Hail glanced south and frowned. "What's that?"
The line of blackness swept over the sky.
"Is that what the bubble looks like from the inside? I thought it was supposed to be clear." Macy scowled as the line swept by overhead. "They said we wouldn't even notice."
A young man overheard them, almost young enough to call a boy. "It's the last bubble, the bronze side is in, this time. I thought there would be two more days, more places put under the first bubbles. I hope we can feed everyone left."
The witches clustered as the dark closed in. "But it will just be for a few days, at the worse." Hail protested. "They said that a week passes for every minute inside."
The man produced a pale glow in the palm of his hand. "Relax. I'm a wizard. This is pretty much the limit of my abilities. May I walk you ladies home?"
In the dim light, Hail frowned. "The power is swirling oddly in here. You should save your power, wizard, you may not be able to recover, without any light." She opened her hand and another globe of light floated before them. "We're witches, and gravity still seems to be working. I didn't know there were wizards in town."
Fair snorted. "Who would notice?" Rude but true. The wizards were the weakest of the magic users.
He stiffened, insulted, and the girl jumped in quickly. "Do you live near? We just walked."
He sighed. "I rode in. Bringing horses and cattle. They're all packed into a vacant lot. I certainly hope this doesn't last long, or we'll end up eating them so they don't starve, then we'll starve. I'm Hudson Maginness, by the way."
They gave him their witch names as they walked. His light dimmed gradually. As their eyes adjusted, they could see a warm blush of light through the bronze overhead.
They detoured a bit to see Hudson's horses, and found bronze statues. "Well, the god's been busy. They were all alive an hour ago. I mean, they're alive now, of course, but . . ." He looked a bit dismayed at the tableau. A couple dozen fat cows and three horses were crowded into an empty space between buildings. Even the crude fence was bronzed. A wagon full of hay and sacks that probably held grain. And two big herding type dogs. "Well, I guess they're taken care of." The buildings all along the street were also bronzed, and the line of bronzing went several blocks before turning.
Hudson wrinkled his nose. "It's like he drove along bronzing things as he passed. There were several of us who brought livestock inside the city, he must have had a list of where they were being put."
Hail eyed him thoughtfully. "Do you have a place to stay? We have a couch, if it hasn't been bronzed."
They walked back through empty dark streets to the apartment, and found the building unchanged.
Mr. Hodges, in the first floor apartment looked out his window and glared at them. "This is you magic makers fault! Look at this!" He shook his pocket watch at them. "It's been twenty minutes! You know what that means? Twenty weeks on the outside! Almost five months we've been trapped in here! What went wrong?"
Fair cupped her hands around her mouth and tried to control her breathing. "It means the comet hit. It means there's a horrible disaster out there."
Hail snorted. "Either that or that wretched god is having a good giggle, and might remember to let us out in a year or two."
Hudson looked alarmed. "I don't know anything about gods. They wouldn't play about with something like this, would they?"
Fair started giggling, and then had to fight off hysterics. "I didn't get any sleep last night. I'm going to crash, and hopefully wake up to a nice normal day."
The sky was unrelieved darkness. Perhaps a faint bronzy glow. Hudson was snoring on the couch, and Hail was sitting at the table sipping tea.
"It was a quiet night, or day. I've been making a list of everything we'll need to do, if this goes on. I didn't pay as much attention as I ought, to what the bubbles did. Are they gas and water permeable? Will we run out of air?"
Fair dredged up memories. "They're gas permeable. Nobody will suffocate. But what about food? Should we try to create light, keep all the parks and yards lit and gardens growing? Or is there enough food in the stores to last? For how long?"
Hail nodded, looking subdued. "We didn't cause this, by panicking a god, did we?"
Fair shook her head. "The half trained pair of us? Charm a god more than the few seconds he took to shrug it off? Ha! In my dreams."
Hail blushed. "Well, I'm now, technically, a Full Moon. And we were sort of a Triad. We might have held more power than we realized."
Fair rolled her eyes and waved at the window. "And Barry Virtue can bubble herds of horses and multiple schools in a single day. There isn't a witch alive who can even see those bubbles until a god has done something to them."
"Which will make it very awkward, if we have to get ourselves out of it, won't it?" Hail sighed, as she looked out the window. "I think we need to find out who's in charge, just now."
The Mayor's office was bronzed. Like everything else downtown. And in the better neighborhoods. Even the wharfs were bronzed. There were easily a hundred large bronzed ships.
"The city makes money offen them." Estaven Doscompos and his usual set of body guards walked up behind them. "They protected everything that was valuable to them. My neighborhood and yours are about all that's left. We've been zipping around all day – so to speak." He glanced upward, then away.
Hail nodded reluctantly. "They even bronzed the parks. I wish I really could tell fortunes, if we knew how long this was going to last, we could make plans. I mean . . . do we need to make lights and grow gardens?"
Hudson looked over at her. "Can you make bright enough light, for long enough periods, to grow gardens?"
She slumped. "No. How many stores are still open? I've got my blizzard stash, but what if we're stuck here more than a couple of weeks?"
Doscompos nodded. "I've got some chargers for cars, you know, pedal powered. Never thought I'd actually have to use them. But we could charge batteries and run lights, for greenhouses . . . not that I know diddly about gardening."
Fair went back to breathing into her hands.
"What's wrong?" Macy crowded up, looking worried.
"Every month we are bubbled, something like eight hundred years go by. A bit more than that, actually. So I really think we'd be better off figuring out how to get out of this thing."
"Old Gods! Curse them and their damned comets." Doscompos stomped around in a circle. "Right. Here's what we'll do. We're going to find out how many people are still alive, and then we're going to check all the stores, and then we're going to light up some gardens. You witches, you're going to go out to the edge and see if there's anything you can do about this bubble crap."
Hail nodded and pulled the other two away. "Let's start up north, where the final bubble closed."
As they walked off, they could heard Hudson talking about knowing all about livestock. " . . . if there's anything that hasn't been bronzed."
All three witches stayed together as they cruised the borders of the black dome.
They stopped regularly and formed up their triad.
"I can't feel a thing." Hail's voice was low. The whisper echoed off the tall bronze buildings around them. "I can't feel the bubble, let alone any hole or handle or way to open it."
Fair chewed a pencil and worked out the figures. "Every day we're in here, twenty-seven years have gone by out there. What are we going to do? Wait until that man comes back and releases us?"
Macy huddled up against her mother, in an abrupt return to childhood. "What if there's no one out there to let us go? We have to figure this out."
Fair nodded. "Let's cut across town, get as close to that man's house as possible. For all we know, he's there having a party."
The forest was bronzed. The mansion was missing entirely.
"Well. So much for that idea."