Chapter 25
Throwing the Hounds Off the Trail

Vigau, Arielle, Bonaventure

It was about an hour to sunset and Yugo had spent the entire time running through town trying to find the Grimalkin while avoiding the Witch-hunters and their deputies. Giger had given Ramstein a collar that masked his power, but he broke it when he transformed. He had to stay up in the air out of the range of the detectors. Once Yugo hid the amplifier rod back in the knapsack, he stopped setting off the detectors as well, but too many people had seen him.
Tempting as it was to get back to his carriage and take refuge at home, he did not want to get his family caught up in this mess. If he was going to be caught, he ought to be the only one to down for it. Also, so long as there was still a possibility that the Grimalkin was still out there, he had to do whatever he could to stop it.
He heard the detectors going off a few blocks away. Was this it?
He hurried to the site to find a lone man surrounded by half a dozen deputies, a Witch-hunter with his pistol drawn and a wizard in a gaudy orange and yellow cloak. The wizard in orange and yellow was standing alongside the Witch-hunter, which likely meant that he was the master mage from ARCANUM Giger warned him about, Altai Turco. The Witch-hunter with him was probably the new Chief Witch-hunter in town, another person Giger warned him about. Yugo may very well have been better off stumbling upon the Grimalkin again.
They were too busy menacing the man they had cornered to notice Yugo. If the young apprentice had any sense, he would have taken the opportunity to leave before any of them did happen to take notice of him. However, for reasons Giger would only dismiss as stupidity, he felt compelled come to the cornered man's aid.
"Leave him alone!" he shouted.
All eyes were now on him. If he was going to have second thoughts, it was too late now.
"What's this?" the Witch-hunter asked. Looking at Yugo, he came up with an answer himself, saying, "Ah, you must be the young gentleman from the lycée. We've been looking for you."
The Witch-hunter kept his pistol trained on the man he had cornered, but his arm subtly shifted, as if he were deciding whether or not he wanted to change targets.
"You should've been looking for that creature," Yugo said.
"It was with you, was it not?"
Were they trying to blame him for the Grimalkin? If the stories he had heard about the Witch-hunters were true, it would not be all that unlikely.
"I went to the lycée to stop it," Yugo said for whatever good it would do him.
"Three people are dead and two more severely injured," the Witch-hunter replied, "not to mention the lycée's auditorium burning down. Someone will have to answer for it."
Yugo certainly had no intention of being that someone, but maybe he could appeal to the Witch-hunter's concern for the safety of the public. He was supposed to be a policeman, after all.
"You're the one wasting time rounding up innocent mages when that thing is on the loose."
The Witch-hunter turned his pistol on Yugo and said, "My dear boy, no mage is innocent."
Even though it would take very little for the Witch-hunter to shoot him dead before he could try anything, Yugo's hand nevertheless began to creep toward the knapsack.
"Just walk away," he warned the Witch-hunter, though it carried little weight.
"Oh, I can't do that," the Witch-hunter replied. He nodded to the wizard next to him and asked, "Have you met Master Turco here? Perhaps you know of him, or are you not kept well-informed on such matters? He is one of the great master mages. Assuming I did not simply shoot you where you stand, I doubt you can stand up to him. What do you think, Master Turco? Are we looking at Belmond Weiss reincarnated here?"
The wizard turned with little bells tinkling along as he moved. After a brief once-over, he looked at Yugo with disdain and said, "Hardly. He barely has a child's skill."
Even with the amplifier rod, Yugo stood no chance against a master mage. He had definitely bitten off more than he could chew, but then a child's voice spoke up.
"Then perhaps the reincarnation of one of Master Belmond's successors will suffice."
Yugo turned to see a boy about eleven or twelve step forward. He seemed like an ordinary schoolboy, perhaps a little small for his age, but he carried himself with an unnatural confidence, as if he were a hundred feet tall and made of solid iron.
The wizard recoiled at the sight of the boy.
"No... It can't be..."
"It shouldn't be, Turco," the boy replied, "but it is."
"Mordekai Grummond... How?"
"Mordekai Grummond?" the Witch-hunter asked.
"My brother apprentice under Master Mardi," the wizard said. "That is how he looked when Master Mardi took him as an apprentice... sixty years ago."
"Fifty-four years ago, Turco," the boy corrected. "Don't make me out to be older than I am."
"Was he always like this?" the Witch-hunter asked.
"No. He was a man when I last saw him."
"When you challenged me to a Wizard's Duel," the boy said, "and I bested you."
The boy grinned, which succeeded to kindle the wizard's anger.
"It was luck!" he fumed. "A fluke! Challenge me again and you will not be so lucky!"
"Perhaps," the boy replied. "In this body, I'm at a disadvantage, which is why I don't plan on fighting fair."
"What!?"
The boy started rubbing his hands together, saying, "First we need to take the mundanes out of the equation."
He then stretched out his arms, making a wide circle, then shooting his hands straight up into the air. Before the Witch-hunter or his deputies could do anything, previously invisible magic circles glowed to life. The Witch-hunters and his deputies threw their heads back like they had been punched in the face and just stood there drunkenly.
The wizard looked around at the stunned men in shock. However skilled he was, he never saw it coming.
"And now for you, old friend," the boy said. He stepped forward and extended his hand in Yugo's general direction. "Young man, Mistress More's amplifying rod, if you will."
Yugo pulled the rod out of the knapsack and handed it to the boy. Why he handed it over so readily, he was not sure, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
With the rod in hand, the boy pointed to the wizard. The wizard in turn threw back his cloak and thrust his arms forward to cast a spell, but when he opened his mouth, no sound came out.
"I see you still rely on speaking the words to cast," the boy said. "I'm glad to see you never moved past that and now you have a Seventh Circle seal on your voice. By the time you assemble enough of ARCANUM's hired dogs to break the seal, I will be well on my way to greener pastures in Aquila. Jangsu is threatening war on them again and they'll have need of every mage they can find. You might want to be going now before I change my mind about sparing you."
The wizard tried in vain to cast several spells and when it was all too clear that his powers were useless to him, he turned and fled without a thought for the Witch-hunter or his deputies. All those bells made quite a racket jingling as he ran.
With him gone, the boy approached the Witch-hunter and told him, "You're going to recall your men and go home. You will forget about any of us here. There is certainly no Mordekai Grummond. He's been dead for years, after all."
"I will recall my men and go home," the Witch-hunter said in a daze. "Mordekai Grummond has been dead for years."
"There's a good fellow," the boy said. "Now run along."
The Witch-hunter clumsily swung his arm to beckon to his men.
"Come on, men," he said. "Let's go."
The Witch-hunter and his deputies then left. The boy took a moment to appreciate his handiwork, then handed the rod back to Yugo.
"Thank you, young man. It was fortunate Mistress More kept that bag tucked away in a dimensional pocket for a day like this."
"Mistress... More?" Yugo asked.
"Yes, yes, Fallania More, master of my master. Didn't my fool of an apprentice teach you anything about history?"
Although it could have been a trap and he was never supposed to talk about Giger to anyone else, Yugo found himself blurting out, "You know Master Taus?"
"Since he was younger than I am now," the boy replied. "Well before he started calling himself Giger Taus."
How could this boy be the master who trained Giger?
"I, I don't understand."
"Perhaps it'll be explained to you someday," the boy said, "but not today. You need to be running on home yourself. You shouldn't have to worry too much about being identified, but lay low for the next few weeks just to be safe."
"But, but the creature..."
"The Abomination left. I traced it streaking its way out of town. After your encounter with it, I take it. Impressive for the half-trained apprentice of a half-trained apprentice."
Assuming the boy was telling the truth and not just trying to get rid of him, there was some relief that the Grimalkin was gone, even if it hadn't been stopped for good. Still, Yugo was left wondering how this boy knew about all of this and how he managed to be a just the right place at just the right time.
"How did you--?"
The boy answered before Yugo could even finish the question.
"A certain slithering mutual associate paid me a visit under orders from your master," the boy explained. "Whether by design or coincidence, that Abomination was unleashed on the same day the Witch-hunters were out in force throughout town. The Chief Witch-hunter has proved to be a bit of a problem, so I set up this little trap in the hopes of catching him and Turco. I was told that you would likely be running around with Mistress More's bag, so I hoped to draw you in as well and you didn't disappoint."
He nodded to the man Yugo had tried to save, now looking less like an animal in a snare and more like a smug co-conspirator with the boy, whose plan was executed so flawlessly.
"Using Reinbach here as bait, I was able to lure everyone I was after into this trap I had prepared and thanks to you, it all went off without a hitch."
It seemed impossible. How could Giger make arrangements like this and where did he find the people who could actually make it happen?
"I don't believe it," he said, amazed. "How could you get all this to work?"
The boy grinned and said, "Magic, my boy. How else?"