Mike managed to salvage one of the halves of the broken binoculars, and used it to look ahead. The dots were now shapes, and they had gotten closer since Mike last checked.
“I see them.” Mike said, “The big one’s a man, the other one is either a really big dog, or a really small horse.” Mike adjusted the focus, “More likely a dog.”
Callie was off to the side of the road testing the span of the mysterious “event” that had trapped them in the Rough Country. Alas, it was distressingly not limited to just the road.
“So, how can we even see them?” Callie asked, as she returned to the front of the wagon where Mike stood, “Aren’t we essentially looking at that other stretch of road this thing opens into?”
“No.” Mike said, “If we were, you wouldn’t have disappeared when you walked through it. We must be looking at what you’d see if this thing weren’t there. By the way, we need to give this thing a name; I’m tired of calling it ‘this thing’.”
“I vote for ‘doohickey’.” Callie said.
“The ayes have it.”
“Alright then,” Callie said, “How will we know if the guy with the dog is the one that done this?”
“If he avoids walking into the doohickey, I would consider that proof enough.”
“So, if he’s an innocent, you’re just gonna let him get trapped here like us? How will that help?”
Mike scratched his head, he hadn’t really thought of that. “I guess we can warn him at the last minute; if it looks like he’s not going to stop.”
“Here’s the big question,” Callie said, “If this guy IS the one responsible for the doohickey...”
“What does it mean for us that he’s coming here?”
“It could mean he’s here to finish us off.” Mike said.
Callie gulped. “And what do we do about that?”
“I don’t know.”
As the shapes neared, Mike and Callie began to see details.
The bigger shape was an elderly gentleman. He had a snow white beard cut short and wispy white hair under a crude straw hat. Both hair and beard had the choppy uneven look that results when one tries to cut one’s own hair. He wore light tan canvas pants and shirt, both of which looked homemade and well-worn; much repair work had been done on them, in the form of patches.
As for the shape Mike had thought to be a dog; it became clear that the massive animal that walked beside the old man was no mere canine. It was a cwarna.
“Is that what I think it is, Mike?”
“Holy Gloeis in the sky!”
Related to wolves, cwarnas were bigger and more ferocious than their lupine cousins. They were well-known for being hostile towards people. Yet this one stood by the old man like a loyal dog, and growled at Mike and Callie in a low, menacing manner.
“Ja’sao, Rydu.” The old man said to it, and it stopped.
The two stopped short of entering the “doohickey”.
“You know it’s there, don’t you?” Mike asked, his voice grim.
“Of course.” The old man replied, “I could smell it a mile away.”
“What manner of magic-maker are you?” Callie asked.
“I’m a Ma’jai.” the old man said.
“What’s a Ma’jai?” Mike asked.
“They’re kinda like hereditary wizards.” Callie said.
“How would you know?”
“I read books.” Callie said, “You know those things in the library with the flappy papers?”
“She is, more or less, right.” the old man said, “It’s a simplistic definition but…it’ll do for our purposes.”
“And what is your purpose?” Mike asked, “Why have you done this?”
“Who said I did this?” the old man asked.
“What?” said Mike, confused, “I thought…?”
“Just because I’m a Ma’jai you think I go around dropping spells on people willy-nilly? We may not be the most sociable of creatures, but we’re not monsters. At least not most of us.”
“Then why are you here?” Mike asked.
“I live here. Why are you here?”
“Trying to get the hell out of here!”
“I think the important question is: can you help us out here?” Callie asked, “We’re kinda stuck.”
“I can give it a whack.” the old man said, “I am a Ma’jai, you know. The name’s Kantry, by the way. Rufus Kantry.”
“THE Rufus Kantry?”
“Last time I checked.” Kantry said, “Now, I’m going to need some quiet time for this, if you don’t mind.”
Kantry closed his eyes and seemed to draw into himself, as in preparation for some exertion. He raised his arms up and forward in close proximity to the invisible boundary.
He opened his eyes and spoke in a loud, booming, supernaturally amplified voice that echoed throughout the Rough Country: “Abresiim!”
A low rolling vibration, like that which presages a thunderclap, followed in the silence after this incantatory phrase.
“Pel vras Maala’na, Jao’an e’yeug nebah zeuma!”
As he spoke, bright sparks of green and red flashed outward from Kantry’s splayed fingers.
This concluding word echoed longer and deeper than it should have by natural laws. Kantry wiped his brow with his shirt arm and exhaled a long slow breath.
“That took some effort.” he said, “You can step forward now, the spell is broken.”
Mike and Callie took a few steps forward, and nothing disappeared.
“The doohickey’s gone.” Callie said, “You did it.”
“Of course I did.” Kantry said, “I may be older than dirt, but I’m not quite useless yet.”
“I’m still not entirely convinced you’re not the one who put the whammy on us.” Mike said, “It’s awfully coincidental that you happened to be strolling around just when we needed a Ma’jai.”
“Coincidence? There’s no such thing.” Kantry said, “All things serve the Voss Vedu’un. But I am NOT the one who did this to you.”
“Then who did?”
“Who’s to say?” Kantry replied, “Someone obviously has it in for you. Someone of great power.”
“We don’t know anyone of ‘great power’.” Mike said.
“Or ANY power.” Callie added.
“Well...someone knows you.” Kantry said.
Mike and Callie got back in the wagon.
“What do you think?” Mike asked.
“You mean about that whole ‘someone has it in for us’ thing?”
“I don’t know what to think, frankly. Why would anyone have it in for us? Who the hell are we to have an enemy of that magnitude? We’re just some dumb kids!”
“I know!” Mike said, “And if they’re that powerful, what’s with the stupid half-measure of trapping us here? Why not just smash us already and be done with it?”
“What about Kantry?” Callie asked, “Do you still think it was him?”
“Truth be told, I don’t. Not really.” Mike said, “I don’t know why, but I believe him when he says it wasn’t him. It’s just that no other possibility seems to make sense.”
“Let’s just go.” Callie said, “If it turns out that there IS some ticked off magic-maker after us, we’ll deal with it then.”
“Agreed.” said Mike, and started the wagon.
Rufus Kantry watched the wagon until it was lost to sight.
“So,” he muttered to himself, “Threed’s bloodline has resurfaced. A time of war draws close.”
After another hour and a half of driving, Mike and Callie began to see trees and houses in the distance.
Soon they were out of the Rough Country altogether.
There were many towns to go through before Metromax City, but the Longstreets stopped at the first they got to, and found a park full of families and laughing children. They stayed there a little while to rest. Later, they stopped at yet another park to have supper.
By nightfall, Metromax City loomed large in the darkness ahead.