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A Wizard's Travail. Failure—But the Truth Revealed Therein. The Dwarf Reproved. The Wizard's Decision. The Dwarf Reproved. The Wizard's Command. The Dwarf Reproved.

In the days which followed, Shelyid's fears slowly abated. For it seemed, after all, that the wizard had no intention of departing his domicile. To the contrary, Zulkeh did now forego even the morning promenades which he had in the past enjoyed upon occasion. Not once did he leave the death house.

Yet this sedentary life bespoke not sloth on the mage's part. Quite the contrary—never had Shelyid seen the wizard so engrossed in his work. At all times Zulkeh could be found in his study or laboratory, delving into the sorcerous arts, taking neither rest nor sustenance. Soon the multitude of tomes, tablets and scrolls which filled their domicile became disarranged even further, as the mage investigated their arcanities. Odd experiments did he conduct, in the course of which many revolutionary advances in the field of alchemy were achieved, only to be impatiently discarded as irrelevant to the task at hand. Bizarre talismans did he bring forth, applying to them the most peculiar incantations. Conjurations, summonings—more than once did Shelyid flee in terror as the misty form of some fell creature from the netherworld took shape, called up by the wizard's lore.

But all was in vain. The truth lay hidden, the secret of the King's dream obscure. At length, after a week of frenzied study, Zulkeh ceased his travails. Then for four days did he remain ensconced in his chair in the study, pondering silently. Around him Shelyid tiptoed, careful not to disturb his master's musings—although on one occasion the loyal apprentice made so bold as to brush off the dust which had accumulated upon the wizard's immobile person.

The wizard remained undisturbed during this period, despite the incessant arrival of messengers from King Roy demanding to know what progress could be reported. For the loyal Shelyid rebuffed these assaults with unwonted determination. Indeed, he became rather adept at opening the communication port in the door and shouting out: "Go away! The master is busy, can't be disturbed, go away!"

Alas, the day came when a whole squad of Royal Constabulary arrived.

"Open up in the name of King Roy of Goimr, open up in the name of the law!" bellowed the lieutenant in charge, all the while pounding on the great oaken door with his truncheon of office. Shelyid, to his credit, attempted to stand fast. But, when six burly troopers began to apply their shoulders to the door, the dwarf undid the bolts and lifted the bar, swinging the door wide just as the staunch six hurtled at it. They came crashing through into the entry hall where they piled up like so many falling duckpins, dislodging as they fell a neat pyramid of mummified heads. These unpleasant items, not much more than skulls, really—strands of beard still attached to their mandibles—had been stacked there by Shelyid pursuant to his master's command to retrieve the heads of all bearded men from the crypts as part of the wizard's investigation.

Shelyid shrank back into an alcove as the policemen made frantic efforts to arise from the carpet of heads, the sight of which objects did little for their morale, judging, at least, from their wails. At length the officer entered and commanded his troopers to silence and order. As they moodily regrouped, casting fearful glances down the various dark and dank passages which emanated from the foyer, the officer addressed himself to Shelyid.

"You—there in the alcove—present yourself! Where is the wizard Zulkeh?"

Shelyid stood mute, his teeth chattering.

"Speak, grotesque dwarf! Or I'll set the squad on you!"

The constables brightened visibly and began to finger their various belts, clubs, coshes, sticks, straps, gloves, knucks and other instruments of lawful persuasion. One of the beefy policemen reached out a hand and dragged Shelyid forward by the scruff of the neck.

"You want I should give him the third degree, Lieutenant?" he demanded with a leer.

"Wait! Wait!" cried Shelyid. "I'll take you to the master!"

"Do so, then!" barked the lieutenant. Released by the constable, Shelyid started toward a flight of steps at the opposite end of the hall. As he headed down the steps, followed by the Royal Constabulary, the dwarf said timidly: "Things'll look a little weird, but you don't have to be afraid. It's just that the master's trying the cantrips of Escher Laebmauntsforscynneweëld and I always hate it when he does because—"

The gnome's words were cut off by great cries of fear and shock from the Constabulary. Of a sudden, the staircase they were descending was inverted and tipped to a ninety degree horizontal angle. The policemen dropped to their knees in startlement, despite the dwarf's warning cries.

"No! No! Don't do that! The staircase isn't really—"

Alas, the warning came too late. In a trice, the policemen had inadvertently rolled themselves down the staircase, even though it appeared they were rolling up and sideways. Their progress down—up? along?—it was difficult to say—the staircase was precipitous in the extreme, and most painful to boot, judging by their cries of hurt and distress. Shelyid sprang aside as the squad made their way forward like so many fleshy tumbleweeds, the lieutenant rolling up the rear.

The dwarf hurriedly followed the law enforcement bowling balls, calling out:

"When you get to the bottom—I mean, the top—I mean, the end—don't move! Don't move!"

Alas, his words went unheeded. No sooner did the Constabulary pile up at the terminus of the staircase than they staggered to their feet, bellowing with outrage like bulls. A moment later they were flattened by the arrival of a giant tarot card onto their heads. The Knave of Batons, fittingly enough.

Shelyid raced up and pried the card off the backs and buttocks of the minions of order, now squealing with outrage like so many boars. The policemen staggered to their feet again, and looked around. They were standing on top of an enormous desk, next to a huge bowl containing a pipe the size of a buffalo and two used matches the size of logs. Nearby loomed a gigantic humidor. A bit farther off, huge books leaned against buildings, the which marched in stately progression, side by side, down a normal looking street. The street was filled with people going about their business.

Average men would have been paralyzed with astonishment. But these were stalwart officers of the law, trained and disciplined, ready to handle the unexpected. At once they drew their billy clubs and advanced upon Shelyid. Things would no doubt have gone badly for the dwarf, save for the intervention of the wizard.

Or rather, the wizard's voice, which instrument of wrath descended on the Constabulary like the proverbial Word of God.

"Cease this intolerable impertinence!"

Stunned into frozen statues by the great voice, the Constabulary stared up in shock. There, at a great distance, loomed the gigantic visage of the wizard Zulkeh. The mage was holding a pack of cards in his left hand, a single card in his right. Judging by the expression on his face, he was wroth with wrath—and it was impossible not to judge correctly, for his face was the size of a great monument.

"By what right do you interrupt my studies?"

The lieutenant, his expression no longer arrogant, cleared his voice. "Sirrah wizard, a thousand apologies! But I have been sent by King Roy to oversee your studies and report on your progress."

"Bah! Impudent knave! You are in no wise competent to oversee my studies! Nor, I misdoubt me not, are you capable of accurately reporting so much as a sliver of my science."

The wizard glowered in the distance like a volcano. Suddenly, he flicked his wrist. The knot of policemen were flattened by the arrival of another giant card onto their heads.

"I shall tell your fortune. Ah—the Knight of Swords! You are headstrong, careless, heedless of warnings."

"Oh yes, master!" cried Shelyid. "I tried to warn them!"

Another card landed atop the thrashing Constabulary.

"The Fool, reversed. Foretells of major problems arising from reckless, impulsive action."

Another card. The policemen were now buried from sight.

"The Tower, reversed. Predicts the calling down of a disaster which might have been avoided. Unnecessary suffering. Self-undoing."

Great squeals of fear and pain emanated from beneath the growing pile of cards. The wizard drew another card.

"I shall now predict my own future. Ah—excellent! The Six of Swords! Indicates that some obstacle has been overcome and progress can now be resumed."

The wizard stretched out his hand and scooped up the knot of squirming constables onto the card. With a quick flick of the wrist, he flung them into a corner of the room. As they left the tabletop, the policemen resumed their normal size. Not to their great satisfaction, however, judging from the bellows of displeasure with which they greeted their landing on the floor.

The lieutenant scrambled to his feet and began to speak. He was immediately interrupted by the wizard.

"Silence, dolt!" oathed the mage. "You desire to oversee my studies, do you? Well, then, be silent and observe!"

And so saying, the mage reached out and drew forth one of the books leaning against the buildings on the desk. He slammed the book down flat on the table. The clapping sound caused the desk top to shimmer. A moment later, the previous objects were seen to have vanished, replaced by several others. In the brief glimpse they were allowed, the constables saw an oddly shaped, multisided object, a bowl containing a cactus, a corked bottle and a glass, and—suddenly, a horde of hideous reptiles began to emerge from a drawing pad lying beneath the book. Lizards, newts—it was difficult to say. In the blink of an eye, the reptiles were racing about in a circle, appearing and reappearing, squirming about in a most nauseating manner. The lieutenant and his men became dizzy.

Their discomfort soon passed, however, driven away by a greater unease. For the circling reptiles were picking up their pace. In but three seconds, their individual figures had vanished in a swirling scaly maelstrom.

A moment later a new form—indistinct in shape, but strange and fearful in its aspect—materialized above the desk, wavering like a flame in the wind. The officer moaned. The squad of constables herded together in a corner, lowing in fear.

"Officer, let me introduce you to the devil KKR," said the wizard. "I have summoned it to assist me in my investigation of the King's dream." The devil glowed a bit brighter. A cackling sound came from its—mouth?

"Devil!" spoke the mage. "Do you have anything to report regarding King Roy's dream?"

"Not a thing."

"Explain yourself!" demanded the mage. "I have given you ample time to investigate the matter."

The devil—sneered? It was difficult to say—but certainly unpleasant.

"Kiss off, Zulkeh. I'm not one of those puny devilkins you've been summoning with the hexes of Hieronymus Sfrondrati-Piccolomini. So don't try that tone with me! Besides, we've got orders from the top—from the CEO himself. King Roy's dream is off limits."

There came the impression of a satanic leer.

"Then again, I might be open to a little insider trading. Against all the rules, of course—but what's the point of being a devil if you can't make a little on the side?"

Zulkeh frowned. "And what would you demand in exchange? An eternal soul, I assume?"

KKR howled with laughter. The constabulary huddled yet closer in the corner. The officer's face was white as a sheet.

"Oh, Zulkeh, you are such an incorrigible romantic," cackled the devil. "An absolute throwback! A pure medievalist! No, no, my dear mage—souls aren't worth a thing in these modern times. Progress, progress! Nowadays, I only deal in commodities. Bulk commodities."

"Bah!" oathed the wizard. "I do not possess bulk commodities, evil dullard! Look about you—do you see any such mundane trivia?"

"Well, as a matter of fact—" The devil flared an ominous purple, like the sky before a hurricane. A great bloodshot eye emerged from its vague form, waving about on a stalk. The eye fixed its gaze on the policemen in the corner, who, for their part, bayed in fear and distress.

"There's always a good market in pork bellies."

The constables stampeded from the room, trampling their superior underfoot. They blundered up the staircase and into the entry hall above, stumbling over mummy heads, and jammed themselves—all six at once—out of the front doorway. A moment later the king's officer leapt to his feet and raced out. In a few seconds all trace of the Royal Constabulary had vanished.

* * *

Neither on the next day nor on any day that followed did a messenger come from King Roy to inquire of the wizard Zulkeh. Then, two days before he was to return to the Royal Palace, the mage arose from his chair and summoned Shelyid to his presence.

"Shelyid," he spoke, "I have determined the true state of things."

"Oh master! You have discovered the secret of the King's dream!"

"Nay, dwarf, I have not. And therein lies the mystery—for, of itself, the secret of King Roy's dream should long since have yielded itself up to my science, the which is superb in all fields and without equal—here I eschew false modesty—in the art of divination. Yet I have failed, failed utterly, to unveil it."

"Oh." After a moment, the apprentice assumed a mien of cheerful consolation. "Don't feel bad, master. After all, even a mighty sorcerer such as yourself can't always succeed."

"Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "You are impertinent, gnome!" The wizard glowered fiercely. "Dolt of an apprentice! Product of idiot loins!"

Shelyid cringed before his master's fury, groveling at his feet. "Please, master," he whimpered, "I won't do it again."

"See to it that you do not!" A deep sigh issued from the wizard's lips. "But then, perhaps you are not to blame. Oft do I forget me that error is the result of intelligence misapplied. Thus, where intelligence is absent, we are confronted not with error but with the natural, if repugnant, behavior of the common brute."

"Thank you, master," bubbled Shelyid, pleased to have escaped a thrashing.

"But now, Shelyid, attend me closely, and ponder upon my words, each and every one of them. For the concepts which I am about to unfold are wondrous in their construction, impeccable in the geometry of their logic."

"Yes, master!" The dwarf knitted his brows in preparation for thought.

"We begin with the major premise, to wit, that I am peerless in the art of divination. It is thus in the nature of things that there exists no dream which—all other things equal—I cannot decipher through the application of my powers. Is this clear?"

"Oh yes, master!"

"Good. Let us now move to the minor premise, to wit, the fact that I have, nevertheless, failed in the task of unveiling the meaning of King Roy's dream. Is this clear?"

"Oh yes, master!"

"The conclusion follows as night from day. All else is not equal. Why have I been unable to discern the secret? Clearly, because I have been prevented from doing so."

"But by whom, master?"

"Yes! Precisely! Well done, Shelyid! You have instantly penetrated to the heart of the matter. By whom, indeed? The answer is clear—by my enemies."

"Enemies, master?" queried the dwarf, confusion and alarm writ plain upon his face. "I didn't know you had any enemies."

"Neither did I, dwarf. But enemies I clearly have. And most puissant enemies, to boot, for not only have these fiends succeeded in preventing me from discovering the import of the King's dream, they have, as well—the villainous rogues!—kept their identity, nay, even their existence, hidden from my sight, the which resembles clairvoyance in its precision. But—ha! I have foiled their plot! Yea, verily, I have uncovered the foul schemers!"

The wizard paced to and fro, gesticulating with great vehemence. "Yet here confront we now a difficulty, Shelyid, for though my grasp of thaumaturgy is, as you know, equaled by none, yet there exist certain minor and esoteric branches of science which remain, if I may indulge in metaphor, outlying provinces not yet fully incorporated into the empire of my intellect. Of these, of these few—mere handful, in fact—does foety include itself."

"Foety, master? What is foety?"

"It is the study and lore of foes, Shelyid, including within its compass such fields as antagonology, enmitics, opponent psychology, developmental feudery, vindictrism, oppugnatic calculus, and, of course, the applied arts—revenge-work, table-turning, and so forth."

For some moments did the mage stand silent, motionless, poised in deep thought.

At length he spoke. "Well! There is nothing else for it, Shelyid. The true man of wisdom recognizes as well his limitations, few and meager though these be. My skills in foety have remained dormant, lo these many years, having as I do no foes, due to my invariant courtesy of manner and demeanor. Yet foes it now appears I have, and powerful ones. I shall need assistance. So. Let us be off!"

"Off, master?" queried Shelyid, a hint of anxiety creeping forth upon his simian brow. "Off where?"

"To Prygg, of course. Where else? There does the witch Magrit dwell, and there is none on earth who has her mastery of foety. And well 'tis for her sake, the vile harridan, for rudeness and intemperance have made her a host of enemies. Indeed, were it not for my well-known forbearance, I should number myself among them. As it is, the encounter will not be pleasant, indeed, may even be fraught with danger."

"Danger, master?" cried Shelyid, the hint of anxiety now grown to full stature.

"Of course, danger! What did you think? And not just from Magrit! Nay, much more, for the road to Prygg is long and oft perilous, replete as it is with savage beasts and diverse odd-fellows, ruffians and the like."

Then did the dwarf cry out in anguish, blubbering most pathetically, calling upon his master to leave him behind, extolling the cleanliness and order of the domicile which would await the sorcerer upon his triumphant return from great deeds of renown, if left to the loving care of his loyal apprentice during the mage's absence. But it was to no avail. Indeed, for his pains the dwarf was most soundly chastised by his master.

"And thus I command you, unworthy wretch, prepare the necessities of our journey," concluded the wizard's reproof. Grumbling, but now obedient, the dwarf set about his newfound task. As the mage and his apprentice possessed but little in the way of clothing, toiletries, and other such paraphernalia of human existence, the gathering together and packing of these items took but a moment.

"We can go now, master," piped Shelyid, depositing two small haversacks on the floor. "We're all packed."

Zulkeh frowned. "Do you trifle with me, gnome?"

"No, master," protested Shelyid. "Of course not."

"See to it that you do not. Hasten then and attend to the packing of the necessities of our journey. This I have already bade you do, and I am not pleased by your sloth in carrying out my command."

"But, master" whined Shelyid, "we are packed. See—here are our bags. I put everything in them: your spare robe, your other pair of socks, and all my stuff. That's all we have."

"Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "I am in no mood for bumptious jests! What do I care for these trifles? Again, I command you—pack the necessities of our journey!"

"But what are they, master?" queried the puzzled dwarf.

"My instruments, dolt! What else? My scrolls! My tomes! My talismans! My artifacts!"

"H-how many of th-them do you w-want, master?" stammered the dwarf, his rapidly glazing eyes roving about their quarters, noting the many thousand scrolls heaped untidily upon workbenches and shelves, the stone figurines and clay tablets scattered about the floor, the thick leather-bound tomes of great weight stacked precariously hither and yon, the vials, beakers, jars, jugs, amulets, talismans, vessels, bowls, ladles, retorts, pincers, tweezers, pins, the bound bundles of sandalwood, ebony and dwarf pine, the bags and sacks of incense, herbs, mushrooms, dried grue of animal parts, the bottles of every shape and description filled with liquids of multitudinous variety of color, content and viscosity, the charms, the curios, the relics, the urns of meteor dust, the cartons of saints' bones and the coffers of criminals' skulls, and all the other artifacts of stupendous thaumaturgic potency crammed into every nook and cranny of every niche, room, closet and hallway in the death house, not excluding the heavy iron engines in the lower vaults.

"All of them, of course!" spoke the wizard. "Everything. Not a single item necessary to my science can be left behind—and they are all of them necessary, for I am not in the habit of collecting useless trivia."

Most piteous were Shelyid's moans.

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