Chapter Two: Puzzles
"Red head, his legs are dead. His mommy helps him out of bed!"
"Oh, ya!" Windslow yelled back at the boy who ran down the sidewalk away from Windslowís driveway. "Why donít you come over here and say that to my face, Angstrom! If you ever get close to me Iíll pound you to a--"
"Leave my brother alone!" Hillary shouted as she came out of the garage and ran to the back of her stepbrotherís wheel chair. "Come around here again and IíllÖ IíllÖ" Her words trailed off. The chubby dark haired boy was too far away to hear her anyway.
"I donít need you to protect me," Windslow said. He pushed the joystick on his electric wheelchair and spun around to face his stepsister.
"Who is that jerk, anyway?" Hillary asked and folded her arms across her chest.
"Angstrom Temperbone. Heís a new kid. His parents just moved here. Nobody likes him at school. Heís a real creep."
"At least there are only a couple weeks of school left," Hillary said. "You donít have to put up with him for very long."
Windslow used the joystick to maneuver around his sister and position his wheelchair by the family van. "Weíll see him practically every day. His family moved into the Flesher house around the corner and he took over Cherylís newspaper route. If he ever gets close enough for me to grab him, heíll be sorry he ever called me names."
"What started it?" Hillary asked. She walked beside her brother and pulled a lever that lowered the vanís wheelchair lift to the ground.
"I donít know. His locker isnít far from mine at school. He started asking some of the other guys about a cute girl with curly red hair and freckles," Windslow said and looked away from Hillary. "Then Jimmy Heart-throb walked up to them. He said something to Angstrom and pointed at me. I heard Heart-throb say your name."
Hillary moved around in front of her brother. "His name is Jimmy Heart, not Heart-throb. What did Jimmy say about me?"
"I donít know. I donít like any of those guys. Jimmy has fifty girlfriends, Hillary. Heís a creep. I hollered at them and said my sister doesnít date fat guys or jerks. That kind of started it."
"Oh great. Thanks a heap, Windslow!" Hillary shoved her fists into her jean pockets and kicked a stone off the driveway. She looked back over her shoulder at him as she walked back toward the garage. "You take care of your personal life and Iíll take care of mine."
"His name should be Heart-throb," Windslow mumbled so Hillary couldnít hear him. "Hey, Hillary! Wait!" Windslow called. "I have to talk to you about a weird dream I had last night. It was about Molly!"
Hillary stopped and turned around. "This better not be a joke," she said.
"No, really. I canít remember the dream. I just remember waking up and somehow knowing Mollyís in trouble."
"How can she be?" Hillary asked. "She and her sisters arenít in Gabendoor anymore. Theyíre living with Mrs. Christensen. She would never let anything happen to Molly."
"I know. But I have this creepy feeling. And thereís something else."
"The Book has changed."
"Letís get inside the van so we can talk," Hillary said and took a quick look around.
She helped Windslow with the lift mechanism and the clasps that held his wheelchair in place inside the van. Leaving the door open, she settled into the seat next to him. "Whatís going on?" she asked.
"Look," Windslow said.
During their last adventure in Gabendoor, the wizards had given Windslow a magic book bag made of grey cloth. The bag, and whatever Windslow carried inside of it, grew when he opened the bag and shrank when he closed it. He pulled the bag from his backpack and handed it to Hillary. She stuck one finger inside the bag, making it grow large enough to take out the leather-bound Book of Broken Promises.
Nearly identical to the Book of Second Chances that had began their first adventure in Gabendoor, the new book remained a mystery. Ever sense it had popped out of thin air and landed on Windslowís lap, she and her brother had tried to open it without success. Hillary turned the large thick book over so the front cover faced up in her lap. "I donít see anything different," she said.
"Itís the clasp," Windslow said and pointed.
Hillary ran her fingers over the leather strap and brass clasp that held the Book of Broken Promises closed. About an inch wide, the strap didnít look or feel any different. When her fingers touched the heart shaped clasp, she jerked her hand away and looked up at Windslow.
He simply nodded.
Slowly, Hillary placed one finger on the tarnished heart. "Itís beating," she said and looked back at her stepbrother.
Bitterbrun ducked his head to keep from bumping the bottom of the large tree root that spanned like a large beam across the ceiling of his laboratory. Living under a giant tree had some disadvantages, but Bitterbrun liked the cozy feel. Dug out beneath the roots of a ganternut tree, the six rooms had curved plastered walls and arched ceilings. Each room sat at a slightly different level. The one or two steps up or down at the connecting doorways slowed Army, his pet armygello, as she followed Bitterbrun from room to room. Her short stubby legs were fine for running on flat ground, but not much help for climbing stairs.
Bitterbrunís aunt had built the home and no one knew about it or had lived in it for many years. The furniture was solid, made of bent willow branches and planks of ganternut wood. Shelves lined most of the walls and Bitterbrun used them to store jars of food, books, and other supplies he had been moving to his secret home the last few weeks before the Children of the Summer Wind defeated Fistlock.
Bitterbrun liked his laboratory more than all the other rooms in his underground sanctuary. It was the only room lit buy sunlight. He used candles and lanterns in the other rooms. It took him a long time to hollow out sections of tree trunk, branches, and roots where he had inserted brass mirrors that reflected sunlight from the forest above, into his laboratory below. Several times a day he had to adjust the wooden knobs in a panel at the side of the room. Each knob controlled a mirror. The light would fade if he didnít keep the mirrors adjusted as the sun moved throughout the day.
Shining out at an angle from a fist-sized hole in the ceiling, a beam of light grew brighter as Bitterbrun twisted the last knob. The light reflected off a highly polished silver dish and lit up the room with sunlight.
His system of mirrors provided light but not heat. Bitterbrun moved to the corner of the room and stood with his back to the small stove to warm himself. He had fashioned the stove from a suit of armor he stole from Crystal Mountain. The metal torso of the armor sat on a large oval stone. A piece of flat metal across the neck opening made a fine griddle. He had removed the arm on one side and sealed up the hole. On the other side he used the arms to make a chimney that bent upward and disappeared into a clay lined hole that ran nearly to the top of the ganternut tree.
"Come here, sweetie," Bitterbrun called to Army as he patted his shoulder. The hard plates protecting Armyís back lifted up, exposing her wings. With a flutter that turned to a buzz her wings blurred and Army lifted off the ground. She hovered in front of her master for a few seconds before darting forward, aiming for the spot he pointed to on his shoulder. Better at sniffing magic than at flying, Army smacked into Bitterbrunís forehead.
"Yow! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" Bitterbrun yelled when his seat touched the hot stove. He danced around the small room, patting at his smoking pants. His yelling and jumping frightened the timid armygello. While Bitterbrun danced and yelled, Army flew wildly around the room. She crashed into one of the high shelves, sending a jar of liver-wart pickles crashing to the floor. With a mighty "clang" she careened off the silver light-dish, richoched off a stack of books, and knocked over a wooden bowl of mustard-plums on the table. With a final flutter and a bounce, she hit the floor, tucked into a ball and rolled to rest in a corner.
After changing his pants, cleaning up the mess and readjusting the light mirrors, Bitterbrun was finally ready to try a new experiment, which is why he had come into his laboratory in the first place. In the center of his workbench, a round clay ball the size of a skunk-melon sat on a carved wooden stand. Air dried, the ball was fragile and Bitterbrun was thankful that Army hadnít broken it in her wild flight. Whoever had made the ball had cut small star-shaped openings around the sides and had carved words in a spiral pattern around the top. The ball and its secrets were a mystery.
Fistlock and his descendants, had all tried unsuccessfully to open it and harness the magic inside. By looking in through the star-shaped holes, it was easy enough to see the small cork stoppered glass vial inside. The words had been translated generations ago. Fistlock had told Bitterbrun the words were a riddle that gave instructions for opening the ball. No one knew what was inside the vial, but everyone thought it was valuable or magic or both.
Another mystery of the ball was a small indentation in its side. Whoever made the ball had pressed something into the clay before it had hardened. Bitterbrun was certain the pattern and the riddle of the words were the key to the whole puzzle. All anyone was able to agree upon about the riddle was the first two lines. If the ball wasnít opened properly, whoever tried it would die.
Bitterbrunís hand shook as he reached into a small pocket in his vest. He wasnít sure he had solved the riddle but had found an object he thought would fit the indentation. Pinched between his thumb and finger he held the tiny object that had taken years of searching to find. Before checking to see if it fit the indentation, he read the riddle one last time.
Alive without breath
All else brings you death.
Bathed in the light
Dormant at night.
No husband or wife
Water brings life.
Child of the ground
The secret is found.
"What do you think it means?" Hillary asked. She touched her finger to the beating heart-shaped clasp again.
"Donít ask me," Windslow answered. "When I went to sleep, I had the book next to my pillow. After I had the strange dream about Molly, I brushed my hand against the book and felt it. It must mean something."
"Hey, are you two ready for school?" Bill called from the garage. "Weíll be late if we donít leave soon."
"Ya, ahÖ sure," Windslow called back to his father.
"Here, hide the book," Hillary said softly and shoved the leather bound pages back to her brother.
Windslow didnít have time to stuff the book back into the magic book bag so he pushed it into his backpack.
"Weíll talk after school," Hillary said. She fastened her seatbelt as Bill leaned into the van to check Windslowís chair.
"Something came for you in the mail," her stepfather said. He pulled a folded envelope from his back pocket and reached his hand out to Hillary. "Itís a letter from your father."
Hillary crossed her arms tight across her chest and turned away.
"Hillary, I think you should take it and not throw it away like you have the others. I know Iím just a stepfather, but let me give you some fatherly advice. This is the fourth letter your dad has mailed you in the last two months. I think you should at least read one. Either that, or let your mother and me read it. It could be important. Hillary, heís trying."
Hillary pulled her arms tighter around herself and kept staring out the window.
"Iíll hold it for her," Windslow said.
Bill still held his hand out toward Hillary. He looked at Winslow, nodded and handed him the letter.
Windslow didnít look at his sister at first. His stepmother, Trish, climbed into the van and whispered something to his dad. Bill simply shook his head. When they were halfway to school, Windslow held the letter out to his stepsister. Twice she shoved his hand away so he slipped the envelope into his backpack, deciding to wait until after school when he could talk to her. It had been hard for him when his mother and grandparents had died in a car accident. He couldnít imagine what it would be like if his mother was alive and never wanted to see him. Hillary had never talked about her bio-dad. Windslow had only heard bits and pieces of conversations between Bill and Trish. All he knew was that Hillaryís father had left when she was just a baby, and that Hillary hated him.
Instead of the normal talking or joking on the drive to school, everyone stayed silent. Trish turned the radio on so at least there was something to cover up the uncomfortable silence. Windslow took a deep breath and puffed his cheeks as he blew it out. He closed it eyes to think.
"Windslow, quit playing with that light, please," his stepmother said from the front seat. She reached up and twisted the rearview mirror.
Windslow opened his eyes and was about to say something when he saw the green light glowing from his backpack. "Sorry, Trish, I mean mom," he said and looked in his backpack. Hillaryís letter lay against the mysterious book. The words "A Promise to Be Broken" glowed bright green across the face of the envelope. When Windslow moved the letter, the light went out. He shoved a spiral notebook between the envelope and Book of Broken Promises.
"Thank you," Trish said and moved the mirror again.
Windslow carefully closed his backpack and zipped the top shut.