Authors: Bill Allen
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Greg said.
Mr. Caine’s head snapped toward Greg, and in spite of the deathly look about his face, his eyes flashed with excitement. “What do you mean?”
Greg pretended not to hear. “You were saying something about spectral people?” he said to Nate.
“Yeah. Dad thinks the Spectrals evolved here, but the Earthtones, as he calls people like us, originated on another world he calls Earth. Pretty crazy, huh?”
Greg wasn’t sure how to respond. Nathan once told him that magicians from both this planet and his own were brought to Myrth to fight the Dragon Wars, and that some from Earth may have returned here instead of their own world. Calling them Earthtones didn’t make it any crazier.
“I said, ‘Pretty crazy, huh?’”
Greg realized he’d been daydreaming. “Who’s to say?”
Nate scowled. “Don’t humor him,” he whispered.
Mr. Caine took to coughing so hard, Greg wasn’t sure he’d ever regain his breath. “I knew it. You’re from Myrth, aren’t you?”
Now it was Greg who started coughing.
“What are you talking about, Dad?” said Nate.
Mr. Caine pried himself from his chair and motioned the boys toward an old wooden table. “Come, sit. There’s much we must discuss.”
“What’s going on, Dad?” said Nate, but Mr. Caine wouldn’t speak again until the two boys were seated and he’d poured himself a large cup of water from a chipped pitcher. His hands trembled so badly, water spilled over half the table, but he managed to drink a few drops and then offered some to Greg out of the same cup.
“Er, no, thanks.”
Mr. Caine took a second drink for himself, then set the cup back on the table with a clatter. “So, you
from Myrth then?”
Greg wasn’t sure what to say. He wondered how long these two would wait if he said nothing at all.
“Where’s Myrth?” Nate asked again.
His father frowned. “You’d know if you ever listened when I’m talking.”
“Myrth is a world of magic.”
Nate laughed. “I think I’d have remembered that.”
“I’ve never told you much about it because you always roll your eyes at me whenever I bring up your origins.”
“But that was about Earth. I thought this time you said Myrth.”
Mr. Caine shot Greg a see-what-I-have-to-put-up-with? look. He stifled another cough and poured himself a second cup of water.
“Well, maybe next time I talk, you’ll listen.” He turned back to Greg. “You never answered me. You are from Myrth, right?”
Greg debated ignoring the question again but guessed the man might notice. “I did come here from Myrth, yes.”
Mr. Caine looked as if he might faint. Of course, he’d looked like that from the start.
Nate regarded Greg doubtfully. “You’re from another world.”
“Of course he’s from another world,” said Mr. Caine. “Just look at him.”
“He looks normal to me.”
“Ridiculous. Normal people can’t do magic.”
Nate turned back to Greg. “You can do magic?”
“He came here from another world, didn’t he?” said Mr. Caine.
“No, you’ve got it all wrong,” said Greg. “I’m not a magician.”
“You’re not?” said both Nate and his father. Greg couldn’t decide who sounded more disappointed.
“If it makes you happy, I did get sent here by one. Actually, a whole group of them. And they’re going to bring me back soon.”
“You’re kidding?” said Nate.
“I knew it,” said Mr. Caine, banging his fist on the table. His cup bounced up and clinked into the pitcher, but didn’t topple over.
“Why would a bunch of magicians send you
?” Nate asked.
“Yes, tell us,” said Mr. Caine. “Did you do something bad? Were you exiled?”
Greg started to answer, but then caught himself. Sure, this was why he had come here, but how much should he tell them? On Myrth, the adult Nathan was always saying how dangerous it was to know too much about the future. Greg needed time to think.
“Sorry, I can’t say.”
“Why not?” asked Nate.
“Magicians,” his father said. “Terribly secretive lot.”
“I’m not a magician,” Greg objected.
“Wouldn’t know it to listen to you. I’ve been waiting all my life for proof that Myrth exists. Now here you are, and I can’t pry a word from you.”
“Can you at least tell us something about it?” asked Nate.
“Um . . .” said Greg. He at least had to tell Nate about the first two prophecies, or they might never come true—er, have come true—either way, he had to tell him.
“We’ll give you dinner,” Mr. Caine bargained, and Greg’s expression must have changed, because the man banged the table again. “I knew it. Don’t tell me I don’t know how a young boy thinks.”
Nate stood and walked to a counter in what might have passed for a kitchen. He removed a loaf of bread from a dented canister, returned to the table, and tore off one piece for Greg and another for his father.
“Er, thanks,” said Greg. In his mind he ran through every moment he’d ever spent with Nathan. How much did the man already know about the future when he met Greg, and how much did he learn along the way? Well, he at least knew about the existence of the first two prophecies. Greg started out by telling them how he once set out to slay a dragon.
Nate and his father listened with awe as Greg discussed meeting a strange man in white among the shifting pools of lava within the Molten Moor, but he made sure to mention being alone when he set out to confront Witch Hazel, remembering how Nathan had refused to step foot across Black Blood Creek.
Soon he was describing how he and Lucky hauled a large sled up the winding tunnel through the Infinite Spire, and of his confrontation with the dragon, Ruuan. But he skipped the part about running into the Army of the Crown along the way. Nathan seemed just as surprised by that chance encounter as Greg was. Likewise he didn’t mention the bollywomp attack, or the stampeding falchions in Fey Field.
“This is incredible,” said Nate. “You’re making it up.”
“No,” said Greg, “I’m not.”
“Of course he’s not,” said Mr. Caine. “You don’t lie to magicians.”
“Dad, we’re not magicians,” said Nate.
“No, but the people in Greg’s world are. You don’t just go breaking habits overnight.” He returned to coughing then, and Nate and Greg exchanged worried glances as he fought to catch his breath.
“You okay, Dad?”
“I’m fine,” Mr. Caine insisted. “Tell us more,” he said to Greg, his voice little more than a gasp.
“Uh, okay.” Greg thought hard about how much advance knowledge Nathan had of the second prophecy. His memories were getting all mixed up. It seemed as if Nathan knew very little about Greg’s last trip to Myrth beyond the fact that Greg exchanged the key piece of the Amulet of Tehrer for the missing pieces of Ruuan’s amulet. But Greg wasn’t sure, and he couldn’t help but worry as he relayed even this much.
He made sure to hint that it wouldn’t take the witch long to restore the amulet, so Nathan would know to be there when they needed him, but he was careful not to mention a third prophecy at all. Unfortunately there was not much more he could reveal.
Nate looked disappointed. “But you hardly told us anything about the battle.”
“There’s not much to tell. We were surrounded by trolls, and a lot of good men died. I might have too, if not for my skill in chikan.”
“Lucky you’re so good,” said Nate.
“Not luck. I worked hard to learn.”
Mr. Caine shot his son a look. “See?”
“You could be just as good if you wanted,” Greg told Nate.
“Who says I’m not?”
Greg laughed. “I thought we settled that earlier.”
“Who are you kidding, boy?” said Nate’s father. “You’ll never be as good as you could. All you’re interested in is the mechanics. You never listen when I tell you about the important things.”
“No, he’s right,” Greg said.
“What would you know about it?”
“Chikan is more than just a way of fighting. It’s a whole way of thinking. True power can only come from inner peace.”
“You sound like Dad.”
“Oh, then you have heard me,” Mr. Caine said. He started wheezing again, and once again Greg was afraid he wouldn’t stop.
“Maybe you should go to bed, Dad,” said Nate. “You don’t look so good.”
Mr. Caine nodded but was unable to speak. He allowed the boys to guide him to a cot in one corner of the room. Nate draped a blanket over him while Greg adjusted the single pillow beneath his head. Then, as Greg started to draw away, Mr. Caine reached out and grabbed his hand.
“Thanks for coming here,” he whispered. “About the chikan . . . I’ll try to tell him again. Maybe now that he’s met you, he’ll listen.”
Greg wasn’t sure what to say. “Yes, you should do that. He needs to know about sensen and the meditation. I can’t tell you why, but it’s important.”
Mr. Caine offered a faint smile and nodded as if he understood, even though there was no way he could. “I’ll teach him,” he said. “I promise.” He closed his eyes then and lay still, drawing breath in ragged gasps. Nate and Greg both stared at him worriedly. Finally Nate motioned for Greg to follow him to the door.
“He’s not going to make it this time, is he?” Nate asked, as if it would be perfectly normal for Greg to know the future.
“I-I don’t know,” Greg admitted, but then he remembered what Mr. Caine had just said. Nothing was likely to happen to him before he finished teaching his son the philosophy behind chikan. “I think he’s going to be okay for a little while.”
Nate looked doubtful.
“You should listen to whatever he has to tell you,” Greg added. He didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, but he decided to add one other thing, his voice little more than a whisper. “You might not have a lot of time left together.”
Nate turned away, as if to hide his tears, but then was quick to recover. “Thanks for all those stories you made up. I think Dad really enjoyed them.”
“I didn’t make them up.”
“No, I swear.”
“Do I look like an idiot?”
Greg’s backpack let out a yowl. He slipped it off hurriedly when he felt Rake struggling to get loose. Before he could do anything to stop it, the shadowcat wriggled free and jumped to his shoulder.
“Whoa,” said Nate. “What is that?”
“Uh . . . it’s a shadowcat. You’ll learn all about them if you come to Myrth.”
Nate’s jaw fell slack. “Then you
telling the truth. You are from another world?”
“I wish I could see this Myrth place for myself. Maybe I’ll come see you when . . . you know.”
Greg shooed Rake back into the pack and slipped it over his shoulder. “Yes, you should come . . . but you won’t be able to see me, at least not right away.”
“Why? Are you invisible in your world?”
“No . . . I can’t tell you . . . but we will meet again, I promise.”
Nate smiled sadly. “I hope so. How does somebody get to Myrth anyway?”
Greg stared back at him dumbly. All along he’d been thinking he just needed to relay a few stories to the young Nathan. He’d never stopped to question how the boy was going to get to Myrth when the time came. It’s not like he could just say a magic word and expect to pop between dimensions. Or could he?
Greg slipped the special ring from his finger and held it out. Suddenly everything made sense. Of course Nate had to take it. Someone had to give it to Ruuan so the dragon could offer it to Greg years from now, when Greg faced him in his lair.
Nate reached out cautiously for the ring while Greg explained how to use it and cautioned him about what he might find on the other end of his trip. Ruuan could seem a bit intimidating if you didn’t know him—and even if you did. Afterward Nate seemed twice as reluctant to take the ring, but he accepted it anyway and slipped it over his finger.
“But then how will you get home?” Nate asked.
“Don’t worry,” said Greg. “I’ve made other arrangements.”
Nate stared at him, looking more than a little overwhelmed. “Tell the truth. I mean, I know I’ve never seen one of those cat things before, but . . . you weren’t just putting us on, were you . . . for Dad’s sake? This Myrth world really exists?”
Greg didn’t need to answer. Before he could speak, he felt his world shift. Nate’s questioning face was still gawking at him, refusing to believe, when it blinked out of existence.
In its place hovered the shadowed features of the dark magician, Mordred.
Greg asked. “Nate?”
Lucky stepped up next to Mordred’s shoulder. “Greg, you’re back.”
“Obviously,” said Mordred.
Lucky squeezed past the magician. “What happened? Did you find Nathan?”
“What? Oh, yeah . . . is he here?”
Lucky glanced around the room. Dozens of hooded figures stood motionless in the dark, but Nathan was not among them. He shrugged. “Maybe he’s outside.”
“Nathaniel is not in the area,” Mordred said. “If he were, I would sense his presence.”
“But I don’t understand,” said Greg. “I did everything but tell him what Hazel would do. He wouldn’t have abandoned us now.”
“This does not surprise me,” said Mordred. “You can’t trust a man who would dabble in the Dark Arts.”
“Would you get off the Dark Arts thing?” said Greg. “Nathan’s the most trustworthy man you’ll ever meet.” He shared a worried look with Lucky. “I wonder what happened to him?”
Mordred’s mouth worked itself into something vaguely smile-shaped. “I rest my case.”
“Let’s go find King Peter,” said Lucky. “Maybe he’s heard something . . . and even if he hasn’t, he’s been watching over the girls for three days now. I’m sure he’ll be grateful for the reprieve.”
“Days?” said Greg. “You mean hours.”
“No,” said Mordred. “Time passes differently here than it does on Gyrth.”
“But when you sent me between here and Earth, I got back the same instant I left.”
Mordred frowned. “Gyrth isn’t Earth.”
“Wow.” Greg couldn’t believe he’d wasted so much time already. “Poor King Peter. Have the girls killed each other yet?”