A Life Of Fiction CLXII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

A Life of Fiction: Yet another Briggs and Prenderghast collection. Some time ago (but today as I actually write these words) I finished another gas-lamp fantasy short story collection. There are plenty of notes elsewhere on this site about the genesis of those two characters, so I won’t bother to go into details here. But I will explain the reason why I have gone back to writing about my two favourite characters.

I had thought that I had put the characters to bed, so to speak. The last novel featuring the characters was Grailquest. It was, in the chronology of my gas-lamp world, their very last adventure together. Their final one. When it came out, I had intended that it be the last words that I wrote on the characters.

Yet within a year or so I had begun working on what was, at the time, the first if three compilations of short stories featuring Briggs and Prenderghast, and set years before the events of Grailquest. This compilation was called The Untold Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast. The other two would be volumes two and three.

One of the reasons for working on these short story collections was that I had discovered a series of notes for unwritten stories featuring Briggs and Prenderghast. I am one of those people who hate leaving things undeveloped, as just a series of notes in the back of an A5 notebook. I have to try to write those ideas, with the intent of finishing them. Yes, I have a lot of unfinished novels and short story collections. But if I live long enough then the plan is to complete them all. So, some four years or so ago, I wrote up all those notes, and I thought that, again, I was done with those characters and that I could move on to trying to finish other projects.

Back to the (almost) present. I had been going through a period of depression and a lack of faith in my writing. Nobody was buying any of my stuff on Kindle; only a few people were bothering to check out this blog (a big thank you to those who did) and I was suffering a literary malaise. Not really a writer’s block, per se, as I had ways around that. No, I was not really writing as much stuff as I should, and not of a good enough quality, because I was beginning to question whether I should carry on with my writing at all.

I decided to try to re-energise my love for writing by going back to one of the first things which I had written: Briggs and Prenderghast. I was hoping that if I wrote a few more short stories featuring them that I might rediscover my mojo.

Well, it has worked, at least to a certain extent. I have finished Volume IV of The Untold Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast. Maybe I didn’t get as big a buzz out of it as I did The Absinthe Club (my first finished novel) or The Impossibilities or He Sees His World In Red (the first Briggs and Prenderghast novel). But a definite buzz was there. I still felt good for myself.

There was one other reason for releasing this collection. I had done a few other Briggs and Prenderghast stories, scattered across both the internet and some general short story compilations. I decided that it made sense to gather these four or five stories together into a single volume.

Anyway, the collection is finished. And, guess what? I am now working on The Untold Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast Volume V. which will definitely be the last volume featuring those two characters.

Here, from The Untold Adventures of Briggs and Prenderghast Volume IV is a sample story, The Amber Catacombs, which has also appeared on Steampunk Empire.

The Amber Catacombs

So why are in France?” John Briggs asked, as the steam train rattled through the landscape of the Ardennes.

I thought that, as we have endured some of our most dangerous escapades in recent weeks, that a holiday in France might be in order, my friend.” William Prenderghast said. The wizard sat back in his seat, and got out his silver hip flask, the one which Prenderghast always kept topped up with absinthe. Prenderghast took the top off, took a sip, and then screwed the top tightly back on it. He sighed, and picked up his copy of Le Monde which he had bought at the Gare de l’Est while they had been in Paris.

Briggs looked out of the train window, at the unspoiled woods of the Ardennes. It might be the Steam Age in other parts of France, but in the Ardennes there was not yet any heavy industry. The railway – run by the Chemins de Fer de l’Est – was probably the most technologically advanced thing to be found in the region.

There were supposed to be wild boar and deer in the forests of the Ardennes. According to Prenderghast there were wild cats, as well. Briggs had not seen any such creatures, though, looking out of the train window.

Yes, but why come all of the way out to the Ardennes?” Briggs asked. He was Prenderghast’s best friend. But he was not above gently teasing the wizard. “I know you, Prenderghast. This isn’t just a holiday. You’ve got some ulterior reason for coming here; and I am guessing that it has something to do with Magick.”

As though I am interested in nothing but Magick.” Prenderghast said. “Why, I have many interests.”

Such as what?”

I am knowledgeable on wine and other drinks.”

Such as absinthe.”

I am known to be a smart dresser.”

Yeah, well, the jury is still out on that.” Briggs said. Then he frowned, as he had tried to avoid anachronisms since he had left the early twenty-first century and come to this strange Victorian world where Magick was real. But Prenderghast did not ask what Briggs had meant. The wizard seemed to guess that it was not a compliment.

I spend a great deal of money on my clothes.” Prenderghast sniffed. At that moment in time he was wearing a mustard yellow suit, over a deep crimson shirt and tie. His top hat was also mustard yellow, but had a deep crimson silk sash around its base. “Anyway, I am an inventor of talent, Briggs. I have told you about my Wonderful Autochronometer Adjuster, have I not?”

Yes, you’ve told me all about that – several times. Okay – I mean, alright, I will give you that. You are a pretty good inventor.

You still haven’t told us the real reason why we have come all of the way to the Ardennes, Prenderghast. What is it all about?”

Prenderghast cheered up.

We have come to visit the Amber Catacombs, Briggs.” the wizard said. “That is the reason why I decided that we should holiday in this fair region of France.”

What are the Amber Catacombs?” Briggs asked. “Amber is just fossilised tree resin, isn’t it? And catacombs are just subterranean cemeteries, like the one under Paris. They don’t really seem to go together.”

These catacombs have only just been discovered; or re-discovered, if you prefer. But they relate to a legend told by the early eighteenth century Catholic priest Bertrand Guilladot. This Guilladot was also a wizard…”

Surprise, surprise.”

“…of some talent. But, unfortunately, he was drawn to Black Magick. He was executed in 1742 for engaging in Black Magick and devil worship. Interestingly, he was one of the last wizards to be executed in France for those crimes.”

What has that got to do with these Amber Catacombs?”

I am coming to that, Briggs. While still a free man Guilladot claimed that he had discovered some catacombs deep underground, ones dug through rock the colour of amber – and hence the name the Amber Catacombs. Guilladot did not really describe that underground cemetery, apart from to claim that the catacombs were incredibly ancient, having nothing Christian about them. But there was one other thing which he stated, however, and that was that these mysterious catacombs housed something which he called the Knot of Infinity.”

It sounds like something off Doctor Who.”

I beg your pardon?”

Never mind. Forget that I said that. It was just something from my world. So, what is this Knot of Infinity, anyway?”

I have absolutely no idea, Briggs.” Prenderghast said. “But with a name like the Knot of Infinity it must be something important, must it not?”

Briggs sighed, and shook his head.

The problem is that Guilladot was executed before he explained what the Knot of Infinity was, or even what it looked like.” Prenderghast continued, blithely. “Wizards have had various theories about what it might be. Most people used to think that it did not exist, and that it was nothing more than part of some fantastical tale which Guilladot had invented. It was thought that the Amber Catacombs did not exist, either.”

But you have evidence to the contrary?” Briggs asked.

Have you heard of Edouard-Alfred Martel?”

Is he another wizard?” Briggs sighed.

Not everybody in this world is a wizard, Briggs.” Prenderghast said. “Martel is an explorer of caves and caverns.”

So he’s a potholer.” Briggs said.

I beg your pardon?”

A person who investigates caves and caverns.”

Yes, he is a… potholer.” Prenderghast said. “He is one of only a few individuals who investigate the caverns beneath the surface of our world. Martel only began exploring France’s caves a few years ago.

Last month Martel, while investigating caverns in the Ardennes, rediscovered what may be…”

The Amber Catacombs.” Briggs said, finishing off Prenderghast’s sentence.

Yes, that is correct.”

So how did you come to hear about them?”

Through one of my newspapers dedicated to the wizardly fraternity. There was a brief article in the Sortilegist.”

Hm. I wonder if there is anything left by now.” Briggs sighed.

What do you mean?”

I mean that any wizard worth his salt will come and investigate these caves now, Prenderghast. There will probably not be anything left in those caverns by the time that we get there – if there ever was anything of interest in them in the first place.”

Prenderghast opened his mouth to say something, such as not all wizards would simply drop what they had been doing to rush over to the Ardennes to investigate the caverns which Martel had found. But it was exactly what he had been doing, wasn’t it?

Prenderghast said nothing. But he had another sip of absinthe to cheer himself up, as he tried to tell himself that this would not be a wasted journey and that there would still be something worth finding in the caverns, perhaps, indeed, the legendary knot of infinity.

The train stopped at a small, rural train station. Prenderghast opened the door and got off, leaving Briggs to grab both of their suitcases, and get onto the platform before the train began moving again.

Where are we?” Briggs asked, looking around. The only people to be seen on the platform were himself, Prenderghast, and a rather surly looking porter, who stayed at the far end of the platform, smoking a cigarette.

The name of this town is Creçonne.” Prenderghast said, nodding towards the sign on the platform. “We are in the hills which lie to the south-west of Sedan, although we are quite some distance from there.”

Briggs had heard of Sedan, of course. Back in his world there had been a Battle of Sedan, in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. In what Briggs still thought of as the ‘real world’ the Prussians had crushed the French forces, leading to the end of the Second Empire, and the Paris Commune, and so on.

But in the world of Prenderghast history had taken a different course. The French had fought the Prussians at the Battle of Sedan, just like in many other alternate dimensions. But, in the realm of Prenderghast, the French had had a secret weapon: Jules Verne. He had designed a series of war machines, whose crushing might was unveiled at that Battle of Sedan. It had been an overwhelming victory for France. The Second Empire had continued, while Prussia had taken refuge in isolationism and military spending.

Where are we staying?” Briggs asked.

According to the account which I read Martel stayed in what he described as a charming in within the town.” Prenderghast said. “We will stay at the same in as he did. Then, tomorrow, when we are fully rested, we will go in search of these Amber Catacombs. Come on, Briggs, let us seek out that hostelry.”

Briggs gazed down the platform at the porter who was studiously avoiding looking in their direction.

I don’t think that he’s going to help us with our luggage.” Briggs said.

Well, we have travelled light, on this adventure.” Prenderghast said. “I am sure that you can manage both suitcases.”

Hang on, hang on, why do I have to carry your case as well as mine?”

If we carry one each then it will be uneven. We will be dragged down by the case on one side. It will be a lot easier if one of us carries both of them. Then you will be evened up, as it were, balanced out by the weight on both of your arms.”

Yes, but why do I..? Oh, never mind, I’ll carry the ruddy suitcases. I just hope that it isn’t too far to this hostelry of yours.”

The village of Creçonne was only five minutes walk down the road from the railway station. The village was so small, though, that a person could almost have missed it, being no more than a few houses gathered together, a church, a hostelry, and a few other buildings, such as a town hall.

Briggs and Prenderghast booked into the hostelry where Martel had stayed when exploring the caves in the area. Prenderghast did the talking, as Briggs’s French was less than perfect. The place was run by an old man by the name of Boudart. He was short, and wizened, and smoked a cigarette which was so odoriferous that it made a Gauloise seem mellow. He wore rough cotton trousers and a black wax jacket.

Prenderghast stayed down stairs to chat with the owner, while Briggs struggled upstairs with the cases.

Tell me, Monsieur Boudart, are we the only people staying here, if you please?” Prenderghast asked.

No, you and your friend are the only guests who I have. It is not the right season for outsiders to come to Creçonne.” the Frenchman said.

That was what Prenderghast wanted to hear. It sounded like there had not been a lot of people who had descended on the caves in search of the Knot of Infinity, whatever it was. That meant that there was a chance he could still beat them to whatever lay inside the Amber Catacombs.

Prenderghast thanked Boudart for the information, and went in search of Briggs. He found Briggs in a rather small bedroom, comprising a narrow bed, a poky little window looking down onto the muddy lane outside, a rickety wooden table, and not much else.

I took the larger room, since I had to carry the cases up.” Briggs said. “Hope you don’t mind.”

Prenderghast went in search of his room. It was about a foot narrower than the one which Briggs had claimed, but the same length.

The wizard unpacked some of the items which he had brought with him. He and Briggs had done a lot of travelling and – since there were no other hunters of mystic rarities around – Prenderghast felt that he could safely leave the Amber Catacombs to the following day. If the weather was nice he and Briggs could descend into the caves and catacombs which Martel had rediscovered.

Prenderghast laid out one of his revolvers on the bed. It was a British Bulldog, and Prenderghast had found it very good at settling arguments, in the past. Magick was all well and good, but a person could pull the trigger of a gun far faster than any wizard could cast a spell.

Prenderghast put his silver hipflask on the table beside the bed. Prenderghast would have to go easy on the absinthe – not put of any concern for his health, but because the wizard doubted whether he would be able to top it back up.

He put his silver-headed cane down on the bed, as well, just for the moment. He would need it in a bit, as he intended to take a walk around the town, once he had settled into the room.

His clothes and a few other minor items came out of his case. Prenderghast hung his clothes up, as best as he could. Then he went in search of Briggs.

Briggs had just finished unpacking, laying a couple of books on the table beside his bed. One was a French-English dictionary. The other was a hardback of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes?” Prenderghast asked.

Yes, I haven’t read it in years.” Briggs said.

But it was only published a couple of… Ah, I see.” Sometimes Prenderghast forgot that Briggs came from another world, one where it was over a hundred years later and there was no Magick, and where Briggs had had a long career in the Metropolitan Police.

I thought that we might take a constitutional around the town of Creçonne before our evening repast.” Prenderghast said. “Would you be interested in accompanying me?”

Well, I don’t think that there’s much to see, but alright.” Briggs said. “I’ve been stuck on trains all day and could do with stretching my legs.”

The two adventurers walked around the little town of Creçonne. The only person who they saw was an old man cycling in the opposite direction. He did not bother to slow down, or give them the time of day, but carried on cycling past.

Apart from where they were staying the only other building of interest to Briggs and Prenderghast was the church near the town. The church was, without doubt, the oldest building in the area, dating back to the thirteenth century. Its old stone walls were crumbling a little, suffering from the passage of all those years. But it would still stand for a little longer, and outlive everybody else in the area.

Briggs and Prenderghast spent some time looking around inside the church. Then they left, and had one last walk around the environs of the town, before deciding that they might as well return to the inn.

It was not long before they were sitting down to their supper, a pair of roasted woodcocks.

After their supper Prenderghast got up from the table and approached Boudart.

Are there any caves around here?” Prenderghast asked.

Caves, sir?” Boudart looked blankly at the English wizard.

Yes. I understand that Edouard-Alfred Martel stayed at this very establishment while he was investigating some caverns. Is that not correct?

Ah, the speleologist.” Boudart said, and laughed, as though he found the idea of going into caves to explore them to be very silly. “Yes, he said that he had found some strange caves in a hill some kilometres to the west of here. I have never heard of the caves myself, and I have lived around here all my life. But he said that the entrance was very hard to find.

Boudart shrugged.

Could you show me where this entrance was supposed to be?” Prenderghast asked. “I have a map here of the area.”

Prenderghast took out a map of the Ardennes and spread it out, on the counter behind which the Frenchman sat. Boudart stabbed his thick, stubby finger down onto one of the hills close to Creçonne.

That is the hill, but I do not know where these caves are supposed to be. Maybe he made the tale up, eh?

Thank you.” Prenderghast said. But he could not help looking disappointed. Prenderghast went and sat down at the table again.

I managed to follow most of that.” Briggs said. “You know, this might be a good thing, if these caves, or catacombs, or whatever they are, are not easy to find. It might mean that anybody else might not be able to find them.”

So that there will not be too many wizards worth their salt in the Amber Catacombs?” Prenderghast asked, raising his eyebrows. “That will be of small consolation if we, too, are unable to discover the entrance.”

Didn’t your article give details of how to find the catacombs?” Briggs asked.

It gave some minor details.” Prenderghast admitted.

Well?”

Unfortunately, I did not think to bring that issue of The Sortilegist with me. It is back in my lodgings in London.”

Briggs sighed. Unless they got lucky it was possible that they might have come out to the Ardennes for nothing.

Well, we’ll look tomorrow morning. You never know – if this Martel character managed to find these catacombs then maybe we will be able to find them, too.”

Briggs and Prenderghast retired to their rooms to have an early night, although Briggs could not resist reading The Boscombe Valley Mystery before turning off the oil lamp beside his bed.

The next morning the sky was grey, with clouds scudding down over the Ardennes from the north. They looked heavy with rain.

Are we still going out to look for these catacombs?” Briggs asked, as he sipped a cup of black coffee at breakfast.

Of course.” Prenderghast replied.

What about the weather?” Briggs asked. “It looks as though it intends to rain.”

It does not matter.” the wizard said. “We will be safely underground, away from the rain.”

Hm.” Briggs said. He wished that he could be so sure that Prenderghast was right. And he had forgotten to pack an umbrella with him, as well. But there was little point in raising objections. They had come to look for these Amber Catacombs, and Briggs knew that Prenderghast would not be denied.

They set out to look for the catacombs.

Two hours later and Briggs and Prenderghast were on the top of the hill which had been indicated by Boudart. And both men were soaked to the skin.

They had not found any catacombs, or any caves. They had gone back and forth over the hill, and there was no sign of them.

Prenderghast, we are going to drown if we stay up here!” Briggs shouted. “Let’s head back for the inn. We can search again tomorrow.”

Prenderghast looked around before answering. He was hoping for some genius idea to arise by which he would suddenly stumble on what he sought. But all that he could see was the rain and the wet ground on top of the hill.

They were on open ground at the moment. There were bushes here and there, and trees covered part of the top of the hill, as well as the sides. Prenderghast thought about suggesting that they limit their search to beneath the trees. But he was just as wet as Briggs, and he simply wanted to go back to the inn to dry out in front of a fire.

Very well!” he shouted, to make his voice heard over the pouring rain. The two men turned around, and began walking back towards Creçonne.

Water ran around their feet. In every hollow on top of the hill there were now pools, as the rain had come down so fierce and hard. These pools overflowed, creating little streams which sought out the lowest area. The two men squelched their way along the top of the hill.

Suddenly Briggs nudged Prenderghast. He pointed to a hollow, one half covered by thick bushes.

Look, Prenderghast!” Briggs said, excitedly. “There is no water on the bottom of that hollow.”

So?” Prenderghast asked. He was wet, and miserable, and not thinking as clearly as normal.

So pools are forming everywhere else on the hill, but the water is running away in that hollow. Where is it running away to?”

The two men ran over towards the depression in the ground. Briggs looked down from the edge. Water was running down into the hollow, but then running in a little stream into the area covered by the bushes.

Briggs stepped down into the depression, almost slipping over as he stepped down the steep bank. He pushed into the area covered by the bushes, pulling them aside.

There was a hole there, where bare rock was exposed, but normally covered by the foliage by the bushes. The water was trickling down into the hole.

Do you think this is it?” Briggs asked. The hole was so small that the only way anybody could get down into it would be to crawl along on hands and knees.

After you, Briggs.” Prenderghast said. That was the only answer which Briggs got. If anybody got stuck and had to try to back out on all fours then Prenderghast would prefer that it not be him.

Briggs took off his backpack, as he could not have got into the hole with it still on his back. He then crawled into the hole. He had to crawl

It was pretty dark inside, and it went down quite steeply. Briggs almost fell down into the darkness, but he managed to hold onto the rocks and support himself.

I need light!” Briggs shouted out. He was not going to continue down unless he could see what he was doing.

A lit ever-burning taper was passed to Briggs. He waved it around, its ghostly green light illuminating the area that he was in.

He was at the top of some natural rock chimney. It went down for around thirty feet or so to some steep passage, which disappeared into the depths of the earth. The water from outside cascaded down over the rocks, making the most miniature of waterfalls as it went down into the depths. Had it been dry Briggs might have climbed down, as he could see plenty of handholds. But he was not going to try climbing down when the rocks were wet. Not without any assistance, anyway.

They both had rope in their backpacks. Prenderghast had brought plenty with him to the Ardennes, anticipating some climb down to the Amber Catacombs.

I need some rope, Prenderghast. Pass me the rucksack.”

Prenderghast stuffed the backpack through the hole. Briggs got out the rope, and tied it safely around one of the rocks at the top of the climb. The rope was long enough to hang down all of the way to the steep passage below.

Is it safe to come in?” Prenderghast asked, sticking his head through the hole. “You do realise that it is still raining, Briggs?”

Hang on, just let me climb down, there weren’t be enough room otherwise.”

Briggs wedged the ever-burning taper between two rocks. He had a look inside the backpack, but there wasn’t anything breakable in there – just a water skin and a bit of food. He dropped the backpack down the hole. It landed with a thump at the bottom.

Briggs climbed down, very carefully, using the rope.

All right, you can come now!” he shouted up to the top. Prenderghast must have been very close to the hole, as Briggs saw him scurry in to the top almost immediately. Briggs bent down and picked up his backpack, putting it on his back. Then there was a loud thump from just next to him. Prenderghast had dropped his backpack down the hole, as well.

Hey! You nearly hit me!” Briggs shouted.

Sorry.”

Briggs sighed, and he waited for Prenderghast to join him. watching his friend climb down Briggs saw the light of the ever-burning taper bob about, and the former policeman realised that Prenderghast must have it gripped between his teeth.

Prenderghast, with assistance from Briggs, put his backpack back on. Then Prenderghast transferred his ever-burning taper from his teeth to his right hand.

The light shone down the tunnel, the green glow reflecting off wet and damp rocks.

Yes, this is the place.” Prenderghast said. “The descent was exactly as Martel described it, if my memory serves me right.”

So how far to these catacombs of yours?” Briggs could not see any sign of some underground burial area yet.

No more than ten minutes.” Prenderghast said. “We are almost there.”

Ten minutes later the two sodden adventurers were standing in a sandstone passage. The sandstone was a peculiar shade of orange, due to the presence of iron oxide inside it. It was the colour of the sandstone which had earned these passages the name the Amber Catacombs.

Briggs could see that these really were catacombs, rather than just underground passages. Here and there the passage walls had been cut away, to form small ledges. On those ledges there were the ancient remains of human beings, old and mouldering bones wrapped up in the fragments of raiment which might once have been fair.

Briggs reckoned that the remains must have been down in the passages hundreds of years, and maybe a couple of thousand, which meant that this must be the burial area of some pagan society. Here and there strange symbols were scratched onto the sandstone. Briggs did not recognise them, apart from a star shape and a circle. The rest were a mystery to him, either being occult symbols or the script of some forgotten tongue.

Well, we’ve found the Amber Catacombs.” Briggs said. He kept his voice low, almost whispering, out of respect for the dead. He felt almost as though he was in some church. But these people would not have been Christians. They would have worshipped older gods, perhaps Herne or Cernunnos or Celtic deities, or maybe ones far older than them.

He was a little bit disappointed, though, as the sandstone did not really look like amber. It needed a lot of imagination to compare the sandstone to that fossilised tree resin.

Now we must search for the Knot of Infinity.” Prenderghast said, his eyes gleaming in the green light of the ever-burning taper.

The two men, their clothes still sopping wet, began to search these mysterious catacombs. Prenderghast had no idea as to what the Knot of Infinity looked like. But he supposed that he would know it when he saw it.

The catacomb was large, but it still only took around ten minutes before Briggs and Prenderghast saw light ahead of them. Prenderghast hurried towards the light. It had to be something to do with the Knot of Infinity. Briggs had to hurry to keep up with his friend.

Prenderghast went around a passage corner to see a man standing with his back to them. The light was coming from somewhere in front of the man, from some object which Prenderghast could not see, but which had to be a little above waist level.

As the light fell on the sandstone walls of the catacombs it almost gave them a translucent quality. The walls, where the light fell, really did look like amber. Prenderghast did not have to get his mythometer out to know that the light was mystical in nature.

Who are you?” Prenderghast asked, Briggs standing beside him.

The silhouetted figure spun around. He had clearly been so rapt by whatever was in front of him that he had not heard the approach of Briggs and Prenderghast.

I am he who they call the Magister!” the man said, raising one arm above his head in what he had clearly imagined was a dramatic gesture. He spoke in a slight Birmingham accent.

Have you heard of him?” Briggs asked.

I am afraid that I have not, my friend. It is not a title which is familiar to me. I do not have my copy of Burke’s Wizardage, either, with me. I did not think that we would meet anybody down here, so that book is back in my room in the hostel where we are saying.”

Enough!” the man shouted. “I have found the Knot of Infinity! Approach at your own peril. I do not intend to share this power with anybody. If you take one step forwards I will shrive your soul.”

I think you might have the wrong word there.” Briggs said. “I think that you might mean shrivel.”

Did you not hear what I said? I am the Magister, one of the most feared wizards in the world!”

Sorry, no, I still haven’t heard of you.” Briggs said. “Anyway, I suppose that we should introduce ourselves. I’m Briggs, and this is Prenderghast, and we have dealt with quite a few people who have claimed to be feared. Have you heard of Rex Mundi? We dealt with him. And Dzinshung Tse? He won’t be troubling anybody ever again. We make a habit of dealing with people who think that they can simply become tyrants because they know a few spells.

So why, instead of the old-fashioned mystical fight, why don’t we all sit down and discuss whatever it is which you’ve found?”

The Magister paused, and, for a moment, Briggs thought that he had got through to the man, and that conflict might be avoided. But…

No!” the Magister suddenly shouted, and began casting a spell.

Briggs dived back behind one of the sandstone walls, just in case. He didn’t know Magick, but he knew how deadly it could be. Prenderghast, meanwhile, had recognised the type of spell, and he began casting a spell to try and disrupt the Magister’s spell before it came into effect.

Suddenly, a shimmering wall sprung up around the Magister, and whatever was producing the light on the other side of his body. The wall formed a sphere entirely protecting the Magister.

Ha! You fools! I am totally protected from you!” the Magister shouted gleefully. “By the time that you have broken through my spell I will have the power of the Knot of Infinity all for myself.”

The Magister turned back to the thing which was producing the light – the Knot of Infinity.

Is it safe?” Briggs asked, from behind a sandstone wall.

Quite safe, my friend.” Prenderghast said. “There is a mystical barrier between us and our foe. We cannot harm him; but while the barrier is in place, he cannot harm us, either.”

Prenderghast, as he talked, edged around the outside of the mystical barrier so that he could see the Knot of Infinity. Briggs, his back aching a little, got up and joined him.

The Knot of Infinity was a glowing thing suspended in midair. It was like nothing which Prenderghast had ever seen before. He could see intertwining bands of mystical energy. The way that they weaved together reminded him of a knot.

There was something odd about the Knot of Infinity, though. For one thing, it hurt Prenderghast’s eyes to look at the Knot of Infinity – and that was not due to the brightness of the knot. But, for a second thing, Prenderghast could not follow the course of any of the bands of interlaced mystical light. It was as though he was looking at something with too many angles.

Although Prenderghast could not know it, the Knot of Infinity was something which might, truly, be said to have had too many angles. For the Knot of Infinity was something where energy of another dimension had come into the world of Prenderghast. The Knot of Infinity had far more dimensions to it than the normal three. But, where the energy came into Prenderghast’s world, those extra dimensions curled back in on themselves, making it seem as though a person looking at this unique trans-dimensional effect was, in fact, looking at some sort of Magick knot.

Prenderghast, though, did not understand what the Knot of Infinity was. Neither, for that matter, did the Magister. But he knew that, within his grasp, lay what he believed to be almost limitless power.

Prenderghast and Briggs stared as the Magister, cut off from them, began casting some sort of a spell.

What’s he doing?” Briggs asked.

He’s casting a spell.” Prenderghast said.

Yes, I know he’s casting a spell, I’m not stupid. But what sort of spell is he casting?”

I would have thought that was obvious, my friend. The Magister is attempting to unravel the Knot of Infinity. When it is undone he hopes that he will have all of its power for himself.”

Wonderful.” Briggs said. “Then we’ll have another would-be world conqueror who we’ll have to stop. Why does this always happen to us, Prenderghast? If we get killed then I intend to blame you for it. It was your idea to come out here.”

As it happened, though, Briggs and Prenderghast were not about to get into some fight. Not this time, anyway.

The Magister began trying to unravel the Knot of Infinity, not realising that he was attempting to steal the mystical power of not just some strange mystical effect but what was, theoretically, the mystical power of an entire universe. He waved his hands about, and but the merest fraction flowed out, just a tiny leakage from that other world.

That little bit of pure Magick, though, latched onto the one bit of Magick extant in the Amber Catacombs. Briggs and Prenderghast saw what looked like a tendril snake out from the Knot of Infinity until it reached the mystical barrier. Then a strange thing began to happen – strange even if you were a wizard, as this was all strange to Briggs.

The Magickal barrier suddenly became stronger. Prenderghast guessed that it was getting thicker, as it went from transparent to translucent, so that the Magister could not be seen quite so clearly.

A strange thing happened to the Magister, though. Cut off from the world, and now affected by dimensions other than his own, the movements of his hands began to slow down. Time was slowing down inside the barrier; and, within a minute, it came effectively to a complete stop, the Magister just standing there, his hands out, not even blinking. Time within the barrier was still moving, but so slowly that the Magister might blink once only every thousand years. The barrier was sustained by the Knot of Infinity, and might continue until the end of time.

All of this was surmised by Prenderghast, who got out his mythometer to try to find out what was going on. The English wizard did try to save the Magister. But the barrier, moving at a different rate of time, was impenetrable to Prenderghast’s Magick. He was like a flea trying to break through the tough hide of a Stegosaurus. No power on Earth could have freed the Magister.

There was only one thing which Briggs and Prenderghast could do, and that was to make their way back to Creçonne, and plan their journey back to London.

They climbed back up the rope, and crawled back into the open air. Prenderghast was clearly disappointed, having wanted to examine the Knot of Infinity for himself. It did not occur to the wizard that he might well have ended up like the Magister.

You know, the Magister did get all of the power, if what you said is correct.” Briggs said. “He has got all the power in the world. Nobody can harm him, either. And he’s not going to get old. By the time that we’re both six feet under he might only have taken a single breath.”

Hm.” Prenderghast said. He did not sound happy.

Well, at least there’s one good thing.” Briggs said.

What good thing?” Prenderghast said. “I fail to see how anything good has come out of this, Briggs.”

Well, at least it has stopped raining.” Briggs said, pointing to the sky.

The two men walked back to Creçonne in glorious autumn sunshine. By the time they got back to the inn their clothes were almost dry. And, in such fine weather, not even Prenderghast could refuse a smile, in the end.

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