Chapter Three: Dark Reflections
Nails that slash.
Like a knife,
He wants your life.
Make a pledge and make it fast
Seal him in his tomb at last.
When you see him do not run
Heíll chase and gnash to have his fun.
Bitterbrun held his breath and squinted his eyes as he pressed the tiny seed from the rare shatterbud thistle into the indentation on the side of the clay ball. He let his breath out when the ball didnít break. Still squinting, he bent close to the seed to examine it. He smiled. "It fits perfectly!" he said, glancing at Army who sat on one corner of the table. Her ringed tail swept back and forth with excitement.
"I knew I had it figured out, Army. Fistlock never liked my ideas. I could have helped him. Just like youíre going to help me," he said and stroked his hand across Armyís bony head. The armygello closed its eyes and held still, enjoying Bitterbrunís touch. "Magic riddles are made for a reason. Whoever makes them up wants somebody smart, like me, to be the one to figure it all out. The seed is alive without breath, just like the riddle said. And it lives in the ground."
Bitterbrun stopped stroking Army and moved to a shelf at the side of the room. Army waddled forward. When she reached the clay ball she stopped, stretched her long snout outward and sniffed at the seed.
"No, no! my little pet," Bitterbrun called over his shoulder. "Not yet. Let daddy Bitterbrun get it ready first. Then you get your turn." Returning to the table, Bitterbrun used his hand to ease Army back from the pot. "Water brings life," he recited and let water from a teacup dribble down the side of the pot and seed.
Bitterbrun put the teacup back on the side shelf and grabbed several small polished brass mirrors attached to small bases by thick wires. Carefully he set each one down and adjusted them until sunlight from his main reflection disk bounced from mirror to mirror and bathed the tiny seed in light.
"HmmÖ I donít know if thatís enough," he said and looked at Army. She wagged her tail again. "Wait! The glass mirrors. I almost forgot!" Bitterbrun ran from the room. The sounds of his far off rummaging filtered back into the laboratory. When Bitterbrun hurried back into the room, Army backed up to the edge of the table. He held up three tiny rectangular glass mirrors.
Each mirror had a strange symbol etched into its back. Bitterbrun had discovered them long ago in a dusty storage room at Crystal Mountain. They were in the bottom of a box marked, "Miscellaneous Magic Parts, Pieces and Strange Stuff." Bitterbrun had never told Fistlock that he had recognized the markings on the mirrors. They matched figures carved into the round wooden base the clay ball sat on.
Bitterbrun held the first mirror over the matching figure on the base. By magic, the mirror floated in place over the symbol. When all three mirrors were set, sunlight glowed around the seed. Bitterbrun peeked through the star shaped holes in the side of the clay ball. He couldnít see any change to the glass vial inside. He looked at the three mirrors and was surprised that he couldnít see anything reflected in them. They looked dark and black.
"All right, Sweetie," Bitterbrun said to his pet. "Itís your turn now. Just give it a little bit."
Army ambled forward until she was close to the pot and mirrors. She sniffed the wood planks of the table top, as if looking for insects or simply inspecting the area. Her long tapered nose sniffed first one spot and then another. She moved closer. When her nose was only an inch away from the mirrors, Army stopped. Her sides bulged and shrunk, in and out as she gulped several rapid breaths. With her tail pointed straight back, Army tensed.
"Now!" Bitterbrun urged his pet.
Army gave a soft gentle sneeze, as only an Armygello could.
The air around the clay ball and mirrors shimmered, bathed in the magic Army had puffed out. Like natural magic wands, Armygellos sniff up bits of free magic left over from spells and incantations. Properly trained, Armygellos could release that magic, giving wizard-like capabilities to their owners.
Pleased that his experiment was proceeding well, Bitterbrun stood back, and with a feeling of pride stuck his thumbs behind his orange belt and rocked back and forth on his heels.
Far from Bitterbrunís home, the Berryscabs patrolled the labyrinth of passages in the upper levels of Dreadmoor Temple. Black cloaks with hoods and tight black pants hid the pink wrinkled skin of their bony bodies. In dimly lit passages, watery, deep-set Berryscab eyes kept watch. In the shadows, long pointed jaws with sharp teeth ended in small black noses that sniffed the air. If a woodland creature ventured into Dreadmoor from the forest, there was little chance for escape. A Berryscab would be quick to find it. With bony arms spread wide to hold its cloak open, the Berryscab looked like large hairless bat with cloth wings. Hissing, it would quickly descend on the unfortunate forest creature. At night the Berryscabs came out to hunt, creeping silently among the trees, staying in the darkest shadows to avoid the pale yellow moonlight. Only in the time of the full moon was the forest of Dreadmoor safe, when the yellow goddess of the night hurt the Berryscab eyes.
Comfortable in the dark, Berryscabs never ventured into the deepest levels of Dreadmoor Temple. It was a place even they feared. Corridors spiraled downward, like staircases with no steps, winding into the depths of Gabendoor. They intersected with zigzagging tunnels, strange rooms that had slanting floors and dried clay ceilings sculpted by unknown forces to resemble huge flakes of dead skin.
On this day, the sun shone bright outside, and the Berryscabs slept inside their sanctuary. In the deepest underground room of Dreadmoor temple, a rectangular mirror spread faint light, illuminating the side of a dried clay ball, identical to the one in Bitterbrunís laboratory. A second mirror appeared, adding to the light. A third mirror appeared, just seconds after the others. The mirrors did not reflect images from their dark secret place in Dreadmoor. They showed an armygello waddling across a table and a short stout man standing with his thumbs stuck behind his belt.
The once warm bread sat untouched on the wood carving board in the center of Larkstoneís table. Larkstone pushed it aside and folded his arms on the blue-checked tablecloth to use them as a place to rest his head. Fernbark, sitting on the raised stone hearth of the fireplace, carved on a slender stick of wood. A pile of yellow-white shavings covered his boots. Haggerwolf paced back and forth at the window, stopping each time he passed it to pull the lace curtain aside and look out toward Lake Shimmerdawn.
"Weíre not accomplishing anything by just sitting here," Fernbark said as he paused his whittling. "Either there really isnít any danger or something went wrong. Otherwise Hillary and Windslow would be here."
"Well, there is danger and something is terribly wrong," Haggerwolf said and stopped his pacing. "They should have dream-slipped here this morning, unless they stayed up all night in their world. They wouldnít be reckless enough to wait until the last day."
"Something must be holding them up," Fernbark said. "The spell takes that into consideration. Thatís why it works for three days instead of one--incase thereís a problem. If they get here by tomorrow, weíll still have a chance as long as the mirrors are still dark."
Larkstone turned his head so his chin rested on one of his folded arms. He reached out with his other arm and grabbed a six-inch long wooden tube that lay next to the cold loaf of bread. An inch in diameter, the tube had a piece of glass covering one end and a small viewing hole in the other. Larkstone sighed as he brought the tube closer to his eye. He stood so fast, he knocked his chair over, startling both Haggerwolf and Fernbark.
"What is it?" Haggerwolf asked. He stepped to the table. Not bothering to pick up the chair, he kicked it aside.
Fernbark dropped his knife and nearly fell when he slipped on the pile of shavings. Both wizards pressed close to Larkstone.
"Here," Larkstone said and handed the wooden tube to Haggerwolf. "See for yourself."
Haggerwolf looked through the tube and pointed the other end at the window. Sunlight, softened by the curtains, lit up the blue checkered cloth with a warm glow. Haggerwolf didnít see the normal kaleidoscope of cathedral glass patterns and moving geometric shapes. He peered into the Chamber of Promises in the depths of Dreadmoor Temple. He recognized the three Mirrors of Dark Reflection and the clay pot of Shattered Vows. They sat on a round wooden base in the center of the six-sided room. Shafts of orange light streamed from the star shaped holes cut into the pot. "Itís Bitterbrun," Haggerwolf said. "I can see him in the Mirrors of Dark Reflection. That idiot is releasing Gristle-tooth."
Twice during school, Windslow had tried to give the letter to his sister. Both times she held her arms clutched around her books, pulling them tightly against her chest. Without saying anything she had turned away and disappeared into the crowd of kids moving through the hallway. Windslow had given up on using a direct approach when luck gave him a new idea. He waited until they were in the family van and on the way home to try his new plan.
"Hey, mom," Windslow said.
"Hey, Windslow," Trish, his stepmother answered from the front seat. She twisted around and winked at him.
Windslow grinned. He liked the way she always seemed so happy and full of energy. He still missed his own mother, and calling Trish "mom" still felt a bit awkward. She kept him from thinking about the car accident his mother and grandparents had died in. She took away a big part of the pain he still felt the few times he still thought about the accident.
"Are we just saying hi to each other or is there something else on your mind?" Trish asked.
"A new friend of mine might be coming over after dinner. I borrowed one of his books but he needs it back tonight. He isnít going to stay, so we donít need to clean the house or anything. His name is Jimmy Heart. I just thought Iíd let you know." Windslow watched out of the corner of his eye. He saw Hillary twist in her seat.
"Thanks for the warning" Trish said. "Say, you arenít suggesting that Iím not a neat housekeeper, are you?" She gave him a smile and another wink.
"Nope," Windslow said and smiled back. "I just thought someone ought to know." He turned and pointed his grin at his sister.
Hillary gave him a dirty look and scooted forward in her seat. "If you vacuum when we get home, Mom, I can cut the grass. If Windslow dusts, it wonít take long at all to get everything ready. If he does the dishes by himself, then Iíll have time for a shower and--"
"Wait," Trish said, holding up a hand. "Iím a bit confused here. Is this Windslowís friend coming over, or your friend, Hillary? Whoops Ö I shouldnít have asked. Bill, you cut the grass, Hillary vacuums and Windslow dusts. Oh, and pull into the flower shop on the corner, dear," she said and patted Billís shoulder. "Then stop at the deli, and Iíll get something for dinner so I donít have to cook. Donít worry, Windslow. Everything will be nice if your friend decides to come inside for awhile."
Windslow grinned at his sister. Hillary pinched her lips tight and glowered back at him.
"What are you up to?" Hillary asked her brother as she helped him with the wheelchair lift. Her parents were already in the house; Trish getting dinner ready and Bill changing clothes to cut the grass.
"I needed to borrow a physics book," Windslow answered. "I saw Jimmy in the hall and borrowed his."
"Youíre not taking physics! You wonít have it until next year."
"I know. Hey careful. Donít shove so hard."
"Tell me whatís going on or Iíll give you a shove you wonít forget. Spill it, Windslow."
"Alright, but youíll have to wait until later when we have some privacy."
Hillary wheeled Windslow over by her desk before gently pushing the bedroom door nearly closed, leaving it ajar so she could hear if Bill or her mother came down the hall. "Whatís going on," she asked. With closed fists jammed on her hips, she stood against his chair, doing her best to tower over him.
"Leaning over me isnít going to help. Back off and give me room," Windslow said. "Maybe you should sit down. Things are getting complicated."
"What things?" Hillary said. She backed away but didnít sit.
"The Book of Broken Promises and the letter you got from your dad are related somehow. This morning when I shoved your dadís letter in my backpack, it touched the book and words began to glow on the envelope. When I moved them apart, the glowing stopped."
"A Promise to Be Broken."
"I donít understand," Hillary said and sat down on her bed.
"Neither do I," Windslow said. "And thereís more. Just before lunch period, I was at my locker. I touched the letter against the book again and the lock clicked, just before the words showed up like the first time. Then I turned around when I heard Jimmy Heart yell at Angstrom. Angstrom was behind me and saw everything."
"So what. Angstrom is snoopy. Heís a jerk. Let me see the book," Hillary said and stood back up. "And you still havenít told me why Jimmy is coming over."
"Heís coming for a couple reasons. After lunch Angstrom stole my backpack when I was doing my physical therapy. Jimmy caught him and brought it back. Angstrom didnít have a chance to look inside or take anything. At least thatís what Jimmy said."
"Why would that jerk Temperbone want your backpack?"
"I donít know," Windslow said as he handed the Book of Broken Promises to his sister. "Jimmy couldnít figure it out either."
"What happened to Angstrom?"
"He ran off and wasnít in school the rest of the day."
Hillary placed the Book of Broken Chances on her lap. Slowly she put the tip of her finger on the heart shaped clasp that held the book closed. "It quit beating," she said and looked up at Windslow. "Give me my letter. I want to see for myself what happens."
"I donít have it," Windslow said.
"What?" Hillary said. "Temperbone didnít take it did he?"
"No. Donít worry," Windslow said. "UmÖ someone else has it."
"UmÖ ya. Jimmy."
"Oh great! Just great!" Hillary said and shoved the book off her lap and onto the bed.
"Calm down," Windslow said and backed his chair up until it hit Hillaryís closet door. "I thanked Jimmy and asked him what I could do to repay him. He said I could introduce him to you. I thought thatís what you wanted. I gave him your dadís letter and told him to say it fell out of my bag when Temperbone scritched it. Heís bringing it back as a way to meet you. I thought it would be a way to get you to at least take it. You canít keep throwing your dadís letters away, Hillary. Read this one. Itís connected to the book!"
"No!" Hillary shouted and stood up. "My father ran away when I was a baby. When I was little, he called a couple times and always promised heíd come and do stuff with me. He never did. He always had some excuse. Well I made my own promise. I promised heíd never ever be a part of my life. And Iím keeping that promise!"
"But, Hillary! Hey, whoís that? Hillary, someone was at your window!"
Hillary spun around and pulled her curtains apart. She slid the window open and leaned her head out. "It was that slime-ball Angstrom! I saw him run through the bushes," Hillary said as she pulled her head back inside. "What was he--"
"Windslow," Trish called from down the hallway. "Your friend is here."
"Oh, great," Hillary said and slammed the window shut.
"You can say that again," Windslow said. "Look. The book is opening."
Hillary turned toward her bed. The strap and brass heart-shaped clasp lay open. The books heavy leather cover lifted. Stepbrother and sister watched as the cover folded back and the age yellowed pages began to turn.
"This way, Jimmy," Windslow heard Trish say, as footsteps sounded on the hallwayís wooden floor. "Theyíre in Hillaryís room."
"Quick! Ditch the book," Windslow said and wheeled his chair to the door.
Hillary grabbed the book. Not bothering to close it, she slid it under her bed and turned around.
"Hi, Jimmy," Windslow said and opened the door to Hillaryís room.
"We have better places to entertain a friend, Windslow" Trish said. "But, believe it or not, I was a teenager once, so I know about rooms and privacy. Tell you what. Five minutes in your room, then chocolate cake in the kitchen. After that, I if Jimmy would like to stay longer," she said, looking at Hillary, "you can move to the living room or back yard."
"Thanks, mom," Windslow said and backed up to make room for Jimmy.
Trish winked and headed for the kitchen.
"Jimmy, this is my stepsister, Hillary," Windslow said and wheeled his chair away from the desk and closer to Hillaryís bed to make room for Jimmy.
"UmÖ Hi," Jimmy said. He stuck his hand out to Hillary. She folded her arms and sat on her bed next to Windslow. Jimmy pulled his hand back and used it to push an errant lock of his black hair back into place.
"I know who you are," Hillary said. "And I know you and my brother cooked up a scheme about my dadís letter."
Jimmy looked briefly at Windslow before he sat down. "Iím sorry. I guess I should have just said hi in class. Well actually I have a couple of times, but you just ignored me. This whole thing seemed like a good idea at the time. Now itís really screwed up. I should just go," he said as he reached for his back pocket. "I have your letter. But something happened to it just before I knocked on your door."
Hillaryís eyes widened. She looked at Windslow and back at Jimmy. "Give it to me," she said.
Jimmy pulled the envelope from his pocket. "I had to fold it in half," he said and held it out to Hillary.
Hillary took the envelope and opened the fold. Her hand shook as she stared at the black smudges that looked as if the paper had nearly burned in places. Windslow wheeled his chair to the bed. Without speaking he took the envelope from his sister. "This is new," he said and looked at her.
"It got hot in my hand," Jimmy said in nearly a whisper. "Whatís going on?"
"Did you read what it says?" Windslow asked. He folded the letter back in half and handed it to his sister.
Jimmy nodded. "It says ĎDEATHí."