Wolves at the Door (part 113)

Alone with the magic-collecting device, Gil considered his options. There was no point in continuing to follow the magic farmer. She had made it abundantly clear that she wanted nothing to do with him. Pushing his luck further might goad her into violence. Besides, he had probably learned as much from her as he was going to learn.

Right now at least he had a rough idea of which direction he had come from, though the late course correction had added an unwelcome complication. Still, he could estimate the likely direction back to civilisation. Hopefully the inhabited section of this world, several miles across, would be a difficult target to miss.

He made his choice and set out. There was no point examining the magic collector more closely: like all enchanted objects, its function was not reflected in its appearance. There was nothing it could do to help him right now, and every moment he delayed returning made it more likely he would mistake the way back. Even worse, there was a good chance that the device was protected by some kind of automatic magical defence. If the farmer’s attitude was anything to go by, it might kill him if he got to close. Even if it just knocked him down or disorientated him, that would amount to the same thing.

Keeping his distance from the unimpressive-looking but potentially lethal device, Gil took his bearings and set out at a jog. No point prolonging the journey. Besides, he figured that he had a better chance of maintaining a straight line while running than he would walking. If he had chosen the wrong direction, or if he veered off course, he wondered how long it would be before he would know it. He tried to remember how long it had taken the two of them to get here. It was hard to judge because the conversation had distracted him and the pace had been considerably quicker.

As he ran, the doubt in his mind grew to a pervading uncertainty and finally a conviction that he had made a mistake somewhere. Even allowing for the slower speed of the return trip, he was sure he should have reached the outskirts of the settlement by now.

He tried reasoning with himself. If his aim was just slightly off, he would have to travel farther on the way back to reach the edge of the circular town. Salvation may still be straight ahead. On the other hand, if he was further off target, he may have bypassed it already, in which case every step forward was taking him away from the destination he sought.

Not for the first time, Gil wished he had some way of measuring time instead of having to guess. But even if he managed to build a water-clock, they weren’t exactly portable. All he could do was trust his instincts, which told him he should have been back by now if he had been moving in the right direction.

Alone in the wilderness with nothing but glowing clouds in every direction, Gil was well and truly lost.


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