Gaenor met us on the way down.
"What the hell happened?!" I asked her.
Her reply was nonchalant. "Oh, you know. Equinox rolled around, the top of the mountain blew off, flames jutted into the air."
"And it's still smoking?"
"Wow," Meara said. "Any loud roaring, 'I'm free, I'm free, I'm free' when that happened?"
"No. And we were listening," she added. "That was on our list of signs that it was time to move, and it didn't happen."
"Has anything else happened over the winter?" I asked.
"Castle's changing color," she shrugged.
"That's about it, really."
"Anyone hear from Emer? See any strange flying things?"
"Large hordes of ravening orcs?" Meara checked.
"No, haven't heard any of those. Hell, it was quiet other than the giant eruption of flame."
"Was the flame normal colored?"
"Good. ŚCause you know, you guys might not have mentioned it if it happened to have been black."
"It was fire-colored, really."
"That's good, it's reassuring in a lot of ways."
"It just might mean that they built their village on a volcano," I agreed.
"That's okay, volcanoes are predictable. They make the soil richer."
The village looked the same. Most of the folk were out on the boats.
"Let's go look at the explosion site now," I suggested.
"Why don't we... yeah, actually," she realized there was nothing else we had to be doing.
"Okay," Gannon agreed unhappily.
We left Conner to open up the house.
"I could help," Gannon volunteered.
"If you really want to, but you might miss some interesting and important pieces of information, which the accountants' guild would hold you responsible for," Meara suggested.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied innocently.
"You can stay if you want to," I told him.
"No, I will come."
Gudrun's causeway was still there. The hut lurked at us.
"We should probably talk to Gudrun, get her opinion on recent events," Llweder made one of his rare comments.
"Yeah. I'm not entirely certain how to go about doing what we need to do to stop that from happening any further," Meara said, pointing her chin at the castle. "You know, we could just concentrate on trying to find whatshisname."
"Wynn?" I asked.
"Yeah. If we're really lucky we'll find his bones tacked up to the outside of this mountain we're heading towards."
"No..." I said thoughtfully. "I think that's not going to mean we're lucky."
The druids' circle was untouched by the disaster. The mine entrance had been blasted clear by the eruption. The pillar of smoke rose steadily, along with a sullen red glow from far belowground.
"A whole day of work wasted," I sighed.
"Wouldn't it be absolutely hysterical if whatshisname was stuck in there, too?"
"Are you still worried that if we say his name he might come and find us?"
"No, I'm just being insulting," she smiled.
Meara had no premonitions to the contrary, and Gannon sensed only the usual background magic of the land, slightly higher than usual but nothing alarming. Llweder's druidic senses told him that whatever had happened here, it was not unnatural, merely unexpected. That being the case, we gathered material for torches and set out to explore.
"Do you want to talk to Gudrun before we go poking around the mine?" Meara asked.
"Nah. She might tell us not to or something like that."
"I doubt it; she doesn't seem the sort to stop damn fools from doing damn fool things. And we paid so much attention the last time she told us not to do something."
We headed into the mine. The main tunnel, which had channeled the force of the blast, had been considerably enlarged and actually looked a lot sturdier than it had last time, the walls polished smooth, although the side shafts didn't look very reliable. The air was sulfurous, but we could breathe well enough. We found a few deposits suggesting that there had indeed been lava flowing through the tunnel, but it clearly hadn't been a huge amount.
Gannon sensed something following us, small and stealthy and very, very magical, and not very far away, and drew his gladius. Meara told us that there was something unpleasant but avoidable ahead, adding, "I think we should turn around and deal with what's following us, see what they want."
"Not much, I just kind of wondered who you were," said the knocker, stepping out from the shadow (or the wall) behind us.
"I'm Meara of Rose, I can bore you with my family's names if you wish."
"No, that's quite all right. It's nice to see somebody other than"
A roar echoed through the tunnel somewhere ahead of us.
"And he would be...?"
"He's a cave troll."
"Perhaps that's the unpleasantness ahead," she noted.
"Avoidable, huh?" I remarked.
"He's not all that bright," the knocker told us. "Mostly wanders around looking for stuff to eat. Damn fool hasn't figured out he doesn't needto eat."
"You wouldn't happen to know what happened here?" Meara asked him, glancing around.
"No, not really. Happened about three months ago or so. I can tell you that, that's when I woke up. About the same time he woke up," he nodded toward where the troll lurked.
"That was going to be my next question. The last time we were here, no Fae were here."
"Well, I don't know what it was. I do have a suspicion that I didn't exist before then," he added thoughtfully. "I know he didn't exist before then, the rocks he's walking on are smarter than he is."
"How much intelligence to you need when you're completely and totally... well, I don't want to say invulnerable, it is possible to kill a cave troll."
"Probably not all that much. Keep him away from external stimulus, he's not going to figure out that he can cast spells. Doesn't take all that much magic to sneak up on a sheep. Particularly if the only sheep you find have had someone else walk up and whack them with a stick, tie them up and hang them from a ceiling post."
"Those are really easy to sneak up on, yes," I agreed.
"Sheep? Or ceiling posts?" Meara wanted to know.
"Ceiling posts are cunning compared to the sheep." The knocker seemed to have an awfully jaundiced view of other species for someone three months old. "Feel free to look around, not all that much here, but hey, you want it. If you want to open up the mine, let me know."
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al