Zack was sitting alone, reading the spellbook, his eyes flicking from one sentence to the next. Words and information flowed uninterrupted to his brain. Their physical form vanished from the page as they transferred from one medium to the next.
Aisha stood guard at the door, making sure no one entered the dome and interrupted him. He wouldn’t get another chance to learn this spell if something went wrong.
Zara had asked if he could simply go back into the Oracle’s private living space to learn the spell. The Oracle had firmly but politely refused that idea. To Snow Elves, their personal spaces were sacred, and only family or lovers were ever allowed to intrude upon those spaces without good reason.
He could only take the chance to learn it out here and pray that no one intruded. The Oracle didn’t seem worried, which gave him a measure of confidence in accomplishing it without issue.
One page flipped after another. The sentences continued to vanish as the information inside was sent directly to his brain. It was what made spellbooks so valuable, and so hard to make.
At last, he flipped to the last page and closed the book. The spellbook shuddered and began to age in front of his eyes. The magic that had been holding it together had disappeared, and the paper and material were old. In a matter of moments, the cover yellowed and lost its vibrant colors. The leather hardened and cracked. While the paper inside flaked and began to fall out.
Then all at once, it broke down the middle. The age weakened leather had turned brittle and couldn’t even withstand its own weight. Falling from his hands, the book fell to the ground and became nothing more than a pile of leather fibers and paper dust. The spellbook was no more.
Pulling up his status page, Zack was relieved to see the spell Blink listed among those he had learned. He decided to forgo pulling up its information for the moment and instead just reveled in the fact that he had learned a new spell. One that could save his life, even if the energy cost was likely to be high.
That was a problem he was always going to face. All he could do is learn to control his magical energy. He stopped and groaned. Here they were among an advanced race of people who had been living with magic for who knows how long, and he hadn’t even thought to ask them how he could control his magic. It was nearly a wasted opportunity.
Jumping up, he rushed over to where Zara was conversing softly with the Oracle.
“Sorry, I left a mess over there.” He said in a way of opening when there was a lull in their conversation. Zack was polite and considerate enough of his little sister to not rudely interrupt a conversation she was enjoying. “I do have a question, and I can’t believe I almost forgot about this. How can I control my magical energy? Right now, all my attacks go full strength and drain my energy or mana or whatever you want to call it. I need to learn how to control it. Can you help?”
The Oracle chuckled and winked at Zara. “The two of you are really an interesting pair. Unfortunately, Skye should be here soon, and there isn’t enough time.”
Zara pulled Zack down beside her. “Luckily for you, she was explaining the process to me already. You’re not the only one with that problem, it just affects me less because I have a higher intelligence stat than you do.”
Relieved, Zack listened in as Zara asked for clarification on a few points. He was glad she was the one who had thought to ask for the information. He would have a harder time explaining the little details to her than she would have explaining them to him.
Zara may have been the younger one, but she was smarter than him. She always had been, and he was fine with that.
Behind them, George and Zelda had found a broom and dustpan and were cleaning up the mess the spellbook had created. Aisha was still waiting at the door, though she was now sitting instead of standing. Her marble eyes were fixed on the light hitting the prism, by the window, and creating a colorful rainbow on the floor by her feet.
They had a few more minutes of peace before there was a knock on the door. Aisha jumped to attention, now blocking the door and anyone who might enter from stepping on the rainbow.
Zara waited for the Oracle to finish speaking and to give her the okay before instructing Aisha to open the door. Zelda and George had finished cleaning up and came over to join them.
A beautiful Snow Elf taller than Jean by half a head stepped inside. Jean and Edith walked in behind her. Both looked physically fine, but their eyes were sunken, and they seemed exhausted.
“I’m not even going to ask,” Jean remarked tiredly when she saw the siblings waiting for them, looking fine.
Zack nodded gratefully to her.
“Oracle,” The Snow Elf said reverently. Her fisted arm tapped her heart, then forehead, ending upright and open beside her head. It was a greeting none of them had seen before.
“Skye,” The Oracle tilted her head in greeting. “The mission has been explained to you?”
“It has.” Skye relaxed, letting her arms fall to her side. Her eyes took in the bears, the suit puppet, and the two siblings.
“And do you accept this task and what it entails?”
“How much time do I, or rather they, have?”
The Oracle glanced at Zack and Zara, letting them answer the question.
“I think around one hour, possibly two, if we are lucky. We weren’t exactly keeping track though, so those are just my best guesstimates.” Zara answered, as she was the one who had been trying to figure out how much time they had spent inside earlier. She quickly explained what the terms meant in relation to their own time system, as how she had learned it from the twins.
The Snow Elf woman shook her head without even needing to think it over. “I am not fast enough, not over the distance we need to cover to get to their portal.”
Jean looked ill at the thought of being forced to go through the experience a third time. Edith was a little better, if only because she had only been awake for one of them.
“How much time do you need?” The Oracle questioned her.
“If we do not run into any trouble flying or otherwise, then the trip should only take a little over that. Maybe half again more on the outside. Rarely are these runs ever done without uninvited guests showing up.”
“I can probably handle some of them,” Zack told her, his stomach protesting as he drew attention to himself. “My magic is rather strong, and it should be able to deter them even if it can’t kill them.”
Skye looked skeptical, but agreed when no one had a better idea. “Fine, but you will have to be on top.”
The group paused. “Um, what do you mean on top? How exactly are you going to be transporting us?” Jean leaned against the suit puppet, while Edith rested by the door.
“I will be using a net to carry you all in while I fly.” She told them, ignoring the dismayed looks.
Skye was used to it. Not everyone had access to the spells and abilities that Alastair did. He was a Ruler; they were special existences. Others, like her, were forced to make do with what they had.
In her case, that was the ability to fly fast, along with a modicum of strength. That meant she could carry passengers or goods. All she had needed to do was come up with a way to accomplish it. Sure, it wasn’t the prettiest or most comfortable method, but it was effective, and that’s what mattered.
It was just too bad that she would never be anything more than what she was. Her fighting strength was low, and she had always been slow to level. Skye had accepted that years ago and moved on. This was how she was making a living now. It was interesting and fun. That was all she could ask for.
“Will it be worse the second time? What is it your people call it, ‘Portal’s Wrath’ or something like that?” Jean tried to respectfully ask the Oracle.
The Oracle nodded and put down her teacup. Zack helped her to stand and then moved to the side with Zara and the bears. “The pain will indeed get worse with each subsequent attack from the portal’s wrath.” Her eyes began to glow as she tapped into her ability. “I can tell you now that the longer you delay, the more trouble you will likely run into.” She blinked, and the light in her eyes faded.
Jean sighed reluctantly. “Thank you for everything that you have done for us. It seems as though we should be leaving now. We can’t change the time limit; it will happen regardless. All we can do is face it as soon as possible and get it over with.”