  wide,  boulevard-like  main  road  heading  straight  through
everything. The golden castle on the top of the hill  was massive. It looked
like it could swallow the entire royal palace and courtyard of Possiltum and
not even burp. I wonder if  this  place had a royal  magician. Maybe I could
apply for the job, but I doubted I would pass the cow physical.
     We had just crested the last small hill  and  were starting down toward
the edge of the city when a dozen men on horseback came galloping out of the
city, kicking up a cloud  of dust behind them. A few people  ahead  of us on
the road stepped out of  the way. And  the wagonload of veggies had to  move
almost off the road and into a small ditch.
     The thundering horses came on, riding hard, the men's black hats pulled
down tight on their heads. I  didn't have a  good feeling about this, but at
the same time there was no reason to think they were after us.
     We moved to the  side of the road as they neared, but instead of riding
past, then stopped, sort of forming a circle around us, pinning us against a
pasture full of cows. I clearly should have trusted my bad feeling.
     "You  are  under arrest,"  a man sitting  on  a big black  horse  said.
"Please come with us into the city."
     "It's  a posse," Tanda  said,  the surprise in her  voice clear. "Never
thought I'd ever see one."
     "A what?" I asked.
     "Never mind," she said.
     "Under arrest for what?" Aahz demanded of the guy on the big horse.
     The  guy, whose face looked very similar to the  guy  who had  been the
bartender in Audry's, smiled. I  didn't like the look of his little teeth at
all.
     "You have been charged with not complying with round-up procedures," he
said, "and the unlawful use of magik."
     I glanced at  Aahz,  then at Tanda.  Now  we  knew  for sure  that this
dimension knew about magik. As far as I was concerned, right about now would
be a great time to beat a hasty retreat to the wonderful dust of  Vortex #6.
But it seemed Aahz had other ideas.
     "We demand to be taken to your leader," Aahz said, stepping toward  the
man.  "We are  powerful  magicians  from  another dimension  with  important
information your leader will want."
     The guy actually laughed,  which rocked Aahz back on his heels. Not too
many people actually laughed at my mentor and got away with it.
     "Drop my disguise," Aahz said, whispering to me.
     I  shrugged.  At this  point, it couldn't get any worse, so I did as he
asked.
     Not a one of the men on the horses even seemed to notice that there was
now a green-scaled ugly  Pervect standing in  front  of them. Not even their
horses cared.
     That was not what Aahz was expecting.
     The guy again just laughed.
     "You can drop the act," he said. "Our leader knows exactly why you  are
here."
     Then  the guy  did something  that  just  flat  scared  me to death. He
pointed a finger  at Aahz  and a moment  later the map came floating  out of
Aahz's belt pouch, unfolded in midair, and fluttered there. Then it refolded
and returned to the pouch.
     "Now please come with us," he said.
     He turned his horse and started at a slow pace toward the city.
     I glanced at Aahz, who was looking almost stunned, then at Tanda.
     "Don't you think this might be a good time to head for home?" I asked.
     "I wish we could," Tanda said.
     Sweat  dripped off her forehead as we all stepped back onto the road to
follow the guy who  had done the  talking.  The rest of his group  of riders
waited and fell in behind us.
     "Excuse me?" I said. "How about jumping us to the dust storm?"
     "Trust me," she said, "I tried."
     "You what?" I couldn't believe she couldn't get us out of this mess.
     "We're blocked?" Aahz asked.
     "Tighter  than  a  vault," she  said. "Best  block  I've  ever  run  up
against."
     "How about I try to fly us out of here?"
     "Won't work  either," Tanda said. "At the  moment  there's a block over
all our magik."
     "Oh," was all I could say.
     Ahead, just over the head of the horse in front of me I could  see  the
golden  palace.  It was  the place, the  treasure, we had  been working  and
fighting so hard to reach. Right now it was the last place in  any dimension
I wanted to go.
     Chapter Eleven
     "Who are those guys?"
     B. CASSIDY
     No  one in the city seemed to  pay us any  attention at all  as we were
marched into Donner and right up the wide Main Street of the city toward the
golden palace on the hill. I saw at least a dozen Audry's-like  places along
the road, and this town had three guys in white hats and shovels cleaning up
after the  hundreds of horses. As we passed, all three of  them tipped their
hats and said, "Howdy."
     What  really made this town different from  all the others  we had gone
through, besides  the golden  palace towering  over  it, were  the  pastures
between the buildings. About halfway up to  the palace, on the right side of
the road, was a beautiful, green pasture about the size of one building.
     It had one lone cow in it, grazing on the perfectly tended grass.
     A  little  farther  up  the hill there were more small pastures between
buildings  on both sides  of  the street, each  with  just one cow.  And the
higher  we  went, the  more  beautiful  the  pastures  became,  with  ornate
decorations and well-trimmed grass.
     Just under the palace  were five pastures  on  both sides of  the  main
boulevard, and in  each of those  manicured and ornately decorated lawns was
one cow,  and off  to  one side  a guy wearing a white  hat  and carrying  a
shovel. Waiting. Now I knew  what all the other shovel-carrying guys working
the streets of all the towns were trying to advance their way up to.
     The  guys on horses dismounted at a massive gate made of  stone pillars
and gold bars. The palace  itself was surrounded by  a tall  stone wall that
looked too high to even try to climb.
     The stone  was highly polished  and there looked to be gold lining  the
top.
     The guy in charge  pointed us at the gate,  but  didn't  follow  us in.
Instead, five other men in white robes with gold trim met us just inside the
gate and  indicated we  should follow. Each  carried a golden shovel like  a
cane, using  it to walk. It was clear that  a  person who worked outside the
palace  and  didn't have a golden  shovel couldn't get into the palace.  Why
were we so lucky?
     "Would you look at all the gold!" Aahz said, his head whipping back and
forth as he tried to take it all in.
     "Amazing," Tananda said, her voice soft and carrying the awe she felt.
     I couldn't say anything. The sight that greeted us inside that gate was
beyond anything I had ever imagined. There was nothing but beautiful-trimmed
lawns, gold ornaments, strangely shaped  shrubs, and guys in white robes and
white hats with golden shovels. Maybe a  dozen different cows  grazed on the
beautiful lawns, clearly without a care in  the world, all tended by guys in
white robes with golden shovels.
     Our robed  jailers herded us  up the stone staircase,  climbing through
manicured lawn  after  manicured  lawn,  all surrounded by gold  statues  of
different animals and gold artwork. The  walls of the castle  itself towered
over  us, the white stone and  shining gold walls higher than anything I had
ever seen before.
     We were finally taken through a big double door and headed down flights
of stone steps. From there I got completely lost as we went through tunnels,
down steps, around corners, down more tunnels, down more steps, all the time
going deeper and  farther under the castle. I  didn't much like the idea  of
being trapped down under such a massive building, but  the idea that we were
being held prisoner by cows controlling guys with golden shovels bothered me
even more. Especially since they were vampire cows.
     Finally  we  were herded into a  big room with stone walls  and left, a
golden-barred door slamming closed behind us. There  were five others in the
big room, all looking  tattered and exhausted. Ten beds were  spaced  around
the walls and all the previous prisoners were lying on the beds, sleeping.
     "Glenda," Aahz said.
     It took me a second to recognize the figure on the bed across the room.
It was Glenda all right,  but not the alive, beautiful, and powerful woman I
had  remembered  from  just  a  few  days before. This  woman  wore tattered
clothing, had  dirt  and deep circles under her eyes, and a huge red mark on
her neck.
     All  three  of us moved  over to her. As we did her eyes fluttered open
and she saw Aahz, then Tanda and me.
     "Found the treasure, I see," she said, her voice barely a whisper.
     Then she was back  asleep, her breathing heavy,  and her  mouth hanging
open. The red marks on her neck pulsed with the beat of her heart.
     "I don't like the looks of this," I said.
     "Any  chance  we can get out of  here?" Aahz asked, glancing around the
room.
     I did the  same. None of the other  prisoners in the place looked to be
in  any better shape than Glenda. And all of them had the red marks on their
necks and were sleeping heavily, almost dead.
     Tanda shook her head.
     "Not  a  chance  at  all.  The energy  is back flowing to us,  but  the
dimension hopping is  still blocked  completely. I've been trying  to  D-hop
ever since we were captured."
     "Well," Aahz said, "we're just going to  have  to find another way out,
and grab a little gold along the way."
     "How  about the D-Hopper?"  I asked. "They  didn't search us. Maybe  it
would work."
     Aahz pulled  the  D-Hopper out, made sure the setting was  right,  then
triggered it.
     We stayed right where we were.
     "Worth a try," I said as he put it back in his shirt.
     "I think we need some answers," Aahz said.
     He sat down on the edge  of Glenda's bunk and then not so gently  shook
her awake.
     "No! No!" she said as she woke.
     Her  hands  went to her  neck and then flinched away. Again  it  took a
moment  for her to recognize  us.  She blinked, then  said,  "Go  away," and
closed her eyes again.
     "We need some answers," Aahz said.
     He  grabbed  her  by the shoulders, twisted her  around,  and  sat  her
upright on the bed, her back against the wall.
     "Easy there,  big fella," Glenda  said, her voice hoarse. "We're all in
this together."
     "I'm not in anything with you," Aahz said.
     Looking  at the  wreck  she  had  become,  it was hard for me  to  even
remember why  I had  been  interested in her in the first  place. Could I be
that  superficial that  she had to remain beautiful for me to care? Or did I
no longer find her attractive or have  any interest  in  her because she had
betrayed us? It was an interesting  question  I'd have to talk to Aahz about
once we were safely back home.
     "Oh," Glenda said, "trust me. If you're  here, in this cell, then we're
all in this together."
     "How'd you end up here?" Aahz asked. "How'd you find the  place without
the map?"
     She laughed.  "I went to Dodge City, didn't  find anything, so I  asked
this guy running a bar where the golden cow was, and he told me here."
     I shook my head. How simple that would have been. Why hadn't we thought
of it?
     "Then what happened?" Tanda asked.
     "Didn't even make it into town," she said. "Got picked up by a bunch of
guys on horses yesterday and tossed in  here.  Then last night  I got hauled
out to be a snack at the big party upstairs."
     Her  hand  again went to her neck and she flinched. The red marks there
didn't look  like  they were  healing very well. And I  didn't much like the
sound of being a snack like those people lined up on the road had been.
     "It was like a bad  dream," Glenda said, her  eyes distant. "They  kept
forcing glass after glass of carrot juice down me while taking turns sucking
oh my neck. By morning I couldn't even walk. I don't remember how I got back
down here."
     The thought of carrot juice ripped my stomach into a knot.
     "Who were they?" Tanda asked.
     Glenda  shrugged.  "Hundreds  of   beautiful   naked  people  in   this
gold-covered ballroom way up in the castle somewhere."
     Aahz nodded. "Vampire cows."
     "What?" Glenda asked.
     "We saw a field of cows change into beautiful naked people last night,"
I said, "and snack on the townspeople who were waiting to be used."
     She looked at me, then at Aahz. "The kid's not kidding, is he?"
     Aahz shook his head.
     Glenda shook her head and then closed her eyes.
     "Drunk dry by bovine vampires. How ironic."
     She didn't say anything else,  and Aahz didn't push her. She looked  as
if she had lost twenty pounds in  one night. She had managed to outsmart us,
find  her way to the  castle, and still  get captured.  If she  couldn't get
away, how were we going to do it before we became a full-moon snack?
     "We've  got  to get  out of here before the sun goes  down," Aahz said,
standing and moving to the door.
     He  gave it a couple hard  hits, but it didn't  move,  and no  one came
because  of the  noise.  Clearly  none  of  the  golden-shoveled guards were
worried about a prisoner escape.
     "Even if we did get out," Tanda  said, "it would take a map to find our
way back through the castle."
     "Map," I said. "That's the key."
     Aahz   turned   and   looked   at   me,   giving   me  one   of   those
I-don't-understand-how-you-can-be-so-stupid looks.
     I moved over to him and stuck out my hand.
     "Can I have the map, please?"
     "Why would you want it?" Aahz asked.
     I didn't want to tell him my idea without first seeing if I was right.
     "Just give it to him," Tanda said.
     Aahz shrugged and took out the map, handing it to me still folded.
     I opened  it up, laying it  flat on  the nearest empty bunk so  that we
could all look at it.  The map looked as I had expected.  It had gained  its
magik  back once we got inside the castle. It showed where we were,  fifteen
levels down and under a  lot of rock and gold. It also showed the room where
the golden cow was, far above us.
     And better  yet, it showed  us a path from where we were being  held to
what the map  called  a  large  ballroom. Clearly the  map's  designers  had
planned  on continuing the game right to the very last room. It sort of made
sense.  Dimension to dimension  until we found the  right one, then  town to
town until we found the right one, now room to room until we found the right
one. I didn't much like the game, but I understood the thinking.
     "Well, would you look at that?" Aahz said, stunned.
     Tanda studied the map, then looked at the wall near Glenda's bunk, then
studied the map again.
     It didn't take me long to see what she  was doing. The map showed a way
out of  this  room that  wasn't  the  main door. Maybe, just maybe, we had a
chance. If we could escape the cell,  then avoid  hundreds of men with white
robes and golden shovels, and then  outrun the posse on  horseback, we might
be able  to get far  enough away from the  castle to dimension-hop  back  to
Vortex #6.
     It sounded impossible, but it was more than we'd had a moment ago.
     I folded  up  the map and put it in my pouch, then  headed for the wall
where Glenda was still sitting on  a bunk. Her eyes  were closed, and if her
chest hadn't been moving I would have thought she was dead.
     "Wait," Tanda said  as I started to get down on my knees to look for an
opening in the wall under the  bunk beside Glenda's, where the map indicated
it would  be. "We need to protect ourselves, not  let anyone know what we're
doing."
     "And how do you suggest we do that?" I asked.
     Aahz glanced around at the bunks and the blankets on them.
     "Skeeve, when Tanda gives the word, I want you to make the  blankets on
those three bunks look like the three of us."
     "Four  of us," Glenda said,  opening her  eyes and looking  clearly  at
Aahz. "If you've found a way to leave, I'm leaving with you."
     "Yeah," Aahz said, laughing, "like you took us with you on Vortex #6? I
don't think so."
     "I don't go, I  alert the guards,"  she said, staring at him. "And I've
got enough power left to easily break an apprentice's disguise spell."
     For a moment I thought Aahz was going to strangle her,  and I wanted to
help. Then Tanda stepped between them, facing Aahz.
     "She's powerful  and can  help. Let her, or we might  never  get out of
here."
     My mentor  looked like he was about to explode. He hated doing anything
he didn't want to do, and taking Glenda along was something he really didn't
want to do. But Tanda was right; maybe Glenda could help.
     "All right," Aahz said, taking a deep breath and letting it slowly out.
     He stepped past Tanda and looked down at Glenda.
     "You work with  us or  we dump you faster than you dumped my apprentice
in that bar. Understand?"
     She  nodded, clearly very  weak.  "Let  me  help  Tanda with the  cover
spell," she said. "I'm good at them."
     "I'm an ex-assassin," Tanda shot back. "I'm better."
     "I know you are," Glenda said. "I can just add some depth on the cover.
And help support Skeeve's  disguises. We're dealing with some good magicians
here. Let's make sure they don't see us coming,  or leaving as  the case may
be."
     For a moment Tanda stared at Glenda, then she nodded. "Follow my lead."
     "Completely,"  Glenda  said.  She took  a  deep, shuddering breath  and
braced herself against the wall, her eyes closed.
     I  glanced around.  The other three  prisoners  hadn't woken  up.  They
looked to be in much worse shape than Glenda.
     Aahz turned to  me.  "Get ready.  On  Tanda's  count, one  at  a  time,
disguise the four bunks."
     I took a deep  breath and reached  out for the energy it was  going  to
take.
     Energy  here wasn't a problem.  It flowed  all around us like a massive
river, wider  and stronger than I had ever experienced. I let it flow inside
me, giving me strength.
     "Aahz first," Tanda said. "Now."
     On the farthest empty bunk I  pictured Aahz lying there, sleeping,  his
mouth open.
     On the bunk Aahz appeared, just as I had pictured.
     I gathered more energy.
     "Glenda now," Tanda said.
     I  imagined Glenda on the second bunk,  sleeping in the same way we had
seen her sleeping when we came in, red mark on her neck and all.
     Glenda appeared there.
     "Now me," Tanda said.
     I reached out and took the energy and  put the image  of Tanda sleeping
in the next bunk
     "Now you," Tanda said.
     I did the same, although I had never seen myself asleep, I had an image
of what I must look like, and I used that.
     It was strange to see myself sleeping there. Really strange.
     "All shielded," Tanda said.
     Glenda nodded. "Very strong. It should hold. And good job, Skeeve."
     I just nodded. I didn't need  compliments from  a woman who left  me to
rot in a town full of cow food.
     "Okay, Skeeve," Tanda said, "see if you can find that opening."
     I got down on my  stomach and crawled partway under  the  bunk  next to
where Glenda sat. It looked like a stone wall, just like all the rest of the
room. But when I went to  touch the wall, my hand went through as if nothing
was there.
     "A disguised opening," I said.
     I crawled under the bunk and right on  through the  wall, coming out on
the other side. It was pitch black, so I tore a little piece off the  bottom
of my shirt and  used  a magik spell to light it. I was in a tunnel that had
been cut out of stone. It was just tall enough for me to stand, and not much
wider than  my shoulders.  It  clearly hadn't been  used in a  long time, if
ever. There was an  unused torch stuck in a crack in the rocks, so I lit it,
tossing to one side my burning piece of shirt.
     A moment later Aahz  followed, coming through what looked to  be  solid
stone near the floor  of the tunnel.  Then  Glenda,  breathing  hard, pulled
herself into the tunnel and sat with her back against the sidewall, followed
almost instantly by Tanda.
     "This  tunnel is shielded as well,"  Tanda said, looking around as  she
stood. "A shield so old, it might have been here before the castle."
     "I'm impressed," Glenda said,  still  sitting on the  floor. "How'd you
know this was here?"
     I pulled  the  map  out  of  my pouch  and  held  it  up  in  the faint
torchlight. She saw it and nodded. "Of course."
     I opened  the map and Aahz, Tanda, and I stood under the torch studying
it.
     It now showed the tunnel we were in as center, and the location of  the
golden cow  had changed. Now it was in a dining room ten floors  above us. I
didn't believe it for a moment.
     The map showed that we had to follow the tunnel for as far as we could,
then climb up a ladder and through the floor of what was called a morgue.
     "Seems we  don't have much choice," Aahz  said, staring at  the map. He
pointed to the fact that the map didn't show a way back into the room we had
just left.
     I moved over  and touched the  wall we had just crawled through. It was
solid rock. Weird.
     I moved back over to where they were standing under the light.
     "We're going to be chasing the cow until we find an exit," Aahz said.
     "We could always kill the magik in the map one more time," I said.
     "No," Tanda said. "We may end up in a room that we need the map to help
us get out of."
     "She's right," Glenda said. "For all  we know, the map may be the magik
source that created this tunnel. From the looks of how that wall turned back
to stone, it just might be."
     I stared at the paper in my hand, then at  Glenda sitting on the floor.
If she was right, and I had killed the magik in the map again, we might have
ended up trapped in stone. I didn't want to think about that at all.
     "So we follow the magik," Aahz said.
     I folded the map  and put it away in my pouch, then  took the torch out
of  the crack and held  it in front of  me  so that I  could see where I was
going. Then,  doing my brave routine, I started off down a tunnel so old, or
so magical, that it didn't look as if anyone had ever been in here.
     The tunnel sloped upward like a  fairly steep ramp. I moved at a steady
pace, making sure that each step was on solid ground. I didn't trust my eyes
at this point, after crawling through solid rock.
     After about  a hundred paces  I looked back. Tanda was right behind me,
Aahz behind  her, and Glenda was managing to stay up with us, only because I
was moving so slowly. I didn't feel the slightest bit sorry for her. She had
left me  to die, and gotten  herself into the mess she faced last night. And
without  us,  she wouldn't  have this  chance  to  escape. As far  as I  was
concerned, she would either keep up or go out on her own again.
     I went  back to working my way up  the tunnel, testing each step, until
finally I reached  the  end. A rock ladder had been  carved  into the stone,
leading straight up through a very narrow hole.
     As Aahz stopped beside me I pointed up at the hole.
     "Can you squeeze through there?"
     "Do I have a choice?"
     "I suppose not," I said. I handed him the torch. "Let me get up through
the opening so I  can brace my  back  against  the  wall, then  hand me  the
torch."
     Without waiting for another idea from my mentor, I started up. The hole
in the roof of the tunnel was big  enough that my shoulders touched  on both
sides, but not so small that  I  had to  squeeze. Aahz might be able to make
it, but it was going to take some work.
     Once I got through the hole,  the  space got bigger. I stopped and Aahz
handed me the torch, passing it up past me quickly so I wouldn't get burned.
     Above I could  see the ladder climbing at least twenty or so of my body
lengths before reaching what looked to be a wooden trapdoor in a floor.
     "Send Tanda up second,"  I whispered down to Aahz below me. "We need to
make sure no one is in the room above the trap door up here."
     "Good thinking," Tanda said, climbing up under me as I went higher. She
got  up just  under  me, paused, and  then nodded. "No one  up  there at the
moment."
     "Good," I said.
     "You go next," I heard Aahz say to Glenda down in the tunnel.
     "No," Glenda said, her voice firm. "You get stuck in that opening  it's
going to take both Tanda pulling and me shoving to get you through."
     I couldn't hear  what Aahz  said, but a  moment later  his green-scaled
head came through the hole below Tanda.
     "No, both arms ahead of you," Tanda said.
     Aahz backed down a  step, put both his arms over  his head, and climbed
back  up into the  hole.  From  what I could see, his shoulders  were wedged
pretty good in the rock.
     Tanda  braced herself, grabbed  one of his hands, and then said, "Ready
to push, Glenda?"
     "Ready," Glenda said, her voice muffled as  if  she  were a  long  ways
away.
     "Now,"  Tanda  said,  pulling on Aahz's arm as he  pulled  on the  rock
surface with the other.
     With a rip of his shirt, he came through.
     Tanda let go and moved up under me. Aahz had his  shoulders through the
hole, but he wasn't climbing any higher at the moment.
     "Glenda," he said. "Grab a hold of my leg and I'll pull you up."
     "I think I can make it," she said.
     "Just do it and quit arguing with me," Aahz said.
     I stared down at the top of my mentor's head.  The old green-scaled guy
had a soft spot after  all. Always knew  it was  there,  just hadn't seen it
that often.
     As Aahz helped Glenda up  the stone ladder,  Tanda and I went on up  to
the trap door. Since  Aahz hadn't taught me a spell yet  that could sense if
something was on the  other side of  a wall, or a  floor in this case, I was
leaving that up to Tanda.
     "We still in the clear?" I asked.
     "We are," Tanda said.
     I eased up  to the wooden trapdoor and pushed slowly. The  wood scraped
as  it went  up,  then the  door seemed to catch on something.  It took me a
moment to realize it was a rug. From the looks of it, a very old rug.
     I  pushed even harder,  and the rug lifted  and pulled aside  enough so
that I could get  through. I went halfway up through the trapdoor and stood,
torch in the air, lighting the dark room.
     Tanda had been right. From what I  could see, no one was around. Just a
bunch of tables  and a wooden door leading off to the left. But the minute I
stepped up and stood, I  knew that Tanda  and I had both  been wrong. No one
alive was around.
     But the place was filled with dead people. Tables full of them.
     Chapter Twelve
     "There's gotta be a way out of this dungeon."
     G. GYGAX
     Okay,  this  was  another  first  for  me. I  had never  had the  luck,
opportunity,  or bad timing to be in  a room  full of dead people. And these
weren't just any dead people, but people who had clearly had the life sucked
out  of them  through their necks just the night  before. There had to be at
least fifteen or twenty  bodies, all naked, with ugly  marks on their necks,
and eyes staring at the ceiling.
     I stood,  holding the torch in the air, not really  wanting  to move in
any direction until the others were beside  me. Not that I thought  the dead
could do anything  to me, or that I  was superstitious about dead spirits. I
wasn't,  I was sure.  I just  didn't want to make a wrong move  until  I had
someone beside me, or at least that was what I told myself.
     "Looks like you were lucky to survive last night,"  Aahz said to Glenda
as helped her through the trap door and onto her feet.
     "Does seem that  way,  doesn't  it," she said, leaning against a  table
with a dead guy on it.
     The guy looked a  lot like the guy who ran Audry's.  I was  starting to
think that most of the men on this planet looked like him.
     "So much for thinking they didn't kill their food source," Tanda said.
     "I don't  think  most  do,"  Aahz said. "But  this  is the castle,  the
royalty of the planet. I would imagine in here all rules are off."
     "Wonderful,"  I  said. "Now we have  naked killer  vampire cows, one of
which is rumored to give golden milk."
     "Strange place, isn't it?" Aahz said.
     "You could say that, but you just did."
     "We need  to put  that rug back and close the trap," Tanda said.  "Make
sure we cover our tracks as best we can."
     I handed Tanda  the  torch and Aahz and I sat to work. In a few seconds
the room looked like it had before we came up out of the floor.
     "Now where?" Glenda asked.
     I pulled out the map and opened it, holding it up to the light for Aahz
and Tanda  to  see. The morgue, the room we were in,  was now central on the
map.  The  golden cow had moved to the kitchen. And our path out of here was
through  a panel in the back of  the room, not the door. The map  showed the
panel leading to a secret passageway that led for a long ways up through the
castle.
     "You know," I said, pointing at where  the passageway led, "that we are
getting deeper and deeper into the castle and farther from an escape exit."
     "Looks that way, doesn't it?" Aahz said, staring at the map.
     "That doesn't matter and you know it, Aahz," Glenda said. "At least you
could tell your apprentice the truth."
     We  all  turned and looked at where  she was leaning on  a table with a
naked dead guy right behind her.
     "How's that?" Aahz asked, clearly not happy at Glenda's tone.
     "We can't escape  this place without beating this map," she said.  "And
beating the map means capturing the golden cow, who I assume, is  the leader
of this entire dimension. That golden  cow is the only one who is  going  to
let us go, and you know it."
     At that point I was convinced that all the blood loss had gotten to her
mind. The only thing  I wanted to do was find a  way  out and  run or fly as
fast as we could until we were far enough away that we  could hop dimensions
and get away from this insane place.
     "Come on,"  I said, smiling at her. "That would be crazy.  Going  after
the head of  all  the cow vampires  would be suicide. We'd  end  up like all
these fine food products around us. Glenda, it's clear you need to rest."
     No  one  said  anything.  Glenda  just kept staring at me and slowly  I
realized  that  neither Aahz or Tanda  were telling her how  crazy  she  was
either.
     I turned to my mentor, who had a sheepish look on his face.
     "She's right,"  he said. "We wouldn't stand a chance of getting  out of
here, against the kind of magik we are facing, without the help of the map."
     I looked at Tanda.
     She  smiled  at  me.  "They're  right.  I  can  barely,  with  Glenda's
assistance, keep  us  hidden.  The  magik around  here  is  so  powerful, we
wouldn't stand a chance without help from the top. And the map is leading us
to that help."
     At that moment I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was as  dead
as any of the bodies in the room  with us. I just wasn't smart enough yet to
lie down and stop breathing like they had all done.
     With one  more look at  my mentor, then at Glenda, I shrugged and tried
to put on my best death-mask face.
     "Why not?  Let's get moving  before someone comes in and stops  our fun
treasure hunt before it really gets started."
     With one more look at the map, I folded it and put it back in my pouch.
     Then I headed through the tables of  bodies to the back wall. As I went
I wanted  to talk to the bodies,  tell them I'd be right back, tell  them to
wait, to reserve a table for me. But I kept my morbid thoughts to myself.
     There was a large cabinet of medical supplies filling the back wall and
no hidden panel that I could see. From what the map had shown, the panel was
right behind the cabinet.
     I  took hold of  the  back edge  of  the cabinet and pulled  outward. I
expected  it  to  be too heavy  for  me  to  move, but  it  swung easily and
silently, opening up into a passageway behind the panel.
     I glanced back at Tanda and Aahz and Glenda, who were silently watching
me.
     "Give me the torch and follow  me," I said. "We'll check  the map again
when we get a ways inside. And pull this closed behind you."
     Aahz nodded.
     It felt  good to be leading, even  if I wasn't going  in a  direction I
wanted to  go. At least I'd get to  the wrong  place  first,  and more  than
likely be killed first.
     Tanda handed me the torch and I slipped behind the cabinet.
     The  passageway  was as wide  as a small hallway back  in the Possiltum
palace.  It was mostly made of wood,  with some  stone walls along the  way.
Unlike the passageway cut out of the rock below the morgue, this looked like
it had had regular traffic over the years.
     I stayed in the  faint path  in  the dust and  moved ten steps down the
secret passageway, then stopped. Aahz pulled the cabinet closed and motioned
that he was ready. I wondered if we could go back that way if we had to, but
I didn't want Aahz to check, simply for the fear of finding out we couldn't.
     About a hundred  paces  along the secret  passageway branched into two.
One  went  to the  right and  up slightly, while  the  other  went seemingly
straight as far as the light from our torch would show.
     Tanda  was behind me and  I handed her the light, again pulling out the
map.
     It  had  changed  again, showing  the passageway  we  were in  and  the
intersection. The map now wanted us to go right. And up.
     I remembered being in front of this castle and looking up as it towered
over us. I had never seen anything so big before. Now it seemed that if this
map had its way, which Aahz and  Tanda were determined  to give it, we would
end up at the top.
     Maybe up there I'd have a good view when all the life was sucked out of
me.
     The passageway sloped upwards, sometimes stairs, sometimes just a ramp.
It bent to  the right, then in twenty paces to the right again, as  if going
around  a  room. From that point on it just  kept turning  and  twisting and
climbing. After twenty  minutes I was  so turned around and lost, I couldn't
even begin  to tell you what  part of the castle we were in. All  I knew was
that we had gone up a great deal. Finally the corridor ended at the top of a
short flight of stairs.
     I stopped and waited as Tanda caught  up.  Then, ten steps behind  her,
came Aahz helping Glenda.  He sure was being  nice,  for some  reason,  to a
woman who had betrayed  him. That wasn't like Aahz at all. Clearly he needed
her for something, and  I was  never far enough away from Glenda to ask what
it was.
     When they caught up,  Glenda slumped to the  ground and closed her eyes
and I pulled out the map and looked at where it was taking us. It showed the
end of the secret passageway where we  were standing, and a secret door into
a giant ballroom was right in front of me. I glanced at the wall. I couldn't
see where it was, but I assumed that when I needed it, it would be there.
     I went back to  studying the map again. We  had to go into the ballroom
and to the far wall where  there was  another panel into another passageway.
The golden cow treasure  was now marked as being in the throne room a number
of floors above us.
     "Looks like we  get to  go out  in the open for  the first time,"  Aahz
said, studying the map.
     "There's no one out there at the moment," Tanda said.
     "So we need to do it and quickly," I said, folding up the map.
     "Keep  the map handy," Aahz said. "When we get into the  ballroom,  you
need to check it again."
     "Of course,"  I said, nodding  and acting as  if I had known that, even
though I hadn't yet thought of it.
     "Can you make it a little farther, Glenda?" Aahz asked.
     Glenda jerked and pushed herself to her feet, leaning against the wall.
     "I can make it as far as I need to make it."
     Aahz just nodded. "Then let's go."
     Tanda had the torch, so I went to the wall and pushed where  the secret
panel was  supposed to be and surprise,  surprise, the  wall opened. I  slid
through. At  first  I thought there  was  nothing on  the other side of  the
panel, that the map had lied to us. Then I realized that the secret door was
pushing out a massive drape or tapestry of some type.
     I ducked to the right under the cloth and out into the open, with Tanda
and the torch right behind me.
     At  the moment  we  didn't  need  the  light.  The  room  had  massive,
two-story-high windows along one side that let in the natural sunlight.  The
hills in the distance were like old  friends calling to me. I so much wanted
to be  out there  instead of in here. The  sun, from what I could tell,  was
within an hour of setting on the other side of the castle. We needed to pick
up speed if we were going to find the golden cow before it became the golden
vampire.
     "Wow," Tanda said, looking around at the  gold-inlaid panels and golden
ceilings of the massive ballroom.
     The  floor  was  a  highly polished white  stone  with streaks  of gold
running through it. In my wildest imaginings I could have never come up with
a ballroom as fancy or beautiful as this one.
     Aahz and Glenda stopped beside us in the huge room. I bet at least five
hundred people could've danced  in this  room without even bumping into  one
another.
     "I remember being in this room last night," Glenda said softly.
     The thought of her being here with a bunch of naked vampires chewing on
her neck made me shudder.
     "Then let's not wait for the music to start," I said.
     I opened up the map and  looked at it. Again,  just  coming through the
secret door  had caused the map  to  change. Now the way out  of here wasn't
across the room, but  up  on  what looked like a stage near  the back of the
room, directly across from the windows.
     "This way," I said, leading  the  way up a  short staircase and  onto a
massive wooden stage.
     On  the  back  wall was  nothing  but  wood slats.  I  glanced  at  the
still-open map in  my hand,  then moved to what looked to be about the right
area, putting the map back into my pouch as
     I  went. After just a few seconds  of trying, I found the loose boards,
pulled them aside, and we were back out of the light and into what I thought
was another dark passageway.
     Tanda came in behind me, holding the torch up so that we could both see
what was ahead.
     I froze like a statue at what I saw.
     "Well I'll be a grave-digger's monkey," Tanda said.
     Ahead  of us  wasn't another passageway,  but  a massive, low-ceilinged
room. Rows and rows and rows of shelves lined the walls, and down the middle
of the room, side-by-side, packed close  on every inch  of every shelf, were
skulls.
     Cow skulls.
     Thousands and thousands and thousands of white, empty-eyed cow skulls.
     Aahz finished making sure the slats  were back in place behind us, then
turned  and  stopped cold beside  me. I  was glad  to  see  he had the  same
reaction I did. It was always good to know my mentor could be shocked.
     "Someone want to explain  this to me?" Glenda asked, her voice  echoing
through the remains of an entire herd.
     "Maybe it's  a thousand years of former royal family?" Aahz said. "Look
at that one."
     He pointed at one skull hung on the wall, ornately decorated with gems.
     I knew that wasn't exactly right. I could feel it in the energy in this
place. After a moment I turned to Tanda.
     "Can you feel anything odd in here?"
     "Power," she said.
     "An energy focus?" Aahz asked.
     "Sure seems that way," Tanda said. "Or maybe there's something  special
about  these skulls, something in  them that magnifies the magikal  power of
this area and turns it into something different."
     I found myself, to my own amazement, moving forward  toward the closest
shelf of skulls. I reached out and  lightly touched the smooth, cool surface
of one. It did have energy, but not energy like I had been taught by Aahz to
use. There was different energy in  it,  used for  something more  than just
magik.
     "Vampire energy," I said.
     Tanda and  Glenda  came up beside me, each  carefully reaching  out and
touching a skull.
     "He's right," Tanda said. "These skulls seem to take magical energy and
change it, radiating the new energy needed to turn cows into vampires."
     "Are you kidding me?" Aahz asked, standing off to one side.
     "No,  she's not," Glenda said. She waved  her hand at the thousands and
thousands of skulls. "Welcome to the energy source of the vampire rulers  of
this world."
     "And the energy is starting  to get stronger," Tanda said.  "I can feel
it."
     "The sun is going down," I said. "We need to get out of here."
     I opened up the map and looked at it. Through the room, against the far
wall, was the  door we needed to go through. And on  the other  side of that
door was something I hadn't expected us to get so close to this fast.
     The golden cow.
     The  treasure we had come so far to find.  It was one secret door away,
in a room called the Meadow.
     "Take a look at this," I said, spreading the map  out  for  everyone to
see.
     "Now what do we do?"
     Aahz looked at the map and smiled.
     "We go capture  us a  leader  as a hostage and make  sure  we  get  our
freedom."
     "Sounds good to me," Tanda said.
     "Why don't I think it's going to be that easy?" I said.
     "Because it never is." Glenda said.
     Around me  the empty-eyed cow skulls started to hum faintly and vibrate
a little, filling the room with a noise that ate at my very soul.
     "Whatever  we're going  to  do," Tanda said, her  hands  over her ears,
"let's do it fast."
     Again I stuffed the map in my pouch and, with my hands over my ears  as
well, I headed  through the middle of thousands of humming skulls toward the
secret panel in the far wall.
     By the  time  I got there  the sound from the skulls in my  head was so
painful  I didn't  even stop. I just went right on  through  and  out onto a
thick carpet of beautiful grass.
     Aahz,  Tanda, and  Glenda followed  me, with Aahz shutting  the  secret
panel behind us, instantly stopping the painful energy pounding at my  head.
I would have been relieved if I hadn't been so stunned at what faced me.
     There was a guy, sitting in  a lounge chair  on the  other  side of the
field of grass, reading a  newspaper.  If  he had had on a  white apron,  he
would  have looked  almost  exactly like the  guy  who had waited on  us  in
Audry's.
     The setting sun was pouring through one of the room's giant windows and
turning the nearby hills to a wonderful shade of gold and pink and red.
     I  glanced around. Except for the  patch of grass we were standing  on,
the  room looked like a large suite, with  a big  bed, a kitchen against one
wall, and a private bathroom area off to one side.
     The guy was sitting  in what looked like a livingroom area, except that
there was only one chair. He  looked over at us, then shook his  head as  if
not believing what he  was seeing. Then  he looked at us again and jumped to
his feet, an expression of sheer joy and happiness on his face.
     "My wonderful heavens!" he shouted. "You've finally come!"
     "I think he's happy to see us," Tanda whispered.
     The guy came toward us, his face almost breaking from the smile filling
it.
     "Really happy," I whispered back.
     "My friends, my friends, come in," he said, motioning us to come toward
his living area. "Don't be afraid. I'm just so happy you have arrived."
     "You are?" Aahz asked.
     The guy laughed.
     "I  am. I honestly am. I  can't believe after all this time the map has
finally brought someone to rescue me!"
     Chapter Thirteen
     "You can't always get what you want."
     M. JAGGER
     The guy led us off the grass and into what was clearly his home.
     "Sorry for the mess," he said, scampering about picking up a book here,
a notebook there, some dishes which he quickly put in  the sink. We all just
sort of stood in a group watching him. "My name is Harold. I'm sorry I don't
have enough chairs for you all." "
     He looked like a  Harold. The name fit him, and all the other  guys who
looked  a lot like him in all the Audry's-like places we had been in. Harold
pulled  his one kitchen chair away from the small table and set it out, then
indicated  that  one of  us  should take it  and  another  should  take  his
recliner. It was beyond clear that he never got  guests of any kind-at least
the type of guests he wanted to sit down with. I think at that point we were
all so stunned by what he had said, we really weren't reacting well. I  know
I wasn't. I have no real idea what I thought I was going to find when we got
to the "treasure," but a guy waiting to be rescued sure wasn't it. And a guy
who had used the map to bring his rescuers would  have never occurred to me.
Only Glenda took his offer of the recliner and settled into it  with  a deep
sigh. The guy looked at her, worried.
     "You were captured and taken last night, were you not?"
     "I was," she said.
     Harold  looked sincerely  upset.  "I'm  so  sorry. You're so lucky  you
survived it."
     "We saw a room full of people who didn't," Aahz said.
     The  poor guy looked  like he might just faint away right there. He was
wringing his hands, shaking his head, and pacing.
     "It's all my fault, you know. All my fault."
     "Okay,"  Aahz  said,  trying  to calm the guy a little.  "You  want  to
explain to us what's going on?"
     "Actually  start  from  the beginning,"  I  said,  leaning  against the
kitchen counter.
     From where I stood I  could  see  out the  two-story-tall  windows that
flanked one side  of the big room. The valley below  was in complete shadow,
but  the sun still covered the mountains and  streamed in through the window
onto the grass. If this was a prison, it was the nicest jail cell I had seen
in a long time.
     Harold nodded. "I'm sorry, I  am just so shocked you are here, that the
map worked."
     "The beginning," Aahz reminded him.
     "Please?" Tanda  said. "Right now you are looking  at four of the  most
confused people you have ever seen."
     "Okay," Harold said,  his  head  nodding  like  it was on  a spring. He
glanced  at  the window and then  took  a  deep  breath. "I've  only  got  a
half-hour until sunset and this is a long story. I might have to continue it
in the morning."
     "No  problem," Aahz said, clearly doing his green-scaled best  to  calm
the guy. "Just start and we'll go from there."
     Again  Harold did the nodding routine, his  head going up  and down  so
hard I was  sure  he  was going  to  have a neck  ache.  "First off,  you're
standing in what centuries ago used to be called Count Bovine's Castle."
     Okay, I have  to say  that I wasn't the one who started the snickering.
Tanda was, with her  snort.  Then Aahz  started  shaking  his  head, clearly
trying  to contain  himself,  and I just  couldn't  keep  the  laugh  inside
anymore. Thank heavens the guy was so lost in trying to tell us the story he
didn't notice.
     "For as long as  history recorded," Harold said, gathering speed on his
tale, "Bovine's type and our people lived in an uneasy balance. They fed off
of  us; we killed them  when we discovered  them. Everything was in balance.
The legends go that Count Bovine, a very long-lived and smart vampire, found
this area and took it over. He enslaved the people of Donner and built  this
castle."
     Harold waved his arms in both directions to make sure, I guess, that we
knew he meant the castle we were sitting in.
     "Then Count Bovine led his people in a revolt against my people,  using
the power that  came from this  castle. Over a period of  a hundred years he
swept  out over everything and was on  the verge of wiping my  kind from the
face of this planet."
     The  guy  glanced  at  the  window.  The  sun was  on  the tops  of the
mountains. Sunset was close.
     Harold went on. "Of course, during that time Bovine's people also wiped
out almost all other living creatures here as well with their  blood thirsty
ways.  Day in and day  out, they just couldn't  get enough blood to  satisfy
themselves."
     It suddenly dawned on me, that except  for  horses,  we hadn't seen any
other creatures since  we had gotten here. No  dogs or wild animals. Nothing
but cows, horses, and people.
     "Okay,  a quick question," I said.  Harold nodded with  a glance at the
window. "You're saying that Bovine's people were not cows at that point, but
were people like you, just vampires?"
     "Yes,"  Harold said. "In fact,  it is rumored that  vampires originally
came from our species, but that fact is lost in time, if true."
     "It's  that way on  other  dimensions," Aahz said, "so it  is more than
likely it was that way here as well."
     Harold nodded. "I had heard that as well."
     "So what happened?" I asked.
     "Count  Bovine,  who  was not  a  stupid  individual,  understood  that
something had to be changed or his people would wipe out my people, who were
his people's only remaining food source."
     "Makes sense," Tanda said. "You lose your food, you die as well."
     "Exactly," Harold said. "So he struck a deal  with the few remaining of
my people to  take his people away for all but the nights of  the full moon,
if my people would serve his kind during that time as food."
     "And your people agreed?"  Glenda  asked, sounding as stunned  as I was
feeling.
     "I don't think  my  ancestors  had  a choice," Harold said. "Using  the
magik of this area, Count Bovine put a spell on the rest of my people. Then,
using an even more powerful magik spell, he changed his people to cows."
     "So while they  were cows,"  Aahz asked,  "why didn't your people  just
kill them all? Seems like it would have been easy."
     "It would have been," Harold said, "if not  for the magik that keeps us
from doing just that, and keeps us from advancing. The magik allows us to do
nothing  but prepare for the round-up. Month in and month out, for centuries
now,  we  have  done nothing else." Harold just shook his head and  went on.
"Bovine's  people became contented cows, careful  how they treated us during
the full-moon nights  when they regained their  normal form and had parties.
We  became the feed animals, content to do nothing but prepare constantly to
serve our cow masters. It was survival for us, but not much of one."
     Harold glanced once more out the window. The sun was just a minute from
leaving the top of the distant mountaintop. "Quickly,  follow  me," he said,
moving toward the bathroom area of his living quarters.
     "What happens now?" Tanda asked.
     "I become a cow for the night, the vampires roam the castle feeding and
killing like the history says happened, and if you don't hide in a magically
protected area, they will find you."
     I  was right behind him when Harold led us  into his bathroom, opened a
cabinet on the wall, touched a place inside the cabinet, and stepped back as
a wall behind a toilet started moving inwards.
     "This is the most  magically  protected room in all the castle," Harold
said. "Stay in there until I open the door. Under no circumstances come out.
Understand?"
     "We understand," Aahz said.
     I was  the first  one through  the door,  with  Tanda and  Glenda right
behind me. Aahz took a moment longer, talking  about something  with  Harold
for a moment, then he joined us.
     Behind the wall the space  had  been carved out of solid stone that was
streaked in gold. It was  warm  and lit by  the golden glow of the gold from
the  walls.  The  entire  room  was  filled  with old books, scrolls, desks,
chairs,  and more antiques than  I had ever  seen in one place.  We were all
inside when the  guy slid the  wall panel  closed behind us without  another
word.
     "Not even a wave goodnight," Tanda said.
     Glenda moved inside and right to an antique couch against one wall.
     "If  you  don't mind,"  she said, lying down and closing  her eyes.  "I
think I need a nap."
     "Good  idea,"  Aahz  said.   Then  he  looked  at  me  and  held  up  a
gold-threaded  rope that he had  gotten somewhere. He put his  finger to his
mouth to indicate that we should all be  quiet. Then he  moved over and took
an old blanket from another antique.
     "I got a blanket  here to cover  you," Aahz said  to  Glenda. "Keep you
warm for the night."
     "Thanks," Glenda murmured, clearly almost asleep.
     Aahz moved over  to her, motioning for Tanda and me to follow silently.
I  had no idea what  he  wanted  me to do. Aahz  put  the  blanket over her,
wrapping the rope over her as well. Smooth move. She would never know it was
there.
     He pointed that I should pull the end of the rope that had dropped down
against the wall under the couch.
     I got on  my knees and  did just that, then gave the end to him as Aahz
pretended to tuck the blanket around her. With a quick knot he tied the rope
and stepped back.
     Tanda  and I  both stepped  back with him. I  didn't know how  one loop
would hold  someone like Glenda,  or  why she  even  needed  to be held. But
clearly Aahz had known something I hadn't, which was normal.
     Glenda  started  thrashing,  back  and  forth, back  and forth, clearly
trying to get out of the bind, yet the golden  rope never seemed to  tighten
or strain in holding her. Then  her eyes opened as if seeing a terror I sure
didn't want to see.
     "What's happening?" I whispered.
     Aahz motioned  for me  to be  silent  as Glenda's  mouth opened  into a
scream  that never really  came. Her back arched her up  against the blanket
and rope, and she held that pose for a good thirty seconds.
     It was the longest thirty seconds I had experienced. I couldn't take my
eyes off of her and the look of pure terror  on her face.  Then whatever she
was going through  was over. She slumped back, closed her eyes, and began to
snore.
     Aahz motioned that we should move away through the books and old papers
and scrolls.
     "Okay, what just  happened  there?" Tanda asked a half-second  before I
asked the same question.
     "Harold  gave  me the rope to save her  from becoming  a vampire," Aahz
said. "It seems that those left alive last night were the ones they liked."
     "So that was why Glenda's body wasn't in that morgue with  the others,"
I said.
     "Exactly," Aahz said. "They  were trying  to turn  her,  have her  join
them."
     I glanced back at where Glenda was snoring. "So she's not going to be a
vampire now?"
     Aahz shrugged. "We'll keep  the rope on  her until morning just to make
sure."
     "How about for two days?" Tananda asked.
     Aahz laughed and said, "Maybe."
     As  far as I was concerned, we could keep the rope on her for the  next
month. When it came to Glenda, my motto was better safe than sorry.
     Spending the night trapped in the middle of a culture's entire history,
afraid that at any moment I might get taken and  have my blood sucked, is an
experience I would not wish on my worst  enemy. The room we were  trapped in
was huge, with  a high, domed ceiling  and row after row of shelves  full of
old  books  alternating with piles of ancient  furniture.  Unlike  Aahz  and
Tanda,  I was not the scrounge-through-old-things kind of person. Old  stuff
was dusty and usually boring, as far as I was concerned. I thumbed through a
few books and blew the dust off some old scrolls that looked like cookbooks.
I decided I  didn't want to know what they were trying  to tell me about how
to cook, so I wandered over to another aisle, found an antique couch  tucked
off to one side of a pile of furniture, managed to get most of the dust  off
of it, and lay down.
     Tanda and  Aahz  were reading,  whispering to  each  other about  their
finds, clearly excited about  what  they  were  seeing. I  was beyond  being
excited about anything at this point. I was just tired. Yet for some strange
reason (namely vampire cows and fear of getting my blood drained  and ending
up naked on a metal table in a morgue), I  couldn't get  to sleep. Instead I
lay there, finally turning onto my back and staring at the high ceiling.
     Maybe an hour into the attempt at sleep, it finally dawned on me what I
was looking at every  time I opened  my eyes.  On the  smooth, stone ceiling
surface  someone  had  painted something a long, long time ago. Now,  in the
weird light from the glowing walls, and  all  the  dust of the years, it was
faded and almost invisible. But it was still there.
     And  the more I  lay on my back staring at it, the more I realized that
what I was seeing was the most important thing in the room as far as we were
concerned.  It  was a map of the entire castle, only it  wasn't a map of the
current castle, but the layout of Count Bovine's castle.
     The more  I studied  the drawing, the  more I could see  in  the  faint
outlines.  I found  Harold's living area,  which at one point must have been
Bovine's royal suite.
     The room we were now in was shown  as a private library. And  the skull
room  was  there as well, labeled as "royal storage."  But  what was  really
interesting was  the  passageway  that led  from  this  room  down  into the
mountain, away from the Royal Suite, down to  a point that seemed to show an
energy focal point of some sort in a large room. The  energy point was drawn
on the very center of the dome, which I also found interesting.
     After  another hour I  was sure I  had the  important  areas of the map
pretty well memorized, including some escape routes from the castle I didn't
think any vampire cow would know about.
     I stood and  moved over to where Aahz and  Tanda were sitting  at desks
pouring over books. Glenda was  still asleep on her  couch,  the golden rope
tied around her.
     "Have a good nap?" Aahz asked.
     "A productive one," I said.
     He looked at me with his normal puzzled frown and  then pointed  at the
book he had open in front of him.
     "Says  here that this area around the castle is the magik focal area of
the entire dimension. Before  Count Bovine took it over,  it was a spa  area
where demons from all the dimensions nearby came to soak up the concentrated
magik forces and become rejuvenated."
     "Powerful stuff," I said.
     "More than anything I've seen before," Aahz said.
     Tanda pointed at what  she had  been reading. "This book says that  the
war between  the vampires and  the  normal folks lasted for over two hundred
years and killed almost  everything.  This  was one of the last books put in
here before the exodus."
     "Exodus?" I asked.
     Aahz  nodded.  "It  seems,  from  what  we can  gather,  that when  the
compromise was reached to save both sides, Count Bovine and his people  left
this area, this castle, putting  a shield up around it to keep everyone  out
of the magik."
     "It  seems  the count  didn't trust his  own people  with this  kind of
power," Tanda said.
     "So what became of this count?" I asked.
     Aahz shrugged. "Maybe Harold will tell us in the morning."
     "Well, before that I've got something to show you."
     I had them follow me back to my couch.
     "I really don't feel like a nap," Aahz said.
     "Just  trust me,"  I said, pointing to  a  pile of furniture ten  paces
away. "Pull that other couch over here."
     He shook his head, but did as I suggested.
     "Now both  of you lie on that couch," I said,  dropping onto  the one I
had been on for hours earlier. "And lie on your backs."
     Neither of them moved, and both looked annoyed. "What, can't  trust  me
for five seconds?" I asked, smiling up at them.
     Aahz  snorted and then lay down, scooting  over enough to give  Tanda a
little room as well.
     I pointed upward. "What do you see?"
     "A dark ceiling and a lot of dust," Tanda said.
     "I  see  myself  wasting  my  time,"  Aahz  said.  "There's  a  lot  of
information here that we need to-"
     Silence  filled  the  old library.  After a  few  long seconds  I said,
"Interesting, isn't it?"
     "What?" Tanda  demanded. "Would you stop playing games and just tell me
what is going on?"
     To me the  map was now as clear as  if it were printed on a white piece
of parchment.  "It's a drawing," I  said, pointing to the  clearest lines to
Tanda's right.
     "It's a map," Aahz said.
     "Exactly," I said. "And if you study it long enough,  you can see where
we are."
     "Oh, my heavens," Tanda said to herself, now clearly seeing the drawing
of the castle.
     "After a few minutes of  looking at  it, the lines  become  clearer," I
said. "Take a look to the right of the room we're in."
     I didn't  say anything else, giving them both  time to study what I had
been looking at for hours. Then finally Aahz said, "It looks like  there's a
corridor there."
     "Where?" Tanda demanded.
     "Off the  room shown as a private library,"  I  said. "On  the opposite
side from the royal suite."
     "And it leads downward," Aahz said.
     "To this area's power," I  said. "Do you have any idea what standing in
the middle of that kind of energy focal point would feel like?"
     Both Tanda and Aahz looked at me.
     "Like nothing you could ever imagine, apprentice," Aahz said.
     "True," Tanda said,  going  back to  staring  at  the  drawings on  the
ceiling, "but Skeeve might be the only one who can go down there."
     "I  know,"  Aahz said, also  going back to  studying the  roof over his
head.
     "Exactly what do you mean by that?" I asked, not liking the idea that I
might have to take that old corridor alone into the middle of the mountain.
     Aahz  sighed.  "I've  lost my  powers;  Tanda  is  an assassin,  not  a
magician, and we can't trust Glenda. You're it, apprentice. If one of us has
to go down there, it has to be you."
     I  stared at  the roof, following the ancient corridor  down  into  the
center of the mountain to a place of unimaginable power. For the moment, the
idea of getting my blood sucked by a vampire cow didn't seem so bad.
     Chapter Fourteen
     "Things are looking up."
     MICHELANGELO
     The rest of the night just  crawled  past. Aahz and Tanda stayed on the
couches with me for the longest time, studying the map and trying to  figure
out  how  we  were  going  to get out of  here.  I  noticed that,  once Aahz
discovered there was no golden cow, and that  the map had been a sham to get
someone  to save  Harold,  he  became  very  interested in  just leaving.  I
supposed that was better late then never.
     Aahz was sitting at one of the desks while Tanda and I stood beside him
when the wall opened up and Harold stepped in. Through the  opening  I could
see daylight flooding into the  main area beyond the bathroom. It  seemed we
had survived another full-moon night in the land of cow vampires.
     Harold stepped  in and glanced at where Glenda was still sleeping.  She
hadn't moved at all during the night.
     "Did she try to get away?" Harold asked.
     "Only when  the sun went  down, and only for a few seconds," Aahz said.
"The rope held her."
     "Then she's safe," Harold said.
     "What did the rope do?" I asked, not really clear on the concept that a
simple rope like that could hold even a child, let alone a person who wanted
to be a vampire.
     "Basically, the magik in the rope  stopped  her  from changing," Harold
said. "And leaving it on  her all night cleaned her system of any  chance of
it ever happening. Check her neck if you want to make sure."
     I moved over to Glenda. Drool had run out of her mouth and formed a wet
spot on the blanket. And  she  was  snoring lightly.  I  put a finger on her
temple and eased her head over so I could see the vampire bite marks on  her
neck.  Where  her skin  had  been  red and inflamed, it had now  returned to
normal. Only a few  faint  marks that looked more like freckles were left of
the infection.
     "Amazing," I said.
     Aahz had moved up behind me. "It sure is."
     "Leave the rope on her for a  while longer and  let  her sleep," Harold
said. "It  will do her good, give her body time to replace the blood drained
from it."
     I glanced  at Glenda again. For a moment I  almost felt sorry for  her.
Almost. Then I  remembered she had stranded me in this world with no thought
of ever coming back for me, and the feeling-sorry emotion left quickly.
     "So how did you survive the night?" Tanda asked.
     Harold just  shrugged. "The same way  I  have survived  every full-moon
night for  more years than I want to think  about. I turned into a cow,  ate
grass, and slept standing up."
     "Oh," Tanda said. "You going to explain that  to us in the rest of your
story?"
     Harold  laughed. "It's a part of it." Then he looked around. "This is a
pretty amazing room, isn't it?"
     "It is," Aahz said.  "We learned some  interesting history from some of
these books."
     I noticed  that Aahz  didn't say anything about  the ceiling map, and I
sure wasn't going to either. I wondered if Harold even knew about it.
     "Good," Harold said. "That  will give you some more  background on what
happened with me, and  how we got like this. Shall we  go back out  into the
sunlight?"
     "What about her?" I asked, motioning toward the sleeping Glenda.
     Harold shrugged. "She  won't wake  up as long as the  rope is  on  her.
She'll be fine right there."
     We followed  him  out into  the main room.  It  felt great to see light
again. Spending the night in a dusty room  worrying about what might  happen
at any moment wasn't my ideal evening.
     "Anyone like something to eat?" he asked, moving into the kitchen area.
We stood around the counter, watching him.
     "Anything but carrot juice," Aahz said, smiling at me.
     "Not funny," I said.
     Harold looked at both of us and  shrugged,  clearly having no idea what
we were talking about. "I  can make  you a horse-steak sandwich, a  cucumber
sandwich, or a salad  with fresh  tomatoes. And I've got either orange juice
or water to drink."
     "Wow, you eat better than the rest of your people," Tanda said.
     "I do?" he asked, surprised. "It's been so  long since I've been out of
these rooms, I wouldn't know."
     "A lot better,"  I said, "but at the moment  I'd just like  a glass  of
water."
     Aahz and  Tanda  agreed and as he  got  the water Aahz prompted him  to
start his story  again. "You got up to the point where your people and Count
Bovine's  people had  come to an agreement, his  people were changed to cows
for most of the month, and this place was sealed off. What changed?"
     "Actually," Harold said, "I changed it."
     "Why?" Aahz asked, a fraction of a second before I could.
     "Because I  thought I knew better,  knew what was best  for  my people,
knew how to change things back to a better world."
     "Better  back up and  tell us how that kind of  thinking got  started,"
Tanda said.
     Harold nodded.  "I  met a dimension traveler named Leila. I was running
this  little restaurant  and bar  just down  the road  from here  when Leila
walked  in.  We got talking, she told me about the big world outside of this
dimension,  and  then offered  to  let  me be her apprentice. She said I had
great magical potential."
     I glanced at  Aahz,  who ignored  me. Not once had Aahz ever said I had
great magical potential, and I certainly wasn't  going to ask him  if I did.
He'd just say no and laugh. Mostly laugh.
     "Leila  took  me  dimension-hopping with  her,  showed me  hundreds  of
different  places,  taught me some basics  of  magik, then got killed  by an
assassin."
     I  could tell from  the look in Harold's eyes that even though that had
been  some time  ago, he still missed  her. And might even have been in love
with her.
     "So after she was killed I got a D-Hopper and came back here. The magik
block over  this  old castle was pretty basic,  intended to just keep  Count
Bovine and my people out. But I had been trained in some magik, so I got in,
knocking the block down.
     "A little knowledge can be dangerous," Aahz said, glancing at me.
     It was my turn to ignore him.
     "It sure can be," Harold said. "I sat up house right here and found the
room you stayed in last night, and started learning about what had  happened
to  my  people. And the more  I read, the more  convinced I became to try to
save my people and wipe out the vampires once and for all."
     "In other words," Tanda said, "you started the war again."
     Harold nodded at Tanda's blunt statement. "Basically, I did. Yes."
     "So what went wrong?" Aahz asked.
     "Count Bovine came back," Harold said.
     "What?"  I said. "How could he? He'd have to be thousands and thousands
of years old."
     "He is," Harold said.
     Aahz stared at me. "When are you going to get it through your head that
powerful vampires, like powerful magicians, live a very long time?"
     "Okay, okay," I said. "Go on with your story."
     "I actually  didn't  know  that  Count  Bovine could be  alive either,"
Harold said. "Since I  was free from  the  magical spell that kept  the cows
safe, I started gathering up help. One  by one, I gathered a gang, broke the
spell over  them, and started  planning. When  there were about fifty of us,
all trained  and  on horseback, we set  about rounding up  cows and  killing
them."
     No one said  a word, so Harold went on.  "As we went,  on our  army got
bigger and bigger, and more  and more cows died. Every skull of every cow we
brought back here to make us stronger. It was a heady time."
     Harold looked like an old man, thinking back to his party days.
     "When did Count Bovine show up?"
     "Oh, about four months into  our little  war. He  and five of his  most
powerful  vampires walked in here one night and killed every  one of my  men
without so much as a fight."
     "Bet you thought you had it shielded, didn't you?" Aahz said.
     "I did,"  Harold said. "I  was so  confident of  the  shielding  that I
didn't even have guards posted."
     "Wouldn't have done any good," Aahz said. Tanda nodded. I didn't have a
clue why he said that, but Harold seemed to agree as well.
     "Needless to say, Count Bovine was angry. He imprisoned me up here, and
put a spell on me so that every month, when  he and his people are dining on
my people, I'm a cow eating grass."
     "How long ago was that?" I asked.
     "I don't know exactly," Harold said. "No real reason to keep track.  At
least thirty years, maybe more."
     "And Bovine  and his people have been killing your people ever  since?"
Aahz asked, looking puzzled.
     "Actually, no," Harold said. "That just started a few  years back, when
Count Bovine was killed and his second-in-command, Ubald, took over."
     "Ubald's not one for keeping things in balance, is he?" Tanda asked.
     "Not worried about it at all," Harold said. "He told me that there were
enough of my kind around for his people to party for centuries."
     "At least he didn't undo the cow spell," I said.
     "Neither he nor Count Bovine could," Harold  said. "Ubald keeps trying,
though. He's using the cow skulls in the  other room there to  funnel energy
into breaking it."
     "Makes sense," Aahz  said. "A spell that major, in place for that long,
would be almost impossible to remove. But not completely impossible."
     "He's got time," Harold said.
     "So how did the map come about?" I asked.
     "When Count  Bovine was still alive, and had me locked up here, none of
them lived  anywhere  near  here.  One  day, this cartographer  showed up. I
wanted him to help me escape and he said he couldn't."
     "He can't," Tanda said.
     "Why?" I asked.
     "He  told me that, as long as he didn't involve himself in any activity
in  any dimension,"  Harold said,  "he was free  to  use his  magik  to move
anywhere he wanted, map anything he wanted, including through the magik that
Count Bovine had put up to hold me here in this castle."
     "I'm puzzled," Aahz said, "How  did you get him to lie that there was a
cow here who gave gold milk and draw a treasure map to it?"
     "It never  says anything  about a cow  giving gold milk," Harold  said,
laughing. "I'm  the cow the map leads to, and I was willing to give anyone a
lot of gold if they found me."
     "Makes sense to me," Tanda said, laughing.
     I was enjoying the different emotions playing over my mentor's face. We
had deciphered the map, found  the cow, and were entitled to the  gold. That
made Aahz's mouth  water,  I could tell. But, at  the same time, getting the
gold  out of  here, with all our blood still inside our bodies, was going to
be another matter.
     Harold noticed Aahz's face. "You're a Pervert, right?"
     "Pervect," Aahz said, showing all his teeth.
     He hated being called a Pervert,  and  often  was, since that  was  the
reputation of the demons from his dimension.
     "Sorry," Harold said. "But you love money and gold, don't you?"
     Now it was Tanda's and my turn to laugh. Aahz just gave us both a dirty
look and then said, "Of course."
     "You are  welcome to  all the treasure-gold if you  want- you can carry
from here," Harold said. "There's tons of the  stuff in the  back. The rocks
of this mountain are full of it. All you have to do is help me escape."
     I  knew there wasn't a sunbeam's chance on  Vortex #6 that  Aahz  would
turn down that offer. But I didn't really mind. I sort of liked Harold.  And
besides, I'd lost a mentor once myself,  and we apprentices  needed to stick
together.
     "You know of a way to escape from here?" Tanda asked Harold, staring at
how Aahz's eyes had glazed over at just the idea of a lot of gold.
     "If I did, would I still be here?" he said, his voice sad.
     Aahz looked at me and I shrugged. "Why not?"
     Aahz looked at  Tanda.  Tanda sighed.  "Sure. As you've been saying all
along, we've come this far."
     "Great," Aahz said. "We'll help you."
     I knew for a fact  that Aahz didn't have  a  clue how we were going  to
help Harold escape, but the promise sure cheered up our host.
     After another hour of talking with Harold to make sure we hadn't missed
anything  important, I knew enough  about this Ubald vampire guy  to make me
want another shot of  carrot  juice. The guy was just  plain mean, almost as
old as Count Bovine  had been, and not at all happy with the situation as it
stood.
     On top  of that, he liked to party, and party hard. By the time the sun
was ready  to  come  up on  the last morning of the  full moon, Harold said,
Ubald  and  his  group  were stumbling  idiots.  Still  very  dangerous, but
stumbling,  and it often  took the men with the golden shovels days to round
up all  the cattle from the different rooms of the castle and take them back
to their private pastures.
     The idea of coming into  a huge bedroom suite to find two cows standing
on  a rumpled bed was  too much  for  me. Tonight was that  night,  the most
dangerous night of the full moon according to Harold. I could hardly wait.
     Finally  Aahz decided we had talked  enough and we all headed back into
the library area.  Aahz wanted to  have Harold show us  the books about  the
spells put over this castle, the spells put on everyone by Count Bovine, and
what Harold knew of the magik energy surrounding this castle.
     But first we had to wake up Glenda. Snoring, drooling Glenda. As far as
I was concerned,  she could just stay  right there, sleeping  for  the  next
hundred  years,  or  until she died  of hunger  in her sleep, whichever came
first.
     But it seemed that Harold  and  Aahz had other ideas for her which they
were not sharing with me.
     "Are you confident she's cured?" I asked  Harold as we stood staring at
her.
     "Completely," Harold said. "The magik rope there does the trick."
     "Well, just to be sure," I said, "can we put the rope around her  again
tonight, before the sun sets?"
     Aahz laughed. "Trust me, she'll have the rope on tonight. You can count
on it."
     I stared at him as he moved  to her and  untied the knot  in the golden
rope, then pulled it free, wrapping it in his hand.
     After what Glenda  had done to us, I figured it would  have  served her
right to become a cow for most of every  month for the rest of her life. She
was  already a self-centered bloodsucker; why shouldn't she have the  entire
cow package?
     After  Aahz pulled the rope off of her,  she awoke, groaned and somehow
managed to sit up, her face pale and her eyes glazed. "What happened?"
     "You slept through the night just fine," Aahz said.
     "Snoring like a horse," Tanda said.
     I wanted to ask her how she knew horses snored, but figured this wasn't
the time to push too much into her personal life.
     Glenda's hand went to her  neck,  where  there  was now no sign  of the
vampire bites. I could tell that she was surprised when she touched her neck
and it didn't hurt. Surprised and confused. Then she  noticed the gold laced
rope Aahz  was holding.  For a  moment  she looked  into  his eyes. Then she
asked, "Was I going to turn?"
     "You were," Harold said. "It was why Ubald and his vampire  friends let
you live."
     "And the rope is what I think it is?" Glenda asked, not taking her eyes
from Aahz.
     Aahz held it up. "Just to be  safe,  you're going to wear it tonight as
well. I promised my apprentice there for his peace of mind."
     She stared at  the rope for  a moment, then nodded. "I suppose I should
thank you."
     "Just help us all get out of here and we can call it even," Aahz said.
     "I'll do what  I  can," she said, "but  first, can  I have a  glass  of
water?"
     Harold laughed. "You are cured. I'll get it for you."
     I had no idea  why Harold  thought that Glenda getting a glass of water
meant  she was  cured.  Seemed  like a somewhat silly sign  to me.  Or maybe
vampires were only thirsty for blood?
     Harold headed out the panel toward his kitchen area. When he was safely
gone  Glenda  looked up at Aahz, the anger clear  and at full force  in  her
eyes.
     "Why didn't you just stake me when you had the chance?"
     I was stunned  by the question.  And her anger  at Aahz for not killing
her.
     "I thought about it," Aahz said.
     He pointed to  a sharp stake on  top of an antique  dresser  beside the
couch she was sitting on. I hadn't  noticed it before. Again  I was stunned.
Aahz went on.
     "I figure  you can be of  help to all of us, something you haven't done
much of up to now."
     "You know I'm going to have to wear that rope for the rest of my life,"
she said, "on every full moon, every time I hop dimensions, every night?"
     "I know," Aahz  said, his voice cold and low and sounding just about as
mean as  I had ever heard him sound. "And if you don't help us, I'm going to
free  you into the  countryside  here, in  this dimension, without the rope.
You'll be a cow for most of the rest of your life."
     I stared  at  him, seeing a side  of my  mentor I didn't often see.  It
seemed that, as always, he had known more  than he was telling me,  and that
helping her had just  been a ruse to keep her with us and under his control.
He tucked the rope into his pouch and crossed his arms.
     "And if you want the rope to stay  alive tonight,  you're going to work
with us and not pull any of your tricks. Understand?"
     Glenda  glared  at him,  then  slowly nodded. "I understand."  Well,  I
didn't, but I didn't want anyone trying to  explain it to me  with  all  the
anger flowing around at the moment.
     Chapter Fifteen
     "Go with the flow."
     M. TWAIN
     Sometimes  in  grand adventures,  there  are  times  when just  nothing
happens. The  rest of the third day  of the full-moon cycle was one of those
times.
     Aahz, Tanda, Harold, and Glenda spent the entire day poring over  books
and old scrolls, trying to  find answers on how to get out. I mostly sat and
listened, falling asleep every  few minutes until  my  head bobbed enough to
wake me up enough to listen until I fell asleep again.
     And over and over  that pattern went. My neck was sore by the time  the
day was over.
     About thirty minutes  before the  sun set Aahz had Glenda lie down on a
couch, and then he  tied the  gold-laced magikal rope  around her.  She fell
asleep instantly.  That rope was the  best sleep aid I had ever  seen.  Aahz
should take it back with us to Possiltum to make money. On bad nights, I bet
the king would pay a ransom for it.
     If it had been up to  me, I'd have sent Glenda out into the  hallway to
be  a cow,  eating grass  and being  followed around by a guy in a white hat
with a shovel. But it wasn't up to me, so Aahz put her to sleep.
     About twenty minutes before the sun set Harold shut us into the library
again and went to his grass to become a cow for the night.
     I slept off and on all night. Aahz and Tanda did as well, reading while
they were  awake. By morning,  when Harold opened the door and let in a  few
wonderful rays of sunlight from the living area, I was well-rested and bored
to tears.
     Aahz untied Glenda to wake her  up,  pouched  the rope, and we all went
out into the kitchen  area to  have Harold  cook us horse  steaks covered in
tomatoes. He called  it his celebration breakfast. He  said he had it  every
month after the last full moon night.
     I  had to admit, it was surprisingly  good. After  breakfast  the  talk
turned  to escape, which,  after the boring day and the fear of cow vampires
all night, was the most interesting topic I could imagine.
     Aahz  took charge of  the discussion and ticked off our options. "First
chance we have is to lower the dimension-hopping screen. If we could do that
for even an instant, we'd be out of here."
     "I've  never run  into a screen like it,"  Tanda said, "even in  all my
years of being an assassin. It's more solid than a rock."
     "More than likely coming from the energy in the mountain," Aahz said.
     I thought about the  map on the ceiling, and how Aahz  hadn't mentioned
it to  either Harold or  Glenda.  I had no idea what he was thinking,  but I
sure didn't want to mess up what he was doing by blurting something out. I'd
done enough of that in the past.
     "Our second option is to just find a way out of the castle."
     "Right," I  said, "and sneak all the  way  through  Donner and past the
posse."
     "Posse?" Harold asked.
     "Mounted riders who knew we were coming far outside of town."
     "They picked me up as well," Glenda said.
     "So  they  have some  magik that  tells them enemies are coming,"  Aahz
said. "We could be screened against that."
     "If we knew what kind of magik it was," Tanda said.
     "I'm stuck  here anyway," Harold said. He pointed to what I had assumed
was the front door to the suite. "It's like walking into a wall trying to go
through there."
     "And the same for how we came in?" Tanda asked.
     "Oh, I can go all the way to the entrance into the ballroom through the
skull room," Harold said. "Then I hit the screen."
     "How about through the floor, or the window?" I asked.
     "Haven't tried either," he said.
     "I doubt it would work," Aahz said.
     "Yeah," Tanda said, "captive  spells, which  I  think this sounds like,
are  all-around  prisons.  It's like  being  in  an  invisible,  unbreakable
bubble."
     "So to get Harold out with us," I said, "we have to break that spell as
well."
     "You're coming with us?" Glenda asked.
     "I'm going to try," Harold said. He didn't add that there was gold  for
getting him out, and none of the rest of us filled her in either.
     "So, old mentor," I  said to  Aahz,  "how do we go about  breaking  the
spells,  since it seems to me that both our  main ways of escape are blocked
by them?"
     He looked at me with a harsh look, then answered my question. "A couple
of ways  to break a spell. Either  put a counter-spell on it, or cut off the
source of power to the spell."
     "Since  this  place is  flowing  with energy,  the second doesn't sound
likely. How does a counter-spell work?"
     "I've tried every one I know," Harold said.
     I glanced at Aahz. "My mentor hasn't even taught me any yet."
     "When you  gain enough self-control to use  them," Aahz said,  "I might
think about it."
     "I tried  a number of them the  first day  I was  here,"  Glenda  said.
"Didn't even dent the dimension-hopping shield."
     "I tried all the ones I  knew as  well," Tanda said, frowning. Since we
were all still here, I assumed she had had the same result as Glenda.
     "And I saw  nothing  in any of the books back there to give us any help
either,"  Aahz  said. "In fact, I think it's  worse  than we are assuming. I
think the spell that  keeps all the vampires as cows, and your  people under
their  spell and  not killing the cows every month, is tied up with the very
spells we are trying to break."
     "If that's  the case," Harold said, sounding defeated,  "to free me,  I
must release  all my people from the spell that has held them for centuries,
and free all the vampires to kill them at the same time. I can't do that."
     "Actually," Aahz said, smiling, "there  might  be  a way that it  would
work, if we could shut everything down at once and at an exact time."
     "How?" Harold asked.
     "I wouldn't mind knowing the same thing," I said.
     Tanda laughed with Aahz. "Do it during the middle of the day."
     I  frowned  and  looked at  Aahz, who was nodding and laughing  at  me.
Harold was frowning as well.
     Glenda was laughing, but not very much.
     "All the cows are out in pastures," Aahz said, his voice taking  on the
tone he got when  I was being so stupid he  couldn't believe I could be that
stupid.
     "Daylight," Tanda said. "Vampires?"
     "Oh," Harold said. "Of course. Sunlight kills vampires."
     "Of  course," I  said out loud,  pretending I had just forgotten,  even
though I had never known that fact about vampires. Why would I have? Until I
came to this stupid dimension, I had never seen or even heard of a  vampire.
I just figured they had something to do with full moons.
     "So if we shut off  the power to the big  spell  somehow," Harold said,
"all the vampires on one half of the planet would die."
     "Exactly," Aahz  said, "And  the ones on the  night side  would have to
find shelter by sunrise, giving your people time to kill many of them."
     "Aahz, I just have one question."
     He looked at me and said nothing.
     "How do you propose to shut off the energy flowing in this area?"
     Aahz smiled. "That's our problem, isn't it?"
     "Why  do I think I'm  not  going  to like what you're thinking at  this
moment?"
     "Oh, maybe because I'm thinking that's where you're going to come in."
     Tanda laughed.
     "It's not funny," I said.
     "Sure it is," Tanda said.
     I  just stared at Aahz. Someday I'd love to figure out a way to get him
his powers back so I wasn't the one doing the dirty work all the time. I had
a hunch, from the look on his face, that this was going to get  really dirty
for me. Center-of-the-mountain-kill-the-energy-at-its-source dirty.
     "Before we can figure out how to block the energy for the spells," Aahz
said, "we have to know how it flows through the castle."
     He said that and I just shuddered.
     I  could feel  how  much of the energy flowed in this place any  time I
opened my mind to it. It came from down in the mountain, flowing up and out.
Usually energy for magik was in lines flowing through  the sky that I had to
reach up and tap to work a  disguise spell, or a flying spell. Or, if  there
was no air energy, I  went  for ground energy flowing deep under the surface
and rocks. Air energy was easier to get, and Aahz had taught me to always go
for it first.
     But this castle was built right on a  place where energy flowed up from
below and  out  into  the sky in all directions. Mapping  meant someone  who
could read energy lines had to somehow get above the castle and look down at
it all.
     "So what do we do?" Tanda asked. "How do we start doing that?"
     "First," Aahz said, "we try  to figure  out how  the energy flows  into
that skull  room. It was strong and getting stronger in  there right  before
all the cows turned to vampires the other night."
     "Really?" Harold asked.
     I was surprised that Aahz had wanted to start there, but it made sense.
We  had  to map the  energy patterns,  and starting where  we knew a lot was
being tapped seemed logical.
     Suddenly I realized what I had been thinking about.
     "Map," I said aloud.
     Everyone sort of turned and stared at me.
     "Map,"  I  said  again, smiling at them. I reached  into  my  pouch and
pulled out the magik  map we had  used so often  to get into this fix. If it
got us here, it just might be able to get us out.
     "Oh, heavens, yes," Aahz said, smiling at me. "Great thinking, Skeeve."
     That was the third time he had complimented me  on something to do with
the map. I was  going to have to keep this parchment with  me at  all times.
Aahz hadn't given me that many compliments in the last year.
     I opened up the map. It was completely blank. Nothing on it at all. For
some reason, that wasn't what I was expecting. I'm not  sure exactly what  I
was expecting, but a blank parchment just flat wasn't it.
     "Perfect," Aahz said, looking at the empty sheet.
     I  handed  it to him, flashing it so the others could tell it was blank
as well. If he liked a map with no lines, he could have a map with no lines.
     "Was that the  map the cartographer  did?"  Harold asked. "The one that
got you here?"
     "Sure was," I said.
     "What happened to it?" Harold asked.
     "It got us here," Tanda said.
     "Oh," Harold said.
     "Tanda," Aahz said, "do you know how to do a mapping spell?"
     Tananda shook her head. "Beyond me, I'm afraid."
     "Glenda?"
     "Nope," she said. "When I needed a map I went to a cartographer's booth
on Deva and bought one."
     "Same with me," Harold said.
     Aahz turned and looked at me. "Guess it's up to you, apprentice."
     "Okay,"  I said, "but don't you think I need  a little practice at this
spell first?"
     Aahz held up the paper. "This is the only piece of magik paper we have.
You only get one shot at it."
     "No pressure," I said.
     "If  I didn't believe you could do  it," Aahz said, "would I be wanting
you to try?"
     I didn't think I should remind him he had  offered  the job to everyone
but me to start  with. No point in ruining the mood when  he was  trying  to
boost my confidence. He did that less often than he complimented me.
     "We'll be back shortly," Aahz said to everyone as he motioned for me to
follow him, "I hope with a map."
     "Yeah, me too," I said.
     Aahz headed us across the carpet of  grass. We had to sidestep around a
pile of cow droppings on the way. I guess that Harold didn't have a man with
a golden shovel standing behind him at  night. At the hidden entrance to the
skull room Aahz stopped and turned back to Tanda.
     "Are we going to be shielded out there?"
     "Doing magik?" Tanda asked. "Some, but it might show through."
     I didn't like the sound of that. The last thing we  needed up  here was
the posse.
     Aahz  stopped  and thought for a minute. "How about in the back library
area?"
     "That's so shielded, nothing could get out," Tanda said.
     "I agree,"  Harold  said. "It would be  much  safer to  do  spells back
there."
     Aahz indicated I should follow him and again we went around the pile of
cow droppings, across the  room and through the bathroom to the old library.
I had spent so much time in this room already, I really didn't want to be in
here  again.  Aahz pushed  the door closed behind  him, then  laid the empty
paper on top of the desk he had sat at last night.
     "This is going to work even better in here," he said. "I want you to do
this in two parts."
     "Give it to me clearly and I'll try."
     My  mentor nodded. "First, we're going to imprint that ceiling  map  on
this paper."
     I glanced up, then back at Aahz. "Good idea. How do I do that?"
     "This part is going to be pretty easy," Aahz said. "Simpler than flying
or doing disguise spells."
     I nodded. I liked the  sound of simple at this point. Since  I was only
getting one try, simple was the best.
     "Open your mind, take in the  energy as you have practiced, controlling
the flow to a medium level." "Now?" I asked. "Now," he said.
     I did as he instructed. Since we had been together I had practiced this
so  much  it had become almost  second  nature  to me. I  could do it almost
instantly  when  needed. When we first left  my old mentor's cabin, Aahz had
told  me that would happen, but back then it had been so hard to do I didn't
believe him.
     Now, reaching out with my  mind and getting  energy  was easy, and with
this  much  energy  flowing around  me, the trick was getting only enough so
that I could control what I was doing.
     "Got it," I said after a moment. The energy flow was moving through me,
ready to power anything I told it to.
     "Now, in one motion," Aahz  said, "without  a break, picture the map on
the ceiling and then picture the same map on the paper."
     I  did it, letting the energy help  me get a clear image of the ceiling
map, then a clear image of the same lines and shapes and words on the  magik
paper.
     I let go of the energy and opened my eyes. "Perfect," Aahz said, actual
excitement  in his voice.  I glanced at the roof. The map  was still  there.
Good, I hadn't harmed it.
     Then I looked at the paper, almost afraid of what I might see. The same
map  was reproduced  there, only the lines were much clearer, and there were
words on  the  paper that I didn't remember even seeing on the  ceiling. And
none of the dust and dirt obscured it either. I  couldn't believe  it. I had
done a new spell perfectly the first time!
     "Now don't go getting a swollen head,"  Aahz said, as if he  could read
my thoughts. "That was the easy part."
     I didn't care. I had done it, and done it right the first time. For the
moment that was all that mattered.
     "So what's next?"
     "We do  the same spell with energy lines," Aahz said, "imprinting  them
on this map of the castle."
     I  knew  that  was  what  he was going  to  want, but doing  that meant
stepping out of my  mind to look down on the energy lines through the entire
area. And the last time I had tried that I almost hadn't made it back inside
my own  mind. Of course, Aahz didn't know I had even tried. I didn't want to
tell him because I knew he'd be angry.
     "This is" going to take some preparation," Aahz said.
     "I'd hoped it would."
     He  put the map on the floor and had  me stand right over it. "See  the
images there?"
     I  nodded,  staring  down  at  the map I  had  just created.  It was  a
beautiful thing indeed.  "Now, when we  start," Aahz said,  "I  want you  to
imagine yourself floating  above the energy lines,  above  the castle if you
have to, in the same fashion you use  to reach out for the energy lines in a
spell."
     "Okay," I said, still  staring  down at the map at  my feet, "but isn't
there a risk  I will just float  away?" Standing above the map like this, it
almost felt as if I was already floating.
     "Good  question, apprentice,"  Aahz  said. "Just put a string  on  your
foot."
     "A  what?"  I looked  up into my mentor's  eyes.  I  could  tell he was
concerned with me even trying this. I didn't know if the concern was for me,
or for what would happen if I failed, but at least he was concerned.
     "A string, like  a  kid's balloon  string," he said.  "Imagine one tied
from the foot of  your  real body to the foot  of  your imaginary body as it
floats upward. Then when you want to return, just go back down the string."
     I nodded. That was such a simple image, even I might  be able to handle
it.
     "When you  get a  good  view  of all the flowing energy lines over  and
through the castle," Aahz said, "just do what you did with this map. Imagine
them as you see them; then in one motion imagine them on the paper."
     "Okay," I said. "I think I can do that."
     "When you're ready," Aahz said, stepping back. "Just do it."
     I looked at  the map at my feet, putting the image clearly in  my head.
Then I let myself go.
     That  is  what it  actually felt  like. I was  letting go  of what  was
holding me down. I was floating upward.  I checked  to make  sure  I  had  a
string attached to my foot. It was there, so I  relaxed and just kept going,
floating upward.
     I  went above  the  energy line  I had used to create  the  other  map,
through the roof of  the castle, and  then  stopped, floating right over the
top of the golden castle in the beautiful sunshine.
     Below me  rivers  of blue energy flowed, coming up out of the middle of
the castle like a well, splitting and flowing  off  in dozens  of directions
over the mountains and valleys.
     I let my mind accept  all the different levels of energy flow, all  the
way down into  the deepest area of the castle. I could  see all the streams,
all the different places they branched, and all the places they were tapped.
     Then,  when I had them all, I  held the image, imprinted it on my mind,
and then imagined it being overlaid in blue lines on the map at my feet.
     It only  took  an  instant. Then, with one  last look  at the beautiful
colors of the energy and the surrounding countryside, I tugged on the string
attached to my foot and I was back in my body, just like that.
     I opened my eyes and glanced at Aahz. My mentor was smiling like he had
just won all the riches of the Bazaar at Deva.
     "Amazing," he said. "Sometimes you just flat amaze me."
     I was afraid to look down, so instead I stepped back.
     Aahz  picked  up  the  map and held it for me to see.  There, in  black
lines, was the first map of the castle I had done from the ceiling.
     And over it were flowing lines  of  energy.  The magik of  the  map was
keeping the lines flowing in the image, just as I had seen it from above.
     I didn't know what  to say. He was holding something I had created, and
it was beautiful and working as it should.
     Better than  it should.  I had never expected the energy lines  to keep
moving, but they were.
     "Come on, apprentice.  Let's go show  the rest  what you  did. Amazing,
simply amazing."
     He turned and headed for the door.
     For  the first time  in all our time together,  I had sensed  a  little
pride  in  Aahz's voice.  I  might have  been imagining  it, but this time I
didn't think so.
     It was pride, and it made me feel good.
     Chapter Sixteen
     "Put your name on the map."
     A. VESPUCCI
     Everyone made great noises  about the map I had created. And Tanda gave
me a long and very nice hug. I didn't say much, since I was so proud of what
I had done, I was afraid I'd ruin the moment by saying something stupid.
     Finally, Aahz laid the map  out on  the table and said,  "Let's  get to
work. We need to find on here where the spell Count Bovine  placed over this
dimension is drawing its power."
     I studied the moving  blue lines with everyone else, watching how  they
seemed to come up out of the floor plan of the castle and into the air.
     The  map was magik, so  it  even  showed the  different levels  of  the
castle,  like  looking   into  a  fishbowl.  It  was   both   beautiful  and
disconcerting at the same time.
     "Look in the sub-level of the castle," Tanda said, pointing.
     I let my eyes adjust  so that  I could see the plan of the  castle that
far down. I instantly saw what she was pointing at. The wide, thick river of
energy that was  pouring up  from the  ground suddenly thinned,  like a good
part  of it had been drained away  into an unseen drain. That  unseen drain,
using  that much energy, could  only  be a spell large enough to  control an
entire dimension.
     "I think you have it," Aahz said, nodding.
     "I agree,"  I said, remembering what the energy below  that point  felt
like while I had been floating, and what it felt like above that point.
     "Where did you get this floor plan?" Harold asked, staring at it. "I've
never seen anything like this before. That corridor isn't there, and  I have
no idea what that tunnel goes to."
     I glanced at Aahz, who only smiled.
     "You've seen this  before," I said. "It's painted on the ceiling of the
library in there."
     "No,  it's  not," Harold  said, shaking his head. "This is a picture of
the castle during Count Bovine's first days."
     "Go  look for yourself,"  Tanda said. "It took me a while  to see it as
well. Skeeve spotted it first."
     Harold stared at us as if we  had all gone nuts. I didn't blame him. If
I had been living in a place for as many years as he had been  trapped here,
and a stranger had pointed something this  important out, I wouldn't believe
him either.
     He huffed and stormed off toward the library.
     "Okay," I  said, "we  know where  Count Bovine  tapped into the  energy
stream. How do we untap it?"
     "We have to get down there," Aahz said. "Then we have to divert  it for
just an instant to break the link. That's all it will take."
     I looked at the massive flow of energy  rushing up out of the ground. I
could tap into small energy streams, but I had no idea how a person would go
about blocking something this large. And I wasn't sure I wanted to ask.
     Harold came back in, looking stunned and embarrassed.
     "If  we  manage  to block  this," Tanda said, "what do  you think  will
happen?"
     Aahz  looked at  the  map. "Probably every spell  ever put up by any of
Count Bovine's people will be broken."
     "My people will have their minds and free will back," Harold said.
     "Yeah," I said, "and every vampire will suddenly be around every day of
every month."
     "Half of the  population of vampires will  be dead moments  after  they
turn from  cows," Aahz said. "And all  the others will be without resources,
clothes, shelter, and food, with the sun coming quickly."
     "Do you think my people will remember all the years of having to submit
to the round-up?" Harold asked.
     "I have  no doubt," Aahz said. "You still remember  it before  you were
rescued from here, don't you?"
     Harold nodded. "My people will hunt down and kill most of the remaining
vampires."
     "And you'll be free to leave," I said.
     "If we can break the vampire hold on my  world, I won't want to leave,"
Harold said. "I'll stay here and help my people rebuild."
     I shook my head. It was all fine and good to  plan what people would do
if we succeeded, but I sure didn't see that happening any time soon.
     "So no one has answered the question yet of how we stop that flow."
     I didn't even want to try to bring up the point of getting down to that
spot in the castle.  We were way up at the  top, and that breach in the main
flow was way  down  in a sub-basement,  where I doubted anyone  had been  in
centuries.
     "Gold,"  Glenda  said,  her voice sounding tired and  worn. "Gold would
stop the flow, if you could focus enough of it."
     Aahz  seemed to be off somewhere  inside  his head, thinking. Tanda was
doing the same thing.
     Harold  and I  looked at  each other. Clearly, as apprentice magicians,
neither of us even had a clue what the other three were considering.
     "I think it might be  done," Aahz said, nodding. He  looked  at Glenda.
"Good idea."
     She  said nothing in return. It seemed that as  the closer we got  to a
possible answer, the  more  sullen and reserved  she became.  I was still so
angry at her  for what she did to me that I didn't  care enough to  even ask
what was happening.
     "Okay, to  the next  problem," I said. "How  do we get down  there with
enough gold to stop the energy stream?"
     "We  won't  need  much  gold,"  Tanda said. "Just enough,  with  a good
connection  spell,  to  hook  other nearby  gold  into  the  blockage. Maybe
something gold-plated and flat."
     "A golden shovel?" I asked.
     Tanda nodded. "That would do it, I'm sure."
     Harold moved over toward the front door  of  the suite,  near where the
grass was planted. He tapped a spot on the wall and a closet door opened. He
reached inside and pulled out a golden shovel, just like the ones the palace
guys had. It seemed that, in the palace, no cow droppings could be picked up
with anything but a golden shovel.
     "Okay, we're set for  the  gold  part," Aahz  said. "Tanda,  when we're
ready to try this, can you do  the connection spell to hook enough gold into
the shovel?"
     She nodded. "I've done a number of them over the years to build shields
and walls."
     "So  back to my problem,"  I said.  "How do  we get down there  without
being run over by the mounted posse?"
     Aahz pointed to a spot on the map. At first I couldn't  see what he was
pointing at,  then I saw  it.  The very same tunnel I had been  afraid I was
going to end up down in.
     "Follow where it  leads," Aahz said. "Starting  with the secret opening
back in the library."
     I  did as  he suggested, focusing on the map as it changed, showing  me
the  different  levels of the secret passageway  as it  dropped  through the
mountain  behind the  castle,  curved under everything, and came out in  the
very room where the big energy flow had been taken off for the spell.
     "Looks like there  was a  reason that  tunnel  was  built,"  Aahz said,
smiling at me.
     "Count  Bovine used it to  get to his main  power  source when he lived
here full-time," Harold said.
     "What do you know?"
     "So we're  going  underground," I  said,  reaching  over and taking the
heavy shovel from Harold. "I just hope I don't have to dig my way out."
     "You and me both," Aahz said, staring at the map.
     My mentor had a way of making everything seem so positive that it was a
wonder I could even move most mornings.
     It  took a  little  longer  than  I  had expected  to  find the  hidden
passageway into  the tunnel in  the  old  library. We had  to move  pile  of
furniture, old books,  and  more rolled-up scrolls than I  could  count. The
scrolls were the hardest, since Harold wouldn't let us just kick them aside.
Finally,  we got to the spot  where the passage should be  and faced a stone
wall.
     "I  didn't  think  there was anything back  here," he said.  "After all
these years, I know this room."
     I didn't want to  mention to him that he really didn't, since he hadn't
even noticed the map painted on the ceiling.
     "Oh, it's here all right," Aahz said.
     All  five of us  were standing there  in the  dusty  place.  I had  the
shovel, Tanda had the map.
     "Glenda?" Aahz said.
     She stepped up to him.
     Quicker  than I had seen my mentor move in  a long, long time, Aahz had
the rope out of his pouch, over her head, and tied.
     She  dropped to the ground, sound asleep, before she  could  even get a
complaint out of her mouth. I was stunned.
     "Harold," Aahz said, "pick up her feet and let's move her to a couch."
     Harold looked as stunned as I felt. Tanda seemed to again  know exactly
what was happening. Aahz moved  Glenda to the couch, made  sure the rope was
tied,  then looked at Harold. "No  matter what you do, what  you think, what
happens around you, do not untie her until we get back. Understand?"
     Harold nodded. "But I don't see why."
     "The map," Aahz said.
     Tanda held it up and pointed to a spot on it.
     "Right here,"  she said. "See this tiny thin line coming up out of  the
basement and into this suite?"
     I looked real close. For a moment I thought she was  making it up, then
I saw the blue line. It went  right to a spot in the suite  where  the chair
was, where Glenda had been sitting when I did the map.
     "Glenda's hooked up somehow,"  Aahz  said. "I didn't  see that until we
had already made our plans."
     "You mean they might know we're coming?"
     "Possible," Aahz said.
     "Oh, that's nice," I said. I wondered how many  of  that  posse I could
hit with the golden shovel before they took it away from me.
     "Are you ready?" Aahz asked.
     "You want me to lead?" I asked, still not seeing where we were going to
go.
     "I've got it for the moment," Aahz said. He  picked up the torch we had
brought with us from the first tunnel, held it out and said to me, "A  light
might help."
     I eased some energy out of the stream, just  enough to  start the torch
on fire. Not long ago I had had trouble with that spell as well. And  a year
ago I might have set the entire library on fire trying to light that torch.
     "Follow me," Aahz said, and stepped at the stone wall.
     And right through it.
     "This place could give a guy  a headache," I said, moving at  the stone
wall behind him. I had the shovel slightly in front of me in  case the stone
decided to be stone for me.
     I went right through, just as Aahz had done.
     Tanda came through behind me.
     The tunnel was narrow and carved out of solid rock. Steps led down into
the bowels of the earth. More  steps than I could see in the torchlight. The
place was cold and very dusty. It  was clear that no one had been in here in
a  very, very long  time,  as our footsteps kicked  up a cloud of dust  that
swirled in the flickering light of the torch.
     "Are we shielded?" Aahz asked Tanda.
     "Same  as in the library," Tanda said. "Count  Bovine didn't want  this
tunnel found, that's for sure."
     "That helps us," I said.
     Aahz nodded, made  sure we were both  ready, then, holding the torch up
so  that we could see the steps as well as  he could in the dust, he started
down.
     And we went down for a very, very long time, kicking up thick clouds of
dust with  every step. I could  not imagine how anyone could have carved the
tunnel. I could barely walk the steps, and we were going down. Climbing this
must be next to impossible for anyone not in top shape.
     Finally, after what seemed like a nightmarish  eternity, we reached  an
area of the tunnel that flattened out.
     "Map," Aahz said.
     Tanda moved up and the two of us crowded with Aahz so that we could see
the map in  the torchlight and  swirling dust. It showed that we had reached
the bottom of the tunnel. I glanced around at the rock walls and ceiling. We
were under  thousands  and  thousands  of body-lengths of rock.  I  couldn't
imagine how much weight was pressing down on the ceiling of the tunnel above
us right at that moment.
     The thought sent a shiver through  me, and  a touch of panic.  "Can  we
keep going?" I asked.
     Tanda took the map  and Aahz  smiled at me, his green scales covered in
dust, his eyes yellow holes in  the dirt.  I must have looked  as  bad as he
did, maybe worse. "A little claustrophobia?" he asked.
     "I don't know  about that," I said, not having a clue what the big word
meant. Sometimes Aahz  just  didn't  remember  what  a backward  part  of  a
backward world I came from.
     "Feeling the pressure of all this weight over us?" Tanda asked.
     "Yeah,"  I said, "more than I want to think  about right now, thank you
very much."
     Aahz laughed. "We don't have that much farther to go."
     "Then  let's go," I said,  fighting  against the  panic  at  the  walls
closing in.
     Aahz gave me a long look, then turned and headed along the flat part of
the  tunnel. I kept the golden  shovel clutched  in front of me. At least if
the tunnel came down, I'd be buried with something worth digging up. After a
hundred paces the tunnel started back  up. Stair after stair after stair. Up
and up and up.
     I forgot to be  afraid of the tunnel coming down on me because I was so
tired from the climbing.
     "Wait,"  Aahz said,  stopping to  pant for a moment. "The air's  bad in
here."
     I realized  when he  said that  that I was also having  trouble getting
enough  air. Now  not only was  the roof  about to fall and  crush me, I was
going to die from lack of air.
     "Almost there," Tanda said from behind me. I could hear the rustling of
the map. Aahz nodded and pushed upward, taking one step at a time.
     I used the shovel as a sort of crutch. Step. Clunk. Step. Clunk.
     The sound echoed down the tunnel behind us. If this plan didn't work, I
couldn't imagine having to go back to the  suite using  this tunnel. I'd try
it if I had to, but I sure didn't want to.
     Step. Clunk. Step. Clunk.
     We kept  climbing.  Forever.  How  could this  be? Had we gotten turned
around and were headed back to the suite?
     My lungs burned  like the time I had stayed underwater too  long in the
pond when I  was  a kid.  My eyes stung with the dust, and  I could feel the
grit in my mouth.
     "We're here," Aahz said, his voice  barely  a whisper. I glanced  back.
Tanda was a few  steps behind me, her face covered in dust, mud caked around
her mouth and nose. She looked as if she was about to pass out.
     Ahead of me Aahz slid back a wooden panel and stepped through.
     Cool, fresh air hit me like  a hammer as I stepped up to follow him. In
all my life I couldn't remember anything feeling that good before.
     We were  in a good-sized  room, at  least fifty paces across, that  was
completely empty of every stick of furniture. It  was  simply four walls  of
stone, a stone floor, and a stone ceiling. From the looks of it, the door we
had come through  was the only door in the place. And there were no windows.
Where the wonderful fresh air was coming from I had no idea.
     "Oh,  my," Tanda  said, coming  up out  of  the tunnel and  taking  big
gulping breaths of air. I gulped right along with her.
     Aahz came  over  and took the map  from Tanda, studying it as we caught
our breath. After a moment he moved around the room, staying to the outside.
     I knew why he stayed to the  outside.  In the center of  the room was a
massive energy flow  coming up through the  floor and going  out through the
ceiling.  It wouldn't hurt  him to  walk through it, but Aahz was taking  no
chances.
     About  halfway around  the room he  stopped, studied the map again, and
then came back toward us a few steps.
     "Right here,"  he  said, pointing  into the empty  air. "Right here  is
where the energy flow is diverted."
     He  pointed  in the direction of  the empty wall beside him, indicating
how the energy flow moved off the main one.
     I took a deep breath and let my mind open slightly to see the flow.
     "Wow!" I said, staggering backwards from the sight.
     Beside me Tanda did the same.
     "It's huge!" she said.
     Not more than a  few paces in front  of  me was a torrent of  pure blue
energy, flowing like a  fast-moving river  up out  of the ground and through
the ceiling. It  was a  good  forty  or more paces across.  I could see Aahz
through  it,  but just barely. About halfway  up, in the  center of the room
about  head high,  the flow seemed  to decrease in size  significantly, from
forty paces across to less than thirty.  I could  see where the other energy
was  going  sideways  and  then  vanishing in  the  direction that Aahz  had
pointed. That energy was powering the spell that held this dimension in  the
strange  state it was  in.  How  Count Bovine had managed to divert  so much
energy  into  one  spell  was  also   beyond   my   apprentice's   level  of
understanding. I glanced down at the little  gold shovel  I held in my hand,
then back at the raging torrent of blue energy in front of me. The silliness
of even thinking of trying to change that torrent with my little shovel made
me laugh.
     Aahz,  staying to  the outside,  came  back  around to  where  we  were
standing.
     "This isn't possible," I said, holding up the shovel.
     "It fills  this  room, Aahz," Tanda said, the awe in  her voice  clear.
"I've never seen an energy stream anything like it."
     "We can  do  it," Aahz  said.  Again I looked at my little gold shovel,
then at  the  torrent  of  blue  energy and just shook my head. Sometimes my
mentor was smart, sometimes angry, but right now he was just plain crazy.
     Chapter Seventeen
     "I've heard of goldbricking, but this is ridiculous"
     MIDAS REX
     "Skeeve," Aahz said,  "can you  see where the flow for  Count  Bovine's
spell leaves the main energy?"
     We had moved around to the side of the  room where Count Bovine's spell
took its energy from the river of flowing energy pouring out of the ground.
     "Yes, right in front of us," I said.
     I pointed out where it left and how high it was to Aahz, who nodded.
     I was using  a part of my mind that allowed me to reach  out for energy
and  do spells myself. That part allowed  me to see the energy,  where Aahz,
who had lost his powers, could not.
     Where the energy for Count Bovine's spell left the main stream was like
a branch on a big tree.  It sort of cut it off of one side of the main flow,
moving up  and sideways. The moment the  secondary flow was sideways  to the
main one, it vanished into the  spell it was being used for. We had  about a
body length, right above where  I stood, to cut that side-flow  off and send
it along in the  main  flow.  At least, that was the  theory on what we were
going to try. Sort of like  trying to dam up the side branch of a  river  in
one  quick  move,  without getting wet. But  even  that  side-branch of this
energy, where  I could see  it, had to  be ten paces across. Far,  far wider
than my  little gold shovel. Yet from what I  understood, Aahz wanted  me to
try to  divert  or even  stop that energy with my shovel. Not  a chance in a
Bovine hell.
     Aahz moved over behind me.  "We're going to have to do  this together,"
he said. "Tanda, when I say 'ready'  you  connect the gold in this shovel to
whatever gold you can sense nearby. Pull in as much as you can."
     "Oh, so you're going to make the shovel  bigger?" I  asked, starting to
understand his plan.
     "Exactly," he said.
     Tanda nodded. "I'm going to  have to make the  gold wide,  at least ten
feet around."
     Tanda could see  the  giant flow of energy as well as I could. She also
knew how insane this attempt was.
     "I know," Aahz said, nodding.
     "Can you hold that much?" I asked. "I sure can't."
     "We're both going to try," Aahz said. "You steer, I'll  lift. I'm going
to get  under the shovel. When Tanda connects  other gold  to  it and starts
expanding it, it's going  to get really,  really heavy very  quickly,  so be
ready the moment I say go. I don't want to drop it."
     I nodded.  This  gold-plated shovel  wasn't that  light as  it  was.  I
couldn't imagine how Aahz and  I could  even try to hold up a gold block ten
feet across, even a thin one.
     "We have to keep it out of the flow until it's big enough," Aahz said.
     "Okay," I said. "Let's do this and get on to the next life."
     Aahz laughed. "That's what I like about you, apprentice.  Always a good
mental attitude."
     "Give me something to be positive about," I said.
     Aahz moved around and got under  me, bracing himself solidly  as I held
the shovel up in position next to the side-flow of energy. When the gold got
big enough for what Tanda was going to do, we  were going to  simply let the
shovel fall to our right and cut off the side-flow to the spell. However, if
we let the shovel fall forward into the main flow, there was no telling what
would happen.
     Aahz said he wasn't even sure what was going to happen when we  cut the
side-flow. He hoped nothing, but he didn't know  for  sure when  I had asked
him.
     "Ready!" Aahz shouted,  even  though the room was empty and  there were
only the three of us in it.
     To an  outsider watching us who couldn't see the energy  flow, we would
have  looked darned silly.  Aahz crouched in front of me, holding  onto  the
shovel  I was  holding in  the air. Tanda  beside us,  her head tilted back,
staring up into nothingness.
     "Ready," she said.
     I knew she was sending her mind out, linking gold, pulling it in to add
to our shield.
     "Now!" Aahz shouted again.
     Instantly the shovel started growing in size  and  in  weight. I braced
myself as Aahz did the same. I was stunned at how heavy it got so quickly.
     The shovel grew and I strained against dropping it, trying to do my job
of just holding it steady.
     "About  half!"  Aahz said,  his  voice  strained from  holding  up  the
ever-heavier shovel. Aahz was one of the strongest demons I knew, and he was
having problems. I did my best to help lift at the same  time as holding the
shovel in position. I doubted I was doing  much  good, but I knew for a fact
the effort was going to cost me later.
     The shovel was getting bigger and bigger, growing quicker and quicker.
     "Almost!" Aahz said, his voice barely a croak under the  weight.  Above
me the shovel looked like a massive gold coin.
     "Now!" Aahz said.
     I pushed  sideways,  letting the  shovel fall toward  the  side-flow of
energy as Tanda kept adding more and more gold to it.
     Like a gold knife, the shovel cut through the blue energy.
     At that moment everything in the room seemed to explode.
     I was smashed back against the stone, banging my head hard.
     Tanda tumbled across  the floor toward the door, coming to rest pressed
against  the wood. Her eyes were closed and I couldn't tell  if she was hurt
or not.
     Aahz was pressed against the stone wall beside me.
     Forces like I had never felt before held me in position as the gold cut
through the flow just as  we had planned. So far it  was working. I couldn't
believe it.
     But  then  the  shovel kept growing and growing as  more and  more gold
poured into it. Something was wrong. Tanda should have  unlinked the gold in
the shield we built from  the other gold around the area when the shield hit
the energy. But there was clearly still more and more gold pouring into that
shield.  It had cut the  side-flow, but now it was falling slowly toward the
main flow, cutting into it as well as it kept growing.
     Then  the  room  seemed to  expand outward and the pressure  of my head
against the stone sent me down into a blackness I didn't much like.
     "Skeeve!"
     "Skeeve! Can you hear me?"
     The  voice  sounded  far off, like it was  coming  from  over a hill. I
didn't care. It was still dark out and I wanted to sleep some more.
     "Skeeve!"
     The voice  was  getting closer, or so it seemed.  I was  in  blackness.
Pitch-black blackness.  I  tried  to  open  my eyes,  but  everything  still
remained black. Every muscle in my body ached, and somehow  I seemed to have
fallen out of bed.
     "Skeeve, if you can hear me, light the torch."
     Now  I understood the blackness, but I still couldn't  remember where I
was. I  could hear something moving around, but  it  was so dark, I couldn't
see a thing.  More than  likely it was Aahz trying to  figure  out  what had
happened to the lights.
     I  felt around on  the floor beside me,  but  I  couldn't find a torch.
There wasn't one near me. I'm  not sure why I  expected there  to be on  the
floor, but still  I  couldn't find  it.  The floor I was  on was cold,  like
stone, and hard as a rock.
     "Skeeve, some light."
     Aahz was starting to get on my nerves. It was dark out. Why couldn't he
just let me sleep? I reached down and ripped off a little piece of my shirt.
I seemed to remember that some time  in the past I had done that same thing.
But the memory was foggy.
     Holding the piece of cloth up in front of me, I focused my mind, trying
to  find some energy to take and light the cloth. It was hard, but I finally
found enough to catch the cloth and start a small flame.
     The room around me  flickered into  being.  Aahz was sitting  against a
stone wall with Tanda's head on his lap about ten paces from  me. There  was
nothing else in the room except a big hunk of thin, gray  metal covering the
center of the room.
     "I  was worried about  you, apprentice,"  Aahz said. "Glad  to  see you
alive."
     "I was worried about me as well," I said.
     Slowly  I was  remembering. We were  here to cut  the energy from a big
spell done a long time ago by a  Count Bovine, and the big pancake-like gray
thing in the middle of the floor was my shovel, or what was left of it.
     Tanda moaned on Aahz's lap and tried to sit up.
     "Take it easy," Aahz said. "You got a nasty bump on the head."
     "I can feel that," Tanda said. Then she looked around and smiled at me.
"Good to see you made it as well."
     "I'll tell you in the morning  if I made it,"  I said  as more memories
flooded back in.
     She laughed and then clutched her head from the pain.
     "I told you to go slow," Aahz said.
     "Well," Tanda said after a moment. "Did we succeed?"
     "I don't know," Aahz said. "Skeeve, did we succeed?"
     It took me a moment of sitting  there with my back against the wall and
the cloth burning in my hand to understand what he  wanted me to do. Then it
dawned on  me. Look to  see if  the energy  flow  to  the  Bovine spell  had
stopped.
     I could do that. Or  at least I thought I could do that. I opened up my
mind, searching for the blue energy stream that  had filled this room just a
short time  ago.  Nothing. The side stream and the main stream were now gone
completely. The room was as empty energy-wise as it was furniture-wise.
     "Oh, yeah," I said. "We succeeded. Maybe a little too well."
     "All gone?" Tanda asked, not moving her head.
     "All gone, main stream and all."
     "Well, that's going to be interesting," Aahz said.
     The cloth was starting to get close to burning my fingers, so I scooted
slowly over on the  floor to where the torch lay and lit it. Then I  held it
up and looked around. On the other side of the room, where I was fairly sure
there hadn't  been a door  before, was now an open archway. A breeze blew in
from the archway, through the room, and into the tunnel we had come out of.
     "I think we'd better go see what  we've done," Aahz said. "Can you both
walk?"
     I tested my legs as Tanda tested hers. It seemed that, besides a lot of
bumps and bruises,  we had all come  out of everything  pretty  well. It was
going  to  be interesting to  see how  the rest  of the inhabitants  of this
castle fared.
     "Do  we have to  go back up  the tunnel?"  I asked, trying  to  imagine
making that climb in the condition I was in.
     Aahz  shook his  head. "If  this didn't  work to stop  Bovine's  spell,
nothing is  going to, and that means we're never getting out of here, so why
bother continuing to hide?"
     "I thought I had the positive attitude," I said.
     "I can learn from an apprentice," Aahz said.
     We  limped  our  way  toward the door with the  wonderful fresh  breeze
blowing  in. It led us into  a corridor that turned after about fifty paces.
After the  turn  there was a flight of stairs. Painful stairs,  but at least
stairs that had fresh air blowing down them.
     At the top, the  corridor turned again and went  out an archway covered
in  a mass of flowering plants. Aahz pushed through the plants  and I helped
Tanda follow.
     We stepped  out into the  beautiful sunshine  of a wonderful afternoon.
After being under tons of rock, getting knocked out by an energy  explosion,
and waking up in pitch darkness, the sunshine was beyond words.
     There was a shovel  lying on the lawn  in front of  us. It was the same
shape  as the golden-plated shovel we had  used, only there was no gold left
on it.
     "Would you look at that," Aahz said.
     On the corner of the lawn was a smoking pile of what looked like a cow.
     "Looks like we broke Bovine's spell," I said.
     "Sure  does," Tanda said, pointing to the shovel. "On both sides of it.
Whoever had that shovel  has left.  And  the front  gates of  the castle are
standing wide open."
     She was right, but what I also noticed was that the gold  trim that had
decorated  the  gate was gone, and the gold  along the top of the walls  was
gone. I looked slowly around. There wasn't a speck of gold in sight. Tanda's
spell must have used it all around this area.
     We walked across the soft grass toward the burning pile until the smell
stopped us  twenty feet away. It had been a  vampire  cow all right, but now
its legs were  sticking straight up  in the air and its  skin was burnt to a
crisp.  It  looked  as if had  burst into flames and died almost  instantly,
before even turning completely back into its vampire form.
     "What a waste," Aahz said, staring at the burning creature.
     "What are  you  talking  about?"  I  asked. "That  was  a  bloodsucking
vampire."
     "No,"  Aahz said,  shaking head. "I mean what a waste  of good meat. No
one eats their steak well-done these days."
     He turned and smiled at me. "What was the chef thinking?"
     "That it will be years before I eat another steak," I said.
     Chapter Eighteen
     "So where's the profit?"
     TERECTUS
     Victorious  or not, we were still  pretty tired by the time we made our
way back to where  we had left  Harold and Glenda. Something I've noticed in
the past about playing with  channeling energies: when it's over,  what  you
feel is drained.
     The first  thing  that  was noticeable was  that  apparently Harold had
untied Glenda, as she was conscious and perched in a chair across  the table
from him. The second was that Harold himself  seemed far more composed as he
rose to greet us.
     "Ah,  my friends! It seems that congratulations are in order," he said,
smiling  broadly. "All  indications are that  you were  successful  in  your
efforts to shut down the spells."
     "That's not all that's  in  order," Aahz  said darkly, folding his arms
across his  chest. "I think,  at  this  point, we're due a few explanations.
Beyond the tale you told us originally, that is."
     "But of course,"  Harold said, gesturing  for us to  pull up chairs. "I
take  it  that  you have  already determined that  my  story  was not  quite
complete."
     "Let's just say that the facts as they were presented to us don't quite
add up," Tananda said through tight lips.
     Harold nodded. "It is  true that  there were a few minor points  that I
omitted or altered slightly when I explained the situation you."
     "Why don't you just fill us I on those points now," Aahz said, "and let
us decide for ourselves how minor they are."
     "Very well. First, perhaps  things will be  clearer if I admit  that my
name is not Harold. In truth, I am Count Bovine himself."

     

Библиотека "Артефакт" -- http://andrey.tsx.org/


---------------------------------------------------------------
     Robert Asprin
     MYTH-ion Improbable
     

Origin: Библиотека "Артефакт" -- http://andrey.tsx.org/

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     Chapter One
     "Here we go again!"
     C-3PO
     When my teacher/mentor Aahz grumbles or  rants about my being stupid or
having done something stupid, I make a  big show of being apologetic, but it
really  doesn't bother me all that much. I figure it goes with the territory
and is part of the price of learning magik.
     I mean, first of all, there's the point  that Aahz  is older than I  am
and  has  been around  more.  A lot  more.  He's  an  experienced  dimension
traveler, or 'demon' for short, and compared to his knowledge and experience
I really am stupid and naive.
     Then,  too,  the dimension he  hails  from,  Perv,  is  noted  for  its
short-tempered, hostile inhabitants. Other dimension travelers tend to avoid
Perv whenever possible, and give the green, scaly Pervects a wide berth when
encountering them in other dimensions.
     To cap it all off, while  he was once an accomplished magician himself,
Aahz lost his powers when we met (See Another Fine Myth). Watching me fumble
and  stutter while  learning  what are, to him,  some of  the simplest, most
rudimentary  spells, all the while  being aware that, at least for the  time
being, he's dependent on  me in the magik department, is bound to make him a
bit testy from time to time.
     I can understand and accept it when I do something he thinks is stupid.
When I do something that, in hindsight, I think is  stupid... that's another
matter entirely.
     We  were ensconced  in the  Royal Palace of  the  Kingdom of Possiltum,
enjoying my cushy position as the Royal Court Magician, a job that Aahz  had
coached me through the auditions for. That is, Aahz was enjoying it. For him
it was comfortable  surroundings  and a steady, generous salary. For  me, it
was  living  in  constant  close contact  with  a  grouchy demon  who seemed
determined that I practice my magik lessons night and day.
     Needless to say,  this gets boring  after a while. The few adventures I
had been on  since I had apprenticed myself to  Aahz had whetted my appetite
for  travel, and I  was eager  for  more.  Unfortunately,  Aahz  steadfastly
refused to even start teaching me how to dimension-travel on  my own, saying
it was far too dangerous for someone with my meager magikal abilities.
     That's when I decided to try  something really stupid. I decided to try
to outwit Aahz and trick him into taking me dimension traveling again.
     An item had come to hand that  I thought  might be just the ticket,  so
one afternoon when he seemed a bit bored himself, I sprang it on him.
     "Aahz,"  I  said, holding out a folded  piece  of parchment  to him, "I
think you should take a look at this."
     Aahz glared  at the paper in my hand as if it might bite  him. And when
someone from Perv glares, it is really something to see.
     "And just what is that?"
     "It looks like a map." I shrugged. Actually, I knew it was a map. While
Tanda and I had been jumping dimensions, shopping for a birthday present for
Aahz,  I had  been offered this map by  a  beggar on a  street corner. Since
Tanda had been, at that  moment, off  talking to some sort of businessmen of
that dimension, I had bought the map for a few coins, thinking it would be a
fun small gift. I had stuck the map in my belt  pouch, and then proceeded to
forget  about  it because  of  all  the  problems  with  the Big  Game three
dimensions  later.   Actually,  forgetting   about  the   map  was  entirely
understandable, since  Tanda  ended up captured  and our main  focus  was on
freeing her. And the only way we could free her was  by winning the game. So
forgetting the map was reasonable. I had had enough on my mind.
     But today, while searching through my pouch for something else, I found
the map.  While I honestly didn't know  what it  was, I thought it might  be
what I needed to bait Aahz into taking me dimension traveling again.
     Aahz  still  wasn't about to  touch the parchment.  He  motioned to the
fire.
     "Throw it in there and then get back to your practice."
     "I'm done with my practice," I said.
     "You're never done with your practice."
     I ignored him and pushed on.
     "Besides, I paid good coins for this map."
     That was my trump  card. If  there's anything Aahz  hates, it's wasting
money.  He got angry with me every time my dragon,  Gleep, tore up something
while playing,  and the cost  of repairs were  taken  from my wages. When it
came to my money, Aahz was in complete control. And by the way he talked, we
were always broke and about to go hungry.
     "A scam, I'm sure,"  Aahz  said, turning away. "Just like you to  waste
money."
     I frowned. This  was  going to  be harder than I thought. Normally,  if
there was any chance of making money at anything, he jumped at it.
     Then it dawned on me I hadn't told him what the map led to.
     "Aahz," I said to his back.
     He didn't move.  Instead he  just kept staring  out the  window at  the
courtyard.
     "Aahz, you might really want  to look at this. It's a map to a creature
called a cow."
     "So?" Aahz said, shaking his head. "Remember the  last  time we were at
the Bazaar at Deva? Where do you think that steak you ate came from?"
     I stared at him. I had  no idea steaks came from creatures called cows.
I had just assumed they came from creatures called  steaks. Trout  came from
trout, salmon  came  from  salmon, and  duck came from duck. It was logical.
Besides, there  were no cows  in this  dimension. At least,  none that I had
ever met.
     "Well," I said, glancing at the parchment in my hand, "this is a map to
a golden cow that lives in a golden palace and gives gold-laced milk."
     Aahz slowly turned to stare at  me,  his eyes slit as if he were trying
to figure out if I was actually joking or not Then, in  two steps, he was in
front of me, snatching the map from my grasp.
     "So there really is such a golden  beast?" I asked while he studied the
paper.
     He didn't  respond, so  I stood and watched  him stare at the  map. The
writing on  it was  odd,  actually. It  didn't  show  roads, but  more  like
dimensions, energy points, and vortexes. Most of it I didn't understand, and
almost none of the map had any  names on it, but there was  a massive amount
about jumping from dimension to dimension that I didn't understand.
     Aahz  had told  me once there were so  many dimensions, no one knew the
total  number, and  it was  easy  to  get lost and  never make  it back when
jumping  from dimension  to dimension. After my shopping trip with Tanda  to
thirty or forty different dimensions, I was starting to believe him.
     Finally he looked down at me, a  frown on  his ugly face. And when Aahz
frowned,  which was  a  great deal  of the  time, he looked  like an  animal
snarling. His  green skin  and bright eyes  and sharp  teeth  could be  very
intimidating if a person wasn't used to it. Luckily, I was.
     "So where  exactly did you get  this?" He fluttered the parchment in my
face as he asked the question.
     "Bought it from a man on  a street  corner," I said. "I  think it might
have been some beggar."
     "What dimension?"
     "Not a clue."  I  shrugged. "One of the many  Tanda and I visited.  You
could ask her."
     Aahz frowned even more at that.
     "What made you buy it?"
     Again I shrugged.
     "I  honestly don't  know.  I  thought  you'd have fun with  it for your
birthday, and the guy said I was the first traveler he'd seen in a long time
who might be able to use it and live to tell the tale."
     "Could he see through your disguises?" Aahz asked, staring at me.
     I tried to remember back  to the day.  I had used my  standard disguise
spell,  and  on  that  dimension,  the spell had not been hard.  Most of the
residents  stood four  feet  tall, and had two  feet. Compared to disguising
Tanda and me as slugs on one of the previous dimensions, that had been easy.
But the beggar had clearly picked me  out of a  crowd, and he seemed  out of
place among the short people, being almost five feet tall.
     I looked at Aahz and nodded.
     "Maybe. But I don't know how he could have."
     Aahz waved his hand in disgust.
     "Apprentice,  there are a  thousand ways, especially  with  someone  so
unpracticed as you."
     I said nothing.  No point  in  even  trying  to defend my talents. Aahz
always won those conversations by making me try something I couldn't yet do.
And  that  was  just about everything  when  it came  to  magik.  But making
disguises is my best ability.
     Aahz  spun around and  moved back to  the window, keeping  the map with
him. He stood there, staring out over the courtyard, letting  the silence in
the room just build and build. And if there was one thing I hated more  than
anything, it was the sound of someone thinking, without telling me what they
were thinking about.
     "So,  is there such a  golden cow?" I  asked, moving  over and standing
beside him in the big window so he couldn't ignore me.
     In the courtyard below the window, Gleep was running in circles chasing
his tail.  Thank  heavens he wasn't  near anything, because  when  a  dragon
started chasing his  tail, things got knocked down,  trampled, and just flat
destroyed. Especially when it was young dragon.
     What was  even more amazing  was that  Aahz didn't seem to  be noticing
what Gleep was doing. Clearly the map meant something to him.
     "The golden cow?" I asked again, "Is it real?"
     Aahz slowly turned and looked at me.
     "A myth. There are a lot of them in the different dimensions."
     "You're kidding! You mean there is more than one golden-milk-giving-cow
myth?"  Considering that  I had  never heard of a cow before  today, I found
that a little hard  to imagine. I'm not sure exactly why I thought  even one
golden cow was easy to imagine, but dozens of them were just too much. Maybe
there was an entire dimension with a race of them.
     Aahz  sighed. When  he sighed like that,  it  usually meant I was being
extra stupid or dense.
     "Every  tenth dimension  has  a  myth about an animal  or person  doing
something with gold. One has a goose  laying golden eggs, another has a fish
touching things  and turning  them to gold, another  has  a duck with golden
feathers."
     "One heavy bird," I said, trying to imagine the duck covered in gold.
     Aahz sighed again.
     "The feathers become gold when they fall off."
     "Got you," I said.  "You ever  been near or  seen  one  of these golden
animals?"
     Aahz laughed, his demon-sound shaking the room.
     "If I  had,  would  I  be here,  in  this  dump of a  palace,  with  an
apprentice as stupid as you?"
     I had to admit he had a good point,  but I didn't really  want to agree
with him.
     "So that is a sham map," I said.
     "Most  likely," Aahz said, staring out at the courtyard where Gleep had
now managed to catch his tail. He bit it so hard, the poor dragon jumped and
looked around, startled. Gleep was smart in many ways, but not about his own
tail.
     I glanced  over at Aahz. When he said 'most likely,' and didn't look at
me, it meant he thought there might be a slight chance the map was real.
     "Why only most likely?" I asked.
     "Because," Aahz said, "I saw a golden deer-dropping once."
     "Deer dropping?" Again I had no idea what he meant.
     "Deer poop," Aahz said, his  voice showing he was getting very tired of
my stupid questions. "Deer turds.  Deer crap. Deer excrement. One  dimension
has a myth about a deer that drops gold. I saw one of the droppings. And..."
     He stopped,  still  not  looking  at me.  In  all the time we  had been
together, I had never seen him like this before.
     "And what?" I asked.
     "And I saw part of a solid-gold elk antler at the Bazaar at Deva."
     I  was  stunned. A  deer  that  pooped gold and an  elk that had golden
antlers.
     "So the map might actually be real?"
     "I doubt it," Aahz said, glancing at it.
     "But you don't know for sure, do you?"
     He shook his head.
     "Not for sure."
     "So we're going to check it out?"
     He looked down at the map in his hand, then folded it and stuffed it in
his pocket.
     "I'll be back in an hour."
     He pulled out the  D-Hopper and twisted it to a setting. Back before he
met me and  lost  his  powers,  he  used to  be able  to  jump  through  the
dimensions  without the  use of a D-Hopper. Now  he  needed the help and  he
hated it.
     "Wait!" I shouted. "You can't go looking for it without me."
     "I'm  not," Aahz said.  "And  get that  dragon of  yours  under control
before he breaks something again and we have to pay  for it. Be ready to go.
One hour. And the dragon doesn't come with us."
     With that Aahz was gone, vanished off to another dimension with a faint
BAMF.
     By the time Aahz  got back I had  Gleep in his stall in the stables and
had arranged for someone to feed and walk him until I returned from wherever
we were going.
     I was standing  near  the foot  of the bed in my room when suddenly the
air next to me sort of went BAMF again. Not real loud, but startling when it
happened two feet from you. I jumped. Aahz was back, and he had my  favorite
demon in the entire universe of demons with him.
     "Tananda!" I shouted,  stepping  toward the beautiful creature with the
long green hair and a body that, with a deep breath, could stop a parade.
     "Skeeve!" she shouted back, laughing.
     Then she pulled me into a hug that I hoped would never, ever stop. Now,
granted,  it had  only been a month since  I  had last seen  her, drunk as a
skunk at Aahz's birthday party.  But every time I saw her I figured it was a
great excuse for a very long hug. And she sure didn't seem to mind, either.
     Tanda was a former assassin and member of the guild. I wasn't sure what
she did now besides shop and go on adventures. What's more,  I didn't really
want to know. We were friends, and that was enough for me.
     Aahz cleared his throat  after far too  short  a  time in her wonderful
hug. He did seem to mind that  she didn't mind. Oh,  well. I still  believed
she liked me better than him, and that was all that mattered.
     She pushed me back and looked at me sternly, her wonderful eyes glaring
at me with mock anger.
     "Why didn't you tell me you had bought a treasure map?"
     "Actually, I was going to when we stopped for the night," I said with a
shrug, "but then the  game  and you getting captured  and everything sort of
pushed the map out of my mind."
     "So do you remember how many dimensions before Jahk you bought it?" she
asked.
     I knew  exactly  how  many,  since I  had  done the  disguises in every
dimension on the trip. "Three," I said.
     "You're absolutely sure?"  Aahz asked,  his  golden eyes staring  at me
like they were about to shoot daggers.
     I held up my hand.
     "Jahk, the dimension with the Big Game."
     I pointed at my thumb.
     Tanda nodded and  Aahz just glared, his expression of annoyance  making
me take my time.
     "Counting  backwards,"  I  said,  pointing  at  my index  finger,  "the
dimension before that was where we had to look like  a form of a three-nosed
pig."
     I wiggled my  index  finger at both of  them. Tanda nodded.  "Yeah, fun
place."
     "Not really,"  I said.  Aahz's glare got  deeper, so I went on. "Before
that was the dimension where  we had to be  eight feet  tall and have  three
legs." I  pointed  at my  middle  finger. Tanda laughed.  "That  was  a  fun
dimension, too. Wasn't it?"  It hadn't been, since  walking on three legs is
something that is a factor  harder  than trying to fly by flapping your arms
and jumping off a cliff. But I ignored her this time and went on.
     I pointed to my next finger.
     "Dimension  where we had to be four feet tall  and where  I  bought the
map."  I  held  up  the three fingers.  'That  many  in  front  of the  game
dimension."
     I wanted to add that  I could go over them again if Aahz wanted, but he
was clearly not happy with me, so I didn't offer.
     Tanda smiled. "I thought so. Mini."
     "So what's so special about  that dimension?" I asked. It hadn't seemed
like much to me, although Tanda had  not wanted to stay  there  long on  our
shopping trip.
     "Actually," Aahz said, "it makes this map more likely to be real."
     "Almost certain." Tanda laughed.
     "You're kidding?" I  asked. "You really think there is a golden cow out
there?"
     "I didn't say  that," Aahz said. "I just said the map  was likely to be
real."
     I frowned and Tanda laughed.
     "Mini is  populated  by  Minikins, who  have  this awful power of never
telling a lie about anything. They do not do well at the Bazaar at Deva, for
obvious reasons."
     "But what happens if the guy who sold it to me wasn't a Minikin?"
     "If  he had been  there for more  than a day, he had  to tell the truth
about the map as well.  That's why we got out of there so fast. Truth is not
a good influence when you are shopping."
     At that  I  had no  firsthand knowledge, but I figured  Tanda  was  the
expert.
     "Come on,"  she  said to Aahz. "Dig  out the map.  We're  wasting time.
Let's do this."
     "Why do I have a  bad feeling about this?" Aahz asked as he pulled  out
the  parchment,  unfolded it, and put it on the bed so all three of us could
look at it.
     I had no idea what I  was looking at, but Tanda  seemed to. She pointed
at the upper left corner.
     "That's Minikins' Dimension."
     Even I knew that, since it was labeled Mini.
     "So we start there?"
     Aahz  nodded. So  did  Tanda,  for  which I  was grateful. If they both
agreed, at least we had something solid.
     Tanda ran her finger along the only line leading from Minikin. It ended
at a dot  that was labeled Vortex #1. She  studied that  for  a moment, then
glanced at Aahz.
     "You have any idea what that means? Or where it's at?"
     "Not a clue," he said.
     Now I was stunned.  It wasn't often that my  mentor  admitted he didn't
know  something.  In fact, I  couldn't remember the  last time that  it  had
happened, if ever. I  wanted to point that  out to him, but this just didn't
seem to be the right time, so I went back to studying the map.
     I could see that on the map Vortex #1  had six lines leading off to six
unlabeled points  on the paper. And lines led off of each of those points to
other  vortex dots.  There were  seven more  vortexes listed,  and a big "X"
marking the cow in the lower right corner of the map. Only one line led from
Vortex #8 to the cow.
     It was clear that there was no straight line  from Mini to the cow. And
no right path.  From  the looks of it, we could go any of a dozen  different
ways, through different  points labeled vortexes, taking different lines. If
nothing else, this was going to be an interesting puzzle.
     Aahz had told  me that dimension-hopping was dangerous because a person
could  hop to an  unknown dimension and never get back.  I wondered now  how
safe  it was going to be following a map  through some of  these dimensions,
especially when even the map was confusing.
     "Well," Tanda said, turning to Aahz. "It looks like we're going to need
some more help if we're going to find this golden beast."
     Aahz looked  at  her and  then slowly  shook  his head.  "You  can't be
thinking what I think you're thinking."
     "I'm thinking it," she said.
     "No!" Aahz said, his voice firm. I knew for a fact that when he said no
like that there was no changing his mind.
     "Yes," Tanda  said,  smiling  at  him with a  smile  that could melt  a
belt-buckle right off  a  guy's pants. She reached up and touched one of the
green scales on his cheek.
     "No," Aahz said, but  this time it  wasn't as  firm. Not even a Pervect
could stand up against Tanda's charms.
     "Yes,"  she said,  turning  the smile  up one more  notch  and stroking
Aahz's green neck just below his ear.
     I was glad she wasn't doing that to me. As it was, just watching  I was
almost a puddle on the floor. And  I didn't even know what they were arguing
about.
     Aahz wasn't faring much better. He shook his head, then  said,  "It's a
mistake."
     "How else are we going to find what dimension to jump to from Minikin?"
     She stroked his cheek and then moved right up against him.
     No sentient male being could have withstood that attack. Aahz didn't.
     I was sweating hard just watching. Much more and I would need to change
into one of my clean shirts.
     "All  right," he said, his voice  so soft I could almost  not hear  it.
"But trust me, this is a mistake."
     "Oh,  we're not showing  anyone the map,"  Tanda said, moving away from
Aahz and turning down her  convincing body language and  smile  to a  normal
level.
     Both Aahz and I took a deep breath.
     "Then why?" Aahz asked.
     "We're just going to find out what, or where a vortex is," Tanda said.
     I couldn't stand it any longer.
     "Would someone please tell me what this is all about?"
     "No," Aahz said.
     He  picked up the map, then took me by  the arm and stepped over beside
Tanda. A moment later we were in the Bazaar at Deva.
     Chapter Two
     "How bazaar!"
     RIPLEY
     The Bazaar at Deva was like no other place in the universe, or at least
that's what Aahz kept  telling me.  And from my few times in the Bazaar, and
what little of the different dimensions I had seen, I was beginning to agree
with him.
     The Deevels, the residents  of Deva, were known as the best traders and
negotiators. Now, granted, Aahz, as a Pervect, could be tight  with a penny,
but as Aahz had warned,  a  Deevel could trade you out of the penny and  the
pocket you kept it in, and leave you naked and thinking you were better  off
for the deal.
     The Bazaar was the logical  extension of that ability. They had set  up
the  trading  capital of all  the dimensions,  a bazaar  that  now stretched
seemingly forever. Demons, which was a catchphrase for Dimension  Travelers,
were allowed to set up booths and try to make a living doing whatever it was
they did best.
     I don't think anyone really knew how far the Bazaar extended, since the
tents and booths seemed to always be changing  and moving. When  I asked how
long Aahz thought it would take me to walk  across the Bazaar, he said if  I
was lucky, only five or six months, but he doubted I would make it alive.
     It seems that the Bazaar at Deva was also a very dangerous place, which
was why I was doing my best to  keep up with Tananda and Aahz as they headed
through the crowds. I had  no idea why this  area was so jammed with Demons.
It  smelled  like someone was boiling old  shoes, and most of the demons  in
this area were covered in white and red scales that  flaked at the slightest
touch. And in my hurry I was bumping into a lot of them. By the time we came
to  a stop  in front  of  a blank-looking tent with  the  flap closed, I was
sweating like it was a hot summer day, and scales were stuck all over me.
     "Might want to brush those off,"  Aahz said, glancing at me and shaking
his head.
     Neither  he or Tanda seemed to have any on them at all.  I  had no idea
how they had managed that and still moved so fast.
     "Why?"  I asked, half-heartedly pushing the white and red scales off my
sleeve.
     "They're acid," Tanda  said, reaching  over and flicking a scale off my
forehead with a polished nail.
     I picked up the speed of my brushing,  working at getting  every one of
the hundreds of scales stuck to me.
     Tanda and Aahz just laughed.
     "Little help with the back?" I asked, shaking my entire body as hard as
I could.
     Tanda laughed even harder as I  turned around and her hands worked over
my shoulders, down my  back, and across my  rear. Any other  circumstances I
would have enjoyed the feel, but standing in the middle of a crowd with acid
scales all over me sort of deflated any thoughts of enjoyment.
     Aahz  just stood and  shook his  head, staring at the tent, until I was
finished and  Tanda had  inspected  my  hair and neck and other areas  for a
stray scale. I didn't know that we had both missed one in my left shoe until
I looked down and saw that my shoe was smoking. It was one of my best pairs,
too.
     As I kicked off  the shoe and emptied  the acid scale onto  the ground,
Aahz looked at me and bared his teeth in a grin.
     "Just count your blessings it didn't go down your pants."
     I looked at the hole the scale had burnt into my shoe and shuddered.
     "Want me to check you to make sure?" Tanda asked, smiling.
     "Thanks," I said, putting my shoe back on. "Maybe later."
     "I  still don't like this  idea,"  Aahz  said, turning to  stare at the
tent, which was clearly why we were on Deva.
     Tanda shrugged.  "Neither do I, but we don't have much  of a choice, do
we? You know anyone who might know what or where a vortex is?"
     Aahz shook his head, obviously trying to think of someone.
     "I just don't like the price we're going to pay."
     "It doesn't have to be that bad," she said.
     Aahz said nothing.
     I  finished one more last  check for scales and glanced  at the tent we
were standing in front of.  There was no sign, no indication that anyone was
even in it. The crowd in the street seemed to give it a wide berth as well.
     "I just wish I  knew what we were walking into," I said. "A little hint
would be nice."
     "You're staying out here," Aahz said.
     I glanced around at the flowing crowds  of  white-and  red-scaled  acid
demons and shook my head. "Not a chance."
     "We need to stick together,"  Tanda said, taking my side.  "We may have
to move quickly."
     "That doesn't sound good," I said.
     Aahz made his disgusted noise, then looked me right in the eyes.
     "Not a word comes from your mouth in there. Understand?"
     "Sure," I said, making a motion across my mouth that I had sealed it.
     "Here," Tanda said, smiling at me. "Let me help you with that."
     She put her wonderful  hand against my mouth. The smell of her skin was
that of distant flowers; her touch was soft. She ran her hand along my mouth
as I had done, then patted my shoulder.
     "That was-"
     My mouth wouldn't open!
     I tried again.
     The words  sort  of jumbled  inside and the only noise  that reached my
ears was "Thrrrgggg wgggggeeee."
     I tried to shout "What did you do?"
     What   got   to  my   ears  was  "Wgggggghhh   dggggggghhh   ygggggghhh
dgggggggghhh"
     My lips were completely glued together. And the harder I tried to force
them apart, the more painful it became.
     "I  didn't know you  knew  that one,"  Aahz  said to Tanda,  completely
ignoring my struggle. "I've wanted to use it a hundred times."
     She smiled at  my mentor. "There are  a lot  of things you  don't  know
about me."
     Well, as far I was concerned, sealing  my  lips  wasn't something I had
ever  wanted Tanda to do with anything except maybe a kiss.  I tried to tell
her so, but again nothing sounded like a word.
     "Let's do this," Aahz  said, nodding  in satisfaction  at my condition,
then stepping toward the tent.
     "Don't worry," Tanda said,  smiling  at  my struggle as she took my arm
and followed Aahz. "It's just temporary. Trust me,  it's for your own  good.
And ours as well."
     Not for the first time, it occurred to me that for someone  who claimed
not  to  have enough  magikal  talent  to be a magician, Tanda  occasionally
displayed a lot more knowledge and skill than I had as the Royal Magician of
Possiltum.
     At  the  tent flap  Aahz didn't even hesitate or knock, if knocking was
possible on a big tent. He just stepped inside and Tanda led me right behind
him.
     The place was huge.
     No, huge  didn't describe it. On either side of  us the  tent seemed to
fade off  into  the distance. This was  the first time I had seen one of the
Bazaar tents that had bigger insides than outsides. Aahz had mentioned them,
but until I  stepped  into the massive room on the  other  side of the  tent
flap, I had no idea that such  a thing was  really possible. I was going  to
have to have Aahz  teach me  the magik involved so I could do  that with our
rooms back at the palace.
     The  tent was  dimly lit  and  had a  polished  marble  floor and dark,
wooden-looking walls.  There was almost no  furniture. A simple  wooden desk
sat on the side of the room facing where  we had come in.  A massive map  of
what looked like dimensions filled the wall behind it.
     A  woman  sat at the desk, not looking at  us at all. Whatever had Aahz
and Tanda so worried about being here wasn't clear on first glance. The room
felt odd, but  not threatening, besides it being a hundred times larger than
the tent holding it.  We all stopped a few feet in front  of  the desk, with
Aahz clearly in the position to do the talking.
     The  woman  looked up at him and smiled. She had deep orange eyes and a
pug nose that looked more  like a  hog's nose  than anything like Tanda's. I
had never seen a demon like her before.
     "Yes?" she asked.
     I  almost fell over backwards. Her voice was deep,  rough, and  clearly
that  of a man. It was with the voice that I actually looked at her. Or him,
as I was  coming to realize. I had no idea why I had thought he was a woman.
His arms  and shoulders were built like a  man's, and his  brownish hair was
cut  short. Yet I had  sworn,  until he spoke, that he  was  a  woman.  Just
thinking about it was getting me confused. Aahz got right to the point.
     "We  are looking for directions to a dimension  called Vortex." The man
who sort of looked like a  woman  smiled at Aahz. Now he was back to being a
woman again. And his pig nose had vanished, leaving a wonderful pointed nose
and red lips. And as  I watched her face shifted  slowly. The transformation
was amazing. Her eyes changed color, from orange to blue, her skin darkened,
her cheeks rose, and her hair grew to her shoulders.
     "How the-" I started  to  ask how she changed like that, but  my sealed
lips stopped me cold. Aahz and Tanda said nothing. Clearly they had expected
to meet a shape-shifting  demon in  here.  It was as if  she were constantly
working through disguise spells. Interesting trick, that was for. sure.
     "Well,"  she  said, her  voice now soft and rich  and  alluring, "which
Vortex are you looking for?"
     Aahz seemed to struggle for a moment with the answer. I wanted to blurt
out that we needed  the first eight of them, but luckily my  mouth was glued
shut. I had no idea why I wanted to blurt that out.
     "Vortexes #1 through #8," Aahz said.
     The  demon  behind the  desk was slowly  shifting to  look like a stone
statue, her clothes vanishing into her body  as she changed into a rock-like
demon with scales for skin and arms  as thick as trees. I also  noticed that
the chair it was on  changed with  the size of  the  creature at the moment.
More than likely the chair was part of its body as well.
     "What is  the nature of your  reason for  wanting the location of these
places?" the shifting creature asked, its voice rumbling like thunder inside
the massive room.
     Again Aahz  struggled with the answer. I  had no  doubt in  my  mind  I
wanted to  blurt  out  that we  had a  treasure  map. Something  about  this
creature  clearly forced demons standing in front  of it  to tell the truth.
Now  I  was grateful that Tanda had closed my mouth. I had no idea how  they
were keeping quiet. What I was  feeling was clearly very  powerful  magik or
mind control.
     "We are  searching  for a treasure," Aahz said, his words  measured and
slow, "and our path  leads us through the Vortex dimensions,  starting  with
Vortex #1."
     "Logical," the creature said as it shifted toward a pig-body shape.
     "The price is 10% of your find."
     I could see the anger growing in Aahz's body, his green scales stiff on
his neck.  Giving away anything to  do  with money was beyond something Aahz
could do without undue stress.
     Tanda put her hand on his arm and stepped forward.
     "Your price  is  high  for simple directions. We  will  give you 5%  of
anything we acquire on this venture, no matter what  the value. Otherwise we
will look elsewhere for help."
     The creature now looked like a quatra-piggy, a type of demon I had seen
in the street on an earlier trip here. But that body was quickly changing to
a new shape.
     "You will not find help elsewhere," the shifting  demon said. "But your
offer is fair  and  I will accept.  I  assume  you  need to  go to Vortex #1
first?"
     "Yes," both Aahz and  Tanda said  at  the  same time. The creature, now
shifting back into a beautiful woman again, nodded. "That can be arranged."
     She looked at  Aahz  and  Tanda with a serious look. Her voice was firm
and  very  solid.  "Since  I  have a  financial  stake now in what  you  are
attempting, I must warn  you that a Vortex dimension is not a  place to take
lightly. It is a  very dangerous, and  sometimes tempting, place. It will be
very easy to miss your path and become lost."
     Then she looked at me, her beautiful blue eyes boring into my heart. In
my best  dreams I would remember what this creature looked like forever. She
had transformed into  the most  striking female I could have ever  imagined.
Every part  of my body wanted  to move to her,  to touch her, to never leave
her. Her  gaze seemed to  bore deeper and deeper into me as my legs got weak
and  my stomach did flip-flops. I desperately wanted  my lips to  be free to
tell her how much I loved her.
     "You must  take  care of your  friends," she  said, her wonderful voice
melting every thought I had. "Understand?" I managed to nod.
     "Good," she said, winking at me. "I will know if  you succeed  or fail.
Good luck to you."
     With that the tent and the beautiful woman were gone. Around us  a wind
whipped over the plains, driving dirt and dust into my face.
     "Vortex  #1," Aahz shouted over  the blowing wind. "Here  we go," Tanda
shouted back.
     I just wish someone had warned me we were jumping dimensions.
     "Pgghhhhh ugghhhhh mgggghhhh mggghhhh" was all I managed to say.
     The  dust  blew  around my head, reducing visibility to near zero.  The
changing demon back in  the big tent on  Deva had said the Vortex dimensions
were dangerous and full of temptations. The only temptation I had about this
place was an instant desire to go home.
     "This way! Hurry!"
     Tananda motioned that we should follow her.  Since there was nothing to
be seen but swirling dust, I figured I had nothing to lose.
     It  seemed that  my closed-lip problem was as  temporary as  Tanda  had
promised it would be. By the time she had led us a hundred  staggering paces
through the storm to what looked to be an old log  cabin, my lips were again
free.
     The old cabin that Tanda  had  led us to  had been made of cut-together
logs  and had to  be  a hundred years old. She shoved the  door open  and we
stomped inside. Wind  blew in through at least a hundred cracks in the walls
and the only things that now lived in the place was rodents.
     "What was  the big  rush?" Aahz  said, brushing  dust  from his clothes
after shoving the door closed.
     "Didn't you see it?" Tanda said. "There was something moving out there.
Moving toward us."
     "I must have missed it," Aahz said, and looked at me.
     All I could do  was shake  my head  and shrug.  I hadn't seen  anything
either, but Tanda seemed a bit spooked.
     I got  a  pretty decent fire  in the  middle of  the dirt  floor, using
nothing but my mind and a  bunch of wood,  as Tanda put  a containment field
around the room to keep out the wind.
     As it turned out, both Tanda and Aahz had expected  something to happen
when  we  went into that tent. They were pretty  much  prepared. I just wish
they had warned me to get ready.
     After I finished the fire,  Tanda hung a  translation pendant around my
neck, then another around Aahz's  neck, just in case we ran into someone  we
couldn't understand when we jumped from here.
     "So," I said, holding my hands  out to warm them over the  fire, "could
you  please explain just what happened, who the  shifting demon was, how  we
got here, and where 'here' is?"
     "You  know," Aahz  said  to Tanda,  ignoring me,  "I  think I liked him
better with his mouth sealed."
     "Sealing a guy's lips isn't a nice thing to do," I said. Then I thought
back to what I had wanted to  say while  in the tent and luckily hadn't been
able to. "But I understand why you did it. A compulsion spell, right?"
     Aahz now looked at me with a shocked expression as Tanda laughed.
     "I think your apprentice is starting to learn,"  she  said,  smiling at
Aahz. "Might as well answer his questions."
     Aahz just sighed and sat down on the floor.
     "The tent we  went into was a Shifter's tent. The person we had  talked
to was a  Shifter. The Shifter moved us here, and my guess is this wonderful
place is the Vortex #1 dimension."
     I had to admit that he had answered my questions, but not very well.
     "So  why were you  so reluctant to  go see a  Shifter  for help?" Tanda
laughed at that as she too sat  down on the floor. "It wasn't  just Aahz.  I
didn't want to  either,  but we had no  choice,  if  we really were going to
follow the map."
     "Why?"
     "Because," Aahz  said,  "Shifters have  made it their  business to know
where dimensions are. Remember  I told you that when  jumping to a dimension
you need to have a clear image of that dimension in mind, as well as a solid
place in the dimension?"
     I  nodded. Every  time  I  asked  Aahz  to  start  teaching  me  how to
dimension-hop he brought that problem up.
     "I might  be able to jump to  a few hundred,"  Aahz said, "if I had  my
powers  back and I was close  enough to them. Maybe between Tanda and  me we
could find three  or four hundred. With a really expensive D-Hopper we might
find  another  few  hundred on  top  of that.  But  there are thousands  and
thousands of dimensions. Maybe even millions, for  all I know.  The Shifters
are the travel agents of dimensions."
     "What's a travel agent?"
     I looked at Tanda, then at Aahz. Both were just shaking their heads.
     "Never mind," Aahz said, waving the question away with  his hand. Every
time  he did that, I knew  he  considered  the question  too  stupid  for an
answer.
     "So they charge for the information  and  the jump," I said,  going on.
"Sounds reasonable to me."
     "Well,  it  is  and  it  isn't,"  Tanda said.  "No one  knows where the
Shifters  come from.  They are  masters  of  disguise, and  if  you  try  to
double-cross them you will disappear, never to be seen again."
     "More than likely off to some deadly dimension," Aahz said, shaking his
head.
     "So  we make sure they get their  five percent of the  golden cow if we
find it."
     That seemed logical enough to me.
     "I hope that's all it will take," Aahz said.
     Tanda just nodded.
     I didn't like that  at all. Disappearing was not something I considered
in my  possible future. I  had  plans.  Better, bigger plans. Yet  now I was
risking my life chasing a cow. Not smart at all as far as I was concerned. I
tried  to think about something else besides  a future where someone made me
vanish.
     "How do the Shifters keep changing like that one did?"
     "Disguise spells, maybe.  I  don't know."  Tanda  shrugged. "I've never
seen one really stay the same for very long."
     I considered myself good at disguises, but I was a  long way from being
able to do what that  Shifter had  been doing. Which meant that if they were
that good, it was possible that one of  the shifters  was with us right now,
disguised as something around the room.
     The  thought  almost  made  me  jump. I glanced around, trying  to  see
anything odd about the old log  cabin. There was nothing but a dirt-littered
floor and old logs. Yet I now had a feeling we were being watched.
     "So  let's see if we can figure out where we  are and  how  to take the
next step," Tanda said, scooting over beside Aahz.
     I walked once around the small room, then moved over  to where Aahz had
pulled out the map and spread it on the floor.
     "Would you look at that?" Tanda said, pointing.
     I  saw  instantly what she was talking  about.  The map  had changed. I
studied what was there now, comparing it to what  had been there before. Now
the lines from Vortex #1 were different, and the points at the end  of  each
were labeled. And the upper corner of the map had Deva listed, with a direct
line from Deva to Vortex #1.
     "Amazing," Aahz said, his voice just a whisper. "A true treasure map."
     "How did it do that?" I asked. Aahz laughed.
     "Just as everything is done," he said. "Magik."
     "It's a magik  map, a true treasure map of the dimensions," Tanda said.
"I've only heard of such things."
     She reached  over  and gave  me a  big hug, something I  was more  than
willing to continue as long as she wanted it  to. Finally, far  too quickly,
she let  go and  looked at me. "This was  a great purchase  on your part." I
shrugged. "Not unless it leads somewhere."
     "True," Aahz said, not looking up from the map. I went back to studying
the map as well. As far as I was concerned, it was just lines and points and
a few names. I couldn't use it to  find my way back to where we had appeared
here on Vortex #1, let alone to  jump dimensions. "So the map  changes. What
does that mean?"  Tanda  pointed at the point labeled  Vortex #1. "Thanks to
the  Shifter, we're here. From this point we  have five choices of dimension
jumps."
     She pointed to the five names the lines lead to from  this  place. "The
one  called  Bumppp  looks  the  most  promising."  Aahz  nodded.  "And  the
straightest line through the map as well."
     "You know this Bumppp world?" I asked. "Or any of those places?"
     She slowly shook her head.
     "Aahz?"
     "No, I don't."
     I looked at him, then at Tanda, remembering what Aahz had told me about
dimension  hopping.  You had to know exactly where you  were  going, or  you
couldn't jump.
     "So we're stuck here?" I asked. "That's the end of the trip?"
     "No," Aahz said,  reaching  into  his  belt  pouch and  pulling  out  a
D-Hopper.
     He quickly  scrolled through the listing of dimensions  on  the Hopper,
checking them with the names on the map. Finally, he sighed and put it back.
     And with that sigh I  knew we were  done. The  five possible places  we
could jump to from this place was not on the D-Hopper either.
     "Damn," Tanda said. "I was afraid this might happen."
     She pushed herself to her feet and brushed off her pants.
     "I hate this," Aahz said, standing. He carefully folded the map and put
it in his belt pouch.
     "What are we doing now?"
     Tanda motioned that  I should come  closer. Then  she  reached up,  and
before I could stop her, she sealed my lips again.
     "Sorry," she said. "Can't take the chance."
     I tried to object, but the only thing that came out was "Wggghhh."
     This was getting old. Too  much  more of this kind of treatment  and my
lips were going to be sore for a week.
     A  moment later, without a warning  from either Tanda or Aahz, we  were
back standing in front of the Shifter in the big tent.
     Chapter Three
     "There's no such thing as a free ride."
     M.T.A.
     "Ten percent for  your solution," the Shifter said, its voice  deep and
strong as it studied Tanda and scratched what seemed to be part of its neck.
     I stared at it,  not  really looking at  what it was at the moment, but
more studying how it was changing constantly. It was as  if there was always
a part of it moving, morphing into the next character. The hair shifted, the
skin changed, the arms lengthened, nothing  really staying complete for more
than a few seconds before starting to change  into  the next shape or color.
Its  voice, its chair, its eyes all  changed as well. That really  impressed
me. When I did a disguise spell, I could do clothing and size and shape, but
never the quality of  the eyes. From this Shifter's eyes it looked as if  it
was actually fifty or a hundred different  beings all melding  together. For
all I knew, it  was. I wanted to ask  it  how it  did what  it did, but then
remembered my lips were again sealed.
     "Ten  percent!" Aahz said through  his  teeth, his  voice barely  under
control.
     "On top  of  the  first  five  percent,  bringing the total  to fifteen
percent."
     I thought I could see a blood vessel in Aahz's neck trying to break out
from under the green scales. Any moment Tanda  was going to have to seal his
mouth as well, from the looks of it. I wanted to tell the Shifter how greedy
it was being, but luckily I couldn't.
     "No,"  Tanda  said. "We  will  give you another five percent, and  five
percent more for each time we require your help in this journey, but not one
bit above that."
     The  Shifter had  become a  tall  creature  with a very thin  face  and
hundreds of tiny teeth  crammed into  a very ugly mouth. And  at that moment
the mouth smiled, or at least did something I thought was a smile.
     "Agreed," it said.
     Aahz looked like he  might have a small fit right there, but somehow he
managed  to  contain himself. I was impressed. It  wasn't  often that  large
percentages of a possible  fortune were taken from him and he didn't destroy
something. Aahz and money were not  easily parted, and if we  did find  this
golden cow, there was no doubt  in my mind that Aahz would not want to  part
with much of the golden milk. But now  he would have no choice, for at least
ten percent of the find.
     And I had no  doubt we were  going to be back here a number more  times
before this little venture was over.
     "What is your destination now?" it asked.
     "Bumppp," Tanda said.
     For a moment the creature hesitated,  and I thought I  saw the morphing
hesitate as well. Then it said, almost sadly, "Very well."
     A moment later we ended up in  the middle of a wide meadow filled  with
thick plants and orange flowers. The sky overhead was a faint blue and pink.
Dark-green  trees surrounded the meadow, and in the distance there were pink
mountains. I had been  ready  to  use my disguise spell on  us to protect us
from any storm, but the air was warm and humid, just the way I liked it.
     Actually, all in  all, this was one of the most  beautiful dimensions I
had visited. I wondered what kind of lucky people lived here.
     Tanda turned a full  circle, her sharp  eyes  taking in things I knew I
didn't see.
     "Ten percent?" Aahz said, his teeth still grinding.
     Tanda put her  finger  to her mouth  for Aahz to be silent. I instantly
started searching the tree-line for  any sign of danger.  There was  nothing
that I could see. No natives with  weapons, no crouching tigers, no charging
bears.
     Nothing.
     But clearly from Tanda's actions and the attitude and hesitation of the
Shifter, this wasn't a friendly place. Beautiful, but not friendly.
     "The map," she whispered to Aahz. "Quickly."
     Then she motioned that we should all crouch down.
     The  weeds and flowers covering the meadow were  no more than knee-high
and  would give us no  cover at all. They smelled like my dragon when he got
wet.
     I  figured  we should move to  the edge of the trees. At least there we
might  have a  fighting  chance  if something came at us. But Tanda was  the
ex-assassin  among us. She  knew what she was doing. Or at least I hoped she
did.
     Aahz  opened the map and laid  it out carefully on top of the weeds. It
was clear instantly that the map had again changed. Bumppp, the dimension we
were in, showed  clearly, with only one path  leading from this world toward
the dream of our very own golden cow. And that path led to Vortex #4.
     Not #2, as I would have expected, or even #3, but #4.
     Tanda nodded and motioned for Aahz to quickly fold up the parchment and
put it away. Then she stood.
     I stood right with  her, and the moment I did I saw movement.  Not just
some movement, but all around the edges  of the meadow the weeds and flowers
were jerking and swaying as if something was running under them at us.
     Then  a  head poked up about  a  hundred paces from us. A massive snake
head  that was larger than my head, with yellow, swirling slits for eyes and
huge fangs. There was no telling how long the snake's body was, and I really
didn't want to wait around and find out.
     And then another stuck its  head  up to the right of the first one. And
another and another.
     I  spun like a  dancer.  We were surrounded by giant  snakes  with very
nasty-looking fangs. If we didn't do something quickly we  were going to end
up the main course for lunch.
     "Nice place,"  Aahz  said  as  the moving grass got  closer and  closer
around us.
     "Any time now," I tried to suggest, but the only thing that came out of
my still sealed mouth was "Aggghhh tgggghhhh."
     .
     What's  the matter?" Tanda asked, smiling  at me.  "Afraid Of a  little
snake?"
     I  nodded  vigorously as another  monster snake head popped up not more
than fifty paces from us. It looked not only hungry, but angry.
     "Yeah," she said, "me, too."
     With that we were back in the dust storm on Vortex #1.
     "Skeeve!" Aahz yelled as the dust pounded into us.
     Before I could even act, Tanda said, "Don't bother."
     Then we were  back in  the Shifter's tent,  staring at the creature who
now looked just a little too much like the snakes we had just left.
     "I am glad for my percentage to see that you have returned," it said.
     "I'll bet," Aahz said.
     "Vortex #4 please," Tanda said, getting right to business.
     "The total is now fifteen percent."
     "I understand our agreement," Tanda said before Aahz could say a  word.
"Vortex #4 please."
     The  snakelike-shaped Shifter nodded, and again we were whisked through
to another dimension.
     And right back into the same stupid dust storm.
     Okay, I have  to admit that when we dimension-hopped back into the dust
storm, I was shocked.
     Tanda motioned that we should follow her. It took me almost all the way
to our destination before I realized where we were.  Now granted, I  had the
excuse  that  it was blowing heavily. And to me,  one dust storm looks  just
like another.  But  it wasn't until the  old log cabin  loomed up out of the
dust like a ship in  the fog that it dawned on  me that we were back  in the
same place.
     Only it wasn't the same place. This was supposed  to be Vortex  #4, not
Vortex #1.
     Inside the  old  building it became clear  that we were in  a  slightly
different place. This  time,  instead  of  being bare, the inside of the log
cabin was filled with branches and some old furniture, and there was no sign
of the fire I had built.
     "Did you see them this time?" Tanda demanded.
     "See what?" Aahz frowned.
     "Out there in the storm." she  said.  "This time  I got a  good look at
them."
     "What was it?"
     "Dust  bunnies. A whole pack  of  them."  She  wrapped her arms tightly
around herself and shuddered.
     Aahz  and I looked at each  other and  shrugged. Again we seemed to  be
oblivious to whatever it was that was setting Tanda on edge.
     By the time I  got a new  fire going  and Tanda had  put a  containment
protection around the cabin to keep the wind out, my lips had unsealed. They
were chapped and sore, but at least they were loose.
     "So Vortex #4 is a lot like Vortex #1," I said.
     "Makes  sense," Tanda said.  "Otherwise,  why give them the same  names
with only different numbers?"
     "Any other  dimensions  so similar  that  they could  be  numbered like
this?"
     "More than  likely,"  Tanda said, "but I've  never seen or  heard about
any."
     "So we paid another  five percent to  that thief for this?" Aahz  said,
dearly disgusted. "We could have found this on our own."
     I  had  no idea  how  he thought  we could  have done that, but since I
didn't know much about dimension-hopping, I said nothing.
     "Not likely," Tanda said.  "We  are a long, long way  from  Vortex  #1.
We're  farther away in number of  dimensions from the  Bazaar at Deva than I
have ever been before."
     "Oh," Aahz said.
     "And you know that how?" I asked. "Is there some sort of mileage marker
I keep missing in the blink of eye it takes to hop to a new dimension?"
     Tanda laughed. "Don't we wish."
     "When a person is dimension-hopping,"  Aahz said, "and they have powers
to do  it, like Tanda does, you get a sense of how many  dimensions away you
have jumped. Not precise, but just a sense of distance."
     Tanda nodded. "And the farther away in number of dimensions, the harder
the jump. And the greater the  chance  of  missing  the target  and  getting
lost."
     "So that's why you took us back through Vortex #1 from Bumppp?"
     "Safer that way," she said.
     "And each  of our  jumps following  this map is getting  us farther and
farther  away from home?" I didn't much like the  idea of that happening. My
job as the Royal Court Magician wasn't much, but at the moment it was better
than this place.
     "So far," Tanda said. "But this is a treasure map  we're following.  It
isn't supposed to be so easy that just anyone could do it."
     I didn't like the sound of that, either.
     Aahz pulled off his gloves and took  out  the  map, spreading it on the
floor so we could all see  it by the light of the fire. As expected, the map
had changed  again. There were now six lines  leading from Vortex #4, all to
points that now had names. All six lines  headed in the general direction of
the point  marked as the treasure, but none directly. This map wasn't making
anything easy, that was for sure.
     The names  on each  dimension  this time were stranger than normal. All
were combinations of  the same  five  letters.  Starting from the left,  the
names were Et, Cet, Era, Etc, Etc, and Ra.
     "You know any of those dimensions?" Aahz asked.
     "No," Tanda said. "You?"
     "No," Aahz said. "There goes another five percent."
     Tanda  shrugged.  "Can't be helped.  I suggest we  head  for the center
one."
     "Etc it is, then," I said.
     All Aahz did was growl deep inside his  throat  as he stood and put the
map away.
     "I hope this means we're going back to Vortex #1  again." I said. "Tell
me we're not visiting the snakes again."
     "It would be safer if  we hit  Bumppp  again,"  she  said. "No point in
taking the chance."
     "You can't be serious," I said. Just at the mention of those  snakes my
stomach clamped up into a knot.
     She laughed. "Don't worry.  From  here I  can hit  Vortex #1. No snakes
needed."
     She made sure Aahz was ready, then we hopped.
     The dust pounded at me for all of five seconds while Tanda made sure we
were there and all  right, then she hopped us again right back into the tent
of the Shifter.
     He was now shaped like  a sofa with eyes on the arms and pillows  where
the  ears would be. A massive, orange tongue hung  out  of the face, forming
the seating  area. From that moment onward, sitting on a sofa  was  going to
take on a whole new meaning for me.
     "We need the Etc dimension," Tanda said.
     "Your  total is now  twenty percent,"  the creature  said, its  massive
tongue moving as if someone was fluffing the pillows.
     "We are aware of that," Tanda said.
     The next moment we found ourselves standing on a wide  and, mercifully,
empty  street.  Plain-looking  wooden  buildings framed both  sides  of  the
street.
     The sky overhead was  cloudy and gray, the air was cold  and crisp, but
at least it wasn't blowing. I was glad I still  had our heavy coats and hats
on as disguises.
     I turned slowly  around.  There  was no doubt  there  were some strange
dimensions in this universe. The road seemed to  go off into the distance in
both  directions  from where  we  were standing,  framed by exactly the same
types  of buildings  on both sides, all the same height. Each building had a
strange shape to it as well, with two doors, and matching windows. There was
no way  to tell what was on the other  side of the buildings,  since it  was
like we were standing in a canyon.
     I had no  idea  how anyone living  in  this place  found his or her way
home.  Every building was exactly like the  one it butted against,  with  no
numbers or colors or any kind of distinguishing marks.
     "Wonder where the people are?" I asked.
     "Let's check the map and not wait to find out the answer to that," Aahz
said as he headed for the side of the street.
     "Yeah," Tanda said as she looked around, dearly on guard. "I don't like
the looks of this."
     Aahz pulled the map out as he got near the edge  of the road and opened
it.  On the map  the dimension we were in  was now marked clearly, with only
one path leading away  from it. Vortex #6 was our next stop. At least we had
jumped over Vortex #5 just like we had over #2 and #3.
     Tanda glanced at the map and shook her head.
     For a moment I thought Aahz  was going to wad the thing  up and toss it
away, but then he folded it and put it back in his jacket.
     Suddenly, in  the  window of  the  building closest  to  us, a creature
appeared.
     "We have company," I said softly.
     Tanda  and  Aahz both  looked up as  another  creature appeared in  the
window beside the first one.
     I  glanced around. Every  window of  every  building  now  had  someone
standing in it. And every one of them  looked exactly alike. Gray suit, gray
hair, gray face, two arms. They were all the same shape and same height.
     And when one  of them moved, every other creature I could see moved the
same way.
     "This is creeping me out," Tanda said.
     The next instant the dust smashed into my face.
     "Warning next time," Aahz said.
     "This  is Vortex #4," she shouted over  the wind. "We're hopping  again
before the bunnies find us."
     For an instant there was no dust, then it hit again.
     I knew  this had to be Vortex #1. I mean, with  the  dust and all, what
else could it be?
     Then we were  back  in the tent  with the Shifter.  And right  at  that
moment what I really  wanted to do more than anything else was just walk out
of the tent and forget this entire thing.
     "Vortex #6  please," Tanda said to  the Shifter, who had lost his couch
shape and now looked more like a cross between a cat and a table.
     "Twenty-five percent."
     Aahz ground his teeth, the sound filling the tent.
     "You're making my friend angry by repeating that," I said.
     Then I realized I had spoken my  mind. Tanda  hadn't sealed my lips for
this visit. Aahz glared at me and I shrugged.
     "It is a bargain at twice the price," the Shifter said.
     I was  about  to  tell him that dealing with a  Deveel was a bargain as
well, but  Tananda put  her hand over  my  mouth and  spoke to the  Shifter.
"Vortex  #6  please.  We have agreed  to  twenty-five percent total to  this
point."
     The  Shifter nodded, which looked  a lot like  a table lifting its leg,
then we were back in the dust storm.
     It seemed like the same dust,  and was as  hard to walk in  as the last
two Vortex dimensions.  But as we got near the old cabin,  I noticed  a very
large and very important difference.
     This time there was a light in the window.
     Someone was home.
     Chapter Four
     "Don't pick up hitchhikers!"
     D. ADAMS
     The yellow light coming from the cabin window  was like a warning sign.
We all stopped about twenty paces short of  the door and stared through  the
blowing dust  at the light.  I know  I was annoyed. After using the cabin in
two other dimensions,  I was starting to feel like  it was  an  extension of
home. How dare anyone actually live in it? "Now what do we do?" I shouted to
Aahz over the sound of the storm whipping around us.
     "Anything else close by?" Aahz asked  Tanda.  His  green scales on  his
face were plastered  in dust. I  knew for  a fact he hated being  dirty, and
after giving away so much of an as-yet-unfound fortune to a travel guide, or
agent, or  whatever he had called the Shifter, the dust and wind couldn't be
helping his mood any. Tanda shook her head.
     "No  dust  bunnies  and  nothing else  I know of. The  Shifter only put
directions to this place in my mind on the first hop."
     "So we knock," I  said over the wind. Tanda and Aahz seemed to  have no
other idea, so I slogged through the deep dust to the door and rapped on it.
     Tanda  moved over  to my left and  Aahz stayed  five  steps away in the
background, his face covered. If I had to, I would disguise him quickly. His
green scales and looks tended to frighten a lot of people.
     The  door opened suddenly  and  I found myself  facing  a girl. She was
wearing a  long-sleeved shirt, dark  pants, and had her hair pulled back off
her  face. She had a smile that lit up  her deep brown eyes and warmed every
nerve in my body. I figured her to be about my age. Her face brightened when
she saw me.
     "You must be Skeeve," she said. "Come on in. My dad said you'd be along
eventually."
     I stood in the dust, staring at her. In all my life I had never been so
surprised at anything anyone said.
     She knew my name.
     She had been expecting me.
     God  knew how many  dimensions from home and in the  middle of a raging
dust storm, she had been expecting me!
     My  first thought  was to back slowly  away before turning  and running
into the storm. But my legs remained frozen in place, my mind too stunned to
even try to reason out anything.
     "Come on," the girl said. "It's windy out there!"
     Nothing on me was moving.
     Tanda finally pushed me forward and the girl stepped back, holding  the
door for all of us to go inside.
     If I hadn't known this was the same  cabin as  we had seen in the other
dimensions, I would have  never  have recognized  it.  Now it  had a  wooden
floor, the  cracks  in the walls  were  all  filled, and  it  was  warm  and
comfortable.
     There was a table  with a bowl of fruit on it, four chairs, and kitchen
counter with  cabinets on one  side  of the room. A fire  was  burning  in a
baking stove, keeping the cabin comfortable. A bed was against the far wall,
with a beautiful blue and gold quilt neatly covering it and a pillow.
     The young lady  didn't seem to be at  all surprised to see Aahz,  which
worried me even more. Pervects tended to scare people, either by their looks
or their reputations.
     I finally managed to find the words I needed to ask.
     "How do you know me?"
     "She knows you?" Aahz asked.
     Clearly  he had been too far out in the dust storm to hear her over the
blowing wind.
     The  girl  laughed  and  I got  even more  afraid of her. The laugh was
perfect, sort of gentle, yet free and high, like a soft breeze on a summer's
afternoon. The exact laugh I would expect from a young lady as beautiful  as
she was, yet never got, at least from the few I had met.
     "I doesn't really know him," she said, again laughing. "At least not in
the traditional sense, or  any other sense for  that matter. Although I must
say, I wouldn't mind, if you know what I mean."
     I had no  idea what she meant. I wanted to  ask just how many senses of
'know' there were, but figured I'd wait to do that later.
     Aahz snorted and Tanda laughed.
     She went on.  "My father said I should expect a young, good-looking man
named Skeeve to come here. I just assumed you were Skeeve, since you are the
first person to visit this place in the two weeks I've been here."
     I think I was staring at her, stunned. At least that was how it felt. I
didn't know her and I had no idea who her father might be.
     She smiled at me and then turned to Tananda.
     "You  must be the one Skeeve  was  traveling  with  before,"  she said.
"Don't worry. I've taken care of the dust bunnies. You know, don't you, that
they're completely invisible to guys."
     Then she glanced at Aahz and frowned slightly.
     "But I don't know you and your connection to this, big guy"
     I was so shocked, I couldn't  say anything.  She had  called Aahz  'big
guy,' and knew I had traveled with Tanda.
     No one said anything.
     Clearly  Tanda and Aahz were shocked as well. From what Tanda had said,
we were a lot of dimensions away from our homes. Yet in the middle of a dust
storm, in a strange dimension, we  had found someone waiting for us. Someone
who knew my name.
     "Cat's got your tongues, I see," she  said, laughing. She turned around
and motioned that  we  should sit down at  the  table. "I bet you're getting
hungry by now, after all the dimension-hopping you've been doing."
     I wanted to ask  why  she thought a cat had my tongue, and how she knew
what we had  been doing, then decided against asking  that, in  exchange for
what I thought was a better question.
     "Are you a Shifter?"
     Again  she laughed, the wonderful sound filling  the cabin and blending
in with the faint crackling of the fire in the oven.
     "Not hardly. But  my father said you might be getting a little tired of
their costs by now. How much  of  the  treasure have you  given away so far?
Thirty-five percent? Forty percent?"
     "Only twenty-five percent," I said.
     Then it dawned on me that she knew about the treasure as well. And that
we  had  been negotiating  with the Shifters. How much did she know, and how
did she know it?
     Aahz  gave  me a stern look and  I shrugged. He always thought I talked
too much, and clearly this was one of those times he just might be right.
     "Wow, you must be a great negotiator," she said, smiling at me.
     "Not hardly," Tanda said, moving over and sitting down at the table.
     Aahz and I did the same.
     "So you know our  friend Skeeve here,"  Tanda said.  "Could  you please
tell us what your name is, and how you know him?"
     The girl smiled at me, holding my gaze in her beautiful brown eyes.
     "My name  is Glenda.  My  father sold Skeeve the  map you  are using to
search for the golden cow."
     Glenda turned back to the  counter and opened  a cabinet that contained
what looked to be a freshly baked loaf of bread.
     Tanda glared  and me  and  I just shrugged.  I had told  her  and  Aahz
everything that had happened when I bought the map. This young lady had been
nowhere around That much I was sure of. I would have remembered seeing her.
     Now I was even more confused. Why had the  guy who sold me the map sent
his daughter here to meet us? For what reason?
     "So the map  was a scam after  all," Aahz said,  scowling at her,  "and
you've been waiting here to collect something from us. Is that it?"
     Glenda laughed and smiled at Aahz. "The cynic of the group, I see."
     Then she smiled at me again.
     I smiled right back at her.
     "He does tend to look at what could go wrong a lot."
     "He would make a great lawyer," she said.
     I wanted to ask what a lawyer was, but just nodded instead.
     She turned to look directly at Aahz.
     "No, I assure you that, as far as I know, or anyone knows, the  map  is
real."
     "So what are you doing here, then?" Tanda asked.
     Glenda shrugged. "My father thought you might need some help about now.
And  when my father told me about Skeeve  after he bought the map, I thought
he might be cute. I was right."
     I think I  blushed from  the  ends  of  my toes  to the top of my head.
Luckily the only thing visible to her was my face.
     Aahz snorted even louder, an ugly sound that seemed to just hang in the
warm cabin like a bad smell.
     "Why would your father think we need help?" Tanda asked.
     Glenda  went back to cutting the fresh bread as she answered.  "Because
no one has ever made it past this point before, and returned alive."
     "Ohhhhh," Aahz said, "now I understand. Your  father keeps  selling the
map over and over and your job is to get it back."
     "Actually, he's tired of selling it," Glenda said. "And getting it back
has  never been a problem. He usually just  pops  in here  every  spring and
takes it off the bodies."
     The faint crackling of the  fire and the wind  against the eaves of the
cabin were the only noises. I didn't want to think about the fact that a map
I had carried around for a week had been on dead bodies.
     "Why does  that happen?" Tanda  asked, but  I  noticed that she  wasn't
really putting as much anger into her voice as before.
     Glenda   smiled   at  her.   "You're  the  one  with  the   ability  to
dimension-hop. You tell me."
     Tanda's eyes  seemed to fade  out for a moment, then she  looked  up at
Glenda and said softly, "We're too far away from any place I know, including
the last place we jumped to."
     "Exactly," Glenda said, putting the cut bread on  the table in front of
us. "The Shifters have  done that to six groups  of treasure-seekers that my
father sold the  map to.  Vortex #6,  this place, is  just too far  from any
known  dimension, and any other dimension on the map,  for almost anyone but
the  most traveled dimension-hopper. And until I fixed this cabin  up  a few
weeks ago, there was nothing here but a shell of old logs."
     "We would have starved to death," I said.
     "Given time, you  would have starved, or jumped to some other dimension
and gotten lost," Glenda said, pulling out the chair and sitting down beside
me. "My father tracked two groups with the map  who did that.  Both met very
ugly ends at the hands of creatures they never should have faced."
     My memory of the snakes was clear enough to understand exactly what she
was saying.
     She took a piece of the wonderful-smelling fresh bread and bit into it,
never taking her gaze from mine.
     "And your price to rescue us is...?" Aahz asked.
     I  glanced at him. Typical  Aahz,  always leading with  the  pocketbook
first.
     Glenda smiled at my green-scaled mentor.
     "What's your name?" she asked.
     "Aahz," he said. "And you haven't answered my question yet."
     "I want to go with you," she said. "And for helping you find the golden
cow and getting us  all back to  a dimension near the Bazaar at Deva, I want
the same share as each of you are getting, after paying off the Shifter."
     It still wasn't making sense.
     "So why haven't you just gone after the cow on your own, before now?"
     "Honestly," she said,  looking directly into  my eyes  while answering,
"my father thought you, Skeeve, were the  first one he had ever sold the map
to that had a chance of actually getting to the cow."
     "You didn't answer his question either," Aahz said. "And  why should we
give you such a large share of the treasure?"
     She  laughed. "Besides getting you out of this place? This is  only one
of the problems  you face. My  father  tried a  number  of times to  go  the
distance before he sold the  map the first  time, but he  always had to turn
back. There are many problems ahead. I know what they are. You need me."
     "And your father thinks Skeeve can make  it?" Tanda asked. I would have
been  unhappy with the sound  of disbelief in Tanda's voice if I didn't feel
exactly the same way.
     Glenda reached  over and  touched my hand on the table. Electric shocks
went up my arm and I am  sure  my face again turned a bright shade of red. I
couldn't even begin  to  think  about moving my hand away  from hers. And  I
didn't want to. She was  doing things  to me I had only dreamed  about,  all
with a single touch of her hand.
     "My  father  has the ability  to see the true nature of people," Glenda
said, "and their true strengths."
     She rubbed the  top  of my hand and it was everything I could do to not
let out a long, loud sigh.
     "If  he  thinks  Skeeve can  get to the golden  cow  and  win over  the
problems that lie ahead, then I believe in Skeeve as well."
     I just  smiled  at Aahz, giving him my widest  grin.  In  all  our time
together, I had never seen him look so disgusted.
     It felt wonderful.
     And so did Glenda's hand on mine.
     Okay,  so there  was  tension in the small  cabin. Lots  of it, of  all
kinds.  I have  to admit that having a girl my age along on this crazy quest
sounded just  fine by me. Especially one that thought I was special  without
really  knowing me, and could  make my entire body tingle at  the touch of a
hand.  I liked  the  advantage of  that. With her, I  didn't have  any  past
mistakes to climb over or make up for.
     Aahz  and Tanda, on the other  hand, weren't  so  certain  about taking
Glenda along and cutting her in on the possible prize. And  that wasn't good
tension at  all.  And  since none of us knew her,  there was that tension as
well.
     But  the  way  I  figured it, there really  wasn't  much choice.  Tanda
couldn't hop us back  to any dimension she knew of. It was just too far, and
we  didn't dare just risk hopping dimensions trying to get close enough.  We
would end  up lost, or more likely  dead from something like those snakes or
creepy identical-people on that street.
     We  needed  Glenda.  And  besides, I wanted her along. It would  be fun
getting to know her.
     "So now there's four of us," I said, smiling across the table at Glenda
and ignoring the scowls coming from my mentor.
     "Great," Glenda said. "You won't regret it."
     I doubted I would either.
     "We split the treasure four ways," Aahz said, making the deal clear.
     "After the Shifter's part is taken out," I reminded him.
     "Yeah, after the Shifter's twenty-five percent."
     He  almost spat the last few  words  of  the  sentence as he  glared at
Tanda.
     "There'll  still be more than enough for everyone," Glenda  said as she
offered everyone some fresh bread. "If we can get to the golden cow and make
it ours."
     I took a large piece and them some of the wonderful apple jelly she had
on  the  table. After  one bite  I knew that  fresh bread and jelly  was the
best-tasting  thing I remembered having in a long,  long time. It  more than
melted  in  my mouth  as it turned  my taste-buds into  a wonderful world of
flavors. Man, if Glenda could  make all the food  she  cooked do that, I was
never leaving her side.
     After we were all eating-and I noticed that even Tanda and Aahz enjoyed
the bread-Glenda looked  at me. "Dig out  the map and let's figure out where
we're headed next."
     I pointed to Aahz. "I'm letting the big guy carry it."
     I thought Aahz would choke on the bread.
     Tanda laughed, and the tension in the room eased a little.
     Aahz took out the map and unfolded it on the table.
     Glenda moved  around so that  she stood beside Tanda. I scooted over to
get a better look as well.
     Again the map had changed.
     No  surprise  there.  We  were  on  Vortex #6,  which  was  now clearly
highlighted on the  map. There were  four lines from our dimension headed to
four different places. I didn't like  the  sounds of  the four dimensions at
all.
     Febrile was the one on the right, Hostile the next one, Durst the next,
and Molder the farthest left.
     Tanda shook her head. "I don't know any of them."
     "Neither do I," Aahz said.
     "No  way  that you could," Glenda said. "They are  even farther removed
from Deva than this place."
     She  glanced at me  to  make  sure  I  was  listening, then pointed  to
Febrile.
     "That  place's coolest temperature  is over one  hundred and twenty. We
wouldn't last five minutes there."
     "Nice that the map designer put it on the map," I said.
     "Traps,"  she  said. "The  Cartograms  loved  to make  these  sorts  of
things."
     "Cartograms?" I asked.
     She gave me another of her wonderful smiles.
     "They  are an  entire race who explore and map dimensions, and any time
they find a treasure, they  do one of these treasure maps to the location of
the treasure, and then sell the map."
     "I'd heard about them," Tanda said. "Never  bothered to buy a  map from
one of them, though."
     "They have booths in  the Bazaar at  Deva," Aahz said.  "Never had  the
need to use their services."
     "Did they do the map on the wall in the Shifter's tent?" I asked.
     Glenda nodded. "I'd  bet  that  any kind of  map that  shows  different
dimensions was done by a Cartogram. Every treasure map they do is magik  and
often contain puzzles and traps just like this one."
     "Good  to know," I said, glancing at Aahz. It was clear he hadn't known
about the traps when we started out after this golden cow.
     My mentor just frowned at me.
     Glenda went on. She pointed at the dimension with the name Hostile.
     "We  don't even want to think  about  going  there. Makes  Febrile look
cool."
     Aahz nodded.
     Glenda pointed to  the next  one. "Durst  no longer  exists.  Something
destroyed the entire dimension thousands of years ago."
     "That leaves Molder," I said. "What's it like?"
     "Only been there  for  a  few  moments  with  my father, tracking  what
happened to this map three buyers ago," Glenda said, shaking her head. "It's
a dark, damp place where  everything always seems to be  changing.  Even the
ground seems to grow and move under your feet."
     "So tell me," Tanda  said  to Glenda. "You've gone after  this treasure
with your father, and seen others do it. You  must know the path  at least a
few steps ahead. Why can't we just jump over this step. Don't you know where
the map will lead us?"
     I  had to admit that Tanda had a good point  there. It would sure  be a
lot easier.
     Glenda sighed, and  even the sigh was a wonderful sound to my ears. She
could sigh at me all she wanted.
     "I wish I could," Glenda said.
     "The map is magik," Aahz said. "It's never the same. Right?"
     "Exactly,"  Glenda  said.  "Except  for   going  through  these  Vortex
locations at one  point or another, the map  changes the  correct  path with
every user, and every attempt."
     "Hmmm." Aahz said, staring at the piece of parchment. "Too bad we can't
just take the magik out of the map and have it tell us the only true path to
the dimension with the golden cow."
     That gave  me an idea.  It was so simple  it was probably stupid,  so I
didn't  say  anything aloud. Still, the thought kept  rattling around  in my
head as the others continued their conversation.
     What if I  tapped into the  magikal energy of the map, just  like I did
with the energy lines when I was casting a spell? Wouldn't that draw off the
magik?
     I made myself relax, then reached out  with my mind and touched the map
Aahz was holding, working at absorbing energy as I did.
     At  first nothing happened. Then the  parchment began to tremble and an
energy line sprang into being, running from the map to me.
     It was a cool, tingly sensation, but  strong, almost  too  strong,  and
getting  stronger and  stronger. I  quickly opened up,  letting  the  energy
channel through me and into the ground,  just  as Aahz had taught me in some
of our earliest lessons.
     "What the..." Aahz exclaimed, letting go of the map.
     Instead of falling, it hovered in midair.
     "Skeeve!" Tanda  shouted, but I  ignored  her, keeping my  attention on
what I wanted to happen.
     Finally the energy flow slowed and ebbed until it was merely a trickle.
I released my mental contact, and the parchment fluttered to the floor.
     "Try looking at it now," I said.
     All three of them were looking at me as if I had suddenly grown another
head.
     "Someone want to explain to me what just happened?" Glenda said, taking
her gaze away from me to look back at the map.
     Aahz frowned as he did the same.
     Tanda laughed. "Master Magician  Skeeve here just solved a whole  bunch
of our problems."
     I stared at the map, not believing what I was seeing.
     Now there was only one line  from Vortex #6 to Molder, then a line from
Molder  to Vortex #5, then a line to a  dimension called Baasss, then a line
back to here, Vortex #6, then one final line to our cow dimension.
     And the cow dimension now had a name.
     Kowtow.
     We could jump directly from here to Kowtow.
     Glenda laughed  and  gave me  the  best hug I could ever  remember. Her
entire body  pressed  into mine,  and I tingled in  more places than I  ever
wanted to admit.
     "My father was right," she  said as she squeezed  me  even harder. "You
really are special."
     The sound of Aahz snorting didn't take away one bit of my  enjoyment of
the moment.
     Chapter Five
     "That's wild!"
     J. WEST
     "What kind of name is Kowtow?" I asked, pointing at our  destination on
the map after Glenda released me from the hug of the century.
     No one answered me.
     "How did you  do that?" Glenda asked, staring at me.  "I've never heard
of anyone taking the magik out of a treasure map before."
     Her beautiful brown  eyes were huge and there was a look of what I took
to be slight worry. Then I realized that what I was seeing wasn't worry. She
was in awe  of me. And having someone in  awe of  me was not  a circumstance
that often happened.
     "Honestly," I said to her, "I'm not sure."
     "Why is that no surprise?" Aahz said, his eyes rolling in disgust.
     "Aahz  said  something about taking the  magik out of the map," I said,
going  on, explaining to her what had  happened while  ignoring Aahz,  "So I
gave  it  a try. I tapped into its energy like I would a force line and just
let it flow through me and into the ground. That's all I did. Honest."
     Tanda looked as if she understood, but was saying nothing.
     "The  vortex  dimensions are  known  to  be powerful places for magik,"
Glenda said. "That's why no one lives here very long."
     "So while we're here," Aahz said, glaring at me, "be careful!"
     I pointed at the map. "What? Didn't I help?"
     "I think  you  did,"  Tanda said.  "Glenda, do  you  know  this  Kowtow
dimension? Or do we have to go back to the Shifter to get there?"
     Aahz moaned at the mention of the Shifter.
     "I've  been there a number of times," Glenda said. "Never thought of it
as a place with a great treasure, though."
     "Are there cattle there?" Aahz asked.
     "More than you could ever imagine," Glenda said.
     "So our next adventure," I  said,  smiling at  Glenda,  "is  finding  a
single cow in a proverbial haystack of cows."
     A puzzled frown came over her  face, telling me clearly she had no idea
what I had just said,  and since  I  had no idea  what a cow looked  like, I
didn't want to try to explain a haystack of them to her.
     "What our young friend  there was trying to say," Tanda added, "is that
if there are a lot of  cows, how  are  we  going to find  the one that gives
golden milk?"
     Glenda shrugged. "I have no idea.  No one has ever gotten this far with
this  map before. It would have never occurred to  me  that  the map  led to
Kowtow."
     Aahz wasn't adding anything, so I figured it was safe to say what I was
thinking.
     "Wouldn't a cow that gave golden milk live in a golden palace?"
     Again they just all three stared at me.
     "More than likely," Tanda said, nodding slowly.
     Silence  again filled the small cabin. At  that point I figured  it was
better to just eat more bread and leave the thinking up to them.
     After an  hour  of planning and talking,  at Aahz's suggestion,  Glenda
dimension-hopped  us to  Kowtow,  to  a  location isolated  enough  that  we
wouldn't be seen by anyone. He figured that way we would have time for me to
get us in disguises so that we looked like the local residents.
     Before we hopped, Aahz made real sure that either Glenda or Tanda could
hop back to this  cabin. And he had Glenda help him set  his  D-Hopper so he
could  as  well.  It seemed I was the only  one who didn't have an emergency
getaway.  I planned  on making  sure  I  was  always close to one  of  them.
Preferably Glenda.
     After  the hop, we ended up standing near a large  rock cliff face. The
air was warm and dry, and the sun was high overhead at the moment.
     The area around us  looked like desert, but the ground sloped away from
us down to a lush, green valley. A road came over the hill beside the cliff,
wound  past where  we were, and down the  hill to what looked to  be a small
town  built out of  wood.  From what I could tell there was no building over
two stories  tall.  The  buildings seemed  to  be  centered around  the main
street.
     "That town is called Evade," Glenda said. "Mostly cowboys and bars."
     "Cowboys?"  I  asked.  Since  I had no  idea what a cow looked like,  I
couldn't imagine what a boy cow would be, or why they would build a town.
     "Cowboys  are  men who  take care of  the cows," Glenda said. "For some
reason  they're called that  in just about every dimension there are cows or
cattle."
     I wanted to ask her what a woman who took care of cows was called.
     "In this dimension," Glenda said, "the cowboys are a strange bunch, let
me tell you."
     Aahz stood, staring at the town in the valley below them.
     "In what way?"
     Glenda shrugged. "They seem to treat  the cattle almost like they  were
sacred.  They never hurt a cow,  they  never  push a  cow too hard, and they
always talk nice to the cattle. And they protect them against anything."
     "Now that is weird," Tanda said.
     "Why?" I asked.
     Aahz looked at me with one of his looks that said I was asking too many
questions. I knew that look well, since I saw it two or three times a day.
     "Because, in most dimensions, cows are nothing but  food. Here, killing
a cow is a hanging offense."
     "So what do these cowboys look like?" I asked. For once, courtesy of my
earlier adventures, I knew what a hanging offense was. In fact, I knew about
it intimately enough to not want to dwell on the memory.
     "Actually,  in this dimension, they look  a  lot like the three of us."
Glenda  laughed. She glanced at Aahz. "We're going  to have to  do something
about  you,  though, big boy.  They don't know about demons here,  let alone
Pervects."
     Aahz  said nothing. I  think  he was just  glad she  didn't  call him a
Pervert, as so many did.
     Suddenly, over  the hill behind us, along the road, there was the sound
of something coming. Glenda had us move back behind  some rocks  at the base
of the cliff and watch. I made sure I had  a pretty good view of the road so
that I could disguise us all in the right clothes.
     A minute later, two men appeared at the  top of the rise. They were  on
horses and were headed slowly down the hill toward the town below. They both
were dressed pretty much  the  same.  They had  on plaid  shirts, jeans-like
pants, high boots,  and wide belts. Their skin was tan from a  long  time in
the  sun,  and they  wore wide-brimmed brown hats on their  heads. One was a
little older than the other and both had short hair and mustaches. They rode
side-by-side  in  silence. After they got a  distance  down the  hill, Tanda
turned to me. "Get what they look like?"
     "Easy," I said.
     Pulling  in  the  energy I needed, I changed  all of us into our  local
disguises. I  gave us all black  hats, and basically  similar plaid  shirts.
Since I  couldn't see beyond the clothes what  my magik did when I disguised
someone, I glanced at Glenda. "How do we look?"
     "Perfect," she said. "Even Aahz's tan is red instead of green."
     "Are we going to need horses?" I asked. "I can't do them."
     "We might," Glenda  said, looking frustrated. "Especially if the golden
cow  isn't close by. We might have  to do  some traveling, and, from  what I
remember, horses are the only means of travel here."
     "Money?" Aahz asked. "We're going to need money as well."
     "I don't think so," Glenda said. "This place doesn't use money."
     I thought Aahz was going to  have  a heart attack.  It was like telling
him the sun would never come up again.
     "So  what do  they use to trade and buy things with?" Tanda asked, also
shocked at the very idea.
     "Work," Glenda said. "Work is their capital."
     Now I was just as lost as Aahz and Tanda looked.
     Glenda  went  on.  "You work for someone  when  you want something from
them. They keep everything  on IOU's. So if you want  a drink  or some food,
you sign an IOU and then later you have to work off the debt."
     "This is a strange place."
     Glenda agreed and we  started off down the hill, four strangers walking
into a town full of cowboys. I just hope my  disguises worked. Just in case,
I stayed real close to Glenda. Not that that was a hardship or anything.
     The town  of  Evade  was  active  and  primitive. The  only  street was
appropriately enough called Main Street. It  was  dirt and hardened mud  and
very rough. It  split two  rows  of  wooden  buildings  with  covered wooden
sidewalks in front of them.  Outside the main street  were houses  scattered
through the farmlands, tucked into groves of strange-looking trees.
     Music  and laughter were coming from a number of the  doors  along Main
Street. Bright-colored signs were over some  of the  doors, with names  like
Battlefield, Wild  Horse, and Audry's. I had no idea what any of those names
meant.
     Horse-drawn  wagons and  single horses were tied up  on rails along the
wooden sidewalks, and the entire town smelled like horse droppings, of which
there were some pretty good-sized piles spaced along the road.
     A man with a white hat and  a big shovel  was  slowly picking up  fresh
horse leavings  and  tossing them onto the piles. I wanted to  ask him  what
debt  he  was trying to  pay  off,  or what he was  trying  to buy,  because
whatever it was, the price was too high.
     When we reached the main area of town we  stepped up on the sidewalk on
the left side and into the  shade. Suddenly I realized just how hot our walk
from the cliff  had been,  and how lucky it was these people wore  hats. The
sun hadn't seemed that hot at first,  after coming  from Vortex #6, but  now
that we were in the shade, I realized how bad it was.
     We  strolled  along  the  wooden  sidewalk,  trying  to  look  as if we
belonged.  Of course, in  a town that couldn't have more  than a few hundred
full-time residents, four newcomers stood out  like  a bad  blister  in  new
shoes.
     "Howdy," the first man we passed said to us. He tipped his hat and just
kept right on moving.
     By the time I tipped my hat back, he was past us.
     A woman in long  skirts and a flower-patterned blouse walked  past us a
few moments later.
     "Howdy," she said.
     I tipped my hat, as did Aahz.
     She smiled at us, showing some pretty strange-looking teeth.
     After she  was  past  us I  glanced  down at my  neck to make  sure the
Translator  Pendant that Tanda had given me was still there.  It was, but it
couldn't be working, because I had no idea what "howdy" meant.
     I glanced at Tanda who just shrugged.
     About a quarter of the way up  the street into the town  we stopped and
leaned against a wooden wall and tried to look as if we were relaxed. No one
was bothering  us,  or even paying us  much  attention.  Across  the street,
high-energy music was coming out of the door labeled Audry's. I could see  a
number of people through the open door sitting at tables.  It looked  like a
bar or restaurant of some sort.
     "Now  what?"  Glenda  asked, studying the  man  in  the street who  was
picking up horse droppings.
     "We're going to need information," Tanda said.
     "And we just can't come out and ask for it," I said.
     Everyone agreed.
     "We're also going  to need horses," Glenda said. "Unless you want to do
more walking in this heat."
     I glanced down the street at the open countryside  beyond the limits of
the small town. Walking back out into that for  any distance would be a very
bad idea.
     We all agreed that we didn't want to do that as well.
     "Well, we need two things," I said.  "Information about the golden cow,
and horses to get us to the treasure."
     "Skeeve and I will try the place across the street,"  Glenda said. "You
two head for another one farther along."
     "All right," Aahz said, surprising me by agreeing to Glenda's plan. "We
meet back in the cabin on Vortex #6 in one hour."
     I made sure Glenda  understood, since she was my ride out of here. Then
we stepped into the street, making a wide turn around one of the large piles
of horsepoop the guy was collecting.
     He just smiled at us and said, "Howdy."
     I tipped  my hat at him and  he seemed satisfied  enough to go  back to
work.
     I was right in all fashions  about Audry's  Place. It  was clear as  we
went through  the door that it was both a restaurant and  a bar. The bar was
wooden  and  long, stretching the entire length  of  the  left  wall  as  we
entered. A hatless guy wearing a white apron stood behind the bar, a  rag in
his hands.
     Three  of the tables were occupied with a total of  ten patrons, all of
them eating what looked to be large plates of vegetables. The music was loud
and had a pretty good beat to it. It seemed like it  was coming from a piano
in the back, only there was no one sitting at the piano.
     Every person  in the place  glanced up at us as  we entered,  then went
back to eating  and  talking  as if  they  saw  strangers every day and just
didn't care. I considered that a good sign.
     "Howdy, folks," the guy behind the bar said, wiping a spot off the wood
surface in front of him. "What's your pleasure?"
     I had no idea what the  guy meant. I sort of understood the  words, but
standing in the middle of a  bar, I sure didn't understand why he was asking
me  about  pleasure. Just a  little  too personal a  question for  someone I
didn't know.
     I glanced at Glenda, who seemed confused for a moment as well. Then she
indicated I should follow her lead as she stepped toward the guy.
     Glenda nodded her  head at the bartender, sort of like  tipping her hat
as we reached the wide bar.
     "A little something to  drink,  a little food, and a decent way to work
off the debt." Clearly it had  been the right  thing to say, since  the  guy
smiled like he had just hit the jackpot.
     "Strangers  are always welcome in my place," he said,  reaching  behind
him and getting two glasses off the counter on the back wall. He put them on
the bar and looked at Glenda, then me. "What'll wet your whistle?"
     At that moment I was  really glad that Glenda was doing the  talking. I
was fairly certain  he was asking what  we  wanted to  drink,  but  I wasn't
totally  certain, and I had no idea what he  had to offer that could do that
to a whistle.
     "Oh," she said, "whatever you have will be fine with us."
     The guy grabbed a large bottle of orange liquid and filled both glasses
to the top. Then he slid them to the edge of the bar in front of us.
     "Thank you, kind sir," Glenda said.
     Again the guy. beamed.
     "Just grab a seat and I'll rustle you up some of my best grub."
     At  that moment I wanted to  bang my translator  pendant on  the bar to
make it work right.
     "Nothing special," she said, smiling at the guy and winking.
     He beamed again, his face red as he turned and headed for a  back room.
It seemed Glenda could charm just about any guy, no matter what dimension. I
wasn't sure how I felt about that.
     She picked up her orange  drink, indicated that I do the same, and then
headed for a table  in the corner, a  little ways away from the  rest of the
patrons. I followed her, taking a chair with my  back to the wall so I could
see everything going on.
     After we were both seated I whispered to her, "You can understand him?"
     She shrugged. "Mostly going with the flow."
     "So we're going to  have to eat grubs," I whispered,  "to  go  with the
flow?"
     I had never eaten a grub, and wasn't excited about having my first now.
     She laughed and  patted my hand. "I think  'grub' means  food  in  this
dimension."
     "Well, that's a relief."
     "Yeah, isn't it."
     I took a tentative  sip of  my drink and damn near spat it all over the
table.  It  wasn't orange  juice  at all.  It  tasted  like  pulped carrots.
Sour-tasting carrots.
     "Interesting," Glenda said after taking a drink. Then  she turned to me
and made a face that only I could see. She didn't much like it either.
     I  glanced  around at the  other  patrons in  the place. Everyone had a
glass of the carrot drink in front of them. It looked as if it was the  only
drink the place served.
     At that moment the guy  came out of the back room  carrying two plates.
With  a  smile and  a flourish  he  slid them  in front  of us.  Vegetables.
Asparagus, carrots,  celery, a few sliced tomatoes, and part of a  cucumber,
artfully arranged on a bed of what looked like grass.
     "Wonderful," Glenda said, smiling  at the man with her biggest and most
alluring smile. "I hope we can find a way to repay you for this feast."
     The guy  had  the common  decency  to blush.  "I'm  sure  we will  work
something out." At that  he beat a hasty retreat to the bar. Fingers  seemed
to be the preferred method of getting the food from the plate to  the mouth,
so I picked  up one piece of celery and bit into it. It was soft, not fresh,
and had a faint taste of horsedung.
     I hope I  managed to swallow it without looking too insulting to anyone
who could see me.
     Glenda  tried a piece of cucumber. I  could tell it wasn't  good either
from how slowly she chewed and then forced herself to swallow.
     "We're  in  a  vegetarian dimension,"  I whispered as Glenda  gave  the
bartender an okay sign that the food was good. "What do they do with all the
cattle you claim are here?"
     "I have no idea," Glenda whispered. "But if I have  to eat or drink any
more of this garbage I think I'm going to be sick."
     "Yeah, me too."
     "Pretend to eat and I'll see if I can get some answers" she said.
     She stood and moved over to where the man stood behind bar. I  couldn't
tell what  she was saying, but after a moment he laughed and looked at me as
if I were the brunt of a joke. I  pretended to bite and chew on a  asparagus
spear and just smiled back.
     At  that  moment Aahz and Tanda came in. They glanced first at  Glenda,
then saw me and came over and  sat down in the other two chairs, their backs
to the main part of the room.
     "Started without us, I see," Tanda said.
     "Couldn't resist," I said  loud enough for  the bartender  guy to hear.
Then I whispered, "This stuff is awful."
     "What is she doing?" Aahz asked, his voice a barely audible whisper.
     I pretended to eat a tiny bit of grass, covering my mouth as I answered
him.
     "Getting information. And for heaven's sake,  don't order the food. You
have any luck?"
     "None," Tanda said.
     A  few  seconds later  the bartender  pointed  down  the street  in the
opposite direction from  where we had entered the  town.  Glenda  smiled and
came back over.
     "Horses are sold down at a stable just outside the  edge of  town," she
said. "I told him we'd clean the kitchen for our food and drink."
     "I wonder what we'll have  to do for horses?"  Aahz asked, shaking  his
head.
     Glenda shrugged and kept pretending to eat.
     "Besides,", I said. "We don't know where we're going yet."
     "True," she said.
     "That's our biggest problem," Aahz said.
     Suddenly it dawned on me that we should know where  we were going. What
kind of magik map would simply lead to a dimension without giving directions
to the location of  the treasure in the  dimension? After all, a world was a
very large place to be looking for one cow.
     I had taken the magik out of  the  map as far  as getting to this crazy
dimension. But it hadn't occurred to us to check the map once we were here.
     "Aahz," I whispered. "Check the map."
     He frowned at me. "Why would I-"
     He must have  had the  same thought I had. Maybe, just maybe, the magik
was back for local directions.
     He  reached into his pouch and pulled out the  parchment Since his back
was to the bar, he kept the map in front of him so no  one else in the place
could see it. Then, slowly, he opened it
     It was  instantly  clear to me,  as  I  pretended  to  love  a  hunk of
cucumber, that the map had  again changed. It was no longer a dimension map,
but now a map of Kowtow.
     The customers closest  to us finished off their veggie plate and got up
to leave. That left only two other tables and the guy behind the bar. And at
the moment he wasn't looking.
     "Open it all the way and see where we are," Glenda said. "It's clear."
     Aahz, much to his credit, didn't turn around to check to see if she was
right.  He simply opened the map and spread  it out over our  plates of  bad
food.
     No one paid any attention.
     The  golden cow  palace was marked on the  map.  Well, at least we knew
where that was.
     Evade, the town we  were in now was also marked.  The road between them
was marked as the lines between dimensions had been marked. There were a lot
of other  towns  along the way, and one thing  was very, very clear. We were
still a long way from the golden cow.
     Glenda studied the map hard, almost as if she were memorizing it.
     "See anything that will help?" Tanda asked.
     "If we go back to Vortex #6 I can get us a lot closer."
     "Thank heavens," I said.
     "Don't  be  thanking  anyone  yet," she said, staring at the map. "It's
still going to be too far to walk."
     Aahz folded up the map, put it back in his pouch, and stood.
     "Tanda and I will go find  a secluded place to hop back," he whispered,
leaning forward so only  the three of us  could hear him. "Think you two can
get out of here without being noticed?"
     "Easy," Glenda said.
     "See you there," Tanda said, standing and moving toward the front door.
     After we had pretended to eat more of our lunch, pushing the stuff into
a pile on  one side of the plate like I used to  do as a  kid, Glenda got up
and went back over to the guy behind the bar.
     I  kept  pretending, wishing the  stuff tasted good, since  the idea of
eating had made me hungry.
     After a moment the  guy in charge  nodded  to Glenda, smiling as if she
had promised him more than I wanted to think about.
     She motioned that I should join her and I did, carrying our plates. The
guy led us through the door and into what might be called  a  kitchen. There
were barrels of  the  different veggies against  one wall,  and  some  dirty
plates and glasses stacked near a  water barrel. No wonder everything tasted
so bad. I didn't want to even think about the  fact that I had  eaten a bite
of some of the stuff from this room.
     "Wash water  is in the  barrel," he said. He tossed me  a  dirty towel.
"Dry the dishes before wiping down everything else."
     Glenda put her hand  on his shoulder  and eased him around  toward  the
door.
     "Don't worry," she said. "We'll get everything all cleaned up."
     "I know you will," he  said. The guy was more putty in her hands than I
was, and for some reason that thought just annoyed me.
     He went back out through the door and Glenda turned to face me.
     "Well, handsome,  my father was  right. You  are special." I could feel
myself blushing. "Thanks."
     "No, thank you," she said, "for everything. In all the  years of trying
to find the silly  treasure  on that map, I  never thought I'd know  exactly
where it was at."
     "Well, now we do, and we can  get there pretty  soon," I said. "Jump us
back to Vortex #6."
     She smiled and shook her head.
     "Sorry, my prince in a white hat. Maybe next time."
     With a slight wave and a kiss motion, she vanished in a slight POOF!
     "That's not funny," I shouted, staring at where she had been.
     The guy came in, looking puzzled.
     "What's not funny? And where is your beautiful friend?"
     I glanced around, then pointed at the back door.
     "I told  her I'd get started on the dishes.  She'll be  right back, I'm
sure."
     "Good,"  he  said. "Let me know when  she returns. She said she  had  a
surprise for me."
     He  headed back out into the main room, leaving me standing there alone
in a strange kitchen.
     In a strange dimension.
     It seemed he wasn't the only one Glenda had planned a surprise for.
     Chapter Six
     "Alone again...naturally."
     R. CRUSOE
     Now  I have  to admit  that  my first  reaction  after  Glenda  left me
standing there in  that  restaurant kitchen was to scream and shout and call
out her name, along with Aahz and Tanda's names.
     Screaming would have covered up the panic I felt, but I knew for a fact
that screaming  would have  done no good. But  I still wanted to,  more than
anything.
     I didn't.
     My second  reaction was to run like crazy out the back door, but then I
would  be a wanted man for skipping out on the lunch bill, and considering I
might be stuck here for some time, I managed to not run either.
     But I sure wanted to.
     The third reaction I had was to go into automatic to  give my poor mind
time to sort through what had just happened. That  was as good as anything I
could  do, so  I  turned and  started  washing off the dishes,  dumping  the
garbage  in a big  pail, and dipping  the  plates enough in the dirty barrel
water that they pretended to be clean.
     I could imagine that on the outside I looked calm and collected, but on
the inside I was a mess.
     "Don't  panic.  Don't panic. Don't  panic,"  I  kept  saying to myself,
timing the phrase  with deep breaths  and the dipping of the dishes  in  the
water.
     Finally I got myself under enough control to ask a few questions.
     Why had she left me?
     No easy answer. At least none that I wanted to  really admit, yet there
was nothing else that made sense.  She  had left. That simple. She had  seen
the location of the  golden cow treasure and  that was  the last  thing  she
needed from me or Aahz or Tanda. On the first opportunity she had headed off
on her own.
     Leaving me alone in  a kitchen in a strange dimension. "Don't panic," I
said to myself, dipping more dishes. I dumped more half-eaten food into  the
bucket,  dipped  another plate,  and asked the  next question. Had I been  a
fool?
     The answer to that one came clearly in Aahz's voice. Yes.
     He would also say it was nothing new or unusual. She had played me, and
Aahz and Tanda, like a finely tuned musical  instrument, using my heart  and
my emotions as the strings.
     "What a fool," I said aloud.
     There was no one in there to agree with me, but I didn't need anyone to
agree. I knew I had been a fool.
     I scraped, dipped, and went on to the next question.
     What do I do now?
     I had no idea.
     Nothing. I was stuck here for the  moment.  Maybe  forever if something
happened to Aahz and Tanda, or if they couldn't find me.
     The thought made me panic, so I kept washing dishes.
     After a few minutes the guy came back in with more dirty plates. He was
clearly disappointed that Glenda was not  back yet, but he said nothing.  He
put the plates down and then left.
     I dumped  the awful food and dipped  the plates, doing my best to  keep
calm. But pretty soon I  was out of dishes to  wash. I used the dirty rag to
wipe off all  the plates  and stack  them, then I  wiped off the  counter as
well. After I was done I  couldn't  think of anything else to do, so  I went
back out to the bar.
     "My friend came in a few minutes ago," I said. He looked as if he might
cry, so I went quickly on with my lie.
     "She said she will be back in about an hour with your surprise."
     That brightened him right up again.
     "You want to check what I have done back there?"
     "Nope," he said, smiling. "Everything  is even with  you  as far as I'm
concerned."
     "Great grub you got here," I said, patting my stomach  and then tipping
my hat.
     "Thanks,   partner,"  he  said,  smiling  and  showing  me   the   same
ugly-looking teeth the woman had. "Anytime. You come back now, ya hear?"
     "Sure will," I said, and headed out into the street.
     The sun was still cooking the hard center of the street, so I stayed on
the sidewalk, tipping my hat and saying "Howdy" to anyone who passed me. The
guy with the shovel must have  finished cleaning up the street, leaving only
the big piles of horse droppings as evidence of his work.
     It  hadn't  been much longer than fifteen minutes since Glenda had left
me, even though it felt  like an  eternity. There was no sign of her or Aahz
or Tanda.
     I kept moving, fighting down the  desire to shout out Aahz's name.  And
the desire to just run. I didn't know where I would run, but for some reason
running was a massive desire.
     I reached the edge of town  and stood on  the last board of the covered
sidewalk looking up the road that wound toward the cliff where we had hopped
into this dimension. I was sure Tanda and Aahz would come back for me.
     Unless, of course, Glenda had done something to them on
     Vortex #6.
     I didn't want to think about that. If that happened,  I was going to be
stuck right here for a very long time.
     There was no sign of anyone  on the road coming down the hill. I turned
and headed back up the sidewalk, doing  my "Howdy" bit to anyone who passed,
with the hit-tipping routine added in. When I reached the  other end of town
and the end of the shaded sidewalk, I  stared off into the distance to where
the road vanished into some low hills.
     Then I turned around and started back.
     At the moment there was nothing else left for me to do.
     I managed to walk  the entire  length  of the town six  times before  I
decided that  my behavior  might attract  attention I  didn't  want.  When I
reached the end of the sidewalk again, on the end of town where we had first
entered, I sat down with my back to the wall.
     Overhead the sun was slowly dropping.  It didn't  look like it would be
more than a few hours before it set. Then what would I do?
     I didn't have a clue.
     The  question as to  why Aahz and  Tanda  hadn't  come  back for me yet
bothered me  a  lot. I  figured that with  my washing dishes and pacing  the
length of  the town, a good two hours had gone by. The  pacing had helped me
some, allowing me to work off some of the panic and  fear. For the moment it
felt as if my mind was working pretty clear again, and I was proud of myself
for how well I  had done so far. I just hoped I would have a chance to  tell
Aahz and Tanda and let them be proud of me.
     I stared out at the empty road. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck
on  a  vegetarian  planet with  some  weird,  hat-tipping people who  didn't
believe in money.
     Down the street a  couple  people  looked at me, seeming almost shocked
because I was  sitting on the  sidewalk. I stood, tipped my hat at them, and
leaned against  the  building instead. They smiled as if I were now suddenly
all right, and went about their business. For the next few  minutes I stared
out at the  empty road leading off toward the rock cliffs, trying  to decide
what to do. Should I walk back up there or stay right where I was?
     What would I  do  if I got to  the cliff face  and they weren't  there,
which was likely? It would be almost dark by then and I  would have to spend
the night out in the wild. And, for some reason, that idea didn't sit well.
     And what would I do if they never came back here? Should I head for the
city with  the golden cow in it? I remembered enough from  the map that  the
city's name was Dodge. I could work my way there, given time.
     I'd make that decision if Aahz and Tanda didn't come  back, Right now I
just  needed to make sure  Aahz and Tanda  could  find me when  they did get
here.  This little town was where they had left me;  this  was  where  I was
going  to  stay. At  least for the immediate future, however long that might
be. If Glenda had managed to  do something  awful to Aahz and Tanda, I would
face that problem later. Much later.  And somehow make  sure Glenda paid for
her sins.
     With one  last look  at  the empty  road, I turned and  headed  back to
Audry's.  At  least  there I could  sit in the window and  watch  the street
without being obvious.
     The music was still coming from what looked like a  piano,  even though
the place was empty.  The guy behind the bar smiled at me, then frowned when
Glenda didn't follow me in the door.
     I decided I needed to have him on my side. I walked up to the bar.
     "Has my friend been back here yet?"
     "No,"  he said. "You ain't  found her?" There  was instant worry in his
question.
     "Haven't seen her since I left here earlier," I said. "Been walking the
length of your fine town looking for her."
     "I was a wonderin' what  you were doin'," he said.  "Can't imagine what
might have happened to her, though. The  full moon is still  a few days off,
so the round-up couldn't have taken her. At least not yet."
     I  desperately  wanted to  ask him what  the full  moon had to do  with
anything, and what a round-up was, but he said both so matter-of-factly that
I knew I would blow my cover if I asked.
     "Yeah, couldn't be that." I said instead.
     "She  was askin' about horses,"  he said. "Maybe she got one and headed
down the road?"
     I shook my head. "I checked. She  didn't. Mind if I just sit over there
and wait?"
     "Not at all," he said,  reaching down and grabbing  a  glass.  Before I
could think of a reason to stop him  that sounded good, he poured me another
glass of the carrot juice.
     "On  me," he said, sliding the glass  toward  me  across the bar. "Just
tell your friend when you see her that she still owes me a surprise."
     "Oh, trust me," I said. "When  she promises a surprise, she always pays
off."
     He didn't know how truthful that statement was.
     He  beamed at  that and I took my glass of juiced carrots and went over
and sat down so I could see out the window. The  shadows  were  growing long
and  the  heat  was  leaving the main street of Evade. It looked  as  if the
nights in this area were pretty chilly. I was glad I hadn't decided to go up
to the cliffs just for that reason.
     Let alone whatever a round-up was.
     I took a sip of the carrot juice  just  to quench  my  thirst, than sat
back and watched the few people still out on the street. They all  seemed to
have tasks and walked purposefully, tipping their hats to each other.
     An hour  later  I  had  managed to sip down almost half  a glass of the
juice.
     My bartender  friend was looking a little worried, and the shadows were
almost completely across the street. I figured there wasn't much more than a
half-hour until sunset.
     "I'm afraid I got to close up, you know," he  said finally after pacing
back and forth a few times near the bar.  "You got a place to  bunk for  the
night?"
     I  assumed  bunk meant sleep, so  I  said, "No,  haven't  given it much
thought."
     He looked shocked. It was as if I'd told him I'd killed his mother. His
mouth opened, then closed, then opened again, but no words came out.
     One of the main buildings right in the center of town had a sign  on it
that said Hotel Evade, so I tried to cover.
     "Just figuring on stopping  in the hotel. Sure hope they got rooms, now
that you mention it."
     He looked relieved. "I'm sure they do," he said. "That's the law."
     He laughed and I laughed  with him, even though I had  no  idea what he
was talking about.
     "Thanks for the drink,"  I said,  sliding the glass across the table to
him and standing.  "I guess it is getting dark enough for me  to get going."
The promise of me leaving had him back to his old happy self.
     "I'm sure your friend will get inside all right," he said, "Maybe she's
already  at  the  hotel. When you  see her tomorrow, bring her  by here  for
breakfast."
     "It'll  be my pleasure,"  I said. "And  your surprise." He  laughed.  I
laughed.
     Then I stepped out onto the sidewalk.  He slammed and latched  the door
behind me, bolting it as  if a thousand thugs were  going to try to break it
down. Then the shutters on the inside of the window closed.
     The shadows were  long on the street and there wasn't a person in sight
anywhere. Every window was shuttered, every door closed.  The sound of music
that had come  from a few  different establishments was now replaced  by the
silence of the coming darkness. My stomach started to clamp up, not from the
little bit of carrot juice, but from worry. Something very major happened at
night  on  this dimension.  I didn't  know  what it  might  be,  but it  was
something that made this town bolt its  doors and  get off the street before
the sun went down. And if I was smart, I would do the same thing.
     I walked to the end of  town and  looked  up the road  toward the  rock
cliffs.  In  the  fading light there wasn't a soul on the road. Finding Aahz
and Tanda would have to wait until tomorrow.
     But  I had a  feeling that, with every  hour, finding them was going to
become less and less likely.
     I  turned and  headed down the sidewalk toward the hotel. The  door was
closed and shutters were  covering the  windows, but when  I pounded a  very
nice  woman behind the  desk let me in. She didn't ask for anything, or even
suggest something I could do  to pay for my room. She just said it was lucky
I got  it when I did, then showed me a comfortable room on the second  floor
with a window that was bolted dosed and the shutters drawn tight.
     There was a bed, a small water basin on a dresser, and an indoor toilet
down the hall.
     I thanked her and she went away.
     I checked to see if I  could open  the shutters, but they were  secured
solidly. Whatever was going to happen tonight, I  wasn't going to be able to
see it from this window.
     I  lay down on the fairly comfortable bed, not  even bothering  to take
off my clothes.
     Images of Tanda and  Aahz floated through my  mind. If  Glenda had done
something to them on Vortex #6 there wasn't a darn thing I could do to help.
I was  stuck  here, without the ability  to hop dimensions, in a world where
everyone ate vegetables and was afraid to go out at night.
     Even though there wasn't a sound from outside, it  was a very  long and
sleepless night in that little room.
     Chapter Seven
     "You can't go home again."
     PRINCESS LEIA
     At the first sign of light through the shutters, I went downstairs. The
sun was barely up, the shadows still long in the street, yet  the front door
to  the hotel was wide open  and all  the  shutters on  the windows had been
retracted. These  people  didn't  like  the  night,  that  was for  sure.  I
desperately  wanted to  ask them  what they were  afraid of, but  there just
wasn't a way to ask the question without giving away  the fact that I didn't
belong  here, in this dimension.  And at the moment I had enough problems to
face without bringing more down on my head. Aahz had always told me to solve
one thing at a time.
     The problem I had right now was that I wasn't sure I could solve any of
my problems.
     I went  down the street to Audry's, tipping my hat to the  guy with the
shovel who  was back in  the street  picking up  after  the horses.  My  old
bartender  friend and employer from yesterday had  the door to  Audry's open
and the shutters retracted. I was the first customer.
     "Didn't find her, huh?" he asked as I entered.
     "She must  have got sidetracked and  stayed  with  a friend,"  I  said.
"She'll show up pretty soon, I bet."
     He winked. "Yeah, pretty women can lose track of time."
     I didn't want to think about how he came up with that.
     I had decided about halfway through the night that I was  so hungry,  I
could even eat old veggies.
     "Mind  if  I have  a small  breakfast  and  a  glass of  your wonderful
beverage?"
     "You bet," he said, pouring me some of the carrot juice.
     I looked at the glass of  orange  liquid.  Given  enough time  I  might
actually only loathe the stuff.
     "You're lucky  this  morning," he said. "Just got a fresh wagon-load of
the best from the fields."
     "Terrific," I said.
     He vanished back into the  kitchen and I took up my seat at the window,
taking  a  sip  of the juice.  It wasn't as  bad  as  I  remembered it  from
yesterday, but I was sure that was because I was another day hungry. From my
seat at the table I could see the entire street and all the activity along a
part of it. If Aahz and Tanda came down the Main Street, I'd know it.
     The  bartender brought me a  small plate of veggies  that were actually
hard  and fresh. I was shocked  and  managed to eat them all  over  the next
three  hours, plus  finish  the  entire glass of carrot juice.  Surprisingly
enough, after that I was no longer hungry.
     But I was a lot more worried about ever seeing Aahz and Tanda again.
     After another hour I decided that I was going  to  head back up  to the
cliffs. I offered to wash the plates and  clean up the kitchen to pay for my
breakfast, but my  bartender friend  told  me  to come back later, have some
dinner, and do  it  then.  I agreed, hoping I'd never see him or his kitchen
again.
     It took just over an  hour in the mid-day heat to walk up  the  road to
where we had first arrived in this  dimension.  I  didn't meet anyone on the
road, and the air was so hot and silent near the cliffs, it felt as if I was
walking through my own tomb.
     I shook myself off and tried not to let my thoughts go to the dark side
of this.
     I moved  over to the rocks where we had hidden to watch the two guys go
by. My head was sweating under my hat so that  when I reached the shade near
the cliff I took it off.
     I  was setting  my  hat on a rock  when I saw the glint of metal tucked
down in a crack in the rock. I glanced around, but no one was watching, so I
leaned down and looked closer,  not believing my eyes. There, tucked into an
opening in one  rock, was a short metal cylinder, like nothing I had seen in
this dimension so far. It was the D-Hopper.
     I  carefully pulled it out,  noticing that a folded piece of paper came
with it. The map!
     For some reason Aahz and Tanda had  left me the D-Hopper  and  the map.
More than likely they had suspected Glenda, while I had been too blind  with
lust or love to see anything.
     I looked at  the D-Hopper  to  make sure I  wasn't hallucinating in the
heat. It  was real. I held it up like an idol and did a little  dance of joy
right there behind the rock. For the first time I had  some options. I could
do something instead of  just waiting and hoping. The relief was almost more
than I could take.
     "Slow down  and think,"  I  said to  myself, hearing Aahz's voice in my
head as clearly as if he were standing beside me.
     I took a few deep breaths of the hot air and looked out over the valley
toward the town below. If Aahz and Tanda had walked up here to hide this for
me, Glenda had beat  them back to Vortex  #6. And  more  than likely she had
gotten the jump  on them,  which was what had kept them from coming back for
me.
     That thought  took all the excitement out of  the moment.  I just hoped
they were still alive. Glenda didn't  strike me as being bloodthirsty, but I
had been wrong about her before. More than likely if she considered Aahz and
Tanda competition  in  getting the treasure, she  would do something to stop
them. She hadn't considered me a problem.
     But something had stopped  them  from coming back, that much was clear.
They were the ones  that now needed rescuing, not me. The  tables had turned
and I needed to make sure I did  this  right.  The life  of my friends might
depend on it.
     I tucked the map in my pouch and sat  on the  rock with the D-Hopper on
my lap, trying to  make myself think what  I needed to do next. The D-Hopper
was set for Vortex #6. That was good, but if I went there, and couldn't find
Aahz and Tanda, could I get back here? At  least here I could live on carrot
juice and  bad veggies. I didn't give  myself much of a chance on Vortex #6,
even with increased magik powers in that dimension.
     I had a slight working knowledge of the D-Hopper  from carrying one  on
the shopping trip with Tanda. There was a place on the D-Hopper that set the
current dimension as a return point. I carefully looked over  the  cylinder,
then without changing the setting for Vortex #6, I set the current dimension
as a return point.
     I double, then  triple-checked  myself. If I triggered  the  D-Hopper I
would jump to Vortex #6. If I triggered it again, I would jump back to  this
spot.
     Okay, that problem was solved.
     I stood and  was about to hop when I remembered what I  might be  going
into.
     "Stop and think," I said aloud, again with Aahz's voice echoing through
my head.
     With luck, the D-Hopper would put me back  into the cabin,  but in case
it didn't, I needed to be ready.
     What happened if  Glenda  was still there with them? I needed something
to fight her with. I picked up a good-sized rock that fit nicely in my hand.
It wasn't much, but it might be enough if it came to a fight.
     "Okay," I said aloud. "Anything else?"
     I couldn't think of anything. And  in the heavy coat  I was starting to
sweat more than I had before.
     "Think,  then act,"  I said,  repeating  what Aahz  had said a  hundred
times. "It's time to act."
     With one last look at the town of Evade down in  the valley,  I took  a
deep breath and triggered the D-Hopper.
     The storm slammed into me like a hammer.  I tucked the D-Hopper into my
shirt and focused  on how Tanda  had led us  the  other  three times to  the
cabin. The dust didn't let me see anything around me,  but I knew there were
some scattered trees. We had passed them the last two times.
     Tanda had  gone slightly downhill  and to the  right, so I figured  out
what  I  thought was directly downhill, then  angled a  little to the right,
counting my steps to make  sure that if I was on the wrong path, I could get
back.  After  twenty steps could see  the faint shape of  a tree. I was sure
that had been there the last time, so I kept going.
     Another  thirty  slogging  steps  and  another tree  loomed  out of the
blowing dust. I thought that had been there as well. So far so good.
     I kept moving for fifty more steps before I saw the faint light  in the
window of the cabin below me. I had almost missed it, walking too high-along
the hillside.
     I eased  my way down to the  cabin and tried to look in the window, but
the dirt and shades made it so that I couldn't see anything.
     It  looked  as if I was going to have to  go in, hard  and fast, like a
soldier going after a dangerous outlaw.
     I got to the door,  braced myself,  and eased open  the door latch then
shoved hard, the rock from Kowtow ready in my hand as I stumbled in.
     My momentum pushed me three  steps  into  the  room before I  caught my
balance and stopped. I had  the rock raised to hit at Glenda, who I expected
to be standing there, ready to fight me.
     She wasn't there.
     The cabin was warm and comfortable,  just like the last time I had seen
it.
     Tananda  and Aahz were sitting  at the  table, eating what smelled like
beef stew with slices of homemade bread.
     "Nice entrance," Tanda said, smiling at me. "What took you so long?"
     Aahz just shook his head.
     "Shut the door, would you?"
     I  stood there  with the  rock in  the  air over  my head,  not  really
believing what  I was seeing. I  had so convinced myself that Aahz and Tanda
were in trouble that I couldn't believe  that they were simply having  lunch
and waiting for me. Why  had they let me stay the  entire  day and  night in
Kowtow?
     Why had they chanced that I would even find the D-Hopper where they had
left it?
     "Door!" Aahz said. "You born in a barn or something?"
     Behind me the storm was raging, blowing dust into the  cabin. I lowered
the rock, tossed it out into the dust, and then closed the door.
     Tanda stood and came up to me, smiling.  "Aahz, I told you he'd make it
just fine," she  said, giving me  a hug that  convinced me that she was just
fine, and I wasn't dreaming all this.
     Aahz  snorted. "After  all the mooning over our friend Glenda, I didn't
think his brain would ever work again."
     I asked the one question I wanted to know most of all.
     "Why didn't you come back?"
     "We couldn't," Tanda said, patting me on the back and leading me to the
table, where she slid some bread toward me as I sat down.
     I stared  at my  mentor,  who was  just  eating  and  not  paying  much
attention  to me at the moment. He did that when he was very  angry  or very
happy, and at the moment I honestly didn't know which it was.
     "Stew?" she asked,  holding up a pot  of what was making the room smell
so good. "Glenda left us enough food to last for a few weeks at least."
     "Nice of her," Aahz said, the anger clearly there.
     "When you didn't come back for me I thought you were both dead."
     "We would have been  dead in four or five weeks," Aahz said. "When  the
food ran out."
     Tanda  served me  up a  dish  of the stew  and then sat down next to me
after patting my shoulder.
     "So  why couldn't  you come back?" I asked, not wanting to eat  until I
had some answers. "What happened?"
     "Well," Aahz said, still not looking at me, "we both knew Glenda was up
to something, and was going to try to double-cross us."
     "And we expected her to leave you on Kowtow," Tanda said.
     "You expected that?" I was stunned and suddenly angry.  "Why didn't you
at least warn me?"
     Aahz  looked  me  directly  in  the  eye.  "Would  you  have  listened,
apprentice?"
     "Yes," I said defensively.
     Now they both laughed.
     Clearly they thought I had been too  much under Glenda's spell. And the
more I thought about it, the more  I saw that they were right, at least to a
point.  When  Glenda  started  her act on the  bartender,  I  started to get
suspicious, but not enough to think it through.
     "You were the  closest to her, apprentice," Aahz said,  his voice stern
and in  lecture mode. "You  should have been warning us about  her,  not the
other way around."
     As normal, Aahz was right.
     "So what happened here?" I asked, trying to not admit I had been wrong,
even though we all knew I had been.
     "We headed up  to the rocks  and left  the D-Hopper and the map," Tanda
said, "then I jumped us here."
     "And right into Glenda's waiting arms,"  Aahz said.  "Just as  she  had
been planning."
     "She used a dimension-blocking  spell on me," Tanda said. "She searched
us for the D-Hopper, wished us both luck  when  she  couldn't find it or the
map, and hopped out."
     "I  assume she's  going after  the treasure," Aahz said. "And now she's
got a full day's start on  us."  So  what I had been  feeling from  Aahz was
anger,  both at me and at  the fact that we might  lose the  treasure, after
getting so close.
     "So what's a dimension block?"
     "A spell that keeps another person  from  jumping out of  a dimension,"
Aahz said.  "Some cultures use  it to imprison  people. It's a  pretty basic
spell."
     "That you haven't taught me yet," I said.
     He shrugged. "There's a lot  I haven't taught you. And after falling so
easily for this Glenda's  charms  and  smooth talk,  I'm not sure  if I ever
will."
     Tanda patted Aahz's green hand across the table.
     "Easy  on your apprentice. He's young  and full of hormones. He did get
back here, didn't he?"
     I  wanted  to  ask what  a  hormone  was,  but  figured  I'd  get  that
information  from  Tanda later, when Aahz wasn't around to  make  fun of  my
stupidity. He was disgusted enough with me as it was. And this time around I
agreed  with him. I shouldn't have been so  easily taken with Glenda.  She'd
given me a couple of compliments and I'd been putty in her hands.
     I looked at Tanda. "So once you jump out of here with the D-Hopper, the
spell is broken?"
     "Exactly," she said.
     "Finish up," Aahz said. "We've  given her enough of a head start  as it
is."
     "So how  do we get  the  treasure home once we  find it?" I asked, then
instantly  realized just how stupid my question was. It had been  Glenda who
had told us we were too far  from any of  our known worlds to  dimension-hop
safely. That had been another of Glenda's lies.
     Tanda shook her head. "I think  that's where Glenda got me. She blocked
my sense of dimensions  when we got near her. When we  jumped back here from
Kowtow,  into the  storm,  I could sense Vortex #4 and Vortex #2. We can get
home any time we want."
     My relief  at that, combined with  my relief at finding  Aahz and Tanda
all right, was more than I could handle. I stared at my stew, trying to make
myself eat  as  much of it as I could. Doing anything  else and I just might
fall apart completely.
     "So what did you do when she left you?" Tanda asked.
     I shrugged, making myself focus on what I had managed to do right.
     "Paid our bill by doing the  dishes so no one would be chasing me, then
explored the town to see what I could see, then sat and  waited,  staying in
the open so that you could find me."
     "And slept?" Aahz said, his voice sounding disgusted.
     "Not  really,"  I said. "I  got a  hotel  room because those people are
deathly  afraid of  being  outside  at  night.  And  of  something called  a
round-up."
     "Really?" Tanda asked.
     I glanced up from my stew. Even Aahz was now showing interest.
     "Yeah,  they bolt their doors and shutter every window, every night," I
said. "I  couldn't  think  of a  way  to ask  them what they were  afraid of
without tipping  my hand that I was  a demon.  And at that point I had other
problems to figure out, like what to do next if you two didn't come back."
     Aahz nodded. "So we need to be careful at night."
     "The bartender guy said the round-up was still a few days off, since it
wasn't the full moon yet."
     "I wonder what they're rounding up?" Tanda asked.
     "Or  who's doing the rounding?" Aahz added. "There's a lot to Kowtow we
don't know. You have the map?"
     "I sure do," I said, taking it out of my pocket and handing it to him.
     As  I did I had another realization. The map was magik. It hadn't shown
us  the right path to Kowtow until I  took  the magik out of it, but back on
Kowtow the magik had returned to the map.
     "Aahz," I said, smiling at my mentor, "you  know, don't you,  that  the
magik returned to the map when we reached Kowtow?"
     "Yeah," he said, almost sneering at me. "So? Glenda saw it as well."
     "Exactly,"  I said, smiling at my green mentor,  "Glenda  looked at the
map while we were in Evade. Right?"
     Suddenly Tanda burst out laughing, long and hard  and so loud I thought
she might hurt herself.
     I smiled at the puzzled expression on my mentor's face. Considering how
stupid I  had been lately, getting back on top and giving him some good news
felt good.
     "The  map  is  a puzzle,"  I said. "That basic nature of  the map won't
change just because we reached Kowtow."
     Suddenly the  light  in Aahz's eyes brightened and slowly a smile crept
over his green-scaled face.
     "Glenda has the wrong location."
     "Exactly," I said. "The map changes every  time we get  closer, just as
it did with dimensions. I'm betting it will do that on Kowtow as well."
     Aahz put the folded map back in his belt pouch and stood, suddenly in a
hurry.
     "Great thinking, Skeeve," he said. "Let's get back to Kowtow. Glenda is
going to come looking for us to get the map when she discovers she has wrong
information. And when she does, I want to be ready for her this time."
     I liked that idea a lot.
     Chapter Eight
     "Flying. It's the only way to travel!"
     B. HOLLY
     We arrived back at the cliff face on Kowtow with less than two hours of
daylight left. The day was still hot and dry, and nothing had changed in the
general  area  since I had left a few hours before. I  quickly disguised all
three of us again in the standard wear of the people of this dimension.
     We had packed some food and containers of water. Aahz didn't much  like
the  idea of  eating  vegetables. Pervects  were  mostly  meat-eaters.  Aahz
checked  over the  D-Hopper and then reset the dimension  and hid  it in his
shirt.
     "Ahh,  that feels  good," Tanda said,  stretching toward  the sun,  her
white hat tipped back, her large belt buckle glistening in the sun.
     "The heat?" I asked.
     "Nope. The dimension  block being lifted. Amazing how much you miss the
ability to hop after you've had it and then it's taken away."
     "Yeah, I know," Aahz said.
     "Oh, sorry, big guy," she said.
     "Gotten used to it," he said.
     I  couldn't even imagine how  Aahz felt, once being a powerful magician
and then having his powers taken away  from him because  of a practical joke
by  my previous mentor. My mentor had  been killed  before he could lift the
joke. Now Aahz  just had to wait for the joke to wear off and his  powers to
come back, which he said would take more time than I wanted to think about.
     Aahz unfolded  the  magik map and  laid it on  the top of  a rock so we
could all study it.
     The town of Evade was clearly marked as our starting point, with a road
leading from it to a town called Baker. In Baker  two roads split off to two
other  towns, then two  roads left each of those towns. Eventually  a few of
the roads led to Dodge, where it was marked that the treasure was.
     Where Glenda was heading.
     But was  the golden-milk-giving cow there? I was betting  it wasn't.  I
was  betting  the  map would change  when we reached Baker. And then keep on
changing with every city after that until we finally found the right city.
     Glenda was going to be angry, and it served her right. I didn't want to
see what Aahz would do to her the next time he  saw her. Pervects are not to
be  messed  with,  and she had left him to die on  a  frozen planet. What he
would do to her wasn't going to be pretty.
     "So we're back needing  horses," Aahz said, tracing along the distances
between the towns. Then he looked at me. "Unless you think your flying spell
is good enough here to work for us."
     Flying wasn't the strongest of my magik, but it was  one of  the things
Aahz had  trained  me to do first. It  had saved us from a hanging and a few
other  tight spots in  our last few adventures. But I wasn't sure if I could
lift all three of us and carry us any distance.
     "I  can  try," I said,  wishing I hadn't said those words the  moment I
heard them come out of my mouth.
     "Concentrate," Aahz said, going into  teacher mode.  "Search  for  your
lines of power and use them, pull them in, let them flow through you."
     "You can do it, Skeeve," Tanda said.
     I wasn't so sure. Each place had power lines, invisible things that all
magicians got  their energy from. Some places, like the area of the cabin in
Vortex  #6 were jam-packed with power. Back at the  cabin I could have flown
fifty people, but  here there wasn't much magik power.  In fact,  it  seemed
almost empty.
     I stretched out my mind, holding  onto the power that I could feel, and
then concentrating on bringing it in and using it to lift all three of us. A
moment later we all were off the ground and into the hot air.
     "Not too high," Aahz warned. "Keep us just three or four  paces off the
ground."
     I was glad to do that, because it was easier. And much safer to boot. I
lowered  all  three of  us back to  a  position just  above the top  of  the
boulders and held  us there for  a few  moments  to make sure I could do it,
then I lowered us back to where we had started.
     When I let us go I could feel the energy drain away. I was sweating and
short of breath and needed a drink of water, but at least I had done it.
     "Nice job," Tanda  said, handing me a canister of  water.  "How long do
you think you could keep that up?" Aahz asked,  watching me with a look that
I knew meant he could see through any extra bragging I might try.
     "Honestly, I  don't  know," I  said  after  I took a long drink of  the
wonderfully cold liquid. "With rests,  and touching each of you as I  do it,
maybe fifteen minutes at a time. The  lines of power are weak  in this area.
They may be stronger in other areas and then I could last longer."
     Aahz nodded, seemingly satisfied with my answer. He turned to Tanda.
     "Can you do a cushion spell, in case he drops us?"
     "Not a problem," Tanda said.
     "What do  we do if someone sees us?" I asked. "I'm  not sure that I can
do a bird disguise spell as well as keeping us flying."
     "We're  not  going to  worry about that,"  Aahz said. Clearly he didn't
think I could either.
     "We'll walk when we see someone," Tanda said, staring at the town below
us in the valley. "Just keep us close to the ground and over a road."
     I nodded. "Whenever you're ready."
     "Good," Aahz said. "Take us  down to Evade, we'll walk through town and
out the other side."
     I nodded, glancing at how low the sun was getting in the sky. We'd have
to deal with where we were going to stay later.
     I doubted that Aahz would want  to  stay in Evade. With luck we'd reach
Baker, and they'd have a hotel there as well.
     I moved over and stood between Aahz and Tanda, putting a hand  on  each
of their arms. Then I concentrated on  taking in what power I could find and
lifting us about a pace off the ground.
     "Hold on to your hats," I said as we lifted into the air.
     I floated  us down to the  road  and then picked up speed,  skimming us
toward Evade a lot  faster  than  even a running horse  could take us. To an
outsider we must have  looked very strange. Three  strangers  seeming  to be
just standing, but moving along the road at a very fast clip.
     After  only two  minutes I was starting to feel  the wear, but before I
had to stop Aahz said, "I think we're close enough now."
     What had cost me an hour of walking earlier had only taken two or three
minutes of flying. Why hadn't I thought of that this morning?
     I slowed and put us down at a normal walking pace. The moment I  let go
of the power I stumbled, but Tanda  kept me from falling on my  face. It was
as  if every bit of  energy had been drained from  my muscles,  leaving them
weak and noodle-like. "You'll be fine in  a  moment,"  Aahz said, keeping us
walking at a good pace toward the now close edge of town.
     He  was right.  A few  more  steps  and I was sweating  like a  dam had
broken, but I was able to walk.
     Tanda gave me some more water, and that  brought even more of my energy
back.  I was starting to  believe that I  could do this.  And  flying,  even
though it tired me out, was a lot better than riding horses, let alone doing
the job it would take to pay for one.
     We  got into town as people were starting  to close up their businesses
and shutter the windows.
     "You weren't kidding, were you?" Tanda said as  we walked down  the now
mostly deserted sidewalk.
     "They're afraid  of something that comes out at night," I said. "I have
no idea what it might be."
     As we passed in  front  of Audry's, my friend the bartender  waved from
inside the  window.  I tipped my  hat back  at him.  These  people might  be
strange vegetarians who were afraid of the dark, but they sure were nice. We
passed the hotel without Aahz  even  hesitating.  And I didn't  say anything
either. The last thing I wanted to let  my mentor know was that the fear the
locals felt had gotten  to me as well  during my one-night stay here. On the
other side of town we stepped off the sidewalk and just kept walking, past a
few  homes with  the shutters already drawn  and bolted. Ten  minutes later,
with the sun still not touching the tops of the hills to the west, Aahz gave
the all-clear.
     Again I  touched  each  of  them, pulled in the power, and  lifted  us,
sending  us down the  road as fast as I dared take us, considering  I had to
make sharp corners and steep hills.
     This time I lasted  ten minutes before I had to stop. Water and a quick
rest got me going again, just as the sun  started to set. From what I  could
tell, we were a  long way yet from Baker. It was  getting noticeably cooler,
which was also helping me.
     "Can you keep going?" Tanda asked  as  I stopped for a second  time and
sat down on a rock beside the road.
     "We're  making  good  speed,"  Aahz  said, clearly  satisfied with  our
progress.
     "We are," Tanda said, "but this is hard on Skeeve."
     "I can keep going," I said, taking one more drink and then standing. "I
just need to rest every ten minutes or so."
     "Understandable," Aahz said. "For someone of your level of skill."
     "For  someone  of  any level,"  Tanda said,  stepping  to  my  defense.
"There's not much power in this area. He's having to pull from a ways off."
     "That true?" Aahz asked me.
     "It is," I said. "But I said I can keep going and I can."
     "Then we go  when you're  ready," Aahz said. "We  don't have much light
left and we won't be able to make the speed we are making now at night."
     It was clear we were going to spend a  night outside on Kowtow and face
what an entire population was afraid to face.
     Aahz didn't seem to be worried.
     Tanda had said nothing.
     I was just the apprentice. What place was it for me to say anything?
     In the west the sun was slowly setting. In the east an almost full moon
was starting  to come up over the horizon. In a few days the full moon would
signal another fear in the people who lived here: the round-up.
     I pushed the thoughts and fears from my mind, focused on bringing in as
much power as I  could, then lifted  us knee-high off the ground and  headed
down the road as fast as I could take us.
     The sun had  almost  set completely by the  time I stopped for my  next
break. There was still no sign of the town of Baker.
     Okay, I'm the first to admit when I'm being stupid, if it's pointed out
to me. Luckily  I had had enough common sense to not tell Aahz and Tanda how
worried I was about the darkness, so they didn't get the chance to point any
of my stupidity when we ran into no problems at all after it turned dark.
     The first  part of the trip was fairly easy. It took me three more rest
stops,  and,  it was well after the sun had set by the time we got to Baker.
The town was  buttoned  up tighter than  anything  I  had  ever seen. In the
moonlight the buildings looked haunted and  strange, more like monster-boxes
than structures. Very little light got  past  any of  the shutters,  but the
almost-full moon was giving us enough light to see by to stay on the road.
     Baker looked  to be  about twice the size of Evade,  and was spread out
over  more than just a Main Street. It was tucked into a small valley,  with
flat farmland going off in both directions from it.
     We  walked into town, following  the  road and staying  off  the wooden
sidewalks so that we wouldn't make any  noise. The town was just flat empty.
Not even a horse had been left outside. Nothing was moving, and as far as we
could tell, nothing lived here, even though we knew better.
     "This is very strange," Tanda said as we got  near the  center of town.
"How boring  would it be to go to bed when the  sun set  every night? I'd go
stark-raving crazy in a matter of days."
     Tanda was the kind of  person that always  had  to be  doing something:
going on adventures, shopping, or partying. I had no doubt that it  wouldn't
take her days to go crazy here.
     "I just wonder what  they are afraid of,"  Aahz said. He pointed to one
building. "Those shutters  look as if they could take a pretty good pounding
and still hold."
     "It  was the same way in Evade," I said. "But I was awake all night and
never heard a sound from outside."
     "More than likely  this is just an old custom," Tanda  said, "and we're
still so far out in the sticks, away from any larger cities, that the custom
remains."
     "Are there larger cities in this dimension?" I asked.
     "Who  knows?"  Aahz  said. "Just  stay  alert and  watch  for  anything
unusual."
     He didn't have to tell  me to  do  that, since I was  already  on  full
alert. And even  though flying, combined with no sleep the night before, had
me exhausted, I doubted I could sleep now even if I wanted to try.
     Aahz found a sliver of light coming from the  shutters of one store and
stopped. He unfolded the  map and we gathered  around, trying to be as quiet
as we could while we looked for our next destination.
     "You were right, Skeeve," Aahz whispered, patting me on the back.
     The map had changed.
     Baker, the  city we  were standing in, was now  the focal point of  the
map, and two roads led  toward two other towns from  Baker. The treasure was
now marked in a town  called Silver City. Dodge City wasn't even on the map.
Glenda was going  to be mad. I  wished I could be there when she  discovered
how stupid she had been.
     "So which way do we go?" Tanda asked.
     The two  towns  next in  line from Baker were named Bank and Keep. Both
looked to be about the same distance from here, but Bank was to the right in
the north and Keep was to the left in the south.
     "Bank," I said, before I even realized the word was out of my mouth.
     "Why?"  Aahz  asked,  staring at  me, his intense  eyes  scary  in  the
semi-dark.
     "I don't know,"  I said. "It just seems right, and starts with the same
letter as Baker."
     Tanda laughed, but had the decency to not say anything.
     Aahz just shook his head, folded up the map and put it away.
     "Bank it is," he said, moving  out  into the middle  of the street  and
walking on toward the west end of town.
     "I could be wrong," I said, walking between him and Tanda.
     "More than likely," Aahz said.
     "So why go with my suggestion?"
     "Because I have none better to offer."
     "Neither do I,"  Tanda  said.  "Besides, if you're  wrong, we can blame
you."
     "Terrific!" I said. "As if I don't get in enough trouble as it is."
     Both Aahz  and Tanda chuckled, but said  nothing the rest of the way to
the edge of town.
     It was easy to  find the road  to Bank. At a fork in the road a hundred
paces outside of the main  part of town there was a sign, clear and readable
even in the moonlight, pointing to the right.
     Aahz glanced around, then turned to me. "Ready?"
     "Sure," I said.
     "Keep  it  slower than before," Aahz said. "We don't want to  run  into
anything out here."
     I concentrated on the power coming into my body,  easier here than back
near Evade. When I had enough I lifted us slightly off the ground and headed
down the road. Outside of town  the  road was straight, running between what
looked like  pastures, and even  in  the moonlight I could get us  up  to  a
pretty decent speed.
     In the pastures along both sides of the road animals were grazing. When
I  finally had to stop to rest, a number of the grazing animals looked up at
us,  big eyes glowing in the moonlight. They almost looked surprised to  see
us.
     "Cows," Tanda said, pointing at the large  creatures staring at us from
the field.
     They looked fat and heavy, with white and dark areas over their bodies.
In  the half-darkness, they seemed almost  sinister with their  big eyes and
long ears.
     "So how come they aren't inside like everything else?" I asked as Tanda
gave me more water and a little bit of a snack to eat.
     "You're asking me?" she said.  "Maybe they're not bothered  by whatever
worries the people around here."
     That made sense, in an odd sort of way.
     "Maybe they  are what worries the residents,"  I said, staring into the
deep pits of eyes of the closest cow.
     Both  Aahz and Tanda laughed  as if that  was the funniest  thing I had
ever said.
     I didn't see what was so funny. Cows looked nasty to me, and I couldn't
imagine trying to get milk, golden or not, from any of the ones I could see.
     By the  time I  was  rested  enough to get us  farther down the road, a
bunch of the nearby cows had sauntered over and were gathering near the road
watching  what  we were doing. It was creepy,  and I was glad  to get on the
way.
     From that point onward there were cattle along the road watching us, as
if something had told them we were coming.  When I asked Aahz what made them
do that, he said he didn't know. He'd never seen cattle act that way.
     Tanda said she hadn't either.
     That answer didn't comfort me at all.
     I kept us going longer and longer, not wanting to rest and have all the
cows gather  close to us. By  the time the sun came up I had flown us to the
edge of  Bank City. I was exhausted and was going to have to get a few hours
sleep before we went on.
     At first light, the  moment the sun peeked over the  edge of the nearby
mountains, the cows stopped watching us and went back to grazing.
     For some reason that bothered me a lot more than them staring at us.
     Chapter Nine
     "It's an acquired taste."
     H. LECHTER
     I was so tired that even the short walk into the center  of the town of
Bank darned near  killed me. All I wanted to do was fall  down and sleep, at
least  for a few hours. Aahz promised me that  was going to be possible very
soon, so I limped along with them.
     The merchants were  opening up  the stores  and  the  shutters  had all
disappeared from the windows. Horses  pulling wagons were lined up outside a
few  stores,  and,  just like in Evade, a guy  wearing a hat and  carrying a
shovel was  going around  cleaning up  after  the horses. Clearly that was a
standard job  in  every  town.  I  couldn't  imagine a kid wanting to be the
horse-poop  cleaner when he grew up. But maybe in this culture, that was the
top job.
     Bank  looked a lot like Evade,  just bigger. The buildings were all the
same size, and there were wooden sidewalks.
     We found a small establishment  like the one Glenda had left me in, and
sat down  at a  table near  the front window. We  were the only ones  in the
place. It felt  great to be  off  my feet and not moving. I might be able to
sleep right there in the chair if they let me.
     As  I looked  around I  realized this  place  was  almost  identical to
Audry's in Evade, with  the bar  down  the left side  and  wooden tables and
chairs.
     "What can I  get for ya,  folks?" A man asked as  he came out  from the
back room.
     He was just like  the  guy in Evade, right down  to the white apron and
the dirty towel.
     "Could we trouble you for just one glass of your best juice?" I asked.
     "Not a  problem at  all," he said, smiling. "You want some breakfast, I
just got a fresh load in this very morning. Good and crisp."
     "Sounds great," I said, "maybe later. But I think first we just want to
sit a spell."
     The guy  came  back with  the carrot juice drink and slid it  onto  the
table with a smile before he headed back into the kitchen area.
     "You've picked up the lingo pretty well," Tanda said. "A night alone in
a place do that for you?"
     "I  suppose," I said, taking a  sip of the juice. "Isn't it  creepy how
all these people seem the same from town to town?"
     "I  was noticing  that as  well,"  Tanda said. "The guy shoveling  dung
looks just like every other guy I've seen shoveling dung."
     Aahz  laughed and I just stared at her, too tired to even try to figure
out what she had just said.
     "I  wonder why there's no milk," Aahz said, staring at the carrot juice
with a look of disgust on his face.
     "I don't think you want to  ask, even if they  had any," I said. "I was
in  a kitchen  of one  of these  places, and  there  was  nothing  there but
veggies, and not a clean surface in the room."
     "Ughh," Tanda said.  "More  than likely you  could  get us arrested for
even thinking of drinking milk in a dimension full of cows."
     "You  two have  far too active an imagination," Aahz said  as he pulled
out the map and opened it.
     Again it had changed.
     I  kept  sipping my carrot juice as  I studied the parchment. Bank, the
town  we were in, was the main town on the map now. And the treasure was now
located in a city  called  Placer.  Three  roads left Bank and headed off in
three directions, all, in  one fashion or another, getting to Placer after a
few more towns.
     "Now which way?" I asked, staring at our options.
     They were towns called Chip, Pie,  and Biscuit. Weird names. Everything
about this dimension was starting to seem weird to me.
     Tanda pointed to one of the towns. "Following Skeeve's plan of going to
towns that start with the letter B, we head for Biscuit."
     "Sounds good to me," I said.
     Aahz just shook his head in amazement.
     "As good as any, I suppose."
     He studied the map for a moment  more  and then folded it up and put it
away.
     Biscuit was on  the road that stayed north going out  the  west side of
Bank. I  doubted it would be hard to  find. I  took  another sip while Tanda
wrinkled her nose at my drink and me.
     "It's an  acquired taste,"  I said, realizing what  I was  doing. I had
finished almost half the glass.
     I offered the rest to her, but she shook her head.
     "No, thanks. Not in a million years."
     I shrugged and took  another drink. The  stuff wasn't bad  at all, once
you got past the initial taste of smashed and juiced carrots.
     "So how you feeling?" Aahz asked.
     "He's going to have to rest," Tanda said, not letting me answer.
     "I know that," Aahz said. "I was just wondering how we were going to do
that. We  don't dare go back to the cabin because  Glenda  might be there. I
don't want to deal with her just yet. So we have to find some private spot."
     "Actually,"  I said, stopping the  fight before  it got  started,  "I'm
feeling pretty good. A  little juice  here and some time sitting  down and I
think I can go again for a while."
     Tanda looked into the orange liquid.
     "What did they put in there?"
     "You know," I said, looking at the juice, "I don't know, but it  really
is helping."
     We sat for another ten  minutes while I finished off  the carrot juice,
then I went over and asked how I could pay the man for the drink.
     "Come back for a dinner," he said. "That's payment enough."
     I  thanked him for  his hospitality. I had  no idea how  this bartering
system in this dimension worked, but it sure made everyone friendly.
     We  headed  toward the  west end of town, walking down the sidewalk and
tipping our hats at the smiling people  we met. I felt great again. Drinking
that  juice was like getting a good night's sleep. I had no idea what was in
one besides carrots, but I could easily get hooked on them.
     It wasn't going to be a problem taking the wrong road because there was
a sign saying  Biscuit and a big arrow at the fork  in the roads.  Around us
were buildings and homes and  several hundred of  head of cattle grazing, so
we started off walking, going slow and steady as the sun got hotter.
     Finally, after maybe a mile, we were  far enough out in  the country to
not chance being seen flying.
     "You sure you're all right?" Aahz asked.
     "Never felt better," I said.
     "You  know,  at  the next town, I'm trying  some of that juice,"  Tanda
said.
     As I reached out with my mind searching for power, it became clear that
we were in an area much more powerful than where we had started. It was easy
for me to get  enough to lift the three of us  knee-high off the  ground and
whisk us along.
     We had  to stop  flying and walk a half dozen times  over the next  few
hours when we  saw people coming, or a house was  too close to the road. And
we must have  passed at least a  million  cows along the  way.  Not one  had
actually looked at  us. And not once did  I have to actually  sit  down  and
rest.
     Amazing juice.
     By the time we reached Biscuit, it was mid-afternoon and I was starting
to get tired again. We found a place to sit in  a bar that looked  just like
Audry's and the one in Bank. Now  all  of us were  growing  bothered  by the
similar nature of the  places. I  wanted to run from the bar when a  man who
looked a  lot  like the previous two, down  to  wearing  a  white  apron and
carrying a dirty rag, came out of the kitchen and asked us what we wanted.
     "Just two glasses of your finest," I said.
     "Sure you  all don't want an  early dinner?"  he  asked. "I just got  a
fresh load from the fields. Really crisp. We  all need our energy, you know,
with the round-up coming."
     I glanced at Aahz, then Tanda, then answered the guy's question.
     "After we sit awhile we just might."
     He smiled  real big,  like I had  said the  right  thing, then went and
brought us our juice. He had disappeared into the back room before any of us
said anything.
     "So someone want to explain to me what's going on?" Tanda asked.
     "I've  never  seen anything like this,"  Aahz  said. "I thought you two
were just  imagining things at  the  last stop.  But these three  places are
almost identical."
     "Are  we going in circles or  something?" I asked. "Is it possible that
all these towns are the same one?"
     "No, there're different sizes and shapes and in different countryside,"
Tanda said.
     "No  doubt we're in different towns," Aahz  said, "all built, it seems,
off the same pattern, with the same kind of people living in them."
     "Okay," Tanda said, "now I can safely say I've seen it all."
     "Not yet," I said. 'We've still got the round-up, whatever that is. And
a golden cow."
     Tanda nodded and looked at Aahz with a serious face.
     "I'm starting to think this treasure isn't worth what we're risking."
     Aahz looked at her as if she had gone crazy.
     "Are you kidding? We've come this far. Only a few more towns to go."
     She nodded,  but I  could tell  as I  sipped my juice that  this entire
dimension was  bothering Tanda a  great  deal. And in  the  time I had known
Tanda, I had never seen anything bother her.
     Aahz glanced to make sure the guy was still in the kitchen, then opened
up  the  map and spread it on the table. As every other time, it had changed
again.
     This  time, we had four roads  to pick from, and all the towns  started
with the letter "B".  Brae was the southern most, then there was Brawn, then
Bent, and finally, to the north, Bethel. The golden treasure  was marked  as
being in a place called Donner.
     "Well, so much for that system," I said.
     "And it was working, too," Aahz said.
     "You know, maybe I could drain off the magik from the map again." I had
just finished my entire glass of carrot juice and was feeling really, really
alive and well.
     Aahz glanced at the  kitchen door again, then asked me, "You feel up to
it?"
     "I feel like I'm getting stronger the farther we come," I said.
     "Let him try," Tanda said. "Might save us a lot of back-tracking."
     Aahz looked at me, then nodded. "Give it a shot."
     I took a  deep breath  and let my mind search out the power in the map.
For an instant I didn't think anything was going to  happen. Then I felt it.
The  power rushed through me from the map as I hastily directed  it into the
ground. My head spun for a second, and it was done. The  power  was gone and
the  map  was normal...for  now. I took  a  deep  breath, again feeling  the
strain. I needed more carrot juice.
     "It worked," Aahz said. "Nice job, Skeeve."
     It wasn't often that I  got a compliment from my mentor,  so  I savored
the moment. Tanda patted me on the arm and gave me a kiss on the cheek for a
reward. Nothing like doing a job and doing it well.
     I took  her glass  of carrot juice and sipped from it while  we studied
the map.
     Only one road led from Biscuit where  we were, through Bethel and  then
to  Donner. Donner actually was the  place with the golden cow.  We had been
closer than we thought.
     But from  the look of  the map,  it was a long way  to Bethel, and even
farther to Donner. Just getting  to the first place was going to take to the
middle of the night. I just hoped the cows didn't watch us.
     "You rested enough to get going?" Aahz asked me.
     I downed half of the glass of carrot juice and nodded.
     "Put this in one of our water containers, would you?"
     Tanda nodded as I  stood  and moved to the  door into  the back room. I
knocked and the guy came out.
     "What can we do  for  you in  exchange  for  the  wonderful drinks  you
served?"
     He smiled, as if I had again said some magik words.
     "Just come back for food sometime soon."
     "I promise we will," I said. I tipped my hat at him.
     "Thanks."
     He  stood there smiling, watching  us leave like we were  his  children
headed off to school.
     We went through Bethel in the middle of the night. The town looked like
all  the others,  and, even  though it was locked up  tight and shuttered, I
recognized the Audry's-place-look-alike as we passed it.
     For the past few hours, since a stop we made right after dark, the cows
had again watched us. We were the cow entertainment for the night as we sped
past pasture after pasture. Thousands and thousands of cows lined the  road,
ready for us to come  flashing past. I  had no idea why they  did it, or how
they knew we  were coming, but there wasn't  a  stretch  of road that didn't
have  cows lined up beside it all night long. And even though there  were no
fences, none of them came into the road to stop us.
     After  a  while  I stopped looking  at  them as well. Their  big  eyes,
shining in the moonlight, just unnerved me.
     My flying was getting better and better  as the trip went on, and since
the moon was almost full the road was  easy to see. I could manage almost an
hour of nonstop flying before I had to rest, and, because of the mostly flat
land, we were making great time.
     Even though I wanted to drink it earlier because I was feeling tired, I
forced myself to wait  until we were  walking  through Bethel to finish  the
last of the carrot juice I had had Tanda save.
     Just  that half a glass gave me enough energy to keep on going, as if I
had slept a full night. It seemed to allow me to use every bit of the  power
around me to keep us above the road and speeding toward the treasure.
     At sunrise the cows stopped watching again, going back to gra2ing as if
we  didn't matter at all.  For a  while  I  felt  almost insulted, before  I
realized what I was thinking. How could a  cow not  wanting to watch  me fly
past ever insult me? Made no sense.
     About halfway through the  morning, still a long  distance from Donner,
we  came on  a small town. It couldn't have been half the size of Evade, and
not more than a dot on the map. The juice I had  drunk in the middle  of the
night had long ago worn off and I was so tired that I was just about falling
down.
     As I had hoped when I  saw the little town, right  in  the middle was a
place that looked a lot like Audry's. It  was empty and we went  in,  taking
what I was  starting to think of as  our normal table. I slouched in a chair
in front of the window, glad to still be alive.
     There was only one thing bad about the carrot juice. When you came down
off of it, you came down hard. Right now, if we were going to get to  Donner
by the middle  of  the  night,  I  needed another fix or two  of the  golden
liquor.
     This place didn't just look  like Audry's;  it could have been Audry's.
And when the guy with the  white  apron and dirty  rag came out of the  back
room, I wasn't surprised in the slightest.
     "What can I get for you, strangers?"
     "If you wouldn't mind," I said before either Tanda or Aahz could speak,
"could I trouble you for three glasses of your best?"
     The guy beamed, wiped his hands with  the  towel, and  said the words I
was expecting.
     "Not  a problem. Sure I  couldn't interest you  folks in  some lunch as
well? Just got a fresh  wagon-load in. Everything's  really  crisp.  You all
need your strength, what with the round-up coming."
     "Thanks, partner,"  I said. "That sounds really good, but I think we'll
just start with the juice right now, if you don't mind."
     "Not at all," he said.
     A  few moments later  he  came  back with three  glasses of the  carrot
juice, smiled at us as he put them down, then headed off into the kitchen.
     "Okay, that does  it," Tanda said, staring at  where  the guy had gone.
"I'm officially completely creeped out."
     "What?" Aahz asked. "All  the staring cows last  night didn't do it for
you?"
     "Okay, double creeped out," Tanda said.
     I downed about a half a glass of carrot juice and sat back, letting the
wonderful flavor warm me. How I had ever lived without  the stuff was beyond
me.
     "I  think  you might want to go easy on  that juice," Aahz said. He was
looking as tired as I had felt a few minutes ago.
     "I think you might want to  try some,"  I said, "if you're expecting to
get to the treasure tonight."
     He shook his head.
     "I think one of us hooked on carrot juice is enough."
     "Your loss," I said.
     He just frowned and pulled out the map.
     This  time the  map hadn't changed. My magik had  worked. We were still
headed for Donner, which looked to be a good distance from here. I was going
to need all the energy I could get. I downed another quarter of the glass.
     By the time we left the place, with me running through the same routine
with the guy in the apron,  promising  we might  be back for  dinner, I  had
downed  a glass  and a  half of  the juice,  and  had the rest  in the water
containers. I was  good to go through the night. As far as  I was concerned,
Tanda and Aahz could sleep while I flew. They weren't doing anything, so why
not?
     Later that afternoon I think they both  did actually fall  asleep while
flashing along knee-high off the road. It was lucky  for all of us  I had my
carrot juice.
     As it  happened, we were approaching another tiny little town along the
road to Donner as the sun set. On the map  this place wasn't even listed. It
had maybe twenty  buildings,  all of them  boarded  up and shuttered. Still,
Aahz figured there was no point in taking any chances, so we walked into the
tiny town.
     We  were just about through  the town when, at  once, every door in the
town  slammed open. It was a dark and quiet night, with the sun down and the
moon not yet  up. That much sudden noise and movement darned near  scared me
right out of my skin.
     "What's happening?" Tanda asked.
     I didn't have a clue. From what I could tell, every person in the town,
all  dressed  in  different  clothing, some  in nightshirts, walked into the
street like zombies, turned, and in a line headed out of town to the west.
     We quickly  stepped up onto the sidewalk to get out  of the way as  the
chain of people moved past down the center of the road. There was no life in
any of their eyes or fighting against what was happening to them.
     "Be ready to take us back to Vortex #6," Aahz whispered to Tanda.
     "Oh, I've been ready for days," she said.
     The last person  moved past us, leaving the town empty and  every  door
standing wide open. I had no idea what we should do. I took the canister out
of my pouch and downed the last of the second glass of carrot juice, just to
be ready for whatever was coming.
     Aahz  motioned  that  we should follow them, so,  moving  slowly  about
thirty steps behind the last person, we followed the line of people out into
the countryside, along the very same road we had planned on traveling.
     The farther out we got, the more I expected to see the cows waiting for
us, watching the zombie townspeople now. But there were no cows to be seen.
     But there were a lot of naked people, yawning  and stretching scattered
around the fields, as if they were just waking up from a long nap.
     The townspeople  kept doing the zombie march as the naked people in the
fields  moved toward them. The first naked  guy to  reach the  line  near us
grabbed an old man in a nightshirt, tipped back  the old guy's head, and bit
into his neck.
     "Vampires," Tanda whispered.
     Behind us  the  full moon  was easing up over  the  edge  of the  hill,
shining light on the  feast as more and more  vampires picked a meal and bit
in.  So this was what the round-up was  all about? I couldn't believe what I
was seeing.
     The  cows  were vampires,  and their feeding stock was  the  people. No
wonder all the people in all the towns all ate vegetables and were afraid of
the night. The people who lived in the towns were nothing more than  cattle,
being fattened for slaughter every month.
     It was the cows that were the masters.
     "You are not in the round-up line," a deep and pleasant voice said from
behind us.
     All three of us spun around as one to face  two naked people. One was a
man, one a woman.  Their bodies were  perfectly formed, their muscles toned,
their eyes large and brown, like the cow's eyes along the road every night.
     The woman was  one of the most beautiful  women I had ever seen without
clothes on. No, make  that the most  beautiful. And with one glance into her
eyes, I wanted to give myself to her. I didn't care if she bit me or not.
     The next instant the dust  storm on Vortex #6 slammed into me, snapping
me out of my desire to make a  fool of myself with a beautiful woman for the
second time in a week.
     Chapter Ten
     "I can quit anytime."
     S. HOLMES
     The  hundred slogging steps through the dust  storm to the cabin seemed
to get  longer and longer every  time I  had to do it. I had no  idea why we
just couldn't D-Hop right into the cabin and  skip all this dust and wind. I
was going to ask Tanda that, as soon as things settled down.
     As we  got near the cabin,  Tanda  held up her hand for  us to  stop. I
could  barely see the dark shape of  the building in the storm. There was no
light in the window this time.
     She  did  something with both arms I assumed was some  sort of scanning
magik  that  assassins  knew,  then motioned that it was clear and we should
move forward. Therefore, Glenda wasn't here waiting for us.
     I had the sudden image of one of the cow-vampires bending her  over and
sucking on her neck  in the middle of some  road somewhere. Considering what
she had done to me, it was one of the nicer thoughts I had had about her  in
days.
     We got inside and the door closed against the storm.
     "Are we shielded?" Aahz asked Tanda.
     "Up and solid," she said.  "Skeeve was right; there is powerful  energy
here. I can hold the shield for as long as we need it."
     "So  Glenda can't pop in and surprise us?" I asked, moving to the stove
to get it started before I took off my coat.
     "Not  a  chance," Tanda said.  "She hops back here, she's going  to get
awful dirty standing out there in the dust."
     Aahz laughed. "Couldn't happen to a nicer demon."
     "Want something to eat?" Tanda asked, working around in the cabinets as
I sat at the table.
     "Just more carrot juice," I said.
     I could feel my  body  starting to get really  tired, as if someone had
pulled the energy plug and what I had left was draining onto the floor.
     I dug  into my pouch for the canister that  I had been carrying. It was
gone. I checked again and it was still not there. I couldn't remember  doing
anything  with it, but I might have dropped it in the excitement of watching
cows become vampires and bite on people.
     "You have  the  other  canister of  juice?" I asked Aahz.  "Afraid not,
apprentice," he said. "Left it back on Kowtow when we hopped out of there."
     My first reaction was not to believe him. Then it  became clear that he
had left the rest of my carrot juice, and my reaction was anger.
     "How could you do that?" I shouted. "Easy," he said.
     He  showed  me by reaching  into  his pouch,  taking out  an  invisible
canister,  and dropping it to the floor. "But  what am I going to do without
it?"  Again I  shouted. I  needed that carrot juice; right down to the  very
bottom of my soul I needed it.
     "You're going to sleep for a long time," Tanda said, smiling at me.
     Just  her mention of sleep made me  sleepy. I couldn't believe they had
done this to me.
     "Taking a guy's carrot juice isn't nice."
     "I  know,"  Tanda  said.  "But we're doing it for your  own  good.  You
haven't slept in at  least three days. You  need to stop moving and just lie
down."
     The  tiredness was washing up over me like a wave  on the beach. It was
everything I could do to even think about saying I didn't need sleep.
     How  dare she  tell me  what  I needed?  How dare Aahz  leave my  juice
behind? Hadn't I trusted him with that juice?
     "I don't need to rest," I said, my voice sounding funny to my ears.
     "How about you  just  lie down  for  a few minutes  and then we'll talk
about  it," Tanda said, helping me to  me  feet and moving  me  over  to the
soft-looking bed against one wall.
     "Well, maybe just a minute," I said.
     What  could  a minute  hurt? I'd  get back some of my energy, and  then
convince Tanda to hop me back to get my juice.
     "Only one minute," I said.
     Or at least I  think I  said that.  I might  not have, because from the
moment my head touched the pillow, I don't remember another thing.
     I woke  up with a blinding headache and a taste in  my mouth that was a
cross between horse droppings and stale carrots. I rolled  over and the pain
hit me even harder,  smashing into my  head like someone was taking a hammer
and pounding me right between the eyes.
     "Ohhh," I said, putting both hands to my head trying to stop the agony.
     "The sleeping apprentice awakes," Aahz,  said, his voice  far  too loud
for the size of the space between my ears.
     "And in pain, it seems," Tanda shouted.
     "Please  whisper,"  I said, but my throat was so dry  the words  didn't
really come out.
     I wanted to  die.  Why hadn't  they just killed me as I slept? Or maybe
they had tried, which was why I hurt so much.
     I also wanted to be  sick, but that wasn't possible since  there wasn't
anything left in my stomach.  But  my stomach still  felt  like it wanted to
twist  inside out and  come up  through  my throat.  And the world  spinning
didn't help that feeling at all.
     And, most of all, I really  wanted to forget all the nightmares I'd had
about  cows  turning into vampires,  and  the  people  of  a dimension being
nothing more  than food stock. What  an  awful nightmare. That was  the last
time I had carrot juice if it caused those kind of visions.
     Tanda came over  and  knelt beside  me.  I could  feel her  hand  on my
forehead, then a soft energy flowing through me, washing the pain and nausea
with it. Whatever she did, it was nice.
     After a moment she moved away and I opened my eyes. My head didn't hurt
as much, and the world that felt as if it  was  smashing down on me from all
sides had retreated.
     I also  realized  that what I  had  thought  were  carrot-juice-induced
nightmares had actually happened. "That help?" Tanda asked.
     I nodded, wishing I hadn't almost at once. She had taken away the pain,
but the  rest of  the  problems-upset stomach and  spinning world-were still
with me.
     She brought me a glass of water, helping me sit up to drink it.
     "Well, hangovers are sure fun, aren't they, apprentice?" Aahz asked.
     "No,"  I managed to  croak  out  after  I took a small drink, "they are
not."
     "Good thing to remember next time you go bingeing."
     The thought of even seeing another carrot made my stomach twist.
     "Was there alcohol in the carrot juice?"
     "No, but it had other stuff in it," Aahz said, "Stuff I'm guessing make
the people of those towns good eating for the vampires."
     My stomach twisted.
     "And  maybe help keep  them under control," Tanda said, looking  at me.
"Think you can come to the table and try to eat a little something?"
     "I can try," I said, "but no promises."
     "Good enough. You need to eat."
     "How long  was  I sleeping?"  I asked as I stood and shuffled my way to
the table.
     I dropped into a chair and then  tried to remain  still while the world
spun for a moment.
     "About twelve hours,"  Aahz said. "We were just  getting ready  to head
back to Kowtow when you started to wake up."
     "Without me?" I asked, staring into the eyes of my mentor.
     He smiled at what must have been my shocked expression.
     "Just to explore and  get a little closer to  Donner while the vampires
were back being cows. We would have left you shielded and been back in a few
hours."
     "You still  want to see if you can  get to the  treasure?" I asked, not
believing that Aahz would even want to go back to the place again, let alone
try to get a golden-milk-giving cow that turned into a vampire.
     "Sure," he said. "We're too close to turn back now."
     "And just what are you going to do when you find this golden cow?"
     "I asked him the same thing," Tanda said.
     "I'll figure that out when we find it," Aahz said.
     I nodded. "Glad I woke up then."
     "I doubt you're going to be up for  coming along just yet," Tanda said,
putting a little sandwich and another glass of water in front of me.
     "I'll  be fine," I  said. "Just a little carrot  juice and I  can fly a
long ways."
     The silence in the cabin was intense.
     I looked at Aahz, then at Tanda and smiled. "Just kid-ding."
     For some reason, neither of them laughed.
     Along the way there were more and more cattle, bigger herds than we had
seen  at any other place.  I was just glad that none  of them  were lined up
along the road watching us.
     The countryside was becoming pretty hilly,  and the road looked like it
was  headed  right at a  fairly large mountain range. I hoped  Donner was on
this side of the range and not the other. My question was answered almost at
once as we topped a slight ridge and could see off ahead.
     I somehow managed  to bring us  to a stop  and lower us to the  ground.
Considering  what   we  were   facing,  I  thought  that   was  pretty  good
concentration.
     From the top of this hill we could see Donner. It had been built  going
up the side  of a  gentle hill. From here it looked as if the buildings down
low were all like the ones in the towns we had already seen, but the farther
up the hill you went, the larger the buildings, the more ornate.
     At  the  top was  the  palace. Only this wasn't like anything  on  this
planet. It was made of stone  and  inlaid  with  gold  that shimmered in the
afternoon sun. It was like a second sun, only golden.
     "Oh, my," Tanda said softly.
     "No  wonder  there's a treasure map  to this  place," Aahz  said. "I've
never seen anything like that."
     "Neither have I," Tanda said.
     Well, if the two experienced dimension travelers in the group had never
seen  anything like  the  golden palace we  were staring at, I  sure  hadn't
either.
     After a moment I asked what I thought was the obvious next question.
     "So now what do we do?"
     "We go take a closer look," Aah2 said, laughing. "See what we can see."
     I glanced at my mentor. He was always happy when  there was a chance we
might end up with a lot of money. I didn't want to ask him how he thought we
were going to get any of the gold we could see from here, but clearly he had
ideas, and the ideas were enough to make him smile.
     All his smile did was worry me.
     I flew us two  more small hills closer  to the city before Aahz said we
had better walk the rest of the  way. There was so much energy  in this area
that I didn't even feel tired  from the effort of  flying. It had come easy,
which  meant  that all magik was easy in this  place. That was both good and
bad.
     Ahead of us  on  the  road  were some  walkers, plus a  wagon  full  of
vegetables  being  pulled by two horses. Cows filled  the fields, paying  no
attention to anything.
     Up closer, the town of Donner was even bigger than I had first thought,
with  a  very  wide,  boulevard-like  main  road  heading  straight  through
everything. The golden castle on the top of the hill  was massive. It looked
like it could swallow the entire royal palace and courtyard of Possiltum and
not even burp. I wonder if  this  place had a royal  magician. Maybe I could
apply for the job, but I doubted I would pass the cow physical.
     We had just crested the last small hill  and  were starting down toward
the edge of the city when a dozen men on horseback came galloping out of the
city, kicking up a cloud  of dust behind them. A few people  ahead  of us on
the road stepped out of  the way. And  the wagonload of veggies had to  move
almost off the road and into a small ditch.
     The thundering horses came on, riding hard, the men's black hats pulled
down tight on their heads. I  didn't have a  good feeling about this, but at
the same time there was no reason to think they were after us.
     We moved to the  side of the road as they neared, but instead of riding
past, then stopped, sort of forming a circle around us, pinning us against a
pasture full of cows. I clearly should have trusted my bad feeling.
     "You  are  under arrest,"  a man sitting  on  a big black  horse  said.
"Please come with us into the city."
     "It's  a posse," Tanda  said,  the surprise in her  voice clear. "Never
thought I'd ever see one."
     "A what?" I asked.
     "Never mind," she said.
     "Under arrest for what?" Aahz demanded of the guy on the big horse.
     The  guy, whose face looked very similar to the  guy  who had  been the
bartender in Audry's, smiled. I  didn't like the look of his little teeth at
all.
     "You have been charged with not complying with round-up procedures," he
said, "and the unlawful use of magik."
     I glanced at  Aahz,  then at Tanda.  Now  we  knew  for sure  that this
dimension knew about magik. As far as I was concerned, right about now would
be a great time to beat a hasty retreat to the wonderful dust of  Vortex #6.
But it seemed Aahz had other ideas.
     "We demand to be taken to your leader," Aahz said, stepping toward  the
man.  "We are  powerful  magicians  from  another dimension  with  important
information your leader will want."
     The guy actually laughed,  which rocked Aahz back on his heels. Not too
many people actually laughed at my mentor and got away with it.
     "Drop my disguise," Aahz said, whispering to me.
     I  shrugged.  At this  point, it couldn't get any worse, so I did as he
asked.
     Not a one of the men on the horses even seemed to notice that there was
now a green-scaled ugly  Pervect standing in  front  of them. Not even their
horses cared.
     That was not what Aahz was expecting.
     The guy again just laughed.
     "You can drop the act," he said. "Our leader knows exactly why you  are
here."
     Then  the guy  did something  that  just  flat  scared  me to death. He
pointed a finger  at Aahz  and a moment  later the map came floating  out of
Aahz's belt pouch, unfolded in midair, and fluttered there. Then it refolded
and returned to the pouch.
     "Now please come with us," he said.
     He turned his horse and started at a slow pace toward the city.
     I glanced at Aahz, who was looking almost stunned, then at Tanda.
     "Don't you think this might be a good time to head for home?" I asked.
     "I wish we could," Tanda said.
     Sweat  dripped off her forehead as we all stepped back onto the road to
follow the guy who  had done the  talking.  The rest of his group  of riders
waited and fell in behind us.
     "Excuse me?" I said. "How about jumping us to the dust storm?"
     "Trust me," she said, "I tried."
     "You what?" I couldn't believe she couldn't get us out of this mess.
     "We're blocked?" Aahz asked.
     "Tighter  than  a  vault," she  said. "Best  block  I've  ever  run  up
against."
     "How about I try to fly us out of here?"
     "Won't work  either," Tanda said. "At the  moment  there's a block over
all our magik."
     "Oh," was all I could say.
     Ahead, just over the head of the horse in front of me I could  see  the
golden  palace.  It was  the place, the  treasure, we had  been working  and
fighting so hard to reach. Right now it was the last place in  any dimension
I wanted to go.
     Chapter Eleven
     "Who are those guys?"
     B. CASSIDY
     No  one in the city seemed to  pay us any  attention at all  as we were
marched into Donner and right up the wide Main Street of the city toward the
golden palace on the hill. I saw at least a dozen Audry's-like  places along
the road, and this town had three guys in white hats and shovels cleaning up
after the  hundreds of horses. As we passed, all three of  them tipped their
hats and said, "Howdy."
     What  really made this town different from  all the others  we had gone
through, besides  the golden  palace towering  over  it, were  the  pastures
between the buildings. About halfway up to  the palace, on the right side of
the road, was a beautiful, green pasture about the size of one building.
     It had one lone cow in it, grazing on the perfectly tended grass.
     A  little  farther  up  the hill there were more small pastures between
buildings  on both sides  of  the street, each  with  just one cow.  And the
higher  we  went, the  more  beautiful  the  pastures  became,  with  ornate
decorations and well-trimmed grass.
     Just under the palace  were five pastures  on  both sides of  the  main
boulevard, and in  each of those  manicured and ornately decorated lawns was
one cow,  and off  to  one side  a guy wearing a white  hat  and carrying  a
shovel. Waiting. Now I knew  what all the other shovel-carrying guys working
the streets of all the towns were trying to advance their way up to.
     The  guys on horses dismounted at a massive gate made of  stone pillars
and gold bars. The palace  itself was surrounded by  a tall  stone wall that
looked too high to even try to climb.
     The stone  was highly polished  and there looked to be gold lining  the
top.
     The guy in charge  pointed us at the gate,  but  didn't  follow  us in.
Instead, five other men in white robes with gold trim met us just inside the
gate and  indicated we  should follow. Each  carried a golden shovel like  a
cane, using  it to walk. It was clear that  a  person who worked outside the
palace  and  didn't have a golden  shovel couldn't get into the palace.  Why
were we so lucky?
     "Would you look at all the gold!" Aahz said, his head whipping back and
forth as he tried to take it all in.
     "Amazing," Tananda said, her voice soft and carrying the awe she felt.
     I couldn't say anything. The sight that greeted us inside that gate was
beyond anything I had ever imagined. There was nothing but beautiful-trimmed
lawns, gold ornaments, strangely shaped  shrubs, and guys in white robes and
white hats with golden shovels. Maybe a  dozen different cows  grazed on the
beautiful lawns, clearly without a care in  the world, all tended by guys in
white robes with golden shovels.
     Our robed  jailers herded us  up the stone staircase,  climbing through
manicured lawn  after  manicured  lawn,  all surrounded by gold  statues  of
different animals and gold artwork. The  walls of the castle  itself towered
over  us, the white stone and  shining gold walls higher than anything I had
ever seen before.
     We were finally taken through a big double door and headed down flights
of stone steps. From there I got completely lost as we went through tunnels,
down steps, around corners, down more tunnels, down more steps, all the time
going deeper and  farther under the castle. I  didn't much like the idea  of
being trapped down under such a massive building, but  the idea that we were
being held prisoner by cows controlling guys with golden shovels bothered me
even more. Especially since they were vampire cows.
     Finally  we  were herded into a  big room with stone walls  and left, a
golden-barred door slamming closed behind us. There  were five others in the
big room, all looking  tattered and exhausted. Ten beds were  spaced  around
the walls and all the previous prisoners were lying on the beds, sleeping.
     "Glenda," Aahz said.
     It took me a second to recognize the figure on the bed across the room.
It was Glenda all right,  but not the alive, beautiful, and powerful woman I
had  remembered  from  just  a  few  days before. This  woman  wore tattered
clothing, had  dirt  and deep circles under her eyes, and a huge red mark on
her neck.
     All  three  of us moved  over to her. As we did her eyes fluttered open
and she saw Aahz, then Tanda and me.
     "Found the treasure, I see," she said, her voice barely a whisper.
     Then she was back  asleep, her breathing heavy,  and her  mouth hanging
open. The red marks on her neck pulsed with the beat of her heart.
     "I don't like the looks of this," I said.
     "Any  chance  we can get out of  here?" Aahz asked, glancing around the
room.
     I did the  same. None of the other  prisoners in the place looked to be
in  any better shape than Glenda. And all of them had the red marks on their
necks and were sleeping heavily, almost dead.
     Tanda shook her head.
     "Not  a  chance  at  all.  The energy  is back flowing to us,  but  the
dimension hopping is  still blocked  completely. I've been trying  to  D-hop
ever since we were captured."
     "Well," Aahz said, "we're just going to  have  to find another way out,
and grab a little gold along the way."
     "How  about the D-Hopper?"  I asked. "They  didn't search us. Maybe  it
would work."
     Aahz pulled  the  D-Hopper out, made sure the setting was  right,  then
triggered it.
     We stayed right where we were.
     "Worth a try," I said as he put it back in his shirt.
     "I think we need some answers," Aahz said.
     He sat down on the edge  of Glenda's bunk and then not so gently  shook
her awake.
     "No! No!" she said as she woke.
     Her  hands  went to her  neck and then flinched away. Again  it  took a
moment  for her to recognize  us.  She blinked, then  said,  "Go  away," and
closed her eyes again.
     "We need some answers," Aahz said.
     He  grabbed  her  by the shoulders, twisted her  around,  and  sat  her
upright on the bed, her back against the wall.
     "Easy there,  big fella," Glenda  said, her voice hoarse. "We're all in
this together."
     "I'm not in anything with you," Aahz said.
     Looking  at the  wreck  she  had  become,  it was hard for me  to  even
remember why  I had  been  interested in her in the first  place. Could I be
that  superficial that  she had to remain beautiful for me to care? Or did I
no longer find her attractive or have  any interest  in  her because she had
betrayed us? It was an interesting  question  I'd have to talk to Aahz about
once we were safely back home.
     "Oh," Glenda said, "trust me. If you're  here, in this cell, then we're
all in this together."
     "How'd you end up here?" Aahz asked. "How'd you find the  place without
the map?"
     She laughed.  "I went to Dodge City, didn't  find anything, so I  asked
this guy running a bar where the golden cow was, and he told me here."
     I shook my head. How simple that would have been. Why hadn't we thought
of it?
     "Then what happened?" Tanda asked.
     "Didn't even make it into town," she said. "Got picked up by a bunch of
guys on horses yesterday and tossed in  here.  Then last night  I got hauled
out to be a snack at the big party upstairs."
     Her  hand  again went to her neck and she flinched. The red marks there
didn't look  like  they were  healing very well. And I  didn't much like the
sound of being a snack like those people lined up on the road had been.
     "It was like a bad  dream," Glenda said, her  eyes distant. "They  kept
forcing glass after glass of carrot juice down me while taking turns sucking
oh my neck. By morning I couldn't even walk. I don't remember how I got back
down here."
     The thought of carrot juice ripped my stomach into a knot.
     "Who were they?" Tanda asked.
     Glenda  shrugged.  "Hundreds  of   beautiful   naked  people  in   this
gold-covered ballroom way up in the castle somewhere."
     Aahz nodded. "Vampire cows."
     "What?" Glenda asked.
     "We saw a field of cows change into beautiful naked people last night,"
I said, "and snack on the townspeople who were waiting to be used."
     She looked at me, then at Aahz. "The kid's not kidding, is he?"
     Aahz shook his head.
     Glenda shook her head and then closed her eyes.
     "Drunk dry by bovine vampires. How ironic."
     She didn't say anything else,  and Aahz didn't push her. She looked  as
if she had lost twenty pounds in  one night. She had managed to outsmart us,
find  her way to the  castle, and still  get captured.  If she  couldn't get
away, how were we going to do it before we became a full-moon snack?
     "We've  got  to get  out of here before the sun goes  down," Aahz said,
standing and moving to the door.
     He  gave it a couple hard  hits, but it didn't  move,  and no  one came
because  of the  noise.  Clearly  none  of  the  golden-shoveled guards were
worried about a prisoner escape.
     "Even if we did get out," Tanda  said, "it would take a map to find our
way back through the castle."
     "Map," I said. "That's the key."
     Aahz   turned   and   looked   at   me,   giving   me  one   of   those
I-don't-understand-how-you-can-be-so-stupid looks.
     I moved over to him and stuck out my hand.
     "Can I have the map, please?"
     "Why would you want it?" Aahz asked.
     I didn't want to tell him my idea without first seeing if I was right.
     "Just give it to him," Tanda said.
     Aahz shrugged and took out the map, handing it to me still folded.
     I opened  it up, laying it  flat on  the nearest empty bunk so  that we
could all look at it.  The map looked as I had expected.  It had gained  its
magik  back once we got inside the castle. It showed where we were,  fifteen
levels down and under a  lot of rock and gold. It also showed the room where
the golden cow was, far above us.
     And better  yet, it showed  us a path from where we were being  held to
what the map  called  a  large  ballroom. Clearly the  map's  designers  had
planned  on continuing the game right to the very last room. It sort of made
sense.  Dimension to dimension  until we found the  right one, then  town to
town until we found the right one, now room to room until we found the right
one. I didn't much like the game, but I understood the thinking.
     "Well, would you look at that?" Aahz said, stunned.
     Tanda studied the map, then looked at the wall near Glenda's bunk, then
studied the map again.
     It didn't take me long to see what she  was doing. The map showed a way
out of  this  room that  wasn't  the  main door. Maybe, just maybe, we had a
chance. If we could escape the cell,  then avoid  hundreds of men with white
robes and golden shovels, and then  outrun the posse on  horseback, we might
be able  to get far  enough away from the  castle to dimension-hop  back  to
Vortex #6.
     It sounded impossible, but it was more than we'd had a moment ago.
     I folded  up  the map and put it in my pouch, then  headed for the wall
where Glenda was still sitting on  a bunk. Her eyes  were closed, and if her
chest hadn't been moving I would have thought she was dead.
     "Wait," Tanda said  as I started to get down on my knees to look for an
opening in the wall under the  bunk beside Glenda's, where the map indicated
it would  be. "We need to protect ourselves, not  let anyone know what we're
doing."
     "And how do you suggest we do that?" I asked.
     Aahz glanced around at the bunks and the blankets on them.
     "Skeeve, when Tanda gives the word, I want you to make the  blankets on
those three bunks look like the three of us."
     "Four  of us," Glenda said,  opening her  eyes and looking  clearly  at
Aahz. "If you've found a way to leave, I'm leaving with you."
     "Yeah," Aahz said, laughing, "like you took us with you on Vortex #6? I
don't think so."
     "I don't go, I  alert the guards,"  she said, staring at him. "And I've
got enough power left to easily break an apprentice's disguise spell."
     For a moment I thought Aahz was going to strangle her,  and I wanted to
help. Then Tanda stepped between them, facing Aahz.
     "She's powerful  and can  help. Let her, or we might  never  get out of
here."
     My mentor  looked like he was about to explode. He hated doing anything
he didn't want to do, and taking Glenda along was something he really didn't
want to do. But Tanda was right; maybe Glenda could help.
     "All right," Aahz said, taking a deep breath and letting it slowly out.
     He stepped past Tanda and looked down at Glenda.
     "You work with  us or  we dump you faster than you dumped my apprentice
in that bar. Understand?"
     She  nodded, clearly very  weak.  "Let  me  help  Tanda with the  cover
spell," she said. "I'm good at them."
     "I'm an ex-assassin," Tanda shot back. "I'm better."
     "I know you are," Glenda said. "I can just add some depth on the cover.
And help support Skeeve's  disguises. We're dealing with some good magicians
here. Let's make sure they don't see us coming,  or leaving as  the case may
be."
     For a moment Tanda stared at Glenda, then she nodded. "Follow my lead."
     "Completely,"  Glenda  said.  She took  a  deep, shuddering breath  and
braced herself against the wall, her eyes closed.
     I  glanced around.  The other three  prisoners  hadn't woken  up.  They
looked to be in much worse shape than Glenda.
     Aahz turned to  me.  "Get ready.  On  Tanda's  count, one  at  a  time,
disguise the four bunks."
     I took a deep  breath and reached  out for the energy it was  going  to
take.
     Energy  here wasn't a problem.  It flowed  all around us like a massive
river, wider  and stronger than I had ever experienced. I let it flow inside
me, giving me strength.
     "Aahz first," Tanda said. "Now."
     On the farthest empty bunk I  pictured Aahz lying there, sleeping,  his
mouth open.
     On the bunk Aahz appeared, just as I had pictured.
     I gathered more energy.
     "Glenda now," Tanda said.
     I  imagined Glenda on the second bunk,  sleeping in the same way we had
seen her sleeping when we came in, red mark on her neck and all.
     Glenda appeared there.
     "Now me," Tanda said.
     I reached out and took the energy and  put the image  of Tanda sleeping
in the next bunk
     "Now you," Tanda said.
     I did the same, although I had never seen myself asleep, I had an image
of what I must look like, and I used that.
     It was strange to see myself sleeping there. Really strange.
     "All shielded," Tanda said.
     Glenda nodded. "Very strong. It should hold. And good job, Skeeve."
     I just nodded. I didn't need  compliments from  a woman who left  me to
rot in a town full of cow food.
     "Okay, Skeeve," Tanda said, "see if you can find that opening."
     I got down on my  stomach and crawled partway under  the  bunk  next to
where Glenda sat. It looked like a stone wall, just like all the rest of the
room. But when I went to  touch the wall, my hand went through as if nothing
was there.
     "A disguised opening," I said.
     I crawled under the bunk and right on  through the  wall, coming out on
the other side. It was pitch black, so I tore a little piece off the  bottom
of my shirt and  used  a magik spell to light it. I was in a tunnel that had
been cut out of stone. It was just tall enough for me to stand, and not much
wider than  my shoulders.  It  clearly hadn't been  used in a  long time, if
ever. There was an  unused torch stuck in a crack in the rocks, so I lit it,
tossing to one side my burning piece of shirt.
     A moment later Aahz  followed, coming through what looked to  be  solid
stone near the floor  of the tunnel.  Then  Glenda,  breathing  hard, pulled
herself into the tunnel and sat with her back against the sidewall, followed
almost instantly by Tanda.
     "This  tunnel is shielded as well,"  Tanda said, looking around as  she
stood. "A shield so old, it might have been here before the castle."
     "I'm impressed," Glenda said,  still  sitting on the  floor. "How'd you
know this was here?"
     I pulled  the  map  out  of  my pouch  and  held  it  up  in  the faint
torchlight. She saw it and nodded. "Of course."
     I opened  the map and Aahz, Tanda, and I stood under the torch studying
it.
     It now showed the tunnel we were in as center, and the location of  the
golden cow  had changed. Now it was in a dining room ten floors  above us. I
didn't believe it for a moment.
     The map showed that we had to follow the tunnel for as far as we could,
then climb up a ladder and through the floor of what was called a morgue.
     "Seems we  don't have much choice," Aahz  said, staring at  the map. He
pointed to the fact that the map didn't show a way back into the room we had
just left.
     I moved over  and touched the  wall we had just crawled through. It was
solid rock. Weird.
     I moved back over to where they were standing under the light.
     "We're going to be chasing the cow until we find an exit," Aahz said.
     "We could always kill the magik in the map one more time," I said.
     "No," Tanda said. "We may end up in a room that we need the map to help
us get out of."
     "She's right," Glenda said. "For all  we know, the map may be the magik
source that created this tunnel. From the looks of how that wall turned back
to stone, it just might be."
     I stared at the paper in my hand, then at  Glenda sitting on the floor.
If she was right, and I had killed the magik in the map again, we might have
ended up trapped in stone. I didn't want to think about that at all.
     "So we follow the magik," Aahz said.
     I folded the map  and put it away in my pouch, then  took the torch out
of  the crack and held  it in front of  me  so that I  could see where I was
going. Then,  doing my brave routine, I started off down a tunnel so old, or
so magical, that it didn't look as if anyone had ever been in here.
     The tunnel sloped upward like a  fairly steep ramp. I moved at a steady
pace, making sure that each step was on solid ground. I didn't trust my eyes
at this point, after crawling through solid rock.
     After about  a hundred paces  I looked back. Tanda was right behind me,
Aahz behind  her, and Glenda was managing to stay up with us, only because I
was moving so slowly. I didn't feel the slightest bit sorry for her. She had
left me  to die, and gotten  herself into the mess she faced last night. And
without  us,  she wouldn't  have this  chance  to  escape. As far  as I  was
concerned, she would either keep up or go out on her own again.
     I went  back to working my way up  the tunnel, testing each step, until
finally I reached  the  end. A rock ladder had been  carved  into the stone,
leading straight up through a very narrow hole.
     As Aahz stopped beside me I pointed up at the hole.
     "Can you squeeze through there?"
     "Do I have a choice?"
     "I suppose not," I said. I handed him the torch. "Let me get up through
the opening so I  can brace my  back  against  the  wall, then  hand me  the
torch."
     Without waiting for another idea from my mentor, I started up. The hole
in the roof of the tunnel was big  enough that my shoulders touched  on both
sides, but not so small that  I  had to  squeeze. Aahz might be able to make
it, but it was going to take some work.
     Once I got through the hole,  the  space got bigger. I stopped and Aahz
handed me the torch, passing it up past me quickly so I wouldn't get burned.
     Above I could  see the ladder climbing at least twenty or so of my body
lengths before reaching what looked to be a wooden trapdoor in a floor.
     "Send Tanda up second,"  I whispered down to Aahz below me. "We need to
make sure no one is in the room above the trap door up here."
     "Good thinking," Tanda said, climbing up under me as I went higher. She
got  up just  under  me, paused, and  then nodded. "No one  up  there at the
moment."
     "Good," I said.
     "You go next," I heard Aahz say to Glenda down in the tunnel.
     "No," Glenda said, her voice firm. "You get stuck in that opening  it's
going to take both Tanda pulling and me shoving to get you through."
     I couldn't hear  what Aahz  said, but a  moment later  his green-scaled
head came through the hole below Tanda.
     "No, both arms ahead of you," Tanda said.
     Aahz backed down a  step, put both his arms over  his head, and climbed
back  up into the  hole.  From  what I could see, his shoulders  were wedged
pretty good in the rock.
     Tanda  braced herself, grabbed  one of his hands, and then said, "Ready
to push, Glenda?"
     "Ready," Glenda said, her voice muffled as  if  she  were a  long  ways
away.
     "Now,"  Tanda  said,  pulling on Aahz's arm as he  pulled  on the  rock
surface with the other.
     With a rip of his shirt, he came through.
     Tanda let go and moved up under me. Aahz had his  shoulders through the
hole, but he wasn't climbing any higher at the moment.
     "Glenda," he said. "Grab a hold of my leg and I'll pull you up."
     "I think I can make it," she said.
     "Just do it and quit arguing with me," Aahz said.
     I stared down at the top of my mentor's head.  The old green-scaled guy
had a soft spot after  all. Always knew  it was  there,  just hadn't seen it
that often.
     As Aahz helped Glenda up  the stone ladder,  Tanda and I went on up  to
the trap door. Since  Aahz hadn't taught me a spell yet  that could sense if
something was on the  other side of  a wall, or a  floor in this case, I was
leaving that up to Tanda.
     "We still in the clear?" I asked.
     "We are," Tanda said.
     I eased up  to the wooden trapdoor and pushed slowly. The  wood scraped
as  it went  up,  then the  door seemed to catch on something.  It took me a
moment to realize it was a rug. From the looks of it, a very old rug.
     I  pushed even harder,  and the rug lifted  and pulled aside  enough so
that I could get  through. I went halfway up through the trapdoor and stood,
torch in the air, lighting the dark room.
     Tanda had been right. From what I  could see, no one was around. Just a
bunch of tables  and a wooden door leading off to the left. But the minute I
stepped up and stood, I  knew that Tanda  and I had both  been wrong. No one
alive was around.
     But the place was filled with dead people. Tables full of them.
     Chapter Twelve
     "There's gotta be a way out of this dungeon."
     G. GYGAX
     Okay,  this  was  another  first  for  me. I  had never  had the  luck,
opportunity,  or bad timing to be in  a room  full of dead people. And these
weren't just any dead people, but people who had clearly had the life sucked
out  of them  through their necks just the night  before. There had to be at
least fifteen or twenty  bodies, all naked, with ugly  marks on their necks,
and eyes staring at the ceiling.
     I stood,  holding the torch in the air, not really  wanting  to move in
any direction until the others were beside  me. Not that I thought  the dead
could do anything  to me, or that I  was superstitious about dead spirits. I
wasn't,  I was sure.  I just  didn't want to make a wrong move  until  I had
someone beside me, or at least that was what I told myself.
     "Looks like you were lucky to survive last night,"  Aahz said to Glenda
as helped her through the trap door and onto her feet.
     "Does seem that  way,  doesn't  it," she said, leaning against a  table
with a dead guy on it.
     The guy looked a  lot like the guy who ran Audry's.  I was  starting to
think that most of the men on this planet looked like him.
     "So much for thinking they didn't kill their food source," Tanda said.
     "I don't  think  most  do,"  Aahz said. "But  this  is the castle,  the
royalty of the planet. I would imagine in here all rules are off."
     "Wonderful,"  I  said. "Now we have  naked killer  vampire cows, one of
which is rumored to give golden milk."
     "Strange place, isn't it?" Aahz said.
     "You could say that, but you just did."
     "We need  to put  that rug back and close the trap," Tanda said.  "Make
sure we cover our tracks as best we can."
     I handed Tanda  the  torch and Aahz and I sat to work. In a few seconds
the room looked like it had before we came up out of the floor.
     "Now where?" Glenda asked.
     I pulled out the map and opened it, holding it up to the light for Aahz
and Tanda  to  see. The morgue, the room we were in,  was now central on the
map.  The  golden cow had moved to the kitchen. And our path out of here was
through  a panel in the back of  the room, not the door. The map  showed the
panel leading to a secret passageway that led for a long ways up through the
castle.
     "You know," I said, pointing at where  the passageway led, "that we are
getting deeper and deeper into the castle and farther from an escape exit."
     "Looks that way, doesn't it?" Aahz said, staring at the map.
     "That doesn't matter and you know it, Aahz," Glenda said. "At least you
could tell your apprentice the truth."
     We  all  turned and looked at where  she was leaning on  a table with a
naked dead guy right behind her.
     "How's that?" Aahz asked, clearly not happy at Glenda's tone.
     "We can't escape  this place without beating this map," she said.  "And
beating the map means capturing the golden cow, who I assume, is  the leader
of this entire dimension. That golden  cow is the only one who is  going  to
let us go, and you know it."
     At that point I was convinced that all the blood loss had gotten to her
mind. The only thing  I wanted to do was find a  way  out and  run or fly as
fast as we could until we were far enough away that we  could hop dimensions
and get away from this insane place.
     "Come on,"  I said, smiling at her. "That would be crazy.  Going  after
the head of  all  the cow vampires  would be suicide. We'd  end  up like all
these fine food products around us. Glenda, it's clear you need to rest."
     No  one  said  anything.  Glenda  just kept staring at me and slowly  I
realized  that  neither Aahz or Tanda  were telling her how  crazy  she  was
either.
     I turned to my mentor, who had a sheepish look on his face.
     "She's right,"  he said. "We wouldn't stand a chance of getting  out of
here, against the kind of magik we are facing, without the help of the map."
     I looked at Tanda.
     She  smiled  at  me.  "They're  right.  I  can  barely,  with  Glenda's
assistance, keep  us  hidden.  The  magik around  here  is  so  powerful, we
wouldn't stand a chance without help from the top. And the map is leading us
to that help."
     At that moment I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was as  dead
as any of the bodies in the room  with us. I just wasn't smart enough yet to
lie down and stop breathing like they had all done.
     With one  more look at  my mentor, then at Glenda, I shrugged and tried
to put on my best death-mask face.
     "Why not?  Let's get moving  before someone comes in and stops  our fun
treasure hunt before it really gets started."
     With one more look at the map, I folded it and put it back in my pouch.
     Then I headed through the tables of  bodies to the back wall. As I went
I wanted  to talk to the bodies,  tell them I'd be right back, tell  them to
wait, to reserve a table for me. But I kept my morbid thoughts to myself.
     There was a large cabinet of medical supplies filling the back wall and
no hidden panel that I could see. From what the map had shown, the panel was
right behind the cabinet.
     I  took hold of  the  back edge  of  the cabinet and pulled  outward. I
expected  it  to  be too heavy  for  me  to  move, but  it  swung easily and
silently, opening up into a passageway behind the panel.
     I glanced back at Tanda and Aahz and Glenda, who were silently watching
me.
     "Give me the torch and follow  me," I said. "We'll check  the map again
when we get a ways inside. And pull this closed behind you."
     Aahz nodded.
     It felt  good to be leading, even  if I wasn't going  in a  direction I
wanted to  go. At least I'd get to  the wrong  place  first,  and more  than
likely be killed first.
     Tanda handed me the torch and I slipped behind the cabinet.
     The  passageway  was as wide  as a small hallway back  in the Possiltum
palace.  It was mostly made of wood,  with some  stone walls along the  way.
Unlike the passageway cut out of the rock below the morgue, this looked like
it had had regular traffic over the years.
     I stayed in the  faint path  in  the dust and  moved ten steps down the
secret passageway, then stopped. Aahz pulled the cabinet closed and motioned
that he was ready. I wondered if we could go back that way if we had to, but
I didn't want Aahz to check, simply for the fear of finding out we couldn't.
     About a hundred  paces  along the secret  passageway branched into two.
One  went  to the  right and  up slightly, while  the  other  went seemingly
straight as far as the light from our torch would show.
     Tanda  was behind me and  I handed her the light, again pulling out the
map.
     It  had  changed  again, showing  the passageway  we  were in  and  the
intersection. The map now wanted us to go right. And up.
     I remembered being in front of this castle and looking up as it towered
over us. I had never seen anything so big before. Now it seemed that if this
map had its way, which Aahz and  Tanda were determined  to give it, we would
end up at the top.
     Maybe up there I'd have a good view when all the life was sucked out of
me.
     The passageway sloped upwards, sometimes stairs, sometimes just a ramp.
It bent to  the right, then in twenty paces to the right again, as  if going
around  a  room. From that point on it just  kept turning  and  twisting and
climbing. After twenty  minutes I was  so turned around and lost, I couldn't
even begin  to tell you what  part of the castle we were in. All  I knew was
that we had gone up a great deal. Finally the corridor ended at the top of a
short flight of stairs.
     I stopped and waited as Tanda caught  up.  Then, ten steps behind  her,
came Aahz helping Glenda.  He sure was being  nice,  for some  reason,  to a
woman who had betrayed  him. That wasn't like Aahz at all. Clearly he needed
her for something, and  I was  never far enough away from Glenda to ask what
it was.
     When they caught up,  Glenda slumped to the  ground and closed her eyes
and I pulled out the map and looked at where it was taking us. It showed the
end of the secret passageway where we  were standing, and a secret door into
a giant ballroom was right in front of me. I glanced at the wall. I couldn't
see where it was, but I assumed that when I needed it, it would be there.
     I went back to  studying the map again. We  had to go into the ballroom
and to the far wall where  there was  another panel into another passageway.
The golden cow treasure  was now marked as being in the throne room a number
of floors above us.
     "Looks like we  get to  go out  in the open for  the first time,"  Aahz
said, studying the map.
     "There's no one out there at the moment," Tanda said.
     "So we need to do it and quickly," I said, folding up the map.
     "Keep  the map handy," Aahz said. "When we get into the  ballroom,  you
need to check it again."
     "Of course,"  I said, nodding  and acting as  if I had known that, even
though I hadn't yet thought of it.
     "Can you make it a little farther, Glenda?" Aahz asked.
     Glenda jerked and pushed herself to her feet, leaning against the wall.
     "I can make it as far as I need to make it."
     Aahz just nodded. "Then let's go."
     Tanda had the torch, so I went to the wall and pushed where  the secret
panel was  supposed to be and surprise,  surprise, the  wall opened. I  slid
through. At  first  I thought there  was  nothing on  the other side of  the
panel, that the map had lied to us. Then I realized that the secret door was
pushing out a massive drape or tapestry of some type.
     I ducked to the right under the cloth and out into the open, with Tanda
and the torch right behind me.
     At  the moment  we  didn't  need  the  light.  The  room  had  massive,
two-story-high windows along one side that let in the natural sunlight.  The
hills in the distance were like old  friends calling to me. I so much wanted
to be  out there  instead of in here. The  sun, from what I could tell,  was
within an hour of setting on the other side of the castle. We needed to pick
up speed if we were going to find the golden cow before it became the golden
vampire.
     "Wow," Tanda said, looking around at the  gold-inlaid panels and golden
ceilings of the massive ballroom.
     The  floor  was  a  highly polished white  stone  with streaks  of gold
running through it. In my wildest imaginings I could have never come up with
a ballroom as fancy or beautiful as this one.
     Aahz and Glenda stopped beside us in the huge room. I bet at least five
hundred people could've danced  in this  room without even bumping into  one
another.
     "I remember being in this room last night," Glenda said softly.
     The thought of her being here with a bunch of naked vampires chewing on
her neck made me shudder.
     "Then let's not wait for the music to start," I said.
     I opened up the map and  looked at it. Again,  just  coming through the
secret door  had caused the map  to  change. Now the way out  of here wasn't
across the room, but  up  on  what looked like a stage near  the back of the
room, directly across from the windows.
     "This way," I said, leading  the  way up a  short staircase and  onto a
massive wooden stage.
     On  the  back  wall was  nothing  but  wood slats.  I  glanced  at  the
still-open map in  my hand,  then moved to what looked to be about the right
area, putting the map back into my pouch as
     I  went. After just a few seconds  of trying, I found the loose boards,
pulled them aside, and we were back out of the light and into what I thought
was another dark passageway.
     Tanda came in behind me, holding the torch up so that we could both see
what was ahead.
     I froze like a statue at what I saw.
     "Well I'll be a grave-digger's monkey," Tanda said.
     Ahead  of us  wasn't another passageway,  but  a massive, low-ceilinged
room. Rows and rows and rows of shelves lined the walls, and down the middle
of the room, side-by-side, packed close  on every inch  of every shelf, were
skulls.
     Cow skulls.
     Thousands and thousands and thousands of white, empty-eyed cow skulls.
     Aahz finished making sure the slats  were back in place behind us, then
turned  and  stopped cold beside  me. I  was glad  to  see  he had the  same
reaction I did. It was always good to know my mentor could be shocked.
     "Someone want to explain  this to me?" Glenda asked, her voice  echoing
through the remains of an entire herd.
     "Maybe it's  a thousand years of former royal family?" Aahz said. "Look
at that one."
     He pointed at one skull hung on the wall, ornately decorated with gems.
     I knew that wasn't exactly right. I could feel it in the energy in this
place. After a moment I turned to Tanda.
     "Can you feel anything odd in here?"
     "Power," she said.
     "An energy focus?" Aahz asked.
     "Sure seems that way," Tanda said. "Or maybe there's something  special
about  these skulls, something in  them that magnifies the magikal  power of
this area and turns it into something different."
     I found myself, to my own amazement, moving forward  toward the closest
shelf of skulls. I reached out and  lightly touched the smooth, cool surface
of one. It did have energy, but not energy like I had been taught by Aahz to
use. There was different energy in  it,  used for  something more  than just
magik.
     "Vampire energy," I said.
     Tanda and  Glenda  came up beside me, each  carefully reaching  out and
touching a skull.
     "He's right," Tanda said. "These skulls seem to take magical energy and
change it, radiating the new energy needed to turn cows into vampires."
     "Are you kidding me?" Aahz asked, standing off to one side.
     "No,  she's not," Glenda said. She waved  her hand at the thousands and
thousands of skulls. "Welcome to the energy source of the vampire rulers  of
this world."
     "And the energy is starting  to get stronger," Tanda said.  "I can feel
it."
     "The sun is going down," I said. "We need to get out of here."
     I opened up the map and looked at it. Through the room, against the far
wall, was the  door we needed to go through. And on  the other  side of that
door was something I hadn't expected us to get so close to this fast.
     The golden cow.
     The  treasure we had come so far to find.  It was one secret door away,
in a room called the Meadow.
     "Take a look at this," I said, spreading the map  out  for  everyone to
see.
     "Now what do we do?"
     Aahz looked at the map and smiled.
     "We go capture  us a  leader  as a hostage and make  sure  we  get  our
freedom."
     "Sounds good to me," Tanda said.
     "Why don't I think it's going to be that easy?" I said.
     "Because it never is." Glenda said.
     Around me  the empty-eyed cow skulls started to hum faintly and vibrate
a little, filling the room with a noise that ate at my very soul.
     "Whatever  we're going  to  do," Tanda said, her  hands  over her ears,
"let's do it fast."
     Again I stuffed the map in my pouch and, with my hands over my ears  as
well, I headed  through the middle of thousands of humming skulls toward the
secret panel in the far wall.
     By the  time  I got there  the sound from the skulls in my  head was so
painful  I didn't  even stop. I just went right on  through  and  out onto a
thick carpet of beautiful grass.
     Aahz,  Tanda, and  Glenda followed  me, with Aahz shutting  the  secret
panel behind us, instantly stopping the painful energy pounding at my  head.
I would have been relieved if I hadn't been so stunned at what faced me.
     There was a guy, sitting in  a lounge chair  on the  other  side of the
field of grass, reading a  newspaper.  If  he had had on a  white apron,  he
would  have looked  almost  exactly like the  guy  who had waited on  us  in
Audry's.
     The setting sun was pouring through one of the room's giant windows and
turning the nearby hills to a wonderful shade of gold and pink and red.
     I  glanced around. Except for the  patch of grass we were standing  on,
the  room looked like a large suite, with  a big  bed, a kitchen against one
wall, and a private bathroom area off to one side.
     The guy was sitting  in what looked like a livingroom area, except that
there was only one chair. He  looked over at us, then shook his  head as  if
not believing what he  was seeing. Then  he looked at us again and jumped to
his feet, an expression of sheer joy and happiness on his face.
     "My wonderful heavens!" he shouted. "You've finally come!"
     "I think he's happy to see us," Tanda whispered.
     The guy came toward us, his face almost breaking from the smile filling
it.
     "Really happy," I whispered back.
     "My friends, my friends, come in," he said, motioning us to come toward
his living area. "Don't be afraid. I'm just so happy you have arrived."
     "You are?" Aahz asked.
     The guy laughed.
     "I  am. I honestly am. I  can't believe after all this time the map has
finally brought someone to rescue me!"
     Chapter Thirteen
     "You can't always get what you want."
     M. JAGGER
     The guy led us off the grass and into what was clearly his home.
     "Sorry for the mess," he said, scampering about picking up a book here,
a notebook there, some dishes which he quickly put in  the sink. We all just
sort of stood in a group watching him. "My name is Harold. I'm sorry I don't
have enough chairs for you all." "
     He looked like a  Harold. The name fit him, and all the other  guys who
looked  a lot like him in all the Audry's-like places we had been in. Harold
pulled  his one kitchen chair away from the small table and set it out, then
indicated  that  one of  us  should take it  and  another  should  take  his
recliner. It was beyond clear that he never got  guests of any kind-at least
the type of guests he wanted to sit down with. I think at that point we were
all so stunned by what he had said, we really weren't reacting well. I  know
I wasn't. I have no real idea what I thought I was going to find when we got
to the "treasure," but a guy waiting to be rescued sure wasn't it. And a guy
who had used the map to bring his rescuers would  have never occurred to me.
Only Glenda took his offer of the recliner and settled into it  with  a deep
sigh. The guy looked at her, worried.
     "You were captured and taken last night, were you not?"
     "I was," she said.
     Harold  looked sincerely  upset.  "I'm  so  sorry. You're so lucky  you
survived it."
     "We saw a room full of people who didn't," Aahz said.
     The  poor guy looked  like he might just faint away right there. He was
wringing his hands, shaking his head, and pacing.
     "It's all my fault, you know. All my fault."
     "Okay,"  Aahz  said,  trying  to calm the guy a little.  "You  want  to
explain to us what's going on?"
     "Actually  start  from  the beginning,"  I  said,  leaning  against the
kitchen counter.
     From where I stood I  could  see  out the  two-story-tall  windows that
flanked one side  of the big room. The valley below  was in complete shadow,
but  the sun still covered the mountains and  streamed in through the window
onto the grass. If this was a prison, it was the nicest jail cell I had seen
in a long time.
     Harold nodded. "I'm sorry, I  am just so shocked you are here, that the
map worked."
     "The beginning," Aahz reminded him.
     "Please?" Tanda  said. "Right now you are looking  at four of the  most
confused people you have ever seen."
     "Okay," Harold said,  his  head  nodding  like  it was on  a spring. He
glanced  at  the window and then  took  a  deep  breath. "I've  only  got  a
half-hour until sunset and this is a long story. I might have to continue it
in the morning."
     "No  problem," Aahz said, clearly doing his green-scaled best  to  calm
the guy. "Just start and we'll go from there."
     Again  Harold did the nodding routine, his  head going up  and down  so
hard I was  sure  he  was going  to  have a neck  ache.  "First off,  you're
standing in what centuries ago used to be called Count Bovine's Castle."
     Okay, I have  to say  that I wasn't the one who started the snickering.
Tanda was, with her  snort.  Then Aahz  started  shaking  his  head, clearly
trying  to contain  himself,  and I just  couldn't  keep  the  laugh  inside
anymore. Thank heavens the guy was so lost in trying to tell us the story he
didn't notice.
     "For as long as  history recorded," Harold said, gathering speed on his
tale, "Bovine's type and our people lived in an uneasy balance. They fed off
of  us; we killed them  when we discovered  them. Everything was in balance.
The legends go that Count Bovine, a very long-lived and smart vampire, found
this area and took it over. He enslaved the people of Donner and built  this
castle."
     Harold waved his arms in both directions to make sure, I guess, that we
knew he meant the castle we were sitting in.
     "Then Count Bovine led his people in a revolt against my people,  using
the power that  came from this  castle. Over a period of  a hundred years he
swept  out over everything and was on  the verge of wiping my  kind from the
face of this planet."
     The  guy  glanced  at  the  window.  The  sun was  on  the tops  of the
mountains. Sunset was close.
     Harold went on. "Of course, during that time Bovine's people also wiped
out almost all other living creatures here as well with their  blood thirsty
ways.  Day in and day  out, they just couldn't  get enough blood to  satisfy
themselves."
     It suddenly dawned on me, that except  for  horses,  we hadn't seen any
other creatures since  we had gotten here. No  dogs or wild animals. Nothing
but cows, horses, and people.
     "Okay,  a quick question," I said.  Harold nodded with  a glance at the
window. "You're saying that Bovine's people were not cows at that point, but
were people like you, just vampires?"
     "Yes,"  Harold said. "In fact,  it is rumored that  vampires originally
came from our species, but that fact is lost in time, if true."
     "It's  that way on  other  dimensions," Aahz said, "so it  is more than
likely it was that way here as well."
     Harold nodded. "I had heard that as well."
     "So what happened?" I asked.
     "Count  Bovine,  who  was not  a  stupid  individual,  understood  that
something had to be changed or his people would wipe out my people, who were
his people's only remaining food source."
     "Makes sense," Tanda said. "You lose your food, you die as well."
     "Exactly," Harold said. "So he struck a deal  with the few remaining of
my people to  take his people away for all but the nights of  the full moon,
if my people would serve his kind during that time as food."
     "And your people agreed?"  Glenda  asked, sounding as stunned  as I was
feeling.
     "I don't think  my  ancestors  had  a choice," Harold said. "Using  the
magik of this area, Count Bovine put a spell on the rest of my people. Then,
using an even more powerful magik spell, he changed his people to cows."
     "So while they  were cows,"  Aahz asked,  "why didn't your people  just
kill them all? Seems like it would have been easy."
     "It would have been," Harold said, "if not  for the magik that keeps us
from doing just that, and keeps us from advancing. The magik allows us to do
nothing  but prepare for the round-up. Month in and month out, for centuries
now,  we  have  done nothing else." Harold just shook his head and  went on.
"Bovine's  people became contented cows, careful  how they treated us during
the full-moon nights  when they regained their  normal form and had parties.
We  became the feed animals, content to do nothing but prepare constantly to
serve our cow masters. It was survival for us, but not much of one."
     Harold glanced once more out the window. The sun was just a minute from
leaving the top of the distant mountaintop. "Quickly,  follow  me," he said,
moving toward the bathroom area of his living quarters.
     "What happens now?" Tanda asked.
     "I become a cow for the night, the vampires roam the castle feeding and
killing like the history says happened, and if you don't hide in a magically
protected area, they will find you."
     I  was right behind him when Harold led us  into his bathroom, opened a
cabinet on the wall, touched a place inside the cabinet, and stepped back as
a wall behind a toilet started moving inwards.
     "This is the most  magically  protected room in all the castle," Harold
said. "Stay in there until I open the door. Under no circumstances come out.
Understand?"
     "We understand," Aahz said.
     I was  the first  one through  the door,  with  Tanda and  Glenda right
behind me. Aahz took a moment longer, talking  about something  with  Harold
for a moment, then he joined us.
     Behind the wall the space  had  been carved out of solid stone that was
streaked in gold. It was  warm  and lit by  the golden glow of the gold from
the  walls.  The  entire  room  was  filled  with old books, scrolls, desks,
chairs,  and more antiques than  I had ever  seen in one place.  We were all
inside when the  guy slid the  wall panel  closed behind us without  another
word.
     "Not even a wave goodnight," Tanda said.
     Glenda moved inside and right to an antique couch against one wall.
     "If  you  don't mind,"  she said, lying down and closing  her eyes.  "I
think I need a nap."
     "Good  idea,"  Aahz  said.   Then  he  looked  at  me  and  held  up  a
gold-threaded  rope that he had  gotten somewhere. He put his  finger to his
mouth to indicate that we should all be  quiet. Then he  moved over and took
an old blanket from another antique.
     "I got a blanket  here to cover  you," Aahz said  to  Glenda. "Keep you
warm for the night."
     "Thanks," Glenda murmured, clearly almost asleep.
     Aahz moved over  to her, motioning for Tanda and me to follow silently.
I  had no idea what  he  wanted  me to do. Aahz  put  the  blanket over her,
wrapping the rope over her as well. Smooth move. She would never know it was
there.
     He pointed that I should pull the end of the rope that had dropped down
against the wall under the couch.
     I got on  my knees and  did just that, then gave the end to him as Aahz
pretended to tuck the blanket around her. With a quick knot he tied the rope
and stepped back.
     Tanda  and I  both stepped  back with him. I  didn't know how  one loop
would hold  someone like Glenda,  or  why she  even  needed  to be held. But
clearly Aahz had known something I hadn't, which was normal.
     Glenda  started  thrashing,  back  and  forth, back  and forth, clearly
trying to get out of the bind, yet the golden  rope never seemed to  tighten
or strain in holding her. Then  her eyes opened as if seeing a terror I sure
didn't want to see.
     "What's happening?" I whispered.
     Aahz motioned  for me  to be  silent  as Glenda's  mouth opened  into a
scream  that never really  came. Her back arched her up  against the blanket
and rope, and she held that pose for a good thirty seconds.
     It was the longest thirty seconds I had experienced. I couldn't take my
eyes off of her and the look of pure terror  on her face.  Then whatever she
was going through  was over. She slumped back, closed her eyes, and began to
snore.
     Aahz motioned that we should move away through the books and old papers
and scrolls.
     "Okay, what just  happened  there?" Tanda asked a half-second  before I
asked the same question.
     "Harold  gave  me the rope to save her  from becoming  a vampire," Aahz
said. "It seems that those left alive last night were the ones they liked."
     "So that was why Glenda's body wasn't in that morgue with  the others,"
I said.
     "Exactly," Aahz said. "They  were trying  to turn  her,  have her  join
them."
     I glanced back at where Glenda was snoring. "So she's not going to be a
vampire now?"
     Aahz shrugged. "We'll keep  the rope on  her until morning just to make
sure."
     "How about for two days?" Tananda asked.
     Aahz laughed and said, "Maybe."
     As  far as I was concerned, we could keep the rope on her for the  next
month. When it came to Glenda, my motto was better safe than sorry.
     Spending the night trapped in the middle of a culture's entire history,
afraid that at any moment I might get taken and  have my blood sucked, is an
experience I would not wish on my worst  enemy. The room we were  trapped in
was huge, with  a high, domed ceiling  and row after row of shelves  full of
old  books  alternating with piles of ancient  furniture.  Unlike  Aahz  and
Tanda,  I was not the scrounge-through-old-things kind of person. Old  stuff
was dusty and usually boring, as far as I was concerned. I thumbed through a
few books and blew the dust off some old scrolls that looked like cookbooks.
I decided I  didn't want to know what they were trying  to tell me about how
to cook, so I wandered over to another aisle, found an antique couch  tucked
off to one side of a pile of furniture, managed to get most of the dust  off
of it, and lay down.
     Tanda and  Aahz  were reading,  whispering to  each  other about  their
finds, clearly excited about  what  they  were  seeing. I  was beyond  being
excited about anything at this point. I was just tired. Yet for some strange
reason (namely vampire cows and fear of getting my blood drained  and ending
up naked on a metal table in a morgue), I  couldn't get  to sleep. Instead I
lay there, finally turning onto my back and staring at the high ceiling.
     Maybe an hour into the attempt at sleep, it finally dawned on me what I
was looking at every  time I opened  my eyes.  On the  smooth, stone ceiling
surface  someone  had  painted something a long, long time ago. Now,  in the
weird light from the glowing walls, and  all  the  dust of the years, it was
faded and almost invisible. But it was still there.
     And  the more I  lay on my back staring at it, the more I realized that
what I was seeing was the most important thing in the room as far as we were
concerned.  It  was a map of the entire castle, only it  wasn't a map of the
current castle, but the layout of Count Bovine's castle.
     The more  I studied  the drawing, the  more I could see  in  the  faint
outlines.  I found  Harold's living area,  which at one point must have been
Bovine's royal suite.
     The room we were now in was shown  as a private library. And  the skull
room  was  there as well, labeled as "royal storage."  But  what was  really
interesting was  the  passageway  that led  from  this  room  down  into the
mountain, away from the Royal Suite, down to  a point that seemed to show an
energy focal point of some sort in a large room. The  energy point was drawn
on the very center of the dome, which I also found interesting.
     After  another hour I  was sure I  had the  important  areas of the map
pretty well memorized, including some escape routes from the castle I didn't
think any vampire cow would know about.
     I stood and  moved over to where Aahz and  Tanda were sitting  at desks
pouring over books. Glenda was  still asleep on her  couch,  the golden rope
tied around her.
     "Have a good nap?" Aahz asked.
     "A productive one," I said.
     He looked at me with his normal puzzled frown and  then pointed  at the
book he had open in front of him.
     "Says  here that this area around the castle is the magik focal area of
the entire dimension. Before  Count Bovine took it over,  it was a spa  area
where demons from all the dimensions nearby came to soak up the concentrated
magik forces and become rejuvenated."
     "Powerful stuff," I said.
     "More than anything I've seen before," Aahz said.
     Tanda pointed at what  she had  been reading. "This book says that  the
war between  the vampires and  the  normal folks lasted for over two hundred
years and killed almost  everything.  This  was one of the last books put in
here before the exodus."
     "Exodus?" I asked.
     Aahz  nodded.  "It  seems,  from  what  we can  gather,  that when  the
compromise was reached to save both sides, Count Bovine and his people  left
this area, this castle, putting  a shield up around it to keep everyone  out
of the magik."
     "It  seems  the count  didn't trust his  own people  with this  kind of
power," Tanda said.
     "So what became of this count?" I asked.
     Aahz shrugged. "Maybe Harold will tell us in the morning."
     "Well, before that I've got something to show you."
     I had them follow me back to my couch.
     "I really don't feel like a nap," Aahz said.
     "Just  trust me,"  I said, pointing to  a  pile of furniture ten  paces
away. "Pull that other couch over here."
     He shook his head, but did as I suggested.
     "Now both  of you lie on that couch," I said,  dropping onto  the one I
had been on for hours earlier. "And lie on your backs."
     Neither of them moved, and both looked annoyed. "What, can't  trust  me
for five seconds?" I asked, smiling up at them.
     Aahz  snorted and then lay down, scooting  over enough to give  Tanda a
little room as well.
     I pointed upward. "What do you see?"
     "A dark ceiling and a lot of dust," Tanda said.
     "I  see  myself  wasting  my  time,"  Aahz  said.  "There's  a  lot  of
information here that we need to-"
     Silence  filled  the  old library.  After a  few  long seconds  I said,
"Interesting, isn't it?"
     "What?" Tanda  demanded. "Would you stop playing games and just tell me
what is going on?"
     To me the  map was now as clear as  if it were printed on a white piece
of parchment.  "It's a drawing," I  said, pointing to the  clearest lines to
Tanda's right.
     "It's a map," Aahz said.
     "Exactly," I said. "And if you study it long enough,  you can see where
we are."
     "Oh, my heavens," Tanda said to herself, now clearly seeing the drawing
of the castle.
     "After a few minutes of  looking at  it, the lines  become  clearer," I
said. "Take a look to the right of the room we're in."
     I didn't  say anything else, giving them both  time to study what I had
been looking at for hours. Then finally Aahz said, "It looks like  there's a
corridor there."
     "Where?" Tanda demanded.
     "Off the  room shown as a private library,"  I  said. "On  the opposite
side from the royal suite."
     "And it leads downward," Aahz said.
     "To this area's power," I  said. "Do you have any idea what standing in
the middle of that kind of energy focal point would feel like?"
     Both Tanda and Aahz looked at me.
     "Like nothing you could ever imagine, apprentice," Aahz said.
     "True," Tanda said,  going  back to  staring  at  the  drawings on  the
ceiling, "but Skeeve might be the only one who can go down there."
     "I  know,"  Aahz said, also  going back to  studying the  roof over his
head.
     "Exactly what do you mean by that?" I asked, not liking the idea that I
might have to take that old corridor alone into the middle of the mountain.
     Aahz  sighed.  "I've  lost my  powers;  Tanda  is  an assassin,  not  a
magician, and we can't trust Glenda. You're it, apprentice. If one of us has
to go down there, it has to be you."
     I  stared at  the roof, following the ancient corridor  down  into  the
center of the mountain to a place of unimaginable power. For the moment, the
idea of getting my blood sucked by a vampire cow didn't seem so bad.
     Chapter Fourteen
     "Things are looking up."
     MICHELANGELO
     The rest of the night just  crawled  past. Aahz and Tanda stayed on the
couches with me for the longest time, studying the map and trying to  figure
out  how  we  were  going  to get out of  here.  I  noticed that,  once Aahz
discovered there was no golden cow, and that  the map had been a sham to get
someone  to save  Harold,  he  became  very  interested in  just leaving.  I
supposed that was better late then never.
     Aahz was sitting at one of the desks while Tanda and I stood beside him
when the wall opened up and Harold stepped in. Through the  opening  I could
see daylight flooding into the  main area beyond the bathroom. It  seemed we
had survived another full-moon night in the land of cow vampires.
     Harold stepped  in and glanced at where Glenda was still sleeping.  She
hadn't moved at all during the night.
     "Did she try to get away?" Harold asked.
     "Only when  the sun went  down, and only for a few seconds," Aahz said.
"The rope held her."
     "Then she's safe," Harold said.
     "What did the rope do?" I asked, not really clear on the concept that a
simple rope like that could hold even a child, let alone a person who wanted
to be a vampire.
     "Basically, the magik in the rope  stopped  her  from changing," Harold
said. "And leaving it on  her all night cleaned her system of any  chance of
it ever happening. Check her neck if you want to make sure."
     I moved over to Glenda. Drool had run out of her mouth and formed a wet
spot on the blanket. And  she  was  snoring lightly.  I  put a finger on her
temple and eased her head over so I could see the vampire bite marks on  her
neck.  Where  her skin  had  been  red and inflamed, it had now  returned to
normal. Only a few  faint  marks that looked more like freckles were left of
the infection.
     "Amazing," I said.
     Aahz had moved up behind me. "It sure is."
     "Leave the rope on her for a  while longer and  let  her sleep," Harold
said. "It  will do her good, give her body time to replace the blood drained
from it."
     I glanced  at Glenda again. For a moment I  almost felt sorry for  her.
Almost. Then I  remembered she had stranded me in this world with no thought
of ever coming back for me, and the feeling-sorry emotion left quickly.
     "So how did you survive the night?" Tanda asked.
     Harold just  shrugged. "The same way  I  have survived  every full-moon
night for  more years than I want to think  about. I turned into a cow,  ate
grass, and slept standing up."
     "Oh," Tanda said. "You going to explain that  to us in the rest of your
story?"
     Harold  laughed. "It's a part of it." Then he looked around. "This is a
pretty amazing room, isn't it?"
     "It is," Aahz said.  "We learned some  interesting history from some of
these books."
     I noticed  that Aahz  didn't say anything about  the ceiling map, and I
sure wasn't going to either. I wondered if Harold even knew about it.
     "Good," Harold said. "That  will give you some more  background on what
happened with me, and  how we got like this. Shall we  go back out  into the
sunlight?"
     "What about her?" I asked, motioning toward the sleeping Glenda.
     Harold shrugged. "She  won't wake  up as long as the  rope is  on  her.
She'll be fine right there."
     We followed  him  out into  the main room.  It  felt great to see light
again. Spending the night in a dusty room  worrying about what might  happen
at any moment wasn't my ideal evening.
     "Anyone like something to eat?" he asked, moving into the kitchen area.
We stood around the counter, watching him.
     "Anything but carrot juice," Aahz said, smiling at me.
     "Not funny," I said.
     Harold looked at both of us and  shrugged,  clearly having no idea what
we were talking about. "I  can make  you a horse-steak sandwich, a  cucumber
sandwich, or a salad  with fresh  tomatoes. And I've got either orange juice
or water to drink."
     "Wow, you eat better than the rest of your people," Tanda said.
     "I do?" he asked, surprised. "It's been so  long since I've been out of
these rooms, I wouldn't know."
     "A lot better,"  I said, "but at the moment  I'd just like  a glass  of
water."
     Aahz and  Tanda  agreed and as he  got  the water Aahz prompted him  to
start his story  again. "You got up to the point where your people and Count
Bovine's  people had  come to an agreement, his  people were changed to cows
for most of the month, and this place was sealed off. What changed?"
     "Actually," Harold said, "I changed it."
     "Why?" Aahz asked, a fraction of a second before I could.
     "Because I  thought I knew better,  knew what was best  for  my people,
knew how to change things back to a better world."
     "Better  back up and  tell us how that kind of  thinking got  started,"
Tanda said.
     Harold nodded.  "I  met a dimension traveler named Leila. I was running
this  little restaurant  and bar  just down  the road  from here  when Leila
walked  in.  We got talking, she told me about the big world outside of this
dimension,  and  then offered  to  let  me be her apprentice. She said I had
great magical potential."
     I glanced at  Aahz,  who ignored  me. Not once had Aahz ever said I had
great magical potential, and I certainly wasn't  going to ask him  if I did.
He'd just say no and laugh. Mostly laugh.
     "Leila  took  me  dimension-hopping with  her,  showed me  hundreds  of
different  places,  taught me some basics  of  magik, then got killed  by an
assassin."
     I  could tell from  the look in Harold's eyes that even though that had
been  some time  ago, he still missed  her. And might even have been in love
with her.
     "So after she was killed I got a D-Hopper and came back here. The magik
block over  this  old castle was pretty basic,  intended to just keep  Count
Bovine and my people out. But I had been trained in some magik, so I got in,
knocking the block down.
     "A little knowledge can be dangerous," Aahz said, glancing at me.
     It was my turn to ignore him.
     "It sure can be," Harold said. "I sat up house right here and found the
room you stayed in last night, and started learning about what had  happened
to  my  people. And the more  I read, the more  convinced I became to try to
save my people and wipe out the vampires once and for all."
     "In other words," Tanda said, "you started the war again."
     Harold nodded at Tanda's blunt statement. "Basically, I did. Yes."
     "So what went wrong?" Aahz asked.
     "Count Bovine came back," Harold said.
     "What?"  I said. "How could he? He'd have to be thousands and thousands
of years old."
     "He is," Harold said.
     Aahz stared at me. "When are you going to get it through your head that
powerful vampires, like powerful magicians, live a very long time?"
     "Okay, okay," I said. "Go on with your story."
     "I actually  didn't  know  that  Count  Bovine could be  alive either,"
Harold said. "Since I  was free from  the  magical spell that kept  the cows
safe, I started gathering up help. One  by one, I gathered a gang, broke the
spell over  them, and started  planning. When  there were about fifty of us,
all trained  and  on horseback, we set  about rounding up  cows and  killing
them."
     No one said  a word, so Harold went on.  "As we went,  on our  army got
bigger and bigger, and more  and more cows died. Every skull of every cow we
brought back here to make us stronger. It was a heady time."
     Harold looked like an old man, thinking back to his party days.
     "When did Count Bovine show up?"
     "Oh, about four months into  our little  war. He  and five of his  most
powerful  vampires walked in here one night and killed every  one of my  men
without so much as a fight."
     "Bet you thought you had it shielded, didn't you?" Aahz said.
     "I did,"  Harold said. "I  was so  confident of  the  shielding  that I
didn't even have guards posted."
     "Wouldn't have done any good," Aahz said. Tanda nodded. I didn't have a
clue why he said that, but Harold seemed to agree as well.
     "Needless to say, Count Bovine was angry. He imprisoned me up here, and
put a spell on me so that every month, when  he and his people are dining on
my people, I'm a cow eating grass."
     "How long ago was that?" I asked.
     "I don't know exactly," Harold said. "No real reason to keep track.  At
least thirty years, maybe more."
     "And Bovine  and his people have been killing your people ever  since?"
Aahz asked, looking puzzled.
     "Actually, no," Harold said. "That just started a few  years back, when
Count Bovine was killed and his second-in-command, Ubald, took over."
     "Ubald's not one for keeping things in balance, is he?" Tanda asked.
     "Not worried about it at all," Harold said. "He told me that there were
enough of my kind around for his people to party for centuries."
     "At least he didn't undo the cow spell," I said.
     "Neither he nor Count Bovine could," Harold  said. "Ubald keeps trying,
though. He's using the cow skulls in the  other room there to  funnel energy
into breaking it."
     "Makes sense," Aahz  said. "A spell that major, in place for that long,
would be almost impossible to remove. But not completely impossible."
     "He's got time," Harold said.
     "So how did the map come about?" I asked.
     "When Count  Bovine was still alive, and had me locked up here, none of
them lived  anywhere  near  here.  One  day, this cartographer  showed up. I
wanted him to help me escape and he said he couldn't."
     "He can't," Tanda said.
     "Why?" I asked.
     "He  told me that, as long as he didn't involve himself in any activity
in  any dimension,"  Harold said,  "he was free  to  use his  magik  to move
anywhere he wanted, map anything he wanted, including through the magik that
Count Bovine had put up to hold me here in this castle."
     "I'm puzzled," Aahz said, "How  did you get him to lie that there was a
cow here who gave gold milk and draw a treasure map to it?"
     "It never  says anything  about a cow  giving gold milk," Harold  said,
laughing. "I'm  the cow the map leads to, and I was willing to give anyone a
lot of gold if they found me."
     "Makes sense to me," Tanda said, laughing.
     I was enjoying the different emotions playing over my mentor's face. We
had deciphered the map, found  the cow, and were entitled to the  gold. That
made Aahz's mouth  water,  I could tell. But, at  the same time, getting the
gold  out of  here, with all our blood still inside our bodies, was going to
be another matter.
     Harold noticed Aahz's face. "You're a Pervert, right?"
     "Pervect," Aahz said, showing all his teeth.
     He hated being called a Pervert,  and  often  was, since that  was  the
reputation of the demons from his dimension.
     "Sorry," Harold said. "But you love money and gold, don't you?"
     Now it was Tanda's and my turn to laugh. Aahz just gave us both a dirty
look and then said, "Of course."
     "You are  welcome to  all the treasure-gold if you  want- you can carry
from here," Harold said. "There's tons of the  stuff in the  back. The rocks
of this mountain are full of it. All you have to do is help me escape."
     I  knew there wasn't a sunbeam's chance on  Vortex #6 that  Aahz  would
turn down that offer. But I didn't really mind. I sort of liked Harold.  And
besides, I'd lost a mentor once myself,  and we apprentices  needed to stick
together.
     "You know of a way to escape from here?" Tanda asked Harold, staring at
how Aahz's eyes had glazed over at just the idea of a lot of gold.
     "If I did, would I still be here?" he said, his voice sad.
     Aahz looked at me and I shrugged. "Why not?"
     Aahz looked at  Tanda.  Tanda sighed.  "Sure. As you've been saying all
along, we've come this far."
     "Great," Aahz said. "We'll help you."
     I knew for a fact  that Aahz didn't have  a  clue how we were going  to
help Harold escape, but the promise sure cheered up our host.
     After another hour of talking with Harold to make sure we hadn't missed
anything  important, I knew enough  about this Ubald vampire guy  to make me
want another shot of  carrot  juice. The guy was just  plain mean, almost as
old as Count Bovine  had been, and not at all happy with the situation as it
stood.
     On top  of that, he liked to party, and party hard. By the time the sun
was ready  to  come  up on  the last morning of the  full moon, Harold said,
Ubald  and  his  group  were stumbling  idiots.  Still  very  dangerous, but
stumbling,  and it often  took the men with the golden shovels days to round
up all  the cattle from the different rooms of the castle and take them back
to their private pastures.
     The idea of coming into  a huge bedroom suite to find two cows standing
on  a rumpled bed was  too much  for  me. Tonight was that  night,  the most
dangerous night of the full moon according to Harold. I could hardly wait.
     Finally  Aahz decided we had talked  enough and we all headed back into
the library area.  Aahz wanted to  have Harold show us  the books about  the
spells put over this castle, the spells put on everyone by Count Bovine, and
what Harold knew of the magik energy surrounding this castle.
     But first we had to wake up Glenda. Snoring, drooling Glenda. As far as
I was concerned,  she could just stay  right there, sleeping  for  the  next
hundred  years,  or  until she died  of hunger  in her sleep, whichever came
first.
     But it seemed that Harold  and  Aahz had other ideas for her which they
were not sharing with me.
     "Are you confident she's cured?" I asked  Harold as we stood staring at
her.
     "Completely," Harold said. "The magik rope there does the trick."
     "Well, just to be sure," I said, "can we put the rope around her  again
tonight, before the sun sets?"
     Aahz laughed. "Trust me, she'll have the rope on tonight. You can count
on it."
     I stared at him as he moved  to her and  untied the knot  in the golden
rope, then pulled it free, wrapping it in his hand.
     After what Glenda  had done to us, I figured it would  have  served her
right to become a cow for most of every  month for the rest of her life. She
was  already a self-centered bloodsucker; why shouldn't she have the  entire
cow package?
     After  Aahz pulled the rope off of her,  she awoke, groaned and somehow
managed to sit up, her face pale and her eyes glazed. "What happened?"
     "You slept through the night just fine," Aahz said.
     "Snoring like a horse," Tanda said.
     I wanted to ask her how she knew horses snored, but figured this wasn't
the time to push too much into her personal life.
     Glenda's hand went to her  neck,  where  there  was now no sign  of the
vampire bites. I could tell that she was surprised when she touched her neck
and it didn't hurt. Surprised and confused. Then she  noticed the gold laced
rope Aahz  was holding.  For a  moment  she looked  into  his eyes. Then she
asked, "Was I going to turn?"
     "You were," Harold said. "It was why Ubald and his vampire  friends let
you live."
     "And the rope is what I think it is?" Glenda asked, not taking her eyes
from Aahz.
     Aahz held it up. "Just to be  safe,  you're going to wear it tonight as
well. I promised my apprentice there for his peace of mind."
     She stared at  the rope for  a moment, then nodded. "I suppose I should
thank you."
     "Just help us all get out of here and we can call it even," Aahz said.
     "I'll do what  I  can," she said, "but  first, can  I have a  glass  of
water?"
     Harold laughed. "You are cured. I'll get it for you."
     I had no idea  why Harold  thought that Glenda getting a glass of water
meant  she was  cured.  Seemed  like a somewhat silly sign  to me.  Or maybe
vampires were only thirsty for blood?
     Harold headed out the panel toward his kitchen area. When he was safely
gone  Glenda  looked up at Aahz, the anger clear  and at full force  in  her
eyes.
     "Why didn't you just stake me when you had the chance?"
     I was stunned  by the question.  And her anger  at Aahz for not killing
her.
     "I thought about it," Aahz said.
     He pointed to  a sharp stake on  top of an antique  dresser  beside the
couch she was sitting on. I hadn't  noticed it before. Again  I was stunned.
Aahz went on.
     "I figure  you can be of  help to all of us, something you haven't done
much of up to now."
     "You know I'm going to have to wear that rope for the rest of my life,"
she said, "on every full moon, every time I hop dimensions, every night?"
     "I know," Aahz  said, his voice cold and low and sounding just about as
mean as  I had ever heard him sound. "And if you don't help us, I'm going to
free  you into the  countryside  here, in  this dimension, without the rope.
You'll be a cow for most of the rest of your life."
     I stared  at  him, seeing a side  of my  mentor I didn't often see.  It
seemed that, as always, he had known more  than he was telling me,  and that
helping her had just  been a ruse to keep her with us and under his control.
He tucked the rope into his pouch and crossed his arms.
     "And if you want the rope to stay  alive tonight,  you're going to work
with us and not pull any of your tricks. Understand?"
     Glenda  glared  at him,  then  slowly nodded. "I understand."  Well,  I
didn't, but I didn't want anyone trying to  explain it to me  with  all  the
anger flowing around at the moment.
     Chapter Fifteen
     "Go with the flow."
     M. TWAIN
     Sometimes  in  grand adventures,  there  are  times  when just  nothing
happens. The  rest of the third day  of the full-moon cycle was one of those
times.
     Aahz, Tanda, Harold, and Glenda spent the entire day poring over  books
and old scrolls, trying to  find answers on how to get out. I mostly sat and
listened, falling asleep every  few minutes until  my  head bobbed enough to
wake me up enough to listen until I fell asleep again.
     And over and over  that pattern went. My neck was sore by the time  the
day was over.
     About thirty minutes  before the  sun set Aahz had Glenda lie down on a
couch, and then he  tied the  gold-laced magikal rope  around her.  She fell
asleep instantly.  That rope was the  best sleep aid I had ever  seen.  Aahz
should take it back with us to Possiltum to make money. On bad nights, I bet
the king would pay a ransom for it.
     If it had been up to  me, I'd have sent Glenda out into the  hallway to
be  a cow,  eating grass  and being  followed around by a guy in a white hat
with a shovel. But it wasn't up to me, so Aahz put her to sleep.
     About twenty minutes before the sun set Harold shut us into the library
again and went to his grass to become a cow for the night.
     I slept off and on all night. Aahz and Tanda did as well, reading while
they were  awake. By morning,  when Harold opened the door and let in a  few
wonderful rays of sunlight from the living area, I was well-rested and bored
to tears.
     Aahz untied Glenda to wake her  up,  pouched  the rope, and we all went
out into the kitchen  area to  have Harold  cook us horse  steaks covered in
tomatoes. He called  it his celebration breakfast. He  said he had it  every
month after the last full moon night.
     I  had to admit, it was surprisingly  good. After  breakfast  the  talk
turned  to escape, which,  after the boring day and the fear of cow vampires
all night, was the most interesting topic I could imagine.
     Aahz  took charge of  the discussion and ticked off our options. "First
chance we have is to lower the dimension-hopping screen. If we could do that
for even an instant, we'd be out of here."
     "I've  never run  into a screen like it,"  Tanda said, "even in  all my
years of being an assassin. It's more solid than a rock."
     "More than likely coming from the energy in the mountain," Aahz said.
     I thought about the  map on the ceiling, and how Aahz  hadn't mentioned
it to  either Harold or  Glenda.  I had no idea what he was thinking,  but I
sure didn't want to mess up what he was doing by blurting something out. I'd
done enough of that in the past.
     "Our second option is to just find a way out of the castle."
     "Right," I  said, "and sneak all the  way  through  Donner and past the
posse."
     "Posse?" Harold asked.
     "Mounted riders who knew we were coming far outside of town."
     "They picked me up as well," Glenda said.
     "So  they  have some  magik that  tells them enemies are coming,"  Aahz
said. "We could be screened against that."
     "If we knew what kind of magik it was," Tanda said.
     "I'm stuck  here anyway," Harold said. He pointed to what I had assumed
was the front door to the suite. "It's like walking into a wall trying to go
through there."
     "And the same for how we came in?" Tanda asked.
     "Oh, I can go all the way to the entrance into the ballroom through the
skull room," Harold said. "Then I hit the screen."
     "How about through the floor, or the window?" I asked.
     "Haven't tried either," he said.
     "I doubt it would work," Aahz said.
     "Yeah," Tanda said, "captive  spells, which  I  think this sounds like,
are  all-around  prisons.  It's like  being  in  an  invisible,  unbreakable
bubble."
     "So to get Harold out with us," I said, "we have to break that spell as
well."
     "You're coming with us?" Glenda asked.
     "I'm going to try," Harold said. He didn't add that there was gold  for
getting him out, and none of the rest of us filled her in either.
     "So, old mentor," I  said to  Aahz,  "how do we go about  breaking  the
spells,  since it seems to me that both our  main ways of escape are blocked
by them?"
     He looked at me with a harsh look, then answered my question. "A couple
of ways  to break a spell. Either  put a counter-spell on it, or cut off the
source of power to the spell."
     "Since  this  place is  flowing  with energy,  the second doesn't sound
likely. How does a counter-spell work?"
     "I've tried every one I know," Harold said.
     I glanced at Aahz. "My mentor hasn't even taught me any yet."
     "When you  gain enough self-control to use  them," Aahz said,  "I might
think about it."
     "I tried  a number of them the  first day  I was  here,"  Glenda  said.
"Didn't even dent the dimension-hopping shield."
     "I tried all the ones I  knew as  well," Tanda said, frowning. Since we
were all still here, I assumed she had had the same result as Glenda.
     "And I saw  nothing  in any of the books back there to give us any help
either,"  Aahz  said. "In fact, I think it's  worse  than we are assuming. I
think the spell that  keeps all the vampires as cows, and your  people under
their  spell and  not killing the cows every month, is tied up with the very
spells we are trying to break."
     "If that's  the case," Harold said, sounding defeated,  "to free me,  I
must release  all my people from the spell that has held them for centuries,
and free all the vampires to kill them at the same time. I can't do that."
     "Actually," Aahz said, smiling, "there  might  be  a way that it  would
work, if we could shut everything down at once and at an exact time."
     "How?" Harold asked.
     "I wouldn't mind knowing the same thing," I said.
     Tanda laughed with Aahz. "Do it during the middle of the day."
     I  frowned  and  looked at  Aahz, who was nodding and laughing  at  me.
Harold was frowning as well.
     Glenda was laughing, but not very much.
     "All the cows are out in pastures," Aahz said, his voice taking  on the
tone he got when  I was being so stupid he  couldn't believe I could be that
stupid.
     "Daylight," Tanda said. "Vampires?"
     "Oh," Harold said. "Of course. Sunlight kills vampires."
     "Of  course," I  said out loud,  pretending I had just forgotten,  even
though I had never known that fact about vampires. Why would I have? Until I
came to this stupid dimension, I had never seen or even heard of a  vampire.
I just figured they had something to do with full moons.
     "So if we shut off  the power to the big  spell  somehow," Harold said,
"all the vampires on one half of the planet would die."
     "Exactly," Aahz  said, "And  the ones on the  night side  would have to
find shelter by sunrise, giving your people time to kill many of them."
     "Aahz, I just have one question."
     He looked at me and said nothing.
     "How do you propose to shut off the energy flowing in this area?"
     Aahz smiled. "That's our problem, isn't it?"
     "Why  do I think I'm  not  going  to like what you're thinking at  this
moment?"
     "Oh, maybe because I'm thinking that's where you're going to come in."
     Tanda laughed.
     "It's not funny," I said.
     "Sure it is," Tanda said.
     I  just stared at Aahz. Someday I'd love to figure out a way to get him
his powers back so I wasn't the one doing the dirty work all the time. I had
a hunch, from the look on his face, that this was going to get  really dirty
for me. Center-of-the-mountain-kill-the-energy-at-its-source dirty.
     "Before we can figure out how to block the energy for the spells," Aahz
said, "we have to know how it flows through the castle."
     He said that and I just shuddered.
     I  could feel  how  much of the energy flowed in this place any  time I
opened my mind to it. It came from down in the mountain, flowing up and out.
Usually energy for magik was in lines flowing through  the sky that I had to
reach up and tap to work a  disguise spell, or a flying spell. Or, if  there
was no air energy, I  went  for ground energy flowing deep under the surface
and rocks. Air energy was easier to get, and Aahz had taught me to always go
for it first.
     But this castle was built right on a  place where energy flowed up from
below and  out  into  the sky in all directions. Mapping  meant someone  who
could read energy lines had to somehow get above the castle and look down at
it all.
     "So what do we do?" Tanda asked. "How do we start doing that?"
     "First," Aahz said, "we try  to figure  out how  the energy flows  into
that skull  room. It was strong and getting stronger in  there right  before
all the cows turned to vampires the other night."
     "Really?" Harold asked.
     I was surprised that Aahz had wanted to start there, but it made sense.
We  had  to map the  energy patterns,  and starting where  we knew a lot was
being tapped seemed logical.
     Suddenly I realized what I had been thinking about.
     "Map," I said aloud.
     Everyone sort of turned and stared at me.
     "Map,"  I  said  again, smiling at them. I reached  into  my  pouch and
pulled out the magik  map we had  used so often  to get into this fix. If it
got us here, it just might be able to get us out.
     "Oh, heavens, yes," Aahz said, smiling at me. "Great thinking, Skeeve."
     That was the third time he had complimented me  on something to do with
the map. I was  going to have to keep this parchment with  me at  all times.
Aahz hadn't given me that many compliments in the last year.
     I opened up the map. It was completely blank. Nothing on it at all. For
some reason, that wasn't what I was expecting. I'm not  sure exactly what  I
was expecting, but a blank parchment just flat wasn't it.
     "Perfect," Aahz said, looking at the empty sheet.
     I  handed  it to him, flashing it so the others could tell it was blank
as well. If he liked a map with no lines, he could have a map with no lines.
     "Was that the  map the cartographer  did?"  Harold asked. "The one that
got you here?"
     "Sure was," I said.
     "What happened to it?" Harold asked.
     "It got us here," Tanda said.
     "Oh," Harold said.
     "Tanda," Aahz said, "do you know how to do a mapping spell?"
     Tananda shook her head. "Beyond me, I'm afraid."
     "Glenda?"
     "Nope," she said. "When I needed a map I went to a cartographer's booth
on Deva and bought one."
     "Same with me," Harold said.
     Aahz turned and looked at me. "Guess it's up to you, apprentice."
     "Okay,"  I said, "but don't you think I need  a little practice at this
spell first?"
     Aahz held up the paper. "This is the only piece of magik paper we have.
You only get one shot at it."
     "No pressure," I said.
     "If  I didn't believe you could do  it," Aahz said, "would I be wanting
you to try?"
     I didn't think I should remind him he had  offered  the job to everyone
but me to start  with. No point in ruining the mood when  he was  trying  to
boost my confidence. He did that less often than he complimented me.
     "We'll be back shortly," Aahz said to everyone as he motioned for me to
follow him, "I hope with a map."
     "Yeah, me too," I said.
     Aahz headed us across the carpet of  grass. We had to sidestep around a
pile of cow droppings on the way. I guess that Harold didn't have a man with
a golden shovel standing behind him at  night. At the hidden entrance to the
skull room Aahz stopped and turned back to Tanda.
     "Are we going to be shielded out there?"
     "Doing magik?" Tanda asked. "Some, but it might show through."
     I didn't like the sound of that. The last thing we  needed up  here was
the posse.
     Aahz  stopped  and thought for a minute. "How about in the back library
area?"
     "That's so shielded, nothing could get out," Tanda said.
     "I agree,"  Harold  said. "It would be  much  safer to  do  spells back
there."
     Aahz indicated I should follow him and again we went around the pile of
cow droppings, across the  room and through the bathroom to the old library.
I had spent so much time in this room already, I really didn't want to be in
here  again.  Aahz pushed  the door closed behind  him, then  laid the empty
paper on top of the desk he had sat at last night.
     "This is going to work even better in here," he said. "I want you to do
this in two parts."
     "Give it to me clearly and I'll try."
     My  mentor nodded. "First, we're going to imprint that ceiling  map  on
this paper."
     I glanced up, then back at Aahz. "Good idea. How do I do that?"
     "This part is going to be pretty easy," Aahz said. "Simpler than flying
or doing disguise spells."
     I nodded. I liked the  sound of simple at this point. Since  I was only
getting one try, simple was the best.
     "Open your mind, take in the  energy as you have practiced, controlling
the flow to a medium level." "Now?" I asked. "Now," he said.
     I did as he instructed. Since we had been together I had practiced this
so  much  it had become almost  second  nature  to me. I  could do it almost
instantly  when  needed. When we first left  my old mentor's cabin, Aahz had
told  me that would happen, but back then it had been so hard to do I didn't
believe him.
     Now, reaching out with my  mind and getting  energy  was easy, and with
this  much  energy  flowing around  me, the trick was getting only enough so
that I could control what I was doing.
     "Got it," I said after a moment. The energy flow was moving through me,
ready to power anything I told it to.
     "Now, in one motion," Aahz  said, "without  a break, picture the map on
the ceiling and then picture the same map on the paper."
     I  did it, letting the energy help  me get a clear image of the ceiling
map, then a clear image of the same lines and shapes and words on the  magik
paper.
     I let go of the energy and opened my eyes. "Perfect," Aahz said, actual
excitement  in his voice.  I glanced at the roof. The map  was still  there.
Good, I hadn't harmed it.
     Then I looked at the paper, almost afraid of what I might see. The same
map  was reproduced  there, only the lines were much clearer, and there were
words on  the  paper that I didn't remember even seeing on the  ceiling. And
none of the dust and dirt obscured it either. I  couldn't believe  it. I had
done a new spell perfectly the first time!
     "Now don't go getting a swollen head,"  Aahz said, as if he  could read
my thoughts. "That was the easy part."
     I didn't care. I had done it, and done it right the first time. For the
moment that was all that mattered.
     "So what's next?"
     "We do  the same spell with energy lines," Aahz said, "imprinting  them
on this map of the castle."
     I  knew  that  was  what  he was going  to  want, but doing  that meant
stepping out of my  mind to look down on the energy lines through the entire
area. And the last time I had tried that I almost hadn't made it back inside
my own  mind. Of course, Aahz didn't know I had even tried. I didn't want to
tell him because I knew he'd be angry.
     "This is" going to take some preparation," Aahz said.
     "I'd hoped it would."
     He  put the map on the floor and had  me stand right over it. "See  the
images there?"
     I  nodded,  staring  down  at  the map I  had  just created.  It was  a
beautiful thing indeed.  "Now, when we  start," Aahz said,  "I  want you  to
imagine yourself floating  above the energy lines,  above  the castle if you
have to, in the same fashion you use  to reach out for the energy lines in a
spell."
     "Okay," I said, still  staring  down at the map at  my feet, "but isn't
there a risk  I will just float  away?" Standing above the map like this, it
almost felt as if I was already floating.
     "Good  question, apprentice,"  Aahz  said. "Just put a string  on  your
foot."
     "A  what?"  I looked  up into my mentor's  eyes.  I  could  tell he was
concerned with me even trying this. I didn't know if the concern was for me,
or for what would happen if I failed, but at least he was concerned.
     "A string, like  a  kid's balloon  string," he said.  "Imagine one tied
from the foot of  your  real body to the foot  of  your imaginary body as it
floats upward. Then when you want to return, just go back down the string."
     I nodded. That was such a simple image, even I might  be able to handle
it.
     "When you  get a  good  view  of all the flowing energy lines over  and
through the castle," Aahz said, "just do what you did with this map. Imagine
them as you see them; then in one motion imagine them on the paper."
     "Okay," I said. "I think I can do that."
     "When you're ready," Aahz said, stepping back. "Just do it."
     I looked at  the map at my feet, putting the image clearly in  my head.
Then I let myself go.
     That  is  what it  actually felt  like. I was  letting go  of what  was
holding me down. I was floating upward.  I checked  to make  sure  I  had  a
string attached to my foot. It was there, so I  relaxed and just kept going,
floating upward.
     I  went above  the  energy line  I had used to create  the  other  map,
through the roof of  the castle, and  then  stopped, floating right over the
top of the golden castle in the beautiful sunshine.
     Below me  rivers  of blue energy flowed, coming up out of the middle of
the castle like a well, splitting and flowing  off  in dozens  of directions
over the mountains and valleys.
     I let my mind accept  all the different levels of energy flow, all  the
way down into  the deepest area of the castle. I could  see all the streams,
all the different places they branched, and all the places they were tapped.
     Then,  when I had them all, I  held the image, imprinted it on my mind,
and then imagined it being overlaid in blue lines on the map at my feet.
     It only  took  an  instant. Then, with one  last look  at the beautiful
colors of the energy and the surrounding countryside, I tugged on the string
attached to my foot and I was back in my body, just like that.
     I opened my eyes and glanced at Aahz. My mentor was smiling like he had
just won all the riches of the Bazaar at Deva.
     "Amazing," he said. "Sometimes you just flat amaze me."
     I was afraid to look down, so instead I stepped back.
     Aahz  picked  up  the  map and held it for me to see.  There, in  black
lines, was the first map of the castle I had done from the ceiling.
     And over it were flowing lines  of  energy.  The magik of  the  map was
keeping the lines flowing in the image, just as I had seen it from above.
     I didn't know what  to say. He was holding something I had created, and
it was beautiful and working as it should.
     Better than  it should.  I had never expected the energy lines  to keep
moving, but they were.
     "Come on, apprentice.  Let's go show  the rest  what you  did. Amazing,
simply amazing."
     He turned and headed for the door.
     For  the first time  in all our time together,  I had sensed  a  little
pride  in  Aahz's voice.  I  might have  been imagining  it, but this time I
didn't think so.
     It was pride, and it made me feel good.
     Chapter Sixteen
     "Put your name on the map."
     A. VESPUCCI
     Everyone made great noises  about the map I had created. And Tanda gave
me a long and very nice hug. I didn't say much, since I was so proud of what
I had done, I was afraid I'd ruin the moment by saying something stupid.
     Finally, Aahz laid the map  out on  the table and said,  "Let's  get to
work. We need to find on here where the spell Count Bovine  placed over this
dimension is drawing its power."
     I studied the moving  blue lines with everyone else, watching how  they
seemed to come up out of the floor plan of the castle and into the air.
     The  map was magik, so  it  even  showed the  different levels  of  the
castle,  like  looking   into  a  fishbowl.  It  was   both   beautiful  and
disconcerting at the same time.
     "Look in the sub-level of the castle," Tanda said, pointing.
     I let my eyes adjust  so that  I could see the plan of the  castle that
far down. I instantly saw what she was pointing at. The wide, thick river of
energy that was  pouring up  from the  ground suddenly thinned,  like a good
part  of it had been drained away  into an unseen drain. That  unseen drain,
using  that much energy, could  only  be a spell large enough to  control an
entire dimension.
     "I think you have it," Aahz said, nodding.
     "I agree,"  I said, remembering what the energy below  that point  felt
like while I had been floating, and what it felt like above that point.
     "Where did you get this floor plan?" Harold asked, staring at it. "I've
never seen anything like this before. That corridor isn't there, and  I have
no idea what that tunnel goes to."
     I glanced at Aahz, who only smiled.
     "You've seen this  before," I said. "It's painted on the ceiling of the
library in there."
     "No,  it's  not," Harold  said, shaking his head. "This is a picture of
the castle during Count Bovine's first days."
     "Go  look for yourself,"  Tanda said. "It took me a while  to see it as
well. Skeeve spotted it first."
     Harold stared at us as if we  had all gone nuts. I didn't blame him. If
I had been living in a place for as many years as he had been  trapped here,
and a stranger had pointed something this  important out, I wouldn't believe
him either.
     He huffed and stormed off toward the library.
     "Okay," I  said, "we  know where  Count Bovine  tapped into the  energy
stream. How do we untap it?"
     "We have to get down there," Aahz said. "Then we have to divert  it for
just an instant to break the link. That's all it will take."
     I looked at the massive flow of energy  rushing up out of the ground. I
could tap into small energy streams, but I had no idea how a person would go
about blocking something this large. And I wasn't sure I wanted to ask.
     Harold came back in, looking stunned and embarrassed.
     "If  we  manage  to block  this," Tanda said, "what do  you think  will
happen?"
     Aahz  looked at  the  map. "Probably every spell  ever put up by any of
Count Bovine's people will be broken."
     "My people will have their minds and free will back," Harold said.
     "Yeah," I said, "and every vampire will suddenly be around every day of
every month."
     "Half of the  population of vampires will  be dead moments  after  they
turn from  cows," Aahz said. "And all  the others will be without resources,
clothes, shelter, and food, with the sun coming quickly."
     "Do you think my people will remember all the years of having to submit
to the round-up?" Harold asked.
     "I have  no doubt," Aahz said. "You still remember  it before  you were
rescued from here, don't you?"
     Harold nodded. "My people will hunt down and kill most of the remaining
vampires."
     "And you'll be free to leave," I said.
     "If we can break the vampire hold on my  world, I won't want to leave,"
Harold said. "I'll stay here and help my people rebuild."
     I shook my head. It was all fine and good to  plan what people would do
if we succeeded, but I sure didn't see that happening any time soon.
     "So no one has answered the question yet of how we stop that flow."
     I didn't even want to try to bring up the point of getting down to that
spot in the castle.  We were way up at the  top, and that breach in the main
flow was way  down  in a sub-basement,  where I doubted anyone  had been  in
centuries.
     "Gold,"  Glenda  said,  her voice sounding tired and  worn. "Gold would
stop the flow, if you could focus enough of it."
     Aahz  seemed to be off somewhere  inside  his head, thinking. Tanda was
doing the same thing.
     Harold  and I  looked at  each other. Clearly, as apprentice magicians,
neither of us even had a clue what the other three were considering.
     "I think it might be  done," Aahz said, nodding. He  looked  at Glenda.
"Good idea."
     She  said nothing in return. It seemed that as  the closer we got  to a
possible answer, the  more  sullen and reserved  she became.  I was still so
angry at her  for what she did to me that I didn't  care enough to  even ask
what was happening.
     "Okay, to  the next  problem," I said. "How  do we get down  there with
enough gold to stop the energy stream?"
     "We  won't  need  much  gold,"  Tanda said. "Just enough,  with  a good
connection  spell,  to  hook  other nearby  gold  into  the  blockage. Maybe
something gold-plated and flat."
     "A golden shovel?" I asked.
     Tanda nodded. "That would do it, I'm sure."
     Harold moved over toward the front door  of  the suite,  near where the
grass was planted. He tapped a spot on the wall and a closet door opened. He
reached inside and pulled out a golden shovel, just like the ones the palace
guys had. It seemed that, in the palace, no cow droppings could be picked up
with anything but a golden shovel.
     "Okay, we're set for  the  gold  part," Aahz  said. "Tanda,  when we're
ready to try this, can you do  the connection spell to hook enough gold into
the shovel?"
     She nodded. "I've done a number of them over the years to build shields
and walls."
     "So  back to my problem,"  I said.  "How do  we get down there  without
being run over by the mounted posse?"
     Aahz pointed to a spot on the map. At first I couldn't  see what he was
pointing at,  then I saw  it.  The very same tunnel I had been  afraid I was
going to end up down in.
     "Follow where it  leads," Aahz said. "Starting  with the secret opening
back in the library."
     I  did as  he suggested, focusing on the map as it changed, showing  me
the  different  levels of the secret passageway  as it  dropped  through the
mountain  behind the  castle,  curved under everything, and came out in  the
very room where the big energy flow had been taken off for the spell.
     "Looks like there  was a  reason that  tunnel  was  built,"  Aahz said,
smiling at me.
     "Count  Bovine used it to  get to his main  power  source when he lived
here full-time," Harold said.
     "What do you know?"
     "So we're  going  underground," I  said,  reaching  over and taking the
heavy shovel from Harold. "I just hope I don't have to dig my way out."
     "You and me both," Aahz said, staring at the map.
     My mentor had a way of making everything seem so positive that it was a
wonder I could even move most mornings.
     It  took a  little  longer  than  I  had expected  to  find the  hidden
passageway into  the tunnel in  the  old  library. We had  to move  pile  of
furniture, old books,  and  more rolled-up scrolls than I  could  count. The
scrolls were the hardest, since Harold wouldn't let us just kick them aside.
Finally,  we got to the spot  where the passage should be  and faced a stone
wall.
     "I  didn't  think  there was anything back  here," he said.  "After all
these years, I know this room."
     I didn't want to  mention to him that he really didn't, since he hadn't
even noticed the map painted on the ceiling.
     "Oh, it's here all right," Aahz said.
     All  five of us  were standing there  in the  dusty  place.  I had  the
shovel, Tanda had the map.
     "Glenda?" Aahz said.
     She stepped up to him.
     Quicker  than I had seen my mentor move in  a long, long time, Aahz had
the rope out of his pouch, over her head, and tied.
     She  dropped to the ground, sound asleep, before she  could  even get a
complaint out of her mouth. I was stunned.
     "Harold," Aahz said, "pick up her feet and let's move her to a couch."
     Harold looked as stunned as I felt. Tanda seemed to again  know exactly
what was happening. Aahz moved  Glenda to the couch, made  sure the rope was
tied,  then looked at Harold. "No  matter what you do, what  you think, what
happens around you, do not untie her until we get back. Understand?"
     Harold nodded. "But I don't see why."
     "The map," Aahz said.
     Tanda held it up and pointed to a spot on it.
     "Right here,"  she said. "See this tiny thin line coming up out of  the
basement and into this suite?"
     I looked real close. For a moment I thought she was  making it up, then
I saw the blue line. It went  right to a spot in the suite  where  the chair
was, where Glenda had been sitting when I did the map.
     "Glenda's hooked up somehow,"  Aahz  said. "I didn't  see that until we
had already made our plans."
     "You mean they might know we're coming?"
     "Possible," Aahz said.
     "Oh, that's nice," I said. I wondered how many  of  that  posse I could
hit with the golden shovel before they took it away from me.
     "Are you ready?" Aahz asked.
     "You want me to lead?" I asked, still not seeing where we were going to
go.
     "I've got it for the moment," Aahz said. He  picked up the torch we had
brought with us from the first tunnel, held it out and said to me, "A  light
might help."
     I eased some energy out of the stream, just  enough to  start the torch
on fire. Not long ago I had had trouble with that spell as well. And  a year
ago I might have set the entire library on fire trying to light that torch.
     "Follow me," Aahz said, and stepped at the stone wall.
     And right through it.
     "This place could give a guy  a headache," I said, moving at  the stone
wall behind him. I had the shovel slightly in front of me in  case the stone
decided to be stone for me.
     I went right through, just as Aahz had done.
     Tanda came through behind me.
     The tunnel was narrow and carved out of solid rock. Steps led down into
the bowels of the earth. More  steps than I could see in the torchlight. The
place was cold and very dusty. It  was clear that no one had been in here in
a  very, very long  time,  as our footsteps kicked  up a cloud of dust  that
swirled in the flickering light of the torch.
     "Are we shielded?" Aahz asked Tanda.
     "Same  as in the library," Tanda said. "Count  Bovine didn't want  this
tunnel found, that's for sure."
     "That helps us," I said.
     Aahz nodded, made  sure we were both  ready, then, holding the torch up
so  that we could see the steps as well as  he could in the dust, he started
down.
     And we went down for a very, very long time, kicking up thick clouds of
dust with  every step. I could  not imagine how anyone could have carved the
tunnel. I could barely walk the steps, and we were going down. Climbing this
must be next to impossible for anyone not in top shape.
     Finally, after what seemed like a nightmarish  eternity, we reached  an
area of the tunnel that flattened out.
     "Map," Aahz said.
     Tanda moved up and the two of us crowded with Aahz so that we could see
the map in  the torchlight and  swirling dust. It showed that we had reached
the bottom of the tunnel. I glanced around at the rock walls and ceiling. We
were under  thousands  and  thousands  of body-lengths of rock.  I  couldn't
imagine how much weight was pressing down on the ceiling of the tunnel above
us right at that moment.
     The thought sent a shiver through  me, and  a touch of panic.  "Can  we
keep going?" I asked.
     Tanda took the map  and Aahz  smiled at me, his green scales covered in
dust, his eyes yellow holes in  the dirt.  I must have looked  as  bad as he
did, maybe worse. "A little claustrophobia?" he asked.
     "I don't know  about that," I said, not having a clue what the big word
meant. Sometimes Aahz  just  didn't  remember  what  a backward  part  of  a
backward world I came from.
     "Feeling the pressure of all this weight over us?" Tanda asked.
     "Yeah,"  I said, "more than I want to think  about right now, thank you
very much."
     Aahz laughed. "We don't have that much farther to go."
     "Then  let's go," I said,  fighting  against the  panic  at  the  walls
closing in.
     Aahz gave me a long look, then turned and headed along the flat part of
the  tunnel. I kept the golden  shovel clutched  in front of me. At least if
the tunnel came down, I'd be buried with something worth digging up. After a
hundred paces the tunnel started back  up. Stair after stair after stair. Up
and up and up.
     I forgot to be  afraid of the tunnel coming down on me because I was so
tired from the climbing.
     "Wait,"  Aahz said,  stopping to  pant for a moment. "The air's  bad in
here."
     I realized  when he  said that  that I was also having  trouble getting
enough  air. Now  not only was  the roof  about to fall and  crush me, I was
going to die from lack of air.
     "Almost there," Tanda said from behind me. I could hear the rustling of
the map. Aahz nodded and pushed upward, taking one step at a time.
     I used the shovel as a sort of crutch. Step. Clunk. Step. Clunk.
     The sound echoed down the tunnel behind us. If this plan didn't work, I
couldn't imagine having to go back to the  suite using  this tunnel. I'd try
it if I had to, but I sure didn't want to.
     Step. Clunk. Step. Clunk.
     We kept  climbing.  Forever.  How  could this  be? Had we gotten turned
around and were headed back to the suite?
     My lungs burned  like the time I had stayed underwater too  long in the
pond when I  was  a kid.  My eyes stung with the dust, and  I could feel the
grit in my mouth.
     "We're here," Aahz said, his voice  barely  a whisper. I glanced  back.
Tanda was a few  steps behind me, her face covered in dust, mud caked around
her mouth and nose. She looked as if she was about to pass out.
     Ahead of me Aahz slid back a wooden panel and stepped through.
     Cool, fresh air hit me like  a hammer as I stepped up to follow him. In
all my life I couldn't remember anything feeling that good before.
     We were  in a good-sized  room, at  least fifty paces across, that  was
completely empty of every stick of furniture. It  was  simply four walls  of
stone, a stone floor, and a stone ceiling. From the looks of it, the door we
had come through  was the only door in the place. And there were no windows.
Where the wonderful fresh air was coming from I had no idea.
     "Oh,  my," Tanda  said, coming  up out  of  the tunnel and  taking  big
gulping breaths of air. I gulped right along with her.
     Aahz came  over  and took the map  from Tanda, studying it as we caught
our breath. After a moment he moved around the room, staying to the outside.
     I knew why he stayed to the  outside.  In the center of  the room was a
massive energy flow  coming up through the  floor and going  out through the
ceiling.  It wouldn't hurt  him to  walk through it, but Aahz was taking  no
chances.
     About  halfway around  the room he  stopped, studied the map again, and
then came back toward us a few steps.
     "Right here,"  he  said, pointing  into the empty  air. "Right here  is
where the energy flow is diverted."
     He  pointed  in the direction of  the empty wall beside him, indicating
how the energy flow moved off the main one.
     I took a deep breath and let my mind open slightly to see the flow.
     "Wow!" I said, staggering backwards from the sight.
     Beside me Tanda did the same.
     "It's huge!" she said.
     Not more than a  few paces in front  of  me was a torrent of  pure blue
energy, flowing like a  fast-moving river  up out  of the ground and through
the ceiling. It  was a  good  forty  or more paces across.  I could see Aahz
through  it,  but just barely. About halfway  up, in the  center of the room
about  head high,  the flow seemed  to decrease in size  significantly, from
forty paces across to less than thirty.  I could  see where the other energy
was  going  sideways  and  then  vanishing in  the  direction that Aahz  had
pointed. That energy was powering the spell that held this dimension in  the
strange  state it was  in.  How  Count Bovine had managed to divert  so much
energy  into  one  spell  was  also   beyond   my   apprentice's   level  of
understanding. I glanced down at the little  gold shovel  I held in my hand,
then back at the raging torrent of blue energy in front of me. The silliness
of even thinking of trying to change that torrent with my little shovel made
me laugh.
     Aahz,  staying to  the outside,  came  back  around to  where  we  were
standing.
     "This isn't possible," I said, holding up the shovel.
     "It fills  this  room, Aahz," Tanda said, the awe in  her voice  clear.
"I've never seen an energy stream anything like it."
     "We can  do  it," Aahz  said.  Again I looked at my little gold shovel,
then at  the  torrent  of  blue  energy and just shook my head. Sometimes my
mentor was smart, sometimes angry, but right now he was just plain crazy.
     Chapter Seventeen
     "I've heard of goldbricking, but this is ridiculous"
     MIDAS REX
     "Skeeve," Aahz said,  "can you  see where the flow for  Count  Bovine's
spell leaves the main energy?"
     We had moved around to the side of the  room where Count Bovine's spell
took its energy from the river of flowing energy pouring out of the ground.
     "Yes, right in front of us," I said.
     I pointed out where it left and how high it was to Aahz, who nodded.
     I was using  a part of my mind that allowed me to reach  out for energy
and  do spells myself. That part allowed  me to see the energy,  where Aahz,
who had lost his powers, could not.
     Where the energy for Count Bovine's spell left the main stream was like
a branch on a big tree.  It sort of cut it off of one side of the main flow,
moving up  and sideways. The moment the  secondary flow was sideways  to the
main one, it vanished into the  spell it was being used for. We had  about a
body length, right above where  I stood, to cut that side-flow  off and send
it along in the  main  flow.  At least, that was the  theory on what we were
going to try. Sort of like  trying to dam up the side branch of a  river  in
one  quick  move,  without getting wet. But  even  that  side-branch of this
energy, where  I could see  it, had to  be ten paces across. Far,  far wider
than my  little gold shovel. Yet from what I  understood, Aahz wanted  me to
try to  divert  or even  stop that energy with my shovel. Not  a chance in a
Bovine hell.
     Aahz moved over behind me.  "We're going to have to do  this together,"
he said. "Tanda, when I say 'ready'  you  connect the gold in this shovel to
whatever gold you can sense nearby. Pull in as much as you can."
     "Oh, so you're going to make the shovel  bigger?" I  asked, starting to
understand his plan.
     "Exactly," he said.
     Tanda nodded. "I'm going to  have to make the  gold wide,  at least ten
feet around."
     Tanda could see  the  giant flow of energy as well as I could. She also
knew how insane this attempt was.
     "I know," Aahz said, nodding.
     "Can you hold that much?" I asked. "I sure can't."
     "We're both going to try," Aahz said. "You steer, I'll  lift. I'm going
to get  under the shovel. When Tanda connects  other gold  to  it and starts
expanding it, it's going  to get really,  really heavy very  quickly,  so be
ready the moment I say go. I don't want to drop it."
     I nodded.  This  gold-plated shovel  wasn't that  light as  it  was.  I
couldn't imagine how Aahz and  I could  even try to hold up a gold block ten
feet across, even a thin one.
     "We have to keep it out of the flow until it's big enough," Aahz said.
     "Okay," I said. "Let's do this and get on to the next life."
     Aahz laughed. "That's what I like about you, apprentice.  Always a good
mental attitude."
     "Give me something to be positive about," I said.
     Aahz moved around and got under  me, bracing himself solidly  as I held
the shovel up in position next to the side-flow of energy. When the gold got
big enough for what Tanda was going to do, we  were going to  simply let the
shovel fall to our right and cut off the side-flow to the spell. However, if
we let the shovel fall forward into the main flow, there was no telling what
would happen.
     Aahz said he wasn't even sure what was going to happen when we  cut the
side-flow. He hoped nothing, but he didn't know  for  sure when  I had asked
him.
     "Ready!" Aahz shouted,  even  though the room was empty and  there were
only the three of us in it.
     To an  outsider watching us who couldn't see the energy  flow, we would
have  looked darned silly.  Aahz crouched in front of me, holding  onto  the
shovel  I was  holding in  the air. Tanda  beside us,  her head tilted back,
staring up into nothingness.
     "Ready," she said.
     I knew she was sending her mind out, linking gold, pulling it in to add
to our shield.
     "Now!" Aahz shouted again.
     Instantly the shovel started growing in size  and  in  weight. I braced
myself as Aahz did the same. I was stunned at how heavy it got so quickly.
     The shovel grew and I strained against dropping it, trying to do my job
of just holding it steady.
     "About  half!"  Aahz said,  his  voice  strained from  holding  up  the
ever-heavier shovel. Aahz was one of the strongest demons I knew, and he was
having problems. I did my best to help lift at the same  time as holding the
shovel in position. I doubted I was doing  much  good, but I knew for a fact
the effort was going to cost me later.
     The shovel was getting bigger and bigger, growing quicker and quicker.
     "Almost!" Aahz said, his voice barely a croak under the  weight.  Above
me the shovel looked like a massive gold coin.
     "Now!" Aahz said.
     I pushed  sideways,  letting the  shovel fall toward  the  side-flow of
energy as Tanda kept adding more and more gold to it.
     Like a gold knife, the shovel cut through the blue energy.
     At that moment everything in the room seemed to explode.
     I was smashed back against the stone, banging my head hard.
     Tanda tumbled across  the floor toward the door, coming to rest pressed
against  the wood. Her eyes were closed and I couldn't tell  if she was hurt
or not.
     Aahz was pressed against the stone wall beside me.
     Forces like I had never felt before held me in position as the gold cut
through the flow just as  we had planned. So far it  was working. I couldn't
believe it.
     But  then  the  shovel kept growing and growing as  more and  more gold
poured into it. Something was wrong. Tanda should have  unlinked the gold in
the shield we built from  the other gold around the area when the shield hit
the energy. But there was clearly still more and more gold pouring into that
shield.  It had cut the  side-flow, but now it was falling slowly toward the
main flow, cutting into it as well as it kept growing.
     Then  the  room  seemed to  expand outward and the pressure  of my head
against the stone sent me down into a blackness I didn't much like.
     "Skeeve!"
     "Skeeve! Can you hear me?"
     The  voice  sounded  far off, like it was  coming  from  over a hill. I
didn't care. It was still dark out and I wanted to sleep some more.
     "Skeeve!"
     The voice  was  getting closer, or so it seemed.  I was  in  blackness.
Pitch-black blackness.  I  tried  to  open  my eyes,  but  everything  still
remained black. Every muscle in my body ached, and somehow  I seemed to have
fallen out of bed.
     "Skeeve, if you can hear me, light the torch."
     Now  I understood the blackness, but I still couldn't  remember where I
was. I  could hear something moving around, but  it  was so dark, I couldn't
see a thing.  More than  likely it was Aahz trying to  figure  out  what had
happened to the lights.
     I  felt around on  the floor beside me,  but  I  couldn't find a torch.
There wasn't one near me. I'm  not sure why I  expected there  to be on  the
floor, but still  I  couldn't find  it.  The floor I was  on was cold,  like
stone, and hard as a rock.
     "Skeeve, some light."
     Aahz was starting to get on my nerves. It was dark out. Why couldn't he
just let me sleep? I reached down and ripped off a little piece of my shirt.
I seemed to remember that some time  in the past I had done that same thing.
But the memory was foggy.
     Holding the piece of cloth up in front of me, I focused my mind, trying
to  find some energy to take and light the cloth. It was hard, but I finally
found enough to catch the cloth and start a small flame.
     The room around me  flickered into  being.  Aahz was sitting  against a
stone wall with Tanda's head on his lap about ten paces from  me. There  was
nothing else in the room except a big hunk of thin, gray  metal covering the
center of the room.
     "I  was worried about  you, apprentice,"  Aahz said. "Glad  to  see you
alive."
     "I was worried about me as well," I said.
     Slowly  I was  remembering. We were  here to cut  the energy from a big
spell done a long time ago by a  Count Bovine, and the big pancake-like gray
thing in the middle of the floor was my shovel, or what was left of it.
     Tanda moaned on Aahz's lap and tried to sit up.
     "Take it easy," Aahz said. "You got a nasty bump on the head."
     "I can feel that," Tanda said. Then she looked around and smiled at me.
"Good to see you made it as well."
     "I'll tell you in the morning  if I made it,"  I said  as more memories
flooded back in.
     She laughed and then clutched her head from the pain.
     "I told you to go slow," Aahz said.
     "Well," Tanda said after a moment. "Did we succeed?"
     "I don't know," Aahz said. "Skeeve, did we succeed?"
     It took me a moment of sitting  there with my back against the wall and
the cloth burning in my hand to understand what he  wanted me to do. Then it
dawned on  me. Look to  see if  the energy  flow  to  the  Bovine spell  had
stopped.
     I could do that. Or  at least I thought I could do that. I opened up my
mind, searching for the blue energy stream that  had filled this room just a
short time  ago.  Nothing. The side stream and the main stream were now gone
completely. The room was as empty energy-wise as it was furniture-wise.
     "Oh, yeah," I said. "We succeeded. Maybe a little too well."
     "All gone?" Tanda asked, not moving her head.
     "All gone, main stream and all."
     "Well, that's going to be interesting," Aahz said.
     The cloth was starting to get close to burning my fingers, so I scooted
slowly over on the  floor to where the torch lay and lit it. Then I  held it
up and looked around. On the other side of the room, where I was fairly sure
there hadn't  been a door  before, was now an open archway. A breeze blew in
from the archway, through the room, and into the tunnel we had come out of.
     "I think we'd better go see what  we've done," Aahz said. "Can you both
walk?"
     I tested my legs as Tanda tested hers. It seemed that, besides a lot of
bumps and bruises,  we had all come  out of everything  pretty  well. It was
going  to  be interesting to  see how  the rest  of the inhabitants  of this
castle fared.
     "Do  we have to  go back up  the tunnel?"  I asked, trying  to  imagine
making that climb in the condition I was in.
     Aahz  shook his  head. "If  this didn't  work to stop  Bovine's  spell,
nothing is  going to, and that means we're never getting out of here, so why
bother continuing to hide?"
     "I thought I had the positive attitude," I said.
     "I can learn from an apprentice," Aahz said.
     We  limped  our  way  toward the door with the  wonderful fresh  breeze
blowing  in. It led us into  a corridor that turned after about fifty paces.
After the  turn  there was a flight of stairs. Painful stairs,  but at least
stairs that had fresh air blowing down them.
     At the top, the  corridor turned again and went  out an archway covered
in  a mass of flowering plants. Aahz pushed through the plants  and I helped
Tanda follow.
     We stepped  out into the  beautiful sunshine  of a wonderful afternoon.
After being under tons of rock, getting knocked out by an energy  explosion,
and waking up in pitch darkness, the sunshine was beyond words.
     There was a shovel  lying on the lawn  in front of  us. It was the same
shape  as the golden-plated shovel we had  used, only there was no gold left
on it.
     "Would you look at that," Aahz said.
     On the corner of the lawn was a smoking pile of what looked like a cow.
     "Looks like we broke Bovine's spell," I said.
     "Sure  does," Tanda said, pointing to the shovel. "On both sides of it.
Whoever had that shovel  has left.  And  the front  gates of  the castle are
standing wide open."
     She was right, but what I also noticed was that the gold  trim that had
decorated  the  gate was gone, and the gold  along the top of the walls  was
gone. I looked slowly around. There wasn't a speck of gold in sight. Tanda's
spell must have used it all around this area.
     We walked across the soft grass toward the burning pile until the smell
stopped us  twenty feet away. It had been a  vampire  cow all right, but now
its legs were  sticking straight up  in the air and its  skin was burnt to a
crisp.  It  looked  as if had  burst into flames and died almost  instantly,
before even turning completely back into its vampire form.
     "What a waste," Aahz said, staring at the burning creature.
     "What are  you  talking  about?"  I  asked. "That  was  a  bloodsucking
vampire."
     "No,"  Aahz said,  shaking head. "I mean what a waste  of good meat. No
one eats their steak well-done these days."
     He turned and smiled at me. "What was the chef thinking?"
     "That it will be years before I eat another steak," I said.
     Chapter Eighteen
     "So where's the profit?"
     TERECTUS
     Victorious  or not, we were still  pretty tired by the time we made our
way back to where  we had left  Harold and Glenda. Something I've noticed in
the past about playing with  channeling energies: when it's over,  what  you
feel is drained.
     The first  thing  that  was noticeable was  that  apparently Harold had
untied Glenda, as she was conscious and perched in a chair across  the table
from him. The second was that Harold himself  seemed far more composed as he
rose to greet us.
     "Ah,  my friends! It seems that congratulations are in order," he said,
smiling  broadly. "All  indications are that  you were  successful  in  your
efforts to shut down the spells."
     "That's not all that's  in  order," Aahz  said darkly, folding his arms
across his  chest. "I think,  at  this  point, we're due a few explanations.
Beyond the tale you told us originally, that is."
     "But of course,"  Harold said, gesturing  for us to  pull up chairs. "I
take  it  that  you have  already determined that  my  story  was not  quite
complete."
     "Let's just say that the facts as they were presented to us don't quite
add up," Tananda said through tight lips.
     Harold nodded. "It is  true that  there were a few minor points  that I
omitted or altered slightly when I explained the situation you."
     "Why don't you just fill us I on those points now," Aahz said, "and let
us decide for ourselves how minor they are."
     "Very well. First, perhaps  things will be  clearer if I admit  that my
name is not Harold. In truth, I am Count Bovine himself."

     

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Last-modified: Fri, 12 Dec 2003 11:42:56 GMT ASPRIN/myth3a.txt



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