After several days, and many meetings, another messenger arrived at the palace. The first village raided had actually been the second. The premiere of the first village had taken time to debate over whether or not to alert the king. The oddities of the attack finally convinced him. Then the messenger had gotten caught up in bad weather, which had resulted in the message arriving at the palace after the other two. All discussion in the boring meetings turned to defense and prevention. Several people insisted that Heston move all available troops to the Chemwanitz border to patrol. Heston flatly refused, saying it would leave the rest of the nation too vulnerable. Every time he refused, people badgered Jerryck to do something about the situation. “Like what?” Jerryck asked them. “You’re the magician,” one man grumbled. “Think of something.” “Like what?” Jerryck repeated. The more people pressed him for solutions, the more it irritated him. Terrance hadn’t told them about the attackers using a portal. As far as they should be concerned, this was a military matter, not a magical one. “Why don’t we arm the populace and teach them to defend themselves?” Tajor asked. “Don’t they already fend off dangerous fauna? Why not fend off raiders too?” “Teach them to defend against military operations?” The same man who pressed Jerryck the most, now gasped in horror at Tajor. “We couldn’t do that!” “Why not?” Tajor asked. Responses erupted. Jerryck couldn’t make heads or tails out of them individually, but the overall cacophony was full of outrage. It took them a couple of minutes to calm down enough to go back to harassing Heston about sending troops to the border, then on to harassing Jerryck to think of something. The second time Tajor suggested arming and training the populace, he was told his sarcasm was ill-timed and unappreciated. The third time, a few people laughed and thanked him for lightening the mood. The fourth time, people started getting the idea that he really was serious. In times past, no king would have entertained such an idea. It would create too much danger that the populace would rise up against the local authorities and the throne. Terrance had made many changes since his coronation, most of them in honor of his late wife’s wishes for the nation. Soldiers did their job properly, instead of acting like bullies and thugs. The palace was self sustaining, freeing up tax money for improving roads, building bridges, and digging water canals that irrigated farmlands. Better education was available to a greater portion of the populace. Aside from a few skirmishes here and there, they had been at peace with their neighboring nations for over a decade. People had been able to raise their children in safety, and they had grown loyal and content. There was less chance of any uprising now than ever before in the history of the nation. Jerryck said as much the next time someone annoying demanded he ‘do something’. With how much trouble they were giving Tajor for suggesting it, he probably should have expected the barrage of indignation and insults that washed over him for it. After that, Terrance cut off the general staff and narrowed the dull meetings to just the core staff, without letting Jerryck skip any of them. He ordered Chancellor Herron to send out proclamations to every town and village along the border to lock up their winter stores and guard them day and night. He ordered General Heston to send some troops to patrol around the largest populations along the border, assisted by local scouts. He also ordered the villagers armed and trained, as Tajor suggested. Then he turned to Jerryck. “Were you just irritated?” he asked. “Or can you really think of nothing to help?” Jerryck crossed his arms. “Won’t the scouts and patrols be enough?” “They’re no good if the enemy opens up a portal behind where they’re looking,” Heston said. “This can’t be the same group if they’re all using portals,” Jerryck insisted. Again. Terrance sank into his chair, looking weary and drawn. He tended to skip food and sleep when things were going wrong. No one had asked Jerryck for a sleep aid, so he had assumed the king was sleeping fine. Perhaps he should have offered anyway. “Pretend the unlikely is possible.” Terrance rubbed at his eyes, ending by pinching the bridge of his nose. “Is there a way to prevent portals from opening around a town or village?” “Yes,” Jerryck said. “But which villages? And how many others would want the same thing? I can’t do it for all of them. Not even if all the magicians in Brend helped. Which they wouldn’t. Too many of them travel from town to town by portal.” “What about some kind of alert system?” Tajor asked. “You have alerts here in the palace for various things. Can’t you give villages alarms for if a portal opens nearby?” Jerryck sat back, running several possibilities through his mind. “I could probably come up with something like that. You’d have to give me some time to puzzle it out and make sure it works right.” “Do it,” Terrance said. # Finally released from all the wretched meetings, Jerryck ran back up to his tower. He slowed on the way up the stairs. Then paused at the door to the bedroom. Kendra and Leanne had Sakila in there, and all three of them were giggling as only women could. When they saw Jerryck, Leanne blushed, and Kendra and Sakila giggled even harder. He shook his head, mentally dismissing it. He probably wouldn’t like whatever they were talking about anyway. He climbed the last flight up to his workroom. After several minutes, Sakila came up. By that time, Jerryck had his entire worktable covered with open books. “What are you studying?” she asked. Jerryck offered her the stool Zev normally used for his lessons. “Alerts for when portals open.” “Portals.” Sakila sat. “I cannot make those. When I need to travel with magic, I have to have assistance from another.” “Me too, usually.” Jerryck reached for pen, ink, and a stack of cheap paper for jotting notes. “I have a clear space at the bottom of the tower I keep for portals, so if I was someplace else and needed to get back here in a hurry, I could use that. But if I want to go out, I’m so bad at the necessary scrying beforehand, I’m safer traveling overland.” “At least you can open portals,” Sakila said, leaning her forearms on the worktable. “You are much more powerful than I. I can scry. I cannot open a portal.” “I have to drink a nasty concoction to help me scry,” Jerryck admitted weakness, wrinkling his nose just thinking about that horrid potion. “Otherwise I can’t get out of my body to go see anything.” “Your sister told me about that,” Sakila said. “Why leave your body? I do not leave my body to scry.” Jerryck’s jaw slackened with surprise. “You don’t?” “That is…” she paused and thought for a few moments, “…projecting, I think is the word in your language. That is more difficult. I have never been able to do it well. There is a frightening nothingness when you do that.” “Yes,” Jerryck said. Had he been doing it wrong all these years? “Your sister asked me to help her daughter.” Sakila sat up. “Is that all right with you?” “She talked to you?” “I asked after the girl. Kendra says she can scry.” “Normally she’s here now.” Jerryck fidgeted with the books. “I gave her and her brother the afternoon off. They’ll be here tomorrow. You can come help then if you want.” “Thank you,” Sakila said. “I will.” # Sakila taught both the children gathering and releasing exercises for the energies in their auras. Zev gloated that he had discovered the exercise on his own, talking about the time he had gathered a wad of untamed energy around his hand that Jerryck had made him let go. His gloat disappeared when Sakila scolded him for gathering too much energy, and made him use restraint. Every time he tried to ignore her, she applied the same calming magic she had used to help Jerryck when he had blown up his workroom. The benefits of teaching this kind of control seemed obvious to Jerryck. So he encouraged his nephew to go through the exercises by doing them with him. It was harder work than he expected, and after the first couple of times he went to bed exhausted as if he had done a workout for his entire body by lifting heavy weights. Since he apparently also needed this exercise, he made sure to continue. When she went through scrying techniques with the children, Jerryck had next to no progress with that skill. He couldn’t get himself to both relax, and sit rigid like she did. He couldn’t clear his head of seeing his immediate surroundings, especially now that he’d gotten so used to feeling things with his aura. And when he tried shaping the energy of his aura to see beyond himself, he automatically started feeling disconnected, which Sakila always put a stop to and told him that was projecting, not scrying. She needn’t have put a stop to it. He wasn’t going to leave his body. The only time he did that without the aid of a potion was on accident, not on purpose. All her discipline did was make the children laugh at him. She tried helping him along, by letting him connect his aura with hers so he could feel exactly how she did it. All he ever got were flashes of partial images, a tree, the wall of a log building, a face disconnected from any person. He had no idea if these were real things, or just his imagination. Frustrated, embarrassed, he tried it alone late one night after everyone else was in bed. He sat rigid. He did the best he could to turn off sensing the auras of everything around him. He gathered up the amount of energy Sakila recommended. He focused on a safe spot, the clear space at the bottom of his tower. Then he let the magic loose. There was a blur of vision. Then he viewed the clear room at the bottom of the tower. It had worked! He looked all around the empty room, incredulous. It really had worked. He was scrying! He looked over at the tower entrance, where he had the charms that signaled when someone entered. He could actually see the aura of the magic. He had one fleeting thought that he ought to retract to his body to double check that he was doing this right. But this was just too tempting, and too much fun. There was so much he could do in this state like this. Gleefully, he went to check some of the other spells in the palace. This was going to make his job a lot easier! Flitting around the palace corridors, ignoring all the sleeping people, passing by the few people who worked the night shifts, no one bothered him in this state. At one of the balcony doors, he noticed clouds gathering on the horizon. They looked an awful lot like the roiling, smokey nothingness of the void. But he only ever saw that when he was doing what Sakila said was projecting. And that was always accompanied with a wrenching sensation, and a feeling of being disconnected with his body. He never cast any active magic to get into that state, like he had for this scrying trip. He told himself it was just a gathering storm, common in early winter. Everyone would wake in the morning to rain. And he moved on. Still, he couldn’t keep himself from glancing out every time he passed a window. It nagged at him. He went to the opposite side of the palace and looked out. The clouds were on the horizon there too, only a bit closer. That was a bad sign. There was one way to know for certain. He went to the highest point, a tower near the center where the nation’s crimson and gold banner flew every day, and was respectfully furled every night. There, he could see all around. The roiling smoke rising up out of the void encircled the entire horizon. And it was creeping in. Terror punched through him. He couldn’t hear any screaming or pleading. Yet. It was too far away. But he remembered it all too well. He had slipped out of his body the first time he used magic. And he hadn’t been able to get back. Kendra had picked him up, weeping, and dragged him back to the village. She was so little at the time, she hadn’t even been able to make the trip without stopping several times. He had watched, helpless, scrabbling and clawing, screaming and sobbing. No matter how hard he fought, that smoke grabbed him and pulled him in, kept him from regaining his body. Until Magician Letz had come. He had walked into the room where Jerryck’s little body lay. He lay down. His magic flared. His body had gone as limp as Jerryck’s when he had stood up outside of it. He stretched out, with a thick rope of silver trailing from him to his body. Grabbing hold of Jerryck, he had pulled him back, thrust him into his body. And the void had disappeared from perception. It still lurked. It was still there. Every time Jerryck projected. And all those years, he had thought projecting was scrying. So every time he had seriously tried to scry, terror had gripped him, dread at experiencing that void again. And he translocated instead, if he didn’t drink a potion that forced himself to project. He had only been trying to scry the bottom room of the tower. He should have stayed there rather than taking the time to traverse the palace. Or he should have gone and checked his body. If it was limp instead of rigid, he would have known immediately that he was projecting. That was the only place he should have gone. Or just not left the bottom room. That was it. He should never have left there. In fact, he should go there immediately as the first step to reconnecting with his body. He felt a wrenching jerk, landing him back in bottom of the tower. The familiar magic drain of an accident washed over him, and the weight of his body dragged at him. Translocation. So much for scrying. He dragged himself back up the stairs, stopping several times to catch his breath. After that, he avoided Sakila’s lessons. Claiming he had to spend more time working out the alert system, he turned his back to Sakila while she taught the children to scry. “There are other ways for you to experience this,” Sakila said. “Or I could just not do it and focus on my job,” Jerryck refused. She tried again anyway. “I will do all the work. Then you could just see.” That was tempting. Still, he really did need to work on the alerts. That wasn’t just an excuse. So he continued studying and planning those instead of letting her show him other methods.