One day ago, Nuff and Renda had presented their dangerous scheme to the rest of the travellers.
‘Thing is,’ the mercenary said, ‘the gnome’s right.’
Nuff folded his arms and nodded smugly. Dastardly-Fred was drooling in his drug-induced torpor.
Renda continued. ‘We have to find out if Krotar followed us from the plains. I say we use this fake Dastardly to set a trap.’
Sir Adrian held up his hands. ‘I don’t know about this. If this man is part of the freelancer, his face, shouldn’t we keep him safe until we locate the other remnant?’
Nuff tramped into the middle of the circle. Standing up, his pointy hat reached only a little taller than the knight who sat next to him.
‘The way I see it, we do know where we can find the freelancer’s mind. We just need to get there. This twisted mistake of a man,’ he indicated Dastardly-Fred, ‘is not the freelancer. This man’s mind is a confused wreck and of no consequence to us.’
Waory, who had been staring at the ground until now, turned to Nuff.
‘You’re suggesting he’s expendable because he’s not who we want?’
‘What we’re saying,’ said Renda, ‘is that there’s no reason we can’t leave the fake Dastardly with some kindly farmer and his wife and watch for a few days. If only to be positively sure that Nius and Krotar won’t bother us on the way to the Liquid Library.’
‘That's one heck of a mouthful,’ the knight snarked.
Today they were at the nominated house. Waory and Adrian staked out on a knoll above the back paddock, watching the mercenary and gnome as they dragged the invalid to the front door.
They left Adrian’s note on Dastardly-Fred’s lap. The man’s mouth moved ever so slightly, and even from this far away the knight was sure of what he was saying.
‘I’m Dastardly... of course I am...’
Below them, Renda and Nuff would be finding hiding places for their horses. While they waited, Adrian brandished the circular footing on which was mounted a shard of glass.
‘And you’re certain that using it to watch them won’t make me as mad as the old Land-Regent?’ he asked the government advisor. Waory carefully grabbed the device, trying not to get his fingers cut.
‘If you are so concerned, let me watch first,’ he said, though he saw the knight’s expression harden. ‘What, you think I am the kind of person to harbour megalomaniacal tendencies?’
Adrian spoke his mind, regretting it immediately. ‘You are a public servant.’
Waory shrugged and flicked the shard, which rang like a muted bell. ‘Well played.’
Erk, the Death of Trolls led the newly christened Stroeg through a maze of dank tunnels. Here and there, the freelancer caught glimpses of other trolls, though they were often hard to distinguish from the dirt around them. What exactly did a troll do?
‘I’m what ya call an aspect, friendly soul,’ the Death of Trolls said. ‘My job is to work with the jotunn tribes. Unfortunately that means I have no idea what your Death told you in the Dark.’
Stroeg used one arm to stroke his awful face. ‘I thought I was dead.’
‘Yes,’ Erk replied, turning into a larger cavern, ‘but only mostly. You’re alive now, anyways.’
The freelancer racked his new brains, trying to remember what Death had told him.
‘I think I’m supposed to... reunite? Does that mean anything to you?’
Erk stopped and turned to face the room in front of them. On the other side of the space a great curtain, taller than any of the trolls, covered something on the wall. The thought occurred to Stroeg that he had little idea of the size of a jotunn, so he couldn’t easily guess the height of anything.
The Death of Trolls shouted a word that the freelancer didn’t understand and the curtain began to rise.
‘We’re in a bit of a pickle right now, friendly soul,’ said Erk. ‘The jotunn live for a long time, but eventually we do die.’
The freelancer huffed. ‘Good, otherwise you’d be out of a job.’
Erk squinted and lifted one leathery lip to show off a set of jagged teeth. Troll body language, Stroeg thought, I think I get that one.
The Death of Trolls continued. ‘We’re a self-serving and sometimes barbaric race. Our tribe in these parts has been trying to pull the jotunn into the modern world, but we lost contact with the other tribes around the time of your World Congress.’
‘You didn’t miss much over there,’ Stroeg mumbled. ‘Suffice it to say there won’t be another one.’
‘Regardless,’ Erk said, ‘we think that magic is slipping away. Most lines of communication have been lost, families spread out across the underworld or the surface, machines breaking down...’
‘Might you get to the point of all this?’
The curtain had arisen, revealing a large panel, beautifully gilded and covered by shards of glass. It almost made a cracked mirror except for two missing pieces.
‘We’ve decided to operate the Mirror d’Aseere to locate our missing brothers, but in its fractured state we cannot risk it.’
‘Wait just a second,’ said the freelancer. ‘I’ve seen a piece of this mirror. You really don’t want to be using it at all.’
‘Only while it is riven will the mirror eventually cause insanity,’ said Erk. ‘It will be up to you to find the remaining shards.’
‘Well I know where one of them is...’
‘Yes, with your friends,’ Erk said flatly. ‘They are not the issue. The other shard is in the Great Western City, where it would be hard for trolls to go unnoticed.’
‘You mean -’ the freelancer begun.
‘You won’t be here much longer. Just remember that the spell runs out after three days.’
Before Stroeg could reply, the Death of Trolls punched him square in the snout.
When he awoke, the freelancer was himself again, missing only his Dastardly face.