Nita’s cousin left after a week. Sakila stayed, continuing to teach. Some evenings, Tajor would come up the tower and bully Jerryck to go through some of the exercises he learned from the shamaness, until he started doing them every evening on his own. Then Tajor just sat and talked with Sakila in her own language while Jerryck practiced. The evenings he didn’t come up, Kendra and Leanne skipped the evening dancing, and held lengthy conversations with her in the bedroom. Whatever they always talked about, it made them laugh and giggle a lot. Every morning, Jerryck hurried through as many of his palace duties as he could get to. Any spare moments when Sakila wasn’t teaching, he spent on researching how to set up an alert for portal openings. It wasn’t enough. He barely started narrowing down his options a couple of weeks after Nita’s cousin left. That afternoon, Sakila’s scrying trip to her tribe started like normal. Both the children followed her with ease, seeing everything she saw. Jerryck sometimes could catch a glimpse or two, now and then. He still wasn’t sure if it was actually scrying or just his imagination. Until he caught a flash of someone with a broken leg and Sakila gasped. Both the children startled out of their usual, stiff posture, and the scrying trip ended. “I have to go home now,” Sakila said. “How are you going to do that?” Zev asked. “All the passes are filled with snow.” Sakila smiled at him. “I will go with magic.” Zev looked confused. “Didn’t you say you can’t open portals?” Jerryck took a breath to say he would do it. She spoke first. “Before I came, I talked with the shaman from the tribe that neighbors mine. He is good at travel magic. He will get me there.” “Do you need anything to help you contact him?” Jerryck asked. “I need to go outside,” she said. “Someplace with trees is best. I need a stick from the part of the land I will use.” Jerryck turned away from his books and notes, giving her his full attention. “There’s the orchard. I’m not sure if you’ll find any sticks, though. The workers always go through and clean everything after their last harvest. Outside the palace wall, there’s Aconi Grove a few miles away. That’s more likely to have sticks lying around.” She stood from the stool she had been using. “That should work. Will you give me directions?” “I’ll do better than that,” Jerryck said. “I’ll take you.” He sent Zev running ahead to the stables to get horses ready. He must have assumed he was accompanying, because when Jerryck and Sakila arrived, three of them were saddled and waiting. Instead of arguing the matter, Jerryck shrugged it off. It might be good for Zev to see different uses for magic anyway. They rode quickly, and arrived at the poet’s bench on the shore of Aconi Pond before half the afternoon had passed. Their breath fogged in the chilly air as the three of them hunted around for a stick beneath the pines. After a few minutes, Zev found a small branch that Sakila said would work for her. Since it was short, she sat cross-legged, holding it with both hands. She stabbed one end into the ground, and swayed back and forth, chanting. The hair on Jerryck’s arms stood up. His fingers tingled with the gathering power. It flowed up from the ground, drawn through the focus of the stick. He backed himself and his nephew out of the circumference of the building magic. A translucent image took shape around Sakila. It looked like the inside of a small log cabin. The center of focus was a circle of stones laid out in one corner. The shamaness ceased chanting, replacing it with monotonous humming. The magic stopped flowing, and went into a form of stasis. Almost half an hour went by with her holding that stasis. Finally, another man came and sat down in the image circle of rocks. He put a wooden staff to the ground, also humming. The magic picked up on his end, and connected. Then he and the shamaness looked each other in the eyes, and conversed. If only Jerryck understood their language. The man looked and sounded apologetic. Sakila looked and sounded unhappy. She nodded in acceptance. They both spoke a few more words, then they both tapped the ground with their staffs, and the magic dissipated back down into the earth. Sakila stood and brushed yourself off. “One of the babies in his tribe is ill. He spent all last night and this morning treating her. He will rest now. He should be able to perform the magic to get me to my tribe by tomorrow.” “Your patient is hurting now,” Jerryck said. “The longer time goes by before that bone is set, the more difficult a time he’ll have healing properly. You need to get there now.” “There is nothing more he can do.” Sakila dropped the branch into a nearby pile of fallen leaves. “I’ll open you a portal,” Jerryck said. “We’ll need to go back to the palace, though. I’ll have to drink that nasty potion so I can see where you want the other end opened.” “Who am I to you?” she asked. “You owe me nothing. You have done no wrong that needs paid for. We have no blood ties. I am not your chosen sister. We have no family ties at all. Why do you offer me and my tribe so many gifts?” “What gifts?” Jerryck cocked his head at her. “Someone is hurt. They need your help.” “If she wants it to be an exchange of some sort—” Zev said— “why not tell her it’s because she helped us learn how to scry?” Sakila shook her head. “I did not help your uncle much.” “You helped me and my sister,” Zev said. “We shamans have sworn to help all girls who can do magic.” Sakila looked at Jerryck again. “Your uncle owes me nothing for that.” “What does owing something or family ties have to do with helping someone who needs it?” Jerryck crossed his arms. “You’re needed. Now. I can get you there. That’s the end of it.” She put a hand on his arm. “Then at least let me help you with the scrying.” He nodded tersely. She retrieved the short branch from where she had dropped it. She sat cross-legged exactly where she had before, then pointed to the spot where the translucent image of the man had sat. “Sit there.” He plopped down on the cold ground. Zev drew close, fidgeting with excitement. Jerryck tried not to fidget, despite the cold, even when his skin started prickling with the gathering magic. This time, when the magic had built to the point when she had started humming, instead she told Jerryck, “Take hold of the staff.” He grasped it with one hand. The magic latched onto him. She chanted, droning on until it turned into a ringing buzz through his head. Images flashed through his mind, completely overpowering his physical vision. He saw white peaks of the mountains. Groves of aspens, naked of their leaves. Meadows with ice-rimmed creeks. Slopes covered with pines. Drifts of piled snow. Deer. Sagebrush. Clouds. Then the images settled on a clearing at the end of a narrow valley. Off in the distance, less than a mile away, stood the lodges of a winter encampment. Smoke rose from the cooking fires. People moved about their business wearing leathers and wrapped in furs. Weapons and blades adorned them like jewelry. There were a few familiar faces from some of Sakila’s prior scrying trips. Then she jerked at Jerryck, taking his attention back to the clearing at the end of the valley. The images faded. Jerryck blinked a few times, bringing his eyes back into focus. “Wow, that was… I don’t even know how to describe that. It was…” “It was scrying.” Sakila dropped the branch back down into the leaves. “Can you put your portal in the clearing at the end of that valley?” Yes,” Jerryck said. He made shooing gestures with his hands at Sakila and Zev. “I’ll need you both to step away. Give me room to work.” Zev grinned and bounced over to where they left the horses. “Is this far enough?” “Take the horses all the way to the pond.” Jerryck pointed at the stone bench on the banks. “Otherwise, the portal might spook them.” Normally, he would have to gather up energy for this spell. This time, Sakila opened and maintained some sort of connection between the two of them. Energy flowed from her to him. He focused on the two locations. He put up a shield at both places to contain the wild energies of the spell, until he could get them under control enough to make them safe. Then he spoke the words that initiated the portal itself. A tiny pinprick of energy passed through the two spots, bridging the distance, binding them into one location. A dot of energy appeared in the center of the bubble-shaped shield. Jerryck pulled, stretching the size of the portal. The deep purple colored spot spiraled outward, expanding through all the colors of the rainbow to a sharp edge of fiery red. Spears of flame shot out of it, beating against the inside of the shield. Jerryck snatched hold of them, repurposing the energy back into the portal. With that, it was mostly a matter of patience. One by one, he snagged the strands and wove them back in, calming, stabilizing. Eventually, it settled. He cautiously lowered the shield. It held stable. The spell taking its toll on him, he turned to Sakila. “It’s ready. All you have to do is step through.” “I will repay you for this kindness,” she said. “You don’t have to.” “I will anyway.” She stepped through the opaque center of the portal. When she was clear, he spiraled it back down to a pinprick point. He drew in as much energy as he could from the other side and severed the connection. Then he also drew in the energy from his side of the portal as well, leaving very little residue. He struggled to his feet. Staggering a couple of steps closer to the horses, he stopped to lean against a tree. He was definitely going to continue the aura strengthening exercises on a regular basis. Every day. No skipping. He beckoned his nephew to bring the horses to him. He scaled one of them, and forced himself to sit in the saddle instead of just lying across the animal’s back as it carried him home.