Wolves at the Door (part 114)

Gil fought to avoid panicking. He slowed down, then planted his feet firmly as he stopped to think. Now more than ever it was important not to lose his bearings. He still had options. If he had judged the direction right but the time wrong, his destination may still be ahead. If he had judged the direction wrong but the time right, he might find it by turning perpendicular to his current path, though he had no idea if he should go left or right. Of course, if he had misjudged both the time and direction, it was anyone’s guess which way he should go.

He tried to take comfort in the fact that he was certainly closer to his target than when he had started out. Much better to think about that than the possibility of spending the rest of his life wandering aimlessly in uninhabited blankness. The glowing clouds surrounded him so thickly that he could pass within fifty yards of another person or a crucial landmark without ever seeing it.

If that was to be the tale of the rest of his life, he wondered how long that life would be. Alfvin had suggested that perhaps the ambient magic sustained the lives of the inhabitants without their needing air to physically breathe. Gil had no idea if it was true or not, but if it was, then he wondered if it was only air that it substituted for. Could a person live out here on magic alone, without food or water? He could not remember getting very hungry or thirsty while he had been here, but he had rarely spent more than a couple of hours here at a time. If it did turn out to be impossible to starve out here, was that a good thing or a bad? It would give him more time to find his way back. Then again, eternity lost in the mist sounded like a pretty disappointing afterlife. Even those denied Valhalla had each other’s company in the halls of Hel.

All this was pointless speculation though. After all, being here did not alleviate the need to sleep, nor Alfvin’s more unique requirements. Maybe Gil would be lucky enough to die of starvation. Or maybe the stone doorways marking the perimeter of this world’s civilisation lurked just out of view, and this would all soon be an unpleasant memory.

But first he had to pick a direction. He thought of the magic-farmer, consulting some kind of unseen device before adjusting her course. Too small to be an enchanted map. Some kind of compass perhaps? Whatever it had been, Gil wished he had one right now. But nothing he carried was likely to be of use. The translator hanging around his neck was probably working better than ever, but was useless without anyone to speak to. The magic-detecting crystal would be similarly useless here where there was nothing but magic in every direction. Technically Gil’s runed stone was also magical, but even more useless in the present circumstances than the other enchanted items he carried.

Idly, he wondered what he might have seen if he had used the crystal to look at the magic-trap. Would there have been tendrils or currents of magic being drawn into the device like water being drawn into a whirlpool? Without any real hope of success, he pointed the crystal back the way he had come. Nothing. As expected, it showed nothing but blackness in every direction.

Or rather, almost every direction. Off to the right, there seemed to be a patch that was not quite black, more like a very dark grey. Something or somebody was draining the ambient magic in that direction. Another magic trap perhaps? Or perhaps, far away, thousands of somebodies, along with even more enchanted somethings.

Hardly daring to hope, Gil set off to find out.

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