Read Wizard (The Key to Magic) Online
Authors: H. Jonas Rhynedahll
The Key to Magic: Book VI
H. Jonas Rhynedahll
© 2014 by H. Jonas Rhynedahll. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, scenes, dialogue, and descriptions are purely the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, real events, or actual places is entirely coincidental.
Published by Rhynedahll Software in the United States of America.
The Key to Magic: An epic fantasy series
Chronicle of the Rider
Dead Rider's Debt
Rider's Journey (Forthcoming)
Potatoes, Come Forth!
To End a War (science fiction novella)
Not Your Typical, Scantily-Clad Virgin Sacrifice (short story collection)
Time Traveller's Currency Exchange and Pawn
No Babes in the Apocalypse
For my brothers, J, M, M, and T.
Undertime spat Mar out into the dark, ejecting him like night soil tossed haphazardly out a window by a drunken chambermaid.
His emergence from the jagged ethereal tear generated excruciating pain, as if he had been suddenly crushed, broken and torn apart simultaneously, and when he felt air once more on his skin, he was flailing, stunned and confused.
With enough imparted momentum to carry him a dozen armlengths in a sailing flight, he came out horizontal to a flat surface that flashed by black, rough, and damp. As he made an uncontrolled half-rotation, he wrapped his arms loosely around his head for protection and relaxed the rest of his body. When he landed an instant later, he leaned into his spin to throw himself into a roll that kept him from striking with any significant force. His shoulders took the brunt of the punishment, but the exposed flesh of his forearms, hands, and elbows received nasty gouges and scrapes from rough pebbles both embedded and loose.
When at last he flopped to a halt, he came to rest lying face down, aching and sore, with bits of rock dug into his abrasions and a cut or two that were deep enough to weep blood. With the surface just a fingerlength from his nose, his nostrils were full of the disagreeable smells of congealed tar, mildew scum, and stale damp. These stirred familiar memories but it took more than a moment for his thoughts to slow down enough to allow him to identify his landing spot.
This was a flat roof, one not dissimilar to those that he had frequented in Khalar before Waleck and magic had entered his life.
Feeling thoroughly disinclined to get up, he twisted his shoulders to flip over onto his back and let his head loll back to contemplate the -- as expected -- open sky.
As the night slowly came into focus, he took one long breath and then let the cool air fill his lungs as it would. The sensation was comforting and enlivening. In undertime, his breath came in and went out -- or, at least, it seemed so when he considered it -- but air did not exist in the ethereal torrent and the process had seemed more a product of habit rather than need.
Only marginally brighter than his surroundings, the dimness that hung above resolved at length into a perforated shroud of thick, gray clouds. It took another moment for the blurred stars that showed through the gaps to become pinpoints and then longer still to piece together the constellations.
This was indeed the sky that he knew, not some alien starscape that he would have seen from some far southern shore. As long as he was not on the unknown side of the world, he had to be on the northern continent, though that still could place him thousands of leagues from the lands of the Empire.
After a bit, he found Father Moon, a sliver, low to the horizon on his left, making that direction northwest -- or, if this was the spring, northeast. The Cousins were not visible, but as their eccentric cycle varied considerably by latitude and season, this fact provided nothing to tell him where and when he might be.
As to the hour, the crisp and lethargic air made it feel like that placid stretch halfway between midnight and dawn. That would leave too little of the night to allow him to cover much ground in its concealment, but it would be enough to seek a nook to hide in.
He had not given terribly much thought to how he should cope with the bizarre circumstances into which travel through undertime would likely deposit him, but staying out of sight until he determined his exact location -- both temporal and geographical -- was the clear best course of action -- especially considering Whinseschlos' warning against open movement in other times Mar had spent the majority of his life living out of view and the prospect of retreating to that routine felt natural and cheering.
The urgency of finding a hiding place notwithstanding, for some moments he could not find sufficient motivation to do more than be still and let the serene peace of the view calm the storm that raged in his mind.
Undertime had been baffling and illuminating and terrifying. He had spent several lifetimes -- or perhaps only seconds; he had no real way of judging -- in the colliding savage currents of that frightening torrent. Heeding the lesson of his previous brief foray into wizardry, he had not attempted to advance through the sound-color flow by means of brute force alone, but had rather tried to find an
with the tremendous forces that had enveloped him. In this he had succeeded by the more or less instinctive means of giving way to the strongest currents and sliding around the weaker ones and had steadily begun to move toward the past.
With no firm goal, he had simply striven to reach a time long before the disaster at the bridge. Within subjective moments of his entrance, a reflective surge had carried him into an oddly quiet eddy where the relentless rush had eased and, by a relatively minor effort, he had been able to shelter there. After a short period of rest, he had struck out again. When another such eddy had presented itself, he had eagerly taken advantage of it and had thenceforth actively sought them out. Though these refuges had had no actual physical existence or structure, he had come to think of them as lagoons and had used a sequence of them to work his ponderous way upstream.
From time to time, he had tarried longer than necessary in these stepping-stone backwaters to ease the strain of the struggle upon his mind, suspended almost at peace in the sighing-screaming-whispering depths. Fully awash in undertime, his normal senses returned an incomprehensible overload, and introspection had been his only relief from the constant assault of the overpowering ether on his magical sense. Among other things, this compulsory interior focus had led to a prolonged study of the sound-colors of his own flesh, and this exploration to a profound and greatly expanded understanding of the functions and interactions of the flux modulations that formed his body. As a direct consequence, he had discovered that completing the regrowth of his legs and hand could be rapidly accelerated. The improved process had been steadily uncomfortable with occasional spikes of crippling pain that seemed to last for centuries, but he had persevered and made his body whole once more. He had further polished and, where possible, enhanced the natural humours of his own body, so that he thought that he must now be stronger, quicker, and healthier than he had ever been. He had hesitated to refine too many of the processes that composed him, fearful that he might unwittingly transform himself into something that was no longer fully a man. Magic had made the Gaaelfharenii into stalwart giants with incredible fighting abilities, but he had no desire to become an
, as Llylquaendt had called them.
His inelegant exit from undertime had come as a complete surprise. The cause unknown, the last eddy that he had entered had ripped open without warning as he explored its depths and the ethereal surge had washed him out.
After a long while, he rolled left onto his chest and readied to rise but remained prone, just listening.
Even in the depth of the night, the places where people lived made sounds. A metropolis like Mhajhkaei was noisy around the clock, full of the sounds of a restless population. People were always stoking up a fire to cook, running up alleys or down stairs for any number of reasons, arguing over money, singing drunk or sober, crying over tragedy, pounding on doors, building or tearing down, selling and buying, or fighting. A manufacturing city the size of Khalar was hardly ever quiet, with the ring of trip hammers, the trundle of wagons, and the blasts of cooling water steam a constant din. Rural hamlets and villages had people stirring when they should have been asleep, animals doing all the things that they did in the daytime but more furtively, and buildings wincing and moaning as they lost the heat of the sun and settled.
Simply by listening, there was a good chance that he could divine what manner of place he had come to.
There was not much to hear: some alley cats fighting/romancing a good distance off to his right; the soft sounds of water flowing to his front and left, perhaps an aqueduct or fountain; nothing at all from the building below him; to his rear, the plaintive lowing of a cow.
The nature of the echoes led him to judge this place to be small, little more than a dozen streets wide in any direction. In this case, smaller was definitely not better and he would need to abscond into the countryside as soon as he could. A stranger could not long remain unnoticed in a place where everyone knew everyone else by name.
He rose up to his feet and felt an instant of exhilarating personal triumph at the accomplishment of simply standing on his
two feet. They were bare -- at the bridge, he had cast away his boots along with his shattered wooden legs -- and newborn tender so that the gravel gave him pin pricks, but he readily welcomed the minor discomfort. Letting his smile fade, he cast his eyes out beyond the roof parapet as he turned slowly in a circle.
He was indeed in a village, one smaller than his estimate with no large buildings or defined commercial district. The architecture was bland and uniform. All of the structures exhibited a square or rectangular blockish shape, but most had decorative embellishments that included incised loops and elaborate curlicues that projected from walls and rooflines and outlined doors and windows. He had not seen these particular designs before, but then the world was a big place. One odd thing -- there were no gabled roofs at all. Every roof was as flat as the one he stood upon. In Khalar, Mhajhkaei, Elboern, and the other places that he had seen, sloped roofs were common, but he could not consider their absence here to be conclusive.
As wizardry was a magic that was said to manipulate both time and space, he had to take it for granted that his rudderless trip through undertime had dislocated him in both. He could be anywhere in the north -- a few leagues from The Greatest City in All the World or all the way on the unmapped back side of the globe. However, no matter how far away he had been thrown, it should be no great difficulty to get home. Once he discovered both to where and to when he had been transported, he could steal some unwatched cart or wagon, enchant it, and fly home. Even a return voyage of some months should prove of no consequence to his objectives. He felt that his journey through undertime must have gained him at least a year.
Except in general terms -- do whatever necessary to avert the disaster -- he had not yet determined precisely what he would do when he did so.
He knew that he could intervene and prevent death -- he had already done so with wizardry once, albeit at the near cost of his own life -- but did not know if he would be able to learn to control his voyages to the extent necessary to travel to any particular place and time. Whinseschlos had been adamant that not all things could be changed. Further, upon reflection, Mar had derived the distinct impression that the ancient wizard had believed firmly in fate and that any attempt to alter major events was ultimately condemned to fail.
Mar still did not accept that the course of a man's life was fixed by forces beyond his control, but he did have many nagging doubts.
Did one man alone have the strength to divert all of time? The conflict between the Brotherhood and the Empire had grown to span half the known world and involve hundreds of thousands, and he could not escape the near certainty that the idea that he could singlehandedly overcome the Phaelle'n was ludicrous.
Even should he learn to travel to any specific moment, his magic did not make him more than he was. Every man was finite and every man had unavoidable limits. No matter what magic he came to master, he must face the fact that he would not always be able to discover a dodge to win the day.