Timeless

Dogwood is a dumpster-diving wizard who fixes abandoned magical doodads; imagine his surprise when a fleeing traveler seeks his help in escaping from... his wife!

            The saddle topped the newest gross of garbage funneled out of Fernico’s mansion like a flake of chocolate grated onto red velvet cake.  Dogwood reached down and pulled the red chunks of a destroyed carpet off it.  When held up in the day’s dying light, the saddle’s rare markings betrayed its true purpose.  The ordinary brown leather gave way to a pewter rim imprinted with inward facing blue triangles, designed to trap a certain type of magic like bear trap teeth.  A ghost saddle, he thought.  Should fetch at least four gold and six silver.

            Dogwood glanced over the dumpster’s lip to see if anyone watched his harvest.  With the coast clear, he dove back into the refuse.  It always amazed him, the kinds of things the rich discarded.  For years he’d eked out a living as the town of Windgate’s resident magician.  Curse removal, common enchantments, and public potions only brought in about five silver a week though.  The richest folks in town, who resided in a row of mansions acting like a gold dam that kept the townspeople below free from a flood of wealth, got all their magic from imported sources.  They didn’t need his backyard skills, freeing them up to insult any of his magic they walked across as ‘filth’.  The joke’s on them now, Dogwood thought as he sifted through more trash.

            “You can’t outrun taxes!” someone shouted from down the lane.  Used to having those comments aimed at him, Dogwood wondered how they’d spotted him from behind the mansion’s walls.  He tucked the saddle under his arm and leaned over the dumpster’s edge to see into the lane.  A middle-aged but fit man with a black goatee ran towards him, with the spirit of flight, rather than attack, flickering in his eyes.  Three more figures gave chase.  He recognized their gawky strides and squawking voices, realizing that if the black-haired man had angered them he’d most likely done nothing wrong.  As the distance between everyone closed, Dogwood pulled the saddle out and stared at it.  Four and a half gold down the drain.  He sighed.

            “Hey, bearded friend! Catch,” Dogwood shouted before tossing the saddle to him.  He didn’t notice Dogwood quickly enough and was knocked to the ground by the saddle.  His head shot up in confusion and spun as he wondered why tax collectors would choose to throw saddles if not paid. 

“Get up!  Put it between your legs,” Dogwood ordered.  The man stood, but his confusion and fear of looking foolish prevented his following the second half of the advice.  Dogwood stole another glance at the pursuers, a mere thirty feet away now.  “I’m trying to help,” he yelled, “put it between your legs, pull up, and say ‘cevala fantomo’!” 

            Realizing that looking foolish was marginally better than paying five bronze ingots to tax collectors who’d offer a fierce beating as a receipt, the bearded man stuck the saddle where instructed, pulled up gently enough to spare his ornamentation from harm, and repeated the words with the wing beat of air left in his lungs.

            The saddle’s triangles started to glow a foggy purple.  Hoof prints appeared in the dirt as an invisible beast charged toward the saddle.  It lifted the bearded man violently onto its back as its corporeal form filled in.  It was a black stallion with purple eyes and mane that didn’t stay still long enough for anyone to be frightened of it; it took off soundlessly and charged through the tax collectors’ bodies without knocking them down.  The bearded man and his surprise steed sped into the distance.

            The collectors, three odious scavengers named Tinthorn, Rye, and Blenny, stopped to catch their breath.  Blenny pointed at Dogwood and said between gasps, “So now you’re helping others cheat debt?”

            “Of course not.  I tried hitting him with the saddle but he caught it.  How could I know it was magic?” Dogwood replied with a smirk.

            “You know you owe us two silver ingots for everything you dig out of there with your filthy claws,” Rye warned.  Dogwood held up his empty hands. 

“Didn’t find anything today boys.  I’ve been wondering though… I keep giving ‘the town’ my silver, but I keep seeing you with new boots and fancy haircuts.  Why is that?”

            “The town treats her servants well,” Tinthorn sneered.  “Get off Fernico’s property.  That’s a fine of three bronze for trespassing.”

            With a flourish, Dogwood vaulted himself out of the dumpster and dug three ingots out of his pocket.  Never one for fancy dress, Dogwood’s outfit was less reminiscent of a magician and more like a traveling minstrel’s.  His puffy sleeves were rolled up past his elbows so they wouldn’t pick up the odors of rot and waste he sifted through each day.  Rye recoiled from Dogwood’s outstretched hand, not wanting to take the smelly blocks of metal.  He grabbed them quickly and dropped them with a clank into a large sack he carried over his shoulder.  Rye’s posture was already suffering under the weight of others’ treasures.  Soon he would be a useless hunchback, counting money in a dark vault somewhere for Fernico.

            “Evening gentlemen,” Dogwood said as he set off for his home.  Every step away from the trio was one towards happiness.

            Windgate was a lovely place if one ignored the majority of its inhabitants.  Dogwood savored what he could see as the light faded.  All the houses were lifted off the ground by five foot tall wooden stilts.  That way, when it rained and water ran down the mountain, Windgate’s people could soak their feet in the gentle current without thoughts of their floors rotting away. 

Dogwood looked up.  Bisecting the row of mansions was a light-tipped needle that shot up above all the buildings and trees.  The Raven’s Nest clock tower.  A large torch, lit at all hours of darkness, illuminated the clock’s face.  The men who owned the town wanted everyone to remember that a fresh day of work was always rapidly approaching.  Huge birds with midnight feathers roosted on its ornate precipices, cawing and fighting over the bugs drawn to the clock’s light.  The second hand seemed to follow Dogwood as he walked under the tower.  He noticed little sparkles along its side and wondered why so much detail had gone into the hands.  They weren’t wooden or forged in some pig iron trough.  They were a fine black metal with a razor’s shine, as if the hands sliced through every moment to free the next one.

When he finally paid attention to what the clock was actually saying Dogwood picked up the pace.  She would arrive soon.  To leave her alone for even a moment would be like stealing bits of the floor from beneath her feet.

Dogwood’s house was just as unassuming as the rest, but those who understood magic would sense its numerous alterations.  It was surrounded by a variety of fencing charms and warning spells.  Each time the trio of collectors came by and stole or harassed, he would struggle to find a new one to keep them out.  As he passed through the doorway a ‘clean screen’ spell pulled the smell of garbage off him and sent it up into the air.

He was greeted by the scents of his home: patina, mint from a small plant on the windowsill, and a host of potion ingredient traces.  He breathed deeply.

 “I’m home Cogwick,” he said, and looked over at a golden device on his mantle.  It was composed of several small gold windmills that turned with a clock-like tick.  A group of faucets surrounded them, pouring the same water into the device’s base that had been pouring for eight hundred years.

In the corner of the device’s base, far from the city-like collection of windmills and spouts, there was a tiny polished outhouse.  Its door swung open and a bronze figure, barely a honeybee tall, stepped out.  Lacking any arms, the figure’s hands were attached to his body by way of flexible springs.  One of them stretched out and waved a hand at Dogwood.

“Evening sir,” the figure said with his voice magically filling the room.  “Did you find anything good?”

“Oh yes.  Fernico threw out a ghost saddle.  I guess his interest in riding is waning.  The fool didn’t even know its power.  Judging by the markings I would guess it was made by the people of the slate pyramids.  The spirit attached to it sure was fast.”

“Did it run so fast that you fell off?  It looks like it escaped you.”

“Our three friends were trying to rob a traveler.  I tossed him the saddle so he could escape.”

            “Your kindness is inspiring sir.”

“Is it kindness that powers you Cogwick?  Or inspiration perhaps?”

            “Nice guesses sir, but no.  You couldn’t power these mills with such transient things… You’d better get to bed sir.  She’ll be here any moment, ready to keep you powered for tomorrow.”

            “Of course.  Goodnight Cogwick.”

“Sweet visitations sir,” Cogwick said as he returned to his outhouse and closed the door.

            “Malluma,” Dogwood whispered.  The lanterns in the house shut themselves off.  He approached the bed and sat on it gingerly, pulling the covers off and watching the pillows.  Somewhere, a world away, she was closing her eyes.  Somewhere, her mind slipped into a dream, freefalling through realms of formless magic, and landing in love.

            A white mist precipitated in the cabin.  Slow spirals of it stretched into lazy cyclone shapes, and joined their tails together.  Dogwood reached out and felt the mist slip through his fingers, like the cool air that borders a campfire’s warmth.  The tail of the mist burrowed under the blankets and laid its other end on the pillow.  The entire shape sublimated into a sleepy female figure.  Her skin, only a magic representation of the real thing, was whiter than the snow on resting dove’s wings.  She opened her eyes, to dream of being with her love.

 

            Darter would have to thank that garbage-coated man, assuming the demonic horse he rode didn’t gallop to Hell with him onboard.  After bouncing violently on the beast’s back for a while, he managed to gain control.  His initial attempts to steer the horse failed because his heels went right through its sides.  How to indicate direction? He thought.  Either Windgate is more exotic than I thought… or this beast is magic.  What are the blasted charm words for direction?  Everglade would kill me if she knew I couldn’t remember the basics.  Let’s see… left… left is…

            “Maldekstra!” He declared into the phantom horse’s ear.  The beast turned.  Darter set it back on course for Windgate.  It was a long shot, but maybe that dumpster diver could help him.  After all, what he needed was another escape plan, one infinitely cleverer than a ghostly steed.

 

            Tinthorn’s stein smashed onto the table with a clang.  His anger translated into an angry wave of foam that spilled over the stein’s rim and drenched his fingers.  He stuck out his tongue and licked his hand to clean it. 

“I’ve had it with that Dimwood!” he howled.

            “I think it’s Dogwood,” Blenny said.

“I know you blasted idiot, I was making a joke.”

            The trio of tax collectors busied themselves with free drinks.  The bartender was beginning to realize that trading tax breaks for free ambrosia wouldn’t work if each one of them drank like sewer drains.  Everyone had vacated the bar, afraid to be fined, leered at, or both.

            “Just think of all the stuff he’s probably got in his place,” Rye commented.  “Since Fernico doubled the magic tax we could get a silver for everything he’s got.  Bankrupt that lousy charmer, you know?”

            “Well then you go ahead and go in Rye,” Tinthorn said.  “And when one of his security spells ties your fingers in a shipman’s knot you can’t come crying to me.”  Tinthorn contemplated something for a moment.  He wiped his sticky hand on Rye’s shoulder before patting it like the two were brothers.  “I’ve got it.  I’ve only ever sent one of you in there.  Rye got that rash shaped like a hornet...”

            “Stung something nasty,” Rye added.

“And Blenny his next spell did… what was it?”

            “This boot picked itself up off the floor and started kicking me… you know… in the rump, until I was out the door.”

            “Mhmm,” Tinthorn pondered.  “That’s it.  Both of you can go tomorrow.  One of you will walk in first, trigger the traps, and make it safe for who goes next.  Then when you get in you take inventory of his magic doohickeys, and confiscate anything that looks particularly fun.”

            “But...” said Blenny.

“Who goes first?” Rye finished.

            Tinthorn pulled on the leather cord to his sack.  His hand dug around and made a metallic clatter that grated on the bartender’s ears.  To the trio it sounded like music.  He pulled out one bronze ingot and one silver; then he closed each of his hands around one.  He stuck his hands behind his back and shuffled them back and forth before re-presenting his closed fists.

            “Bronze goes first.  Now pick.”

 

            A knock on the door jarred Dogwood from slumber.  At first he thought his love had fallen out of bed and hit her head on the floor but, of course, she was gone already.  Her sleeping form had dissipated with the mist as soon as the first ray of sunlight came through.

            He uprooted himself from bed and struggled to free his leg from a clinging sheet.  After kicking it away, he smoothed down his brown hair and tossed on a moderately clean green tunic.  Dogwood glanced through the peephole on his front door to make sure it wasn’t Tinthorn’s gang.  He knew that was unlikely, since bad intentions would have triggered his security spells.  He pulled the door open.

            “Thank you for your help,” Darter said and held out the ghost saddle.  Dogwood took it and tossed it onto the bed.

            “You shouldn’t have come back,” he said, “If they see you they’ll double the tax and chase you again.”

            “Well I hope you’ll let me in then.  The name’s Darter by the way.”  Dogwood held out his hand to usher Darter inside.  He took a quick glance outside, trying to spot the rat like faces of Rye or Blenny.  Nothing.  He closed the door.

            “So why would you bother coming to this trash heap twice?” He asked Darter, who had just sat down and started to look about at the cabin’s many oddities.

            “Trash heap?  Well the people don’t seem the friendliest but the architecture is lovely.”

            “I think you’ll find ‘trash heap’ is less of an insult than I made it sound.  My question stands though.”

            “Ahh,” Darter said.  “I’m on the run… and I’m looking for a magician that can help me out.  I can pay handsomely.  When you tossed me such a wondrous thing I figured you must know something of magic.”

            “I know the rubbish of magic,” Dogwood explained. “I know what people throw away and disregard.  I practice with the little things and cobble together what I can from secondhand skills and rarely successful experiments.  If you need magical help, I may not be the best source.”

            “Is there a better source in this town?” Darter asked.

“Frankly, no,” Dogwood replied.

            “Then you’re my source Mr… I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name.”

“Dogwood.”

            “Mr. Dogwood… I need you to help me escape… my wife.” 

There was an awkward pause.  Dogwood experienced a pang of regret at opening his door.  He wasn’t exactly Merlin but he had too much dignity to mix love potions or erase memories of a spouse’s infidelity.

            “Maybe you’d better start at the beginning,” Dogwood said.

“Very well.  We met as teenagers.  Things were fine until she told me of bonding…”

 

            The tent was one of many, a button of purple on a festive dress laid across the meadows.  The carnival of magic was in the town of Lynxtree for its annual visit.  Townsfolk flooded between rows of tents looking to buy exotic foodstuffs and enchanted trinkets.

            The tent flew a flag emblazoned with a yellow heart.  A white wooden gate at its entrance flap welcomed in nervous couples and then magically collapsed into a fence, so only one couple could enter at a time.  It was imperative that no one but the partners and the shaman lay their eyes on the tent’s purpose, for the public seeing it would defeat its whole point.  The force of one pair of eyes could collapse the magic like a bridge built from dandelion fluff.  The gate opened once again.

            A teenage Darter looked towards it.  Worry was written across his face.  His partner, a mousy but beautiful girl with hazelnut hair, confident eyes, and a round face, grabbed his hand.  She was gorgeous in an unearthly way separate from her appearance, like stained glass tree roots or a blanket of autumn leaves that reflected light and absorbed harsh sounds.

            “I don’t know about this Everglade,” Darter confessed.

“Of course you do my love,” Everglade assured.

            The two walked, hand in hand, into the tent.  Its interior was dark, lit only by a diameter of multicolored candles that spilled light on the cloth walls.  The only sound was the gentle breeze outside collapsing weakly on the tent’s fabric.  A figure emerged, the love shaman, wrapped in a cloak of the same shade of purple surrounding them.  Aged hands with immaculately clean nails pulled the hood away. 

            The shaman was an elderly man with a cotton beard and two foamy splashes of white hair above his ears.  His eyes radiated kindness and enthusiasm, like a wandering rabbit ready to start its thousandth family.  Darter was still unsettled though, for the cloak blended with the wall and gave him the impression a floating severed head would be performing the ceremony.

            “Ahh.  Come in young ones.  Please take seats opposite each other, around the dish.  I will take your old lives and blend a new one filled with joy,” the shaman said.

            The two took their seats on thick cushions.  Between them was a large marble dish, its rim divided up into two circles with multiple sections and pictographs.

            “Everglade?” Darter whispered, “Remind me why I’m sure.”

“Because you love me.  Try and deny it,” she challenged.

            Darter took a momentary dive into the well of his soul.  A projection of himself swam in its shallow waters, enjoying the freedom of movement, the splashing, and the open space.  Below that, in the depths, Everglade’s voice called to him.  He felt the warmth of her affection pulling him down.  He wanted to be on his own, but the core of him wanted her more.

            “I can’t deny it.”

“Let us begin,” the shaman chimed and clapped his hands.  He took a seat at one side of the dish and waved his hands about: first in front of Darter, then Everglade, then over the dish, then through that cycle twice more.  “Ligilo eki,” he murmured, bringing the dish to life.  The inner circle slowly spun clockwise with the outer one going in reverse.  “Join hands.”

            Darter and everglade reached across the dish and clasped each other’s hands.  Darter shooed away the sound of shackles clanking shut that interrupted his concentration.

            The circles slowed and stopped.  The symbol in front of Darter was a roaring wave while Everglade’s was a mighty tree in full bloom.

            The shaman cleared his throat for the standard explanation.  He had recently started the lengthy speeches after having been run out of a few towns for bonding children who their parents considered too young.  Love is ageless, he would explain.  They rarely listened.

            “Young lady.  Your soul is of the element wood: nurturing and strong, but also inflexible and slow to heal.  You are complemented, nourished, by your young man,” he gestured towards Darter, “who is of the element water: adaptable and inspiring, but also tempestuous and selfish.  Only souls of complementary or parallel structure may be bonded.  Wood to wood or water.  Fire matches to fire or metal, which gives fire direction and purpose.  For metal bonded to wood would chop it to splinters, and fire bonded to water would be extinguished.  Now you will reveal your spirits to each other and feel your love cemented, feel the ageless bond that won’t weather.  Animo ligilo ligno akvo.”

            The incantation snuffed out the candles and lit the dish with a sourceless light.  Darter felt himself moving forward, but nothing in the room shifted.  A circular spot on his shirt grew dark and clung to his skin.  He challenged himself greatly, trying to look down at his sternum to see the damp circle growing.  Soon the edge of a sphere poked through the fabric at the patch’s center.  It effortlessly hovered out of Darter’s chest and orbited the edge of the dish.  An endless circle of tides, the watery orb made sounds like the beach and, somehow simultaneously, the quiet of the ocean floor and the plinking of rain on dried clay.  Darter watched his own soul circle and tried not to think about the shaman, who could reach into the miniature world he and Everglade were sharing and destroy it all.  A simple slap could turn his whole being into a moist spot on the tent wall.

            Everglade watched the watery moon with fascination.  Part of her wanted to wrap it in glass and wear it as a pendant.  Other, more mature parts, reminded her that what was about to happen was much more complex and meaningful.  It wasn’t jewelry, or a water sprite, it was human essence.  It was the love of her life, abridged as much as possible until only the core remained.  Then, one final quivering part of her remembered that hers was forthcoming as well.

            They all three watched as a wooden sphere emerged from Everglade.  It was laced with moss in continent-like shapes.  It creaked gently like an old door and smelled like acorns.  It joined Darter’s sphere, following the edge of the dish.  The two slowed down and entered the dish’s diameter.  Under the full influence of the magic, the two spheres now circled each other and descended.  When they struck the surface of the dish a note rang out, like all the bells and flutes in a marriage orchestra ringing and singing at once.  The note was the only thing that left the tent during the ceremony.  Other couples standing outside, enjoying festival food and the laughter of their children, heard the note and smiled at each other knowingly.

            The spheres lost their solidity and spread across the dish.  The two substances twisted around each other in fluid veins, dancing and spinning in small whirlpools.  Eventually the puddle’s motion slowed and it split down the middle.  Most of the water pulled itself towards Darter while the wood crawled towards Everglade like an affectionate pup.  The spheres reformed and lifted into the air.

            Everglade’s wooden little planet was now given life by a thin river running down its side.  It broke into infinitely small tributaries and mixed Darter’s energy with her own.  Darter’s ocean world had a thick vine tangling around it, acting like a stem for some transparent water-filled fruit. 

            Darter’s awe once again gave way to anxiety as his sphere approached its origin point.  Once it was in there was no stopping it.  Everglade would be with him always, her opinions whispered behind his own.  When she felt sadness he would feel it like a storm cloud over his heart.  The sphere drew closer.  Was this a good idea?  It was love yes… but whoever said that was a good idea?  Closer.  Darter looked to his partner.  She was smiling.  Doubt was as dead to her as dragon bones.  His muscles relaxed.  If she is certain, so am I.  As close as can be.

 

            “So you had your souls bonded,” Dogwood commented.

“Yes, so you see the problem.”

            “Mhmm,” Dogwood confirmed, “There’s a part of her in you and she senses the direction of that piece.  Given time she can find you anywhere.”

            “Not only that, but I feel it when she gets closer.  It makes my flight all the more stressful.”

            “Why flee the love of your life?” Cogwick asked.  He had silently emerged from his home during Darter’s account.

            Darter jumped up.  It was surprise instead of fear that moved him though.  A second later he leaned in like a drinking stork and scrutinized the little bronze man.

            “Incredible,” he muttered and reached a finger out to touch Cogwick, “Did you enchant this yourself?”

            “No,” Dogwood said.  “I found him in the dump two miles south of here.  The water was barely flowing and some of the pieces were terribly bent and tarnished.  It would have been terrible if it had stopped moving.”

            “Why is that?” Darter asked.

“The man who owned it, like most people here who have gold bars for brains, didn’t understand what it was.  He probably bought it at some roadside magic stand simply because it was expensive and then used it as a parchment weight until something shinier and more expensive caught his eye.  Then he threw it out.”

            “I’d clean his clock if I had the chance,” Cogwick added.

“Brave Cogwick here, who doesn’t like to be touched….” Darter’s hand recoiled. “…is the mechanic for the device he lives in.  What you’re looking at is a perpetual motion machine.”

            Darter turned to Dogwood and let a skeptical tiss sound escape his mouth’s corner.

            “Those are impossible.  My lovely pursuer taught me that neither magic nor science can propel things infinitely.  Curses lie dormant until emotions trigger and power them.  Enchantments wear off.  Potions die with the animal or plant matter hosting them.  And you’re telling me you found the most revolutionary device ever in a heap of egg shells and bent nails?”

            “Exactly,” Dogwood beamed.  “Although it doesn’t appear to be magic that powers it.  Cogwick keeps its parts from wearing out but he only has traces of establishing magic on him, nothing active.  Months of research has revealed nothing but exasperation.  No matter how old the tome or what dialect it’s in, the only word that greets my queries is ‘impossible’: an iron lock on my understanding.”

            “So he’s resorted to guessing,” Cogwick said.

“Cogwick says he’ll tell me when I get it right,” Dogwood finished.  His recount of failure put a sour taste in his mouth, so he held up his hands like a sturdy flower and spun around, drawing attention to the other objects lining the wall.

            “Cogwick and his home are the crown jewel of my collection.  The richest in Windgate have the money but I have the wealth.  All these things were thrown away by the crumbling upper crust who didn’t understand their true powers or histories.”

            “So that’s why you were able to help me, you were looking for things to restore and sell.  I just thought Windgate had a remarkably kind homeless population,” Darter said.

            “You won’t usually find even mild kindness here,” Dogwood cautioned, “The townsfolk work hard but they’re made callous by Fernico’s stingy salaries.”

            “Fernico?” Darter asked.

“The richest of the rich.  The man can afford ocean caviar, way up in the mountains, that’s been magically sealed in glass jars.  And guess what?  He feeds it to his dog while we eat salted rabbit and shriveled potatoes.”

            “Dogwood,” Cogwick interrupted.  “The man isn’t here for a social justice lecture.”

            “Oh of course…. I get so caught up.  Tell us Darter… why are you fleeing your own wife?”

Darter spun the tale of the oppressed man.  Dogwood did his best to avoid picturing him as a whining teenager trying to escape his family’s cramped dinner table. 

Apparently his love for Everglade was so strong that it suppressed his sense of self.  After making love to her he felt like little more than a mosquito that had stolen a bit of life to fuel its own. 

Dogwood and Cogwick didn’t pretend to understand his urge to escape, his need to be a free roaming stallion, but Darter offered a handful of gold ingots for some magical assistance.  He shared the lead that had pulled him to Windgate… the tale of a powerful object which could sever emotional bonds like a sword through yarn.  If it was real, it could free him from his own smothering pathetic affection.

            Dogwood looked at the pile of gold.  There was probably something he could do…

 

            The chamber’s tall windows were veiled with purple curtains, turning the room an opulent, glutted violet.  The marble floor and support pillars gave the room a grand echo and masked its true purpose as a laboratory.  Its huge doors swung open and a group of four entered.  They were led by a wrinkly magician with surprisingly swift mannerisms.  His beard was braided into a giant rope tied in a hoop under his neck, looking like a coiled bullwhip. 

            “This is the machine.  It was completed just hours ago.  I left only a little time for polishing before I sent for you,” he said, gesturing to a massive structure in the chamber’s center.  A couple in fine garments and silver ornamentation scrutinized the machine.  Between them, a little girl looked straight up, trying to see the device’s topmost point the way she had with the great trees when walking through the family’s personal park.  Only seven years old, everything loomed over her.  The magician was a tower, her parents were trees, and the sun was a lantern probably placed by the tallest being of all.

            She was only marginally aware of the device’s purpose.

“It will make you prettier darling,” her mother had told her that morning.  “The other girls will be so jealous.”

            Bathed in purple light, the machine’s glass section was like a bubble in a vast tub of violet dye.  Its overall shape, like an upside down wine glass, connected to a stone base and a gigantic silver faucet that opened into the glass. 

            The young Everglade pulled free of her father’s hand and ran up to it.  She placed her palms and face up against the glass and blew on it, leaving distinctly mischievous and oily prints on its surface.

            “Malfermi,” the magician said.  The device hissed and released puffs of mist.  The glass shape popped off the base and lifted high into the air, knocking Everglade onto her tailbone.  She stood up and rubbed her back, not paying attention to the white-robed servant girl who scuttled in.  She wore a white cloth over her lower face, for she carried a sack full of possibly toxic substances on her back.  The servant ascended a curve of glass stairs on the faucet to reach a basin on the device’s top. Into it she poured the sack.  Out came a landslide of dried seeds, brown salt crystals, and powdered bloods.  When the last pinch of it was in, the basin sealed itself with the startling sound of anvils tossed at each other.  The servant girl nearly fell backward off the stairs in shock.  Before leaving, she gave Everglade a worried look, as if saying: I wish I was your mother.

            “Remind us again of the concoction’s intended effect,” Everglade’s father said.  He frowned, displeased by the echo of his own voice.

            “The mixture wasn’t what I expected,” Everglade’s mother complained. “I was thinking it would look more like potpourri.”  The magician did his best to not roll his eyes at her remark.

“It is a mixture of coastal salts, local herbs with calming effects, and dried doe blood.  It’s been enchanted by myself and enhanced with supervisory charms from the head magician.  It will make your daughter… the talk of the town.”

            “Very well,” Everglade’s father said.  “Sweetheart.  Step inside the glass for daddy.”

            Everglade looked apprehensively from her father to the machine.  She tapped the glass with her finger and listened to its menacing ring, like starving chicks screaming at each other.  She was vaguely frightened of it, understanding the cold feeling in her throat more than the benign features of the device.  Her little shoes tapped as she stepped inside, head tilted up.

            “Good luck darling,” her mother called, with all the pride of a queen watching her daughter’s coronation.

            “Fermi,” the magician ordered.  The glass closed again, cutting Everglade off from the rest of the room.  She was very aware of the sound of her own breathing.  Her parents, whose heads appeared disproportionately large through the glass waved to her.  She was too scared to lift her own hand.  Everglade saw the hand prints she had made moments ago.  Suddenly, they seemed like a reflection.  They were all that was left of the old her, the natural her.

            “Infuzi,” the magician said.  The top of the faucet hissed and spun.  A jet of gray smoke poured from the nozzle and sank to the device’s stand.  The heavy gas crawled around Everglade’s feet like lethargic eels and quickly covered her socks.  She screamed and cried.  The gas filled the round chamber until her parents could see nothing but the cloud.  It was so nice to have access to such magic.  To make your children match their class.

 

            Rye and Blenny hid under some porch steps, each with a head poked out from an opposite side, watching as Dogwood and Darter left Dogwood’s home.  They were headed out to the fields, a perfect chance for Tinthorn’s cronies to search the property.

            “Hey!  That’s the guy who didn’t pay the entry toll!” Blenny hissed at Rye.

“I know stupid,” Rye said.  “He’s small fry though.  We need to see what Duncewood’s got.”

            As soon as the homeowner was out of sight, the two walked up to his house, carefully observing an invisible line in the ground around it.  They didn’t need to see it since they remembered exactly what step they were on each time some enchantment stopped them.  Crossing the line would mean instant pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

            “Well go ahead,” Rye said.  Blenny swallowed hard.  His feet shuffled without moving forward, like he was dancing to avoid wetting himself.  “Either you go, or Tinthorn hears how you disobeyed his orders.”

            Blenny stuck his hand past the invisible line.  Nothing happened.  He waved it around wildly, stirring the air and grunting with the effort.  He tricked himself into thinking he could feel the magic, almost like a broth surrounding the home.  He sucked in one last breath of magic-free air and held it, puffing his cheeks out.  He took a small jump over the line and braced himself for the horns of an invisible ram.  Rye relished the silence, while Blenny feared it.  He glanced up to the house.  Perhaps Dogwood had forgotten to put up the last spells after they’d worn off.  Blenny let the air he hoarded escape.  Before his sigh was half over, hundreds of little pink explosions fired on the surface of his skin.  A sweet liquid released from the magical bombs filled his mouth and caused him to drop to his knees and choke.  It tasted like someone had drained a bog and refilled it with watermelon juice.  He stood back up and observed himself.  The fluid hung off him in slimy ropes and began to harden and flake off almost instantly.  His hair was so thick with it though that he would have to cut it all off.  He stared back at Rye with a slight whimper in his eyes.

            “It’s just gunk you big baby,” Rye said.  “Hurry up and spring whatever’s on the door before he gets back.”  Blenny picked the crusting pink slime from his eyelashes and trudged forward.

 

            Dogwood took Darter, and a knapsack full of enchantment tools and potion ingredients, to an open meadow that sloped down, out of sight of Windgate, and into the smooth-rocked edges of a slow brook.  He dropped the pack on the ground and opened it, shuffling things until he found a bronze ingot, a knife, a small vial of clear liquid, and a pouch filled with green powder.

            “What are you doing with those?” Darter asked.

“Making soup.”  Darter did not laugh.  “Sorry, bad joke.  Are you familiar with magnetism?”

            “Yes,” Darter replied, happy to display something other than the ignorance he’d been wearing on his sleeve since meeting Dogwood.  “It’s the magic of metals.  It draws some of them to each other and guides compasses.”

            “It’s actually separate from magic, but yes that’s the idea.  Some metals point to magnetic north.  Similarly, some inherently magic materials point to magic north.”

            “There’s a north pole of magic?” Darter asked, unhappy with his ignorance’s return.

“Odd as it may seem, yes.  It’s actually a few hundred miles southeast of here.  So, if I use these to build a magic compass and that compass points somewhere other than magic north…”  Dogwood let the thought trail off, in hopes that Darter could finish it.  Instead he just stared, trying to force words out of his mouth when there were no thoughts to power them, like planting in leeched soil.  Dogwood ended the awkward silence.  “If it points somewhere else, then a powerful magic, like the one you search for, is interfering with the field.”  Darter’s eyes widened.  He understood and raced to voice his grasp of it so fast that he slurred his words.

            “Like a magnet messes with a compass!”

“There you go.  If it’s near enough, this magic compass should point straight to it,” Dogwood finished.  Darter gestured for him to get on with it; his wife’s approach was becoming a stronger ache in his ribs.

            Dogwood grabbed a tiny leaf off the ground and placed it in a puddle separate from the stream’s flow.  Then he grabbed the knife and, with astonishing quickness, sliced a hair thin sliver of bronze off the top of the ingot.  After placing the sliver on the leaf, he opened the vial and let one drop of its contents hit the bronze.  The metal sucked up the fluid and turned a sparkling blue color.  A dash of powder finished the compass recipe and changed the sliver black.  Almost immediately, the leaf began to spin in the puddle, eventually coming to a jarring stop in one direction.  The pull was so powerful that the leaf was dragged to the edge of the puddle where it crashed on the gravel like a tidal wave would beach a dinghy.

            “Wow… this thing is more powerful than I suspected,” Dogwood said.

“But you can find it right?”

            “Yes.  Should we find it though?  Dragon’s blood is valuable but that doesn’t mean you should wake one up and ask for a cup… if you know what I mean.”

            “All I know is that there’s a pile of gold waiting to move out of my pack and into yours.”

            “Good point.”

Dogwood brought out a small bowl, filled it with stream water, and then rebuilt the compass inside it.  The bowl’s edge prevented the needle from beaching itself.

            “Okay,” Dogwood said, “It’s telling us it’s in town somewhere.  Let’s hope it doesn’t lead us to a locked mansion door.”  With the needle leading the way, the two men walked single file back into town.  Dogwood looked up as little as necessary to avoid smashing his nose against a wall.  Darter had grabbed Dogwood’s pack and was now pulling at a strap on its side, taking his anxiety out on the object. It must work, he thought.  I must be free.

            Each time their route was obscured by a building they circled it quickly and then resumed their slow pace to avoid spilling the water, like a carriage driver taking turns too quickly and then leaning back to check his passengers for bumps on the head.

            Finally, the needle started to circle one building.  Dogwood looked up. And up.  And up further.  And up some more.  The Raven’s Nest clock tower.

            “Great.  Some bird probably lined its nest with the most powerful relic ever seen in Windgate,” Dogwood groaned.

            “Haha, very funny,” Darter said.  Dogwood didn’t smile.  “Well you’re not serious are you?”

            “Ravens have a bad habit,” Dogwood said, “of picking up all sorts of human objects, especially magic ones.  And I can’t imagine where it would be otherwise.  There’s nothing but gears, springs, and dust in that tower.  So we’ll have to search the nests.” 

            “Maybe we’ll pick up some eggs for lunch,” Darter joked, trying to shake off his growing dread.  He could feel Everglade drawing closer, his breath toasted by the heat of his heart.  He feared his absorbing love of her. As it drew closer, he felt like a great pair of lips was overtaking the sun, was swallowing him whole, smothering everything that separated him from her.

 

            Blenny grabbed the door knob and twisted.  A moment later he was forty feet away, his face pressed into the grass and a column of mud plugging one nostril.

            Rye watched in amazement as the door swung open and batted his accomplice across the street.  It was closing quickly, the magic on it ready to lock it again as soon as it closed.  He leapt forward and stuck his hand in, holding it open.  He looked over his shoulder to Blenny’s distant still form.

            “Blenny!  You alive?” he yelled.  One of Blenny’s hands flailed for a moment, then slapped back to the ground.  Good enough, Rye thought.  He stuck his head in the open door.

            Despite his distaste for Dogwood, he couldn’t help marveling at the trinkets he’d collected.  A spiral shelf that circled the whole interior several times was loaded with colored sand hourglasses, three dimensional dream catchers, ornate keys and locks, geodes, shape shifting silverware, and a hundred other things his mind would have to diet and exercise on just to begin to understand.  He walked in and let the door close behind him.  Cogwick watched from a window in his home, annoyed that someone would interrupt his private time.  Go on, Cogwick thought, Look in the chest. 

            After disrespectfully fondling some of the treasures and dropping them on the bed, Rye spotted the perpetual motion machine and reached for it.  Cogwick, not inclined to spend an hour cleaning oily fingerprints off his home with a mop, stuck his torso out of the window and addressed Rye.

            “You there!  Looking for treasure?”  Rye took a step back, then forward to squint Cogwick into focus.

            “What are you?  Some magic bug?”

“I am a repairman thank you very much.”

            “You’re not on the census… how long you been here?  That’s a lot of back taxes you owe.”

            “I’m sure we can discuss that later.  Or perhaps I can compensate you with a tip?”

“That depends, how good a tipper are you?”

            “I mean information,” the roll of Cogwick’s gear pupils was too small for Rye to pick up on, “I know where Dogwood keeps the best stuff.”

            “Oh yeah?  Where?” Rye asked.

“In that chest over there, next to the bed.  You can pick a lock can’t you?”

            Rye went to the chest and dropped to his knees.  The chest was little more than a splintery wooden box but the lock was opulently decorated.  It was connected to the chest with a circular braid of gold.  The keyhole was surrounded by iridescent stripes of turquoise punctuated by flecks of ruby blown into the lock’s glass body.

            “Doesn’t matter how fancy it looks,” Rye muttered, “They’re all the same in the middle.”  He pulled a long wire from his pocket, perfect for breaking into the homes of noncompliant citizens.  He licked the tip and, with the most skill he had at anything, slid the wire into the lock like a seamstress threading a needle.  He tapped a piece of the lock’s innards.  With the terrible feeling of being a piece of fruit slush sucked off a bowl’s edge, Rye was pulled in.  For a moment he saw the lock’s interior, his fear preventing him from marveling at its complexity.  Then everything was dark.

 

            The birds had plenty of time to prepare for the assault.  The stairs in the clock tower were so old and creaky that Dogwood and Darter made an awful racket ascending them.  Once they reached the top they barely had a moment to look at all the workings of the clock and the central pyre that wouldn’t be lit for a few hours yet.  The ravens cawed and dove at them, their shrieks drowning out the ticking of the large mechanism.

            Dogwood reached out for one of the low-hanging nests, but one of the birds caught his hand and scratched it.  He recoiled and dropped his pack, ineffectively using his back as a shield.  Darter was simply swatting and yelling at the things, counting on Dogwood to pull some solution out of the bag.

            The clock chimed on the hour.  The bells overhead rang and sent the men’s heads into horrible pain.  Their inner ears vibrated like unstable weather veins.  The birds seemed almost empowered by the sound, doubling their efforts to remove the intruders.  Darter, unable to swat since his hands now plugged his ears, stumbled backward, getting his tunic caught between two very large gears.  It pulled him up into the air and let him hang like a damp sock out to dry.  His legs kicked weakly.

            Dogwood was drawing a blank.  In the flickering shadows of the bird’s wings, no spells came to mind and no helpful device jumped out of the bag.  The ravens started coming at him from below, reaching for his eyes with their beaks. 

            Maintenance was rarely needed on the well-built tower and the pyre was lit from a lower level, which gave the ravens a sense of territory the longer no one showed up.  Worse yet, the sounds of the attack were still drowned out by the clock’s chiming.  No one could hear their battle.

            Dogwood stood up and swatted much like Darter had been, unable to see his surroundings.  Everything was a patchwork of feathery shadows, old wood, and rotating metal.  He hit the back of his head on something.  Glass cracked behind him.  Dogwood whirled around to see the service door, built seamlessly into the face of the clock so mechanics could step out and repair the hands.  With nowhere else to go, he pushed it open, only mildly aware there would barely be room to stand on the clock’s rim.  The minute hand of the clock was at chest level, blocking his advance.  He tried to push it down as the wall of birds bit and scratched at his neck.  It wouldn’t budge, at least not any faster than it was supposed to.

            The birds pressed, cawed, clawed, and rammed.  There was nowhere to go.  The force of them behind him became overwhelming.  Dogwood grabbed the minute hand like a branch to steady himself, but ended up rolling over the top of it and dangling for his life.  From the casual observer’s point of view, many floors below, he would appear to be desperately trying to stop the passage of time.  Dogwood looked down at the houses below, each roof sharp like a halberd thirsty for blood.

            Despite the danger, Dogwood noticed the breeze on his cheek.  The chiming had stopped.  The cawing was farther away.  The birds had lost interest in him and were busy swirling around the nearly unconscious Darter.  Without wasting time with questions, Dogwood pulled himself up, ducked under the minute hand, and reentered the clock’s body.  He rushed towards Darter, finally preparing some enchantments in his head that might stop the attack.  He wouldn’t get the chance though.

            As Darter’s eyes closed, his chest lit with a pale green light.  Phantom branches burst forth from his chest and filled the room.  They settled onto the walls and gears and slowly faded away.  The ravens calmed down, landing on the beams above the men.  They looked sleepy, a couple even settled down in their feathers until they looked like black oil lamps.

            Dogwood lifted Darter off the gear and smacked his cheek a few times.  Darter sputtered and flailed back to his feet.

            “What happened?” he asked.

“I think,” Dogwood organized his thoughts, “Magic I think.  Two bits of it.  Something saved me… then something saved you.” 

            “Vines?  Or branches?  Did they..”

“Yeah,” Dogwood said.

            “That was my wife then… or the piece I have with me.  She has that effect… she calms everyone down.  I can’t control it though.”  Dogwood stared at the drowsy ravens, some of them looking like they were about to fall from the rafters.

            “You didn’t tell me your wife was so powerful.”

“Why do you think I need this thing to break free?  No one can resist her.”  Darter’s breath was finally catching up with his words.  “What saved you?”

            “I don’t know… the object maybe.  Let’s find it.”  The two hesitantly began rifling through the nests they could reach.  Dogwood was nervous about sticking his hands under some of the calm ravens, but they paid little attention. 

Darter used his pinky to twirl a few eggs around like bits of hardened icing on an old cake.  Nothing underneath. 

Dogwood found four clear marbles in one nest and pocketed them.  They were magic, but only powerful enough to cheat at marbles.  Ten nests later and all they found were the marbles, a clockwork key, a quill pen that flew away when touched, and some small crystals.

            “None of these are right.  They’re just mildly magic bits of pocket lint,” Dogwood said.

            “Try the compass again,” Darter suggested.  Once the small cup was dug out, Dogwood refilled it and reset the needle.  He took a step in its indicated direction before the need flew out of the cup and out the access door of the clock face, disappearing into the sunlight that poured through the opening.

            “But… I thought it was in the tower,” Darter said.

“No,” Dogwood said with widening eyes, “It’s on the tower.”  With that he dropped the cup, letting its contents drain through the spaces between floor boards.  He leaned out of the door into the sun, which had grown more intense in the last few minutes.  Dogwood shielded his eyes with his free hand and examined the hand bisecting the door frame.  He’d noticed before how ornate they were, but the degree of it only now showed itself.  The edge of the hand was etched and painted with absurdly small symbols.  There were green eyes, shattered hearts, pulses of flame, and hosts of other pictograms barely thicker than ant heads engraved into the hand’s edge.

            “I found it,” Dogwood declared.

 

            Tinthorn stood in line, twenty people away from the massive doors he was trying to enter.  He never understood how the line was always long.  Fernico saw tons of visitors, but turned down almost every request that involved him spending money.  The blacksmith would beg him to buy armor, whining about how Fernico’s personal fortune was the bulk of the town’s funds, before Fernico shut him down.  If those doors had ever guarded a well of charity, it was certainly bone dry now.  Many of the faces that walked out had tears streaming down them.  Fernico never let him cut though.

            “But sir,” Tinthorn would say, “I’m head of taxes and guard!  What if there’s an emergency and I need to protect you.”

“No cutting,” Fernico would reply, his bony fingers plucking at his silvery stubble.  “Everyone thinks they’re concerns are just as immediate as yours.  It is my duty to patiently listen to everyone’s strife… before I decline giving them a handout.”

“Why not just put up a sign… you know… ‘No charity’?” Tinthorn would say.  Fernico would pinch a hair’s base.  He would squeeze and tug and pull until the hair came out, doing this so slowly and dramatically that Tinthorn might swear he heard the hair’s fibers screaming and snapping like overburdened rope.  On the base of the hair would be a small piece of pinched bloody skin.  Fernico would hold it out for him to see.

“This is what they want Tinthorn.  They shuffle in here with their outstretched claws to beg for pieces of me.  I’m lucky they’re not strong enough to take them.  A sign won’t keep them out.”

So Tinthorn stood in line, his patience burning up like droplets of lamp oil.  The doors behind him opened and a hideous purple bump stumbled inside.  The bump was attached to Blenny’s forehead, a souvenir from Dogwood’s trap door.  It exerted an awful pressure on Blenny’s head, making his eyes roll low in their sockets and blink out of rhythm.

“Blenny!  What on green Earth happened?” Tinthorn shouted.  He didn’t rush out to help his unsteady employee, lest his place in line get filled.  Blenny instead made his way over to Tinthorn and leaned his back against the nearby wall.

“It was door,” Blenny said, his tongue getting in the way of the words.  “Doorwood.”

“You mean Dogwood?” Tinthorn asked.

“Yeah.  He hit me with dogwood.  Rye welt in.  To get… to get Door’s stuff.”  Blenny’s eyes closed and he moaned at the ceiling, making everyone else in the line almost uncomfortable enough to leave.

            “You’re not making sense you idiot.  Where’s Rye?”

“Rye’s welt in the house.  Didn’t come over.  I waited.  Didn’t come to.”  Blenny shuddered and almost fell.  He steadied himself by slapping the wall.  “I think my skull’s burst.  Doorwood welted it.”

            “You got hit pretty good alright.  Are you saying Rye is trapped in Dogwood’s house?”  Tinthorn asked, growing tired of forcing a back-and-forth with Blenny’s concussion.

            “Yeah boss.”

“The magician’s holding him prisoner then.  I’ll go arrest him.”  Tinthorn leaned to the side and stared at the line in front of him.  He growled, holding back the urge to use the person in front of him as a club to beat his way to the front.  “As soon as I can get permission.  Go get your head fixed Blenny.”

            Blenny did something resembling walking until he reached the front door.  After exiting, Tinthorn heard the thump of his body hitting the grass.  Couldn’t lose his place in line though.  Not after already waiting ten minutes.

 

            Windgate’s citizens were regularly depressed, so they weren’t likely to hold their chins up and notice the clock’s missing hand.  They might have noticed Dogwood carrying a long bundle wrapped in cloth, which is why he rushed it home as quickly as possible.  Darter shut the door behind them and drummed on it ecstatically.

            “We got it, we got it!  Ha-hah! Okay hurry up.  How do you do this?  Maybe tap me on the shoulder like you’re knighting me,” he said, grabbing for the bundle.  Dogwood pulled it back.

            “Hold your horses Darter, I need to check some things.”

“Dogwood the first thing you taught me was that some horses can ride right through what’s holding them back.  Come on, time is short.”

            “How short?” 

Darter huffed out his bottom lip and blew a tuft of his hair away.  He closed his eyes and looked around inside himself.  Amidst the mighty roaring rivers there were a few translucent branches growing thicker.  Darter could almost hear them growing tangible, taking up space and binding his thoughts.  His eyes opened.

            “She’ll probably be here midday tomorrow,” he said.  Dogwood placed the bundle on the bed and wrung his hands together.

            “Listen.  This could be dangerous.  I need to do some research, some safety tests, maybe an experiment or two before I risk using it on you, okay?” Dogwood said.

            “But… what kind of risks could there be?”

“Magic has a nasty habit of being vague Darter.  Its power is severing emotion.  One way to do that would be to kill you.”

            “Oh I see.  I guess we can wait until first thing in the morning.”  Darter let his hands drop to his sides.  To him it felt like dropping his sword with his enemy’s pressed against his throat.  “Alright if I stay here?” he asked, not expecting Dogwood to care.  He leaned backward to sit on the bed.  Dogwood grabbed the bundle and used it as a prop to hold Darter off the blankets.  He pushed his confused employer back up.

            “I don’t mean to intrude,” Darter said, reconsidering whether he’d made any friends in Windgate.  “I can give you some rent for the night.”  Dogwood franticly apologized.

“No, no, no, that’s not it.  I’m sorry but… I…”  He let the moment trail off into silence.  To say it, to admit it as fact to someone more real than Cogwick might break the illusion.  If she was a dream, sharing her with Darter might make her evaporate.  But if she was real, it was cruel to deny their connection.  “I have a lover,” he finally said.  Darter grinned.

            “No need to be embarrassed!  You have your fun and I’ll stay at the inn down the street.  Fair bit of warning though, if you get too close you might wind up like me and have to use that divorcing sword on yourself.”  Darter made his way to the door but stopped in front of it.  He rubbed the back of his neck and turned around.

            “Now I’m the one who’s sorry friend but… I’ve just had a hammer of uncertainty start banging at my forehead.  I know the hand could be very valuable.  I’m sorry for not trusting you but I’m deathly afraid of letting it out of my sight.”  Dogwood hummed for a moment, trying to find a solution.

            “How about some collateral,” Cogwick suggested, having emerged from the background and listened silently as he tended to.

            Dogwood scanned his shelves and let his eyes stop on something made mostly of glass.  It had a clear stand and four small egg-shaped sections with metal faucets penetrating their tops.  He grabbed it and walked over to Darter, handing it over gently.

            “This is an…”

“An egg chamber, I know,” Darter interrupted.  Dogwood’s eyes widened. 

“You don’t have to look so surprised.  It’s used on chicken eggs right?  Infuses various potion ingredients with the embryo so when it hatches you get chickens that are three feet tall or extra fat or six-legged.”

            “That’s right.  How do you know about this one?”

“It’s my wife again,” Darter admitted, his eyes dropping to the floor.  “I even owe my knowledge to her.  Her parents are very wealthy… when Everglade was young they had a monstrous version of one of these built and stuck her inside.” 

Dogwood was appalled at the thought.  For someone who rescued magical trash, works of art that had been misused, to hear about that was like hearing about villages burned down with their residents fenced in.

            “That’s abominable,” Dogwood said, his voice quaking with anger over people he’d never met.  “What did they force into her?” he asked.

            “I don’t remember specifically.  Sea salt and some other things.  She has an aura… it calms everything she encounters.  They wanted to make her into some elegant little glass swan that would swim around and impress their gilded neighbors.”

            “I see why you want to escape now.  You’re not sure if this is your choice,” Cogwick commented.  Darter turned to look at the little bronze man, having already forgotten his presence again.

            “That’s right… I mean I know I love her.  I’m just not sure how much is me and how much is magic.  Is she a ruby or colored glass?  The only time I can think on it clearly is when I’m away from her influence.”  Silence flooded the room again.  Dogwood was getting tired of it walking in like some inconsiderate nude and interrupting the flow of things.

            “Will the chamber do as collateral?  It’s worth at least ten gold.”  Dogwood asked.

            “Yes.  I’ll see you gentlemen tomorrow.”  Darter took the chamber and rushed out, embarrassed by his confusion.  Cogwick looked to Dogwood, who was unwrapping the clock hand on the bed already.  If he’d had to hide his enthusiasm over the artifact from Darter any longer it might have pickled his brain.

            “So how did you figure out that was it?” Cogwick asked, trying to jump and lean at the right angle to get a decent view.

            “I fell over it and the ravens that were so adamantly protesting my presence just stopped caring.” Dogwood answered.  “It broke their bonds to me.”

            Dogwood placed both hands on the hand’s base, holding it like a saber.  He closed his eyes and tried to perceive the magic surrounding the object.  As he breathed deeply he could feel the room filling up around him, space being stifled by magic projections.  The hand sent ticking pulses of magic up through his arms that echoed in his heart like it was a marble cathedral two hundred feet high.

            “What do you see?” Cogwick asked.  Dogwood exhaled and, almost afraid to do so, opened his eyes.

            His home had transformed.  Dogwood was trapped between layer after layer of colorful lines that passed in and out of the walls.  Everywhere he looked there were purple chains, red knotted ropes, blue wires, yellow threads, green vines, and thick strands of what looked like pink taffy.  Paranoid that these might start to wrap around him like constricting snakes, Dogwood tossed the hand onto the bed.  There was no sound as the various lines vanished from his sight.

            “I saw,” he said, struggling to find words, “connections.  Emotions… I think. Wow.  I just… I don’t even know where to start.”

            “Well it’s a good thing I trapped you a test subject,” Cogwick said.  Dogwood arched an eyebrow questioningly. 

“Tinthorn’s boys stopped by earlier.  Rye’s all nice and cozy in the chest.  If that thing works you should be able to artificially make amends.” 

Dogwood chuckled.  He had half a mind to sell the trunk with the trespasser still inside.

            “Thank you my friend.  I’ll try just that.”  Dogwood grabbed the hand off the bed and tried not to be overwhelmed by the magic visions.  He pushed down the though that the magic pulses felt like they were designed to pass through something much mightier than his moist little heart.  “Okay focus,” he said, “What would Rye feel?  Anger.  Just anger.  I only want to see anger.”  All the other lines faded, leaving only a red web of fraying ropes.  Some of them were moving, prompting Dogwood to remember they were each attached between two people. “Alright.  Just Rye’s anger at me.  Just the anger between the trunk and my hands.”  The red faded, save for one example.  It phased through the front of the chest and buried itself in Dogwood’s hands.  “Ellasi!” he proclaimed.  The lock clicked open and flung the trunk’s lid up.  Rye rolled out and onto the floor, panting.

            He rose on wobbly legs to look at Dogwood.  The rope of anger was hanging out of his heart but, of course, Rye could not sense it.

            “You,” he scowled.  “I’ll kill you!”  He rushed at Dogwood with hands outstretched, too enraged and tired to care about the weapon in his hand.  Dogwood sliced upward, straight into the rope.  It snapped cleanly, the whip cracking sound of it slamming Dogwood’s ears.  The rope wheeled around crazily and was almost instantly reeled back into Rye’s chest, causing him to stumble backward.  Silence.  Cogwick compressed his spring arms out of suspense.

            “I didn’t mean to intrude Dogwood.  I’d better get back to Tinthorn,” Rye said.  His expression was blank except for a tiny bit of fear in his trembling lip, the result of a possible smack from Tinthorn.

            “Umm… by all means,” Dogwood said, motioning towards the door.  Rye took his leave, even stopping in the doorway to make his first breath of fresh air in several hours a deep one.  When the door clicked shut, an idea bloomed in Dogwood’s mind.  “Cogwick, what time is it?” he asked.

            “There are four hours of daylight left,” he responded dutifully.

“Plenty of time,” Dogwood said before rushing out the door, hand in hand.

 

            “The appointment line starts at the front door,” Fernico’s guard warned.  With one dramatic slice the guard no longer cared Dogwood was trespassing.  He even opened the mansion’s gigantic door for him.

            As he tiptoed through the hallways Dogwood wondered how many guards Fernico would have on patrol on a normal day.

            Every three steps there was some gold or silver vase up against the wall, from a variety of dying cultures and famous craftsmen.  Fernico rotated them monthly, discarding the old ones.  Dogwood shuddered when considering how many were left to rust before he started rummaging like a raccoon. 

A house this big should have a map, he thought.  He ascended a spiral staircase, neutralized another guard, asked the now-polite man where the vault was, and then followed his directions back down the stairs.  He accidentally rounded a wrong corner and found a line of people waiting to see Fernico, quickly doubling back before anyone saw.  Tinthorn was third in line and too busy picking paint off the wall to notice his target flit by.

            The vault’s door was molded out of black metal, with an artistic jungle scene etched into it.  Various big cats looked out from the design to the approaching Dogwood.  He could do what he needed to without entering the vault, but an angry curiosity drove him on.  He needed to see how much wealth was just sitting in there, gathering dust, while half the town was surviving on dust.  The big cats in the design growled at him when he got too close.

            “Please,” he said, “You can afford better magic than this.  Malsatego!”  The cats hissed for a moment before withering into skeletons and crashing to the design’s grassy ground.  The vault’s door creaked open.

            Dogwood couldn’t believe his eyes.  The glare from the sunlight in the hall bounced off a mountain of perfectly stacked gold ingots.  There was enough to power the town on charity for four winters.  Dogwood started to get angry but stopped himself after picturing a red rope wrapping around him and choking his breath away.  Because that’s what it does, he thought, remembering the things the hand had shown him.  I’ll just do what I’m here to do. 

            He clasped the hand and pictured the root of everyone’s problem.  A gray green root, looking thicker and more poisonous than the serpent whose body keeps Hell stitched together, had burrowed into the pile of gold.  No doubt the other end was drawing nourishment from the bubbling tar in Fernico’s heart.  Dogwood could see a fevered pink outlining the root.  Madness.  He’s in love with the money.

            With one mighty strike the root snapped, spurting whitish-yellow fluid and writhing.  Dogwood had executed the grotesque emotion, freeing Fernico from his own greed.  Now it was time to make a hasty retreat.

 

            Tinthorn stopped peeling paint once the blank spot became noticeably large.  Still waiting impatiently, he started stomping his foot to pass the time.  Fernico loved to draw these things out, to cherish every drop of sadness spilling from the parasites’ faces.

            “Next,” Fernico’s voice called out.

“Finally,” Tinthorn grumbled as he entered the office. 

The woman leaving looked surprisingly happy.  The only time joy ever left that office was when it was nestled on the homeowner’s face.  Tinthorn didn’t bother to sit down. 

“Sir, that ratty wizard has taken one of my men.  I need you to sign an arrest warrant.”

“And why would I do that?” Fernico asked.  Tinthorn’s hands dropped.  He stuttered for a moment, and then bothered thinking of something to say.

“Well I need my men to collect the taxes sir.  Your taxes.”

“Tinthorn did you know that money is made of metal?  Just little bits of metal.”

            “Yes sir… they’re valuable though.”

“I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I thought so…  It just seems to take up space now… and I think I remember someone saying gold was technically toxic.  I must go check.  Off with you now, you’re fired,” Fernico said casually, waving Tinthorn away with his hand.  He stood up from the desk and walked out of the room.  Tinthorn heard him shooing the rest of the line out of the mansion.

            “He’s cast a spell on his brain,” Tinthorn muttered.  His rage was a snarling beast with nothing to do now but nip at his own ankles.  He kicked the desk.

 

            After freeing the town from greed, Dogwood took the rest of the day’s light examining the clock hand.  It had been a bit rash to wield it but he couldn’t stand to see the chains that bound his neighbors.  The hand showed him what a tangle the human mind was and how all its colors bled together to make the soul weary.

            Cogwick stuck his head out of a window frame on one of the motion machine’s tiny towers.

            “Dogwood.  She’ll be here any minute.”

“What?  Oh thank you Cogwick.  Good night.” 

Cogwick retreated into the machinery for the night.  Dogwood stood up and positioned himself in front of his bed.  The hand would be very useful in a few moments.  His love would appear to him in her magical form, the form that allowed her to see him even though they lived oceans apart, and beckon him into bed.  Then he could use the hand’s power to prove her significance.  He would see the bond of love connecting them and know, for sure, she wasn’t an illusion; she was a flesh and blood person who had found a way to visit the soul mate she’d never actually met.

            He lit a candle.  The deep purple of sunset gave way to clean, white moon beams.  He stared at the bed, scanning the air for the first signs of her astral form.

            The mist faded into existence.  It swirled as it had every night for months now, pulling her to him across the distance and the loneliness.  Her head appeared.  Like a falling curtain, the rest of her body followed.  Her smile, teeth as white as frost, greeted him.  Dogwood didn’t know if magic gave her face features or if those were the ones she was born with.  Her hair was thin, dark, and luminous while her eyes refused to open all the way.  She looked both alert and half-asleep.  Maybe that’s how people on the other side of the world look, he thought.  An old story of thin-eyed people coming ashore in strange boats tiptoed in his memory.

The spell’s moratorium on words prevented her from speaking to him, but her gestures said it all.  She wanted him to join her.  They could hold each other once again.  She’d found the magic to make it real.  Their names were still hidden to each other but their souls were not.  His element was wood, as was hers.

            Dogwood thought about Darter’s watery heart with the branch wound in.  A stalactite of emptiness broke through the ceiling of his spirit.  She was here, but she wasn’t.  She was moonlight.

            She looked at him questioningly, worry pressing on her lips as impossible words.  She looked about to whimper.  Why are you not joining me? Her eyes asked.

            Dogwood gripped the hand tightly between his.  He concentrated, staring at his radiant mate and waiting for the bond to appear between them.  The ticking magic of the hand shook his arms, but nothing appeared.

            The look in her eyes deepened, as if she was seeing him burn to death.  I’ve been her constant, Dogwood thought, no wonder she’s upset.  For months I’ve been the same as sunrise, inevitable.  I’m not coming this time.  I’m sorry my love… but it isn’t real.  Something about it isn’t real. Dogwood started sobbing but refused to let his hands move.  He waited and waited for the line of love to draw itself between them.  Nothing.  He whipped his head around, sprinkling tears on the bedding, to find the bond.  His back was clear.  Nothing attached to his arms, knees, or chest.  He felt like he was wheeling through the emptiness of space, literally nothing tying him to anything else.

            She opened her mouth in a silent howl.  Tears began streaking across her face as well.  She only knew that something was coming between them.  Dogwood knew it was doubt.  Whatever enchantment she had used, it only worked if they both believed in the bond.  He could feel his certainty slipping away like blood from a severed artery.

            She started to fade.  Dogwood shouted and flung the hand away.  He tried to grab for her hand but when their fingers touched hers dissolved around him into white smoke. She retracted her handless arm and wept, each tear pulling trails of her form with it.  The last thing he saw was her eyes.  The pupils sparkled once and then vanished, leaving his bed emptier than it had ever been.

            Dogwood sobbed into his pillow.  Cogwick watched silently, having been roused by his friend’s shouts.  He dared not say anything for he knew there was no moment more fragile, more vulnerable to perversion by anger.  Anything that interrupted his sorrow would become the thing that destroyed the love of his life.  So he observed.  Cogwick’s world never stopped moving but Dogwood’s was stiller than a pearl in a fossil shell.  His loss was concrete, more so than she had ever been in his arms.

            The clock hand stuck out of the wall, Dogwood’s toss having lodged it in the wood.

 

            Darter had been nervously wandering around the two hallways on the inn’s second floor for hours.  His wife was so close now that it woke him from sleep.  He didn’t want to go banging on Dogwood’s door like a maniac.  He could wait until morning; she wouldn’t be here quite that soon.  Still, he could feel her arms around his waist and smell her breath.

            It was getting increasingly difficult to wander nervously though.  The halls were filling with people.  The bar was downstairs but it seemed to be running out of room.  Each stair leading up to Darter’s floor supported two or three people.  Some of them were shouting back down the stairs while the ones far from the action grumbled to each other.  What’s the whole town got to discuss at five in the morning? Darter thought.

            When he rounded the corner the next time he found he couldn’t go through the crowd.  Someone, already annoyed at being so far from the shouting, stared at him.  Darter was, after all, the only one in bed clothes.

            “Sir could I trouble you to tell me what’s interrupted my sleep?” Darter asked, pretending it wasn’t Everglade that woke him.

            “It’s that lousy blueblood Fernico.  Someone told me he’s gone and thrown away all his money,” the man responded with vitriol.

            “It’s his right to throw it away isn’t it?” Darter asked.

“Not when he employs three quarters of everyone in town it isn’t.  He just threw it out.  I heard a bunch of gypsies grabbed it up from the trash and rode out of town an hour later.  I’m due to be paid tomorrow and I can’t go another two weeks without silver.” The man replied.  A new voice rose from the bottom of the stairs.  It was so much louder than the rest that it sent everyone into a hush.  Darter could hear it plainly.

            “It’s not his fault.  I know what’s wrong with him!  It’s that magic-flinging worm Dogwood.  He trapped one of my men in his house earlier today and when he came out there was something wrong with his head.  He didn’t even care he’d been locked up in a box for hours.  You think it’s a coincidence that on the same day Fernico suddenly decides to topple a throne of gold?  Dogwood hexed him!” Tinthorn announced to the crowd as he paced across the bar, sliding half-empty glasses out of the way with his feet.

            “Dogwood’s work keeps us alive!” someone shouted.

“Yeah, without that magic rabbit bait he cooked up my family would be naught but bones right now.  Why would he make Fernico bankrupt everybody?” another face in the crowd asked.  Tinthorn sneered.

            “His hex made Fernico put most of the town’s gold in a dumpster.  Who in our town spends the most time looking through dumpsters?”  Everyone went quiet.  Darter backed away from the stairs and headed towards his room.  Just what I needed, he thought. An angry mob after my employee.

            He got dressed as fast as possible, ignoring the waves of shouting and forcing his mind to garble the words so he wouldn’t understand them.  He pulled on his socks so tightly that they snapped against the skin.  He wouldn’t be able to just wade through the crowd beneath him.  Surely the tax collectors would be there and they wouldn’t be happy to see him again.

            Darter opened the window.  It was only the second floor.  He’d jumped further than that without breaking any bones.  He’d made it out of a third story one when the minutes before his wedding had given him cold feet.  She had eventually caught up to him.  They had married.  She would catch up again. Unless he could…

            He leapt out of the window, leaving most of his belongings and Dogwood’s egg chamber behind.  They had to use the hand now, before the mob tore them both to shreds.

 

            “Someone’s coming,” Cogwick said as he glanced out the window. It was the first thing he dared to say since she had dissipated the night before.  Dogwood was still crying.  His body had not run out of tears despite how moist the bed sheet had gotten as he wiped it across his eyes.  Each moment he thought they would dry out his eyes just clenched tighter and squeezed more droplets out.  The sadness may have been as infinite as Cogwick’s home if there were no interruptions.

            “Who is it?” Dogwood sniveled. 

“It looks like Darter.  He’s limping.  Best get up now Dogwood.  Sadness passes time without stopping it.  People still need your help.”

            Dogwood stood up and furiously wiped a blanket across his face.  It irritated his skin and turned it red, making the signature patches of sobbing under his eyes less obvious.  He breathed deeply and went to pull the clock hand out of the wall.  His hands recoiled for a moment.  He was afraid to touch it, to see her again.  Perhaps her spell had bonded her to the hand.  Maybe all he would see when touching it was the web of morose madness he had now wrapped himself in.  He pictured the two of them cocooned like spider’s prey, wriggling helplessly.  There was an alarmed knock on the door.  Dogwood wrenched the hand free and went to answer.  Darter spilled into the house and flopped to the floor so he could grip his leg and hiss with pain.

            “What happened?” Dogwood asked.

“I’ll tell you what happened.  Everyone and their torch-wielding mother thinks you’re stealing the town’s gold with brain-chaining spells!  There’s no way I left more than five minutes before they boiled over.  They’re coming to get you.”

            “What!?  Why would they think that?”

“That tax thug.  Some man mentioned Fernico threw out all his money and then Tinthorn brought up how you know magic and like to rifle through old smelly things.”

            “He threw it out?  He wasn’t supposed to do that… I just wanted him to stop hoarding it… I did it for everyone.”

            “Yeah that’s what I… wait.  You actually did this?”

“I used the hand to sever his love for money.  I hoped it would spread the town’s wealth.”

            “You idiot!  All you’ve spread is a wealth of anger.  Quickly, use the hand to sever my wife’s bond before we run out of time.”

            Dogwood concentrated.  A dense whirl of red thorny ropes was wrapped around his body.  So much anger, Dogwood thought, I just wanted to help.  He cut one of the ropes and was startled by the hissing steam that came out.  He swung wildly, cutting as many as he could in an attempt to slash an emotional loophole into the situation.  New ropes grew to replace them.  The slashed ones repaired themselves quickly and squeezed more tightly around him.  They’re a mob.  Every time one of them is calmed down he’s automatically flared up again by those around him.  There’s too much anger to stop.

            “Did you do it?” Darter asked franticly, unaware Dogwood’s efforts weren’t focused on him.

            “No, help me escape and then I’ll free you from her.”

“What!  Why?  I don’t have time for that!”

            “I’m sorry, but I need all the help I can get.”  The sounds of a running, shouting glob of rage reached their ears.  It came through the open door like death through an arrow wound.

 

            They fled Dogwood’s house on the ghost saddle, making for the tree line at the edge of the village.  The initial path was blocked by a section of the mob wielding crossbows.  Their second path ended in failure when Dogwood ran headlong into one of his own enchantments that he’d sold to a farmer wanting to protect his cattle.  Several bulls made of grass and wood rose out of the ground and chased them back into the town’s borders.  The beasts surrounded them at an old hay-filled barn.  One of them rammed the ghost horse; the shock of magic smashing into magic destroyed them both.  Dogwood and Darter barely made it inside. 

The barn was flimsy, the wood a sickly white-gray color.  Everything inside splintered as badly as the hay.

            Dogwood pulled the barn doors shut just as two horns made of heartwood crashed through.  They pulled back, allowing the trapped men to look through the holes.  They saw the glinting weapon tips carried by the townsfolk.  Dogwood imagined one of those glints had to be Tinthorn’s bear trap smile.

            “Can’t you just turn this charm off?” Darter asked, choking back fear.

“No, customers prefer foolproof ones.” 

The sounds of the populace reached them again.  The mob paid no attention to the enchanted bulls and welcomed them into the storm of rage.  Hatchets smacked into the walls.  Shovels clanged against the door hinges.  The whole building creaked and wobbled like a diseased stork unsteady on its feet.

            Again, Dogwood tried to cut through the tangles of anger.  He spun in circles; the sound of emotional tendrils snapping filled his ears.  Alas, they just reformed as the mob’s cries stoked the negative emotions.

            The end of a hoe broke through one of the walls and wiggled menacingly.  Dogwood kicked it back and held his hand up to the hole in the wall.

“Fermi Hiato!” he shouted.  A puff of white smoke shot out of his hand and sealed the hole with what looked like foggy glass.  The hoe reared its dull head again and broke through like the spell was nothing.

            “That’s not working,” Darter wailed.

“What do you want?” Dogwood asked, “I’m not some warrior, I sell magic knick knacks!”  He tried in vain to seal some more holes that appeared in the building’s front.  Darter busied himself by stacking hay bails in front of the doors.  He did his best to bottle his fear and funnel that energy into his muscles.  He half-groaned and half-sobbed each time he set a bail down.  Either Everglade would arrive or he would be strung up by an entire town.  They both sounded insufferable.

            Dogwood prepared for the end.  He held the magic hand up in a striking position.  He might be able to take out two or three people before they overran him.  That was if one of his charmed bulls didn’t just rush in and gore him first.  He wrung his hands, resulting in a drop of sweat that travelled down his sleeve and onto his chest.  It slid over his heartbeat.  For a moment he could picture her, pure and bubbling with happiness.  The two of them were alive in that drop of water, sliding across the harsh exterior of the world and enjoying the time they had.  Why did it get ruined? He wondered. She was so perfect.

            The world’s harsh exterior, at least the section surrounding the barn, softened.  The charm animating the bulls died away in the presence of much stronger magic.  They collapsed into piles of dried grass.  The shouting started to die off in waves that approached the barn.

            “Oh no,” Darter said.  He whipped around.  “She’s here!” 

All of the tools that had punctured the barn’s weak skin retracted.  Dogwood lowered the magic hand and shoved his eye into one of the holes.  The farmers, laborers, cooks, and smiths of Windgate all looked away from their original target.  Dogwood watched one of them drop a scythe in the grass.  He saw their fingers unclench.

            A carriage pulled up.  Everyone in the crowd took a few steps backward to make room for the vehicle.  Dogwood had never seen anything like it.  Must be built for city travel, he thought.  Few things were more out of place than that carriage in Windgate.  With its odd color and expensive trim it looked like a gilded blueberry on wheels.  Two pairs of massive white horses pulled it up to the barn’s entrance.  The woman driving reined them into a stop.  Every living thing within a hundred feet watched her as she stepped off.

“It’s Everglade!” Darter shouted as he grabbed Dogwood’s shoulders and shook violently.  “You’ve got to do it now before she gets in here!  Do it!  Cut the bond!”

Dogwood felt the effects of her magic.  She was infused with such power that it made his spine shiver while his muscles felt like dripping butter.  The simple fact of her presence choked all the tension out of the environment.  He tried to picture the anger that had wrapped him like an irate python moments before.  It had vanished.  Darter smacked him across the face to rouse him. 

“Stop her man!  Cut the bond!”

I can see why he runs, Dogwood thought, she is powerful.  He did his best to ignore the calming waves of magic, like waves of rose petals washing over him, and focus on the right emotion.  He thought about love and pushed away the image of his ghostly beloved.

            There it was, coming right through the middle of the barn doors and embedding itself in Darter’s heart.  It looked like a pipe of flexible ivory with spectacularly ornate carvings.  It shined a bright white that grew more intense as it approached Darter, almost obscuring him entirely at its end point.

            “Cut it!” Darter yelled again. 

The hand practically sliced the air as Dogwood hoisted it over his head.  No time to regret what he was doing.  He was destroying love.  A sickly love that warranted study more than destruction.  Darter would never know if it was Everglade or the magic that so entranced him.  Down it came.  Dogwood tried not to picture his own heart, to accidentally sever anything that might be left of his nightly visitor.  Down it came.  Only an inch away now.

            Dogwood was sure nothing had ever happened so fast as this.

The hand was impossible to stop.

            It rushed with an unnatural magic.

It was beyond humanity.  The magic was a shadow that could strangle its owner.

            It still wasn’t strong enough.

The hand stopped dead on the bond.  It didn’t even nick its carved surface.  The sound of the two colliding was like a brittle stick on the side of an iron bar.  Darter’s horrified expression delivered the message he was about to yell.

“Try again!” 

Dogwood reared back and struck a second time, with the same result.  The hand clanged uselessly against their love again and again.  He couldn’t sever the bond.  He brought it down one more time, as hard as he could, and yelped as it recoiled from the contact and shook his wrists painfully.  The hand fell to the hay-covered floor, looking entirely inert.  At that moment it was just another abandoned tool, like the cobweb covered pitchforks stacked in the corner.

            “Why would you attack something so precious to me?”

Dogwood whirled around, his hands still rubbing each other to ease the pain.  Aside from his apparition, Dogwood had never seen a more beautiful woman.  Her expression was calmer than the air resting beneath a forest canopy.  Her cream-colored clothing wasn’t flecked by mud or grass stains.  She had somehow remained spotless during the journey here.  She was about five and a half feet tall, with every inch radiating a kind of unity, like a puzzle with pieces that would never again break apart.  Dogwood had never seen anyone look so… content.

            “I,” Dogwood hesitated.  “I did it at your husband’s request ma’am.”

“No doubt he offered to pay handsomely as well,” she said without anger or accusation.  Then she shot off to the side and hugged Darter.  He hugged her back, as if a natural disaster had flung them apart instead of his perpetually cold feet.

            “I missed you my love,” he sighed as he smelled her hair.

“Darter… Are you alright?” Dogwood asked.

            “Yes, I’m fine.  Now that she’s here I can’t imagine how I keep making the same mistake.”

            “You’ll make it again my sweet,” Everglade said.  She turned to Dogwood.  “I know we’re unorthodox, but we make it work.  My parent’s curse strains us sometimes… it makes him think he has no choice.  Then he runs.  Then I find him and we get to be happy for a while.”

            Dogwood was concerned for his new friend, who looked too happy for someone scared witless moments ago.  Not like I can do anything, he thought.

            “Well then I guess I’m glad it didn’t work.  Are you sure you’re alright with this Darter?”

            “Yes,” he said, still hugging her tightly.  Everglade kissed him and then maneuvered out of his arms, smooth as fog.  She approached Dogwood and held out her hands, clearly asking to see the clock hand.  Dogwood picked it up, handed it over, and instantly felt glad to have its weight on someone else… except Everglade showed no caution.  Its tip wobbled as she tossed it between her hands.  She uttered an amused hmm sound while examining the intricate symbols.

            “It’s a clock hand,” she said.  “This is probably the sixth or seventh most powerful thing I’ve seen.”  She held it up parallel to the ground and stared down its length into Dogwood’s eyes.  “You know why it didn’t work?”

            Dogwood didn’t respond immediately.  He just stared down the hand’s black length and into Everglade’s face.  It looked like the kind of road that wouldn’t let you turn back.

            “I’m sorry?  Oh, no.  I don’t.  Do you?” 

“Yes.  Its magic isn’t difficult to identify.  I’m surprised my Darter didn’t figure it out.”  She looked over to her husband, who shrugged.

            “I was distracted by thoughts of you,” he cooed as he wrapped his arms around her. She giggled.

            “Whoever invented this gave you an awfully big clue.  It’s a clock hand that severs emotions.  Obviously its power is time.  As it passes we care less and less about what we obsessed over.  Wounds scab and heal in the mind as they do in the body… over time.”

            “Oh,” Dogwood said, not quite understanding.  Her grasp of magic clearly eclipsed his.  Maybe I should read a book instead of digging through magic trash, he thought.  “So why doesn’t time affect you two?”

            “Still don’t get it?  It doesn’t work on love,” she said.

“Why not?”  Dogwood’s question came out like a dog’s whine.  Everglade rolled her eyes, thinking about how dense men could be.

            “Love is timeless.”

Dogwood’s mind instantly disagreed.  Fatigue crept over him but his mind was on fire.  No, he thought. No it’s not.  I’ve seen it dissolve.  It’s not timeless; it’s a bog of sadness that implodes, spewing putrid water and moldy remains.  It ends horribly.  Swiftly yet slowly.  He managed to confine these thoughts and respond in a mostly polite way.

            “No, I’ve seen it end.  Fernico’s love for treasure… and the hand also… it took my love away.  Or… showed me it was never there.”  Everglade tilted her head, as if pouring Dogwood’s false words out through her ear.

            “Well whatever connects someone to money can’t be real love.  As for you, what did your girl say about it?” she asked.  Dogwood winced at the phrase your girl.

            “She couldn’t say anything.  She used magic to visit me because of the distance between us.  The hand showed me that nothing connected us… and that broke her spell.”

            “Distance?” Everglade asked herself.  She thought for a moment, running her hand up and down Darter’s serene cheek.  Then she smiled and tossed the hand back to Dogwood.  He fumbled to catch it, his feet slipping in the hay.  “Windgate does seem a little behind the times, but I’m sure you know our world is round.”

            Dogwood’s mind ached but he forced a conclusion.  Looking stupid in front of Everglade made him feel unusually inferior, like a rat that’s been nibbling some chef’s masterpiece.  He rubbed his head vigorously.  What does she mean?  What does…

            With a fiery brilliant idea in his head, Dogwood lifted the clock hand and focused on the love he wished to see.  Nothing.  But the Earth is round, he thought.  That wasn’t her body.  It was just a spell.  The real her is on the world’s other side.  And the bond takes the quickest way to her.

            He lifted his foot.  Sure enough, the same white bond he’d seen between Everglade and Darter poked out of the sole of his foot.  From there it traveled into the ground, through the world’s center, and to his love on the other side.  To her heart.  Dogwood lost his balance and fell backward.

            “What have I done?” he moaned.  Their love was real, but he had shunned her from a world away.  She would never come back.

            “Don’t give up before you’ve started,” Darter commanded, resolve strengthening his voice.  “Go find her!”

 

            “So you’re leaving,” Cogwick said, not hiding his sadness.

“I’m afraid so my friend,” Dogwood said as he shoved clothing into a travelling bag.  “I can’t stand to think about her sadness.  I will find her.  We’ll be together and the sun will never set.”  He strapped the clock hand to the top of the pack.  “Everglade and Darter will be by in an hour or so to pick you up.  She’s a lovely woman who knows how to take care of magic like you.”

            “Well then I wish you luck.  Just be careful with that hand,” Cogwick said.

“It’s just to point the way,” Dogwood responded.  “Oh, and I’ve finally figured out what keeps you running.”  He stopped packing for a moment, leaving a shirt’s sleeves hanging out of the bag.  He turned to Cogwick and leaned in very closely.

            “Is she beautiful?” he asked.  The little hinges on Cogwick’s face squeaked as a mighty smile took over.

            “Oh yes.  I’m sorry you never met… she’s very shy, likes to stay inside…  She’s so gorgeous.  I could look at her endlessly.”

The End

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