A vertigo spell, I thought. A spell cast by the mummy, which it learned from Tris.
Knowing that much, however, did not help. The dizziness kept me flat on the floor as if I’d ridden a hideously fast device at an amusement park.
I had not encountered a situation like this in many years. Recently, especially in the last century or so, I’d reasoned my way through any problems that came my way. These days, physical confrontations had grown rare for me. Not only fights, but even simple muscle-powered labor had receded into the misty past of legend. When, I wondered, had I last gotten my hands dirty?
Sometimes we all need to cast aside artifice and fall back on our true natures.
I let my anger at my helplessness grow until I nearly boiled over with rage. Then I used the heat of that ire as a center to pinpoint myself. There, no magical spinning or disorientation could reach me, and the vertigo disappeared.
In reverting to the simple fire of my nature, I had constructed the ultimate protective device. I had shielded myself against magic aimed at my mind.
I grabbed the flashlight I had dropped when the spell knocked me down. Then, with ease, I planted one foot under me and sprang upright. The mummy kept one hand on Tris and continued to point at me with the other. Something about its hesitation suggested fear to me, and I needed no further encouragement. Voicing a low, feral growl, I strode forward.
No sooner had I gone two paces than a shrill scream rent the air, and I froze in my tracks. An additional cry sounded, then yet more, until half a dozen shrieks surrounded me. The mummy cast another spell, I quickly realized, this time to distract me. Not likely!
I took one more step toward the mummy and blazing white light filled my entire field of vision. As recently before, I could not see at all.
No matter—I knew exactly where to find my target. It stood right in front of me, closer than ever. I dashed forward, reached out with my single free hand—and found myself gripping a linen-wrapped arm. The blinding light ceased, and the mummy wrestled frantically against my grasp.
Heedless of sight for the moment, I let the flashlight in my hand drop and brought that hand to the fight. Finally, I held the creature’s neck in both hands. I squeezed mightily and twisted, bones crunching beneath my fingers. The mummy ceased its struggle and sagged loosely in my grasp, and I let it drop limply to the floor. As I caught my breath, I grew aware of a faint light gradually piercing the darkness that surrounded me. Fortunately, the discarded flashlight had not broken when it hit the floor.
I bent down to retrieve the flashlight, and a familiar voice called weakly, “Thank you.”
“Tris?” I straightened up, and now I could see him. Unsteadily, he tried to rise from the table where the mummy had left him. “Should you be moving yet?”
“I’ll manage.” Sure enough, he did succeed in sitting up. Like myself, he had good recuperative powers. “Now that the danger is past, I suggest we find out where and how they sabotaged this captive lightning of yours. I haven’t lived in this time for long enough yet to get over the novelty of electric light.”
* * *
Thirty minutes later, every electrical system in my headquarters operated perfectly or stood ready to do so. Tris had followed along idly while I sought the point where the mummies had damaged the system. They had inflicted a brilliant surgical strike, one that no one could have repaired while the mummies themselves posed a threat. They had even taken out the emergency lightning from that one location, deep in the bowels of the electrical system. I would have to work on correcting the design flaw that had made it possible, but honestly, the weakness had never occurred to me.
While few people had remained in the office building into the evening, I wanted to be thorough. I informed everyone at once, through the PA system accessible at the front desk, that all was well. Tris and I could have ridden an elevator up the three stories to the ground floor, but I wanted time for words with him. Rather than inform him that such elevators existed, I began to climb the stairs, and he accompanied me.
“I’m very sorry about your apprentices,” I began.
Tris grew pensive. “I try not to get too close to them in the early stages of their training. So many of them either quit or die before finishing, and I take great pains to tell them that. Still, they all showed great promise, of course. So far, I don’t know of anything they might have done wrong to bring this on themselves. I assure you, I’ll keep looking until I find the answer to that.”
I nodded, and we continued to ascend.
When we reached the topmost basement level, I stopped and turned to Tris. “You know, I still don’t know why the mummies came here in the first place.”
“I don’t know,” the sorcerer replied, “but perhaps you could think of a reason. Demons such as these go to great lengths for the sake of knowledge, but not for mere academic purposes. They seek learning that serves their purposes. Which, on a large scale, consists solely of the domination of others. These creatures believed that something here, in your place of power, would help them to conquer and rule other beings. What do you keep here that would enable someone to conquer and rule over the people of this time and place?”
I had no answer to that, but silently vowed to find one.
* * *
By midnight, as much normality had returned to Transpheri Technologies as ever existed here. Tris disappeared—literally—before anyone returned to the ground floor, to avoid difficult explanations. Naturally, this left me the responsibility of telling my people anything that they would learn of what had happened that evening. Fortunately, years of working for me had taught them all that some events existed very much on a need-to-know basis. They had all emerged without serious harm, and this gratified me more than they would ever know. Mortals under my protection, whether or not they realize who walks with them, never face danger alone.