Chapter Three: Fistlock
In the midst of his sleep, the muscles in Fistlock’s jaw tightened under his skin like knotted ropes and worked his mouth, grinding his teeth. He began to sweat; beads across the furrows of his brow, moistness across his narrow shoulders and dampness down his back that soaked into his bedclothes. He twisted and snaked, rumpling his blankets until they slid from his spindly body to land in a heap on the floor. The trundle-wraith’s shadowy fingers reached from under Fistlock’s bed to snatch the blankets away, using its own trickery to entice creaking sounds from floorboards and muffled thumps from the walls and doors.
Fistlock sat up so quickly he frightened the gloom-spinner, a gentile shadow beast who gave a muffled scream from its hiding place in the depths of Fistlock’s closet. Two startled shadow-glumps lost their holds on the ceiling at the corners of the room. They plopped to the floor and scurried away, changing to hide in the natural shadows shaped by moonlight draped across a high back chair. The trundle-wraith jerked its fingers back so fast that puffs of mingled lint, hair and dust swirled in the wake from its movement.
"The book," Fistlock said at first in a whisper. Then a second time he screamed, "The Book!" so loud the words echoed through his castle, stilling all the night sounds; groans and creeping-cracks, scrapes and skittles. Unnatural shadows shrank away, glowing forms turned transparent and unseen. The crawlers vanished for the night.
"What book would that be, Master?" the trundle-wraith asked from under the bed, its voice insubstantial, more like wind than speech.
"The book of Second Chances," Fistlock said as he slid from bed and kicked at a shadow-glump. "It’s open!"
Haggerwolf settled back in his hammock strung between two hardy branches that curved gracefully up from under the porch of his tree-bode, as he called it. A tree house really, cradled high up in the stout and age-wrinkled limbs of the flute-bean tree. An afternoon breeze played quietly with the oblong leaves and long brown seed pods that gave the tree its name.
Small but sufficient, the house had only two rooms. He cooked, ate and slept in the large and spacious front room, except on pleasant days like today. An arched doorway tucked near the stove gave access to the second room, his laboratory. He spent most of his time on the porch, snoozing as he did now. Evening was for lab work, although he had seen little point to it lately. Fistlock controlled everything but the Forge-Twiddlers. All the races had united to defeat Fistlock many years ago, but lost in the end. And there would be no second chance at that.
"Not without the secrets of that book," Haggerwolf said to himself, sighed, and draped one leg over the edge of the hammock to give himself a small push and swing. "At least the book is hidden away from Fistlock."
Fistlock had been the first wizard to discoverer the book, secreted away by wizards in the time before. The old texts described many books stashed in hidey-holes hidden by magic that no one understood. Of them all, the book of Second Chances was the most powerful and the key to finding the others. Ownership changed several times, but no one had ever been able to figure out how the book worked. Just having the book brought danger enough, both for the holder and those who desired it.
"Oh well." Haggerwolf sighed and struck a match to light his pipe.
The wind surged in a narrow blast, nearly lifting him from his hammock as the rope bed jumped and bounced from the air’s shove.
His words squeezed out faint and forced, but there was no one else to hear them. His face reddened, making his long beard seem even whiter against the crimson. Close to passing out, he glanced down at his chest, then struggled to pull his short knife from the tangle of cloth that had been his pants. It wasn’t there, but his hand brushed across the pommel of a short sword. He pulled the blade from its scabbard and used the sharp edge to cut loose the top two buttons.
"Phew…" he said with his first breath as he cut off the rest of the vest buttons. With his next breath he yelled. "Larkstone, you idiot!" Haggerwolf knew his friend couldn’t hear him, but the yell made him feel better. When he looked at himself again, he saw more than Larkstone’s vest. Haggerwolf was squeezed into Fernbark’s pants and cover robe, which explained the sword.
That’s all he had time to notice. The smell of burning fibers grabbed his attention. His mind raced to the last time his clothes had scrambled. Without thinking he chopped off the bottom three inches of his beard and watched it float lazily down, one hundred feet to the ground. It was then that he discovered his mistake. With disgust, he spit on the charred hammock rope to extinguish the hot spot where his pipe had emptied.
He decided to summon a journey-wind to take him to Larkstone’s lakeside cottage. Before he could find his wand, an odd, yet vaguely familiar journey-wind swooped down over the top of his tree-bode and snatched him away.
Fistlock’s long stride carried him quickly down the hallway from his bedroom to his laboratory. Torches jutting out from skull-shaped wall sconces lit the way. Their fires bent not from flame-fluffers, but from the wind of Fistlock’s passing. The fluffers knew better than to puff out or tamper with a flame when their master overflowed with the mood they sensed. They shrunk away from him like his other dark shadow beasties.
When Fistlock neared his laboratory a shutterfling threw open the door for him. The copper clad boards banged with a dull thud against the mortared stones of the hallway and the shutterfling retreated back to its hiding place inside one of the hinges.
Panderflip was waiting.
Fistlock didn’t bother to acknowledge his stout assistant who waited silently, shoulders slouched and head down, standing behind one of the many tables. Fistlock paced back and forth. His shadow followed; darting across the table, flowing over the glass beakers, clay mixing bowls, and spilled powders.
"I felt it," Fistlock said and continued pacing, still not looking at Panderflip. "I put a spell on it before that blasted Leaper stole it. I sensed it when he unlatched it, but he closed it again before I could find him. This time it’s still unlatched, but very far away--faint.
"Use the Book of Worlds," Panderflip said, more as a question than a suggestion.
"Of course! Fetch it." A smile crossed Fistlock’s lips for the first time since the spell’s nagging had dragged him from his sleep. While his chamberlain hurried to the bookshelves covering the entire end of the laboratory, Fistlock dragged a heavy chair to the center worktable, sat down and waved his hand. Two tall thick candles scraped their way across the table, stopping far enough in front of him to provide room for the large book.
Panderflip gently placed the Book of Worlds in the pool of yellow light spread before his master.
With the sleeves of his black evening robe pushed back, Fistlock raised his wand above the book. Like a conductor ready to signal the orchestra, he tried to hold his hand steady, but the tip of his crooked somber-wood wand quivered. He drew in a deep breath to ready himself and recited the words the magic of the book required.
"Book of Worlds at my command
Open to a distant land.
Show a place and mark it well
That called to me from hidden spell."
Unseen flame-fluffers controlled by the book’s magic bent first one candle flame and then the other. Their stronger cousin, the williwaw, puffed the flames out completely and ruffled Fistlock’s sleeves with its icy rush of whispered air.
With his spindly, hairless arm still poised above the book, Fistlock twitched his wand and the candle flames relit. Quickly he tucked the somber-wood inside his robe and placed his hands flat on the table, one on either side of the book.
With no great hurry, the leather book cover opened revealing a blank age-yellowed page underneath. The cover stopped, sounding a small tap as it came to rest on the table. The yellow page flipped to join it. More blank pages lifted and turned, quickly now, filling the air with the musty scent of ancient parchment. Midway through the book, the pages stilled and Fistlock waited, watching. Letters appeared in bits and pieces here and there across the page, slowly crowding together in neat, hand scripted lines. With no more space for them to fill, the page turned and underneath lay a map of stars connected by thin shapes and sharp angles marked with numbers and signs. Beneath it lay another map with continents and lines for navigation. Fistlock smiled as more maps and text hurried past his gaze, too fast for him to read. And then the pages stopped.
"There," he said and leaned over the book to bring his eyes closer to the small text beside a blood-red dot.
"Ear -th?" Panderflip asked, leaning over Fistlock’s shoulder. "Like fourth, fifth, ear-th?"
When he sat up straight, Fistlock nearly banged the back of his head into Panderflip’s already crooked nose. "No, you shadow-brick. It’s Earth. Like the ground, like dirt. We’ll have to take a journey-wind. Summon one up in the courtyard while I get dressed. And do it right. If we get there and my clothes are mixed with yours, you’ll end up dead along with whoever has my book.
The journey-wind rotated slowly behind them in the five foot circle of flattened meadow grass where it waited. Fernbark, Larkstone and Haggerwolf didn’t bother to rearrange their mixed up clothes. They ran to the crumbling stone chimney and hearthstone that marked where they had hidden the book thirty years ago.
"It’s gone," Fernbark said. "If Fistlock has it again…"
"It wasn’t him." Haggerwolf sniffed the air by the hearthstone. He wet his finger, wiped it across the stone and touched the dusty tip to his tongue. "The elements of nature haven’t been fouled and there’s no scent of magic."
"It was something powerful," Fernbark said.
"No magic?" Larkstone asked. "Are you sure?" Ignoring Haggerwolf’s nod, Larkstone stooped, sniffed and tasted the ground himself. "Hagger’s right," he said as he stood. "But there’s something more important. No evil."
"But it was powerful," Fernbark repeated and darted his eyes along the tree line until he had turned full circle. Slower this time, he searched again, taking time to look deeper into the trees as he twisted.
"I wish we had a Book of Worlds," Larkstone said. "Haggerwolf, did your aunt say anything about wizards, or earth spirits, or--"
"Something powerful," Fernbark said, interrupting.
Haggerwolf scowled at him. "Calm down." Looking back at Larkstone he answered. "She never said anything. It must have been something with great intelligence. A fearless being."
"Fistlock has one," Fernbark said in a whisper and cleared his throat.
Haggerwolf rolled his eyes and shook his head. He opened his mouth to say something to Larkstone, but stopped and turned back to Fernbark. "What did you say?"
"I didn’t say ‘powerful’." Fernbark held up his hands as if surrendering.
"You said Fistlock has one. One what?"
"A Book of Worlds."
Haggerwolf and Larkstone stared at each other for an instant. "Fistlock. He’ll be right behind us," Haggerwolf said.
They both grabbed one of Fernbark’s sleeves and began running toward the journey-wind. Fernbark stumbled at first as his friends pulled him along. His mind wasn’t concentrating on working his feet. It was too busy trying to figure out what he had said that panicked his companions. When he did, he broke away and reached the bent circle of grass before they did. As the other two jumped in behind him, Fernbark’s eyes widened. He bolted back toward the cabin. The journey-wind began to spin.
In a blink its smoke-grey streaks of magic swirled upward, covering its two travelers. The top of the reeling funnel broadened and tugged at the high branches of the pines. Bottom and top swaying out of sync, the journey wind wobbled after Fernbark.
"What in… are… idiot…" were the only words Fernbark understood. The sound of the journey wind sucked back the other words Haggerwolf had yelled.
The wind tried to suck him in too, but Fernbark braced himself against the pull and struggled forward to the chimney stones. He had to wrap both arms around them and clasp his fingers together to keep from being ripped away.
A second journey wind lowered from the clouds. Its sooty colored form ripped up clods of grass at the far side of the clearing.
"Dream snatch, opened clasp!" Fernbark screamed as well as he could. The collars of his cloak slapped painfully against his face. The smell of mold and decayed wood grew stronger as the other journey wind snaked like a predator across the meadow.
His own journey wind buffeted him, lifting his feet from the ground and sucked away one of his boots.
"Magic match, to the last!" He could barely hear his own words through the black screeching of the ominous funnel. The winds competed, one to feed on him, the other to carry him away, yet Fernbark held fast, his fingers unclasped now and bloody from digging into the stones. One more line and the winds could have him.
"From its lair to my…" He squeezed his eyes shut to save them from the bits of stinging sand and sticks that scratched at his face, as he searched for a rhyming word.
The funnels bumped and coiled around each other, pulling his hands away from the stones.
"Pink chair!" his voice boomed from where his body had been. Fernbark was gone.