SHINY IDEAS Sample Fiction

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"THE BRIDGE"

Chapter 2

She didn't sleep anyway, so she might as well have finished the daydream, for all the good it did to postpone it. Except it wasn't a dream...was it?

The question tortured her all night, though not before her family had tortured her first. They’d gotten a call from the school, which she expected, and her mom and dad just didn’t seem to understand how boring the place was, and how hard to take, some days. And they especially didn’t get the problem with Ms. Taylor.

"She’s your teacher," Mom kept repeating, angrily slapping some cold supper leftovers onto a plate, a lock of blonde hair jerking on her forehead with every movement. "She should be treated with respect."

"If she treated us with respect, too, it’d be a lot easier," Haley defended herself. "I mean – she talks to us like we’re in kindergarten! Like we’re five years old or something."

"Well," Dad remarked pointedly from where he leaned, cross-armed, against the doorjamb of the entry to the living room, "it might help if you didn’t act like a five-year old and slam out of class." He raised a dark eyebrow at his daughter across the room.

Haley slouched down into her chair. "Yeah, well...she was going to steal my notebook," she mumbled.

"Haley’s in trouble!" Now her 12-year old brother, Shawn, peered around their father in the doorway, leaving his video game just long enough to pursue his second-favourite pastime: ruining his sister’s life. A gleeful grin plastered on his face below short, dishevelled brown hair, he taunted, "Boy, Hale, you’re gonna get suspended or something now." He wandered to the fridge and looked inside, speculatively.

"No she’s not," Mom retorted tightly, setting the plate, hard, onto the table in front of Haley, then pushing the fridge door shut. "It’s already settled. She’s going back to school and she’s going to apologize to her teacher tomorrow."

Apologize! Never. For one swift moment, Haley contemplated running away to join a circus or something, anything to keep from having to apologize for not letting Ms. Taylor steal her notebook. She’d rather die. Well, get kind of sick, maybe.

She stared at her supper plate, realizing that she had absolutely no appetite. And it had nothing to do with her being in trouble, and everything to do with the fact that she’d been eating off golden plates in another world, earlier in the evening. "Tomorrow’s Saturday," she pointed out to her mom. "Is she coming in to the school?"

"Don’t get smart with your mother," Dad chimed in. "You know what she means."

"Where were you anyway, Hale?" Shawn wondered, his quest for a snack thwarted.

"It’s pretty late." Haley stared into her lap, at the glittering ring she still wore on her finger. Oh, I was just off in another world, having a banquet with a prince and his brother. Obviously the last thing she could tell her family was the truth; they’d be calling the men in the white coats before she’d finished her sentence. Resolutely, she pulled the ring off and stuck it into a pocket with one hand, picking up her fork in the other. "I don’t know," she shrugged. "Somewhere. Just walking around, thinking, mostly."

"Thinking? For all that time?" Shawn repeated, so mystified that Haley wanted to snort. That’s right, the last thing he’d ever be interested in was thinking.

"I don’t know what goes through your head sometimes," Mom grumbled, putting away the rest of the leftovers. "You’d do so well in school if you’d just pay attention and apply yourself."

"I know,” Haley sighed gloomily. "If they did anything interesting, it would be a lot easier."

The torture didn’t last much longer. Shawn’s first love – some new game, she lost track of the titles – called him back upstairs to his computer soon enough, and Dad returned to his hockey game in the living room. Haley did the dishes without being asked, in the hope of maybe easing into her parents’ good graces again, but as her mom joined her dad in the living room, tight-lipped expression not softened a bit, Haley figured it probably wouldn’t happen till tomorrow. Or maybe even Monday when – perish the thought! – she’d be forced to apologize to the wicked witch.

Still, she had much more important concerns on her mind as she finally left the spotless kitchen behind and trudged upstairs to her own room. Now that she was alone again with her own thoughts, she could finally allow herself to review the events of the day. Whatever trouble she might be in with school and family, it somehow diminished in significance when she thought of everything that had happened earlier, in that banquet hall in a totally different world.

She sat, knees up, on her bed, the room in darkness except for a small lamp on the bedside table. As she mused again on the events of the day, twisting and twisting the ring now replaced on her finger, all she could see as she stared into nothing were the two faces: one regal and unblemished, twisting in a scream before it vanished altogether; the other pale and scarred, shrieking with horror and shock. Something awful had happened to Gerik's brother, and she had been jolted back into the real world without knowing what it was.

No. The other world was as real as this one...wasn't it? She’d never seen a ring like this before, and was sure she hadn't picked it up while daydreaming. She had gone deep into her imaginative dreams before, but never so far that hours passed without her notice. Someone would have spoken to her if she’d still been walking around when classes got out, and that would have jerked her back to reality. Wouldn't it? She had walked the grounds for a while before coming home, in case she’d left her notebook somewhere. But it was nowhere to be found. Nowhere.

The missing notebook and mysterious ring were slim proof, but at least they pointed to a possibility. Why had Haley felt too full for supper when she got home? Why did the taste of wine linger in her mouth when she’d suddenly found herself standing in the darkness of the schoolyard? She remembered taking another swig of the stuff just before the King's disappearance. She didn't know why her fine robes hadn’t come back with her to her own world, even though the ring had. Or why her own clothes had reappeared, yet her notebook had not. There were many odd things about this whole situation, and she couldn't just dismiss them. Yet the conclusions they suggested were impossible. Haley had always daydreamed, but she knew the difference between dream and reality. There was no such place as Karnis. It was all in her mind. Wasn't it? So where did this ring come from? And where was her notebook?

This was awful. She sat up straighter, crossing her legs on the bed, and examined the ring as though by looking at it she could divine its secrets. In the lamplight, it glittered as though it contained its own flame, sparkling more brilliantly than it had in the Prince's apartments. It no longer appeared to be just a piece of glass in a dull gold band; instead the light plunged into its deep blue depths, refracting back and forth, splitting and multiplying. Prince Gerik had thought the ring was important, and not just because it had belonged to his mother. He said it "operated" her mirror. What did that mean?

Haley had no idea. She thought it could have something to do with magic, though maybe not, when you remembered that magic didn’t work too easily in Karnis any more. But if there had been easy-to-use magic floating around, then maybe the ring "operated" the mirror if the wearer really concentrated or maybe used a secret password, or waved it at the mirror using some kind of dramatic gesture...sort of like this...

Her hands flew to her mouth as the ring flared with blinding light, flinging sharp shadows high on the walls behind every piece of furniture. It leapt at the mirror above her chest of drawers, bounding back so brightly that she had to shade her eyes as though she were sstaring at the sun. Then, her jaw dropping, she saw that the mirror was not merely reflecting the light, but had actually "turned on" like a television.

She sprang off the bed, heart pounding, and gaped at it. The mirror no longer reflected her own image, or even her own room. It was as though she stared through a window into another room, one that she actually recognized. There was Gerik in his own suite of rooms in the palace, and as he leaned on the mantel of the fireplace, his face was grey as death.

He had changed out of his banquet finery, instead returning to his original plain brown tunic. But Haley barely had time to register this, or the exhaustion on his face, before something alerted him to her presence. He turned with a gasp and looked directly at her, shock and anger exploding onto his face. Stumbling forward, he shouted, "Sorceress! Where is he? What have you done to him?"

The image vanished and the light snuffed out, the stone in the ring once again masquerading as an ordinary gem. Haley plopped back onto the bed, shivering as though a window had opened to the cold outside. She stared at the jewel on her finger, half marveling and half afraid. So there really was magic in this thing after all.

And the world of Karnis was real. King Mikkel and Prince Gerik were real, and Haley had to get back to them. Mikkel was still missing, and Gerik obviously believed she had helped abduct him. She had to find out what had happened – she couldn't just go there and witness something so awful without getting involved. For some reason, she still felt somehow responsible for the place, even though she now knew she hadn’t invented it. It had been bad enough watching Gerik's parents die, but actually to have been present when his brother was taken – that was simply too much to forget about now. Haley felt utterly helpless...but utterly determined to do something. Even if she didn’t have a clue what she could do.

After lying awake, staring at the ceiling half the night, she finally managed to sleep for three hours, but still woke up almost at dawn. She had a quick breakfast, astonished at how loudly her cereal crunched as she chewed it in the silence of the kitchen. The streets were so quiet as she hurried to the school that she could actually hear her own footsteps creating the faintest echo as they bounced back from the houses on her street. Almost all the windows were still dark, as her neighbors took the opportunity to sleep in. She was clearly the only crazy person in the neighbourhood this morning.

Funny. Approaching the school, she realized that this was the first time she’d ever come near the place on a Saturday; usually she didn't even want to be there on weekdays (as Ms. Taylor could attest). When she arrived she climbed the front steps and turned to survey the weirdly empty and silent schoolyard, stretched flat before her, still lying in shadow since the sun had not yet climbed much above the horizon. A cool wisp of air probed in a desultory way at the collar of her jacket, and she instinctively hunched her shoulders against it. Just like yesterday, she could smell the faint aroma of growing things beginning to manifest as the air grew slowly warmer. So...what should she do now?

How exactly did one jump between worlds? It wasn't like she'd ever hear anyone discussing the procedure. She wished she had something easy and obvious like a magic wand, and laughed a little wryly at the thought. But the amusement vanished quickly as she remembered the wand in Banack’s hand, and King Mikkel's twisted face as the power took him away. It wasn't very funny after all, was it? The problem was just that the only things Haley could think of came out of children's stories and fantasy novels. She had no magic wand to wave around, and she wasn’t going to say "Abracadabra" or "Prest-o Change-o," even if she was alone here and no one would know. There were limits.

But maybe it would help to retrace what she’d done to get into the castle in the first place? Well...she hadn’t done anything, really, except to imagine herself there, picturing it vividly. Was that all it took? It was hard to believe, but this was the only solid fact she had to go on so far. It seemed to have worked like that yesterday, at least. So, feeling very stupid, she closed her eyes and imagined the palace as it had been last night, before she’d been jolted back to the schoolyard...

And nothing happened. Unsurprisingly. When Haley opened her eyes, she was exactly where she was supposed to be according to all the laws of her own world: standing on the front steps of the school. Okay, try something else. But what? She didn’t have a clue. Maybe she just hadn’t concentrated enough the first time. She repeated the effort, closing her eyes again, willing herself very hard to go back to Karnis. But again, nothing. Even though she’d expected that result, it was still frustrating. She couldn't think of anything to do!

After trying several times more just to make herself be in Karnis, the way it had happened yesterday, she even gave in and resorted to the stupid magic words. "Abracadabra," she muttered, glancing furtively around in case anyone was eavesdropping. But the schoolyard remained empty, only the light humming sound of a couple of cars on the road across the football field hinting at any human life nearby. And as before, nothing happened. Relief mingling with her frustration, Haley acknowledged that if she was ever going to get back to Karnis, it definitely wouldn't be with words like that.

So hold on a minute and think, she chided herself. How had it really happened yesterday? Well, she’d been imagining the other world so deeply that she hadn't been aware of her own world any longer. So how about relaxing, and just thinking of the place without being so uptight? It wasn't easy to do, but she paced back and forth in front of the doors, her surroundings gradually becoming more visible as the sun made its presence felt. She tried not to picture Gerik or Mikkel specifically, but just tried to think generally about Karnis, the way she usually did when she was thinking up a story.

Which reminded her. Yesterday she’d had her notebook, in which she had already written part of a story about Karnis. Had that provided a thin link of some kind? As though something from that world already existed in her own world, and helped to pull her across somehow? If that were the case, she thought, frowning in concentration, if that were the case, then -- then -- why, she had something even more tangible to connect her to Karnis this time. She had Gerik's mother's ring. And she’d discovered last night that it had some kind of power, which she had already managed to trigger once. Maybe she could somehow tell it to go home, back to the mirror it was made for.

And maybe – now she was getting really excited – maybe she could reach for her notebook, too, left behind in Karnis, and establish some kind of double link. Once again she closed her eyes and concentrated. She pictured herself holding her notebook in her left hand while she lifted her right hand, remembering the clear pane of glass that was the Queen's mirror, and imagining the ring reaching out for it. She no longer cared if anyone might be around.

Haley felt a strange tingling all up her right arm, but ignored it, hoping that was normal for this sort of procedure – if there even was anything normal about doing something like this. Just for effect, she waved her hand around a little -

- and was almost blinded, even through her closed eyes, by the sudden flash of light. She gasped and opened her eyes, to discover that she now stood once again in the palace banquet hall, the blazing ring on her finger flinging its searching light to every corner of the room. For a moment the tapestries all along the walls glowed with brilliant, vibrant color, and the heavy wooden roof beams almost hummed with warm life. Then the light slowly began to die away, and she realized that she herself provided the only illumination in the hall, the lamps having all been extinguished, and the only other light coming from a few small windows high up in the wall to her right. Or it would have come in that way, if the windows weren’t dark. Maybe dawn came later in Karnis than it did at home, or maybe those windows faced west.

She stood on the dais where the royal party had dined last night, but noticed in surprise that the tables had already been cleared away. In the confusion of last night's tragedy, she’d have thought that no one would have been organized enough to clean up, but she supposed that the duties of the servants would continue, no matter what happened. Gerik had sure looked awful when she’d seen him in the mirror, though; she didn’t imagine he’d have been much help.

Well, she’d try to lend a hand now, as soon as she figured out how to find his apartments. She wasn’t sure she knew the way back there, from here, but maybe she could climb up to the battlements again, and get in the way she had yesterday.

However, she needn't have worried about finding the prince. At her first step outside the banquet hall, two guards came running down the corridor, took her roughly into custody, and almost dragged her to Gerik’s suite of rooms. Haley gathered, from the guards’ grunted answers to her questions, that standing orders had been issued to arrest her if she dared to show her face in the castle again. "All right!" she snapped irritably as one of them shoved her so hard into Gerik's outer room that she almost fell. "Stop pushing. I'm not trying to run away, am I?"

"You should be running as far as you can possibly go," the guard snarled, "after what you’ve done."

"What I’ve done -- " Haley began, but stopped abruptly as Gerik entered from an inner chamber. He looked even worse than he had in the mirror last night. His dishevelled grey tunic appeared not to have been washed or mended in weeks, and the awful scars on his face were a livid, unhealthy purple. The rest of his face would have been as grey as his tunic, except that he hadn't shaved and instead his skin looked dirty. Haley barely had time to be amazed at just how much his beard had grown since last night, because Gerik gasped at the sight of her, and hobbled forward quickly.

He shouted, "Where is he, you scheming Sorceress?" and clamped his hands on her throat. She squawked and pried at his fingers, but almost at once his crutch clattered to the floor and his hands frantically clutched to stay upright rather than to throttle her. In fact, he would have toppled to the floor if she hadn't held him up, but he kept shrieking, "Get away from me! Don't touch me! Get your filthy hands off me!"

"All right," she responded, clenching her teeth, and let go. He flailed wildly and sat down hard on the carpet, yelping in pain and grabbing his twisted leg. She glared down at him. "You don't have to treat me like this," she announced. "I know what you're thinking and it isn't true. I had nothing to do with what happened to your brother."

"You liar!" he screamed. "You dare to come back here after what you have done!" He fumbled for his crutch and laboriously dragged himself upright as he continued yelling. "I'll throw you in the dungeon -- I'll have you tortured -- till you tell us what you have done with him -- where you have taken him -- "

"Oh right," she snorted sarcastically, hoping he couldn’t tell how nervous she was. "Send for the basilica. Or whatever it was called. Or how about the army, maybe? Just for me."

Her words hurt him more than she’d expected. In fact, she thought he might be about to cry as he growled, "Yes, taunt me with that. If we'd had that kind of power we would have been able to stop the spell. But there are still sorcerers in this land and we will not remain powerless. We'll find him -- whatever you've done with him -- and we will take vengeance upon you and whoever paid you to do this. And you -- you -- I will kill with my bare hands."

This was really getting out of hand. Or it would, at least, if she didn’t think of the right thing to say, and quickly. She was beginning to wonder if it had been such a good idea, after all, to bring herself back here. But now that she’d done it, she had to try to salvage the situation before she really got into trouble.

"Look," Haley said, mustering both courage and defiance, "why do you think I did anything to your stupid brother? What about the magician who did the spell? Why don't you ask him?"

"We have," Gerik muttered wearily, shoulders slumping. "Again and again and again. And he insists..."

"Insists what?" she demanded.

The prince glared at her. "He insists that he was not seeking to harm Mikkel, and that he had no accomplices." Then before Haley could answer, he added, "But you came to us on that exact day at that exact time, and attended the betrothal banquet itself - "

"That was your idea - " she blurted, but Gerik went on relentlessly.

"You knew what happened to my parents – you even knew what I was thinking during the accident." He waved a vague hand toward the fireplace, and with sinking heart, Haley saw her notebook on the mantel. The prince hissed, "When I read what you had written I could not believe it - I should have guessed from the beginning how dangerous you were. Then when the – the spell - overcame Mikkel - " He literally shook as he forced out the words. "When he disappeared - you disappeared. You disappeared with him! You evil Sorceress – where did you take him?"

Haley thought he might launch himself at her again, so she hid behind one of the guards, who still remained, awaiting orders from the prince. Peering out from her safer location, she tried to explain, "Listen, I didn't go where King Mikkel went, okay? I went home. I didn't even want to. I wanted to find out what happened to your brother, but I couldn't get back till this morning. I didn't know how."

"Liar!" he shouted again, limping after her around the hapless guard.

Haley moved out of reach again. "Look, prince," she said. "If I did something to your brother, would I be stupid enough to come back here? Get real, all right?" For an instant, incongruously, she wanted to burst into hysterical laughter. He really had "gotten real," hadn't he - this character she thought she had dreamed up? But she dragged her mind back to the urgency at hand; of all moments this was not the time to daydream. "Look, I came back to help you, didn’t I? I liked your brother. Why would I want to hurt him?"

"I don't know.” He glared at her over the guard’s shoulder, as the other guard watched their little avoidance dance, eyes wide. “But I vow,” Gerik promised darkly, “that I will discover your reasons - "

At that moment a wild yell burst from the chamber Gerik had just left, followed by a flash of orange light and a rolling billow of heavy, grey smoke. Lastly came a man, staggering and choking, fanning himself uselessly with a familiar looking wand, and waving the other arm madly about as he fought free of the greasy fog.

"Wezzel!" Gerik cried in alarm, limping over to him. "What has happened? What is wrong?"

"Nothing," muttered the man. "Nothing whatsoever."

"Have you lost your wits?" Gerik retorted, signalling for one guard to bring a chair while sending the other to make sure there was no fire in the inner chamber. Haley (who seemed to be forgotten for the moment) curiously observed the person who had just come out of it. He stood a little taller than Gerik, wearing his blond hair short and his red beard neatly trimmed. Despite the fact that he was dressed in much better than his prince, in a black long-sleeved tunic trimmed in gold braid, and despite his being old enough to be Gerik's father, the prince didn’t seem concerned about courtesy and respect. Instead he demanded, "What has gone amiss with your spell, Wezzel?"

"Nothing, my prince, as I said." The man leaned one hand on the back of the chair, the other still clutching his long ebony wand.

"If you do not give me an intelligent answer immediately, I warn you, I'll have you flogged."

"You'll do no such thing, young prince, and I am giving you an intelligent answer. Nothing has gone wrong; it has gone right. More than usual, which has made everything go wrong."

"What are you talking about?" Gerik growled. "I don't need to hear nonsense at a time like this."

"Prince Gerik, I set up the scrying spell very carefully. I took all precautions and summoned power meticulously, so it would reach greatest availability at the moment I had need of it. Such things are difficult to balance, as you know."

"I know, I know," Gerik snapped. "But what went wrong?"

"It went right. Too right. When the moment came, there was so much power, and it flowed so easily, that the spell operated more powerfully than I expected. So much that I had no control. The magic burst the bounds of the spell and I could barely force it down. It is a wonder the castle is still standing, there was so much raw magic trying to flow all at once."

Gerik stared at him. "That...is impossible," he faltered.

"Indeed it is, my prince. It was more magic at one time than I have encountered in all my years of practice. I did not think so much magic existed in all the world."

"Then perhaps the power is returning to life..." Haley was surprised by the unconscious yearning in Gerik's voice, until she remembered how he had spoken of the dying magic last night.

"No, Prince Gerik. The sources of power are all but dead. There is no reviving them."

"Then where is it coming from?"

"I don't know. And what is worse, I don't know how to deal with magic that is so readily available."

"What do you mean?" Gerik snapped. "If there is so much magic there, your spells ought to be that much easier."

The sorcerer’s stare glinted suddenly, eyes blue as ice. "So they should – if I know the power will stay at the same intensity and not increase or decrease – if I relearn my spells and change the strictures so they are not summoning all power available but restricting it instead – if I can protect myself and others from a backlash if the power goes out of control – if I can learn the nature of this power to discover if it is even amenable to my spells – why, certainly, Prince Gerik, then my spells will be that much easier. Naturally."

"You are mocking me," Gerik's jaw tightened.

"No, I am not," the sorcerer retorted. "But I am in an impossible situation. I attempt to perform a relatively simple spell and discover that it works as it might have worked five centuries ago. I did not learn magic five centuries ago, Prince Gerik. I learned it twenty years ago, and may take a long time to relearn my skills. If I can do so at all."

"And what about the search for my brother?" Gerik demanded raggedly. "Does he die while you 'relearn' your skills? What kind of sorcerer are you, that this can render you helpless?"

"The most skilled sorcerer in Karnis," the man replied matter-of-factly. "But with this change in power, all sorcerers become novices. And I remind you, Prince Gerik, that this is precisely what Banack has been telling us: that his spell went out of control and produced a completely unexpected result. After what has just happened, I am inclined to believe him."

"It's a lie!" Gerik shouted. "He kidnapped my brother! It is a Lashkar plot to destroy Karnis!"

"My Prince, please think rationally for a moment - "

"You're in league with him. That's what it is – you’ve staged this little magic show today to fool me - "

Wezzel stepped clear of the chair, glowering so sternly that even the prince was daunted. "And you," said the sorcerer, "are simply looking for someone to blame. If the king's disappearance was an accident, then you will have no one to take revenge upon."

"And what about her?" Gerik pointed at Haley. "She was involved. She disappeared with Mikkel. Are you trying to tell me that was an accident also?"

Wezzel finally acknowledged her, walking over and looking her in the face, eyes narrowed in appraisal. "So this is the stranger from the banquet."

"She was Banack's accomplice, I tell you," Gerik insisted.

"Frankly, I suspect not. I do not believe Banack had any accomplices, because I do not believe he was plotting anything."

"This is unbelievable!" Gerik cried. "You simply decide there is no conspiracy – and now you will say how unfortunate it is that we have lost our king, but there is nothing you can do because the magic has so inconveniently changed. And Mikkel will die because no one cares what has happened to him."

"Of course I care what has happened to him," said Wezzel, in a supreme effort to speak patiently. "I will not stop seeking him. But it may take a long time to find him. I am sorry."

"You will never find him," growled the Prince, turning his back on the sorcerer, shoulders slumping. "You will find his corpse."

"My prince. Please believe - "

"Wait a minute," Haley interrupted. "I don't understand what the problem is."

"What the problem is?" Gerik turned on her in amazement. "Have you lost your mind?"

"You keep talking about looking for your brother," she answered, puzzled. "Don't you already know where he is? Isn't that him?"

She pointed at the mirror standing across the room, and they followed her gaze in dumbfounded amazement. The glass had suddenly come to life but instead of reflecting Gerik's room, it revealed a soundless scene of snow, ice, and cold, blowing wind. And in the midst of this storm they saw King Mikkel standing in a cave mouth, still clad in the white tunic and light cape from the betrothal banquet. He hugged his arms tightly around him to protect against the cold – but even through the glass, they could still see him shivering.

"Mikkel!" Gerik cried, almost tripping as he staggered awkwardly toward the mirror. "Mikkel, can you hear me? Where are you? Can't you hear me? Where are you, Mikkel?"

The king made no sign that he heard. In fact, he turned almost immediately and pushed into the cave to escape the howling wind. Gerik reached the mirror just as Mikkel disappeared inside, and the younger brother pressed his hands on the glass as though trying to reach into the cave for the elder. He stood staring blindly at the windblown snow and the empty cave mouth, for a very long time.

Then he gasped, lifting his head. The image in the mirror hadn’t changed, but he turned and focused sharp eyes at Haley. "Did you do this?" he demanded.

She followed his gaze to the ring on her forefinger, whose gemstone still flared with power. "Sorry," she said in a hurry, "I forgot to take it off when you told me – "

"I don’t care about that," he interrupted. "I just want to know what you did."

"I don't know," she had to admit. "I was just wishing I could help somehow, and figure out where King Mikkel had gone...and bang, there he was. I didn't do anything special to the mirror, really. I'm sure it would work just as well for you - "

"This mirror," Gerik told her with sudden intensity, "has not functioned once since my mother died. And even she could rarely bring it to life."

"Oh," Haley said, unable to think of anything more profound.

"My Prince...," Wezzel murmured thoughtfully, his voice trailing away as he took his wand and waved it slowly at Haley, up one side and down the other. She had a sudden vision of a security officer at an airport, checking for concealed weapons and metal belt buckles. She wondered if she should spread her arms and legs and 'assume the position.' The sorcerer remarked, "This is most unusual."

"What is? What is she doing?" asked Gerik.

"Nothing."

"If you start giving me that kind of answer again - "

"Your pardon, Prince Gerik. What I mean is that it is not what the girl is doing that is amazing. It’s what she is."

Haley stepped back in alarm and backed right into one of the guards, the second one, who’d just returned from his inspection of the inner room. "What do you mean?" she asked warily.

"Will you tell me where you come from, lass?" asked the sorcerer, peering at her in speculation.

She stared at him, her mouth suddenly dry. Did he have ways of confirming whether or not she told the truth? But how could she tell the truth? He’d never believe her. He thought she came from Lashkar, didn't he? He thought she really had helped to hurt the king. Either that, or...no. No. It couldn't be.

She decided to try a long shot. "Ah, I'm from...earth," she said, feeling very stupid. Normally, telling him she was from Canada might have been more meaningful, except that in Karnis, either name was equally meaningless. She felt like a Martian or something. What should she say next, "Take me to your leader"?

To her surprise, Wezzel's eyes widened and he cast a quick glance at Gerik. The prince, however, was completely mystified. "I've never heard of such a place," he murmured. "She's lying."

"Perhaps not, my prince. I have heard of the place she speaks of."

"You have?" said Gerik.

"You have?" said Haley, her mouth dropping open. All her newly-established preconceptions vanished in a puff of smoke. This dream got crazier by the minute!

"It is mentioned only in the most ancient archives, Your Highness," said Wezzel, "and few of the references are understood. But the one certain thing is that 'earth' is not in this world. Indeed...it is said that the very ring she wears originated there, and not here."

Now even Gerik regarded the man as though he were crazy. "You," he pronounced firmly, "are mad."

"My prince, please do not make hasty judgements. I would not believe this myself if the girl did not emanate such strange magic." And again he waved the wand at her.

"Now you're really crazy!" Haley cried. "I've never had magic in my life. I've dreamed of it and pretended ever since I was a kid, but there is no magic on earth."

The wand paused as Wezzel looked at her in astonishment. "Is that what they tell you, your kings of earth?"

"Nobody even talks about magic. Well...some people do, in some places, but it's mostly a trick when they do it. But nobody seriously talks about magic because there isn't any. We’re very realistic there."

"There is more magic in earth," Wezzel told her solemnly, "than there has ever been in this world, in all the ages."

"Look, sorry, that just isn't true," Haley insisted. "If there's all that magic on earth, why don't we ever see it?"

"Perhaps because there are no sorcerers there."

"What difference would that make?"

"If there is no one to utilize the power, how would it ever manifest?" The sorcerer raised an eyebrow at her, then glanced at the prince, who still stood watching them, dumbfounded. "I believe we have found the source of extra power, Prince Gerik."

"The source – her?” Gerik pointed incredulously, as though it should be obvious just from looking at Haley that Wezzel had to be wrong. Even though he was right, she couldn’t help the stab of irritation she felt. He could have been less insulting about it.

"Not precisely. She is not the source of the power, but is the channel through which it comes to us. As long as this young lady is in the world, the power from her world flows into ours."

Now they were all just staring at her: Gerik, Wezzel, and both guards, who had each taken a couple of steps to the side – whether to observe her better or to steer clear of her, she couldn’t tell. Haley felt like she’d suddenly grown an extra head or sprouted green hair or something. And she could have cried at the yearning hope on Gerik's ravaged face.

"Wezzel," he said slowly. "If the power comes from her – can’t we use it somehow? Look how easily she found Mikkel in the mirror. Can't we use her power to bring him back?"

"My Prince...I do not think so," Wezzel replied gently. "At least not yet. It would be too dangerous, until we learn how to channel the power properly."

"But Mikkel will freeze or starve to death before that happens," Gerik pleaded. "He's already been there for six days. Who knows how much longer he can survive in that wasteland?"

"Six days?" Haley gasped. "What are you talking about? The banquet was only last night."

Again they looked at her like she was crazy. (She was getting used to it.) Wezzel said slowly, "The banquet was six nights ago. Are you telling us that time travels differently in earth?"

"I don't know." She looked from one to the other. "Prince Gerik, how long ago did you see me in the mirror?"

"Four days ago," he answered. "Well, for me it was the middle of last night, only about four hours after your brother disappeared. I came back here as soon as the sun came up this morning."

"It may be morning there but it is evening here," said the sorcerer. "Prince Gerik, don't you see? If even time moves unevenly to this strange earth power, how can we hope to use it until we study it? It could destroy the king if we try."

Gerik turned away, leaning more heavily than usual on his crutch, and bowing his head in defeat. "Then she is useless...with all her power, she is useless. And Mikkel will die."

"Please, my prince, do not give up hope - "

"Oh, get out of here!" Gerik shouted in sudden fury. "You're as useless as she is! You and your caution. You will kill Mikkel with it, and I can't bear the sight of you. Go away and leave me alone!"

"As you wish," Wezzel returned icily. "But I believe I will take the girl with me so I may continue my study of - "

"No!" Gerik turned on him. "She stays here. I want to talk to her. Just - just go away."

The sorcerer glared at him, but wisely said nothing; Haley got the impression he’d seen his prince like this before, and knew better than to cross him. The man bowed stiffly and stalked out without another word, leaving Haley swallowing a surge of relief. She hadn’t appreciated his idea of "studying" her.

Meanwhile, another fierce glare and a sharp tilt of the head from the prince sent two servants backing out of the suite of rooms just as they made to enter, and induced the guards to bow stiffly and then stalk out after them. Haley sighed and yawned, and sat on the chair Wezzel hadn’t gotten around to using. She wondered what came next.

Gerik fixed a cold stare on her. "I did not give you permission to sit," he said.

Haley gaped in astonishment and retorted, "Look, I was awake most of the night worrying about your brother, and I'm tired. I'm not going to stand here all morn – I mean, all night."

"Is this the respect with which you treat kings and princes in your world?" he demanded.

"We don't have kings," she said. "Most of us, anyway."

"Barbarians, all of you, then," he grumbled. "No sorcerers and no kings - "

"No, just ordinary people. And we're all more polite than you." But Haley suddenly remembered her little tussle with Ms. Taylor, and amended hastily, "Well, most of us are." And in a kind of vague penance she struggled to her feet again.

"Oh, sit down," Gerik waved her back irritably. He hobbled to another chair nearer the fireplace, and carefully lowered himself into it. His right leg stuck out in front and he leaned back awkwardly, the weariness forcing his eyes closed, at least for the moment. "So what am I to do with you," he muttered, "a source of inexhaustible power that’s completely useless to me."

"You're not doing anything with me," Haley told him. "You're not going to use me like some kind of hammer or a lawn mower."

"Or a what?" His brows drew together.

"Never mind. I came to help if I can. But I'm not going to let you use me any old way you want – you and that Weasel guy."

"Wezzel," Gerik corrected.

"Whatever. I can go home any time I want," she went on, hoping it was true, "so don't fool around with me."

"Why don't you go, then?" Gerik grunted at her. "If Wezzel is right, there’s nothing you can do to help, and it's your fault Banack's spell went out of control and Mikkel is lost. So why don't you go, before you do us any more harm?"

His obvious discouragement was almost unbearable to watch. Haley sighed again and answered slowly, "I can’t go. Because I can't just make a mess of things and leave without trying to help fix them."

"There's nothing you can do," he repeated.

"How do you know that?"

"You heard Wezzel - "

"Oh, I know people like him, who are afraid to try anything till they think about it for twenty years. By that time it's way too late to do anything anyway. Maybe you can think of something I can do, that he can't. It's better than just giving up."

"'Giving up,'" Gerik echoed with a harsh laugh. "Is that what you think? I'm not 'giving up.' I simply have no options."

"Are you really sure about that, Prince Gerik?"

The flickering fire seemed to spark off the despair in his eyes. "It is not just Mikkel's disappearance," he murmured. "There was already fear underlying life in Karnis the last while, because of the way my parents died. And now this terrible thing has happened to Mikkel. If he is lost, then I must be king, and I am plainly not fit for the task. The kingdom will not accept a king like me, not after all that has happened."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Haley frowned. "You're the prince. Don't you just plop down on the throne and have a coronation, and that's that?"

"I am the only heir, it’s true. But each ruler must face a test of fitness for the task. In the past, it was either a physical or magical test, but the magical has been discontinued because of the loss of power in the world. But I would pass neither test, whatever the case. My countrymen know that if we were under attack I would never be able to protect them. And if I try to rule despite failing the test, there could well be rebellion and civil war. Even in the last six days, some nobles have begun to speak of dividing the kingdom amongst themselves if Mikkel is never found. Or giving it to the sorcerers to rule. They don’t even consider allowing me to take the throne."

"What do the sorcerers say to that?" Haley wondered. The thought of that Weasel guy controlling this place, and not being subject to Gerik’s orders, made her spine tingle unpleasantly. She could still end up being "studied," if she wasn’t careful.

"They adamantly refuse to think of taking rulership," Gerik answered. "So you see what chaos there will be in a very short time, if my brother does not return."

She walked over and went to one knee beside his chair. "Prince Gerik," she said softly, "that's why you have to think of something I can do to help him. You said the kings and queens of Karnis used to be sorcerers, and your father knew some magic. You must have the talent too, don't you think?"

He continued gazing into the fire. It bathed him in light that turned the scarring on his face a dark, livid orange against the sickly yellowing of his skin. "I have a little talent,”"he admitted. "Mikkel never understood, and my parents didn’t really approve, because they believed I should concentrate on other duties that had a more useful purpose, but...I’ve studied often with Wezzel. I’ve wished to be a royal sorcerer like my ancestors, ever since I was a small child."

"There you go. So maybe you can find some spells that will work if you have me to give you power." Haley hoped fervently that she wasn’t promising something she really couldn’t deliver.

The prince did not answer for a long time. Even when he finally turned and looked at her, scanning her face intently, he did not speak at first. But at last he murmured, "I don't know...I've only learned the most basic rudiments of magic..."

"But aren't there spells around that you can read, or tools you can use, that'll sort of work by themselves if you press the right buttons or something? Or maybe you can find a do-it-yourself book?"

He laughed unexpectedly. "Haley," he said, "we have storehouses of magical implements that haven't worked for years because there was no power – " Then he stared at her, dark eyes widening incredulously. "You mean...use them? Things I've never touched in my entire life, that I don't even know the uses for?"

"Why not? It's worth a try, isn't it?"

"I'd get myself killed, doing that."

"Maybe. Maybe not. Things can't get much worse than they already are, and you might actually get your brother back. Go for it."

Gerik leaned his head against the high brocaded chair back, staring blankly at the far wall. Slowly his eyes wandered to the corner, where the mirror now stood again in shadow, dark and empty. "Mikkel...safe," he murmured softly. Then, "No summoning spells...," he muttered. "I won't try to bring him back that way. If something were to go wrong, he'd be killed. But I could use other things, I'd wager..." His gaze sharpened as he looked back at her. "If Wezzel found out he would forbid it, you know. When it comes to magic, his word is law."

"Then you'll just have to do it without him knowing."

"You're not an obedient sort, are you?" he commented wryly.

"Well...," she answered slowly, resolutely not thinking of Ms. Taylor. "I don't know. I just don't want to let your brother freeze in all that snow without doing something about it."

"We agree on that, I assure you. Very well, 'Lady' Haley," and he smiled suddenly at the resurrection of her title, "I'll tell you what we must do. We cannot use any spells that will move us or Mikkel from one place to another. Wezzel is right about some things being too dangerous. That means we will have to find him ourselves and bring him back. And we will have to leave without Wezzel's knowledge, or any other sorcerer's, for that matter. They will insist on taking a great deal of time to think about things. You’re quite right about that."

"So you’re going to figure something out, secretly."

"You might say that. I will have to, ah, borrow a few things from the storehouses and we'll have to slip away while no one is aware."

She searched his face. "That's...even more than I imagined. Can you do all that, without anyone noticing?"

"We willhave to. If I try any experiments here, Wezzel will detect my work very quickly. So we must slip away, if we can possibly do so. I – I can't let Mikkel die. I'll arrange it somehow. Haley...," he hesitated. "I'm...sorry I've harassed you so. You're being very generous, after my temper tantrums. You may be saving my brother's life, if we can manage to do this. Not to mention saving my own sanity."

"Well...it's partly my fault, so..."

"Yes it is," he said, then smiled a little at her expression. "My pardon, Lady. I will show mercy, at least until the morrow. It is the least I can do after you have...given me hope again." And he looked back at the fire, swallowing hard.

"We'll get him back, Gerik. I'm sure we will."

"And you are willing to go on this journey, to find him?"

"You bet I am," she answered with all the determination she could muster.

"Then I will have a room prepared for you while I see to the...arrangements for our journey. If you had so little sleep last night I'm sure you will want to rest before we leave. But I must warn you we will probably have to depart before dawn."

"I'll be ready. No problem," she assured him, wondering if she really knew what she was getting into. Humdrum as it was, her regular life seemed suddenly appealing. This world she had imagined – or thought she had – was a lot more complicated than she’d expected. She hoped her desire to help out didn’t just make things worse, and get her into even worse trouble.

On the other hand, though, there was Ms. Taylor and her mathematics. And the dire prospect of actually having to apologize to the woman on Monday. Nothing could be worse than that, Haley decided. "No problem," she repeated firmly, nodding at the Prince of Karnis so fiercely that he burst out laughing.

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