Are we finished loading yet?” “I hope so...” part 2


It took perhaps another ten to twelve minutes for me to go through perhaps another eight of the smaller pistols, and when I learned just how many of them I had done, I gasped.

“No, best not give one to Gabriel,” I thought, as I unscrewed the suppressor from mine and inserted both portions into one of those smaller camouflage 'satchels'. Two tins of ammunition, one of each type, followed it, followed by eight loaded magazines of 'subsonic' ammunition, these having a silvery-colored bullet and a dull-seeming brass casing, and then ten of the 'hot stuff', these rounds having a 'shiny' silver color overall. Having heard of the tendencies of these with 'the hot stuff', I resolved to save it for when its use was warranted, that being any 'hard' witches I ran into while otherwise occupied.

For some reason, however, Sarah slipped another pistol into the satchel before I could close it.

“We'll all wish spares,” she said. “I hope I can make something for my pockets in time that will work.”

“I think we will all be doing something with leather once we get down into the third kingdom and its port there,” said Karl. “Now what is it you said was next?”

“I think we had best load up our things on the cart before we go after whatever it is,” said Katje. “There is a lot on the floor still, and then we need to keep those two special bins by themselves.” A brief pause, then, “will that happen again?”

“I think it will, actually,” said Sarah, “though the rest of that dream was enough to make me scream until my throat bled.”

“W-what happened?” I asked.

“First, there was music,” said Sarah as she collected up two pistols, their suppressors, and two tins each of ammunition, being careful to keep the two types separate. I had a hunch Sarah would use her two pistols a lot, and that mostly with the 'slow' stuff – as the 'hot stuff' that had suddenly showed, while nowhere near as bad as the 'hand-held artillery', had its own brand of nastiness in a handy-sized pistol – and while she would pot rats mostly, I had the impression that we would be using these weapons commonly across the sea and in other places during the trip. It made me wonder just where we would use them, however, even as I picked up bins and bags – to then be interrupted by Katje.

“I think you need some work done to your equipment,” she said, “and I'm cold enough to get into a suite myself.”

“You are?” I asked.

“My nose is leaking still, and I think I might be sick,” she said. “If I am, you do not want it, and if I wear one of those things, it will keep the little creatures inside with me, so you-all do not get them.” A pause, then, “and I think I shall wish Geneva tonight, as I suspect I know what this sickness is.”

“Geneva?” I asked, as I followed Sarah and Katje back to where two lanterns faintly glimmered. It made me wonder just how easily we could charge up some more pot-batteries and use those instead of the candle-lanterns, as I could feel the air in this place becoming steadily more unhealthy. I spoke of the matter, and Sarah concurred, though for a different reason. I could tell her dream was still chewing on her, though, and I resolved to ask her more about it sometime later – perhaps during the ride home, if another chance didn't provide itself sooner.

“We want to save what candles we have, as while Anna is running those things, she has much else to do...” Sarah was trying to keep from talking further about that dream.

“When she is not tossing things at rats,” said Katje, who then shivered. “I'll need to take the cure tonight.”

“Geneva?” I asked.

“Yes, I suspect I might be starting a case of the crae,” said Katje. “I have had it but once before, and I was glad I had some of Hans' Geneva then, rather than some other's, as I could stand his.” A pause, then, “I think whoever we got that other stuff either got it from him or copied his recipe close, as it tasted much the same.”

“It was likely to be his, then,” said Sarah, “as that recipe, especially the way he does it...” Sarah looked at me, then said with finality, “cough medicine. You'll want that, as I'd bet it would work on the crae!”

“It would?” I asked.

“It uses many of the things that are in Geneva,” said Sarah, “and it tastes a lot better than Geneva, even if one wishes to sip it slowly and not down the stuff quickly.”

“Why is that?” asked Karl. “Have you tried it?”

“Y-yes,” said Sarah. “Once.”

“And what happened?” asked Sepp.

“It may get rid of coughs, even bad coughs, but if you consume more than a small cupful, you will see twice as many things as you should very quickly, and then you will fall asleep as if hit with a large hammer.” Sarah paused, then said, “and then, you will want fever bark in the morning, as you will have a head-masher headache.”

“Does Hans know this?”

“I think so!” spat Sarah. “He told me about the headache, and I did not believe him until I woke the morning after with my head feeling like a hot-loaded swine-shell that was about to burst!”

“Is it normal for Geneva to cause, uh, headaches?” I asked.

“It does if it is consumed to excess, unless one is sick or otherwise needs it,” said Katje. “I suspect that is why people with indigestion can consume it as readily as they do, as otherwise it either tastes vile to them...”

“It tastes vile in any case,” spat Sarah. “I thought cough medicine would be different, and it tastes different, but if you have a cough, even a bad one like I had after I helped Anna clean one time recently, a few spoonfuls is enough to clean out your nose and get rid of your cough for good.”

“Did you inhale a dust-wad?” I asked incredulously.

“No, but I found enough of them while cleaning,” said Sarah, “and I was blowing dirt out of my nose a great deal, and sneezing on top of the coughing, so after Anna gets her dose, I did the same – only I thought she'd gotten an entire cupful, not just a small part of one.”

“About three swallows,” I murmured.

“I found out about that the next day after I got some fever bark down,” said Sarah. “One if the person's a baby, two if they're an apprentice just starting in a shop, three for most people, and perhaps four if they are as large as Georg. At least, that is what Hans told me, and I wish I had known that before consuming it.” Sarah paused, then said, “do we want to bring some with us?”

“Should that not be, 'is that place dusty over there'?” I asked.

“While it is not dusty over there, that particular medicine will be in great demand, as it does not work on just coughs,” said the soft voice. “Katje may be the first person to try it on the crae here, but it does work on that ailment.”

“It does?” I gasped. We were about two thirds of the way to where we could 'change' out my canister and possibly my oxygen bottle, and I hoped someone could bring some of those smaller lanterns after I'd gotten some attention. I knew I wanted one of those 'electric torches', even if I would need to hide it in the basement once we'd gotten home and be especially careful with it in the house proper. Those two places – and the Abbey itself – were the only locations where I could use such a light at this time, as I'd not want to use one overseas, even once the functionaries had made themselves scarce.

“At least as well as Hans' version does,” said the soft voice. “More, as Paul has learned recently, it does work on his 'indigestion'.”

“Not normal indigestion, correct?” I asked. I suspected something far more serious in his case than mere 'indigestion'.

“He'll want to be looked at closely, same as Esther,” said Sarah. “Now take my hand, as I can tell you're wobbling a bit. I'm going to dose you while you're being changed out, and I think you want a pair of goggles for then.”

“With inserts, dear,” said the soft voice. “Put some of the lighter inserts in there, as his eyes will want them.”

“Why, when it is as dark as an unlit iron-mine in here?” asked Sarah incredulously.

“It is that,” said the soft voice, “but those candle-lanterns you-all are using pretty much have one setting that gives good light, unlike the ones which use pot batteries or those 'battery torches' – and that setting not only gives good light, it gives a light that has certain qualities...”

“Like a third kingdom lantern turned up all the way,” I muttered. “Blindness-inducing lanterns – Anna wasn't joking about them that way, as it felt like I was arc-welding without a helmet when I first saw one, and we had to turn those things down so much they were on the verge of going out.”

“Our lanterns are not that bright, but I think I know why they cause trouble, then,” said Sarah. “Light is not one color, but many of them, and those things give a particular mixture of colors...”

“The spectrum of that wire, in fact,” I muttered. “Things put out almost as much in the UV range as they do in visible light, which is... Duh! No wonder they cause such trouble!”

“And all of those 'filters' kill UV, even those that are nearly clear,” said the soft voice, “hence you will wish to be careful with those lanterns across the sea and elsewhere.”

“Can they be fixed?” asked Sarah.

“Not as they are currently, not unless you take the wire up out of the flame and live with a much dimmer light,” said the soft voice. “There's a price to be paid in nearly everything, and that is the price those things exact for a technologically-simple light source that gives that much light.”

“And those lanterns use a different species of glass...”

“It gets most of the UV, but far from all of it,” said the soft voice. “Ask the right people over there, once you meet them, if you can get the formulation changed slightly to a UV-absorbing type.”

“And common glass here..?” asked Sarah, as we came out of the maze.

“Passes nearly all of it, with the better grades of glass passing more light of all kinds,” said the soft voice. “The glass used on those lantern globes is a 'difficult-to-break' species, but once matters are in the right hands overseas, they'll change it out for 'unbreakable' glass – and that stuff, especially when properly formulated, will make 'lamp-induced blindness' a thing of the past.”

“It will?” I asked, as I sat down. I felt very tired, so much so that I did not protest the ministrations of the two women, and when I 'awoke', Katje was shaking her head.

“You must use these things up quicker than that device indicates,” she said, “either that, or they've gone stale, as this one's entirely used up.”

I then felt my head, and noted that I'd been completely put back in the suit. More, Sarah was gone.

“Where did she go?” I asked. My voice was not merely clear and distinct once more, but I felt much better. The pounding headache I had been enduring was gone, and more...

I looked at the two just-adjusted lanterns, and no longer was there a hard-edged glare to them. Just the same, I knew we wanted to do something about them, and it wasn't merely the amount of ultraviolet light they put out.

Sarah came out with a cart, this burdened with a number of bins, then coughed herself. “This place is getting to me enough to wish to wear one of those things regularly.”

“How do we get this place aired out, then?” I asked.

“You'll need to clear the air-shaft,” said the soft voice, “but doing that right now, or indeed anytime soon for you, will need more time and effort than you can spare.” A pause, then, “those people who will come here shortly after you-all return home will be able to fix the ventilation system in here readily.”

“But carrying the stuff up the stairs will...”

“Will get us into decent air once more,” said Katje. “If we change off, then we should be able to manage it, cough.”

Once Katje was 'suited up' – I could now see the logic behind having the readouts being monitored by a person still in a safe location, as there were both a lot of them and the usual for the person in the suite was to have their hands full as a rule and 'too full' the rest of the time – Sarah brought over the pot-batteries one at a time for me to 'fondle'. The merest touch sufficed to 'charge' them, and once there were enough tent-lanterns for each person and enough for all the lampstands, we blew out the candle-lanterns on the lampstands and began to replace each one of these now blazing-hot things with a turned-down tent-lantern.

I'd also gotten the 'electric torch's' battery charged up, though that one had needed a short yet silent prayer after adding the electrolyte, and when I'd turned it on, I knew why it needed such prayer.

“That thing makes these we're carrying look dim indeed,” said Sarah. “It makes me glad I put these goggles on with an insert in them, in fact.”

As we drew closer to the others, I could tell they'd not only finished up with loading the carts with the contents of the cache and the two boxes that had shown, but were drinking some beer. It made me glad of my 'dose', and more, glad of the jug someone had put on the cart I was towing. I would soon need to head for the privy, but between the goggles, the 'battery torch', and a fresh set of breathing supplies, I felt much better.

“Here, you men,” said Sarah from behind me. “We don't need to run those things in here any more, as we have some of those other lights.”

“And about time,” muttered Maarten. “These things need adjusting constantly, and...”

“You do not want flames near where we are going next,” said Katje darkly. I marveled at how she sounded: not distorted in the slightest, unlike my voice with what I was wearing.

“Her voice is less affected than yours is,” said the soft voice. “You have more high and low tones in your voice than almost anyone you're likely to meet, in fact, and those tonal excursions are causing much of the distortion.”

“Narrow passband, then,” I murmured, at recalling the 'narrow' range of speech frequencies where I came from.

“That range is wider here than you recall, and these devices are no exception regarding that range,” said the soft voice. “Your voice still has both more bottom and top-end, and that when you're not trying to sing.”

“Ooh, you could make people's ears bleed,” muttered Sarah. “I've heard you sing, and you're loud.”

“He already did that once,” said the soft voice, “and that will get onto those people overseas when they learn of his capabilities.”

“Not just his volume, Sarah,” said Katje as she put Maarten's tent-lantern in his hand and indicated he needed to put the other out. “His pitch, also.” Then, to Maarten: “wax is short now and will become shorter-yet for a time very soon, so we need to use these things here when we can and those others when we must, Maarten.”

“What?” I asked.

“Those witches coming up here,” said Katje. “They will insist that all of us 'Undermen' use bad lard-dosed tallow for candles once more, and that at gunpoint – and they will take by force and gunfire any and all wax candles they can find.”

“I hope Hans has laid in a stock of that stuff, then,” said Sarah.

“He has, and more than merely a supply of the waxes needed for candle-making,” said the soft voice. “Recall those regular donkey trains? One regular item is 'raw waxes, for special candles', and another is 'printer's lead, for hardened shot and bullets'.”

“What of regular lead?” asked Sarah.

“There's plenty of that in and immediately around the Abbey,” said the soft voice. “Recall just how much wolfram is on the premises? There's easily five pounds of lead and lead compounds for every pound of wolfram, and that where it can be readily found.” A pause, then, “those people will be mining lead as well as wolfram.”

“There are no mines in the first kingdom, unless you speak of where coal is dug,” said Sarah.

“True enough, if you speak of the word commonly used to refer to a mine as being strictly 'a hole or tunnel',” said the soft voice. “What are the other meanings of that word – the word actually spelled mine, not the word which is commonly thought to mean 'mine'?”

“Oh, those...” murmured Sarah.

“Traps, dear,” I murmured. “They most likely have devices that remove traps, and...”

“More than what you could think of,” said the soft voice, “and that in both numbers and capacity.”

“N-numbers?” I asked. “Capacity?”

“They'll just bring some of those things down here and they'll not merely 'take inventory' for them,” said the soft voice, “but they'll either locate or remove everything that they're programmed to do – and these things can dig like burrowing rodents, so they'll recover shot of all kinds from the soil, as well as bullet and shell fragments.” A pause, then, “figure several large ingots of 'musket-lead' a week once they start running them here, with that amount growing over time as the machines begin roaming the Abbey grounds.”

“I doubt Hans has that much time,” said Sarah – who then made a choking sound. “Large ingots?”

“He would have trouble lifting one of them without help,” said Katje, “and he would need help to cast that many musket balls in a month's time.”

“No,” I said. “Cast cylinders, or rather extrude them after alloying the lead with a small amount of those hardening metals and some tin, then use an automatic swaging die set...”

“What will that do?” asked Sarah.

“Make hundreds of musket balls every turn of the glass,” said the soft voice, “and that with minimal attention on the part of the operator – which is why I would speak to the right people over there when you encounter them, as they have such machines and can readily make the needed tooling.”

“Set one up in the basement,” I murmured.

“You mean the entire ball-line,” said the soft voice. “Hans will have trouble selling that many musket balls.”

“He will, will he?” I asked. “One could always send some south for the return trip on those donkey-trains...”

“Not very many, if you speak of those animals,” said Sarah, “and if you do send some south that way, you will wish to use rather more hardening metals in them than is common for most muskets, as their main purchasers will be shopkeepers with roers who wish to fill their larger guns with loopers.” A pause, then, “there must be a lot of sore shopkeepers down there right now.”

“There are,” said the soft voice.

As we resumed, Sepp once more asked Karl his question about what he did to that one witch.

“I aired out his smelly hide,” said Karl. “It was hard to do, though.”

“Too much for you?” asked Sarah.

“No, it was not,” said Karl. “I just wanted to put two in him, one to kill him dead and another to make certain he stayed that way, in case he was a hard-witch like some I've seen and heard about – and that was the trouble, as by the time I'd let up on the trigger, I had put more than two of those things in that wretch.”

“How many, Karl?” I asked.

“He was in two pieces,” said Karl with a shudder, “and he had these big holes all over him, just as if I'd shot him with a three-inch gun loaded with one of those can-shells they use for those northern people.”

“How many empty shells?” I asked. “Those brass things?”

“I did not leave piles of them like you did in here, not even a small one,” said Karl. “I might have put eight or nine in that smelly wretch, but it was nearly as bad watching them tear him up in that dream as it was fighting him the first time.”

“Two pieces?” I gasped upon realizing.

“Yes,” said Karl. “Three of those things hit him in line across the bottom of his chest, and he was cut in half as if he'd been hit with an ax, only a lot more ragged. Then his head was mostly gone, and his guts were strewn all over, and I think I got him once in each leg...”

“Sounds like you got to that witch good and proper, then,” said Sepp.

“N-no,” said Karl. “I think I need to practice some on one of those things, and teach my finger to let up quicker, as one does not want to turn witches into pie-filling when there are lots of them around.”

“One bullet each, correct?” I asked. “Just put it where it will, uh, do some good, and then go on to the next stinker?”

“Yes, that too,” said Karl. “The way those bullets are, though, if the witches are coming in a big swarm, each one will kill more than just the witch you shoot the first time.” A pause, a dry swallow, then, “it will get the one coming behind him, too, and at least one or two more after that.”

“Sounds about right for those,” I murmured – until I screeched, “what?”

“That is what those all-purpose bullets do if they are the bigger ones,” said Karl. “They will cut down smaller trees faster than you can speak of the matter, and they ignore plate, even the plate on an Iron Pig if you can see that pig decent, and if you should see one of those pigs, then...”

“Better to use one of those bigger ones,” said Sepp laconically. “Those like we found earlier may kill people good, but I think Iron Pigs to want bigger bullets.”

“You did not have my dream,” said Karl. “I did, and I think I could kill one of those swine with one of those swine-guns.”

“Yes, if you did not mind being in a rest house for a year after stopping the pig,” said Sarah. “Karl, those guns may be trouble enough, but I've burnt two pigs and seen them shot with cannon, and they take more punishment than three boatloads of those tin-wearing thugs before they even think about quitting – and neither pig I burned gave up easily, and I lit both of those things on fire entire.”

“Almost lit yourself on fire, also,” I muttered.

“That is the usual when one tosses a jug,” said Sarah, “and even if one is up in a tree to do it, the flames will still get to you if you cannot toss long.” Sarah then hitched and swung her lantern up. “More corpse-boxes, though these do not have rockets in them.”

“Then what do..?”

I did not wait for Maarten to finish his question: I pulled one of the boxes off and took it to where he stood, or at least at first. As I was about to set it down, however, I had a better idea, and I went to Karl. He was utterly nonplussed, even as I scanned quickly the words on the label and then flipped up the latches. The lid open, and within lay no less than five rifles, these still in their plastic 'sacks', along with a brochure and some other things. While I could feel an armorer's kit and full manual in the area, there was something I needed to do first.

I took one up, and upon bended knee, I said to Karl, “here is your rifle, your thugness.”

Karl looked around, much as if he were spooked badly by my speech, and took the weapon. He sat on the cart, and with Katje's help, opened the 'zipper'. One look at the weapon, and he said, “will this one do as you did this morning to wake up those wine-soaked people?”

Yes, your thugness,” I said. “Safe, one-at-a-time, and 'lots-of-hot-lead-in-a-hurry'.”

“I will only use that third place if there are swarms of thugs coming at me, then,” said Karl morosely. “Otherwise, I will need to teach my finger to touch quickly.” Karl then hitched, and squalled, “what gives with this name you called me?”

“I think it to be a fitting one,” said Katje, “as you getting onto that witch put the fear in those others who were watching him be torn apart.”

“It nearly put me in the privy with its noise, too,” said Karl. “That one this morning was bad trouble that way, but it is nothing compared to the bigger ones.” Karl then felt his trousers with his left hand, and looked around once more.

“The privy has a string leading to it, Karl,” said Sarah – who then pointed to the string in question, this being marked with the spool it came on. It was an easy ten to twelve pallets 'east'. “Over there. Follow that string, and put on the mask that's in front of that place before you go inside, as it smells worse now than any privy I've ever sat in.”

Karl took off at a run, his lantern ahead of him, and he nearly overshot the spool before managing the turn. I picked up the 'brochure', then handed it to Sarah to read while I went after an armorer's kit – only Katje was looking for one also, if I went by her behavior.

“They got into these things a lot,” she said. “Now are you after the tools, or one of those ledgers?”

“Both, if I can find them,” I said. “The ones I'm after are...” I paused, then moved two of the boxes over and reached down inside the pallet to bring out a sizable satchel, which I opened and brought out the largest manual yet. A brief flip through it, and Katje came to my side with another such satchel.

“I am not certain this is one of those, but I think we shall wish more than one,” she said. “Is it?”

I touched the satchel and nodded, before saying, “I knew it – this one has some, uh, additions.” A pause, then, “no hiding please – and we need all of what that wretch wrote in this thing, and whatever else other witches and assorted...”

The book twitched in my hand, then suddenly I dropped it to the top of the stack as it seemed to all-but-explode as it gathered size in all three dimensions.

“Now it is sized fit for a common book,” said Katje, “though I doubt what it has is common information, especially now.”

I once more opened this book, to there find at the top the following printing amid the green-backgrounded 'R.C.S.':

>MOST SECRET<


These blocky letters were in a darksome red, the color of slow-drying blood; and as I went down the three pages of the listing of chapter headings, I could see 'added' subchapters speaking of what had been learned 'by espionage most dire' and 'listening to the enemy's speech'.

“What did I just ask for?”

“What's not in that book is currently writ in either witch-languages of an especially cursed nature or written in runes,” said the soft voice, “and neither of those is currently wise for a document where people other than you yourself are going to potentially read.” A pause, then, “that isn't much, by the way – and none of it is germane to what you're going to do with these weapons.”

“Most likely as those people were witches, and they wished they could do as well,” said Katje. “Now why did they loot so many of these things?”

“That one cabinet you found was ready-racked for those guarding this area,” said the soft voice, “and the tools in these armorer's kits were nearly as coveted as those needed for 'triggers', which is why most of them were 'looted'.” Pause, then, “collecting up the needed tools won't be at all hard overseas, as they have a great many of them in long-term storage.” Another pause, then, “those weapons you're after are two pallets over.”

“Over?” I asked.

“I think that means you need to sweep the area until you find them,” said Katje, “as you will find other things of a needful nature in the process, just like we've been doing all along in this room.”

“Such as a small cache of...” I stopped speaking, then removed another satchel, and opened it on the spot. While it had the tools I expected, and another of those armorer's manuals, I found that it had an added set of tools.

“Including one of those smaller pistols,” I muttered, as I removed the weapon. “Oh, this one's seen some reworking.”

“Given that satchel once belonged to that expert witch, I should think so,” said the soft voice. “That one was one of his earlier efforts, unlike the one you found a short time ago, which was a later one.”

“And the latest one?” I asked.

“Was confiscated by the Mistress of the North to use as a personal weapon,” said the soft voice. “I would not worry too much, though.”

“Why is that?” asked Katje.

“You saw what he did to those pistols, all nineteen of them, didn't you?” asked the soft voice. “Those pistols aren't common pistols anymore, and that 'hot' ammunition would scatter one like he just found.”

“What?” I gasped. “How hot is that stuff?”

“Recall that one ungainly-looking pistol you once had – the first one you bought, in fact?” asked the soft voice. “That hotter ammunition gives a similar level of performance in those pistols.”

“Oh, my,” I gasped at the recollection of what it was like to shoot that particular 'antique'. “Huge fireballs, noisy as anything...”

“Which is why you were reminded of its most-appropriate use,” said the soft voice. “The other stuff is still something of a handful, so much so that you'll want those suppressors in place to keep the muzzle down with both loadings.” A pause, then, “just wait, though. You'll have some done in a few months that will be most amusing.”

“What did he mean by that?” asked Katje as I put the tools away and resumed 'looking', the satchel in my hand and wishing for a cart in case I found something heavy. I had no good answer for Katje, at least at this time.

“You can call for a cart,” said the soft voice – who implied I should do so now rather than later. I did so, and as I turned the corner – Katje was shining her lantern so as to indicate where it was needed – I came across a row of dust-mounds partially-hiding a number of weapons – and entirely filling the region between pallets. I began to carefully step among them, and with each step, I found more of the following:

Numbers of those 'common' grenades. These people must have had sacks of them, as with every step I took I noted at least one grenade. Usually I found them in bunches of three to five.

Magazines to several types of pistols, these in groups of three to five. These clusters were nearly as common as the 'piles' of grenades.

Machine-pistol magazines, these full-loaded or nearly so. A tap with my hand caused what little dust that had sifted inside them to deluge out in slow-drifting clouds – and they too were numerous.

Machine-pistols, these in some numbers. I could tell these people had had the other type, but those things, along with their ammunition, had gone entirely to rust-stains and dust.

Rifles, these the most-common items with three selector positions. Every one I touched had a round in the chamber, and all save one of them – thus far – had had the fire-selector set to 'R'.

“You'd better bring him a cart quick, as I can tell he's found a lot of stuff,” said Katje. Her voice had been loud enough to distort slightly, which made me wonder as to the acuity of my hearing. “I'd bring some of those satchels, also.”

“Yes,” I said, this in a tone I but wondered at. “I've found eleven of those 'common' grenades already, and I can tell there's a lot more of them here.” A pause, then, “what were these people trying to do?”

“Ambush the guards while 'trashed' on too much drugs and drink,” said the soft voice. “One of the guards tossed a 'fumigator' specially blended in the laboratory here which killed them and left its tosser unharmed.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. I wanted to ask how he'd managed such a toss, also. “Special cursing?”

“No, it wasn't,” said the soft voice. “This device was one of a handful made by that expert witch, as he'd just stumbled onto a secret that could take down even the strongest witches, that being: make the device without any cursed aspects whatsoever, and no mere witch can stop it. Hence, he made a species of very fast-acting drug and put it in a glass vial, complete with a small cool-burning bursting charge.” Pause, then, “when the witches inhaled that drug's mist, it put them on the floor in seconds and killed them within minutes – and since that mist was heavier than air, it didn't go very far.”

“Very fast-acting drug?” I asked. I felt reminded of an incident some years prior to my leaving where I came from. “Is this like something I might have had in the hospital a number of times?”

“Similar concept, save a good deal more-potent and a totally different chemistry – and no, it had no analgesic properties,” said the soft voice. “More, it acted quickly when inhaled, and it caused a profound dulling of the senses almost instantly.”

“We may want such a material,” said Sarah as she brought up a cart. “Oh, good, this is more than I thought you might find.” Sarah turned, then said, “no, Katje, he's going to need two carts, as there's a lot of stuff here.”

“Not yet you don't,” said the soft voice. “Not when this stuff is a good deal worse than Hans' arsenic for deadliness and acts nearly as quickly as that stuff you used to douse spiders with.”

“It's probably like that one poison, then,” said Sarah. “This is a poison, isn't it?”

“In that strength and form, yes,” said the soft voice. “In a somewhat-modified form and a much weaker dose – then it is very useful indeed.”

“How?” asked Sarah.

“It helps with ailments like 'too much swine' and 'the two-mile stare',” said the soft voice. “More, they have the recipe for that formula overseas, if not the drug itself at this time.”

“And we have no way of making it here,” I murmured.

“Not now you do,” said the soft voice. “They'll be able to make small amounts of it very shortly, which is good.”

“Yes, I know,” said Sarah. “I know lots of people who have had too much swine, and I might be one of them.”

“No, dear,” said the soft voice. “Not just here. Over there, also, even if they don't have pigs showing in those halls.”

“Sounds more like 'too much functionaries' for them,” I said. “That sound about right?”

While there was no quick answer, my suspicions grew as first Sarah and then Katje joined me in picking up those things I first found and then pointed out to the other two, all the while thinking about the last matter. The more I thought on it, the more it made sense.

“That stuff is some kind of sedative,” I thought.

“It does not act the way you're thinking of,” said the soft voice. “That would be closer to what that one witch came up with.”

“Like the bull formula?” I thought.

“Not like that, either,” said the soft voice. “That drug may have a similar effect to taking three tubes of the bull formula, one after the other, but it does not cause sleepiness – at least when it is given by itself.” A pause, then, “it usually was not given that way in the past, in which case it added to the effects of those medicines which did.”

“What did they use it for, then?” I thought.

“What was called 'war-weariness attacks' during wartime and what you might know of as post-traumatic stress disorder,” said the soft voice. “'Too much swine' isn't quite the same thing, by the way.”

“It isn't?” I asked.

“No, it isn't,” said the soft voice. “In many ways, it's much worse, and those people across the sea knew that then and the medical people know that now – which is why they've been trying to get that drug to come out properly for ages without having access to any of the correct information.”

“And once they get that?” I asked.

“The medical students doing their chemistry experiments will have a new one added,” said the soft voice. “They'll be making that drug, as well as many of the others that are currently needed.”

“Won't be enough, will it?”

“Not when ninety percent of that place's populace needs to be taking it daily on a schedule,” said the soft voice. “They need more than just the correct information – they need an entire drug-line assembled, debugged, and then running on a regular schedule making that medicine in kilogram quantities.”

“Oh, my,” I squeaked. “That much?”

“They needed more than that during wartime,” said the soft voice. “The populace was bigger then compared to now.”

As we slowly progressed through the windrows of witch-dust, it occurred to me to send it somewhere, but where – beyond perhaps up the noses of those oncoming droves of witches – was a mystery. I then wondered just how they would regard such dust.

“Sneezing, perhaps – oh, with a little something added, then,” I thought. “Now what would work well with those drugs those thugs are taking... Oh, I know – something that causes really bad hallucinations to go along with everything looking as if they've been sprayed by stinkers...”

I was about to speak of this matter when the dust at first began to slowly disappear before our eyes, all the time as it did so with faint sparkling tints of red, blue, yellow, and green; and when Katje looked at me, then Sarah, I wondered just what they were thinking. I was silently asking that every witch coming up here be taken 'higher', and asking for more than just commonplace 'hallucinogens' now; I was asking for witch-tables in the drink, high-test in the mules – drain-opener, to be exact; mules didn't like that stuff much – and ample long-aged brandy in the droves of 'beeves' they were bringing up here.

“Those witches are bringing cattle?” asked Sarah.

“I think so, dear,” I said. “Granted, mostly as a form of on-the-hoof larder, but...”

“They're bringing pigs for that,” said the soft voice. “Those cattle-drives are for enticing supplicants into those Public Houses they take over.”

“Then let Miura have all the drink he can handle,” I chortled. “Hook those thugs in the butt with those horns!”

“Those will do more than that,” said Sarah. “They will do much more than that if you speak of mean black cattle.” A pause, as the dust continued to swirl itself slowly into a train bound for nowhere save the nostrils of witches. It gave me another idea, and I spoke of it.

“Turn that dust into Snurf!”

“Now you have done it, as that drug will make them see a great deal,” said the soft voice. “Granted, most of it will not be present physically, but that stuff will be there.”

“Yes, but will they be soiling their underwear from fright?” I asked.

“Most of them have already filled their underclothing,” said the soft voice. “Some of them are keeling over from cardiac arrest, the mules are either sitting down or going insane, and the arch-witches leading those long northbound columns through the back country are now feeling as if they're roosting in burn-piles.”

“Well, if that is what they believe, then they should enjoy them,” I said with a chuckle. “No, no smoke – save that which gathers between their ears – oh, and some essence of Veldter weed, too. Make them really see things.”

“If they survive that, then they will be witches to be reckoned with,” said Katje.

“Yes, if they survive,” said the soft voice. “While the coaches will get to the staging areas, their 'expendables' will die on a great many hidden altars for having failed their masters – which, while those masters don't know it yet, have just eliminated a great many 'drudge-level' witches.” Pause, then, “they bathed themselves in distillate, and set themselves alight while standing on them, so as to 'dance on fire' as per a 'song' in that black book.”

“They don't know it yet?” I asked of those 'masters'. “Did that planning presume casualties?”

“It did, and in substantial numbers,” said the soft voice. “More, that planning presumed a different species of casualties, that being mostly by gunfire.”

A pause, then, “it made no allowance for haunted witches – as in they've 'had far too much to dream' while under the influence of those drugs; or insane witches that look to be otherwise; or witches having second thoughts about the whole matter of witchdom in general; or a great deal else those doing that planning thought to be utterly impossible.”

“More, it did not anticipate so many 'Powers' and their retinues being killed off by strange events.”

“Finally, it did not anticipate a fair percentage of the 'money-men' losing their true 'leaders' by those women's clothing suddenly changing into a strange species of clothing – bright glow-in-the-dark blues, reds, pinks, and greens, clothing that covered all of them save their faces, hands, and feet – clothing that could not be removed, save by slicing it off with near-lethal slices from their own knives.”

“Did they plan on having multiple levels of their leadership being killed?” asked Sarah.

“They especially did not plan on that,” said the soft voice. “Those coming were told enough to get themselves up here, and then given very general orders as to what to do once they got here – as the ranking witches and their retinues didn't trust their underlings nearly enough to give them the needed detailed plans. Hence, they planned on using the secret way to communicate with their people.”

“And that location now has rambling swarms of wasps and hornets,” I murmured. “While the wasps might not last that long underground...”

“Longer than you might think, as they can find food down there now,” said the soft voice. “The hornets, though – those are likely to take up semi-permanent residences 'downstairs', and in those various subterranean massing points south of the border – those witches are having 'the time of their lives' as we speak.”

“How so?”

“Why, they now have real 'flying daggers', just like the larger black books speak of, and they're speaking the chants that supposedly control them. But one trouble.”

“What would that be?” asked Katje. I was continuing to point out grenades and other matters as they became visible in the steadily vanishing dust. I wanted to ask for 'cocaine', but I suspected 'Snurf' to be bad enough. I then had an idea regarding that stuff.

“Those insects are not listening,” said the soft voice, “partly because those chants need a very strong witch, someone nearly of the level of the Mistress of the North or some of her cronies, to actually work, and secondly – their 'programming' is now that of the hornets that were raised just prior to the drowning.”

“Oh, my,” said Katje slowly. “They won't listen to those witches – they will see them as food.”

“Precisely,” said the soft voice. “Granted, that food is now becoming elusive due to being 'dosed' with insanity-inducing drugs, but those insects can smell the fear coming off of those witches, and both types have good noses.”

This last gave me the final impetus to ask for more trouble, for hearing of 'insanity-inducing drugs' seemed to call for what I had in mind.

“Oh, that Snurf,” I murmured. “It needs to be an especially pure type, one with the, uh, specially formed granules, so it takes effect especially quickly.” I then had the strangest ideas, these having to do with organic chemistry.

I recalled understanding that a whole lot better when I came here, even though my college major had been something entirely otherwise. It was as if I had had several majors for my understanding – and not bachelor's degrees, either, but something a bit more advanced, and that for all of them. But, my current thinking was well beyond that, and into a realm previously unknown by myself.

I was seeing a very intricate 'ball-and-stick' molecule, which I instantly understood to be that of 'Snurf'. The impurities had been 'removed', so my picture was clear; and I could see a number of places where it needed to be changed.

“It needs this little methyl group here,” I murmured, as I pointed to this beachball-sized molecule as it seemed to shimmer faintly in midair. The CH3 group obediently inserted itself, with the 'sticks' and balls joining and moving as needed to form the changed molecule. It was now a bit less 'spiky', as the whole molecule had subtly changed, and I knew it needed to both compact down and become as close to a perfect sphere as possible – something about getting into the brain more readily in that shape.

“Oh, and then these added nitrogen atoms – here, here, here, and especially here, so we get this weird multiple-branched amine structure,” I murmured. “That will, uh, give a racing heart and more, uh, strange sights, and finally, this, uh, long chain-like 'key' – with these sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen and bromine atoms coming off of this strange structure – needs to go right there.”

I had pointed to the place in question, and as the strange and now-elongated construction morphed to permit the additions, I had not made a 'sphere'; I had made a sphere with a conical projection, one spiky with barbed atoms. It would travel well – it was streamlined, in fact, so it could really move – and then, when it saw the target, it went in for the kill, this with the goal of deeply – and permanently – embedding itself into a key brain structure.

Structures, and many of them,” said the soft voice. “You'll find such work to be much easier overseas, as they have equipment that readily permits such visualization as you just did now.” A pause, then, “just you wait, though – they'll get something no one there has ever seen before, and that in the very near future.”

I was then interrupted by Katje: “I have no idea what I saw you doing, but it sounds like trouble.” She paused, then said, “these witches sounded as if they were plotting to take over the first kingdom entire.”

The phrase 'in toto' was not present in our language, it being an import from another world, and difficult to speak, even for those like Sarah; but speaking as Katje just had substituted nicely for that Latin phrase.

“The precise reason they were so laden with ordnance, dear,” said the soft voice. “By the way – these are not the only witch-mounds going 'elsewhere'.”

“What?” I asked. “The other mounds? Those we've been finding all over the place in here? The ones we haven't seen yet, in fact – the ones which are hiding things we do or will want?”

“All of them have become that specially altered 'Snurf' that you're tossing at them,” said the soft voice. “There's a small sample vial of that drug in your possible bag, which I would not open here, but give to the chemistry people over there. It has the appropriate color coding, so they will know what to do with it.”

A pause, then, “be glad the Veldters don't know about that stuff.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It would cause them far more trouble than the impure material some of them currently use,” said the soft voice.

“Uh, why would it do that?” I asked. I wanted to ask, “who, beyond some of those in leadership” – there were quite a few relatively sober men who had the title of 'Jefe' – “would be affected?”

“Firstly, that strange 'drug' would have much-stronger effects, especially in the realm of causing addiction,” said the soft voice, “and then, once it was consumed – a 'taste' would be all that would be needed, even for one accustomed to the effects of Snurf – it would then cause a profound sense of weariness and lethargy, one so strong that the person thus 'intoxicated' would wish to do nothing more than find the nearest bed so as to sleep off the effects of this drug.”

“That would cause those people trouble,” said Sarah. “If those witches get into it, and their overseers wish them to run as per a tight schedule, then they will not be able to run, much less stay put on those lines writ out for them.”

“They'll try to 'run' those coaches,” said the soft voice. “They will, however, need a lot of coach repairs.” A pause, then, “I would watch out for such witches when that long-acting drug finally does wear off, though.”

“Why?” I asked, as I 'located' and then handed back one by one another small mound of grenades, these made much more obvious by the still-vanishing dust.

“Recall how that drug 'plugs into' certain brain receptors?” asked the soft voice. “The very first time it does so, it does the following: firstly, it irrevocably damages those receptors, such that that entire portion of the brain never works right again; secondly, it 'molds them' such that they accept that drug far more readily than anything else; and thirdly, those receptors, and indeed those 'ruined' portions of those thus afflicted, develop a profound, indefinite, and ever-growing need for that drug, one which makes the common concept of 'addiction' seem totally and utterly trivial.”

A pause, then, “the result will be that the very first thing those witches will wish upon being so affected, this more than all else in fact – due to their rapidly-increasing insanity – is more of that drug,” said the soft voice. “When they learn they cannot get more, however... Trouble isn't half of what they will cause.”

“What kind of trouble?” asked Sarah. “Will they act as if they've had too much forty-chain, and set themselves alight?”

“No,” said the soft voice, as I found a group of magazines for a machine pistol. The old 'witch-leather' – bad stuff, only fit as raw material for a 'clothing mill' or whatever they used to make clothing with overseas – had gone to dust; and with the witch-dust leaving faster around it than the dust of the leather itself, I could see clearly just how this griping and clenching device had actually held its tight-grasped magazines. The witches needed to chant at it to get it to turn loose, which was fine in most circumstances before the war, but in here...

It made the thing a deathtrap in this place, a realm where fractions of a second meant the difference between life and death, and 'walls of hot lead' were the most-frequent forms of 'rain'.

I was interrupted in my thinking once again by a description, this of just how insane these witches had become due to being dosed with what was sounding more and more like a particularly nasty chemical weapon and less like a 'drug'.

“Those people will be hallucinating so badly while in the grip of that drug's withdrawal syndrome that they will see their fellow witches as ready-to-ingest mounds of that particular drug,” said the soft voice. I could just hear tales about a particularly unpleasant monkey, one that liked to ride people like a 'bad evil spirit' – only this ape wasn't a common 'monkey'. This critter made a bad-tempered version of King Kong seem calm and pleasant when it came to causing overall trouble. “They'll kill anyone they see as such a mound so as to get another dose of that material.”

“Anyone they see?” I gasped.

“Anyone who's a witch, anyway,” said the soft voice. “If one is a member of the 'commons', one does not 'manifest' that capacity, and if one is marked, one is thought 'an avenging flame' or something similar, much as if every marked person now looked like what you were once shown, and that in full particulars.” A pause, then, “they won't want to be anywhere near such 'blazing fires'.

“That sounds like something we would wish to put in jugs of strong drink,” said Katje. “If we should do that, then a single glass of the stuff would turn their minds around and flip them!”

That particular idiom was the best way of speaking of someone who was so insane that they needed to be tied hand and foot in order to keep them from killing everyone they could get to.

“Just one taste will do that,” said the soft voice – though for a second, I heard 'Just One Fix', followed by references to 'eight hundred pound gorillas' and vicious drunken orangutans waving razors the size of my sword. Neither ape was a fit companion, and one wished to stay well clear of anything that conjured them. The soft voice had more to say, however.

“They will not need four or five glasses of such drink,” said the soft voice. “One taste will hook them solidly, and the rest of a glass, that size being those that fifth kingdom mining town thugs commonly carry with them, will make them both intensely stupid and foolhardy to the point of insanity – and then, they will wish to remain in that state until they die by one means or another.”

I was continuing to hand back bullets, bombs, a few of those looted knives – they had just turned up, strangely unblemished, even though their container had gone rotten – pistols, rifles, machine-pistols, and what might have been a half-baked attempt at a field-expedient blast-grenade using small nails and a sizable chunk of that gray explosive. The person who'd done that one up had been most-sparing of the nails, and had left out anything remotely resembling a means of detonating the Valley-brick-sized chunk of explosive. Sarah and Katje were yet busy, even as I 'foraged ahead' bent low when I was not actually on my hands and knees and moving carefully so as to not damage the suit. It made me wonder if I could get knee-pads of leather and soft leather 'driving gloves' like Sarah had.

“Then how will those witches get themselves here?” asked Katje. By the noises she made otherwise, she was picking up a rifle and then shaking it free of dust – dust which vanished before her eyes with faint sparkling tints of various colors.

“Those witches who drew up those plans at the highest levels presumed there would be a fairly large number of casualties,” said the soft voice, “and they figured, based on lengthy espionage, that they could readily make up those casualties by recruiting larger-yet numbers of supplicants, and adding plain-dressed witches to their ranks by 'promotion'.”

Pause.

“Of course, their information about well-hid witches is very out-of-date, as is the case for serious supplicants; that regarding potential supplicants is well off of what they believed was the case.” The unstated matter had been stated earlier: given sufficient inducement of the right kind, they could get people interested in some numbers – though just how many they could get to become interested was yet a mystery. I thought to try to learn, for curiosity's sake.

“Thought they'd have one or two plain-dressed witches and twice that many potential supplicants in each town at the least,” I thought as I handed back the first of a trio of common grenades. These looked to be 'pristine', if a trifle dusty. “Did they reckon about all of those gone-wild pigs?”

“Yes, which is why they will be gathering them up when and as they can,” said the soft voice. “They know about the 'vast herds of swine' running wild up here – again, by means of a once-widespread spy-network.”

Vast herds?” I gasped. “Pigs? Where?”

“Those spy-witches were deluded as to the size of those herds,” said the soft voice, “as those reporting spoke of seeing 'vast herds' when they saw but a mere handful of pigs rooting in a larger-than-usual copse.” A pause, then, “El Porko will not be an easy catch, not when he's mostly reverted to his part-wild state.”

“Part-wild state?” I asked. “Wild pigs?”

“A most-excellent means of keeping down a lot of weeds,” said the soft voice. “They may like some vegetables, but they like weeds a lot more, hence most farmers won't mind them in their fields – and El Porko finds such a state much to his liking, especially as he prefers to use his own privies and not be covered in his own dung.”

“His own p-privies?” I gasped.

“That was on a tapestry,” said Sarah. “Long ago, there were supposedly large migrations of swine...”

“You mean hundreds of years before this area became an above-ground witch-hole,” said Katje. “Then, swine-migrations were most-common, and there were vast herds of them, so much so that they were thought to be pests by some and welcomed by most farmers in the northern half of the continent.”

“They were pests indeed at one time, at least in the fourth kingdom,” said Sarah. “They had much trouble with swine, so much so that I think that is why so many people down there have roers.”

“You mean 'they came up with that type of weapon on account of those things',” said Katje dryly. “There, that one's cleared out.”

This particular 'cache' – it had been nearly entirely hidden by various mostly-conjoined dust-mounds – was now entirely bare of dust, and nearly bare of ordnance; and with seeing this dust gone, I thought to speak of 'Essence of prewar Veldter weed' and other things of a tincture nature that witches might wish to consume so as to become 'higher'. I had a better idea of what that word meant here, now – and while intoxication was a byproduct, the reality in the witch-world was this: when a person became 'higher', that meant that he became a more-attractive habitat for spirits, he became... My thoughts then segued to speech: “What? They think themselves to have become a greater being, one more-separated from the 'slime' which they chose to leave?”

“The precise and true meaning of 'higher' if you are a witch,” said the soft voice. “Keep talking about getting them there, as these people coming up here need to see what being 'a real witch' is really like.”

I wondered how to do that beyond 'they need to be so trashed that they're hazardous to other witches, they're incapable of following the simplest instructions, and they're more or less 'inert' regarding their assigned duties'. For some reason, I could still feel dust going away, and I stood up, away from the hands-and-knees search for the last remaining rounds of ammunition, and as I watched, slow-wafting streams of dust continued to rise up into the air to vanish with faint sparkles of blue, red, green, and now gold mingled with yellow.

“No, want some black, too,” I thought. “They need to see those red doors turn black, and not just painted, but for real.”

For some reason, that one didn't get heard, or so I thought until I saw what looked like miniature 'black holes' forming here and there to then rapidly fade. Those tended to devour what they saw, if they were indeed black holes; and as I bent back down to join the two women, now both on their hands and knees and bagging up the loose rounds that had suddenly multiplied themselves from an unknown source, I softly asked, “what was that which just happened?”

“You busted a hiding place, I think,” said Sarah – who was picking up pistol rounds of varied sizes. “There were just a few left here and there, but suddenly something seemed to dump them all over the floor, and all of these new ones are shiny.”

“Shiny?” I gasped.

“They were stolen from that expert witch's personal stocks,” said the soft voice, “and since he kept his ammunition spotless, they're 'shiny', rather than the usual brass color.” A pause, then, “the other witches never caught on to what he was actually doing, even if they did notice that once he started doing that his weapons kept working while theirs didn't.”

“Didn't just polish the cases, did he?” I asked. “A thin coating of a very hard wax, this added under pressure...”

“You'll get the formula for that wax in the future,” said the soft voice. “The reality is he needed to plate his cases also, as that gives a lot more 'tooth' for such wax.” A pause, then, “his chief benefit was it kept his cases clean, which did mean an added measure of reliability.”

“I'm glad we got so many of those smaller sample bags,” said Sarah. “They work well for ammunition, and Katje and I both are filling them quickly.”

“Mixed ammunition, or..?”

“Mostly separated, though we will wish to go through them later,” said Katje – who then turned to speak to someone in the darkness: “we have this cart nearly filled. We could use another.”

While I heard movement behind me, I continued 'coaxing out' more and more 'hidden' ammunition, this stuff now often still in magazines. The stuff was hiding under the pallets, somehow, and when I handed those back to the others, dust sifted out of them to vanish before it reached the floor.

“Those witches are going to have much of such dust in them,” said Sarah. “I'm glad it only makes me wish for a clean nose-rag, as that thing you did looked as nasty as anything I've ever seen.”

“What?” I asked. “No ball-and-stick chemistry models?”

“Not at the west school, at least not now,” said Sarah. “They may have those in those books downstairs, but those things look to be closer to something used to torment horses than anything of a chemical nature.”

“They have classes that use similar things overseas,” said Katje, “and I suspect they had them where he came from.” A pause, then, “didn't they?”

“They did, and while I've heard of them, I never went to any of those classes,” I said. “It was really surprising to be able to open those books downstairs and actually understand them as well as I did.”

“I think if you were to do so now, you would be surprised even more,” said Katje. “Now how much more of this do we wish to gather today, as I can tell there's a lot more of it than we have time to pick up.”

“This part, perhaps,” I said, “and whatever else turns up while finding those rifles. Beyond that, I'm not sure. I do know we want as much ammunition as we can readily gather in the time we have.” I then had a question.

“How many of those grenades did we find?”

“Thirty-one, by my count,” said Sarah,, who then posed a question of her own: “is there something we can do to make them worse? That thing barely scorched Iggy's hide!”

“They will give more blast and less splinters if you do that,” said the soft voice. “If you wish to make those things into something that's still stable enough to endure 'rough' treatment and yet explode harder and be more lethal, you would first need to clean up their metal and recast it.”

“If we used Frankie's latest output?” I murmured.

“That would improve matters, especially given the usual additions of Norden-scrap,” said the soft voice. “When those machines come to clear the area, you'll get bins of scrap-iron at the shop, and more, it will be both mostly clean of dirt and its rust will be partly deoxidized.”

“Partly deoxidized?” I asked.

“Firstly, the oxide will be firmly adherent, so it will not leave your hands filled with rust by handling it,” said the soft voice, “and then, those metal fragments will give less slag and a higher yield of alloyed iron, especially if they are shell-fragments from the various sides firing guns into this area.” A pause, then, “and not all of those fragments will be from shells. Some will be fragments of armor plate.”

“Ooh, good stuff,” I chortled.

“Not so good as you might think,” said the soft voice. “While mobile fortresses were large, and they were well-armored, they did not have good armor – and hence the stuff tended to be be less-good.”

“Soft...”

“Yes, most of it,” said the soft voice. “It tended to be applied in layers after surface-hardening, so it actually worked fairly well, all things considered.”

“Bad metal by that one witch?” I asked.

“No, he did not get himself involved that way – not when it would have meant his death,” said the soft voice. “That witch went to ground when the war started along with his liquid assets, and he kept himself on the move until the war was 'done'.” A pause, then a caution regarding a different subject, “regarding those devices those from across the sea bring – I would be most-careful as to how they are used once they bring them over in some numbers.”

“Why?” asked Sarah. The idea of a device that could clear fields of still-deadly ordnance sounded very attractive.

“Because those who will then be digging the foundations will think them prime devices for saving labor,” said the soft voice. “What's really needed is more common vehicles and a careful plan, which is one of the reason those first boatloads of people due to arrive from among 'the big swarm' currently en-route are the fourth kingdom's repository of 'large-building' constructors, and they know what is in order.”

“Hopefully they brought enough people...” I spluttered.

“They have, and they'll get right to work, even if you can expect a lot of work involving wagon and buggy tires.” A pause, then, “those, however, will be easy work given the equipment in the shop here.”

“Smaller wagons, heavily built, four and six horse teams, a carefully-graded ramp running in and a similar ramp out, with steam-driven winches to haul out the wagons going up the ramps? Raised growing-beds for the gardens, these sited to the east of the wall and stretching north somewhere close to a mile's distance to dispose of the soil?”

“You'd best tell all of that to Hendrik, as these people would take several weeks to figure out what you just did in seconds,” said the soft voice.

“Perhaps, uh, use dynamite – single sticks – to blast the harder earth loose?” I asked.

“They already figured that, as it's spoken of here in the Annals,” said Sarah. “It's actually closer to a species of rock if one goes down more than the depth usually used for graves, assuming there is time to dig them that deep.” The unstated portion: “there usually is no time for 'deep-digging' such holes, and anything 'deep enough' to keep the stink and pestilence under control was thought sufficient.”

“What, limestone?” I asked.

“A most-friable species in this area,” said the soft voice. “Not only decent for foundations, given proper dimensioning and suitable reinforcement, but also very useful for mortar and concrete, hence you'll be getting supplies of it for running Frankij.”

“Add more limestone than usually?” I asked. “Will we get cleaner metal?”

“Not really, but you will get more slag, and more-fluid slag, and that's what is wished for making concrete,” said the soft voice. “More, you can add the powdered stuff to your crucible steel, and it will form a tenacious cover flux to prevent oxidation.”

“Almost want to cook our regular iron in that stuff so as to clean it up,” I murmured, “and then put that stuff in Frankie.”

“Keep that in mind, as you'll recover a useful amount of metal that way,” said the soft voice. “But one trouble.”

“What?” I asked. I was thinking to put some of our 'nastier' rolled iron inside our coal cooker or cookers, in order to both carbon-impregnate the stuff and reduce the 'mill-scale' to a near-metallic state.

“You'll need ample 'good' coke to do that, even if cooking such metal as you contemplated inside of those cookers is a very good idea,” said the soft voice. “About four percent of a given bar of hot-rolled fifth kingdom 'metal' is a flaky species of iron oxide, and putting such metal in a coal-cooker will both fix that rust and partly reconvert it to iron – and in the process, give the bar in question a modest addition of carbon and other trace-elements, some of which will be removed by that two-step refining process when you make it into steel.”

“Some of what?” I asked.

“Most of your phosphorus is consumed, as is your sulfur,” said the soft voice. “The dirt encrusted on much of that scrap contributes a modest amount of silicon, as does the slag in most of Norden's scrap, so your cast-iron is fluid; and then your off-cuts and other scrap that come from sword and knife-making add a small amount of what you might think of as manganese.”

“Whatever all of those things are,” said Sarah. We were coming to the utter end of the laid-bare hoard of witch-looted ammunition, and we would need to resume our circle. “Was this what we needed to find?”

“There's more, dear,” I said. “I can feel it. I know there's more, as this area was thought a prime place to put the gear of witches.”

While I finished picking up the remaining bullets and bombs in my sector, I was exercised by both the need to include more silicon in our cast-iron, as well as a need to add manganese in controlled amounts. I knew that most steels wished at least one percent of the latter, if not a trifle more, and three to five tenths of a percent of silicon helped, as well as a closely-controlled chemistry. We currently had no way to analyze the stuff, so much so that at this stage that the matter of metallurgy was more by 'feel' than all else, with some variability between batches being the rule.

“That will have to wait some time, as while you're right, you do not have the equipment or the master alloys to do so,” said the soft voice.

“Almost better to ship the raw ingot overseas,” I muttered. “It's cleaned up, easy to handle, got some idea as to what it is...”

“They will want that,” said the soft voice. “More, they're not currently able to do iron castings the way you're doing, so they'll wish and need some fairly quickly, even if your iron doesn't have a 'pedigree'.”

“Then a foundry at the Abbey,” I muttered.

And as I said this, I knew that was not even the mule's faint scent. We would have a foundry there, one that not merely produced a vast amount of both slag fit for concrete, but also a lot of both cast iron and steel ingots – and that was for ferrous metals.

There would be furnaces fit for 'fire-refining' metals like copper and lead that would make the ones currently used on the continent seem worthless; and while their output would not be electrolytic copper, it would be good enough for much of what we needed to do.

“No, mostly make the work of electrolysis quicker and easier,” I said.

“That's one secret it's taken years to learn in those places that do such copper,” said the soft voice. “They initially started with copper scrap, thinking the electrolysis would clean it up 'good', but that process merely makes a good thing better, and that by stages.”

“Then melt that copper under inert gas with added tin,” I murmured as I cleaned up the last of a large pile of hand-howitzer rounds which had showed as I turned the corner. There was yet more ammunition here, though not the massive pallet-to-pallet hoard we had just picked up. “Make it even more formable when annealed, then stronger once it's in the desired shape.” A pause, then, “it would work especially well for distilleries, in fact.”

“What is this?” asked Katje, as she came from behind me with a smaller cloth bag. “I'm about out of these bullet-bags, and Sarah's gone to get more.”

“B-bullet-bags?” I asked innocently.

“There are bins of them not three pallets over,” said Katje. “Now we had best complete this circle, so we find everything before you get to those things you need so badly.”

In the process of getting to those rifles, I found another witch-cache, this a small one consisting of two smaller pistols, a Tosser pistol, several magazines for each, and a quartet of bagged knives. All three pistols had seen work, this not being quite up to the usual standards of that one expert witch, which made me wonder who put them there.

“He did, even if those were among his earlier output,” said the soft voice. “Keep looking, as there's a well-hidden annotated manual hiding in this area.”

“What, did the witches put everything in this area?”

“No, but they did put much of their looted things in several general regions, and this is one of them,” said the soft voice. “More, it has a lot of things you both want and need, and will wish for the trip.”

The manual took me some few minutes to find, it being in a smaller satchel, along with a lot of greasy rag-wrapped tools that had been obviously looted from various areas. As I briefly looked through the tools, the manual kept 'getting to me', and when I pulled it out, its thin 'cardboard' covers and string-tied nature made me wonder just what I had found.

“No hiding, please,” I said, after laying this thing on the floor. I had not opened it to see what was in it.

The thin 'pamphlet' nearly exploded under my hand, and amid the eruption of dust, I could see the thing growing in all three dimensions. The heat under my hand was considerable, while the dust seemed to sparkle with ominous tints, these orange-red, yellow, blue, and green; and when that dust had gone to somewhere else – the noses of witches, most likely, as a mutated form of 'Snurf done bad' – I then looked at the tome that had showed.

This book actually warranted that title, for seeing 'Woerdenboek des Witkens' was enough to make for a desire to run and hide.

“No, don't,” said the soft voice. “You'll need that book to understand a lot of the terms you'll encounter in the days to come, and more, so will those across the sea.”

“Uh, why?” I asked. “A witch-dictionary?”

“Yes, of every word's full meaning, if it is one used by witches,” said the soft voice. “It might not be a Gustaaf, but if you speak of the language of witches, it is that book's equivalent – or rather, what that book's original compilers were attempting to do.” A pause, then, “this book is not an attempt, but a full-fledged reality, and it makes a lot of literature currently available much easier to understand.”

“A lot?” I asked.

“Including books that are currently thought to have nothing whatsoever to do with witches,” said the soft voice. “Ask Sarah as to how many entries are 'missing' in the Gustaaf.”

I was about to ask that question when Sarah came up beside me, and muttered, “I'll bet I know where they are, too!”

“In t-there?” I gasped.

“It would not surprise me much,” said Sarah. “There is so much in that book that is stated as being a word used from before that war, and now I know why, too – it's a witch-word, and those compiling that book thought it best to not include such words.”

“What?” I gasped. “When did they...”

“The first versions came out just after the curse, supposedly,” said Sarah. “That's what the fourth kingdom's annals speak of, and during that time, one did not wish to speak of witch-words, not even so as to fight witches...” Sarah looked at me, then vigorously shook her head. “Where did that come from?”

“What those still-common well-hid witches actually fostered as 'godly' thinking and behavior,” said the soft voice. “They hid in plain sight then by means of a host of stratagems, many of which persist in the fourth kingdom to this very day – and restricting the language of 'Undermen' to those words not used by witches is but one way they manage to keep their secrets so readily.”

“And hence by the time it wasn't 'evil' to name the things of witches, all of those words had been so conveniently forgotten,” I muttered. “No documentation remaining as to their meaning, the tapestries are so unclear that no one who isn't unusually capable can follow what they're saying...”

“So that's why those commentaries on them are so popular,” said Sarah. “I know everyone at the west school says they're worthless save as fuel for wood-stoves, but elsewhere they're really popular, and there were three sets of those things at the west school, even.”

“Bagged sets,” I said. “Dusty, weren't they?”

“They were until I looked in them,” said Sarah. “That's how I know they're about worthless, as I compared them with my notes, and...”

Your notes, yes,” I said. “That kind of difference isn't going to show much to most people, and I include your classmates as well when I say that.”

“Replace 'isn't going to show much' with 'will show very little' and you will get closer to what most people at the west school learn by visiting the tapestries,” said the soft voice. “Not only were they able to visit but a fraction of what Sarah went to – there aren't many tapestries she hasn't seen, outside of those in a few places, but also, they had – and have – a much greater degree of difficulty sorting out what those 'badly-written' documents speak of, and hence must rely upon the pictures they show more than all else.” A pause, then, “those commentaries start to look very attractive then, as while they are mostly lies and entirely witch-slanted, they're much easier to follow compared to the often chaotically-jumbled mess of facts and figures shown on many tapestries.”

“That's why you need to see as many as you can, and take good notes and drawings of what you see,” said Sarah. “You can get a much better idea of what they are trying to say then, as you can compare what they say on a given matter and form your own conclusions over time.”

“And the annals of the various kingdom houses, especially those of the fourth kingdom,” I said. “Most students cannot get access to any of those save those student-versions in the second kingdom house, and if you can read those things, then...”

“Yes, those also,” said Sarah, “though they describe but little one can trust entirely if it speaks of the time prior to the curse.” A pause, then, “though after the curse, it is another matter entirely.”

“What?” I asked. “Are they, uh, less fragmented?”

“They are much less so, and that is so even if one speaks of the time of the Curse's coming,” said Sarah. “I think they were altogether too busy trying to stay alive before that, but when that witch dumped that mess, it put a stop to their rubbish about what was important and that which was less so.”

I then realized that we'd cleared up the last of the ammunition that could be readily found in this area, and more, those caches I could 'feel'. I could also feel yet more of interest, though whether we wished to have it 'now', or it needed to be later – that was the rub, so much so that while I looked – in all senses of that word – I suddenly came upon the matter of interest.

I also became aware of a need to visit the privy, and on my way back from that increasingly-foul-smelling location, I knew the chief point of our circling that area – and it wasn't finding the hoards of ammunition and two caches.

We needed to learn to be especially careful in both our looking and much else, as our lives overseas and here would depend upon such care during the months to come; and, even with all that had happened to those witches, they would still come; they would show 'overnight'; and more, they would all have more money than they could spend, due to the concepts of witch-law regarding money.

Summed up: “the first one to find it owns it, provided that person is a witch of equal or greater standing compared to those other witches who are present. All others must yield such finds up to their betters.”