The Way of the Word

14. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 25

After you and your friends left (Habbassin said), I was left to my own devices. As usual, the choices were limited to crawling into my lamp and being bored to death, or sitting in the cave and being bored to death, or roaming the island and being bored to death. Mind you, your island is a beautiful piece of paradise, and a truly nice place to visit, but I’m a city djinn. I need action. So, I decided to visit that volcano, the one you call Wakano’s Throne, and check it out. I can make myself impervious to the heat, you see, and I’ve never yet seen a live volcano that up close. We don’t have volcanoes where I come from, but I’d heard of them of course. Well, I’ve seen some, but they’ve always been magically created, so they don’t count. When you have a magically created volcano rising up in front of you, all you think of is how to uncreate it, you know. You don’t take the time to study it. Anyway, I went to check that volcano out. Perhaps I could learn something about how they work, you know, which would make me more effective in countering the next one I come up against. I decided to have some fun along the way too. So I practiced my shapeshifting. I left the cave as a dragonfly. Uhm, if I ever mention an animal you don’t know, don’t bother to ask. I couldn’t explain it anyway. Where was I? Oh yes. I left the cave as a dragonfly and flew up the cliff. When I was up there, I changed into a puma. Beautiful animal, that. The grace and power… don’t get me started. It didn’t take me long, however, to figure out that I could make better time as a monkey, so I changed shape again.

And that’s when I saw Terek sneaking up on me.

Well, he didn’t really sneak up on me. But he was definitely headed for the cliffs. That worried me. You’d always been so careful about where I … live, and there was that bad guy coming really close to our secret. For a moment, I was worried that you might’ve been right, that he’d somehow sensed my magic and knew where to look for me. However, he didn’t move like someone who knew where he was going. I watched him for a while. It must’ve been a funny sight, a blue-furred monkey following a ground-bound human. I guess I was lucky he didn’t look up. I keep forgetting about changing my color to match the lifeform I’m mimicking. Oh, you thought I can’t? Well, you’re wrong. Of course I can. I just have to concentrate, but I usually forget that. So, everything I change into has my natural skin color.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

After a while, I noticed that he seemed to be following the path you took before, when they chased you. Need I say that it worried me? Especially since I couldn’t see how he did it. I mean, I’ve been here on this island a couple of days longer than they, and it still looks mostly the same to me. And it wasn’t as if they had a lot of opportunity to memorize the landscape, if you catch my drift. You can believe me that I’d’ve noticed if they’d tagged you magically. They haven’t tried that yet though, don’t ask me why. No, Terek was using another method to follow you. I knew I had to get closer to find out what it was. Without knowing what it was, I couldn’t counter it. Sure, he could’ve been following your trail, but I know wizards. They never do anything the ordinary way if there’s a magickal way to do it. It’s the way they’re trained, you see. Always think of the magickal solution first. After they’ve done that for a couple of years, they tend to consider magic the end-all and be-all. Me, I think it’s pretty limiting.

So I had to get closer. Somehow, I didn’t think Terek would let a monkey get close enough to see what he was doing. I considered the dragonfly shape, but that one was too big and too noisy too.

I finally settled on a mosquito. It’s small, fast, quiet. Besides, and I shudder with glee just remembering it, think of the itch he’d get if I bit him. I changed shape, even remembered to change color this time around, and buzzed him. I landed on his cap. That served three purposes at once: not only could I keep tabs on him without having to worry about losing him, I was also a lot closer to finding out what he was doing; lastly but not leastly, I didn’t have to work on keeping up anymore. Terek now carried me, he did all the work. And he had no idea! Oh, I itched to let him know how close he was to his prey. But I didn’t. Instead, I crawled to the front of his cap and looked at what he held.

I must give credit where credit is due. Terek is a clever opponent. You see, he hadn’t tagged you when they’d chased you, he had sort of tagged himself. He had used a magic crystal and charged it to record his steps. I was reassured. It wouldn’t do him any good after the point where they got lost.

It wasn’t until a while after that that I realized we were already past that point. And Terek was still progressing toward the cliff. He went about it in a roundabout way, but there was no denying he was getting there. How he did it is beyond me. He must’ve used a magic I’ve never encountered before. Well, that didn’t surprise me. From what I’ve gathered, both Terek and Bolwyn have been all around the world seeking out new magicks and new artifacts. I was impressed anyway. Impressed, and worried. That gatherer of artifacts was getting close to where we keep my lamp. I admit, I hadn’t really taken you all that seriously, all those efforts you went to to keep them from my lamp. It was all more like a game, you know. But now, all that stood between slavery and me was, well, me. And now I had to do something about it.

And I finally understood the problem you all had to face all this time: how could I do anything without betraying myself?

That thought gave me a really unusual feeling: I felt afraid. Even worse, I let the fright paralyze me. For too many moments I hesitated, unable to even decide on anything.

Then I remembered. I remembered how we met, and the worst problem I’ve had since coming here — besides the wizards, that is. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? No? Thought not. I’m talking about the earthquakes, kiddo. You know, when the ground shakes every time that volcano of yours belches?

I took off from Terek’s hat and flew to what I figured was a safe place. I concentrated, and the ground began to shake. Not much. You never felt it, I bet. I kept it local, and minor. I didn’t want anybody to get all upset, and I sure didn’t want to trigger that volcano. You ask me, it’s gonna blow any day now anyway. No, all I wanted was to give Terek a little something to worry about, so he’d change direction.

The first tremor shook him up. He stopped in his tracks, and looked around. Birds took off from the trees, monkey hopped away, chittering like crazy. I felt sorry for them, but this was self-defense, and I wasn’t causing them any harm anyway. They only got a little scared.

Just like Terek. I could see him frown. That man’s been around, like I said. Some people, they live in really stable places. Their ground never shakes. You give them a mild shake, they’ve no idea what’s going on. Perhaps they’ll make stupid faces. Perhaps they’ll panic. Either way, they probably wouldn’t interpret the signs correctly.

To give Terek credit where credit is due, he didn’t panic. He looked up to where the animals made a ruckus and got away as quickly as they possibly could. He looked to the ground. I’d already stopped the shaking. He turned and looked at the volcano. Sorry, Wakano’s Throne to you. He studied everything around him. I could tell that he’s been in an earthquake before. It didn’t faze him. Next thing, as casual as you please, he goes on as if nothing had happened. He kept looking at the thing he had in his hand. It gave him directions, I’m sure of it, because he went straight to the cliff. Once there, he looked right and left. He didn’t see anything to either side. It would’ve surprised me if he had. We both know there’s nothing there. But Terek didn’t stop looking right and left. When he realized he was wasting his time, he went to the edge and looked straight down. You know I couldn’t allow that. He might’ve discovered the cave. So I tweaked the ground again. Harder. When the shockwaves reached Terek, he had to work hard to maintain his balance. He leaned back and rowed his arms to keep from falling down off the cliff. I almost cheered when I saw the thing he’d held in his hands. It glittered in the light when it flew from his hands. It flew high up and then arced down again. When I went to check, I found a couple of fragments by the sea, but most of the fragments have been washed away. There’s no way anyone could find enough pieces of the thing to reconstruct it.

Terek lost his balance, but he managed to fall on his back, away from the cliff. He crawled away from the edge. From the look on his face, I don’t think he’ll ever get this close to a high place again.

All right, so now the cave was safe. For the moment, anyway. The problem was, I didn’t think Terek was properly discouraged from looking for my lamp in this area. I needed to be much more persuasive. The question was how.

Then it hit me. Quite literally, actually. One of my tremors had dislodged a clot of dirt that hit my, uhm, unmentionables. If dirt was flying, then wouldn’t it make sense if the earthquake dislodged some larger amounts of earth? As in, for example, a cliff?

Terek hadn’t quite recovered from the last tremor yet. You should’ve seen him scurry away on all fours when the next round hit him. I didn’t think a biped could move quite that fast on all fours. But he did. He scampered to the trees and hugged one of them tighter than a babe its mother. Which was fine with me. The more terrified he was, the better for me. I gave it one more push and let a final tremor loose. Oh, this one was beautiful. You didn’t feel it here? Pity, really. But then, you weren’t supposed to. Well, you might have. Because, you see, this one was powerful enough to dislodge a whole section of the cliff, which slid down with a mighty rumble.

When the dust had settled, and he was sure that the ground had stopped moving under his feet, Terek released the poor tree and crawled back to the edge of the cliff. Which was a lot closer now than it had been before, believe me. Lying flat on his belly, probably too afraid to stand up, he stretched his neck as far as it would go and looked down. The sight wasn’t a pretty one. I should know; I once more sat upon his hat and looked down with him. Of course, in my opinion, the sight was beautiful. The debris from the collapse had completely covered the cave. If Terek had seen the cave the first time he had looked down, there was no way for him to see it now. If he had thought to follow the path down to the cave and explore it, well, he could forget it.

He stared down for several minutes before crawling back a few yards. He didn’t get back on his feet until he was sure it was safe. Pretty stupid for a guy who knows a levitation spell, don’t you think? Anyway, he looked at the cliff a moment longer, then he turned around and hiked back to the village. With me sitting on his hat, and he had no idea he was that close to what he really wanted.

Well, I just wanted to tell you. It’s a neat story. I mean, what do you think of the earthquake idea, huh? Perfectly natural.

Oh well, I think I’d better go now. You see, there’s all that debris from my earthquake that’s blocking the entrance to my cave. It wouldn’t stop me, I could turn into vapor or simply teleport into the cave. But I’ve grown fond of your visits, and you’ve no way to get through that debris. So I guess I gotta clean up after myself. Kind of funny, I think. But kind of unavoidable.

Of course, there’s still the chance that Terek’ll come back to have a second look. Don’t worry about that, though. All he’ll get to see will be the debris from the cliff. Once I’ve cleared the entrance, I’ll cast an illusion spell over the mouth of the cave, see, so that it’ll look like the debris’s still all there. When you come to visit me again, just walk through the stones and earth. They really aren’t there, you see.

Okay, gotta go now. I keep forgetting you’re just a kid who still needs lots of sleep. And hey, don’t forget to tell Miki and Ankhoro, hear? I wouldn’t want them to try and visit me, and then they see the blockade and turn back.

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