He took two days off to be sure he was recovered, working on fashioning a bow, and a few arrows. Not the first bow he’d ever made, but the first he’d not used any magic in shaping and hardening the wood. Straight hardwood shoots were all over the woods, and easy enough to gather. And few fallen feathers from the local birds . . . He shaved points and hardened them in the fire.
Lost them all on his first hunt.
Got two rabbits on his second bunch of arrows.
The stream level dropped back to normal. More clay pots and bowls.
Squirrel soup with wild onions . . .
The Mighty Hunter brought down a deer by himself, and Xen took the hide and brain and one haunch. “You’re a good wolf. You really ought to run off and find more wolves.”
Leather making without magic . . . worked reasonably well. The rabbits made a nice pair of moccasins . . . well, a crude but workable pair of moccasins.
A drenching rain put out his fire, and after a chilly night he decided he’d better start improving his camp under the tree.
“I’ve been here nearly a month, and I’m still squatting in the dirt. Time to get a bit more ambitious.”
The hand axe proved to be . . . not the best thing for cutting down trees.
But he paved his camp with flatish river cobbles, made a clay dish with ventilation and a lid so he didn’t have to make fire from scratch again.
The weather got hotter, but there were no more thunderstorms, and the creek level sank.
He made more clay jugs and kept them full of water.
And one morning he woke to a faint glowing overlay on the wolf.
He moved out into the early light and gathered it in his hands. Feeble and weak.
“But it is coming back.” He heaved out a breath of relief and remembered his first basic healing spell and applied it to his chest.
He munched smoked venison, grabbed his bow and went hunting. His head full of new plans. As soon as I can slice, walls like a log cabin. The roof . . . I can slice long boards . . .
Rael was typing handwritten reports—which she had only planned on reading!—when an avalanche of running feet alerted her to something happening.
She hit the save button—or something in that vicinity—as she leaped to her feet and ran for the door.
It was the same setup, and probably the same people she’d heard described. Circle of copper. Throne with a short fat guy. Tall skinny guards with fancy spears. Completely different body forms, similar features. Tan complexions, mid-brown hair.
People from every Embassy were hustling up . . . and stopping well away from that copper trap.
Lon Hackathorn was front and center, talking already.
“This is a world of Embassies. We gather here to talk, to avoid wars across the dimensions. You are welcome to build an embassy here, so long as you keep the peace.”
The guard to his left thumped his spear. “You may approach the Judge and speak.”
“I believe we’ll speak from back here.” Lon’s voice was carrying—someone had a spell going so everyone could hear.
“You came a month ago, asking about a world that was destroyed. You injured and kidnapped a man who spoke to you of it. Let us begin with information about that world. Then we will speak about your captive.”
The guard thumped his spear. “You may approach the judge and speak. He does not hear you.”
Rael bit her lip . . . bolted back into the building, out the back door and into Xen’s home. She stripped off the casual outfit she’d been wearing and grabbed her new uniform. Pulling on the gloves, check the pocket for the copper rod.
By the time she got back to the Plaza, Lon was still speaking. “We traced Eldon’s known locations back to where we believe the device was built. Our extensive espionage has shown that it was a prototype, built by a civilian scientist, deceased shortly after he built it. The government there, despite all their trying haven’t a clue as to either the theory or the engineering. We are monitoring that world continuously.”
He had Q and Inso scowling from his left, Jiol at his right shoulder, with Karl Montigo beyond her.
And the bloody stupid guard thumped his spear again. “You may approach the Judge and speak.”
Q growled and stalked onto the copper carpet.
“We are a force that attempts to prevent conflict across dimensions. You came here and attacked our representative. If you wish to open diplomacy, I recommend you begin by returning him.”
The Judge made a dismissive gesture. “He has been sent away. He no longer concerns us.”
“He concerns us. And if he’s not alive, you have sent us a very, very, clear message that you do not come in peace. Bring him back—and then we’ll speak.” She shone with repressed power.
Or maybe just anger.
She turned and walked away.
Rael was half a step ahead of Inso as the Disco people surged forward.
She saw the Judge lift his staff pointing it toward Q . . . she whipped the copper rod out and lunged to get it between Q and the staff as it thumped down, an electric arc whipped out . . . a flash of light. Heat from gloved hand all the way down her right side to her foot.
Inso grabbed Q and threw her off the carpet, as the treads waved and sparked like static on steroids.
Rael backed away, rod raised as the staff came up again.
Jiol was shoving Inso, Karl shoving her . . .
Another flash, a second line of heat.
Rael stumbled back off the copper carpet, blinking watering eyes. A brief whip of wind and the copper people were gone.
She fumbled the rod back into it’s pocket and ripped off her right glove. Blew on her hand. Reddened, but no blistering. Peeled out of the jacket.
“Carbon fibers?” Another Disco guy, Chris Hanger.
“Yeah. Going to have to work on the heat insulation . . .” She spun, looking around. Inso cussing on the ground, Q cross-legged beside him . . . “Jiol? Karl?”
“They went with the carpet.”
A fire in the night
Xen tried meditating at night, trying to reach for the power of the Earth. Gravity. So diffuse, so huge. He could feel the Sun, below the horizon, now. The gibbous Moon halfway up the sky in the east.
Five weeks. I was the only one on the carpet, wasn’t I? Q’s safe at home. Ha! Safe! She’s steamed. I wonder if Rael’s there? And all the kids. How do they feel about it? The Oner kids may be a little relieved that they don’t have to deal with that awkward foreign biofather.
Rael. I cannot hope that her love for me is less deep than my love for her. But surely she’ll have hope, and not the grief I felt when I thought she was dead. I hope she’s madder than hell.
And I’m sure Disco’s doing fine. They really don’t depend on me any more. And Lon’s a damned good boss type. So’s Inso. They’re doing fine.
And the magic is coming back.
Xen opened his eyes . . . and saw a speck of light low down, just where the distant mountains cut off the bright stars of the night sky.
He squinted tried the magnifying spell.
It was the wavering yellow of fire. At that distance, it’s huge.
“It’s a forest fire. But there haven’t been any thunderstorms this week that could have caused it.” Xen stood and stared.
Could it have been deliberately set where it could be seen for miles.
Fifty miles? A hundred? Surely not . . . but I am going to find out.
He placed a careful line of rocks, and studied the stars.
“As close to due south as doesn’t matter. If there’s someone out there, I’m going to find him.”