THEATRE OF DREAMS
PART III

'In the primal fires of the seventh Earth, Fear was forged as chaos given form in nature. It took a sinister presence, capable of coaxing good men into acts of evil, capable of coaxing sane men into acts of madness. Fear was irrepressible. It walked the infant fields and mountains of the world, turning friend against friend, brother against sister, father against child. It would not rest until it held the hearts and minds of all people in its icy hand. Only its sworn foe, the great Dream, Courage, could stand against Fear, stare it down and even banish it.

'They did battle countless times for many centuries, Courage confronting Fear, a War that raged like fire across its luckless battleground - the hearts of all Mankind. Courage was forever at a perverse disadvantage in this terrible War, for without the onus of overcoming Fear, Courage could not exist, it was all it lived to do. But Fear was its own weakness, where Courage had strength, an inner harmony that Fear could not match. So defeat for Courage was rare. But every time Courage stood victorious, all it could do was force its cursed enemy further back, to retreat further into the unknown. Courage could not destroy Fear without destroying Courage's own purpose of being. This bitter irony was lost on neither.

'So Fear's ambition would never end, its cause would never cease, until the day it destroyed Courage. On that day, the day when the last of the Brave falls, the world shall weep, for 'twill be a day of cold darkness when Evil rises to rule the World as never it has been ruled before...'
- The Last Prophecy of Toldriss the Enchanter, 717 AD.

("How can the numbers four, six, eighty and one hundred be used together, without the use of any other numbers, to make exactly nine?"

Add the one hundred to the eighty. Turn the four and the six into Roman numerals i.e. IV and VI. Now, twist the VI through one hundred and eighty degrees and paste it to the underside of the IV. The result is IX, the Roman numeral for nine.

"How can a pocket with two large holes in it be safe to hold a gold coin?"

Simple. The first hole is the entrance to the pocket. Then if the second hole is part of the coin itself, rather than part of the pocket lining, the coin can be put in the pocket reasonably securely, and the hole is still in the pocket.

"Adam was the first man, Eve was the first woman. Who was the first Olympic athlete?"

Pheidippides. Not Marathon.)

When at last Treguard awoke in relative darkness, he felt cold. He couldn't say how long he had been unconscious but he knew that he was in a small cell. The floor was nothing but sharp granite, without even a few blades of straw to soften it. There was a thin light coming through the bars of the cell door, but inside it was damp, cold and dark.
Then he realised that there was someone standing on the other side of the door, someone smiling, gloating, triumphant. Treguard slowly sat up and allowed his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Through the bars he saw Lord Fear in all his skeletal glory.
"Dearie me, Treguard, me ol' goat," he smirked. "And here's you a seasoned veteran? A practiced adventurer of many years' experience?" He shook his bony head. "You made my whole plan pathetically easy to pull off, you know - you blundered straight into every trap I laid for you. You even fell for the old fake trapdoor trick. I knew you would of course, but I'm still disappointed."
"Fear," murmured Treguard, gently rubbing the back of his neck, which was stiff from lying in the same position for too long. "I knew that story about Grimaldine was too good to be true."
"Of course it was," nodded Fear. "You fell for that, you believed the agent I planted in your team was your friend, you believed that the hole in the cave floor was the safe path even though there were no stairs..." Fear let out a snort of derision. "You really do make things too easy for us, don't you, Treguard? Whatever made you a great warrior in the past, you don't have any of it now."
Treguard was unable to take in most of what Fear was saying, his head felt dull and swimmy. He couldn't say how far he and Dervlinne had fallen when they'd stepped onto the fake flagstones in the trapdoor chamber, but from the sore aches he was now experiencing all over his head and torso, he reckoned it must have been a good twenty five feet onto a very hard surface.
He looked up at Fear meaningfully. "What have you done with Dervlinne and Bumptious?" he demanded groggily.
Fear looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "Let us instead discuss terms."
"Terms?"
"The terms of your survival of course."
"You mean I have some say in the matter?"
"Oh yes," said Fear. "Not as much as I do of course, but some. You see, though it may surprise you, I don't necessarily have to kill you."
"Obviously," snorted Treguard. "If you had to, I wouldn't be alive now."
"Obviously," agreed Fear.
"So, what exactly is it you want, you malodorous old bone-bag?" demanded Treguard with a commendable display of superior indifference.
Fear's parched-white face twisted into a look of fury. "You dare insult me in your position, you ancient..."
"Dare?" sneered Treguard defiantly. "You were about to impose terms, Fear. That means you want something from me. If you kill me you won't get anything so I can say what I like to you. There's no great daring in that."
Fear favoured his archenemy with a smile of cold anger and nodded. "Very well, Treguard, let's get to the guts of the matter shall we? I want Knightmare."
Treguard looked up at him in astonishment. "You want what?"

Majida was frantic by now. She and Rod had been waiting at the foot of the hill for well over four hours in, by now, near pitch-blackness, and she was certain something had gone badly wrong. In the appalling light she hadn't able to see the cause, but she could have sworn that, shortly after Bumptious had disappeared into the tunnel, there had been a vague rumble, like the distant sound of rocks folding and collapsing against each other. She was under strict instructions to keep watch on the horse though, so she had decided against investigating, but now she was sure that she'd chosen a bad time to start doing as she was told.
She gave Rod a warning look to stay put, then started hauling her way along the rope up the grease-addled hill. Climbing here had been a difficult enough task in twilight. Now it was so dark she could scarcely make out the turf of the slope right in front of her, and was constantly nervy about the danger of slipping or stumbling on some unseen impediment in her path. The surface of the hill was at least rough enough to provide plenty of footholds, while still smooth enough to keep obstacles to a minimum, but it was still very slow-going, largely due to her hopeless lack of experience in this sort of activity.
In fact, she was gradually becoming astonished at how long it was taking her to climb this time. She was sure she hadn't had to travel nearly this far on the way down from the cave entrance. She climbed and she climbed and she... stopped.
She was at the top of the rope. At the top of the rope was Dervlinne's dagger that Treguard had used to fasten it to the cave wall. But the cave wall wasn't here. The dagger was now driven into some large nondescript piece of rock in the middle of the hill. She couldn't see the cave anywhere nearby in such poor visibility.
Majida was perplexed at first, but she then realised that someone must have moved the dagger along to another point further along the hillside, and in the terrible light she hadn't seen it happening. But why would anyone do that?
There were only three possible answers that Majida could think of, and she didn't like any of them.
One: Treguard, mindful of Majida's objections to being left behind to guard a grumpy horse, and knowing the trouble she was having climbing the hill without assistance, had deliberately repositioned the rope so that she couldn't follow him into the tunnel.
Two: Dervlinne had repositioned the dagger to spite Treguard for confiscating it from her in the first place.
Three: Someone else they didn't know about had repositioned it to keep her from following in the event of the others running into trouble inside the tunnel.
The third possibility seemed the most likely, but also the most worrying, as the other two were merely petty annoyances. If there was somebody else here who was sabotaging the operation, then there was real trouble in store. She scowled in outrage when she realised that there was only one man/monster/person/thingummy who could be responsible.
"Fear," she spat. "Dees whole thing, ee's all a trap."
Suddenly an even more terrible thought struck her. If Fear was still in Marblehead, Treguard was in trouble. Big trouble. She sailed back down the rope as fast as she could, too preoccupied with her misgivings to notice that this climbing-business was actually much easier when she just got on with it. She was back on the ground in under a minute.
She scampered back over to the wagon and pulled out a spare torch. She lit it with a click of her fingers, shot Rod another restraining glare, and returned to the foot of the hill. She shone the torch up the slope at all angles and soon found where the tunnel was. She scowled at her own inattentiveness. It was nowhere near the position of the dagger now, how could she have missed it happening? She then looked more closely and allowed a quiet moan of unhappiness to escape her lips. Even at this distance and in this terrible light, she could see that the tunnel entrance was crammed with fallen rocks. That was what the rumbling noise had been - the tunnel had caved in! What if the others were still in the tunnel when it happened? What if they weren't? Either way they were trapped underground. Worse, she'd be left out here in the cold and the dark for the rest of her days with nothing for company but a horse with bad breath?
Majida looked at Rod again. "Dees all your fault," she sniffed. "Don' ask me why, I jus' know eet all your fault."

Dervlinne was experiencing dark magical neural anterior lobal dysfunction inducing confused and restricted motor-reflex responses of the cerebral-cortex. Or, as the ignorant mortals would put it, she was dizzy.
Wherever she was, it was dark, irredeemably dark almost. Even to her keen elfin senses she could see not the slightest speck of light. She must have been unconscious for some while, yet she seemed to be experiencing the sensation of being upright, and she felt an excruciating strain in her shoulders. After a while, she realised that this was because her arms were in chains. She'd been manacled upright, her arms above her head, chained to the ceiling.
She shifted her feet backward to try and feel for the wall she was presumably tied to, and found that she wasn't. She moved her feet downwards and felt for the floor instead, and found that that was out of reach. She'd been left dangling off the floor for hours in chains, no wonder her shoulders were in such agony.
She shuffled her shoulders slightly, just to shift their position a little and place the strain on another part of her arms, just for a moment.
"No, don't sssstruggle-nesssss," hissed a sudden voice from the dark. "Your wrists-nessss will look ssso much lessss decorative with all the skin- nessss torn off, and with the blood ssseeping-nessss down your armssss."
Dervlinne looked around sharply, a thoroughly futile gesture. "Who said that?" she demanded, making a creditable effort to hide her nerves.
"My name is Liss-ssard," answered the voice. "And you, if I my sssay- nessss, look good enough to eat."
If Dervlinne's unseen heckler was trying to scare her, it was a wasted effort - her nerves were already jangling unbearably. "Where are you?" she tried.
"Behind you," replied Lissard.
She tried to turn and look in the direction of the voice, but still she could see nothing. She also began to notice another unpleasant sensation against the temples of her head, a restraining, turbulent effect across the front of her eyes.
"There issss no point in trying to ssssee what you cannot," said Lissard hoarsely.
"Why is it so dark in here?" complained Dervlinne, "I can see nothing at all."
"It'sss not very dark-nesss, elfin," answered Lissard. "You are blindfolded, that'sss all."
"Why?"
"For your own benefit, elfin."
"My benefit?" scoffed Dervlinne. "Release my eyes."
There was a short silence, as though her captor were weighing up the request.
"You wouldn't thank me for it," he said finally.
Dervlinne started struggling uncomfortably again. Like many elves, she suffered from a strange form of claustrophobia, and it could kick in under any form of physical restraint. She was beginning to feel slightly ill by the obstruction to her vision. "You think I'm grateful for being chained up like this, lizard?"
"Liss-ssard," the Atlantean corrected her, a little haughtily.
"Let me see!" Dervlinne near-shrieked. She was no longer able to swallow her anxiety.
"You're ssss-sure that you want me to?"
Dervlinne carried on wriggling.
"Very well," hissed Lissard. "On your own head-nessss be it!"
There was a shuffling behind Dervlinne and she felt the pressure against her temples and eyes subside. Her eyes were sore from being blindfolded, and it took a while for them to focus on the new intrusion of light. She wasn't pleased when it did.
The first thing she noticed was that it was fairly dark in here, but not oppressively so. The second thing she noticed was that as she thought, she was indeed hanging by a pair of fairly short chains from the ceiling. The third thing she noticed was that the chamber had no floor. Well, that was to say, she assumed it probably did have a floor, it was just that she couldn't see it from where she was hanging, as it must have been at least seven hundred feet below her.
Lissard, who was cheerfully perched on a broad ledge just behind her and right below the cavern ceiling, had been reflecting on how much effort it had been carrying the she-sprite all the way down to Level Three and trying to secure her to the ceiling of the Cavern of Descendants.
To his delight, he found that now, as the elf took in the sheer enormity of open space between her feet and solid ground, her consequent scream of terror was worth the effort on its own.

Treguard was at a genuine loss. Lord Fear had always been an adversary who would play for keeps - if a game's worth winning after all, you might as well get rewarded for it - but for certain he was never one to set his sights ridiculously high. The prizes he aimed for were always realistic ones, well within his reach. If there was one thing Treguard would say for Lord Fear, and it would only ever be one, it was that he did have a certain measured patience. He was always prepared to build his power and authority slowly, carefully, he was always prepared to wait for the right moment to move for what he wanted, and so to reap the rewards afterwards.
Now Treguard faced a demand that appeared, on the face of it, completely preposterous. Even with Treguard in captivity, how could Fear possibly demand the keys to Dunshelm itself?
"Knightmare Castle?" repeated Fear. "You know, the place you've lived in for the last fifteen years or so? The place you were born in, all those many, many, many, many years ago?" The insult was not lost on Treguard of course, but he offered no response, so Fear decided to try another one that he knew would cut a little deeper. "The place where Baron Vestan murdered your entire family?"
This time Treguard reacted just enough for his face to redden a little, for his teeth to become clenched, and for the pupils of his eyes to become narrowed with quiet anger. Other than that he showed commendable restraint, but Fear still saw that he was already getting to him.
"Y'know Treguard," continued Fear, "I do so wish I'd been there that day. It would have been such fun to watch all those proud little Anglo- Saxons getting chopped to pieces on the battlements of your castle by Brittany's mercenaries." He saw that Treguard was struggling to keep the anger from his face. Good. "All that blood. All those bones, all those bodies... It would've been just..."
Treguard snarled, leapt to his feet and hurled himself wildly at the bars of his cell. This led to a surprise. It was really just an angry gesture on his part, and one that he was cursing himself for even as he did it. It would surely be futile hurling his aging body at the bars, merely giving Fear more room for amusement.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately - he couldn't be sure yet - when he should have collided with the bars he didn't. He simply carried on going, stumbled as his momentum carried him to where it logically could not have done, and fell flat on his face.
Treguard spun back to his feet in astonishment, but before he could investigate what had happened to the bars, Fear was standing face to face with him, a look of cynical amusement on his chalk-white features.
"Dear oh dear, so impetuous," he noted. "You should learn to compose yourself a bit, Treguard. I mean throwing yourself at the cell door like that? Imagine what could have happened if it were real. You might've broken it."
Treguard looked past Fear to the cell and saw that it was no longer there - there was just a single dark empty space. He blinked in confusion.
"You look surprised, Treguard," smirked Fear. "But surely you know the dungeon better than anyone. The old adage, I mean. You know, that nothing here is real?"
Treguard looked at him uncertainly. That old saying wasn't literally true. It was true in so far as whatever happened within the Dungeon had little direct meaning outside - thus when dungeoneers from another time died while on the path they could live on elsewhere. But to say that nothing here was real at all would be a gross exaggeration, and indirectly whatever happened here had a very real bearing on the ways of Norman England.
"Still where was I?" continued Fear. "Oh yes. I was particularly amused by the rumours of what happened to your dear Father. Was it true that Vestan murdered him with his own hand? Drove a blade into his unprotected spine while his back was turned? And then scrawled the words 'Here lies the last Saxon Baron' on the flagstones with your Father's own blood..."
Again the red mist just descended like the snap of fingers. Treguard pulled his fist back and swung it at Fear's skeletal face, rotating his body with full force through a full one hundred and eighty degrees. In all his years, Treguard was sure he had never thrown a harder punch.
It was a redundant gesture. The fist simply passed, without the slightest iota of resistance, straight through Fear's jaw. The impetus of the punch was such that Treguard was pulled across himself with it, lost his balance completely and fell sideways to the floor once again, with a painful grunt. He slowly turned and looked up.
Fear looked down at him, a broad smile of triumph distorting his icy features. "You weren't listening were you, Treguard? Nothing here is real. Nothing." Suddenly, Fear clenched his own fist and swung it down towards Treguard's face. The big Dungeon Master recoiled and raised his arm to protect himself. The fist just passed through him and made contact with nothing at all.
The last thing Treguard saw before the image of Lord Fear faded away completely was his enemy's face twisted by mocking laughter. He could still hear the laughter echoing around the now blank, featureless chamber he was in long after the illusion had vanished.

Fear sat on his throne, the techno-magic mirror showing him an image of Treguard stuck on his backside in his empty room. Fear allowed himself another moment of quiet gloating before he spoke again.
"Allow me to explain, Treguard," he said finally.
On the screen he saw Treguard look up to seek the source of the unseen voice. "It doesn't look like I can stop you," replied the Lord of Dunshelm sourly.
"You are experiencing the latest in Dungeon Mastery," explained Fear. "A new breakthrough by all accounts, Treguard. And through it I can do anything." Fear leaned forward in his seat slightly, and kept his eyes fixed on Treguard. "Anything."

Bumptious sat in his cell feeling guilty. It was entirely irrational to feel guilty of course. It wasn't his fault, and he couldn't take responsibility for what Fear chose to do, but he still felt guilty. If it weren't for him after all, Fear wouldn't even have been able to start his plan to snare Treguard.
It had to be said that if it weren't for Treguard marching blithely into the lion's den like some rank amateur, the plan wouldn't have worked at all. Well maybe it didn't have to be said, but Bumptious decided to say it anyway, as it made him feel slightly less guilty.
He got to his feet, and stepped up to the cell door. He reached through the bars and nudged Skarkill, who was once again snoozing in his seat by the door.
"Wh-what?" murmured Skarkill wearily.
"You awake?" teased Bumptious, in a passably good imitation of Lord Fear's voice.
"Yes, yer Fearship!" answered Skarkill, sitting up hurriedly. "I never sleeps on duty, sir." He blinked a couple of times, looked around, and then realised that Fear wasn't there. He was in the next chamber watching the mirror. Skarkill looked over his shoulder and saw Bumptious standing on the other side of the bars behind him, grinning mischievously. "Oh very funny," growled Skarkill, "What lemmin' did you learn that jolly from?"
Bumptious simply shrugged. "And here's you, the life and soul of the party?" He sniffed. "It's fun when you sleep I suppose. I've never heard floorboards rattle to the tune 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain' till you fell asleep the other day and your snores started shaking things up."
"I don't snore!" protested Skarkill, affronted.
"Do me a favour," Bumptious hooted, "I've met drunk Vikings with an asthma problem who sleep more quietly than you."
Skarkill got to his feet, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small booklet. Menacingly, he held it in position to rip it to shreds, and shot Bumptious a warning look. The dwarf's face fell, and he raised his hands in a placatory gesture.
"No," he protested weakly. "Not me rule-book. Please. Anything but that. Put me in chains! Put me in solitary! Just don't hurt me rule-book!"
"What d'you say then?" demanded Skarkill.
Bumptious took on the expression of a petulant child deprived of his favourite toy. "I'm sorry, I won't insult you again."
"And...?"
"And you don't snore really," added Bumptious miserably, "You sleep as peacefully as a new-born babe." He wanted to say "baby-pig" but of course he didn't.
"That's better," nodded Skarkill, and put the book away again. "You watch it from now on or..." he paused for effect, "...the book gets it." Skarkill resumed his seat and made himself comfortable, then glanced over his shoulder at the dwarf in annoyance. "What'd you wake me up for anyway?"
Bumptious looked at him for a moment, and then sighed unhappily. "I take it from all the shouting in the other room that Treguard's in custody now."
Skarkill nodded absently, no harm in keeping the prisoner up-to-date.
"So Fear's switched the spell off now?" Bumptious probed. "Your lizard-friend isn't disguised as me anymore?"
"S'right," grunted Skarkill.
"So..." Bumptious swallowed, unsure of how wise he was being to draw attention to himself like this. "So what happens to me now? I mean, Fear doesn't need me for his spell now."
"Are you in an 'urry to be executed or somethin'?" taunted Skarkill.
"If you're goin' to do it anyway, well, yes."
Skarkill looked amused. "Well, I'll be 'appy to oblige, personal- like, when I gets permission. But the boss is busy right now so I best not disturb 'im. I'm sure we'll gets round to you when 'e's finished with the Dungeon Master."

"It's Time, Treguard," continued Lord Fear, his cold, cold eyes still fixed firmly on the image of his archenemy on the screen.
"Time for what?" demanded Treguard.
"Don't be an oaf all your life," growled Fear irritably. "Time is the breakthrough. It is my invention. The Past and even The Future."
"You never were slow with the delusions of grandeur," Treguard retorted, "but I thought even you could not claim to have invented such a thing as one of the very building blocks of the World itself."
"Not literally, Treguard," said Fear, who was determined not to be swayed from his explanation. "My invention is the Chronosphere. A Time Ring if you like. With it, I can do anything..."
"Most madmen can."
"...And you are inside it right now." This time, Treguard had no interruption to offer. Fear continued. "You no doubt think that the Dungeon lives again, Treguard. That the Questing Season has begun once more. I'm afraid that neither is quite the case. That's why the ghost you encountered in the cavern wouldn't obey your commands."
Treguard looked up again, clearly still looking for some source to the voice. "Keep talking," he growled in a low, dangerous voice.
"The simple fact is," continued Fear, "that the Dungeon will never live again. At least not unaided. Tell me, why do you think I left the Pool of Veracity in the Black Tower instead of destroying it?" Still no response from Treguard. He just sat still and stared at nothing, clearly listening intently. "It's because I knew you'd be stupid enough to steal it and install it in Dunshelm. And I knew that sooner or later it'd cripple the Dungeon. Like I said before, you make things far too easy for us." Fear allowed himself another chilling smile. "You murdered your own Dungeon. And you a Dungeon Master? Ha!" Fear leaned forward a little. "But I'm not one to waste time gloating of course. Well except when I'm awake. But there's an important reason why you must give me Knightmare Castle, Treguard. It's because that Castle and that Dungeon are both your responsibility. It is your first purpose to protect them. And I am the only one who can save them after your mistakes. So it's your duty to grant me control of them."
"What do you mean?"
"After you fitted the Pool of Veracity in the antechamber of your misbegotten stronghold, you deformed the Dungeon, distorted it with the taint of technology. And you didn't remove it until it was much too late. Now magic alone is not nearly enough to sustain the Dungeon, or even to revive it. Technology is all that can possibly bring about its reformation. And in that realm I have no equal. That makes me the only one who can save the Dungeon. Your own Code of Honour demands that you grant the Castle and its Dungeons to me."
Treguard got to his feet, and stood defiantly. "Make you the Dungeon Master?" he scoffed. "Your delusions become more acute by the moment..."
"What I say is not delusional," said Fear coolly, "It is simple fact."
"And how are you to persuade me," snapped Treguard, "that the Dungeon will never live again without your interference? I was hiking through it only hours ago."
"Oh yes," smirked Fear. "Like only minutes ago you were locked up in a cell while a powerful, charismatic, not to mention incredibly handsome, Technomancer stood taunting you on the other side of the door? And yet where are they now, Treguard? They just disappeared, didn't they? They vanished into thin air. Almost like they didn't exist. Almost like they were just an... illusion perhaps?"
Treguard's face fell again.
"The Chronosphere, Treguard," cackled Fear. "It's the ultimate weapon, and it gives me ultimate power over you."
"What is this Chronosphere you keep ranting about?"
"I spent several years inventing it," explained Fear, "and four more years building it, all as part of the plan to lure you to my lair. It can best be described as a fishing rod, Treguard. But unlike a normal fishing rod, the Chrono doesn't pluck fish from the watery depths. No, the Chrono plucks scraps of Time from the Past or the Future of the Dungeon and pulls them into the Present day."
Treguard looked stunned. "Time?" he gasped. "It syphons Time?"
"Yes, that's another way of putting it. You see the chambers you and your friends were blundering through all last night were part of the Dungeon, but the Dungeon was not really there. I pulled the Cavern and the Courtyard from a possible Future where the Dungeon was allowed to complete its reformation. I've sent them back now." Fear smiled and got to his feet. "The prison cell you were locked in I took from a Past era of the Dungeon. Only an image that time you understand, not the physical form. In truth, I sealed you, not in a cell, but inside the Chronosphere itself. As long as you are in there, I can call on anything from the Dungeon's Past and the Dungeon's Future, and use them to fashion the darkest, most dreadful dreams. Dreams that I will unleash upon you, Treguard." Fear took a step forward. "I shall see all your Knightmares, your dark dreams, played out in front of my eyes like so much cheap theatre. But for you it will be a battle for survival..." Fear's smile grew to a rictus of pure sadism "...until you grant me Knightmare Castle!"

Dervlinne's wail of terror was still echoing round the walls of the cavern for several moments before she regained her composure. She was gasping for breath with the sheer effort of tearing her petrified eyes away from the calamitous drop below her. It took an awful lot to induce vertigo in an elf. Lissard had clearly found the limit and even exceeded it.
She wasn't sure how long she had just stared into the depths before she could find intelligible words. It was only a few minutes in fact, but it seemed like hours to her.
"Wh-wh-where are we?" she finally managed to stammer.
Lissard was still crouched on the ledge behind her, relishing the terror in the elf's reaction. "That issss the quessstion-nessss, issss it not?" he mused. "Only perhapssss it issssn't."
"A question for a question," Dervlinne noted nervously. "I sense that you feel a need to avoid answering me. Something to hide, lizard?"
"Why should I hide anything-nessss?" shrugged Lissard. "I have you completely-nessss in my power."
"Another question for a question." She shuffled a little, her arms growing increasingly uncomfortable as she hung there.
Lissard did not seem bothered by her analyses. He just shrugged. "I warned-nesss you before, elf-woman, that you would not be grateful-nessss, if I revealed-nessss to you what you wished to know." He smiled. "You didn't lisssten. I offer the sssame-nessss warning now, she-sssprite."
"Answer my question," insisted Dervlinne. "I'm not afraid of the truth. Only lies concern me."
"Ssso be it," nodded Lissard, in a grotesque parody of diligent respect. "The anssswer isss exactly where you were."
With a stiff movement born of her prone position, Dervlinne looked over her shoulder at Lissard, genuinely angered. "Enough word games, you foul little toad!" she scowled with typical elfin gracelessness.
"You asssked the wrong quessstion, she-sssprite" explained Lissard, "if you want-nessss to learn anything new-nessss that issss."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you haven't gone-nessss very far, sssso 'where' tellssss you nothing."
"Well what question should I have asked then?" Dervlinne felt like she was about to scream again, not with fear this time, but with the sheer frustration of having to talk to this dismal little half-man.
"You should have asssked when we are," said Lissard.
"When?"
Again the smile. Lissard clearly enjoyed knowing more than Dervlinne, although not nearly as much as he enjoyed showing that fact off. "Yessss. We are pressssently in the Third Level of the Dungeon-nessss, ssssome twenty yearssss before you ssset off on your journey-nessss from Anwin Wood."
There was no scream from Dervlinne this time. No cry of horror. No look of petrified shock. In fact she made no noise at all. She just stared at her Atlantean enemy with incomprehension.

Treguard was seated again on the floor. Well, if it was a floor. All of a sudden he was not sure that anything he could see or hear around him was real, or if it meant anything at all anymore.
At first he'd thought that Lord Fear's boast that he could do anything was just that, a boast. But now he understood the nature of what he was dealing with, he realised that, essentially, the words were the truth. Fear could access any part of the Dungeon, past or future, that he pleased, and as the Dungeon was a realm of limitless possibility, he could pretty well do anything he liked, restricted only by the limits of his own imagination. And Lord Fear had a big imagination
So the question now was what Treguard could do about it. He wasn't sure exactly what Fear had meant by being sealed in the Chronosphere, but it left Treguard in the unhappy position of not being able to tell what was real and what was not. This meant that, in contrast to Fear's apparent omnipotence, Treguard was pretty close to powerlessness.
Knowing as he did the perils of the Dungeon better than anyone, he understood the incredible danger he was in. If Fear could reshape Treguard's surroundings into any form from the Dungeon's history, then he could throw anything at him until he agreed to hand over Knightmare Castle.
From his current position Treguard really didn't know what to do. It made him shudder to think what would be heading his way if he didn't accept Fear's terms, and yet how could he accept them? It would make his enemies the Powers That Be, and Lord Fear would be the most powerful evil England had known since the Gruagach itself. Could Treguard allow himself to be the one responsible for that happening?
It was also nagging away at him that some of Fear's words had had a ring of truth to them. It was Treguard's fault that the Dungeon had been unable to renew itself, and the well being of the Dungeon was Treguard's responsibility. Fear had been right. In that respect, and in the respect of the not inconsiderable threat to his own life, it suddenly sounded feasible to agree. And yet what disasters could follow for England if Dunshelm fell back into evil hands?
It stood to reason that he was going to get a first hand taste of exactly what those disasters would be in the next few moments. Everything that the Dungeon had ever been, everything that was ever in it, everyone who had ever occupied it, and all that it ever could become. All of it could be reached through this chronosphere, and all of it could be... thrown... at... Treguard.
Treguard suddenly looked up, a chink of light breaking into the darkness of his thoughts. Everything that the Dungeon had ever been? Everyone?
"Of course," Treguard hissed to himself quietly. "The Dungeon is not a force for Evil anymore. Since I destroyed the Gruagach, it represents both Good and Evil." And of course in the Dungeon, Good was represented by...
"What was that, Treguard?" boomed the sickeningly familiar voice around the chamber, interrupting his thoughts. "Have you decided to co- operate, or do we proceed with the formalities of torture and personal insults?" Fear's voice sounded like he was hoping beyond hope that Treguard would choose the latter. Well, it would be such a shame to disappoint him. And besides, now that Treguard knew a possible escape route, he actually needed Fear to link to the Past.
"Do your worst, bone-brain," snarled Treguard.
"Good!" gloated Fear. "I do hate it when they give up without a fight."
"Just remember," added Treguard, "Kill me, and I'll never be able to make you the Dungeon Master."
"I don't have to kill you, Treguard," said the voice of Fear simply. "I just have to hurt you an awful lot. And the ability to hurt people is just one of my many great talents."
Suddenly Treguard felt a dizzy, sickening sensation. He held his head in his hands and screwed his eyes tightly closed. He heard a ruinous crumbling noise all around him for some moments, each dull groan of sound accompanied by a furious vibration in the floor and air around him, adding to his dizziness and disorientation.
Eventually the oppression passed, the ache of confusion dissipated and he was able to open his eyes. He found himself on his knees in a small flagstoned chamber with four open doors. The chamber was quite well-lit but other than that relatively featureless. The problem was not the room itself, nor the hideous chopping and hissing noises that echoed around it. No. The problem was what was in the room, the source of the chopping and hissing, looming over Treguard like a living statue commemorating all the worst corruptions of the human spirit. Three times the height of a man, a huge, mutated face without flesh, all propped up by four obscene parodies of skeletal legs, each with as many joints as most people's vertebrae. Vertebrae were all that the creature lacked. It was white as chalk from tip to toe, with mismatched teeth sharp as razors and long as Treguard's forearm.
"Well here's a blast from the past, eh Treguard?" laughed Fear's voice. "And, oh isn't that sweet? The cuddly little animal's clearly been missing you."
Accompanied by a chuckle from Fear, the catacombite took a faltering step toward Treguard and bit at him. The old Dungeon Master rolled out of the way hurriedly and backed away along the floor.
"You destroyed one of these once upon a time, remember?" Fear teased. "What fun, eh? A rematch. Only this time you don't have a magic sword with you do you?"
Treguard slowly edged to his feet and backed away further from the advancing creature. He hadn't needed it pointing out to him that he didn't have a magic sword. In fact, he didn't have a sword at all, magic or otherwise.
"Don't forget what I told you, Fear," he gasped, not taking his eyes away from the catacombite. "Kill me and Knightmare will never be yours."
Fear's answer was chilling. "It might be a worthy sacrifice just to see you die, Treguard."
These words hit Treguard like a slap. Fear was willing to let him die without taking Dunshelm? It might have been a bluff of course, but it still wasn't what Treguard was expecting to hear, and he didn't have time to weigh it up. The catacombite was already upon him.
Treguard waited until the last instant, twisted through ninety degrees and sprung to the side, evading the latest attempt from the creature to snap at him. The catacombite had now been drawn from the middle of the chamber and Treguard's path to the doors was now open. He selected the middle-right door, darted forward, and disappeared into the darkness of the portal.
It was here that he hit a major snag. He found that the portal didn't actually go anywhere. It was nothing more than an alcove with a wall a couple of feet inside it.
"Oh no, Treguard, there's no escape from the Chronosphere," jeered Lord Fear, "Not so much a case of 'No turning back' as a case of 'Nowhere to turn'. That chamber may be in the Past, but it's also in the Present. That means you're stuck in that chamber until I choose to rid you of it."
The catacombite by now had turned toward Treguard and was pursuing him again. Treguard backed as far into the portal as he could and pressed himself as flatly to the wall as he could, keeping himself just inches out of the reach of the catacombite. Snap, snap went the jaws of the creature time and again, reaching, straining at Treguard, but the smallness of the portal kept it from reaching any real distance inside. Treguard found himself gasping for breath, wishing that he'd stayed as fit as he had once been during the Crusade to Constantinople.
"That's it, Dungeon Master," taunted Fear's odious tones, "suck that gut in! Hide the flab!"
Treguard knew that now was as good a time as he was going to get to play his hunch. Keeping himself pinned as far back as he could, he gently slowed his breathing and concentrated. He closed his eyes gradually, pulled within himself almost, going gradually into a trance. He retreated into the corners of his mind, and now his mind was looking outwards, heading to a place that it had not been for many years...

Majida knew that she was in over her head. She was not used to Dungeoneering, and even though she'd always tried to pretend she knew what she was doing during her time as the Dungeon Master's assistant, the truth was she had always been happy to let Treguard take the lead when it really mattered.
Now though he wasn't here. Majida was alone. So she had to act alone. She had to take the lead this time. Her problem was her lack of experience of course. It was too little to rely on. Therefore her tactics right now might have seemed, to a neutral observer, a little wayward. Her experience had told her that her current predicament required the employment of subtlety.
Majida, knowing how unreliable her paltry experience was, had decided to try ignoring it altogether and to go in all guns blazing instead. This was a mistake, not least because she didn't have a gun, but also because she was hopelessly outnumbered.
She'd set up her "cunning" attack by leading Rod around the hillside and finding a path up to the foot of Marblehead Tower which they could both climb. Then, she untethered the horse from the wagon and removed all the equipment from it. She led Rod round to the back of the wagon and together they pushed it forward towards the castle portcullis. It was heavy and made for slow progress. Majida's intention was to use it as a battering ram to try and force in the portcullis. Unfortunately, it was moving so slowly that by the time it arrived at the entrance, it did no more than strike the bars with a vibrant clang that rattled along the walls inside.
Within moments the portcullis was raised and Skarkill, Raptor, and Sylvester Hands were all there. Majida, astutely recognising her minor miscalculation, immediately turned and leapt onto Rod's back. The horse whinnied in annoyance as she gave a sharp yank on his reins, but turned as instructed and quickly galloped away down the hill, with their three assailants in hectic pursuit.
Lord Fear himself then stepped out of the entrance, eager to see what the cause of the disturbance was. "Well, well, well," he mused as he saw Majida disappearing into the night on horseback, "the genie wasn't even bright enough to run away when she had the chance."
He shrugged, deciding to let Skarkill deal with her. Majida was no longer important. Treguard was all that mattered now.
He turned and walked back inside, absently forgetting to close the door.

"Merlin! Merlin!" In the world of his dreams, Treguard's voice always sounded distant and swimmy, even to himself, muffled like his ears were stuffed with wool.
In his trance, Treguard found he was standing on the bank of a narrow brook running through a clearing in the heart of a vast yet strangely dead forest. He wasn't sure how he knew the forest was so large. But then it was his dream, it was probably just up to him. The weather was bleak. The waters of the brook seemed to flow unnaturally fast.
"Wotan?" he tried. "Herne? Leilocen?"
Out of the woods on the far bank stepped an old man in ragged robes. He had a tangled grey-white beard and hair that seemed to stretch all the way down to his waist and a wide-brimmed hat, none of which quite concealed a hairline that had receded some way up his head. As in Treguard's previous encounters with him in his dreams, the Warlock held the same oddly carved staff in his right hand and he wore the same cloak that rustled like leaves wherever he walked. As had always been the case when he had conversed through dreams with the old wizard, he couldn't make out the exact details of the face.
"You can call me by all of my one hundred names if you like, Treguard," the old man admonished the Dungeon Master sternly, "It won't give me the ability to walk any more quickly. A little patience would not go amiss."
"Your pardon, Merlin," answered Treguard, "but I fear I have little time."
"More accurately," the dream-figure corrected him, "Fear has Time. He has Time in his grasp. Literally."
Treguard looked at him in surprise. His hunch had proven correct. Although Merlin was long-gone in his own era, by using the Chronosphere's own link to the Past, Treguard was able to communicate with the era that the catacombite chamber had been summoned from - an era when Merlin was still at large within the Dungeon. By going into a trance he was able to speak to Merlin through his dreams as he had done several times before, and perhaps with his help Treguard could work out what to do next to combat the Chronosphere.
What he hadn't expected was to find that Merlin already seemed to know about it all. This after all was the Merlin of the Past, the Merlin of the conflicts with Mogdred, Morghanna and Malice. Surely he couldn't know about the Chronosphere. Surely he couldn't even realise that this was not the Treguard he knew, but the Treguard of the Future.
As if in answer to his thoughts, the old man spoke, "You never truly understood the nature of your own dreams did you? And here's you, the Lord of Dreams himself?" He chuckled softly. "It's only to be expected, of course. Mortals live long enough to learn only so much before they run out of time." Neither of them seemed to have moved but suddenly Treguard realised he was sitting next to the old man on the same shore of the brook. "You are communicating to me through your mind, Treguard. Through your thoughts, your dreams and your memories. Therefore I have to speak to you in the same way - through your thoughts and memories. It thus goes without saying that I will know what you do." The old wizard looked at the Dungeon Master closely. "It's also why I seem like less of a dodderer here than I do in the physical world. Your mind shapes the way I manifest myself in your dreams. I am how you would like me to be, rather than the forgetful old fool that I truly am." He paused thoughtfully and looked off into the dark emptiness of the woods. "Whether either one is better than the other is another matter of course."
Treguard was initially a little embarrassed to hear his own thoughts of the old man being expressed straight back at him so candidly, but he didn't dwell on it. After all, he had little time.
"So you know everything about Lord Fear?" he demanded urgently, worried about what might be happening back in the Chronosphere.
Again, the old man chuckled. "In fact, I've always known about him. He is the latest to bear the authority of Terror. The great Enchanter Toldriss spoke of earlier incarnations, all who battled vainly in the face of Courage. But never dying." He paused, as if weighing up whether it was right to reveal more. It seemed it was. "In the Time I speak to you from, some years before you will first cross his path, Lord Fear is already building his power, quietly, behind the scenes as it were. In a way which none could ever imagine. He is presently allowing the many conflicts within Knightmare Castle to play themselves out, and hoping that in the end it will leave himself the only winner."
Treguard's interest was piqued. "Conflicts within Knightmare?" he pried. "Which conflicts? Between myself and Mogdred? Involving the Gruagach perhaps? Vestan?"
The old man merely looked at him.
"Tell me, please," said Treguard.
"I doubt that Lord Fear could profit from Mogdred's downfall," was the old man's only, somewhat cryptic, response, which seemed neither to answer the question nor even to tally with the facts.
"But..." Treguard stammered, "but he did profit from it. When we cast Mogdred into the Chaos lands, Fear became the new..."
"I think I have already said enough about this," interrupted the dream-figure. "Some knowledge must only be learned in the natural flow of Time - how that knowledge is acted upon is the only element which must remain in motion. This Chronosphere is already jeopardising that flow quite enough without you deliberately adding to the problem."
Treguard sighed. In the realities of the physical world he would doubtlessly have pressed the matter further, but here in the landscape of his own mind, he was able to sense that the old one would not be drawn any further on the subject, and that argument would be pointless. "Alright," nodded Treguard. "So what can you tell me?"
The old man gazed into the woods once more. "Merely what you already know."
Treguard couldn't resist a growl of frustration. He was irritated enough by having to answer riddles, it was even worse having to listen to someone who talked in them. "What do you mean?"
"This is your dream, Treguard," repeated the dream-figure. He turned and looked at Treguard through exhausted eyes, eyes that Treguard still couldn't focus on. "Do you remember when you fought the King of Elfland?"
"Of course."
"And you remember we spoke through your dreams then?"
Treguard nodded impatiently.
"You asked me," continued the old man, "if you could find the ley- paths in Anwin Wood, and you were unhappy with my response. You told me that you needed to know the answer. Do you remember what I told you after that?" Treguard narrowed his eyes, but did not respond. "I said that you must know, or else why would you seek the answer from a figment of your own dreams?"
Treguard was not used to Merlin displaying such clarity of memory - he actually seemed to remember the events far better than Treguard himself. "This really is a dream," he thought, and in so thinking he realised the very meaning that the old one was driving at.
"That part of me which you call Merlin can touch upon your dreams," resumed the old one, looking away again, "but he cannot control them, and he can introduce only a little knowledge to you through them. The only thing he - I - can do to any significant degree is help you to organise your thoughts. I can also tell you that which you have already worked out for yourself, but for which you lack the trust in your own judgement to believe." He turned and looked Treguard in the eye once again. "Because for some reason you will believe the word of some forgetful old dotard who hasn't bothered to shave in seven centuries over the word of the Dungeon Master of Knightmare Castle."
Treguard looked thunderstruck. He gazed into the brook, saw its waters jump and dance before his eyes, almost as though it were laughing, even mocking him for his absurd lack of self-confidence. He recognised the truth ringing through the old man's words.
"Can it be, Merlin?" he asked. "Have I been wasting my time doing this all these years? Have I always been searching for answers I've already known?"
"Quite the paradox," answered the old man, amused. "Your questions about redundant questions are in themselves, redundant questions, for if I can answer them so can you. But no, I wouldn't say that you've been wasting your time. There's nothing wasteful about getting a second opinion. Or at least a clarification."
Treguard nodded. He suddenly knew exactly what he needed to ask, and that was a start. "Well then surely you can help me with this. I don't want you to tell me how to escape from the Chronosphere, that's not the way it works..."
"Good, you're learning."
"What I need you to tell me," Treguard continued, the bit now firmly between his teeth, "is if I already know how to escape from it."
The old man nodded. And as he did so, Treguard gazed at him and found that he could suddenly see the face clearly. It was like looking through a telescope at the hazy blurred image of a distant object, which was only now being brought into glorious focus. For the first time ever he could not just look at the face but actually see it as well, the details suddenly all in sharp clarity. The beard now looked much shorter and seemed to have a few streaks of dark colour in it, the eyes seemed wider and darker, the head of hair much fuller but also more closely cropped. The bearing was fierce, the expression saturnine but not unfriendly. The odd-shaped staff had now resolved itself into the shape of a magnificent longsword, gleaming like liquid-fire even in the bleak light. He realised, now that he was able to see it, that the face he was looking at was not Merlin's, it never had been. It was his own.
"Now that you finally understand the nature of your own dreams," said the old man, "you can see me for what I really am. Merlin is merely a spark of hope in men's hearts and minds. He exists in everyone. I am more you than I am Merlin. The answer to your question by the way..."
"...is YES!" Treguard finished for him, triumphantly. "I know exactly what to do!"
The old man smiled broadly, a smile that said "I told you so," and for once in his life, Treguard didn't mind one bit.

Still hanging painfully by her arms from the ceiling of the cavern, Dervlinne looked over her shoulder at Lissard impatiently, expecting some further explanation. After all, the only thing she'd been told so far - "it's twenty years before you set off from the forest" - did seem open to a little more detail.
Instead Lissard simply remained where he was and stared back silently. It was Dervlinne who blinked first.
"You have nothing to add then?" she inquired. "You just tell me that I have not set off on my journey yet and..."
"That issss not what I ssssaid," interjected Lissard. He explained to her in his hissing tones about the Chronosphere.
"I do not understand," answered the elf when he finished. "Why has Lord Fear sent me to a chamber in the Past? And why this chamber?"
"Thissss Chamber-nessss," explained Lissard, "issss the Cavern of Dessscendantsss. It issss the creation of the Gruagach itsssself. The era of the Dungeon-nessss that it wasss taken from wasss the era of the Gruagach'sss own rule-nesss."
Dervlinne swallowed. She suddenly knew exactly what Lord Fear was planning to do, and she didn't need Lissard to finish his explanation. He was clearly aware of this, but with some relish he finished it anyway.
"When I return-nesss to Marblehead, Hisss Lord-nesss Fear isss going to sssend thisss chamber back to the Passst with you ssstill inssside it. We're going to let the Gruagach deal-nesss with you." The only exit was behind him, a low rent in the face of the cavern wall just above the ledge he stood on. "That will be in jussst a few momentsss. And don't worry- nesss, she-sssprite!" he added as he turned to leave. "The Gruagach wasss alwaysss a marvellousss hossst-nessss. He never resss-ceived a sssingle complaint about the accomodation from the guessstsss he hurled into the Dungeon."
"Oh... good," answered Dervlinne flatly as Lissard climbed through the exit.

Treguard looked into the catacombite's empty eyes, as it continued to take ineffectual chomps at him through the doorway. Upon waking from his trance, Treguard discovered that the catacombite had managed to get a slight nip to his right hand, drawing a little blood, but the pain was so minor it hadn't been nearly enough to wake him.
The catacombite was mindless, had no concept of impatience only an instinct to feed, so it just remained where it was and continued to snap at Treguard. But it still couldn't reach him inside the door. The upshot of all this was that they were both stuck where they were.
"Fear!" shouted Treguard. "Lord Fear, answer me!"

Lord Fear resumed his seat after checking the disturbance at the Castle entrance. On the screen he saw that, as he had suspected, there had been no developments in the Chronosphere. Treguard was still stuck in the doorway, and the catacombite was still unable to get at him.
Fear found that his amusement at Treguard's dilemma had waned with the ongoing deadlock.
"Fear!" he heard Treguard calling out, "Lord Fear, answer me!"
"What is it, Dungeon Master? Had enough already? Too exciting for you? Well at your age I s'pose it's bad for your heart..."
"Actually," came the response, "I'm bored. This is stalemate, Fear. It's getting us nowhere. I can't leave this alcove, the catacombite can't get to me."
Fear rubbed his jaw. "I agree, Treguard, this is very dull. It was an interesting spectacle at first, but..." His voice tailed off, and he narrowed his eyes. "Yes, let's turn up the heat shall we? For both our sakes." He raised his hand and performed an elaborate gesture with his fingers.
On the screen he could see the catacombite fade away and the walls and ceiling of the room dissolve. Treguard sank to his knees and held his head again as everything around him shuddered, warped and groaned as it started to reform itself.
"There, much more exciting for you, Treguard," cackled Lord Fear. "In fact, I'd call it 'Bringing the house down!' Enjoy your headache, by the way. It'll be the most fun thing you experience today."

Majida's plan had worked after all, just not in exactly the way she'd expected. In fact it had only worked at all because of something going wrong. No sooner had Rod carried her to the foot of the hill than he'd suddenly bolted away from their pursuers as fast as his legs could carry him across the marshes. Majida couldn't cope with the speed of his full gallop and she fell off before they'd gone twenty feet.
As luck would have it, it was so dark that Skarkill, Raptor and Hands couldn't see her lying face down and bruised in the mud and just hurtled past her in the wake of the horse, who was on his way to goodness knows where. Once she was sure that they were gone, she slowly hauled herself, aches, pains and all, back to her feet. She brushed herself down, an exercise in futility if ever there was one; her fatigues were more mud than cloth.
Honestly, she didn't even know what she was still doing here! If Treguard wanted to go and get captured by Lord Fear, well that was his business. As far as Majida saw it there was no reason for her to come running. If the bearded old grouch couldn't do something perfectly simple like crawl through a tunnel without it collapsing behind him, well, why should Majida be the one who had to get him out of it? Why? Why should she? Why?
She was so busy ranting to herself in her head like this that she quite failed to notice that she'd started climbing back up the hill to the Castle. She only realised what she was doing when, having reached the crest of the hill, she gazed in the pre-dawn darkness upon the dim outline of Marblehead fortress, and noticed that the portcullis guarding the entrance appeared to still be raised.
Her first instinct was alarm. What if something was about to come running out of the Castle straight at her? Her second instinct was paranoia. What if something was just inside the entrance, waiting to leap upon her as she entered?
Her third instinct, and she knew immediately that it was the right one, was contempt. "Stoopid Fear-lord thing! He forget to close door." So, insofar as the door was open her battering ram had had the effect she'd hoped for, just not in quite the way she'd imagined.
Keeping her head down, she quietly scampered across the grasses of the hilltop until she reached the outer wall of the Castle, and then slowly edged along it, past the scrappy debris of the wrecked wagon, toward the entrance. She edged right up to the prow of the door, crouched low, and furtively peered inside. She could see the doorway opened onto a narrow corridor leading into the well-lit main hall of the Castle. There were no guards, at least not here. Fear probably didn't have enough personnel for it.
"Price of being bad guy," mused Majida, "No-one like you, no-one wanna work for you."
Keeping low, she edged through the door and started along the corridor.

Far behind where Majida was infiltrating the fortress of Marblehead, Skarkill, Raptor and Sylvester Hands had finally caught up with the horse, which had finally stopped running and was standing on the edge of a marsh- field, panting unhappily, chewing on the leaves of a broad thicket of brambles, and visibly sulking.
Hands, in a typical display of shrewdness and deduction, was the first to say, "'Ere! Sh-sh-she... the genie-thingy. She ain't 'ere!"
"Brilliant observation, Sly," grunted Raptor. "The horse must've been a decoy." This was an overestimation of Majida's tactical aptitude of course, but in effect it was so.
"Decoy?" asked Sly, publicly reaching through his cloaks to adjust his underwear, without the slightest trace of embarrassment. "Wassat then?"
"Something that smells nicer than your hands when you do that!" snapped Skarkill.
"We better be goin' back!" said Raptor, hurriedly. "The genie might get into the Castle." He and Skarkill turned to head back to Marblehead.
"Nah," Sly Hands smiled his ghastly black-toothed smile, "You should relax, like."
Skarkill looked at him. "Why?"
"She'd only get in if the door was open, righ'?" Sly nodded to himself confidently. "Lord whassisname wouldn' leave the door open, like."
"That's your expert assessment of the situation, is it?" sighed Skarkill.
"Yeah."
Skarkill looked at Raptor, his face split by even more concern. "We'd better hurry." They both ran for the fortress as fast as they could, leaving Hands alone with the horse.
Hands stood there, staring blankly at the retreating backs of his companions. He idly stroked the horse's nose.
"Bit rude, them runnin' orf like tha'," Hands grumbled. He looked at the horse, who looked back at him. They stared at each other for a long moment, as though they sensed a certain kinship, that unique moment which happens in everyone's life when they encounter a soul-mate of similar intellectual quality. Hands adjusted his underwear once more, tugged a large tuft of grass from the ground, and kindly fed it to the horse. "I likes you," he added while the horse blissfully munched on the grass. "Whass ya name then?"
"NEIGH," answered Rod brightly.
"Oh go on, tell me," Hands cajoled him.
"NEIGH," Rod repeated, a little testily this time. He didn't like having to answer a question twice.
"Oh, why not?" whined Hands, looking hurt.
The smelly human obviously didn't even understand fluent horse. Rod let out a whinnying sigh of disappointment. Perhaps he hadn't found his intellectual equal after all.

Majida found that the main hall was deserted. It was sparsely decorated or furnished in here, just a polygonal expanse of grey stone. Lord Fear had clearly regarded Marblehead as little more than a functional convenience when he'd stolen it from Queen Maldame, a means to an end. It looked like it might have been a splendid enough Castle under its previous ownership, but it now looked a bit desolate, all colourless and neglected. For one who prided himself on his sense of style and drama, Fear could be incredibly lacking when it came to artistic taste. But then what else was to be expected. Home after all, is where the heart is, so what possible glamour could there be in the home of a man who had a heart of pure stone?
There were several staircases at the far end of the room, two going up, one going down. She could hear the sound of activity, footsteps, the occasional raised voice, and the unmistakable hum of techno-sorcery, all from several levels above. She was disappointed that it was so obvious which way to go. She was feeling a bit nervous and would have appreciated the excuse to stall.
She was about to take her first, faltering step up the stairs, when caught sight of something hanging on one otherwise bare grey wall. A sheathed sword, glowing in the torchlight, spreading some much-needed colour into one tiny corner of the room, was chained there. A sword forged in the Holy Lands and plucked from a dream. Morpheus.
No doubt about it now, thought Majida. Treguard had been captured.

"Your Lorrrrd-nessss!"
Lord Fear was enjoying the agony Treguard was experiencing on the screen as the old chamber dissolved and the new one formed around him. Truly, such top quality entertainment as this was rare, even on shows like BeastEnders. He scowled in annoyance at the interruption as Lissard came scampering into the throne room from the Dungeon elevator.
"Oh what is it, Lisssard, you contemptible little fly-gobbler?"
"Your Lord-nessss," announced Lissard with a preposterously theatrical bow, "the elf-maiden isss now sssecure-nesss in the Cavern of Dessscendantsss. She isss ready for dessspatch-nesss to the Passst at your command, your Lord-nessss."
Fear looked uninterested. "Is that all? You could have finished that ages ago."
"I took the liberty," explained Lissard, "of gloating and taunting- nesss her for a little while, before returning."
Fear gave him a rare smile of admiration. "Oh you did, did you? Well that's a perfectly healthy impulse I suppose. Good man. We'll sort her out as soon as I'm finished with the Dungeon Master here." Lissard performed another protracted, absurdly low bow. Fear turned his attention back to the screen. "You can open your eyes now, Treguard."

As the warping effect passed, Treguard found he'd started sweating. He didn't want to go through this much longer, as the stress was proving too much.
He slowly looked up and found that he was kneeling in a less than tenable-position - he was by the edge of the drop in the old Fire Cave of Level 1. The drop was just inches behind him, and on the other side of it, in the cavern wall, was the monstrous head of a stone salamander, flames blasting intermittently from its nostrils. The flames ran up through cracks in the rocks that formed the cavern ledge.
When Lord Fear had said he was going to turn up the heat, Treguard hadn't realised that he'd meant it literally. Still, this was hardly the most dangerous place Fear could have sent him to.
Treguard carefully stepped away from the drop and looked up, assessing what he'd experienced during the chamber's metamorphosis. He had been correct, the process of sending a chamber back to the Past, or bringing a new one into the Present, required direct links to outside the Chronosphere - links to the World the Dungeon chambers were being syphoned from, and before that, through Fear's own operation of the device, to the Present. Now that the process was over, those links were gone, but Treguard now knew exactly how to escape. All he needed was for a repeat of the process. The best chance of that was of course through Lord Fear's own ego. Time for a little taunting.
"Is that it?" scoffed Treguard. "Is that the best you can throw at me?"
Fear's voice rumbled around the chamber. "Don't get cocky, Dungeon Master. Flames can spread almost anywhere."
It was then that another of those things Treguard should have expected, for the simple reason that it was so unexpected, but he didn't, happened. The ledge beneath his feet began to split. Tiny little cracks in the stone all along the ledge began to widen a little, and from them more bursts of flame burned their way into the open air.
Treguard was surprised, but betrayed no alarm. He merely kept calm, and took a small step to the side, standing on a solid space between two cracks, and just stayed still as the flames spouted around him.
"How very ordinary," he said, sounding as unimpressed as he possibly could. He could imagine the irritated look on Fear's face. "I was more wounded last time I trimmed my beard."
"That must've been so long ago I'm surprised you can remember," spat Fear gracelessly.
Treguard smiled. He knew he was already beginning to frustrate Fear. "You, the Lord Fear?" he taunted. "Who would have thought someone of that name could be so utterly incapable of scaring anyone? That must be embarrassing for you." He added a quiet smirk, knowing that Fear would see it. Knowing it would add to his frustration. "If you're trying to scare me into giving you what you want, you'll have to come up with a lot more than this. I was more scared when Motley threatened to cook me dinner."
Fear's voice snarled around the chamber. "Well then you'll get a lot more, Treguard! A lot more than you can live with!"
It began again, the tempestuous oppression as the chamber around Treguard began to dissolve and fade. The pain and stress were excruciating, so dizzying that he could scarcely think. He closed his eyes, covered his ears, and again retreated into himself. He had to concentrate, but he also had to hurry.
He reached, reached deep along the links into the Past, and found what he was looking for - the Dungeon. His Dungeon, the source of a Dungeon Master's power. Lord Fear's own infernal machine had given him access to it. The power of the Dungeon of Knightmare was now linked directly into the Chronosphere, and he had grasped that link. He then reached out the other way, felt the tangible grasp of the real world, the familiar shape and touch of the Present, all through the operation of the Chronosphere by Lord Fear.
He then opened his eyes. Everything around him was a blur of grey light and shapeless mass. It was disorienting and painful just to behold it, a formless light that could disfigure the face of purgatory. The dizziness increased, but Treguard ignored it - he suspected that after all the taunts, Fear would throw everything at him in the next chamber. That meant Treguard had only one shot at this, he had to get it right the first time. The pain was sharp, the noise deafening, but Treguard ignored it all. He knew what he had to do, and he would not let something as minor as sensory inconvenience stand in his way.
He concentrated, drew a breath and then, taking hold of his link to the Past, called upon his Dungeon's power.
"Spellcasting..." he chanted as loudly as he could above the din, "U-N- I-T-E."
He then grasped the link to the Present...

Dervlinne heard a sound, a terrible warping grinding noise, and assumed that her time was up. The chamber was about to return to the Past, to entomb her in an era long gone, at the mercy of a Necromancer whose powers were beyond limit, and whose evil was beyond legend. Even the powers and evil of her own Master and Dread Royal Sovereign Arawn, paled before the horrors she was about to face.
Instead she heard the echo of a familiar voice.
She looked up in surprise, struggling with the bonds that were chafing her wrists. "Honoured one?" she hissed, recognising the voice of Treguard.
And suddenly, her wrists were free, which was good.
Also she was falling through the empty air of the Cavern of Descendants, which was bad.
She saw images in the rockface of the shaft as she fell. Some of them were the shapes of faces, the faces of past Knights of England who had challenged the Gruagach's evil and fallen to the perils of Dunshelm. Others were the images of places, past chambers of the Dungeon that had ceased to be after the Gruagach had tired of them.
She made no sound as she fell.
She made no attempt to adjust her position as she fell.
She merely carried on observing the faces of the many many courageous Knights who had died by the terrors of Knightmare, and whose ranks she was about to join, as she fell past them.
Then she wasn't falling at all.

For Lord Fear it was a strange experience, one that he would never be able properly to describe. One moment he was sitting on his mecha-throne, watching the distortion of the chamber dissolving on the screen. He thought he heard Treguard shouting something, although he couldn't make out what it was against the noise. The next moment he felt as though a large hand had taken a firm grip of his wrist.
He turned and looked, and saw that a large hand had taken a firm grip of his wrist. It was Treguard's hand. And it was attached to Treguard, who was most definitely not visible on the screen anymore.
"Hello Fear," said Treguard, "Have you met my hand?" He released Fear's arm, and clenched his hand into a fist. "Now my fist is going to meet your head."
The punch that connected with Fear's jaw made a sound loud enough to be heard outside the Castle. Lissard, who was only standing a few yards away, flinched at the noise, but he was quickly running to his Master's aid. Treguard spun and swung a forearm at the Atlantean's face. Lissard backed away. Happily, he evaded Treguard's swing with some impressive agility. Unhappily, he backed straight into an elf-maiden who was standing right behind him and looking at him with contempt.
"Hello again, little lizard," she cooed, dangerously, as the Atlantean turned to face her in alarm. She aimed her fist, drew it back...
The sound of Lissard crashing into the opposite wall was almost as loud as the sound of the punch Fear had taken in the mouth. Together, Treguard and Dervlinne closed in on Fear, who was backing away from them in... well fear.
He backed straight into Majida and the real Bumptious, who had both stepped into the chamber from the prison cells right behind him. Together they shoved him to the floor. Fear landed with a grunt of pain, not to mention embarrassment.
"Let's go kick some bottom!" cried Majida triumphantly, drawing one or two momentary looks of perplexity. She then whistled to Treguard. "Catch!" she called, and hurled Morpheus to him. Treguard caught it easily, fastened the scabbard to the belt at his waist, and drew the sword.
Fear and Lissard both hauled themselves to their feet. They fell back to the floor attempting to evade Treguard's attack - he swung the sword at them with all the ferocity of his Anglo-Saxon blood, forcing them to duck underneath its path. Lord Fear responded by raising his palm and launching a pair of white-hot fireballs in Treguard's direction. Treguard swung the sword again, this time in a neat sweeping arc around the face of his body. The fireballs both hissed against the metal skin of Morpheus, and dissipated harmlessly.
Not wanting to face Treguard when he was in this mood, Fear and Lissard then turned and ran for the elevator at the centre of the chamber, barging their way past Majida and Bumptious through the sheer force of their own panic.
Bumptious turned and dived after them, grabbing Lissard by the ankle and hauling him to the floor. "That," announced the dwarf with harsh righteousness, "is for feloniously-impersonating a legally-designated ore- gatherer of the All-Dwarvish Miners' Guild without firstly obtaining a permit to use statutorily-allotted mining equipment under the authority of said-Guild." He realised about halfway through saying it that as quips go this wasn't the punchiest of all time, but he decided not to worry about that.
Fear had by now arrived on the lift platform and, at the snap of his fingers, it started carrying him down to the floor below.
Lissard looked alarmed as he realised that Fear was leaving without him. "Lorrrrd-nesss," he cried from the edge of the floor where Bumptious pinned him down, "Your Lorrrd-nesss, don't leave me..." Bumptious clipped Lissard's ear (or whatever that thing on the side of his head that passed for an ear was) just to make him be quiet. "OoouuuuccCCCCHHHH-nessss!!" whined Lissard.
Majida and Dervlinne were about to leap after Lord Fear, when Treguard called them back. "Let him go," he sighed heavily, leaning on his sword.
"But, honoured one," protested Dervlinne, "He is esc-..."
"He is escaping," Treguard interrupted sharply, "from his own Castle. It appears that his own plan to make it look like he has been driven out of Marblehead has led to him being driven out of Marblehead. What a pity." He grinned slightly. "Never mind." He put Morpheus back in its sheath, and then stretched his arms. His muscles felt painfully cramped after being sealed in the Chronosphere. ""I'll send some dungeoneers to keep track of where they go after we've returned home."
"Dungeoneers?" said Majida, confused. "But they can't..."
Treguard raised a hand. "I know what you're going to say, Majida. I believe a new door has opened to us. As for him," he added, giving Lissard a painful nudge with his boot, "we'll keep him captive. I'm sure he can provide some valuable information about any other hideouts that Fear might retreat to."
Eyes brimming with defiance, Lissard looked up at Treguard from under the foot of Bumptious that was keeping him held down. "You'll never make me talk-nesss, Dungeon Massster. No. I'll never sssay a word. Not a word. I'll never talk-nesss. Never. Neveerrr...!"
Bumptious rolled up a sleeve. "Want me to hit you?"
Lissard gulped. "Um, well maybe I can tell you one or two thingsss."

Fear had still not stopped running even by the time he'd left the main hall. He was powering through the entrance so quickly he collided with Raptor and Skarkill as they were heading the other way, knocking both of them to the floor. Even then, Fear hardly slowed down, he just stumbled over them and carried on running. He didn't even notice as he got outside that dawn was breaking, wouldn't have cared if he had.
Raptor knocked his head against the wall as he was knocked over. He sat up rubbing his bruised crown, almost tearful at the prospect of a huge headache by mid-morning. "What's up with him?" he asked weakly.
Skarkill watched his Lord and Master disappearing down the hillside like the world and its dog were after him, and shrugged. "We lost," he sighed with an upward frown. He hauled himself to his feet sadly and slowly traipsed after his battered leader.
Raptor watched Skarkill go, felt the headache setting in already, collapsed back onto the floor, and fell fast asleep. It seemed easiest.

It took little time, with Bumptious' willing help, and Lissard's not- so-willing help, to establish the full facts. Bumptious had been excavating the ground of Glastonbury Tor for the paloranite the Mozcaro had genuinely hired him to find - that much of the story they'd heard at Krochester Market had been true. While Bumptious had in fact known a good deal better than to search through Marblehead, for the plan to capture Treguard to work, Lord Fear required a living captive, and Bumptious and his paloranite- hunt had seemed the ideal cover. So, Skarkill's goblins abducted him while he was digging. Then, using a little magic, Lissard had been disguised as Bumptious to direct Treguard right into Fear's grasp. The nonsensical no- front-teeth gibberish which he'd been spouting all the time was just an attempt to hide the fact that he couldn't do even a half-decent impression of the dwarf's voice.
Treguard looked at Dervlinne. "I sensed that I was being betrayed by someone, she-sprite," he explained, "and I assumed it was you. I apologise."
"It is unimportant, honoured Dungeon Master," answered Dervlinne, although once again she didn't sound much like she meant it.
"So what we do now, uh?" asked Majida.
"We destroy the Chronosphere, surely," suggested Dervlinne.
Lissard, after a certain amount of coaxing (or more accurately, blood- loss), had revealed that the Chronospere was in fact just a fairly large blue disc-shaped object on the ceiling above their heads. It looked so nondescript that they'd all assumed it was just part of the ceiling itself.
Treguard looked up at it now pensively. "No," he stated finally. "No we won't destroy it."
Majida looked at him in amazement. "Oh I knew dees would happen soon or late!" she grumbled. "He gettin' so old he don't even see trouble when it blow up in his face."
"It's not that, Majida," Treguard answered, "It's just I realised something while I was trapped in that thing. Something that Fear told me."
"Oh, Fearlord tell you, uh?" sneered Majida. "Must be true den, whatever eet ees."
"As it happens," Treguard continued, "I realised that on this occasion what he told me was very much the truth." The others, even Lissard, all looked at the Dungeon Master in surprise. "He pointed out to me the very self-evident fact that I am responsible for the Dungeon and its well-being. And that, far from upholding that responsibility, I have harmed it."
"Harmed it?" said Bumptious.
"Yes, harmed it," answered Treguard. "The Dungeon is not pure Chivalry, but it is pure magic. And that purity I have compromised with my foolish dabbling with techno-sorcery some years ago. I have to find a way to atone for that and restore the Dungeon. He also claimed that technology was the only way to do that. Again I suspect he was telling the truth." He looked up at the Chronosphere. "And I think we may have exactly what we need right here. We'll return the chamber Dervlinne was imprisoned in to its own era - best not to risk causing damage to causality."
"Cos-whattie?" asked Majida.
"And then," finished Treguard, ignoring her, "I have a new purpose for this little contraption."

Hordriss the Confuser was, by nature, a sceptic. When Treguard had asked for help with a particularly crucial and powerful magic project, Hordriss had agreed, cautiously, to help out. When he'd heard what the project was, he'd almost flatly refused to help. It was anathema to any Pagan Wizard to endorse the foulness of Technosorcery, let alone to dabble in it. Nevertheless, Treguard and Majida had eventually persuaded him to give them the assistance they needed to transport the Chronosphere North to Knightmare Castle, and then to find a way to install it. It was Majida, interestingly, who had managed to point out the crucial fact that if he didn't help them install it, the Dungeon would never exist again.
"Techie-magic is only thing that work in Dungeon now," she explained. "And Dungeon need more power to come back."
"But..." Hordriss tried weakly to argue.
"Look!" snapped Majida, losing her temper. "You got better suggestion, you tell us! You got no suggestion, you help us! You get?!"
In the face of such furious authority, Hordriss would hardly have dared not to help. Sheepish and pale-faced, he agreed.
According to Hordriss, by installing the Chrono into the Dungeon Antechamber, and by interfacing it directly with the Pool of Veracity's multi-Level visual-integration units, and by charging its accelerators through the ionic-displacement fields of the Dungeon's self-restructural equilibrium motors (Treguard didn't quite get that bit - to be fair, he was still dumbstruck with amazement at how much Hordriss seemed to understand about Technomancy for such a passionate devotee of pure magic), he had given the Dungeon, as it were, a heart transplant. The Dungeon now finally had the power to complete the process of reforming itself, a process that would be complete within minutes. He warned both Treguard and Majida that as the power that sustained the Dungeon would now be Technology, and not the elements of Nature, the form that it would take in the New Age of Adventure would be very, very different from any form it had taken before. Exactly what that would be, even Merlin himself could probably never anticipate.
Treguard just stared at him blankly. Majida nodded wisely to herself.
"Uh?" she said a moment later.
"I think," explained Treguard, "that he means my plan has succeeded. The Dungeon needs to draw power from time and space to shape itself. This ability is what I inadvertently destroyed. The Chronosphere functions by a similar principle, so we just supplanted the old with the new."
"Uh?"
"It worked," sighed Treguard, hoping that the discomfiting feeling around his temples wasn't the onset of another migraine.
Hordriss bristled as the Chronosphere above their heads pulsed with ever-growing power. "The indignity!" he fumed. "An endorsement of loathsome technology, and patience with ill-educated servants. You should be ashamed, Dungeon Master."
Having said all that, Hordriss stormed out in a passable imitation of disgust. It was only once he was out of the Castle and heading for home that he allowed himself to look terribly pleased with his own genius.
There was a moment of silence in the antechamber after Hordriss had left. Of course it was Majida who finally broke it, just as Treguard looked up and realised that things were reaching a nexus on the other side of the Dungeon door.
"He cute when he angry," said Majida.
Treguard smiled weakly at her, suddenly feeling too elated to be bothered by her wittering for a change. He was in his element now. He felt the cool tingle of anticipation in his heart, as he realised that the tasks he had been born to do were about to begin again. He felt alive again. He felt young again. Why spoil it by losing his temper with a genie whose intellect was clearly no greater in size than Sylvester Hands' singing ability? He merely gestured to the door. "If you would be so kind, Majida...?"
"Ha?"
"Time turns once more," snapped Treguard intensely, the fierce authority of old now back in his voice in a way that it hadn't been since before Majida had known him. She was quite startled. "The fire burns as before. Time out is gone; the Quest Season is on. At last."
With a start, Majida suddenly realised what he was on about. "Oh of course," she said, quickly retrieving the Staff of Light from behind Treguard's seat, then stepped up to the entrance of the antechamber. "Enter stranger!" she commanded magnificently and struck the Staff against the ground next to the door. There was a burst of light and a crackle of power. The door swung open.
And in stepped the first Dungeoneer of the new era.