Anticipation crackled in the air. His expectations were so high that it tingled upon his skin like magic.
Or, at least, the way Timothy Cade imagined that magic would feel. Yet in this world where everything and everyone was connected by magic, Timothy was a blank space. Magic could not touch him, and he could not wield it. He was uniquely alone, cut off in a way that no one else could ever understand, and so he had to create his own kind of magic.
That was the source of his excitement today. He felt jittery, and his stomach fluttered, and he felt a prickling all over his face and hands and the back of his neck, and wondered if this was what it felt like to be in tune with the magical current that ran through the world. In his heart he suspected that even this wonderful feeling could not compare with the sensation of magic that would always be denied him.
But even so, he could not erase the grin on his face. If this was all the magic he would ever have in his life, Timothy would still consider himself lucky. It would do. It would most certainly do.
On that crisp, cool morning, Timothy and several of his friends had gathered in an open, grassy knoll behind the servants’ entrance to SkyHaven’s kitchen. SkyHaven was a magnificent estate, an island fortress that floated hundreds of feet above the ocean, just a short distance from the shores of Arcanum. High above the water, the wind could blow quite cold, and so the boy raised the collar of his tunic and renewed his focus upon the task at hand. His friends had come to see him test his latest invention.
Timothy called it the Burrower, and he had built it to drill into the earth. The original design had occurred to him in a dream, back in the time when he had lived on the Island of Patience. He had woken and quickly sketched out a rough design, thinking that if he could only get the parts together, it would allow him to build an underground workshop that would be a safer refuge when the tropical storms swept across the island in the spring.
Now, that dream had gone from rough sketch to reality. Or, almost. The vehicle he stood before now was the prototype for a much larger digging machine that he would build if this version proved successful. It was a boxy-looking thing, about the size of a sky carriage, with a studded, conical nose that would twist to tear into the ground and funnel the disturbed soil toward the back of the Burrower. It had one
seat behind a thick shield of metal to protect the driver from flying debris as the cone spun, digging into the earth. There was a small window at the center of the metal shield so that the driver could monitor the progress of the dig. The window was made of a transparent and quite durable material called vitreous that he concocted by mixing together the gummy saps of two of the land’s most prevalent plants. The vitreous would not shatter. The Burrower’s power source was located behind the seat, a steam engine also of Timothy’s design, and powered by the burning of the heatstone Vulcanite. The entire craft rested on a six-wheeled chassis.
Timothy walked around the Burrower and made yet another final inspection, feeling the expectant eyes of his audience upon him. He had been readying the craft for its trial run for nearly an hour.
“Are we going to do this today, or should we come back later this week?” a grating voice squawked, and Timothy turned to glare at Edgar. The black-feathered bird was his familiar—his animal companion—as well as his friend.
“Caw! Caw!” Edgar squawked, waiting for Timothy to speak. Taunting him in the way the rook always did. Timothy smiled. The bird could always get a smile out of him.
Three of Timothy’s other friends were also there for the test run of the Burrower. Edgar flew in a circle and came to a fluttering stop on the shoulder of Sheridan, a steam-powered mechanical man Timothy had built while growing up on the island. His other companion during those years
had been his mentor and teacher, Ivar, the last surviving warrior of the Asura tribe. Last but not least, there was Verlis, a new arrival to Timothy’s company of odd comrades. Verlis was a Wurm, a race descended from the Dragons of Old, and his presence in the world of Terra was the subject of much debate. But for the moment, not one of his friends was focused on anything other than the success or failure of his latest endeavor. Their attention was making him nervous. Timothy could tell by their expressions that they shared Edgar’s impatience.
“You know how I am about testing my inventions,” he said. “I have to be absolutely certain that everything will function properly before I give it a try.”
“Oh, we know. We’re just getting bored waiting for you to start her up,” Edgar squawked, feathers ruffling.
A blast of steam erupted from a valve at the side of Sheridan’s head, and the mechanical man reached up to take a swipe at Edgar. The bird’s talons clicked and clacked upon the metal as he evaded Sheridan’s attempts to silence him.
“Keep quiet, you!” Sheridan scolded. “Timothy can take as long as he likes. ‘Better safe than sorry,’ that’s what I always say.”
Over the years Sheridan had become so much more than one of Timothy’s inventions. As far as the boy was concerned, he was as much flesh and blood as any of his other companions, even though made of metal and powered by steam.
“Thanks, Sheridan,” Timothy called. “It’s nice to know that somebody understands.”
Edgar flapped his wings, taking to the air, flying in a circle around the gathering. “You’ve been over the thing ten times already,” the bird complained. “It’s time to give it a go.”
Timothy looked back to the Burrower and thought of all the things he’d like to check one more time, just to be safe.
“My friend,” came a rough, deep voice. The boy turned to see Verlis unfurling his large, leathery wings. “The bird is correct. There is still much to be done to prepare for the expedition to Tora’nah,” the Wurm reminded him. “I mean no disrespect, but time is of the essence.”
Timothy nodded. It was true enough, but he was still reluctant to go ahead until he was absolutely certain he had done everything possible to ensure a safe trial of the Burrower. He did not want to waste his friends’ time, but he had to be sure. Too much depended on the success of this latest invention. For the first time since he had come to live in this world, the Parliament of Mages—the ruling body of Terra—had asked for his help. Many of them were still suspicious of him because he had no magic. They called him the Un-Magician . . . and many other things, far less kind. Abomination. Freak. And worse. But now the Parliament had asked him to help them prepare to defend all of Terra against the threat of an impending invasion. The Wurm had been banished years ago to an alternate dimension, and now, led by a cruel, vengeful commander called Raptus, they intended to return to Terra and make war.
With the safety of every man, woman, and child hanging in the balance, Timothy could not say no, regardless of how he felt about Parliament. He needed the Burrower to work properly. He didn’t want to fail the Parliament. He didn’t want to fail this world.
Frustrated by Edgar’s attitude, he turned his back on his friends and continued his examination of the craft. There could be no room for error. Timothy concentrated on the Burrower’s engine, flipping open the door to the compartment that contained the craft’s power source. The Vulcanite rocks glowed white-hot, heating the large, metal container of water that would create the steam necessary to fuel the Burrower.
“Timothy?” said a soft voice, like the whispering of the wind, very close by his ear. He jumped, startled. He hadn’t heard Ivar’s approach, but that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The last of the Asura was the stealthiest being Timothy had ever encountered. It was natural for him to move about unheard.
“Is there something wrong with the machine?” The Asura leaned closer, looking for signs of trouble.
So far, Timothy had found nothing out of order. “No. But you can never be too careful with these things.”
“Then you expect to find something wrong?” Ivar asked, eyeing the Burrower calmly before turning his gaze upon the boy.
Timothy shook his head. “No, but it’s just that . . . this has to work right. There is too much at stake for it to fail.”
“And if there is nothing wrong,” Ivar said, cocking his head and raising an eyebrow, “it will work.”
The boy took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. He stared at the beautiful black patterns that shifted and moved across the surface of Ivar’s flesh. They were tribal markings of a people who no longer existed. The Asura could control the pigment of their skin so that they could change their color to blend in with almost any environment, becoming nearly invisible. But at rest, those tribal markings were always there. Something about them had always calmed the boy.
“But what if it doesn’t work?” Timothy asked quietly.
The Asura shrugged. “Then we will fix it so it does.” He bowed his head slightly to indicate that he had spoken his mind and that, for now, the conversation was done. Ivar turned to walk back to join the others who had gathered to watch.
“Thank you,” Timothy called after him. Ivar had always tried to instill in him a sense of confidence. As is our confidence, so is our ability, he had said on more than one occasion. Timothy marveled at the simplicity of the thought. The Asura had always been able to see things with such clarity.
Ivar stood with the others, crossing his arms over his barrel chest, waiting patiently.
And deep down, Timothy knew. It was time.
“Sorry for the delay,” Timothy apologized. “Let’s see if this thing does what it’s supposed to.”
Timothy pulled himself up into the seat of the Burrower.
A pair of protective goggles dangled from one of the machine’s operating mechanisms. He grabbed them up and pulled them on over his eyes. He looked toward his gathering of friends and again felt anticipation crackling in the air. He thought of all the things he would have liked to check one final time, but quickly pushed them from his mind. The time was now, and there would be no turning back.
His hands went to the first of the valves, and he turned it as far as it would go. A hiss like that of a gigantic serpent filled the air. The craft shuddered slightly as the steam that had been building up in a storage tank was released into the main body of the Burrower through a series of pipes. Timothy turned the next knob ever so slightly, and a smile blossomed across his face as the conical-shaped drill at the front of the craft slowly began to turn, with each full rotation growing faster and faster still.
Quickly he pressed his foot on a thick pedal and began to pump it. The rear of the Burrower began to gradually rise as the front of the craft angled toward the ground. As he released the brake, the craft slid forward.
Timothy held his breath as the furiously rotating drill touched the grass, cutting through it with ease and then into the dirt and rock beneath. He pumped the pedal further, and the machine’s back end continued to lift. The drill spun faster, emitting a high-pitched whine, digging deeper and deeper into the ground, creating the beginnings of a tunnel. The Burrower was working exactly as Timothy had planned.
* * *
Cassandra Nicodemus removed the cover on the old chest and stared down at the rolled pieces of parchment stored within. A musty smell wafted up from within the box, and for a moment she thought that she might sneeze. Suppressing the need, she went about her task. She had an important job to do this morning that required her full concentration, but try as she might, she could not stop thinking about Timothy Cade.
A flush of warmth flowed into her cheeks. She didn’t know why, but she found everything about him strangely fascinating, most especially that excited twinkle in his eyes when he talked about the fabulous inventions he intended to build.
Cassandra moved her hand over the top layer of scrolls in the old box, muttering the words of a magical incantation. The rolled parchments on the top slowly rose and began to unroll to reveal what was written on them. And again she found herself thinking of Timothy.
He was unable to perform even the simplest acts of magic. How different everything must be for him, Cassandra thought as the contents of the scrolls were exposed to her. She could barely focus on the information they revealed, lost in her thoughts about the boy and how much he had changed the world since his arrival.
“Have you found anything yet?”
Startled from her daydreams, Cassandra turned toward the large, bearded mage who sat behind the desk on the
other side of the office. Leander Maddox was surrounded by ancient writings, from the oldest parchment scrolls to more recent texts. He was the one who had found Timothy, hidden away in a pocket world by his father, the great magician, Argus Cade, and had brought him into this world upon the mage’s death.
There was an unusual edge of impatience in Leander’s voice today.
“Not yet,” she told him, attempting to clear her mind so that she could focus on the documents floating in the air before her. But there was so much to think about.
Leander was the current Grandmaster of the Order of Alhazred, the guild of mages to which the Cade and Nicodemus families had always belonged. Cassandra could not help but wonder how the burly mage felt about the changes that had come since he had brought Timothy into this world where the boy was an oddity.
It had been Timothy who had revealed the insidious plot of the former Grandmaster—her own grandfather—to try to take control of the entire Parliament of Mages, to rule all of the various Orders. Cassandra felt a pang of sadness as she recalled the death of her grandfather during a battle with Timothy, and the resultant chaos that followed in the Parliament of Mages.
So much had occurred in so little time.
She thought about the coming of the Wurm, Verlis. This was seen by many as yet another threat, but in fact, the
descendant of the Dragons of Old had come seeking help against a much larger evil, an evil that now threatened to spill into her life—into her world. Long before she and Timothy had been born, the Wurm had existed peacefully on Terra alongside mages. But in time there had been conflict, and the Wurm had been driven from the world and forcibly relocated in a parallel dimension named Draconae.
Now, on Draconae, their leader, Raptus, was planning to breach the barrier that separated the dimensions. According to Verlis, Raptus sought revenge upon the world of mages and planned to take control of Terra and destroy the Parliament entirely. The mages had been manipulated in those dark days by Alhazred, founder of Cassandra’s own Order, and thus Parliament had betrayed the Wurm. Raptus and his followers would not rest until they had their vengeance.
With a sigh, she at last focused upon the documents floating in the air. She and Leander had been charged by Parliament with the task of studying the ancient scrolls, searching for anything that might help in their defense against the impending Wurm attack. Cassandra found nothing of use on four of the scrolls, allowing them to roll closed again and drop to the floor. It was something on the fifth that caught her eye.
“Leander,” she said, reaching up to pluck the scroll from the air before her. “I think I may have found something of interest.”
The Grandmaster looked up from his own work, his eyes
red and his face haggard with exhaustion. Cassandra knew the job was a taxing one, but had never really stopped to think about the toll that leading an entire guild might exact upon a grandmaster. Though it was something she would have to seriously consider, if she ever planned to assume the mantle of Grandmaster to the Order of Alhazred. For, as granddaughter of Aloysius Nicodemus, the previous leader of the guild, the post was hers as soon as she felt ready to take it upon herself.
“What is it?” he asked, rising from his chair.
She brought the scroll to him. “It’s nothing specific, but in this correspondence between two guild craftsmen, there is some talk about what I presume is the original mining operation near the original Wurm settlement at Tora’nah.”
Leander snatched the document from her hand. “Give that to me,” he hissed, and she was taken aback by his abruptness. She had noticed some subtle changes in the Grandmaster of late, and was worried that the pressures of the position may have had an unpleasant effect on the normally unflappable gentleman.
“Yes,” he said, scanning the ancient writing. “Yes, this may indeed prove very useful to us on our journey.”
Leander, along with Timothy and Verlis and some specially chosen representatives of Parliament, were planning an expedition to the former home of the Wurm race to check on the stability of the magical barrier between Terra and Draconae. In addition, they were to oversee a new mining operation there and begin formulating plans to defend
against invasion if the Wurm were indeed able to breach the barrier.
“The writer of the scroll talks about the creation of a map designating the areas of the Wurm territories richest in natural resources,” the Grandmaster said, and looked at her intensely. “We must find this map at once. It could save us weeks of surveying the land, allowing us to begin digging for Malleum almost immediately.”
“Do you have any suggestions where I should begin my search for the map?” Cassandra asked, returning to the chest where she had found the scroll. “Perhaps it’s still in here?” she suggested, kneeling down to begin her search anew.
She heard the rush of air and glanced toward the Grandmaster to see him in the midst of conjuring. The spell struck the wooden chest and Cassandra jumped back, watching in amazement as the remaining contents of the box flew into the air, unrolling in unison.
Leander moved out from behind his desk, his robes of scarlet and black billowing around him as he studied each of the many floating documents. One by one, as they proved not to be the map he sought, they fluttered to the floor, discarded.
“There is no time,” he muttered beneath his breath as he walked among the scrolls. “The fate of all we’ve known hangs in the balance.”
Leander stiffened and reached out for one of the floating pieces of parchment. “This is it,” he said, turning to her excitedly, and the remaining scrolls fell to the ground. He
held the parchment out before him. “Crude, but useful nonetheless.”
And then the Grandmaster started to laugh, an eerie sound the likes of which she had never heard from him before, and hoped never to hear again.
“Master Maddox?” she said.
He looked away from his prize to glare at her, and for a frightening moment she did not recognize him. Then his features relaxed, and the older gentleman she had come to admire and respect had returned.
“Yes, child?” he answered in a voice that seemed much too weak for a man of his usual vigor.
“Are you . . . are you unwell?”
Leander slowly rolled the scroll. “I’m quite all right,” he told her, forcing a sad smile upon his wan features. “Just a little bit tired. There’s no need for concern, my dear.”
Yet as she watched him make his way slowly back to his desk, clutching the map to his chest, she wished that she could believe him. For as long as she had known the mage, Cassandra had found him tireless in his exuberance. In fact, she imagined that when the time came for the position of Grandmaster to be passed to her, Leander would be the example upon which she would model her own authority. But something was amiss.
He slid the last of the scrolls into a leather satchel with other documents they had found over the last three days, a spell of closure keeping the contents sealed tightly away. “I think we’re just about ready to go.”
She watched him carefully, searching for any clue as to
what might be troubling him, but all she could detect was weariness. Perhaps the Grandmaster really was just exhausted, his nerves frayed by the demands of his post.
Leander glanced at the large timepiece on the wall and then back at her. “Cassandra, please go tell Timothy that it is time.” He gathered up his things. “I shall await him with the other members of the expedition at the main entrance.”
She bowed her head and left his study. Cassandra thought she had heard Timothy mention something about testing his new invention in one of the open areas at the back of the estate, so she headed in that direction. She bustled along the seemingly endless corridors, hiking up the hem of her emerald green dress so as not to trip as she descended staircase after staircase. To the uninitiated, SkyHaven would be like a maze, but she had made a study of the place upon her arrival following the tragic death of her parents. She doubted that there was any place left in the floating manor that she had yet to see.
Cassandra descended a set of marble stairs that would take her to the back of the estate through the kitchen. When she entered the room she was a bit surprised that the staff was not hard at work preparing the afternoon meal. Instead, she found them all clustered at the back door, watching with rapt attention some display outside. There was a loud clamor from outside the building, accompanied by a high-pitched whine.
She made her way toward the gathering, nobody taking notice of her approach, and stood on tiptoe to see over the
heads of the servants and cooks. Cassandra laughed softly to herself. Timothy Cade, I should have known, she thought, watching the boy astride a strange contraption that was digging into the earth, tossing dirt here and there.
Cassandra cleared her throat once, and then a second time, louder. The staff of SkyHaven’s kitchen gradually reacted, reluctantly returning to their jobs, fearful that they would be scolded. She didn’t blame them for their fascination. After all, how often did people see a boy riding a machine that could burrow down into the earth? Not every day. Never, in fact. Not until Timothy Cade had come into their lives. There was really no one like him in the world.
She stepped through the back door and strolled across the grass toward the gathering of Timothy’s friends, who now stood around the hole he had dug, marveling at his latest accomplishment. Cassandra hoped Timothy was smart enough to know when to stop the machine. SkyHaven was a floating island, and if he dug too deeply he could find himself breaking through the bottom and falling into the ocean below. What a sight that would be, she thought, and had to stifle a giggle.
“Does he know when to stop?” she asked aloud, cupping her hands over her mouth and raising her voice to be heard over the sound of the digging machine.
Verlis glanced at Ivar, and the Asura then looked at Sheridan.
Edgar, who was perched upon the mechanical man’s shoulder, flew into the air and landed on her waiting arm.
“Are you serious?” the rook asked, speaking loudly. “After everything he’s done, you still have to ask that question?” The bird shook his head in disgust.
“I meant no disrespect. I just want to be sure he’s careful.”
Edgar ruffled his feathers indignantly. “The kid’s a genius. Of course he knows not to go too far.”
And as if on cue, the engine of the digging machine cut out and the sound of another, far quieter, device kicked in. Cassandra leaned forward and gazed into the hole to see that the machine was now ascending. The new sound was that of its wheels slowly turning, backing the craft up and bringing it to the surface.
“See,” Edgar said to her. “Nothing to worry about. He knew just when to stop.”
The digging machine backed out of the hole and up onto the grass. Timothy busied himself turning knobs and switching levers to shut down his invention’s power source.
“Good thing I remembered to stop,” Timothy said, removing the goggles from his eyes and jumping down from the craft to the ground. “I was so excited that it was working, I almost kept going.”
Cassandra arched an eyebrow and smirked, glancing at Edgar, who quickly looked away, flying from his perch on her arm to the top of the boy’s head.
“Good job, kid,” the rook cawed. “The Burrower worked like a charm, just like I knew it would.”
“Thanks, Edgar,” the boy said, beaming.
Verlis approached the machine, resting a claw upon its
metal surface. “Fascinating,” he growled. And he then looked toward the boy. “As are you, Timothy Cade, as are you.” He then walked to the tunnel dug into the ground and peered down into the darkness.
Ivar and Sheridan went to congratulate Timothy next, but Cassandra hung back, not sure that Timothy had even noticed she was there. The breeze whipped her red hair across her face and she pushed it away from her eyes, trying unsuccessfully to tame it.
“Did you see?” he asked, striding toward her with a grin on his face. “It worked just as I’d hoped.”
Cassandra smiled in return. “It’s incredible.” She wanted to say more but was having difficulty finding the right words with Timothy so close and smiling at her like that.
What’s happening to me? she pondered, on the verge of panic.
Their eyes locked for a moment, and then Timothy quickly looked away, scratching the back of his head nervously. He turned his focus back to the Burrower. “Can’t wait to tell Leander it worked,” he said, reminding her why she had come to find him.
“Oh, right,” Cassandra said, her hand quickly going to her mouth. “With all the excitement, I almost forgot. They’re ready to leave now. The expedition to Tora’nah . . . they’re waiting for you.”