I hoped the boy could keep out of trouble long enough for me to reach him.
Getting in was taking longer than I thought.
Up and down the wall the lizard scuttled; round cornices, over arches, across
pilasters, its progress ever more speedy and erratic. Each window it came to—and
there were plenty of them in the mansion—was firmly shut, causing it to flick its
tongue in frustration. Hadn't Lovelace and Co. ever heard of the benefits of fresh
Many minutes went by. Still no luck. Truth was, I was loath to break in, ex-
cept as a last resort. It was impossible to tell whether the rooms beyond had
watchers who might respond to the slightest untoward noise. If I could only find a
crack, a cranny to sneak through.... But the place was too well sealed.
There was nothing for it: I would have to try a chimney.
With this in mind I headed roofward, only to have my attention caught by a
very tall and ornate set of windows a little way off on a projecting wing of the
house. They suggested a sizeable room beyond. Not only that, but a powerful net-
work of magical bars crisscrossed the windows on the seventh plane. None of the
Hall's other windows had such defenses. My curiosity was piqued.
The lizard sped across to take a look, scales scuffling on the stones. It gripped a
column and poked its head toward the window, being careful to keep well back
from the glowing bars. What it saw inside was interesting, all right. The windows
looked onto a vast circular hall or auditorium, brightly lit by a dozen chandeliers
suspended from the ceiling. At the center was a small raised podium draped with
red cloth, around which a hundred chairs had been arranged in a neat semicircle. A
speaker's stand stood on the podium, complete with glass and jug of water. Evi-
dently this was the venue for the conference.
Everything about the auditorium's decor—from the crystal chandeliers to the
rich gold trimmings on the walls—was designed to appeal to the magicians' (vulgar)
sense of wealth and status. But the really extraordinary thing about the room was
the floor, which seemed to be entirely made of glass. From wall to wall it glinted
and gleamed, refracting the light of the chandeliers in a dozen unusual tints and
shades. If this wasn't unusual enough, beneath the glass stretched an immense and
very beautiful carpet. It was Persian made, displaying—amid a wealth of dragons,
chimeras, manticores, and birds—a fantastically detailed hunting scene. A life-size
prince and his court rode into a forest, surrounded by dogs, leopards, kestrels, and
other trained beasts; ahead of them, among the bushes, a host of fleet-footed deer
skipped away. Horns blew, pennants waved. It was an idealized Eastern fairy-tale
court and I would have been quite impressed, had I not glanced at a couple of the
faces of the courtiers. That rather spoiled the effect. One of them sported Love-
lace's horrid mug; another looked like Sholto Pinn. Elsewhere, I spied my erstwhile
captor, Jessica Whitwell, riding a white mare. Trust Lovelace to spoil a perfectly
good work of art with such an ingratiating fancy.
No doubt the prince was
Devereaux, the Prime Minister, and every important magician was pictured among
his fawning throng.
 How the weavers of Basra must have loathed being commissioned to create such
a monstrosity. Gone are the days when, with complex and cruel incantations, they wove
djinn into the fabric of their carpets, creating artifacts that carried their masters across the
Middle East and were stain-resistant at the same time. Hundreds of us were trapped this
way. But now, with the magical power of Baghdad long broken, such craftsmen escape
destitution only by weaving tourist tat for rich foreign clients. Such is progress.
This curious floor was not the only odd thing about the circular hall. All the
other windows that looked onto it had shimmering defenses similar to the one
through which I spied. Reasonable enough: soon most of the Government would be
inside—the room had to be safe from attack. But hidden in the stonework of my
window frame were things that looked like embedded metal rods, and their pur-
pose was not at all clear.
I was just pondering this when a door at the far end of the auditorium opened
and a magician walked swiftly in. It was the oily man I had seen passing in the car:
Lime, the boy had called him, one of Lovelace's confederates. He carried an object
in his hand, shrouded under a cloth. With hasty steps and eyes flicking nervously
back and forth, he crossed to the podium, mounted it and approached the speaker's
stand. There was a shelf inside the stand, hidden from the floor below, and the man
placed the object inside it.
Before he did so, he removed the cloth and a shiver ran down my scales.
It was the summoning horn I'd seen in Lovelace's study on the night I stole the
Amulet of Samarkand. The ivory was yellow with age and had been reinforced
with slender metal bands, but the blackened fingerprints on its side
 The only remains of the first person to blow the horn, it being an essential re-
quirement of such items that their first user must surrender himself to the mercy of the
entity he summons. With this notable design flaw, summoning horns are pretty rare, as
A summoning horn...
I began to see daylight. The magical bars at the windows, the metal ones em-
bedded in the stonework, ready to spring shut. The auditorium's defenses weren't
to keep anything out—they were to keep everyone in.
It was definitely time I got inside.
With scant regard for any overflying sentries, I scampered up the wall and over
the red-tiled roof of the mansion to the nearest chimney. I darted to the rim of the
pot and was about to duck inside, when I drew back, all of a quiver. A net of spar-
kling threads was suspended below me across the hole. Blocked.
I ran to the next. Same again.
In considerable agitation, I crossed and recrossed the roof of Heddleham Hall,
checking every chimney. Each one was sealed. More than one magician had gone to
great lengths to protect the place from spies.
I halted at last, wondering what to do.
All this time, at the front of the house below, a steady stream of chauffeured
had drawn up, disgorged their occupants and headed off to a parking lot at
the side. Most of the guests were here now; the conference was about to begin.
 In a perfect example of most magicians' dreary style, each and every vehicle was
big, black, and shiny. Even the smallest looked as if it wanted to be a hearse when it grew
I looked across the lawns. A few late arrivals were speeding toward the house.
And they weren't the only ones.
In the middle of the lawn was a lake adorned with an ornamental fountain, de-
picting an amorous Greek god trying to kiss a dolphin.
Beyond the lake, the drive
curled into the trees toward the entrance gateway. And along it three figures came
striding, two going fast, the third faster. For a man who had recently been knocked
about by a field mouse, Mr. Squalls was racing along at a fair pace. Son was doing
even better: presumably his lack of clothes encouraged him on his way (at this dis-
tance he looked like one big goosebump.) But neither of them matched the pace of
the bearded mercenary, whose cloak swirled out behind him as he strode off the
drive onto the lawn.
Ah. This might spell trouble.
I perched on the lip of the chimney pot, cursing my restraint with Squalls and
and debating whether I could ignore the distant trio. But another look de-
cided me. The bearded man was coming along faster than ever. Strange—his paces
seemed ordinary ones, but they ate up the ground at blinding speed. He had almost
halved the distance to the lake already. In another minute he would be at the
house, ready to raise the alarm.
 I'd thought my blows would keep them unconscious for at least a couple of days.
But I'd fluffed it. That's what comes of hurrying a job.
Getting into the house would have to wait. There wasn't time to be discreet. I
became a blackbird and flew purposefully from the mansion roof.
The man in black strode nearer. I noted a flicker in the air about his legs, an
odd discrepancy, as if their movement was not properly contained within any of
the planes. Then I understood: he wore seven-league boots.
After a few more
paces, his trajectory would be too swift to follow—he might travel a mile with
each step. I speeded up my flight.
 Potent magical devices, invented in medieval Europe. At the wearers command,
the boots can cover considerable distances in the smallest of strides. Normal (Earth) rules
of time and space do not apply. Allegedly, each boot contains a djinni capable of traveling
on a hypothetical eighth plane (not that I would know anything about that). It was now
easier to understand how the mercenary had managed to evade capture when he first
stole the Amulet for Lovelace.
The lakeside was a pretty spot (if you didn't count the statue of the disreputa-
ble old god and the dolphin). A young gardener was weeding the margins of the
shore. A few innocent ducks floated dreamily on the surface of the water. Bul-
rushes waved in the breeze. Someone had planted a small bower of honeysuckle by
the lake: its leaves shone a pleasant, peaceful green in the afternoon sun.
That was just for the record. My first Detonation missed the mercenary (it be-
ing difficult to judge the speed of someone wearing seven-league boots), but hit the
bower, which vaporized instantly. The gardener yelped and jumped into the lake,
carrying the ducks off on a small tidal wave. The bulrushes caught fire. The merce-
nary looked up. He hadn't noticed me before, probably being intent on keeping his
boots under control, so it wasn't strictly sporting, but hey—I was late for a confer-
ence. My second Detonation caught him directly in the chest. He disappeared in a
mass of emerald flames.
Why can't all problems be as easy to resolve?
I did a quick circuit, eyeing the horizon, but there were no watchers and noth-
ing dangerous in sight, unless you count the underwear of Squalls's son as he and his
dad turned tail and raced for the park gateway. Fine. I was just about to head off
back to the house, when the smoke from my Detonation cleared away, revealing
the mercenary sitting in a muddy depression three feet deep, mucky, blinking, but
very much alive.
Hmm. That was something I hadn't counted on.
I screeched to a halt in midair, turned, and delivered another, more concen-
trated blast. It was the kind that would have made even Jabor's knees tremble a bit;
certainly it should have turned most humans into a wisp of smoke blowing in the
But not Beardy. As the flames died down again, he was just getting to his feet,
as casual as you like! He looked as if he'd been having a catnap. Admittedly, much
of his cloak had burned away, but the body beneath was still hale and hearty.
I didn't bother trying again. I can take a hint.
The man reached inside his cloak and from a hidden pocket withdrew a silver
disc. With unexpected speed he reached back and threw—it missed my beak by a
feather's breadth and returned spinning to his hand in a lazy arc.
That did it. I'd gone through a lot in the last few days. Everyone I met seemed
to want a piece of me: djinn, magicians, humans... it made no difference. I'd been
summoned, manhandled, shot at, captured, constricted, bossed about, and generally
taken for granted. And now, to cap it all, this bloke was joining in too, when all I'd
been doing was quietly trying to kill him.
I lost my temper.
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