After Camon closed the doors behind Achara and Jorn, they all took a minute to soak in the cool, damp air of the room that was noticeably cooler than the ambient temperatures outside. The round scrying room also stood in stark contrast to the adjoining building. It was spotless without a spec of dust on the floor or any debris to speak of. The room was well lit with natural light pouring in through windows at the top of the tower and two more rows of windows that were about midway down. The room was about thirty feet across, with a large pool that occupied the room’s center. Camon walked around the pool, observing its detail. The pool was shallow, not more than a few inches deep, with crystal clear water still like glass. Under the water, a map of the Empire was laid out in exquisite details showing the rivers, roads, cities, villages, landmarks and even the topography going as far west as they West Watch and east to Rhatsaan, North to the mountains north of Neuasut, and south to the mouth of the Great River and even slightly beyond. Above the pool was a raised catwalk about thirty feet up and a spiral staircase leading up to the catwalk on one side of the room. Near the stairs was a table with a trough on it and several runes carved into the table.
“So, how does it work?” Jorn asked.
“In principle, it’s simple. You place an object with an affinity for what you’re looking for in the trough on the table. There’s a kettle atop the catwalk that you fill with water from the pool. You place the kettle in a stand that’s up there and use a lever on the table attached to the stand up there where the kettle is. It will cause the kettle to tilt and start dripping water. Then, you use the runes on the table to infuse magic into the whole apparatus. If there’s something to be found, the drops of water will fall to the point on the map, locating wherever it is what you’re looking for.”
“And why was this invented?” Achara asked.
“Originally, they were used by the Old Kingdoms and Church to track people down. For instance, if a prisoner escaped, they could use this to figure out where the prisoner escaped and then send agents to track him down and capture him. After the Second Reformation, though, they fell out of favor with the Church and the Imperial out of fear that they could be used for ill against those in power.”
“I’ll say!” Achara said. “You could use this for spying or all sorts of malintent.”
“I agree,” Camon said.
“If they are afraid that they might be abused, why not just tear them down?” Jorn said.
“Many of them were. A few survived though out of precaution for when a time might be needed to use them again. The knowledge on how to use them, however, has all but been lost. I learned about it from a book that Prawadi had recovered and loaned me, but I’m not sure if I can use them. The runes and magic are not like anything I’ve ever seen or used before.”
“Well, you have to try.”
“Proof positive would be if we can locate the presence Achara felt last night in the city.”
“If we know the presence is in the city, then why are we looking here?” Jorn asked.
“We’re looking not for the humans wearing a belt, but for the ones that made the belts. I am assuming that would be who is behind this. They may be the ones in the city for all we know.”
“And how do we separate them, though?” Jorn asked.
“That’s what the runes help do. They are used to help tune the precision and filter out some of the false positives and noise.”
“How can you tell noise from the real thing?” Achara asked.
“Purity of essence and perfection of form,” Camon said. “Recognizing what you’re looking for is your part. Locating that is what the apparatus does. It’s not unlike tracking a demon or scrying out those objects in the swamp. But this is much more sophisticated and can work on entities that are not necessarily magical. But what seems simple may not be.”
Camon climbed the staircase up to the catwalk and got the kettle from its stand and brought it back down. He dipped it in the pool and filled it, then took it back up to the catwalk and placed it back on its stand. He then went back down to the table and placed one of the belts from the mages in the table’s trough. He turned a lever, and the kettle tipped and started dripping one drop about every five seconds right in the center of the pool.
Camon then placed both if his hands palms down on the table and closed his eyes and began to hum slightly, and then he went silent. Five drops fell into the water onwards before it deviated from the center of the pool, going towards the northern orientation on the map. The drops then shifted back south, then started seemingly randomly dropping all over the map. Camon looked up and saw the drops’ sporadic nature as they fell into the water, and he then closed his eyes again. He hummed louder this time and moved his hands in a circular motion over the table’s runes. He opened his eyes to see how the drops were doing, and they were still sporadic as they went east, west, north, and south with no apparent pattern. Camon tried again, more intently even so. No matter what he did, the drops still went all over the map. Camon then dialed the magic back, and the drops resumed their steady drip in the center of the pool.
“I’m not doing something right,” he said. “But I have no idea. I thought I was doing exactly what Prawadi’s book said to do, but every attempt didn’t seem to result in what I had hoped for.”
“What were you looking for?” Achara asked.
“An essence with an affinity for this belt, more specifically the magic that is imbued on it. But as much as I tried to focus it, I get nothing.”
Achara looked at the map as the water dripped slowly from the kettle above. She watched the ripples spread out across the map and hit the pool’s walls and reflect back towards the middle for the better part of a minute.
“Try it again,” she said.
Camon returned to the table, placed his palms on its surface, and called on his magic again. The drops responded almost immediately this time, but the results didn’t change. They went all over the map, landing in different places. Achara watched them fall from the kettle down to the pool and make little splashes as they impacted the water’s surface. She observed them intently for about two minutes before she called off Camon.
“There’s no pattern,” she said. “But there is an odd characteristic about the way the drops fall. I would expect the drops to fall in a straight line from the kettle to the surface, but they are not. They appear as if they are caught in a wind blowing them in several different directions before they hit the surface.”
“What do you think that implies?” Camon asked.
“Did the book mention anything about finding many of the same kinds of targets on the map?”
“I don’t recall. Nothing in the book suggested that this was ever intended for anything more than one target. Even so, I’m looking for a single affinity, not multiple.”
“What if what we’re looking for isn’t a single entity?” Achara asked.
“I don’t see how, because this is supposed to have a uniqueness factor about it as I understand it.”
“But think about it this way,” Achara said. “If what Jorn has is the same as what the mages had. What if the mages weren’t themselves at all?”
“As in they were being controlled by someone else,” Camon said.
“Then why would they need the belt then?” Jorn asked.
“Maybe the belt isn’t what I thought it was,” Camon said. “We know it helps protect against the effects of magic and helps focus it. But, your magic was wild and untamed when you struck down those undead. I see where Achara is going with this, though.”
“All of the mages were basically clones, imbued with the same magic to the same purpose.” Jorn surmised.
“Like identical twins,” Achara said.
“But how does that help us with our quandary here?” Camon said.
“If I’m right, the machine was built to track a single entity, not multiple entities,” Achara said. “From what I observed, the scrying tower here uses other scrying towers located throughout the Empire as reference points. You can see them marked on the map in golden inlays. The tower, in effect, is pinging the other towers. It’s looking for a match according to what you’re tuning it to look for. It uses these pings to triangulate a position not unlike what you used your stones when you located those items in the swamp. If you watch closely, the drops are not taking a linear path to the point. Rather, it looks like they are being pulled in multiple directions as they descend, causing randomness. It’s as if the tower is finding multiple matches but can’t decide which one to land on.”
“So how do we compensate for that?” Camon asked.
“Let me try,” Achara said.
“You’ve never done this, much less read the book on it.”
“This apparatus is designed to do what some seers can do without the help of the machine,” she said. “I’ve been doing something very similar for months keeping tabs on our friends.”
“But it’s never been accurate in terms of distance or direction. The best you can say is near or far…”
“That’s because I’ve always lacked a point of reference to use to figure out direction or distance. With this, it should be pretty straight forward.”
“I’m still hesitant,” Camon objected. “While I think it is straightforward, without the proper knowledge of how the machine works, I think it could possibly hurt you or break the machine. There’s a lot of unknowns here.”
“It’s not foreign to me, which is why I think I can do it,” she countered. “While I might not know the particulars, I think I understand the principles having watched you do it and observed the magic at work here. This is not a whim or a shot of overconfidence. I promise you that.”
“Okay, so let’s suppose you know how to use it for argument’s sake. How do you intend to make the machines know what to look for to distinguish one agent from the other?”
“I don’t intend to isolate them; I intend to locate all of them at once,” Achara said
“The machine is a talisman. It doesn’t amplify magic, but it’s trying to emulate seer magic, which I am beginning to understand. I think I can. You have to let me try…”
Camon shook his head, bit his lips, and then gestured with both his hands towards the table, “I am at a loss. I’m out of options, and you think you can. I have to let you do it. But please, do be careful.”
“I’m always careful,” she smirked. “You know me.”
Camon stepped back from the table and leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, and watched. Achara looked at the drops continuing to drip from the kettle. She turned the lever back some to slow the pace to once every ten seconds or so. She then looked at the table, removed the belt, and placed it on the pool’s edge.
“What are you doing?” Camon asked.
“Trust me,” she replied.
Achara then sat down next to the pool, placed her hands on the belt, and looked at the water intensely. She located the golden inlays in the pool, then she closed her eyes and went and stilled her breathing. In her mind, she envisioned the dots in their array as they appeared in the pool of water, and she sent magic into the belt, which pulsated when she did, reflecting back an aura into her vision. She visualized the aura and let it flow through her and reverberate as she got used to its warmth. She then probed the belt again, this time focusing her attention on the inlays in her mind. The aura reverberated through her vision bouncing between the dots and returning to the one she represented. She increased the frequency of the pings steadily until the pattern was consistent in her mind.
Camon watched her intently as she did. From his perspective, nothing seemed to change. The drops continued to drip into the same spot at the center of the pool every ten seconds. Achara then moved one of her hands off the belt and placed them on the water’s surface ever so delicately as to not disturb it. She then held this position while the drops continued to fall in the center.
Nothing changed for a while, but she then created a slight ripple with her hand on the water, and the ripples went out across the water creating wave patterns around the golden inlays as if the points were more obstacles in the water rather than just inlays on the map. The next drop that came from the kettle began to move randomly as it had with Camon. She continued to work with the apparatus. After a few drops fell, she stopped making ripples in the water, and the drops from the kettle stopped falling as well. Camon looked up, thinking that the kettle had run out of water. Instead, a large globule of water had formed at the spout and was suspended from it. After about a minute, the drop finally came down. As it fell, it separated into three separate dots, and they all landed in the pool. Camon stood up straight and walked around to the edge of the pool for a better look. A second globule formed and then split into three smaller drops, and they all fell again in the same places the first ones did. It happened again a third and fourth time, and Camon took notice of their location: the West Watch, Muangnoi, and somewhere along the road slightly north of their current position. Achara then removed her hand from the surface of the water and then opened her eyes. The drops returned to a single drop every ten seconds or so in the center of the pool.
“Whatever you did, it seems to have worked,” Camon said. “But really, how did you do that?”
“The table is a focusing mechanism for this apparatus. I more or less bypassed it, so I wasn’t bound to its formalities. I probed the apparatus for a moment to understand how it worked in my mind, then applied its working directly to the waters in the way the apparatus does. I adapted the form, though, to allow for the possibility for multiple entities, and it appears that there are three it was able to locate.
“Yes, in the West Watch and two nearby.”
“There’s three of us and three of them. Why not split up and go after them,” Jorn said
“I wish there was a way to identify exactly what Achara found. Because I could not filter the magic, I’m not sure if she merely found more mages or something else entirely. We can say for sure, though, that whatever is in Muangnoi is probably more of what we’ve already encountered. We should probably find a quiet place to think about this some more. In the meantime, let’s get out of here. The page will probably be looking for us soon with some food, and I don’t want to raise suspicions. I don’t know if this thing notifies anyone when it’s being used, but I don’t want to be around to find out if it does.”
“Good call,” Jorn said.
Camon then pulled the hood of the priest’s robes over his head and went for the chamber’s door. He put his ear on it and listened. When he was sure no one was on the other side, he opened it, and the three companions slipped out of the scrying room and back through the dusty building. Jorn grabbed a crate, slid it in front of the door, grabbed another, and pulled it behind him to erase their tracks in the dust on the floor. They got near the door to the outside and peered out some of the windows to check the surrounding. It was quiet, so they opened the door, slipped out, closed it firmly behind them, and locked it. Camon then led them in a procession away from the building, looping a way around the compound where they were seen, and then he headed back to the cottage with his companions.