Monday, January 28, 2008

Chapter 29: The Task at Hand

~ The green glow from Väinämöinen's staff grew and spilled out around them, lighting a small clearing. In the middle, set on a low white base at least eight feet to a side, stood a marble pedestal holding a marble basin. As the light washed over it, a fire sprang up in the basin, further lighting the bower.

"Are you prepared to complete your task?" asked Väinämöinen. His voice was cold. Jaden looked at Takyle and Andrew.

"Yes, we're ready," he said, sounding confident. Väinämöinen raised his staff and tilted it towards the platform. At the base of the pedestal the air shimmered and two short lengths of rope materialized. Väinämöinen spoke.

"As you will have no doubt noticed, these two ropes are not the same diameter throughout, neither are they the same length. They both burn at constantly changing rates. The one thing that they do have in common is that they both will take exactly one half of an hour to burn. You will find your watches with the rest of your equipment, should you make it back there." Jaden and Andrew compulsively checked their wrists and, sure enough, their watches were gone.

"Alright," said Takyle. "What are we supposed to do?"

"You are to find a way to measure exactly 45 minutes. You have but one chance. Do not waste it." And after that parting message, with a swirl of his cloak, Väinämöinen disappeared.

"I wish he'd stop doing that!" said Andrew.

"Maybe if you asked him nicely next time you see him?" Jaden offered.

"Yes, 'Väinämöinen, old bean, I know that you're a wizard and all, and the whole beaming in and out of places must be incredibly handy, but slightly disconcerting to those around you, especially when you don't give them much chance to ask you things and whatnot before you go, so if you don't mind terribly-'" Takyle interrupted brusquely.

"You two need to stop dicking around, we've got something to do here."

"Yes ma'am," said Andrew in his best meek voice. Jaden snorted in a failed attempt not to laugh and Takyle shot them a glare. They both quickly sobered up. She stepped up on the platform and picked up one of the ropes.

"We're supposed to time 45 minutes, with two ropes that burn half an hour each, and a basin of fire..."

"We could let one burn half way..." Jaden began, but stopped himself when he remembered that neither of the ropes burned at a constant rate. Half way would mean nothing. Takyle sat down on the edge of the platform and stared at the ropes in front of her.

"Talk it out guys, what are you thinking?" she prompted. Andrew paced the clearing.

"The two of them if attached would give us one hour of burn time."

"And," joined in Jaden. "We need three quarters of the total time."

"Half of one is 15..." mused Takyle.

The three lapsed into silence.

"This can't be as hard as all that!" Andrew exclaimed.

"The answer is here..." said Takyle.

"We just have to see it." Jaden finished. ~

Friday, January 25, 2008

Chapter 28: Unexplainable Trust

~ "Väinämöinen?" asked Jaden.

"Yes, young one?"

"What exactly do you mean when you say to look beyond the senses?" he asked.

"I don't mean anything exactly when I say that."

Jaden thought about that for a long minute.

"Do you mean that you didn't mean anything by saying it or that it isn't something exact?" he asked.

"Which do you think?" responded Väinämöinen.

"The latter."

"Then you are correct."

Jaden thought that over.

"How does one touch what is beyond the senses Väinämöinen?"

"That is not something that I am able to tell you."

"Is it something that I have to discover for myself?" Jaden made air quotes around the last three words, even though no one could see him do it.

"Yes it is, young one. Close your eyes." Jaden stared at the glowing ball that indicated to him where Väinämöinen was. He must be insane.

"If I close my eyes, I'll lose him and never find my way out of these woods. Fat chance!" his mind scoffed at the wizard. He closed his eyes. He immediately stumbled into a tree branch, scraping his neck painfully.

"Reach out with your spirit, young one," Väinämöinen whispered into his ear. "Follow what you feel."

"How the hell am I supposed to do that?" he thought. And then he did it. He felt something. It was not definite. He thought that he was probably imagining it. A faint warmth. The diffuse glow of an aura. He moved towards it.

"Very good, young one," murmured Väinämöinen from far off to his right. He continued to walk towards the aura. Without expressly meaning to do it, he stepped to the side, around an obstacle. He reached out a hand as he passed and felt rough bark. He allowed his mind to drift, concentrated on nothing. His body seemed to move of its own accord. With his mind Jaden reached out and touched that which surrounded him. The forest, wild. Andrew, stable. Takyle, constrained passion. Väinämöinen, a closed and mysterious energy.

The wizard's voice broke in, tugging at him.

"We have reached our destination, young one."

With reluctance, Jaden slipped back into his own body, and opened his eyes. For a moment he blinked, once again blind in the darkness. He took a step forward, disappointed by the heaviness of his own limbs, once more bound to flesh and blood. ~

Monday, January 21, 2008

Chapter 27: Unsolicited Faith

~ Jaden hurried after the faint glow emanating from Väinämöinen's staff, blindly bumping into trees and stumbling over roots in his haste to keep up. Behind him he could hear the rustle of footsteps and Takyle and Andrew whispering to one another occasionally, and thus knew that he hadn't lost them. He clambered over a log and nearly fell into a small gully. He noticed that Väinämöinen didn't seem to be slowed at all by the many and varied woodland obstacles. Jaden disentangled his arm from what he dearly hoped was a vine just in time to miss catching a branch that swung back and hit him in the face.

"Väinämöinen?" he panted to their escort.

"Yes?" came the answer. Jaden jumped. It sounded as if Väinämöinen were speaking directly into his ear when he knew for a fact that the wizard was up ahead of him. That wasn't disconcerting at all.

"How can you see where we're going?" Jaden asked.

"One should not always trust their five baser senses, young one. Sometimes, one must look beyond." All the while that he was talking Väinämöinen's voice drifted around Jaden, sometimes seeming to come so close as to caress him. He shuddered involuntarily.

As they went deeper into the forest, to Jaden, the woods seemed to be getting thicker and thicker, pressing in on him.

"Perhaps it is your imagination," he advised himself.

"Are you frightened, young one?" Väinämöinen whispered in his ear. He felt his stomach tighten.

"Yes," Jaden said aloud. "I am. Do I have a reason not to be?"

"I will not be unfair. I will not hurt you needlessly, young one," said Väinämöinen. And, to Jaden's surprise, he believed him. Jaden turned his head to make sure that his companions were still there and heard Andrew quietly, reassuringly muttering vague curses and oaths behind him. ~

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chapter 26: Sleep Cycles

~ Jaden paced the dark room as quietly as he possibly could. Not that it mattered all that much; he could tell from their breathing that both Takyle and Andrew were fast asleep. He checked his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time. 12:39. In just a little while he could wake up Takyle and sleep more himself. He wondered just how long they had. The wizard had made that comment about "sleeping while they could". He yawned. He had no problems with the sleeping part.

Jaden's head whipped around when there was a deafening crash behind him. The door was still swinging on its hinges when Jaden had his dagger in his hand. In the doorway he could see a tall silhouette, visible against the night only because of the subtle differences in the shades of black. Jaden moved immediately to the center of the room, and was greatly relieved to feel Andrew and Takyle silently rise on either side of him. The bang must have woken them and, thankfully, they had their wits about them right away.

The silhouette moved forward and a ball of light exploded from it and tore through the air, separating and flying to the four walls and into the lights, surprisingly, without a sound. Väinämöinen stood for a moment staring at the three. Jaden took that opportunity to glance to his left and right. Takyle and Andrew were in poses similar to his; tense, half crouching, weapons at the ready.

"Oh good," said Väinämöinen. "You're already up then. Come along."

Andrew actually gaped.

"What the hell!" Takyle grabbed his arm.

"Just get your stuff Andrew," she advised.

"No need," threw in Väinämöinen. "You'll be coming back here. Or not. Either way you'll not be needing to carry your gear with you right now." Andrew shared a doubtful look with Jaden. Takyle spoke up.

"Just what are we going to do exactly, if I may be so bold as to ask?" Väinämöinen raised an eyebrow.

"Apparently you may. Now come along be fore I lose what little patience you've left me with!" With that the wizard spun around and marched out the door. Jaden look at Takyle and then silently followed, pausing only to replace his dagger in its sheath. He heard Andrew mutter behind him.

"Well that was the single most awful and effective wake-up call I've ever been a party too." ~

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chapter 25: In the Still of the Night

~ Jaden woke with a start, confused at the lack of surroundings. It took him a moment to realize that someone must have turned off the lights at some point, and that Andrew was shaking him gently by the shoulder.

"Jaden...Jay...Wake up."

"Ok, I'm awake," he moaned in response. He sat up groggily and rubbed his palms over his face. "I'm up. My turn?"

"Yeah." He heard Andrew unhooking his sleeping bag from his pack.

"No, no just use mine Andy," he offered.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I'll go back to sleep if I stay on it." He stood and pulled back his sleeve to look at his luminescent watch face. 10:o0. He circled the room, shaking his limbs in an attempt to rouse himself. He heard Takyle turn over and groan quietly in her sleep. Jaden cracked open the door and looked out. The clearing was black, the edge of the woods only slightly darker. Jaden listened hard for anything at all out of the ordinary. The woods were absolutely silent. He felt a shiver run down his spine and he closed the door. He felt his way over to the fireplace and sat down on the cool, stone hearth, leaning back against one of the mantle posts. He found the profound darkness hard to deal with, finally relenting and digging out his journal by the light of a tiny LED.

"Day 2:
Today I met a wizard. He is very arrogant, but kind of nice in a weird sort of way. He also seems shifty, like he wants to trap us, but I don't believe that he will be underhanded when he tries to do it. I have to think that this task will be a difficult one...Not that the last ordeal was easy!

"In my opinion we're doing fairly well so far. We appear to be making decent time, and no one has gotten seriously hurt. As long as we can keep dealing with the obstacles quickly, we should be good. I can't wait to get another update and see how we're doing compared to everyone else. I wonder if anybody more has died...Seems a tad extreme, but then, who am I to talk?

"This little white building is a bit spooky, the woods are absolutely quiet tonight, and that is just not normal. I wonder where Väinämöinen went to... ~

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chapter 24: Awaiting the Morn

~ Jaden leaned around the door and peered cautiously into the darkness within. His hand automatically went to the side to find the light switch and, to his surprise, there was actually one there. He flicked it on and the room was illuminated with low, white light, cast from four wall sconces. He poked his head a bit farther inside and discovered only one thing. The inside of the building looked exactly like the outside. Flat, white, nondescript. Empty. The interior was completely bare except for the lights and a square, white block hearth on the far wall.

Jaden hesitated and finally moved over the threshold, bending his head to go through the low doorway. He felt Andrew right behind him. He stepped all the way in, and looked around, waiting for something to happen. Maybe a snare. A trap. Some kind of surprise.

Nothing happened. He took another step. Andrew stepped in behind him.

"Huh...Well, nothin's happening," said Jaden.

"Aw hell, this is boring!" Andrew strode boldly past Jaden and into the center of the room. "It's just a big, white room with a short door and a fireplace!" Jaden slowly moved around the edges of the room while Takyle entered and made straight for the fireplace, feeling all around its edges for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing. The three regrouped in the center of the room.

"So yeah," said Takyle. "Seems to be nothing here. Perhaps the good part is coming later?"

"The good part?" asked Jaden. "That's a very positive spin."

"Thanks, I do what I can," she replied. Andrew coughed.

"Ok, so what now guys?" he asked, with a hint of sarcasm decorating his voice.

"Well, the guy- What's his face-"

"Väinämöinen," interjected Jaden.

"Yes, him," continued Takyle. "He said we should sleep. Perhaps we should, taking rotations to guard."

Andrew nodded. Jaden was too tired to disagree, and couldn't think of a reason to anyway.

"You two go ahead, I'll take first watch," said Andrew. Silently Jaden and Takyle complied, pulling out their bags and unrolling them in the center of the room. Jaden lay down on top of his and linked his fingers on his stomach. He stared at the white ceiling, concentrated on the dull ache in his legs, closed his eyes, listened to Andrew's slow steps as he paced the room. Heard him finally sit on the floor between he and Takyle, listened to his quiet breathing.

Jaden's mind drifted and he slept. ~

Monday, January 7, 2008

Chapter 23: Quandary

~ As they followed Väinämöinen Andrew continued to check his compass. At one point he murmured to Takyle that, as far as he could tell, they were still headed towards the structure that they had spotted from the plain.

On and on they trudged. Andrew may have thought that they were going to the hillside building, but Jaden was positive that they must have passed it by now. And then, suddenly, the trees thinned and they step into a clearing with a small square building standing in the center.

It seemed to be constructed of some sort of flat, white stone and was perfectly cubical. It looked to Jaden like a giant building block set down in the middle of the forest. They followed Väinämöinen around the corner and found that the northern wall housed a door. Next to Väinämöinen it looked ludicrously short. The old man gestured to it impatiently.

"This is where you will sleep," he ordered brusquely. Andrew looked scandalized.

"Sleep? It's o'clock..." he protested. Väinämöinen cast a stern eye on him.

"Sleep while you can, or go without." And with that his form shimmered and dematerialized in front of their eyes. Jaden looked at his mates.

"Huh...Guess we should go inside then." He began reaching for the door latch when Takyle grabbed his hand and restrained him forcibly.

"Don't. What if it's a trap? I don't trust this guy in the slightest." Jaden shook his head.

"No, I think, judging from what I remember of Väinämöinen, he would prefer an intellectual snare, rather than a physical one," he said.

"Yeah," Andrew chimed in. "And whether or not to go inside this building couldn't be a battle of wits at all."

"Oh, so you guys just want to hang out out here then?" Jaden asked.

"No..." Andrew looked at Takyle. She sighed noisily.

"Let's just proceed with extreme caution," she said.

"Sure thing, no rushing in, got it," replied Jaden.

Once again he reached for the door latch. It was cold to the touch. He pushed against it and the white door slowly, silently swung inward. ~

Friday, January 4, 2008

Chapter 22: Conversational

~ Väinämöinen strode quickly up the hill, setting a blistering pace, his purple robes flowing out behind him. He looked positively mystical.

"But then, he's supposed to," thought Jaden. He took three jogging steps to keep up with Andrew. He and Takyle, both significantly shorter than Andrew, were used to compensating for his longer stride. Väinämöinen was even taller than Andrew though.

"Are you growing weary, young one?" Väinämöinen called back to Jaden without turning around.

"Uh, yes. Yes, a little bit. Sure," he answered. "If by "weary" you mean "ready to fall on my face in a dead blackout from exhaustion" then, yes, a little bit," he thought.

"Are you weak?" Väinämöinen called without slowing. Jaden turned to look at Takyle with a quizzically cynical expression. She shook her head in bafflement and returned a similar look.

"No, I'm not weak! At least not in general. Or were you talking about right now? I'll admit that I'm probably not at my apex right now, but I think that, relatively speaking I am far, far from weak. It's really a continuum when you think about it." Jaden stopped talking for a moment to catch his breath. A lot harder to do while you're making record time going up a hill.

"Are your companions weak?" demanded the wizard.

"No!" This time Jaden could speak with a lot more conviction without feeling arrogant. "No, they are not weak at all. The two strongest people that I know actually."

"Thanks!" commented Takyle. She grinned sideways at him.

"You're welcome. I only say it because it's true."

"That's very touching Jay," threw in Andrew.

The group skidded to a halt when they realized that just ahead Väinämöinen had stopped and whirled to face them. He glared at Andrew and Takyle.

"Excuse me! I was speaking!" he bellowed. Jaden felt a surge of righteous indignation.

"Actually!" he interrupted loudly, haughtily, and vehemently. "I was the one speaking, and these are my friends. I do not appreciate any of us being spoken down to, and particularly not them."

In his peripheral vision he could just see both of his companions staring at him with slack jaws, but he kept his own eyes firmly on Väinämöinen's. A task not to be taken lightly. The wizard glared down at him, boiling rage ill-concealed in his tight jawline and tense stance. An element in the back of Jaden's mind cautiously raised its hand.

"This whole confrontation thing might be a bad idea," it offered, helpfully.

"Thanks," Jaden responded, sarcastically. Then he realized that he'd said it aloud. Next he realized that it could actually work for the situation. And finally, he made sure he had an appropriately haughty and sarcastic look on his face to match it. Väinämöinen did not soften in the slightest. Jaden saw calculation going on behind his eyes, and abruptly he spun without another word and continued up the hill.

Jaden drew a deep breath. He looked at Andrew. Andrew stared back at him. A shiver ran through Jaden's body. Silently, he continued after Väinämöinen. The others trailed behind him. Before Väinämöinen had had his back to them Jaden had caught one more thing on his face.

Resolution. ~