The Way of the Word

26. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 37

“Wonderful,” Bolwyn said. He beamed. His hands followed the lamp’s outline without actually touching it. He looked up at Ghenni. “I can actually feel his power. What’s his name?”

Ghenni swallowed.

“What?”

“I said, what’s his name? He’s got to have a name, doesn’t he.”

“Well, yes. Yes, I suppose he does. I never thought about it. He told me he’s a djinni.”

“That’s all? He never told you his name?”

“He told me he’s a djinni,” Ghenni repeated, sticking to the literal truth. Lying was wrong. Her mother had told her often enough. But she wasn’t lying now, was she? There was no need to lie if a half-truth would do.

Although Opona would probably not care about the distinction.

“Clever little fellow,” Bolwyn muttered. “I can almost admire him. Did he give you your three wishes?”

“What three wishes?” Ghenni blurted out before she could stop herself. Bolwyn laughed out loud.

“Never mind that. This little bugger’s smarter than I’d thought.” He held the lamp up at eye-level and looked at it. “I almost wonder if I can dare rub it, and release the spirit within.”

“You should not,” Terek said. “I get the distinct impression that this djinn might be craftier than you are. It would not surprise me if, in the end, you should end up serving it.”

“Sore loser,” Bolwyn said.

“Tell me, old friend,” Terek continued, “did you tell the child that I am responsible for the malady that befell her family?”

Bolwyn looked at Terek, making an innocent face. He blinked once and returned his attention to the lamp.

“Excuse me?” Ghenni said. Terek turned his attention to her.

“Did he?” he said.

“Yes.”

“Was that the reason why you gave the lamp to him, instead of me? Did you consider me responsible?”

“And because Bolwyn said he knew a cure,” Ghenni admitted. Terek nodded.

“Up to your usual games, are you,” he said, turning to Bolwyn. “It is not sufficient that you succeed, everybody else must be slandered in the process? Even if it means blaming them for your crimes?”

“When did you figure it out?” Bolwyn asked absently.

“Actually, only when you really had a cure for measles. Are these real measles you used to infect these people?”

“Magically augmented. I couldn’t take the chance the djinn might know a cure …” Bolwny looked up from the lamp, his mouth open and eyes wide. “Oh, damn.”

“You did it,” Ghenni said, taking a step toward Bolwyn, clenching her fists at her sides. “You made everybody sick, just so you could get the lamp.”

“What’d you expect me to do, sit still and wait until you give in or I die of old age? I don’t have the time. There’s plenty more artifacts to be gathered, and I gotta do it all in a single lifetime. Forcing you to decide was the most efficient way.” Bolwyn made a face. “Geez, I’ve spent too much time around you, Terek. I’m starting to sound like you, even.”

“That was a very mean thing to do,” Ghenni said. Bolwyn shrugged.

“Life sucks. Get used to it. Me, I got what I came for. I’m outta this dump.”

Bolwyn started for the door. He had not gotten far before glowing red concentric rings that came out of nowhere tied him up. Ghenni looked from Bolwyn to Terek, who stood with his right arm outstretched. Terek pointed his forefinger at Bolwyn.

“I fear I can not allow that,” Terek said calmly.

“What’s it to you?” Bolwyn said. He turned. A slight move of his left hand dissolved the rings. “It’s not like I never conned natives before to get what I wanted. Anyway, you’re no saint either. Remember the sea serpent you used to introduce yourself?”

“Nobody was truly harmed,” Terek said. “True, I am not above using trickery to expedite matters. But I never knowingly endanger anyone’s lives.”

“So whattaya gonna do about it?” Bolwyn said, thrusting his chins out.

“At the very least, I will take that lamp from you,” Terek said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to discuss that away from the village?” Ghenni said, stepping between the two wizards. “You know, someplace where there isn’t anyone else who can get hurt?”

“Step aside, child,” Terek said. He reached out and pushed Ghenni out of the way.

“You never had a chance against me under normal circumstances,” Bolwyn said. “Today, you’re simply outmatched.”

“Braggard.”

“Get real.” Bolwyn grinned and rubbed the lamp. Blue smoke poured from the nozzle. It billowed forth and solidified into the familiar shape of Habbassin.

As the djinn bowed to Bolwyn, Elomei grabbed Ghenni and pulled her away.

“This is what you were hiding from me?” the witch-woman whispered. Ghenni nodded, unable to take her eyes off the scene playing out before her.

“Your wish?” Habbassin rumbled, bowing deeply.

“Destroy the infidel,” Bolwyn screamed, pointing at Terek. Ghenni looked at Terek. His adams apple moved, and while his stance didn’t change his complexion looked a bit paler than before.

Habbassin straightened. He turned around. He looked at Terek. He rubbed his chin. He turned to Bolwyn.

“I don’t think so,” he said casually. “You want to fight, you slug it out yourselves.” A chair popped up out of nowhere behind him. Habbassin sat down inside it. “But I’m willing to referee between you.”

Bolwyn stared at the lamp, reddening. He opened and shut his mouth like a fish on the beach.

“But … But … But … I hold the lamp. You’re supposed to obey me.”

“Actually, technically, all I gotta do is grant three wishes for the proprietor of my lamp.” A tall glass with liquid inside and a straw materialized in Habbassin’s hand. “You’re just a thief. Now shape up or ship out.” He looked at Ghenni, winked. “How you doing, kid?”

“Better,” Ghenni said. She gave Habbassin her most radiant smile. “So that was …”

“Close.”

“I suppose we are more evenly matched than you had anticipated,” Terek said, his usual confident smile back in place. He raised both hands high. “Let’s have it out then.”

Bolwyn glared at Terek with so much anger and hatred it made Ghenni shudder. It seemed as if Bolwyn tried to kill Terek with his eyes. She realized what the glare meant. She had seen Zoltan use that look on her far too often. Bolwyn had been thwarted, now Terek was a welcome target to vent his anger on.

“Let’s,” Bolwyn agreed, his voice far too gentle for the look on his face. He made an almost casual sweep with his right hand. A fireball materialized out of nowhere at the end of the sweep. It followed the sweep’s direction toward Terek …

… and vanished into thin air.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Habbassin admonished them. “You’d fight a magickal duel right here? When there are dozens of innocent bystanders around who could get hurt by your fallout?

“I don’t think so.”

Habbassin rotated his forefinger in the air. A miniature tornado formed above it. The tornado grew larger, ever larger, until it swept up Ghenni and the wizards.

When Ghenni could see again, she was somewhere else entirely. Looking around, she realized they had materialized at the cliff near Habbassin’s cave. The wizards were much more disoriented. Why shouldn’t they, Ghenni thought. They might know magic, but they didn’t know the island very well.

“This is a much better place to settle your disagreements,” Habbassin said, sipping from his glass. “No innocent bystanders to get hurt. No native property to be damaged. Not even much of a landscape to ruin.

“Have at thee, then.”

“Djinn, I command you to destroy that man,” Bolwyn said, shaking the lamp at Habbassin. The djinn smiled.

“I don’t do commands,” he said. “Sorry, old boy. Perhaps you’ll want to rephrase it?”

“Very well. Djinn, my first wish is that you destroy that man.”

Habbassin looked Terek over. Ghenni wondered by Terek hadn’t used this chance to attack Bolwyn. The rotund wizard was distracted by Habbassin’s persistent refusal to obey him. Now would be the best time to decide this duel without any risk.

Ghenni was distracted by an eye that formed at the back of Habbassin’s head. It winked at her, then vanished.

“Very well,” Habbassin said dismissively. He waved his hand at Bolwyn. “I empower you, as far as I am able, to fight Terek to the finish. But don’t make a mess of it.”

This time, Bolwyn released a bolt of lightning. Terek was ready for it, blocked it with a glowing disk that appeared in front of him. The disk glowed brighter as the lighning hit it. The disk spun, moderately at first but gaining speed with every rotation. Energy discharges flared at the rim. Instead of shooting off all over the place, they collected into tiny little balls of cracking energy that sped toward Bolwyn, who was hard pressed to fend them off.

“You said you’d empower me,” Bolwyn hissed through clenched teeth.

“As far as I am able,” Habbassin said, conjuring a second chair for Ghenni. He gestured at her to sit. She sat. “However, I have no legal authority at all in this hemisphere. Technically, I’m not empowered to empower anyone at all. In other words, I couldn’t grant you the legal authority to fight Terek if I wanted you.” He snapped his fingers in mock anger. “Darn it. That means what you’re doing is probably illegal.”

“Damn you,” Bolwyn cried, releasing a bolt of energy at Habbassin, who deflected it easily. This time, Terek used his chance. He knelt and pressed both hands against the ground. Ghenni felt the earth tremble, almost as if Wakano were angrily rumbling. Habbassin gestured, and both chairs rose into the air. The groundquake nearly cost Bolwyn his balance. Before he could fall, he rose into the air. Spreading his arms wide, he began to glow, until he was brighter than the sun. The heat he gave off was tremendous. Ghenni was sure Habbassin shielded her; otherwise, she didn’t think she could survive the heat. As it was, it was merely uncomfortable. Terek too managed to protect himself from both the light and the heat, by creating a globe of shadow around himself.

The surrounding plant life wasn’t as lucky. Around the duelists, the plants burst into flame. Dried from Bolwyn’s heat, the fire spread quickly. Terek created a second shadow-globe, which he sent out to engulf Bolwyn. That took care of Bolwyn’s imitation sun. Terek followed up with a miniature thunderstorm, which he sent into the globe. Ghenni heard the thunder, now and then she saw a bolt of lighning flash out of the shadows. Following the lighning was a bright spot of light that expanded and dissolved the shadow-globe.

“Thanks for sending a lightning to show me the way out,” Bolwyn hissed. He held out his hands, his fingers spread and pointing at Terek. His fingertips glowed red. The glow turned into semi-solid looking red bands that expanded as they came for Terek. One wrapped itself around his right wrist, another tied his left arm against his waist. He only found a way to stop them when one aimed at his head. Middle-sized sticks materialized around him, flew into the rings and fooled them into constricting. Terek glowed. The rings that already bound him fell apart.

Another sweeping gesture made the ground rumble again. Ghenni looked around, trying to locate the source of the rumble.

It wasn’t difficult to find. Several large trees tore themselves loose from the soil they had rooted in. Using their roots in a fashion similar to feet, they ambled toward Bolwyn. Bolwyn glanced at Ghenni, noticed she was looking at something behind him, turned and discovered the results of Terek’s latest spell. He reached into his pouch, withdrew a herb, put it into his mouth, chewed his and blew a monumental cloud of yellow dust at the trees. The dust spread out as it traveled. Everything that touched it died and decayed within moments. The trees lasted a moment longer than the other plants around them, those that had survived Bolwyn’s sunlight attack, but they too succumbed in less time than it takes to tell about it. Bolwyn whirled and blew another yellow cloud at Terek. Whirling his right arm in circles, Terek called up a wind that blew the cloud back at Bolwyn. Bolwyn inhaled the yellow dust and laughed.

“They’re very good, you know,” Habbassin remarked. “Almost as good as I am.”

“That reminds me, where are Elomei, mother and Lejani?”

“Back at home, where they belong. Did you think I couldn’t choose who I teleport?” He grinned at her. “What did you think of my teleportation spell, anyway? Neat, huh?”

“Too showy. Are you sure we’ll be all right here?”

“I’ve set up a sphere of universal protection,” Habbassin nodded. “Nothing from the outside can touch us. Of course, that means we can’t influence anything that goes on out there either, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay, don’t you think?”

“I just wish they wouldn’t cause so much damage.”

“It could be worse. Imagine that fight taking place in your village.”

Ghenni did for just a moment. The result made her shudder.

“I’d rather not, thanks.”

Ghenni returned her attention to the fight. Both men were flying now, dancing a complicated aerial ballet, shooting and dodging bolts of fire and energy. Ghenni noticed that their entire corner of the forest now burned, set aflame by deflected bolts of eldritch energy.

She tried hard not to cry for all the life that was destroyed for two men’s vanities.

“Can’t you do something about that?” she whispered.

“I told you, as long as we’re in here, there’s nothing I can do about what goes on out there,” Habbassin said softly. He took her hand and squeezed it gently. Ghenni squeezed back.

Bolwyn, meanwhile, had landed a lucky shot, throwing Terek off-balance. Terek fell to the ground like a bird with broken wings. Bolwyn followed up on his advantage by raining a continuous barrage of eldritch energies down upon his opponent. Terek barely managed to erect a dome of golden light to protect himself. The dome reflected, as far as Ghenni could see, all of Bolwyn’s energies. They were reflected into the air, where some glanced off Habbassin’s sphere of protection. They were reflected parallel to the ground, where they razed what little was left of life. They were reflected into the ground, causing the cliff to crumble, throwing huge chunks into the abyss.

Habbassin swore softly.

The vibrations threw Terek off-balance. He fell, barely able to maintain his dome with one outstretched hand. Bolwyn landed. Folding his arms across his chest, he looked at Terek and laughed.

“Say goodbye to this life,” the stout wizard said. “I’ll make sure it’ll be painful.”

Terek knelt on the ground, panting. He looked beaten, but not yet defeated. Ghenni wondered if he still had a trick up his sleeve.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Terek gasped.

Bolwyn reached into his bag and removed something from it. He knelt, took some earth into his hands and rubbed it, thoroughly mingling the earth with whatever he had taken from his bag.

“Remember your opening gambit?” Bolwyn said, pressing both palms flat on the ground. “That was a nice little earthquake you manufactured. Well, I’m gonna do you one better. I’m gonna shake the ground up until it throws you into the sea.”

The earth already began to tremble. A slight shiver at first, then a tremor, quaking worse and worse until the ground heaved up in waves almost like the sea. Terek, apparently too weak to take to the sky, was tossed around like a broken doll.

“Will that hurt the village?” Ghenni asked. Habbassin looked around. He chewed on his lip. He looked at Bolwyn, at Terek, at something behind him. Ghenni turned, trying to see what Habbassin saw. But she couldn’t. There wasn’t anything special. There was only Wakano’s Throne, burning an angry red.

Habbassin dissolved the sphere. Ghenni found herself hanging in the air. Habbassin dropped down until he floated inches above the ground.

“STOP!” he thundered, clapping his hands. The force of the blast that came from the clap threw Bolwyn off his feet. Dazed, the wizard sat on the ground. The tremors continued.

“Don’t you realize what you’re doing?” Habbassin yelled at Bolwyn. “We’re all sitting on top of a live volcano!” The djinn pointed at Wakano’s Throne. Ghenni turned to look at the mountain.

The smoke issuing from the mountain grew darker. The red glow grew deeper, more intense. Ghenni thought she saw things, glowing bright red against the dark smoke, fly from the mountain, arc high into the sky before they fell down again. The mountain rumbled angrily.

Now they’ve gone and done it, Ghenni thought dispiritedly. Now they’ve woken up Wakano and made him mad.

The red glow spilled over the mountaintop and began to run down the sides of the mountain, burning everything it came near.

Habbassin also looked at the Throne.

“Congratulations,” he said to nobody in particular. “You idiots have just erupted an active volcano.”

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