It's not Brox, Grunnel pronounced.
He, Astaris, Paul, George, and Ringo stood outside on the lawn, staring up at the house like actors in a Spielberg movie. Paul had half a dozen empty healing potion vials in his pocket; as promised, yesterday's drinks of Happy Wine had left the three with amazing two-vial (or too vile) hangovers. John, cloaked once again, sat nearby on a kind of camp stool at a small folding table, devouring his usual huge breakfast. Hed spent the entire night outside and still wasnt speaking to anyone. If he had any idea what was going on, he didn't let it show.
It has to be! Astaris countered, shifting his weight from foot to foot so fast that he seemed to be jogging in place. This morning he had dressed in solid red from neck to ankle and wore an ornate silver brooch over his left breast. It wasnt you, it wasnt those magic-dead olyrr-tirin he fluttered a dismissive hand at the Earthmen and no other sar could have bypassed our Protections! He began to pace in a little circle. Brox has returned!
This is not Broxs doing, the illusionist snapped. None of Broxs spell trees touch this branch of magic. This is movement magic.
Blithely, the elf said, Sar must have started learning movement magic.
Grunnel sighed. As, think. Sars too busy to learn a new branch now, much less play jokes. If sar was studying movement magic, sar hasnt had time to strengthen up for this type of spell. Seeing the elfs mouth curl into a sneer, the illusionist's voice grew louder, more frustrated. If sar was strong enough to cast such a spell, sars still in Zagesevregar. How could sar be moving things here?
Sars moving things here because sar is here, somewhere.
Brox is still in Zagesevregar. I spoke with sar yesterday. Sars search continues rusty, and sar has no plans to return yet.
Astaris stopped, threw Grunnel a yeah-right glance, then resumed his circling. Liar. Youre sharing the joke with Brox.
As the wizards face began to darken, Paul decided to defuse the argument before things got out of hand. In his most reasonable tone of voice, he asked, If it isnt Brox, then who might it be?
It is Brox! the elf replied indignantly.
Sheath it, As! rapped Grunnel. To the three, more calmly: Thats the point of the sword. It cannot be Brox, so who is it? We must also know: Why did this sar do these things? How did this sar break through the house Protections? Frowning, he contemplated the house. It is possible, whatever As says, but such magic requires considerable strength, and I cant believe a sar would expend that much energy just to perform such wispy tricks. His gaze strayed back to the three, and he contemplated them for a few seconds. The magic targeted you sars. Perhaps you were random targets, but perhaps . Do you have any enemies who could cast such magic or who would want to do these things to you?
Images of Grynun and Terdan and a whole cast of Idris went through their minds. Back in Ketafa, probably, said Ringo.
A lopsided grin appeared on the illusionists face. Enemies in Baravada. No sar in Ketafa could affect anything here.
Well, we shouldnt have any enemies here, said Paul, who carefully did not glance at John. Weve barely talked to anyone, really. But maybe we offended someone without knowing it.
Could we have offended Ardav? George asked.
You'd know it if you had, Grunnel said wryly. No. He pondered some more. I'm sure someone is playing a joke on you.
Brox! Astaris chimed in triumphantly. Hed stopped pacing and resumed shifting from foot to foot.
The illusionist rolled his eyes. Brox is not the only jokeplayer in Baravada, As.
Maybe, Ringo said thoughtfully, maybe one of Lyndess's friends overheard us talkin' about her and decided to scare us off.
Possible. A better explanation than I have now.
I just remembered, Paul said. Lyndess said she was a movement wizard. Could she...? Trying to get us back on track?
From Ketafa? Grunnel scoffed. No. Er-ho, whatever the explanation, I first want to determine how the jokeplayer broke through the house Protections. A spell powerful enough to breach them will have left ashes in the kvar, and if I can find the ashes, I can identify the spell used, and then I can determine the weaknesses in our Protections and perhaps strengthen them. As he threw a significant glance at the elf, who paused we need to scan the area outside the house. Go get our doul'kvar gem.
A sneer curled Astariss lip. We wont find a spell. Brox is back. The curse is dead! He positively swaggered into the house, and faintly they heard him trotting up the stairs.
Curse? said Ringo.
As is cursed, Grunnel said offhandedly. When Brox went to Zagesevregar, As wanted to follow and seek Tayhil in the desert while Brox researched. Brox preferred that As not die so stupidly, so Brox cursed As to return to the house at sundeath until Brox returns, and to fight only if attacked.
Well, that explained why no one would fight him in Ta'akan.
The elf emerged from the house with a sparkling clear, highly polished, flat diamond about the size of a dinner plate. It gleaned like a small star in his hands. Muttering, Youre lying, you know its Brox, youre trying to fool me, he gave the gem to the illusionist.
Sheath it, As, Grunnel replied in a tired voice. He held up the gem to inspect it for blemishes, rubbed it on his shirt until he was satisfied, then turned to the three, saying, "Olyrr-sars, wait there so you dont get underfoot. He waved his hand at a nearby patch of lawn. You cast the doul'kvar ignition spell," he added to Astaris. "You need the practice."
The olyrr-sars moved away and sat on the grass to wait, too uncomfortable about the whole thing to discuss it among themselves, and occasionally throwing glances at John, who was just finishing up his breakfast and still hadnt shown the slightest interest in what was going on.
Paul found that attitude highly suspicious; he was sure John was far more involved than anyone else could possibly guess .
Meanwhile, Grunnel handed the gem to Astaris, who held it to his chest, closed his eyes, and undulated briefly, almost as if dancing in place to unheard music. The gem flashed blue for a moment. Sharp, caught the first time, the illusionist muttered, taking the gem back. He held it at eye level, and he and the elf began to scrutinize the house through it.
It took the pair about ten minutes to work their way entirely around the house and back to their starting point, Grunnel increasingly puzzled and frustrated, Astaris grinning more broadly with every step. As Grunnel finally and reluctantly lowered the gem, the elf crowed, I told you we wouldnt find ashes! Brox is back!
The illusionist didnt answer for a few moments; he just stood, breathing heavily, obviously trying to bite back yet another rebuke. Finally he said, It cannot be Brox. The only other explanation is that one of us brought a time-delayed enchantment into the house, so the Protections didnt need to be breached.
Figuring it was now safe to do so, the three got up and drifted over. We bought a lot of magic stuff lately, said Paul. Dye want to check it? Its in our rooms.
Grunnel brightened a little. Yes. So he and the elf went into the house and rummaged around for a few minutes, but when they came out Grunnel looked even more disgruntled. Nothing. Did you bring any magic out of the house this morning?
Unexpectedly John stood up and held a fold of his cloak out to the wizard. Could it be this, then? he asked in a distant voice, eyes unfocused. Wasnt watchin Lyndess when she made it for me . She might've done somethin' else to it, set it to do all the craziness.
The illusionist shook his head. I doubt your cloak's responsible. I would've noticed such magic when I fed it for you. But perhaps the spell was buried. The doul'kvar gem will find it, if it exists or ever existed. Walking over to John, he inspected the cloak through the giant diamond. "No, only the single Deception spell has ever burned on it. It won't move objects. He fingered his chin thoughtfully. I need to examine you all from hair to footprint. Unwitting, one of you may wear the item we seek. He started his scan with John, who stood looking out at the ocean, oblivious to the proceedings once again.
Jesus, murmured Ringo, gingerly feeling the silky material covering his knee. Our luck, one of Lyndesss friends sold us evil magic trousers. Then he noticed that Paul had gone pale. Are you okay, man?"
Paul bit his lip to keep from screaming "Its John! Its got to be him!" and gave Ringo a quick nod, then turned his head so Ringo couldnt see him close his eyes. I don't want to know this, I dont want to
"WHA!" yelped Grunnel, and Paul heard the gem thump on the grass. A curious sense of triumph mixed with horror washed over him, and he opened his eyes as the illusionist scooped up the gem and stared through it
but he wasn't looking at John.
"Shit!" Ringo shrank inside his clothing, which crawled on his skin. "Which is it? Should I take it off right now?"
Grunnel didn't reply, just yanked Astaris around and shoved the gem in the elf's hands.
Puzzled, Astaris lookedand gasped. "Seopia on the ground! Sar's... what is sar?
"Kvarsar," Grunnel breathed in absolute awe. Ive only known one other, and not aflame like this.
He was a something-person on fire? What about his clothes? Ringo shook his head and confessed, "You've lost me here."
Again they paid him no heed. "The gem must be flawed," said Astaris, handing it back to Grunnel. He made a scooping gesture and strode up to Ringo, reached to touch himbut stopped a couple of inches away. He gave Ringo an odd, angry look. "Kvarsar."
An astonishing notion snuck into Ringo's mind; confused and wary, he asked "Would you please tell me what you're callin me?"
The elf folded his arms. "You tell me, olyrr-sar kvarsar; how did you hide your magic from us for so many days?"
"His what?" exclaimed the others, John at last paying full attention.
"Don't lie. We know, now. Making me think Brox was back!" The elf grabbed Ringo's shoulder with a thin, strong hand. But it was Astaris who grimaced in pain as if hed grasped a hot coal. He jerked his hand away, shaking it and muttering, Ow! Ow! Rust!"
"You should have doused your touch-detect spell," Grunnel murmured. He was gazing raptly at Ringo through the gem.
The elf growled, "I didn't expect it to hurt. You wouldn't have either."
This must be a joke, Ringo thought, looking through the gem at Grunnels face for the amusement that had to be lurking below the surface. He couldnt see it, but it had to be there. For he didnt feel magical in the slightest. When Astaris had touched him and been burned, he had only felt the brief pressure of the hand and certainly not whatever had hurt the elfno surge of hidden power, no unearthly tingle, nothing that could possibly be interpreted as a magic feeling.
But then, why ? I knowone of them must have done all that stuff last night. Theyre both in on the joke. Theyre just trying to frame me for it.
With a half-smile to indicate that he was on to them, Ringo said "Right, if you've been movin' all that stuff, you picked the wrong guy to frame for it.... I mean, Id love to have magic, but I dont. Id like to learn some, he added hopefully.
Astaris snorted. "If you wanted us to think that, tirin, you shouldn't have uncovered while we used the doul'kvar gemor when we were near you." He gave Ringo the diamond. "See yourself uncovered."
Nervously, Ringo raised the gem to his face. The details of the world sharpened, and he saw ashy multicolored traces here and there, bolder smears of color around the house and the two Baravadans...
and his fingers, splayed across the edges of the gem where he grasped it, were outlined by a blue, pulsing aura-mitten three inches thick.
An exclamation made him swing around, and three ordinary facesand one faintly reddish outlined cloak around Johns bodygaped at him.
"You're glowing," Paul faltered. "Through the gem, you're ."
The world felt very peculiar all of a sudden, shimmery and dreamlike and fluid, and Ringo was, he was, he was
He couldn't remember giving the gem away, but it wasn't in his hands any more, and he stumbled over to Johns camp stool and sank dazedly onto it. "I have magic?"
Grunnel stroked his chin. "You didn't know," he said with an air of certainty. "As, sar didn't know. Sar wasn't hiding it. We never felt it because sar didn't have it until the newly dead night."
Ringo stared at his hands. I have magic?
The elf snorted. Fires dont burn without a spark.
I have magic?
"But lightning can start a fire. Perhaps the gods gave sar a gift last night. Sar's sleeping mind found it and told sar's waking mind as best it could." Beaming broadly, obviously immensely relieved at having solved the mystery, Grunnel nudged Astaris in the ribs. "You were right, As. The Protections weren't breached; the magic was burnt by a sar inside the house."
I have magic?
"I didnt want to be right this way." Sullenly, the elf kicked the ground with his toe. I want the curse to die.
Sure, that sounds right. Sure, I've got magic. Giggling drunkenly, Ringo looked up at the elf and the illusionist. "So what can I do, then?"
"Think of last night, deadbrain," Astaris said tightly. "You can move objects at a distance."
Ringo fluttered his hand in the air. "Right, I know about that stuff. Sci-fi movies, Uri Geller, you know. Telekinesis, huh?" He giggled again, sat up straight on the camp stool, and pointed at a mug on the table. "Here, watch, I'll make that move." How did they do such things in trashy sci-fi and Marvel comics? He narrowed his eyes at the mug and touched it with an imaginary finger
He felt it.
He felt it as surely and as clearly as if hed reached out and touched it with a real finger.
His goofy smile disintegrated as intense, shocked awe tore through him. "Oh my God," he breathed. "Oh Jesus, oh my God."
Something enormous beckoned, too large to absorb all at once. The world grew hushed and apprehensive, waiting, waiting.
Almost without being summoned, a second thought slipped out and touched the mug again. "Oh, oh, oh," he whispered.
And if he could feel it? why, then, it followed that he could. He poked the mug with his imaginary finger.
The mug jerked
"Jesus!" Ringo gasped. "Did you see, did you see that!" he stammered, his eyes huge and locked on the mug. His hands trembled, terrified of this thing they didn't do.
Gingerly, afraid that the least wrong move, the twitch of a toe, would dissolve the spell, he reached out with his mind
caressed the mug with mental fingers, felt across the distance its smooth glazed surface, the rough grainy clay on the handle where the glaze had worn off, dots of liquid clinging to the rim
and grasped the handle, pushed the mug across the table.
There it sat, the tip of the iceberg.
His heart pounding so hard it hurt, he babbled at the others "Did you see? Did you see that? Did you?" but they didnt answer, standing pale and stiff, so he forgot about them and focused on the table again. It wasnt them, it wasnt anybody, it was me! I moved the mug! I moved George, I moved the guitarI did all that! It scared him to form words in his mind, as if reality would flex and change with each one. He looked at a plate, reached, felt, this time picked it up, lifted it into the air, and it crashed back down as he began laughing, harder and harder until he rocked on the stool, tears streaming down his face, helpless with joy and wonder.
A soft noise from someone brought him back to the world. Wiping his eyes, Ringo twisted in the stool to face the others again, but he barely saw them. "This is great!" he cried. "Watch this, watch!" He mentally grabbed the edge of the folding table and thought it ten feet into the air (it weighed nothing! Nothing!), then began laughing again, and the table crashed to the ground, scattering dirty dishes across the grass.
Astaris's annoyed voice rang through the air: "Don't break our furniture."
Bubbling with excitement, Ringo jumped up from the stool. He wanted to hug the elf but prudently refrained. "I'm sorry, I'm just sothis is bloody fantastic! I cant believe it! Its the greatest thing that ever happened to me! If you guys hadn't told methank you, thank you!"
With a sour smile, Astaris folded his arms and looked adult. "It's just magic, tirin."
"Just magic! Well, maybe you're used to this"
"Mindmoving requires sight," Grunnel interrupted. He had the proud air of a teacher who had coached someone from an F to an A+. "You were asleep when your magic was awake, so you couldnt use your eyes."
A grunt of realization from Astaris. "Sar has mindsight?"
Ringo stopped cold. "There's more? I have more?"
"Mindsight, ignorant tirin. Close your eyes and picture me in your mind."
Without hesitation, Ringo did so, imagining the elf
Large as life, Astaris burst into his mind like a psychedelic poster, his hair sunlight, his eyes amber set in pearl; a thousand shades of red glowed in his clothes, and his silver brooch was spun of moonbeams.
Then the picture exploded outward from the elf, swept into Ringos unprepared mind the fallen table, the grass, Grunnel, the others, the house, sky, cliff, sea, forest, clouds, rocks, insects, birds, waves, hairs, bark, flowers, shoes, mug, faces, hands, rings, stairs, leaves, weedseverything before and behind, above and below, and he wailed and clapped his hands to his head as a million details pierced it, overloaded it, made his brain explo-
A reflex he didn't know he had kicked in and narrowed his vision back down to Astaris before anything permanent happened.
For a moment he stood, swaying. "Whoa," he mumbled. "Whatta trip."
"Oh, Christ," said someone behind himJohnand automatically Ringo shifted the picture in his head to the man himself, beautifully sheet-white next to the rich, complex, dusty black and shining silver of his cloak, drops of sweat glistening like diamonds on his forehead.
"Oh - oh - oh, God!" Suddenly John was racing for the cliff, one hand throwing his glasses into the grass, the other tearing at the clasp of his cloak; it fluttered off behind him, and he emerged hugely feathered, blue and white, Baryshnikov-bodied, screaming "I can't take it any more!" With a tremendous diving leap that must have carried him thirty feet past the edge of the cliff, he plunged over the sideand moments later reappeared, soaring up on wide wings out over the ocean, toes pointed, hands gripping the waistband of his pants. His tortured face blossomed into ecstasy, and he screamed again, wordlessly, a wild, joyful, inhuman sound.
Ringo stared open-mouthed at the scene in his head. He really can fly! was his first thought; He looks like a god, was his second; and the morning's transformations were suddenly too much for him; he opened his eyes, abruptly ending the vision, and half-stumbled, half-ran to the house.
[All right, Jeft, I will give you one chance to explain why you did this to Ringo, and then I am going to wrap my hands around your skinny white neck and pop your fat white head off.]
~Never jump to conclusions, you might not be able to swim back. Don't hit me! I didn't do it to him. He's natural. I found out about it a couple days ago, that's all. Isn't he great?~
+You know, Shag, we never did check for psionics.+
[That's because Earths universe doesnt have a Field, remember? No magic? No spells? NO PSIONICS, JEFT?]
~Look, if I could induce that level of psionic ability in someone, I'd do it to myself, not some stupid worthlessexcuse me, some intelligent valuable human who's luckier than a roomful of Oldarian probability changers. He's a sixty-eight percent transformer.~
+Wait, my Field Mechanics are rusty. You mean he can use sixty-eight percent of the Field?+
~No, stupid. The Field is universe-sized, remember? He can use sixty-eight percent of the little bit that flows through him.~
+Is that a lot?+
~Are you kidding? They put beings that high in bottles and study them. You know I'm psi, right? I'm two percent. The highest psi I know personally is eighteen. The highest they let you know about in my universe is twenty-nine, but government agents supposedly go up to forty. The highest I ever heard of anywhere was seventy percent. Which means - ~
[You have not answered my question. How could he be psionic when he comes from a completely Fieldless universe? And if hes always had the potential, why didnt it manifest right away?]
~Just because he couldn't use it don't mean he didn't have it. The potential was there, just not the Field. And there's no reason why he couldn't've had it. With five billion people on Earth, some of them are gonna have the useless mutation for psionics. And I have no idea why it showed up so late in the run. Maybe he was unconsciously suppressing it until now.~
[So youre saying that by an incredible coincidence I just happened to pick a man who just happens to be one of the most powerful psionics you've ever heard of.]
~Uh-huh. Pretty amazing, huh? Actually, right now hes hardly using any of it. TK starts being usable at what, half a percent, and his kind of clairvoyance starts at about ten percent. Hes gonna have to do a lotta digging ~
[Oh, shut up.]
John ebbed and faded as Ringo stepped into the house and the enormity of what had happened to him reexerted itself. Dreamily he walked to the center of the large main room. He spread his arms and touched only air; and, thrilled, touched the walls twenty feet away, the couch, the windows. Now the room was small, within his reach. God, he whispered.
A breeze from the door ruffled his hair. "I'm cold," he decided, and grandly waved his hand at the door. It just sat there, and he had a bad moment. The power wasn't reliable! He'd read stories about how telekinesis waxed and waned at random; what a blow, to find out it was true! Nervous, he tried again, pushing the door with a mental hand, and this time it closed, to his great relief. Right, I can't just want things to move, I've gotta make them do it. Waving my hands won't do anything. Still, to be sure, he thought the door open and closed again.
There was a shirt draped over the back of a chair. He frowned at it theatricallyno, that didn't work either, frowning distracted him from the real work to be done. Focusing, he thought it through the air to his hand. But it dropped at his feet as he reached for it. Bending to get it, he caught himself halfway, grinned, straightened up, and thought it back up. "Why - "
It dropped again.
"Right, rule number two: I can't stop thinking about it." He sat on the couch. "Let's see how long I can keep it up."
He thought the shirt up for the third time. Shirt... shirt... shirt... shirt... shirt... window behind it... At once it fell.
That wasn't very long, he thought, disappointed. Guess it'll take a bit of practice. But he couldn't stay unhappy with all that magic bubbling inside. He propped himself on his side on the couch like a Roman reclining. "I'm thirsty," he told the air, and thought to his hand a half-full cup of wine from the table. His fingers closed around it, the first object successfully fetched, and he toasted himself and drank, sputtering a little onto himself and the couch when he started giggling again.
Now he no longer needed the empty cup, so he thought it out of his grasp. It dropped when he broke concentration to admire how it hung in the air, but it bounced on the couch, so he picked it up manually and began again, thought it back to the table. When it was settled, he remembered his other magic, his mindsight, and shuddered at how he'd almost burned his brain out. Should I try it again? What if it gets away from me again and I can't stop it?
But that sightthat glorious, perfect, insanely beautiful sight. Oh, what the hell, he decided, if I've got it I ought to use it. He closed his eyes and pictured Astaris again.
Previous experience barely tempered the shock of the sudden movie in his head, the wildly bright colors and unbelievable clarity of detail. Astaris, windswept, tight-faced, was talking (no sound) with someone to his left, but Ringo kept his mind on the elf only, slowly moving around him, until he was satisfied that he really did control the horizontal and the vertical. Then, drawing on the peripheral details around Astaris, he carefully expanded the image until he was looking at the front yard from a point a foot or so above the elf, who turned out to be talking to Grunnel (naturally). Both looked into the sky, a shadow passed over them, and Ringo quickly opened his eyes, canceling the image before he saw something he couldn't deal with.
How drab everything was, like faded laundry! Even the sunlight streaming in through the windows seemed washed out. He blinked, trying to restore the color, the details, but that didn't help. Absurdly, guilt surged in him for rejecting his eyes, but he dismissed it with a chuckle and closed them again, imagining this time the front of the Owner's Head pub. The place popped into his mind, glorious in its blue walls and brown roof. Someone had posted a sign on the door, and in focusing on it Ringo discovered he could pan in or out like a movie camera, without having to visualize the sign separately. Could he move something all the way out there? He tried touching and opening the door, but nothing happened; it was out of his range, or maybe he just couldnt use TK in conjunction with his mindsight. He would have to experiment later. For now, he swung his mind away from the building and watched the people in the street, pulling in to examine them more closely when the whim struck. He could discern the tiniest details of their bodies, wispy hairs on their faces, wrinkles on their hands, infinitesimal scuffs on their shoes.
I feel like God, he thought.
An odd thing: the city seemed to be missing buildings. He tried to see one of the shops where they'd bought that boring tirin magic (magic! huh! it barely deserved the description), but nothing came into his head, and when he flicked back to the Owners Head and tried to look at a another building that he remembered nearby, he found empty land where it was supposed to be. Puzzledhad it burned down?he watched a woman walk up to the emptiness, open a door he couldn't see, and vanish! I wonder if that's what they mean by Protected? It had to be.
Mystery solved; and he flashed back to the Owners Head and pulled back from it into the sky, farther and farther until the whole of Taakan, sprawling and so beautiful he wanted to cry, fit in his head. He hovered above it, at once tiny and enormous: one small man, a speck in the grand scheme of things, dwarfed by almost everything in the worldyet containing that world within him. He surrounded the city, and it was his, and he looked down upon it and found it good, and he shook his head and canceled the vision. "Oh, shit, let's not start that."
A noise outside. Ringo shifted his mind to the yard. Paul was staring at the front door. Too high to notice the expression on Paul's face, and just dying to show off, he opened his eyes, called cheerily "Eh, Paul, c'mon in!" and thought the door open.
Paul gaped, white-faced, and fled.
Ringo was honestly surprised by this reaction, and in the back of his mind it occurred to him that the others weren't quite as enthusiastic as he was about his marvelous new abilities. For a moment he saw himself through their eyes, saw how their almost quintessentially ordinary friend had, in a split-second, been replaced by something powerfully alien. The picture disturbed him a bit, and he wondered just how much he had changed. Again his knowledge of trashy sci-fi exerted itself, and cartoons of shriveled-bodied, huge-headed telekinetics marched before his eyes. Am I gonna turn into one of those? Tenderly he felt his head with both hands. Was it swelling? It could hold such a huge picture, and he was always pushing outward with his thoughts. He got off the couch and went upstairs to his bedroom, where he inspected himself in his mirror. Nothing looked different, but maybe he hadn't used his magic enough yet.
Oh well, he thought with a shrug. If it happens it happens. The magic was worth it. And the others would just have to get used to it.