Wolves at the Door (part 112)

Gil thought for a minute.

“But if you’re the one out here, how can they enforce such an uneven split?”

“How do you think? Magic. That’s their thing. The whole system is set up in the trap. It can only be emptied by using two stones at once: one of theirs and one of mine. And the stones themselves have a similar restriction: they can only be emptied by the owner. So if I want to keep getting my cut, I have to keep delivering theirs. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The system protects me just as much as them. So if you came out here hoping to rip me off or raid my traps, you’re wasting your time.”

“The thought never entered my head. To be honest, I didn’t know the traps existed until you told me.”

“Yeah, whatever. You wouldn’t be the first idiot treasure-hunter to wander out here expecting to find free money lying around for the taking.”

Gil decided to change the subject.

“We must have covered a fair distance by now. Do the traps have to be this far out to work?”

“Oh, they’d work anywhere. Set one up in the middle of town and it will start catching magic, but it would take forever to fill up. To work well, they need to be far enough from the resource-sucking hordes back there. And given how many of them there are, that means pretty far out. But we should be close…”

She slowed down and drew something out of a pouch on her belt. Gil couldn’t get a good look at it, but she peered intently, then swore under her breath. Gil didn’t catch the words, but some things sound the same in any language.

“Distracting me back there, you’ve put me off course.”

She adjusted her bearings before continuing.

“Is there anything I can do to make it up?”

“Forget it, you’ve done enough. There’s nothing to do out here but empty the traps. You don’t know how to do that, and if you did I wouldn’t trust you with a job that important.”

Before long, the new course brought them within sight of the trap. Whatever Gil had been expecting, this wasn’t it. It was smaller than he expected, and looked like it had been cobbled together out of odd pieces of wood and stone. It certainly didn’t look like a money-making machine.

“Now keep your distance, and stay where I can see you.”

Gil obediently stayed away from the machine as she approached it. He had thought of her as a hunter or gatherer of magic, but in reality, she was more like a farmer. Now it was harvest time.

Producing two stones from another pouch, she balanced one atop each of two short wooden tubes that protruded from the top of the machine. One was a finely-cut piece of crystal. The other was polished marble.

Gil couldn’t see the tubes well from this distance, but he assumed they would work like the smaller ones he had already seen in action.

However they worked, they worked quickly. Before long, the magic-farmer removed both stones from the machine and tucked them away again. Then she turned to Gil.

“Satisfied your curiosity now?”

Gil nodded.

“Hey, you wanted to know if there was anything you could do to help? I just thought of something.”

That had him leaning forward eagerly to hear what it could be.

“You can leave me alone!”

And with that she took off once more at top speed, leaving Gil alone in the featureless mist.


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