Chapter 3 Scene 4

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 13 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Dawn’s first light found the three mages from the Doormaker Council bleary-eyed, but awake. Simon was dour, but no more so than usual. Bernard’s usual light banter and wit was notably absent as he concentrated on the last minute details of his intricate plan. Gunther, never a morning person from the start, was gloomy and irritable.

“I still can’t understand why we have to start this early. What harm could there be in waiting another few hours?”

Bernard was clearly perturbed by the interruption to his mental preparations. “We must start now because now is when the winds pick up. A storm that starts in the calm of day won’t be seen as an omen, it will be seen as a sorcerous attack. Do you want to make a target of yourself? Because I for one do not!” He stormed ahead irritably, leading the trio out toward the low rise to the north of Edgeways where they would work their omen.

Gunther lagged behind with Simon as they approached the crest of the dune. “What’s his problem anyway? It’s not as though he’s the one doing all of the work to make his ‘omen’ come to life!”

Simon stopped the young air mage with a hand on his arm. “You mean he told you nothing?” Gunther’s puzzled stare was answer enough for Simon. He let out his breath in a heavy sigh. “And of course, you would not have learned anything about collaboration in the academy.” Simon shook his head.

“What are you talking about?” In confusion, Gunther looked from Simon to Bernard, who continued to toil upwards.

“Leave him be for now, he needs time to prepare his mind.”

“Prepare his mind for what? What’s going on?”

Simon folded his legs and sat, then motioned for Gunther to do the same. “Sit down, Gunther. There is something you must understand before we attempt this omen.” Still looking confused, Gunther sat facing the older earth mage.

“Gunther, as one of the Scion’s direct descendents, you possess a link to the elemental plane that is part of your blood. When you crafted your mirror at the academy, you forged a doorway of air, the element to which you bear the strongest affinity. But while your heritage allows you to siphon the energy of the air elementals directly into this world without risk to yourself, it also blocks you from the energy of other elements. Likewise, I can harness the earth elementals, but can neither sense nor control the energies of air, water, or fire.”

Gunther interrupted. “No one can harness the fire elementals!”

“Oh? What makes you so sure?” Simon arched an eyebrow artfully.

Gunther was flustered. “Well… but… at the academy we were taught that it’s never been done!”

“That is true, as far as we can ascertain. But it is more accurate to say that no one has harnessed the fire elementals, than to say that no one can. Be that as it may, the fire elementals are still there every time you draw from the elemental plane, just as the earth, and water elementals are. As a Greater Air Mage, the mirror you crafted and your direct bloodline from the Scion protect you from them. Now what were you taught about how our common council brethren draw from the elemental pane?”

Gunther’s brow furrowed as he tried to recall his Common Mage theory class. He had forgotten most of it, thinking it had little to do with him as a Greater Mage. “They forge doorways by using elemental mirrors, just like we do, but they must expend their own life force to keep the doorway open. I remember thinking that must be horrible, having to die a little every time they use their gift. It must feel so limiting!”

Simon pursed his lips in disapproval. “Is that what they taught you? Honestly!” Simon rolled his eyes and rubbed his bearded chin as he considered how best to fill the gaps in the young air mage’s education.

“I will tell you this much and no more before we return to the question at hand. Common Mages do not have to die a little every time they use their gift, as long as they operate within their limits and quickly replenish the energy they use to forge doorways.” Simon held up on hand to forestall any questions.

“Time is not on our side, Gunther, so a demonstration will be much faster than an explanation. I want you to spawn a tiny whirlwind, small enough to rest on the palm of your hand. Hold the eye of the funnel here.” He drew a small cross in the sand between them.

Gunther shook his head, making a conscious effort to dispel distracting questions from his mind. As Simon watched, he stilled, and his eyes lost their focus on the cross drawn on the sand in the physical world. His focus was neither here and now, nor entirely elsewhere, but someplace between.

Though he sensed nothing, Simon knew there was now an air doorway between the physical world and the elemental plane, anchored to the mark he had made for Gunther. He ran his hand over the cross, and felt a chill wind swirling against his fingertips. A few small grains of sand rose up into the funnel, making its form visible. Simon was impressed by the young air mage’s control. The funnel was perfectly formed, stable, and of exactly the size he had requested.

“Excellent Gunther. Maintain that while I raise some earth into the eye. We shall attempt to make a miniature version of the omen Bernard is planning.” Simon was already raising a spear of sand into the funnel cloud as he said this.

The whirlwind quivered almost imperceptibly, as the surprised Gunther temporarily relaxed his control of the elemental air energies. “How did you do that so quickly?”

“I’ve been doing this a bit longer than you, that’s how. Now tell me, can you feel the sand interacting with the wind?” Gunther looked puzzled, and shook his head.

“No? Well then I’ll just add a bit more earth power to the funnel. Tell me when you feel the interaction.” Simon casually doubled the size of the sand tendril questing up into the miniature whirlwind. When Gunther made no indication, he doubled the size again, and then sent a second branch up from the sand.

Now there were two snaky tentacles of flowing sand waving through the whirlwind. Simon watched Gunther’s face, as he concentrated on sensing something, anything from the earth magic intertwined with his air magic. “Well?”

Simon’s forehead was creased with worry as he looked bleakly at the older earth mage. “I feel nothing but the air I’m channeling!”

“Well, no matter. Surely this will make an impact.” Without warning, a sheet of sand rose suddenly near one side of the whirlwind. Its leading edge raced around and over the miniature funnel. Simon gave no outward sign of any effort, but within moments, the whirlwind was completely encased in a writhing dome of sand that grew thicker as Gunther watched. He flinched when the dome violently compressed toward the whirlwind he was controlling within its walls.

But as the dome first crashed into, and then collapsed through the swirling air currents, nothing happened to his vortex. Even when the dome was fully compressed into a dense knot of sand in the strongest point of the wind’s influence, there was no interaction. Simon silently watched Gunther until the young mage raised confused eyes from the spectacle. With a silent nod, Simon released the earth power and the sand slumped back into a listless mound. Gunther’s whirlwind guttered out and the few grains of sand it had picked up on its own settled to the ground.

“Why didn’t … but how will we… doesn’t this mean Bernard’s plan won’t work?”

Simon shook his head quickly. “It means that the plan won’t work without Bernard. What I am about to tell you is extremely dangerous magical theory. Many mages have died while experimenting with this. You and I will draw earth and air into the physical domain and Bernard will combine them. This is a talent that only Common Mages possess. Greater Mages are blocked from it by the very blood which enables us to channel power without using our own life force to do it.”

“The Scion?”

Simon nodded. “Exactly. Bernard is a Common Air Mage, and a very talented one. Without the blood of the Scion, he is more sensitive to the other elements than we are. Every time he uses his gift on the elemental plane, he relies on his air mirror to shield him from earth, water and fire. Without it, he would be completely exposed to all of the elements.”

Simon paused briefly, and then continued his explanation. “But for this omen, Bernard will not use his mirror. We will furnish elemental energy directly to him in the physical world. He will combine both energies to direct the storm.”

Gunther swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “But isn’t that … ?”

“Incredibly dangerous? Yes. Potentially lethal? Yes, especially for Bernard. That is precisely the reason that this technique is not taught at the academy. At least here on the physical plane he will only have to control the two elements we feed to him. He will be able to handle your air energy, provided you don’t force too much on him. It’s his element as well, after all. But you must constantly monitor your energy flow to insure you don’t exceed Bernard’s capacity. My earth energy will be even more difficult for him to manage, so I’ll have to be particularly careful.”

“How will I know if I am exceeding…?”

“The strain will show quickly, and Bernard will start resisting the input. You’ll feel the excess, and if that happens, you must focus the energy away from Bernard. You can expend it yourself in the physical plane, but it would be better to send it back to the elemental plane so it doesn’t interfere with Bernard’s work. Remember, Bernard is putting his life directly in the path of our powers. It is a great honor that he trusts our control enough to allow this. Do not betray his trust. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

With a grace that belied his apparent age, Simon rose smoothly from the ground and dusted off his knees. “Good. Let’s join Bernard at the summit then.” Gunther stood and joined the older mage as they continued up the dune face. They found Bernard seated, silently contemplating the uninterrupted desert to the west.

“Gunther, please sit just to my right, facing my right side, Simon, just to my left, facing my left side.” The two High Mages did as Bernard bid them, awaiting his further instruction.

“When the rim of the sun touches the eastern horizon at my back we will begin. The closest local tribes migrate through large areas to the west and north of Edgeways. It is impossible to know where exactly the tribes currently are. The path of the sandstorm will follow the unofficial boundary between their territories from the northwest across the dunes in front of us and toward the outpost to our left.” Simon and Gunther looked across the desert where he indicated.

Bernard continued his explanation without lifting his gaze from the horizon. “They will marshal their scouting parties quickly to follow the storm. If they are near the outpost they could reach us within an hour. If not, it may take as much as half a day. The storm will run its course in two or three hours, then stall near the edge of the outpost until the first scouting party reaches us, or my strength gives out, whichever comes first. Any questions?”

Simon looked to Gunther briefly, and then nodded to Bernard. “We’re ready.”

Silence held sway for several timeless moments, punctuated only by the sigh of autumn winds and the nearly inaudible rolling rattle of blown sand. The pink blush of the coming sun seeped steadily across the sky at Bernard’s back, and silently, they waited. Bernard raised his right hand to shoulder height, palm forward. Just as the golden glow of the sun’s first rays suffused his finger tips, he murmured a single word. “Begin.”

Simon watched as Gunther centered his focus on Bernard’s right hand. The Common Air Mage slowly raised his left to the same position. “Simon.”

In his mind’s eye, Simon reached for a palm sized, silver gilded door, set in a frame of rough hewn stone. As he pushed it open the narrowest of slivers, a tiny rivulet of sand grains poured through the gap. The sand flowed onto his left hand, across his left arm, his chest, and down his right arm to the hand he extended toward Bernard’s exposed wrist.

As Simon’s first visualized sand grains flowed onto Bernard’s wrist and disappeared down his sleeve, the Common Air Mage’s eyes widened fractionally. Then his mouth twitched into a small grin. “I appreciate the soft start, Simon, but I’m not made of glass.”

Simon returned the smirk and gradually increased his visualized sand flow until Bernard’s sleeve nearly overflowed, and then continuously adjusted the rate of earth power to maintain this level.

All of this was of course invisible to the two air mages, but Bernard could at least feel the control Simon was exerting on his behalf. “That will do nicely Simon. A bit more Gunther … perfect. Maintain those levels while I work now.”

Simon felt a drain as Bernard gathered his storm forces. He opened his earth door a fraction wider to stabilize the power draw, constantly throttling the energy he fed to Bernard to keep him safe. Although he couldn’t sense it, he saw by the sudden tightening of Gunther’s concentrated gaze that the young air mage was balancing a similar air power surge.

Then on the distant horizon, Simon saw the sandstorm form. It was several leagues distant still, nearly a day’s march to the northwest. It started as a typical dust devil, the height of two men, and then gathered force gradually as it danced across the desert. It looked entirely natural as it weaved its way south and east toward their position.

The sun climbed higher in the sky and within an hour the storm had grown to a towering dervish and advanced to within two hours ride from Edgeways. Now Simon began to see detail in the approaching storm. A swirling torrent of loose sand and small stone whirled in a constantly gyrating funnel that swept up half a league, darkening the blue desert sky. Larger stones, clumps of uprooted cactus, and other flying debris spun intermittently throughout the body of the storm. A spray of finer sand and silt blew out of the top of the monster and showered across the torn landscape left in its wake. It howled and whistled as it ground inexorably toward Edgeways. Nothing could stop its advance.

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