Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Chapter Seven - The Gift

Chapter Seven of a gift for a twelve year old. 

By mid-morning Scott was missing the turning of the sun, the way that shadows moved as the sun moved through the sky. Constant noon was more than a little monotonous. At least there was still 'day' and 'night' and there was a gradual progression between the two. The 'sun' must turn because over the course of twenty-eight days the moon went from black, which left odd reflections in the sky above. Scott figured that the sun dimmed itself during night and spun on its axis slowly. He had to remember that the far side of the inner-verse as he thought of the new universe was almost two hundred million miles away. Anything that reflected visible light from that distance had to be large and very reflective, water, ice, snow. Scott missed the stars at night.
Shandra rode next to Scott and asked him, “What are you thinking about?”
“The sun,” Scott replied, “I don't understand how it works or why it dims at night or brightens at dawn. Then it looks like the moon at night time complete with cycles. I think this universe is kept in shape more by 'magic' than any laws of physics that we understood at home.”
Shandra reined her horse around a rocky looking patch with unconscious ease, “I don't know. Dad did say the laws here were different. I know he tried cooking up gun powder and got nothing not even a sneeze out of the mixture. It burned like charcoal but nothing better.”
“Maybe your dad doesn't really know how to make gun powder?”
Shandra smiled, “Maybe not but if he said he can get close he can and close is enough to make it go 'fizz' even if it doesn't blow up.”
“I'll admit I was surprised to find cockatrices in the dung piles your father searched for saltpeter. I never expected to see magical creatures so quickly or that your father, and me for that matter, knew what to do as soon as we saw the nasty little beggars,” Scott shook his head at the memory. Don had carefully turned over the dung piles collected from where the stallions had piled up their waste and during their work collecting crystals, tiny crystals, in two of the piles small serpent-tailed chicks were growing hiding in the warm dung pile. The turning fork stabbed down quickly on the first and Scott had reflexively stamped on the exposed head. The second time Don had drawn and thrown his big fighting knife before it even registered to Scott on a consciousness level. The squirming creature had been beheaded before Scott even noticed it.
“Maybe the magical creatures are interfering with science and technology?” Scott suggested.
“Probably not,” Shandra replied, “A wheel still turns. Fire still burns, you can ferment alcohol and distill it. It's just some things that don't work. Like the gunpowder or the internal combustion engine.”
“How did you find that out?” Scott asked.
“Branwen did before we met,” Shandra replied, “She met some old men who claimed to be US Naval Airmen. They said that they were flying somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle in nineteen forty-five and wound up flying here. I guess that's a weak point between the worlds there. Anyway their planes just quit, everything electric, everything that wasn't mechanical. They managed to glide into a landing on an old Imperial highway. They set up a mechanics’ shop and have a small town there now. I stopped in because they flew an interesting flag. I didn't know at the time it was an old forty-eight-star American flag.”
“Maybe we could get some help from them? I imagine any community built by US servicemen would hate the Grossdeutschland like poison,” Scott mused.
“It never came up in conversation that I remembered,” Shandra replied, “They never expanded like the Germans did. It was just a small area with one or two cities. Miami and Fort Lauderdale.”
“Well that would be a dead giveaway if the Nazis ever do find out about the group,” Scott replied. “I am sure the Nazis have spies everywhere and that would be a natural place to plant them. And even if they did not have actual spies they have agents everywhere or so Malmir believes.”
They rode on as the sun dimmed above them, it was two more days of long riding before the made it to the Chapterhouse so they continued into the short dimming of the sun into a pseudo moon. It was "full" that night so travel wasn't too difficult and all of them were experienced riders.
About an hour after the sun was completely transformed into the moon they set up camp. Thalia noticed figures far off in the distance in the bright moon light, “Somebody following us I think.” She said quietly. The group was far too experienced to all turn at once to get a look however Scott and Katie turned as if answering her, “Saw some quick movement out there but my ability to see in the dark is short ranged for the most part. What about you Katie, did you see anything.”
“Just for a second and then it was gone. Looked like more than one but fewer than five. Too far to tell and whoever it is, is sticking to the shadows,” Katie was normally a quiet girl but Minda by nature had to be outgoing and demonstrative bards were natural performers. It made life interesting for Katie.
“Play us something quiet,” Don asked Katie, “Nothing especially magical. Just nice quiet evening music. I'll get my fiddle and join you.”
“You brought that?” Michelle asked with surprise, “This isn't a sightseeing tour. You usually pack light.”
“True but I encouraged Scott to pack his little concertina and Shandra her guitar. I want us to at least be able to pass as musicians or traveling performers if we need to. You can sing and -”
“I have that bandura your brother made for me,” Allan added, “It is beautiful. Your brother really likes to work in moonsilver and fine woods. I'm glad I wound up here. It's nice to see our families doing so much better here.”
Don nodded, “I think Sally, or whomever she was really was trying her best to make up for drafting us without our knowledge. She did all right in that respect. My grandparents and great grandparents are still alive. My brother is a respected member of the community, a hero even for when we slew the dragon. My in-laws are happy people and Nessa my mother-in-law has five kids who she loves with all her heart and a pair of twin boys. We live with the freest, most handsome, bravest people we know. Sally overdid herself for sure.
“Those that aren't Tuathe De are all prime examples of their people and credits to our little family here.”
“So do we go check out who is following us?” Scott asked.
Dog,” Don said to the big white canine and waved his arm towards where the mysterious figures were spotted. Instead of disappearing into the darkness to track them he just looked at Don and snorted.
“Are you sure,” Don asked, “I told them -”
Dog sneezed and appeared to be grinning while waving one paw as if he wanted to play.
“Oh, stop it!” Don said irritated.
“What? What is he saying?” Scott asked eyeing Dog dubiously. Dog looked perfectly innocent like any other giant white shepherd although his eyes occasionally took on a red sheen in the moonlight.
“He says it's Andy and Justin. They've been following us all day. Riddick actually got a look at them,” Don said accusingly towards the lanky wolf then glared at Angel, “Did he tell you?”
“No he did not. The big softy. He knew the boys were supposed to stay home,” Angel replied.
Dog and Riddick made quiet 'arroowing' sounds at each other while moving their ears and tails. Canine conversation was as much posture and movement as vocalization.
“Don't give me that,” Don said sternly to Dog, “and you too, trying to talk in wolf talk to get around me. Don't think I don't know 'wolf'.”
Dog again looked innocent and pretended to snap at a fly. Riddick scratched vigorously behind his left ear.
“Oh really, now you're going to pretend you don't understand me! Fine go play the dumb 'dog' routine somewhere else. I'm not buying it here,” Don said sternly to both the dogs.
Dog and Riddick jumped up and were gone in a flash, “Sure pretend they don't understand then dash off as soon as they are given permission. Little sneaks. You know they just like the boys?” Michelle said exasperated and concerned.
“Do we bring them in ourselves or let them follow?” Scott asked.
“Let them follow,” Michelle decided. “Let's see how they do after a night on their own. Although I suppose Dog and Riddick will keep an eye on them for at least part of the night.
They grabbed their instruments and began playing a quiet tune.

**************                         *******************                   **************

Justin and Andy sat at their cold campsite. Neither was really used to being on their own. Kantrus and Dodge were used to being on their own but Justin and Andy were not Kantrus and Dodge, not really. They had the skills and memories of the Elf wizard and the thief but not the "lived" experience. It was dark and while they both were experienced adventurers they were also young boys. Then faint music could be heard from the party ahead of them. It made them more comfortable and apprehensive at the same time as both of them wanted the comfort of the familiar. The cheerful sounding camp reminded them how lonely their little spot in the grasslands actually was.
“Can I light a fire?” Justin asked. “I think we're far enough away they won't notice.”
“They know we're here I think,” Andy replied downcast, “If they didn't spot us I'm an Orc and if they did think we were anyone else they would have snuck up on us already. Grandad and Angel can move pretty quiet in the wilderness if they want. In a city I might lose them but out here? No, might as well light the fire. At least we'll be warm and have some light.”
“Won't they think we're, you know, scared if we light a fire. Like we're afraid of the dark?” Justin asked.
“Yeah I suppose they will but if they already know we're here we're going to be in trouble tomorrow or the next day anyway. We've got to catch up to them sometime or they'll just – Whoa!” Andy said in surprise as Dog stepped out of the darkness to thrust his muzzle under Andy's hand.
“That answers that question,” Justin replied, “I'm pretty sure they know we're here.”
“What makes you think that?” Andy replied sarcastically as Riddick bumped Justin with his nose making him jump.
“What good are you, Firewing?” Justin asked, “Just letting wolves walk right up to me and scare me half to death.” The little dragon just turned his nose up.
Justin began gathering fallen wood although there was little on the grasslands and he had to roam further than he would have liked. There was a fire-blasted copse of white oak that had been struck by lightning long ago and burned most of the wood. What remained was a single great stump and a bramble weaving its way around the downed wood and old stump.
An old dank, sour smell came from the stump and Justin avoided it while he picked up the dead wood. Something seemed off and he couldn't put his finger on it. Firewing was unhappy as well and stuck close to Justin. Andy had searched for wood as well and suddenly Justin realized he was alone in the moonlight. He looked up startled he was much closer to the stump than he remembered. Justin felt a sudden chill grab his heart and something swept out of the black center of the hollow stump to snatch him with iron-hard claws. Justin got off part of a scream and a foul smelling hand was thrust across his mouth. Then he was dragged down into the ground.
Andy heard a short shriek abruptly cut off as did Riddick and Dog. Dog dashed off towards his master but Riddick stuck close to Andy as he ran quickly and quietly towards where he last heard Justin. Shortly Andy found himself right back where he started without the wolf and realized magic was involved.  He quickly dipped his hand into a belt-pouch and pulled out an agate that had a naturally formed hole in it.
The night became crisscrossed with trails and traps laid by magic. He was standing in a complex web of black threads. By the light of the moon the web gave off a rotting green glow from the black lines laid all around. A sense of dread crawled down Andy's back seeing the evil magic laid out before his eyes like sinister artwork. His heart froze as he realized he needed to find his lost friend and he didn't really know where he was much less where Justin might have gone.

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