Storm knelt to stick his head under the wagon, dismissing Ralt. The weird colors at the edge of his vision seemed to be getting worse. He squeezed his eyes again and shook his head slightly to clear it. “Durin. What’s it look like to those dwarven eyes of yours?”
“Not bad,” the dwarf replied. “Not bad at all. Much better than I hoped actually. Whoever built this wagon knew what they were doing.” He pointed at a shapeless mass. “See those joints? Tempered steel instead of iron. And its got those new, double springs wagon builders have been experimenting with of late.”
Storm shook his head, marveling at Durin’s vision. He couldn’t see anything, “If you say so.” He stood up, casting a glance at the fire still burning to the south. If the wind pushed it their way it was good to know the wagon was still serviceable. He left Durin to his inspection and started to join the men in rubbing down the horses. Their flanks were heaving and covered with froth.
A sudden wave of dizziness washed over him. The colors flickering around him closed in like a shroud. For an instant he could almost see a strange pattern hanging in the air, marking their trail behind them. He shook his head and nearly fell, lurching to keep his balance. The dizziness faded somewhat but refused to go away, nor did the flickering colors leave either.
Setting his jaw he walked carefully to Specter and began rubbing him down. What in blazes was going on here? Had he taken ill with some strange disease?
Thomas, working on one of the horses, edged toward him. “Ralt wants to talk to ya, Cap’em,” he said in low tones. “Go on, I’ll take care of yer horse.” His eyes flickered toward the wagon, expression grim.
Storm’s heart sank, but he kept his face impassive. “Stinking wizards aren’t good for anything but talking,” he growled out loud for the benefit of the men. Low chuckles greeted this remark as he strode to the wagon.
He reached it just as Ralt emerged, pulling the flaps tight behind him. He gestured Storm toward a small pile of rocks away from the men. Durin trailed along behind him, eyes downcast in sorrow. Reaching it Ralt sat down wearily. “He’s got chest pains,” he said without preamble. “Bad chest pains. If we move him tonight he’ll die.”
Storm nodded at the distant fire. “If it comes our way we may not much choice.”
“I know, I know. I’m just telling you if we do, Sodan won’t live to see dawn.”
Storm cursed under his breath. He felt helpless in situations like this, a feeling he never enjoyed. Grimly he considered their circumstances. If the old man hadn’t insisted on coming with his granddaughter’s body they wouldn’t be in this fi . . . Wait a minute! He turned eagerly back to the wizard. “Why not do to Sodan what you did to Krista? Then it won’t matter how much we move him.”
Ralt shook his head. “It’s a good idea, but the spell is beyond me. Gerald cast it on Krista, not me.”
Storm’s heart dropped again. Great. If they moved the old man he’d die. If they stayed put they’d all roast. All they could really do was hope the fire went in some other direction. He glowered at the sorcerer. “A fat lot of good you are. You can’t heal him. You can’t put him in a jar or whatever. You can’t ride or fight. What in blazes are you here for anyway?”
“I told you, a demon might try to--”
“Drag her soul down to Hell,” Storm finished for him. “Yeah, yeah, I know. But she was in Zered for months and nothing happened. We’ve been on the trail for days and nothing’s happened. Nothing!”
The corners of Ralt’s mouth quirked upwards in amusement. “When Krista’s body, and more importantly, the box with her soul in it are stationary, there’s no danger at all. When she’s being moved around though, it creates, I don’t know, ripples. Imagine a boat sitting quietly at dock, then imagine that same boat moving across a quiet lake. Any underwater monsters will notice the ripples, which will lead them to the boat. The same idea holds true with Krista. The longer and further we move her, the greater the chances of trouble.”
Storm considered this news thoughtfully, laying aside the matter of Sodan for the moment. “Then we can expect trouble toward the end of our journey rather than at the beginning?”
“Exactly,” Ralt nodded, pleased at Storm’s understanding. “And just like the boat I mentioned, the faster we move her, the more pronounced the ripples become. Back along our trail, the colors are pretty vivid right now.”
“Colors?” Storm’s hand shot out and jerked the wizard to his feet. “What colors? What are you talking about?”
Surprised, Ralt could only splutter, “Back along our trail; colors, patterns of magic. What’s the matter with you? Let me go!” He pawed ineffectually at Storm’s fist. “Durin! Get him off me!” The dwarf only stared at him quizzically.
Storm tightened his grip, glaring down at the wizard. “Patterns? How do you know about them?” he gritted.
Ralt’s eyes widened in sudden comprehension. “You see them too!” he exclaimed in wonder. “Lord of Light! You’re a Ghibbore!” He pronounced it ghi-bōre’.
Storm’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What? Talk sense, wizard!” When he was growing up he remembered the village chief had once mentioned the Ghibbore were some kind of ancient heroes, but that was all he knew.
Ralt refused to surrender his dignity by fighting Storm’s grasp any further. He dropped his hands and stared back defiantly. “I am talking sense. Only two kinds of people can see the weave of magic; those who’ve had the attunement spell cast on them, like tuning a musical instrument to play the right notes, or a Ghibbore – it’s from the Old Tongue and means mighty man. It always refers to someone who was chosen by the gods to be born able to see the weave of magic. I doubt you’d let anyone cast a spell on you . . .”
“You bet I wouldn’t!” Storm snarled.
“. . . so you have to be a Ghibbore,” Ralt continued as though he hadn’t been interrupted. “Which means you must have just turned twenty-four.”
Storm’s knuckles were turning white with the effort of not lashing out. “Twenty-five,” He corrected absently before he caught himself and remembered. He pushed Ralt away with an angry shove. Theoretically, he was twenty-five but he’d only been on Gaia twenty-four years.
Ralt stumbled and caught himself. Straightening up he saw the confusion written on Storm’s features. “What?” he asked questioningly.
His mind whirled, thoughts surfacing he hadn’t had to face in years. Twenty-five? Technically he was a hundred and two, over half as old as Sodan, but how could he explain it to anyone?
The dwarf roused himself from his grief over Sodan as Storm’s silence lengthened. “Lad, whot’s got ye in such a lather?” He and Ralt exchanged a bewildered look.
Storm dropped heavily to the rock pile as his knees gave out. The only way to answer the wizard was to tell him what he’d never told anyone. Colors were still flickering wildly back along their trail. This is crazy, he thought. But if Ralt could believe it, and he obviously did, maybe he’d believe Storm’s tale. Who knows, even Durin might believe it.
“Hey.” Ralt laid a hand on his shoulder. “What’s going on? Is being a Ghibbore too much for that barbarian soul of yours?”
Storm shot him an irritated look. “Give the barbarian thing a rest; I was adopted.”
Both men were surprised. “Ye never mentioned it before,” Durin rumbled.
“Ralt never told me I was a Ghibbore before.”
Now they were completely lost. Ralt shook his head in bafflement. “What have they got to do with one another, aside from your age?”
“Because I’m a hundred and two, older than both of you put together!” his voice cracked like a whip. He winced, hoping his words hadn’t carried to the men lingering around the wagon. It was bad enough he had to tell Ralt and Durin. With them at least there was an outside possibility they might believe him; with the rest of the men, there was no possibility.
Ralt’s face went carefully blank; it was the kind of look people reserved for when they were trying not to antagonize a madman. “Is that a fact? Odd you don’t look it.”
Durin wasn’t nearly as tactful. “Have ye lost yer mind? Perhaps ye have the manner and bearing of a man forty years older but yer still younger than Ralt here and don’t ye try to deny it,” he snorted, fists on his hips. Ralt tried to silence him but the dwarf was having none of it. “It’s the middle of the night, Sodan is ill, the men need leading, and here ye sit prattling on about yer age!”
Storm fought an internal battle with himself then gave it up. He’d already said too much, there was no point in trying to back out now. ‘In for a penny, in for a pound’, he realized, an old saying he hadn’t thought of in years. “I wasn’t born on this world, on Gaia,” he muttered finally. “I came here from another world, where I was already an old man, but when I woke up here, I was in the body I had when I was a year old, just a baby. That’s when the Bear Clan found me, in the middle of a storm – twenty-four years ago on Mid-Summer’s Eve.”
Dead silence greeted him. Past Ralt and Durin’s startled faces the men continued to wipe down their horses, a low murmur of conversation just barely reaching his ears. Off on the horizon, the fire seemed to be dying down.
“Maybe you should start at the beginning,” Ralt said carefully.
Storm nodded. Even if they didn’t believe him, he’d still wanted to tell this story for so long it was about to explode out of him. “I was born in a place called Dallas, Texas . . .”