The Way of the Word

1. October 2010

The Gatherers: Chapter 12

“This won’t do,” Ankhoro said. “This just won’t do.”

“What are you talking about?” Miki said.

“These crystals. I mean, lookit what Bolwyn’s doing. He’s even siccing Zoltan and his cronies on us.”

“Not on us,” Ghenni said mildly. “On the lamp.”

“What’s the difference?” Ankhoro said. “We’ve got the lamp, so he’s gotta get us to get it. And now look at that nice new shiny toy we’ve got. Shiny pretty new crystals. Don’t you think Bolwyn’ll wonder where we got them, what they do and if we’re what he needs to get the lamp?”

“Much as I hate to say this,” Habbassin said, “but the boy’s right.” He shook himself violently. “I really hate to say this.”

“But we need the crystals to stay ahead of Bolwyn,” Ghenni said. “What can we do?”

“Make them invisible,” Miki said softly. She smiled. “I often thought I’d like to be invisible. Nobody bothers you when you’re invisible.”

“That’s…” Ankhoro began, but Habbassin interrupted him.

“That’s not a bad idea,” the djinn said. “I’ll make them invisible. That’s no big thing. And I’ll tie the spell to a magic word. When you say the word, the crystals’ll be visible and you can use them.”

“Won’t Bolwyn notice the magic?” Ghenni asked. Habbassin waved her concern away.

“Not necessarily. It’s a minor spell; he’d have to be looking for it to discover it. Just don’t get too close to him.”

“How do we carry them?” Ankhoro muttered. Ghenni turned and saw his efforts to secure the crystal somewhere at his loincloth. Habbassin sighed and snapped his fingers. The crystal vanished from Ankhoro’s hand and reappeared on a leather thong around his neck. Ghenni felt a similar weight around her own neck. The crystal vanished from view.

“That help?” Habbassin said.

“It should,” Ankhoro said. He opened his mouth as if to say something else as the ground started to shake.

Not now, Ghenni thought. Not when we’re in a cave! She looked up and saw a huge stalactite fall from the ceiling — straight to where she stood.

She ducked, hunched down, reflexively covering her head with her arms even though something told her this was a feeble defense at best.

When she found, a couple of seconds later, that she was still alive, she looked up.

There was no stalactite.

“You didn’t think I’d allow anything to hurt any of my guests, did you?” Habbassin pouted.

Ghenni stood up straight. Carefully at first, concerned that the ground would buck again and throw her down, or throw some other nasty surprise at her.

“No, not really,” she said when she realized that the ground was still. Her voice sounded weak even to herself.

“Aww, you’re just saying that,” Habbassin said with a huge grin. “Anyway, I’d say it’d be a good idea if you stayed until the tremors have passed. I can keep this cave stable, but the rest of this island’s on their own.” He frowned. “How do you manage with all these earthquakes all the time, anyway? I mean, I wouldn’t want to live on an active volcano. It’d be much too dangerous.” He scratched his chin. “I mean, it’s not as if I had a choice at the moment…”

“You could go with Bolwyn,” Ankhoro pointed out.

“And be a slave again? No, thanks. I’d rather stay with you.”

“How will we know when it’s safe to go back outside again?” Miki said.

“I’ll let you know,” Habbassin promised. He winked at her. “Pleasant as your company is, you wouldn’t think I’d keep you here idefinitely, do you? I mean, I know how much kids eat.”

“Gee, we wouldn’t want to be too much trouble,” Aknhoro said.

“Aren’t you a bit young to be so sarcastic?” Habbassin replied. Ankhoro ignored him and felt for the crystal around his neck. He gripped something and held it in front of his face. The crystal became visible. Ghenni peered over her friend’s shoulder to see what he was looking for.

She saw his parents.

“They’re all right,” Ankhoro said softly.

“Can you check my family?” Ghenni said. “Please?” She felt a little guilty for not thinking of this herself. She loved her parents, and even the little pest. Why had Ankhoro thought of checking if his family was safe before she had?

“And mine, please,” Miki said.

Ankhoro’s crystal faded as he let it drop back.

“I think you should practice with your own crystals,” he said. Ghenni nodded. Why hadn’t she thought of that? It wasn’t like her to leave all the good and important ideas to Ankhoro.

“It isn’t every day that you almost get killed by a stalactite,” she heard Habbassin whisper. The weight and warmth of his hand on her shoulder felt comforting. “Cut yourself some slack. You’re allowed to be confused for a while.”

She nodded, picked up her crystal and stared into it.

“My parents are fine,” she heard Miki say.

Ghenni concentrated.

“Mine are, too,” she found, sighing. And the pest? “Lejani too.” She concentrated a little harder. “I think it’s safe to go outside again,” she decided. “The ground’s stopped shaking.”

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