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EIGHT

"It looks like a trap!"

F. BUCK

"What happened?" Tananda whispered, gripping my collar. I clawed at the air, trying to get back on the ceiling with her.

"I don't know," I whispered back. I glanced down. It was a good thirty foot drop to the floor, and my magik had deserted me. I felt desperately for the lines of force I'd just been using, but they were drained. What spell needed that kind of power expenditure? I began to believe in the Wuhses' tale of the Pervect's quest for interdimensional conquest.

Tananda, maintaining her hold on the ceiling with an Assassin's trick that didn't rely upon lines of force, crept backwards, swinging me by my collar, until I was over the fireplace at one end of the big, dark room. Gently, she stretched down until my feet touched the mantelpiece. I heard a tiny "clink." I froze, hoping the Pervects in the room ahead hadn't heard it. Ten of them! I wasn't a coward, but I started to realize what a huge mess I had gotten dawn. I started up at the sight of the dark circles under her lovely eyes, but she signaled me to lie down. "I got them to agree to fifteen hundred gold pieces, but Wensley had to let them take their turns with the D-hopper," she said, wearily. "I could have gotten more if you had let me negotiate before you said you'd take the job, but as you have pointed out ad nauseam, we really don't need the money. I'm going to bed. Please don't wake me for breakfast."

When we left for the castle about noon, I had left Gleep guarding Bunny's door, to make sure no one bothered her. I asked him to make sure, even if we didn't come back, he would keep her safe. He promised, and laid his head on my foot with worry in his big blue eyes. Zol also remained behind at the inn, getting more information from our hosts, who also looked somewhat worn out... but whether from the all-night speeches or negotiations with Bunny I wasn't sure. Tananda and I had assumed the images of a couple of Wuhs housekeepers, trudging along in line with the others to begin their cleaning shift.

Once inside the real Wuhses went to work, while Tananda and I dropped the disguises and crept off in the direction of the Pervect Ten's wing of the castle.

I had to admit I couldn't see much evidence of the endless greed Wensley and the others had told us aboutI mean, more than usual. Aahz, my best example for how Pervects behaved, had always felt there were two kinds of wealth in the world: his, and that which wasn't his yet. Still, Tananda and I poked through the ten suites the Pervects had claimed for their own. The furnishings belonged to the castle. Little of the clothing in the presses seemed to have been made on Wuh: the Pervect Ten hadn't gone in much for the handmade fabrics and modest styles that were prevalent in this dimension. Far from it; a few of the outfits we found even made Tananda whistle in disbelief. And every room was relentlessly clean. The possessions that the Ten were supposed to have confiscated weren't among their personal goods. I found the dining room by smell. The aroma of Pervish cooking reminds passersby of a stableyard compost heap, only slightly more likely to linger in the nostrils. I could never stand watching Aahz or Pookie eat their hometown grub. I had been hungry in my day, but I could never picture a situation so desperate I wouldn't rather risk starvation than eat Pervish food. Our eyes watered painfully at the stench, but we went in, anyhow.

A forlorn Wuhs in a white tunic and hat stood by a gigantic cauldron. In one hand he had a huge spoon for stirring, and in the other a hammer. He wore protective goggles and nose clamps. He hadn't noticed us; he was too deep in his own misery to pay attention to anything but his job. A pseudopod of purple goo rolled over the lip of the cauldron and started to crawl towards him. He brought the hammer down. Clang! The tentacle-like blob stiffened, then slid back into the pot. Tananda and I had backed carefully out of the room.

Forcing my thoughts to return to the present, I rolled off the heap of cushions and got down on all fours to follow Tananda to the giant wooden doors that led into the room the Wuhses said was the Pervect Ten's headquarters. No Wuhs was ever allowed in there even to clean. A line of blinding light leaked from beneath the portal, lighting our hands and feet. I heard voices inside, but they sounded far away. I leaned down to try and see under.

"It's ajar," Tananda whispered. She pointed to the crack between the doors, which showed an irregular angle of light. I nodded resolutely. We could try to slide in. If the Ten noticed the movement we would have to roll into the shadows and hope they thought it was just an ill-fitting old door creaking open by itself. After all the deterrents they'd set in the hall, they had to believe no one could reach them in this last room. I slipped my fingertips along the smooth stone floor and started to pull. To my relief the hinges rolled back silently, no eldritch screech of rusty iron announcing us. Almost on toetips and fingertips, I crept into the room. I wished I could have the power of illusion at that moment, because I faced the most terrifying thing I had ever seen: ten Pervect women, their long teeth gleaming as they chanted something in unison. Since Aahz had lost his powers even before I met him I'd seen very little Pervect magik, but even I could tell this was something extraordinary. The Ten were working a vast, powerful enchantment right before my eyes. The room was full of golden light that I could feel burning all the way through my body. I cowered in the shadows at the base of the wall. In the reflected brilliance I could see Tananda's eyes wide with amazement.

"... And they all lived happily ever after!"

The web of golden light gathered itself up, tied a knot in the top as if it was a sack of potatoes, squeezed down into a mass the size of a bucket, and dropped into a box on the table. The lid slammed shut. I felt a rush, not a physical sensation but a magikal one, as they released their hold on local sources of power. They'd been draining two entire lines of force. By themselves!

"That's it," a petite Pervect announced in clipped syllables, releasing the hands of the two females on either side of her. She dusted her palms together. "We're finished."

"Vonderful," gushed a plumpish one in a flowered dress. "This is all we need. It vill be so easy, bubchen!"

I heard a gasp from Tananda beside me. Pervects have far keener hearing than Klahds or even Trollops. All twenty green ears swiveled in our direction.

"What was that?" asked a young female in a leather miniskirt. She started toward the door. I realized we no longer had the shadows to conceal us. Hastily, I formed the image in my mind of sections of wall and wainscoting, and pulled the illusion over Tananda and me. The female came close, peering around the door. I held my breath, praying she couldn't hear my heart pounding.

"Don't worry," the older one reassured her. "We have those Wuhses so scared they'd wet their pants even thinking of coming in here."

The younger one shut the door firmly. "I don't want them seeing what we're doing, that's all."

"How could they? Come back here and listen to Oshleens plan."

Oshleen! I knew that name. But from where?

A tall, slender female in military uniform strode past the older Pervect. I peered at her. She looked familiar. Where had I seen her? Maybe when Aahz and I visited Perv? She smacked a riding crop into her palm, then pointed it up at the wall.

"Caitlin?"

The smallest Pervect I'd ever seen jumped up on a chair and poked at some buttons on a board. A huge map appeared on the wall. I didn't recognize the country. It wasn't Wuh, or Klah, or Deva, or any of the other dimensions where I'd been, but there was an infinity out there.

"Now, here's my plan," Oshleen proclaimed, indicating a city on the map. "Taking over only a portion of our factory output we can still cover the initial point of insertion. We can start pushing into this territory here, here and here." As she swung the crop, tiny red arrows appeared over the places she pointed to. "Expansion should be easy. They will fall to their knees before us. How could they resist? With our charm and business acumen, there's no way they can withstand us. It'll be a walkover."

"Yes," agreed Vergetta, holding up an object. My eyes were still dazzled from the spell light. Was it a pair of spectacles?

"They'll be ours, all ours," gloated the Pervect in the mini-skirt. "Their eyes, their minds, will belong to us."

I was horrified. The Ten went on talking over my head, but all I could think was that Wensley and the others were right! The Pervects were trying to take over other dimensions. They had some sort of evil device they planned to use to brainwash them. those Wuhses so scared they'd wet their pants even thinking of coming in here."

The younger one shut the door firmly. "I don't want them seeing what we're doing, that's all."

"How could they? Come back here and listen to Oshleens plan."

Oshleen! I knew that name. But from where?

A tall, slender female in military uniform strode past the older Pervect. I peered at her. She looked familiar. Where had I seen her? Maybe when Aahz and I visited Perv? She smacked a riding crop into her palm, then pointed it up at the wall.

"Caitlin?"

The smallest Pervect I'd ever seen jumped up on a chair and poked at some buttons on a board. A huge map appeared on the wall. I didn't recognize the country. It wasn't Wuh, or Klah, or Deva, or any of the other dimensions where I'd been, but there was an infinity out there.

"Now, here's my plan," Oshleen proclaimed, indicating a city on the map. "Taking over only a portion of our factory output we can still cover the initial point of insertion. We can start pushing into this territory here, here and here." As she swung the crop, tiny red arrows appeared over the places she pointed to. "Expansion should be easy. They will fall to their knees before us. How could they resist? With our charm and business acumen, there's no way they can withstand us. It'll be a walkover."

"Yes," agreed Vergetta, holding up an object. My eyes were still dazzled from the spell light. Was it a pair of spectacles?

"They'll be ours, all ours," gloated the Pervect in the mini-skirt. "Their eyes, their minds, will belong to us."

I was horrified. The Ten went on talking over my head, but all I could think was that Wensley and the others were right! The Pervects were trying to take over other dimensions. They had some sort of evil device they planned to use to brainwash them. "Well!" the older female breathed, clapping her hands. "That took a lot out of me, I gotta tell you. Lunch has got to be ready, already."

"I'm hungry!" the little one announced. "Let's eat."

A stylish Pervect in a skirt and jacket snapped her fingers, and the box on the table leaped into the air. "I'm off to start gathering converts," she explained. "I'll report back as soon as I have them." She and the box vanished.

The remaining nine Pervects marched past us. The last one, the strong one in the short skirt, stopped to look around the room before she slammed the door. A blast of white light filled the room. I felt, rather than heard a hum. As soon as I was sure they were gone, I got to my feet and let the wall disguise slip. Tananda was already standing beside me, a grim expression on her face.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"I've met two of them before," she mused.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Could you miss that flower-print dress?" Tananda demanded. "They were trying to take over a part of the Bazaar a couple of months ago."

"What?"

"Running a protection scheme. Don Bruce sent Guido to ask me and Chumley to get rid of them. It wasn't easy. They were starting small, but as you can see, they had bigger plans. They've taken over Wuh, and now they're going for another dimension."

"Ten Pervects," I shuddered.

"Ten wouldn't be enough to take over the Bazaar. Deveels are used to dealing with Pervects. But an unsuspecting dimension, unaccustomed to magik ..."

I slammed my fist into my other palm. "We've got to prevent it."

"How?" Tananda asked. "We don't know where they went."

I started for the door. "Let's ask Zol. I bet he could help us figure it out." "Hold it!" Tananda ordered, just before I touched the knob. "Look!"

To the naked eye, the door seemed like what it was: a door. But I knew what she meant. Letting my eyes go half-shut, I looked for magik. The blue glow was so intense I had to clap my eyelids shut.

"What is it?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.

"An incineration spell," Tananda replied. "We're locked in."



SEVEN | Myth Alliances | c



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