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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 15

To keep themselves busy while waiting for spring, Storm reverted to type and began training Krista’s men-at-arms. He’d spent several years as a Drill Instructor at the Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot in South Carolina in his younger days on Earth. The military discipline of soldiers on Gaia left a lot to be desired to his way of thinking and it was time to do something about it.

To his trained eye, Gaian soldiers were little more than hired muscle.

They could swing a sword without stabbing themselves but that was about the extent of their skill. Unfortunately, it was par for the course for what he’d seen over the years on the caravans and during his short time with the T’thalian navy.

Training usually consisted of no more than a few basic sword moves and a day or two of target practice with a spear or bow and arrow before they were pronounced fit for duty then shoved out the door to serve on the line. As long as they could stand up under the weight of their armor and charge the enemy with mindless yells they were considered good soldiers.

For three months after the gods put a price on their heads, Storm conducted a boot camp for Krista’s men, then added Javan’s and Aram’s when the shop keeper and the priest found about about it. Sodan’s, now Krista’s, house had a central courtyard but it was nowhere big enough for the training he had in mind so he moved it over to the warehouse district where the Merks company had a huge, walled compound. The wall was more than high enough to keep nosy neighbors from spying on what they were up to.

Storm’s training methods, honed by five years on the drill field, were a rude awakening to his unwitting recruits. Forced marches, physical fitness exercises, parade ground drill, attention to detail, and hour after hour of full contact combat practice, both with weapons and hand-to-hand, not to mention more hours of target practice, had them dropping out in droves. Durin was shocked at how many of “his” men couldn’t handle the regimen Storm threw at them. He was further shocked at how close he came to dropping out.

Storm required all his friends, including Javan, Aram, and Gerald, to take part in at least some of the training. When Ralt protested that wizards didn’t need to learn archery and sword fighting Storm slapped his staff away from him then proceeded to knock him around the training ground while taunting him, “Oh yeah? What are you gonna do now? Hunh? What are you gonna do now, Mister Wizard?”

Humiliated and embarrassed, Ralt gritted his teeth and learned to swing a sword and pull a bow. To his own surprise he became fairly adept at both. He became even better at hand-to-hand combat where his elven heritage gave him more dexterity than most.

Storm’s methods were brutal but effective.

Just how effective was demonstrated in a surprising way after about two months of hard core training, on the second day of the month of Tevrei.

A tax collector, backed up with a sergeant and his eight-man squad, came into Javan’s Jewelry store demanding an additional stipend of taxes above and beyond what he normally paid. Count Draven had discovered that Javan had joined Storm’s Army of Light and was none too happy about it. Javan was on the city council and they’d had a drawn out shouting match about it at one of the meetings. This was Draven’s method of payback.

Javan only had three men on duty when the tax collector and his men came in. Two minutes later the city soldiers were either dead or dying and the tax collector had three blood stained swords at his throat. None of Javan’s men had so much as a scratch on them.

That evening Storm held a massive ceremony on the training field to honor the men for their efforts and to emphasize how much of a difference their newly acquired skills had made in the outcome of the short battle. After that there were no more complaints about his training methods. Once the story became known around town they even got some new recruits from other business owners who wanted better training for their own guards.

The next day Javan brought Storm a bag of rings and jewelry to say thank you for the training his men had received. Storm tried to refuse but Javan wouldn’t hear of it. “I’ve got more business than I know what to do with since you and Lorelei got married. The training you gave my men kept me from losing it all to Draven’s so-called ‘taxes’. This is only a fraction of what you saved me. Take it.” Reluctantly, Storm accepted the bag then gave it to Durin for safe keeping and promptly forgot about it.

Javan’s dispute with Draven, and Draven’s abuse of power trying to exact revenge, once more drove home to Storm just how different Earth and Gaia were. Machine politics and power plays were fairly normal in big cities on Earth, but the smaller towns tended to be less immersed in it. Zered on the other hand, was simply an average city on Gaia, it’s local politics and power plays were par for the course; he’d seen the same thing everywhere he went during his years with the caravans regardless of the size of the city, town, or village. The brutality on Gaia wasn’t so much a matter of technology as it was a matter of attitude.

Life was cheap on Gaia and law-and-order was a joke, justice was practically unheard of, and fairness was considered a weakness rather than a virtue. The more he considered it, the more puzzled he became. True, there were some Third World countries on Earth that displayed the same conditions and attitudes but those were the exception rather than the rule, so what accounted for the differences? The answer always seemed to dance just out of his reach.

Ralt couldn’t help him with it either. Born and raised on Gaia, to him it was simply the way of things.

The slender mage also took delight in inflicting a measure of revenge when he trained Storm in the mystical arts in the afternoons. Thomas and Lorelei shed their trainee status to became archery instructors for the men while Ralt became Storm’s teacher, driving his confusion regarding the differences between the two worlds out of his head.

Storm quickly discovered Ralt could be as strict a taskmaster as any Marine Corps drill instructor. The simple cantrips Storm had learned gave way to true magic which required an understanding of magical theory, calculations, and language. Ralt told him that with the passage of time, practice, and study, a wizard could become stronger just as a man lifting weights every day could become stronger. He made sure Storm got plenty of all three. Often he returned to his and Lorelei’s suite with an armload of books that kept him up studying until the wee hours of the mornings. He felt like he was back in college studying for finals.

He learned though.

Not only did he learn to heat water for Lorelei’s bath, he mastered creating an invisible third eye he could send flying around to spy on people. He also learned to put a mystical marker on things or places he wished to find again, just as he’d seen Ralt do when they hide their pegasi in Robling. Ralt also taught him combat magic, such as casting myriad magical darts that unerringly found their way to their targets. Storm’s main pride though came from learning to cast lightning bolts. The first time he managed to hurl lightning he was reminded of Ralt standing fearlessly on a wagon battling Manticores with lightning bolts on their trip to Robling.

Toward the end he even persuaded Ralt to teach him the illusion trick that made him seem so fearsome and terrible for a few moments. Ralt had laughed, assuring him the glamour spell as it was called, was one of the easier spells in a wizard’s bag of tricks. After learning it, Storm tried it then asked his friend what he looked like during the brief moment it held.

Ralt shook his head with a bemused expression on his face. “Like some demonic warrior out of an eldritch painting from the First Age.” He shook his head again. “Creepy.”

By the time spring rolled around, Storm felt his friends and all the guardsmen were as well trained as they could be. He’d spent long hours writing it all down in a manual so Thomas could continue their training in his absence.

By the first day of Adrei, which Storm thought of as March, his growing impatience to be on the road and away from the incessant attacks by Temple bounty hunters led him to announce they would be leaving as soon as Gerald could get the new magic mirrors to them.

Two days after Javan’s men had acquitted themselves so well against the city guard, they’d been having a discussion regarding some changes Thomas and Krista wanted to make to her grandfather’s company. That, plus the training Storm had initiated, made him wish he could be in two places at once. He found he’d adopted an almost fatherly attitude toward the two of them.

He regarded them thoughtfully. “It’s too bad we don’t have some way of checking on you from time to time once we’re gone. If things got dicey we could hurry back and give you a hand.”

Ralt stirred. “Gerald might have something for that,” he remarked slowly.

Gerald, who had become so frequent a guest that Krista had set aside a bedroom just for his use, nodded abruptly, his eyes wide with surprise. “I’d forgotten about them,” he muttered. “Good thinking, my boy.”

“Forgotten about what?” Lorelei asked curiously.

Everyone was watching the elderly mage. He straightened up. “It’s some rediscovered magic from the First Age. After a great deal of study I finally figured out how to replicate it. But we never had a use for them before.”

Everyone shook their head in confusion.

“Uh . . . them, what?” Storm pressed him.

“Two handheld mirrors. They’re linked by magic,” Gerald explained. “Each person holding one of the mirrors can see and hear the other person as if they were talking to each other through an open window.”

Everyone exclaimed in surprise. “Like a Dick Tracy wrist-phone,” Storm mused, remembering the old Sunday comics in the newspapers. He saw his friend’s expressions and held up a restraining hand. “Long story.”

“I’m gonna kill him,” Ralt muttered under his breath. “Just see if I don’t.”

Storm laughed, but he understood Ralt’s frustration. He decided to throw him a bone. “A telephone, or phone, was a device for talking to each other over long distances.” He saw their expressions. “Wait, did I tell you that already?” Sometimes he lost track of what he’d told them and what he hadn’t. They nodded and he hurried on. “Okay, well a wrist-phone was a make-believe version of regular telephones that were attached to your wrist and let people see each other while they were talking.”

“And Dick Tracy?” Lorelei prompted.

“Uh, he was, I don’t know, a pretend character in a kind of bard’s tale,” Storm temporized, not sure how to explain what comics were.

Gerald listened raptly, wishing he could take notes. “I don’t know about attaching them to your wrists,” he cautioned, “but you hold them in your hand just like a regular ladies’ mirror. When you give the command word the other mirror flashes to alert the other person. When they pick up their mirror and speak the command word the connection is made and they can see and hear each other like it was an open window.”

“We tried them out over a distance of, what was it, about ten leagues last year?” Ralt added.

Gerald nodded, “Something like that.”

“How far will they reach?” Storm asked inquisitively.

“Assuming I made them correctly, there’s no limit,” Gerald said proudly.

Storm leaned forward on his elbows. “Really? Now that is interesting.” Memories of troops communicating on the battlefield with radios came back to him.

His friends exchanged glances. “Interesting how?” Lorelei asked for them.

He held up a finger. “Hang on. Gerald, how hard is it to make these mirrors?”

Gerald’s brow furrowed. “Easier than some magic, harder than others. Middling difficult, I’d say. We just needed to figure out the instructions on how to manage it. Why?”

“One more question,” Storm leaned forward intently. “If you had multiple mirrors could you make them so you could signal one mirror at a time or does the connection have to be to all of them?”

Gerald was frowning heavily. “How did you know to ask a thing like that?”

Storm felt a rising sense of excitement. “I know because those telephones I told you about were like that. Well, we couldn’t see each other through them,” he qualified then paused as he remembered the pace of innovation back on Earth. “Well, they might have them by now but the point is, everybody had one and the people who made them created a way to signal one telephone at a time so you could talk to just the person you wanted.” He shifted eagerly in his seat. “Can you do that with your mirrors?”

Gerald was flabbergasted. “Yes. The ancients indicated each mirror could be assigned a name or number when they were created. When you spoke the command word you would also speak the name or number of the mirror you wanted to signal.”

Storm laughed triumphantly, slapping his hand on the table. “Yes!” Dishes bounced and clattered up and down it’s length from the force of his blow.

His elation was rubbing off on the others. “You could talk to anyone you wanted over any distance?” Thomas wanted to clarify.

“If they’re made correctly, yes,” Gerald affirmed. He looked sharply at Storm. “You claim there’s no magic on El . . . Earth, but you seem to have a lot of magical devices anyway.”

Storm shook his head sharply. “They’re no more magic than sword making or wagon building. They’re science; mining and metallurgy, measurements, cutting and sawing, chemical mixtures, hard work, and a thousand other things, but I guarantee, there’s nothing magic about them. Nothing,” he added for emphasis.

Lorelei had been following them closely. Perhaps it was because he was her husband but she saw where he was going with this. “You want a whole spiderweb of mirrors, one for everybody in the Army of Light!” she exclaimed abruptly.

“Bulls eye,” he grinned hugely at her. “We called it a network instead a spiderweb, but you’ve got the right idea. You wouldn’t believe the advantage that kind of communications network can give you in emergencies or in battle. Instant communication lets you outmaneuver the enemy every time.” He was immensely pleased with himself. “Gerald! How fast can you make more? How many can you make? What do you need from us in terms of money and materials?”

“Whatever it is, I can provide it,” Krista chimed in, swept up in his growing excitement.

“Thank you,” he nodded at her, “but it’s not just materials, it’s time. It takes a several days of uninterrupted work to make each one. I’ll need help,” he said. “I’m not getting any younger and I still have other duties you know.”

“There are a few young wizards in town who might be available. I could talk to them,” Ralt volunteered. “What rank do they need to be to make the mirrors?”

“They need to be 4th degree at least,” Gerald answered promptly, “although 5th would be better.”

Storm didn’t know wizards had degrees. “What degree are you?” he asked Ralt.

“I was 3rd degree when we first left for Robling, but since we got back Gerald tested me and I’m 4th degree, almost 5th ,” he said proudly.

Durin stirred. “Den what degree are ye?” he asked Gerald.

The old mage smiled shyly. “Oh, a few more than that,” he teased.

Storm had seen the power Ralt could wield; if Gerald was a few more degrees higher, what kind of magical might did he possess? Even asking the question created an atavistic shudder of fear down his spine, a reminder he still wasn’t quite as comfortable with magic as he liked to pretend. Forcing it down he took a deep breath and said, “Alright then, Ralt, get out there and talk to those young wizards you consider trustworthy and steer them to Gerald. I want that network!”

He leaned his chair back on it’s two rear legs feeling immensely pleased with himself. A network of mirror phones wasn’t going to materialize overnight, no matter how many wizards Ralt managed to recruit and the sooner they got started the better. Something, perhaps his enhanced Ghibbore sense of danger, told him such a network would be needed one day, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, but he wanted to be ready for it no matter when it came.

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