So for those of you who are still following along…I am putting finishing touches on the book, though I’m considering splitting it into two parts since I’m at 99,000 words and still haven’t finished. I have about five chapters left to write for a current target of 42 chapters (or so). Here is chapter eight…
“What are we going to do?” Kelly asked excitedly.
Grey was breathing deeply with his eyes closed. “Give me a minute,” he said quietly, “I’m trying to think.”
“Okay, but while you are thinking, the snow is starting to melt all over the carpet,” Kelly replied. “How many of those spare carpet squares do you have?”
“Not enough,” Grey said, opening his eyes and moving through the snow towards the spot where the nexus portal had been. “Help me,” he said, “We’ve got to get this snow back through the portal before it all melts and floods the office.” He reached out and felt for the edges of the portal nexus, saw a vague shimmering vertical line in front of him and pulled it to one side. Instantly, a cold wind began to roar through the opening into the office, driving with it a cascade of cold wet, white snow. Grey stepped towards the opening.
“What are you doing?” Kelly shouted over the wind.
“We need tools!” Grey responded, stepping into Thraveon and conjuring three broad flat snow shovels. “We already know that objects cross over to earth without disappearing. Let’s try to get the snow back through the portal.”
Each of them grabbed a shovel and began to throw snow through the opening, but for every shovelful they threw, it seemed like two more came back at them in the wind. Stonefist bent his back harder to the task, furiously throwing shovelfuls of snow at a blinding pace. Grey struggled to keep up with him as did Kelly, but after several minutes of steady shoveling the room was deeper than when they had started.
“It’s no use!” Grey said resignedly. “We can’t beat the wind! We have to think of something else.” Kelly stopped shoveling and put her hand on Grey’s shoulder for support. They were both overheating and out of breath.
Stonefist leaned on his shovel, panting heavily, trying to catch his breath while sweat poured from his brow. “We need,” he said, out of breath, “a dragon.” He puffed air through his cheeks between words. “One of those…fire breathing types…from Ered Glemor.”
Grey looked over at Stonefist and his eyes widened. Kelly turned her head in time to catch the consideration Grey was giving Stonefist’s suggestion.
“Grey, NO!” Kelly shouted over the wind. “You can’t bring a dragon here!”
“Of course not,” he replied. “I wouldn’t. In fact, I don’t even know if I could,” he replied. “But Stonefist has given me an idea.”
After grabbing their shovels and throwing them back through the portal, Grey reached up and pulled the ley lines tightly together, sealing off the nexus from earth.
“Yeah, that’s what I did,” Stonefist said, “but that’s not gonna make this snow disappear.”
“He’s right Grey,” Kelly said, “We have to find a way to get this snow out of here, and closing the portal isn’t going to do it. “
“Trust me,” Grey said, turning his head slightly from left to right as if trying to catch a certain angle of light with his eye.
“What are you doin lad?” Stonefist asked. “Trying to will the snow away?” Stonefist stood slightly bent over with his hands on his knees, still catching his breath.
“Something like that,” Grey said, staring intently at something in the air in front of him, and reaching his right hand and forefinger delicately upwards as if about to pluck a tiny berry from a tree. “When you mentioned Ered Glemor, my first instinctive mental response was, that’s not possible, these ley lines are clearly emanating from South of the Mawdor Highlands. They are pale white and the size of button thread.”
“So?” Stonefist asked. “Who cares where they came from?”
“Their creator cares,” Grey responded, continuing to stare at the air in front of him. “I designed a very specific pattern of ley line colors, types and sizes so that spell casters would have a special geographic reference aid that would not be available to others in their party. By examining the ley lines closely, a spell caster can learn to tell where in Thraveon she is. I really just created the whole thing as artistic detail to add to the gameplay experience for some of my more retentive players. But now I’m glad I did.”
“You’ll have to forgive him Miss Kelly,” Stonefist said, “he sometimes thinks he’s god.”
“In the last few minutes, I’ve kind of begun to wonder about that myself,” she replied, “but I don’t understand what colored lines…”
“Lay lines,” Stonefist corrected.
“Ley lines, with an ‘e’,” Grey corrected still looking intently before him. He appeared to be picking at invisible threads in the air.
“Fine. I don’t understand what LEY lines have to do with anything.”
Grey responded without looking up from his task. “When we came back from fighting the Uruk, when Stonefist came through the portal, we were in a completely different part of Thraveon. It’s clear that I’ve lost mental control of the nexus portal, it changed without my willing it to. But if I concentrate hard enough I can apparently see the ley lines even though we are here on Earth. Technically, that’s impossible since the ley lines aren’t real. Then again,” he tilted his heads towards Stonefist without looking, but didn’t finish the thought.
“Don’t say it,” Stonefist said.
“I wasn’t going to, old friend.” Grey squinted as he peered more closely at the lines before him. “You were able to see and manipulate the ley lines when the portal was open, which you should not have been able to do since I never gave you any magic skill.”
“What?” Stonefist asked , feigning injury. “I’ve got no magic skill at all? And here I thought we were such good friends.”
“We are good friends,” Grey replied, “I probably have none better in all of Thraveon, but magic just wasn’t in your storyline. I wish I could explain how you manipulated the ley lines, it might help me understand everything that is going wrong, but figuring that out may have to wait.”
Grey reached forward quickly. “Ahah!” he exclaimed. His thumb and forefinger closed on something miniscule and he began to gently coax the ley line to the right. A pale vertical line of dim yellow light began to appear in the air in front of Grey.
“It occurred to me that I normally enter Thraveon at whatever place I choose from wherever I am on Earth, which means that the portal should go everywhere.”
“Which means all the ley lines from everywhere on Thraveon must pass through the portal space,” Kelly finished the logic chain.
“Exactly!” Grey agreed. “I thought, if the portal could randomly change locations within Thraveon, perhaps I could sift through the ley lines and find…using my knowledge of ley line geography… find us a more useful location.” Grey pulled the ley line abruptly to the right and his office filled instantly with bright sunlight, scorching waves of heat, and the dull whooshing sound of cold air rushing to meet hot. Grey dropped his hand from the ley line and pointed an outstretched hand to the rolling sand dunes and occasional scrub that lay beyond the portal.
“Behold, the desert of Karak!” he said with a measure of pride generally reserved for parents, grandparents, and artists. “One of the most majestic sights in all of Thraveon, and at the moment, just what we need.”
The snow began at once to evaporate. Kelly moved to the open portal to peer through and stood amazed by the wind-swept lines and swirls of colored sands; swath after swath of varying hues of yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. The sunlight reflected off of the sand as it moved with the wind, and it seemed to be alive.
High above the desert, in the ochre colored sky, a flock of large birds flew effortlessly, the sun gleaming off their teal colored feathers, the bright red plumes on their heads swept back by their momentum. They rose as a group though they did not flap their outstretched wings which instead caught thermals to lift them on rising air currents. Without warning they swooped in unison towards some unseen prey on the desert floor.
“Karakian Skyhawks,” Grey said. “A bird of my own creation. They’re sort of a plumed hawk the color of a peacock or a teal duck, but with a natural tendency to hunt, fly, and react as a unitary flock, a single unit.”
“They are amazing! The whole scene is extraordinary!” Kelly said in awe, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“That’s because there isn’t anything like it,” Grey said. “My parents and I visited the Painted Desert in Arizona when I was five years old. I guess it stuck with me, except I wanted more color and the illusion of movement.”
“You certainly got it,” Kelly said, still staring. “It’s just plain amazing!”
“And deadly,” Stonefist added, “don’t forget deadly. You don’t want to be in the Karakian desert at night, right Grey?”
Grey did not respond. He had turned to sit on the edge of his desk as he spoke and had closed his eyes for just a moment, the events of the day catching up with him. He could see his mother and father calling to him to come see the colored sands of the Painted Desert. It must have been 1967, the year they took that car trip across country, bringing the total number of states he had visited up to 46, all but Washington and Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii.
“Who painted the desert, mommy?” he asked, “and how did they get so much paint?”
“Well Grey, God painted it,” his mother replied gently, “he just closed his eyes and made it appear. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It sure is mommy. God does good work.”
Grey’s father squatted down in front of him and looked him in the eye, never missing an opportunity to teach. “Yes he does Grey, as we all should. We must all do the best work we can.”
Grey looked at the desert and began to cry.
“What’s the matter?” his mother asked.
“I’ll never learn to paint like that mommy! It’s too hard.”
His parents hugged him and smiled and tried to hide their laughter.
“Silly boy,” his mother began softly. “You don’t have to create anything this great. God already did it for you…unless you plan to be god when you grow up,” she teased.
“Maybe,” he replied sheepishly, “I don’t know what I want to be yet.”
“Well, it’s okay Grey,” his father said gently, “just as long as you promise to be the best at whatever you choose to be.”
“I will Daddy,” Grey replied. “I promise.”
His parents hugged him again and each took a hand to walk him back to the car.
Those were simpler times. No difficult decisions, no weighty responsibilities, no life-threatening situations. As they approached the car his father clicked the key fob and Grey heard the doors unlocking.
Grey’s eyes flew open and he shot upright from the desk! There were no key fobs or auto locks in 1967! He must have been daydreaming. That sound was the familiar buzz-click of the cipher lock on his outer office door. Someone, probably Chief, was coming into the office.