It was a testament to either Giles’ character or his unusually dense skull that he simply chuckled before walking off.
With the man gone from his study, the Count returned to his gloomy deliberations. His fingers reached inside his jacket to retrieve a piece of paper from one of its interior pockets.
The crude schematic shown to Miss Redley the previous day had not been forgotten. He turned it over in his hands, pondering this and other papers and books that had belonged to his grandfather.
The former count had been a collector of unusual things. Even the smallest difference or flaw had to be admired and studied before the item was stuffed into a box or cupboard somewhere in this room.
With a sigh, Wolfram lay down on his chair and lazily held the paper up above his head. For a few minutes he looked at it while the light from the stained glass shimmered through the window, painting the back of the aged paper with a splash of color.
He rotated the document a few times, before setting it back down in resignation. His grandfather’s draftsmanship left much to be desired. The drawing on the paper was crude and lacking in detail. He and the lions had convinced themselves it was enough guidance to help them find the twelve elements that defined the periphery of the wheel. They had put great stock in being able to use the great stone lion on the bridge to lead them quickly to the other eleven guards.
The Count fixed his eyes on the latticed wood that ran back and forth across the ceiling’s surface. His thoughts, however, wandered downwards — somewhere underneath this room. Initially he had been confident that the study had overlaid the cavern of stones. But he wondered if perhaps he had assumed too much. The more he considered the winding pathways he had dragged the girl through the other day, the less certain he was that these two spaces had any spatial relevance to one another.
Briefly, he wondered if there might be merit to the paper in his hands serving as an overlay to something else. He sat up, thinking through the items his grandfather had passed to him and where they had been stored relative to one another.
Quickly he moved to one of the shelves searching for the larger map he had shown Miss Redley of the region.
With as calm a hand he could manage, he cleared one of his tables and spread the map across it. He experimented with the smaller piece of paper, aligning the center of the circle to his best approximation for the underground cave. He pivoted the paper around this point until one of the spokes touched upon the stone lion at the bridge.
He glared at the papers for a moment before he disappeared through the study doors. He moved like a gust of wind, blowing past a retinue of startled servants, ignoring his coachman and lions. He was something like his old self again, swift and light-footed as he ran up the path towards the main road.
Those who followed him did not know what mad thought might have possessed their master, but habit was hard to break. Four lions and a halfling fell in behind him as he marched down the road, crossed the stone bridge with his cane in hand and veered westwards into the woods.
As he stumbled into a mysterious clearing, he froze. He could smell something odd — the smell of wolves and of their fear. Something else had crossed here. Men, yes. Unthings, perhaps. And something else — something that he did not understand.
A large crash interrupted his investigation. Four lions tumbled enthusiastically over a snow bank and over one another to join him at his side. They had chased him thus far, only to stop cold once in the clearing. He could see them raise their heads to look skyward once before darting off to start exploring the area.
Giles floated in beside him. He would have been here faster had it not been for the medicine. Wolfram saw he was winded but said nothing. Instead, they watched the beasts as they covered the area with their noses.
They were not efficient at their work, but they did everything they did with energy.
“TOO MANY SMELLS,” Lambegus declared as he returned to his master’s side.
The lions flopped at their feet while the two men continued to converse.
“Is it because of all these human tracks?” Giles looked at the network of foot traffic that had crossed back and forth over this area very recently.
“NO,” Lambegus swatted at the coachman with a paw. “WE ARE NOT THAT INCOMPETENT THAT HUMAN SMELLS CONFUSE US.”
Maximilian took a deep breath, ignoring the sound of his coachman coughing to suppress another chuckle. He shifted the cane from one hand to the other. He had seen the human tracks that had come from the north and then wandered west. There would be trouble if they continued along that path, but he would not concern himself with their fate. His mind focused instead on the mystery of this spot and what had led all these things here.
Deliberately, he pressed the bottom tip of the cane to the ground. He waited quietly, waiting for something to occur.
When it did, it was nothing more than a mere tremble, a flash of warmth through his hands that dissipated. He looked above and around with a frown on his face. The cane itself had resonated with something, but there was no ward here, no visible statue like there had been on the bridge. There could be a significant deposit of stones underneath this earth, but that would not explain the odd circular clearing here. He, powerless, could do nothing more than turn to the others. “Do you smell magic?”
Giles turned his head about, his nose sniffing at the air. “I don’t think so. But it’s a confusing place here. Too many have passed this way. It’d have to be a strong magic for me to even detect it.”
The Count looked at the four creatures. They were each doing different things. They pawed at the snow, they sniffed the trees, and they ran about.
Lambegus finally stated. “THERE ARE LARGE DEPOSITS OF STONES. IT CONFUSES US. ALSO, UNTHINGS PASSED HERE RECENTLY. BUT THERE IS A MEMORY OF MAGIC FROM THE PAST THAT ECHOES AND LEAVES REFLECTIONS.”
“What was here that was that powerful?” Giles wondered aloud, his eyes round and confused. “Was it a statue? Was it a tree?” He scratched at his beard, aggravated. “The elves would be odd in that way, picking some random useless looking thing and endowing it with magic before taking it away.”
Wolfram’s eyebrows drew together. He did not know how to answer. He had never looked deeply at this area or asked the questions that he should have when he had had the time. He nearly struck the ground with his cane in frustration but restrained himself.
He would not panic yet. He would not let himself yet come to the conclusion that he was uncovering where useful things had once been not things that could be of use now. He found his papers and thrust them at Giles. “Take this,” he barked. He had miscalculated earlier; he could no longer trust himself to determine whether there was anything to be found or not. “I’ve been wrong in how I’ve directed the search so far.”
“I’d like to know what these other ten spots correspond to. It would appear that we are not looking for objects, but remnants. If this area and the stone lion comprise two spokes of a wheel, work with the lions to redraw the parameters of a search. Direct them away from any points of interest that may be in town. They can look for those at nightfall.”
The lions descended on Giles, sniffing at the man’s hands and the papers. They were eager to do their master’s bidding.
But the Count did not share their enthusiasm. His mouth twisted as he turned his back upon them and walked back to the road, uncertain and anxious.
His steps took him back to the bridge, the same one his grandfather had greeted him from years ago. As he stood at the base of the guardian statue, he dragged his eyes up to look up at the lion, staring south.
It stood alone.