Chapter 17a

"Getting there is half the fun."

Aahz said nothing. I stared at Gus. After a moment, the gargoyle continued relentlessly.

"I've always thought you should have taught Skeeve how to do this a long time ago, Aahz, under controlled conditions. You now have two choices. Either I leave you and Skeeve behind here, and risk the tunnel, or we all hop out of here, together. Which is it going to be?"

I spoke before Aahz could reply.

"Aahz, I have to learn this. It's the only way."

Aahz again looked at the unpleasant hole in the floor. It leered back at him. He turned his yellow gaze in my direction. Finally, he spoke, his voice wearier than I had ever heard it before: "You have to promise me, no matter what, that you do not do this again after today, until we've had more time to practice."

"I promise."

His gaze was cool.

"Aahz.." I hesitated for a moment, then went down on one knee. "I absolutely promise I will not dimension hop after this one time, until we've had a chance to practice."

Aahz sighed, and seemed to shrivel up slightly.

"All right. All right. Get up. I believe you, Skeeve. You're not ready for this, I'm not ready for this, I don't think the universe is ready, but..." He broke off and clapped his hands together again, rubbed them purposefully. "First, are you charging up your 'battery'?"

I nodded, and he continued, carefully framing his words with his green hands. "OK. The actual... process... of dimension hopping isn't really all that hard. The hard part is controlled d-hopping, that is, getting where you want to go, instead of ending up in some unknown dimension."

"I think I understand. but... does it really matter, in this one case? I mean, anywhere would be better than here, wouldn't it?"

"Trust me on this, kid. There's always someplace worse you can be. I've seen, heard about, dimensions that... well, that's not important right now. What it boils down to is, for your first trip at least, it's vitally important that you shoot for a dimension you're familiar with. That's the one good thing about this situation; we actually have a dimension for you to aim for."


"No. For one thing, despite what I just said about warning the Deveels, we don't know what reception is waiting for us there. More importantly, even though you've lived there for a while now, you still don't know it well enough to be certain. It has to be Klah."

"Klah? OK, But..."


"Didn't you say.. back on Gezirah, that you can jump into unfamiliar dimensions? I mean, that's how you met Penbrius..."

"Kid, you have to walk before you can fly. Yes, of course there's a way to get to a dimension you've never been to before. But there's no way I'm teaching it to you today. Later. Much later. Get my drift?" Aahz’s voice was chilly, even in that room.

"Yes." I replied, weakly.

"Good. As I said, Klah. As an added bonus it's close by, as dimensions go. Let's aim for... erm... I know! That inn we owned for a while. I'd say Possiltum, but we've finally cut loose of that third-rate kingdom for good, and may as well not open up that particular can of worms again. It'll help that the inn is right on top of all of those force lines. OK.." He hesitated for a long moment, clearly searching for just the right words. "...What you need to do is create a map, in your mind, of Klah. Not an exact map or a complete one... just pick out some of the details you know. Possiltum. Twixt. That cruddy forest you and Garkin lived in. The inn. Any other place you're familiar with there. Try and put these on your 'map' in approximately the proper relationship to each other. Just leave the rest of it blank. Put the inn at the center of the map. You got it?"

"I think so.. Yes."

"What you are doing," Gus chipped in, suddenly, "is sort of creating a mental pentagram. If there was the right kind of physical pentagram at the other end, this would be a lot easier."

"Yeah. There are even some 'public' ones set up in the Bazaar on Deva, but the Deveels charge an arm, a leg and various internal organs for their use and Deva's out anyway. Gus, grab onto Skeeve. Kid, close your eyes. You need to concentrate." I did as I was told, and felt two sets of strong, firm, cold, hands grab onto to me on either side. "Now, this is the tricky part. Tap into your storage. You have to imagine that stored magik flowing out onto the map. See it wash over the map like water, surrounding each of your 'guideposts' with a little pool... and linking up... a straight line between posts.. Can you see it?"

I strained, and started to speak: "N... wait... I... yes! Hey, it's happening!" I could see the glowing pattern ooze out like a Deveel's smile and form in the darkness before me. "That was almost.. easy!"

"Yeah. Lethally easy." Aahz muttered, then continued more loudly: "That pattern you're seeing is a key. Now look beyond it, through it. You should see a series of doors... or things that look like doors."

"I see... yeah! They sort of look like glowing rectangles.." I stared at the shapes that were suddenly hovering before me in the darkness, somehow simultaniously serene and deeply ominous. The fact that they had always been lurking there, invisible, was disturbing.

"Good. Those are the dimensions that are reachable from Chirosovo. One of them is Klah. Start gently overlapping your key onto each doorway. One of them will fit. Don't try and force it! You'll know when you find the right one!"

I slid the key over the first doorway. The doorway's frame contorted around the key, resembling a snake-cat trying to swallow a pig that was a little too big for its throat. It failed, and snapped back into position. I moved the key on to the next one. And the next. And the next.

Then I hit a doorway that worked. It slotted neatly around the key, and both exploded in a redoubled glow of power.

"Got... it..." I realized vaguely I was sweating, even in the icy air...

"Good, kid. Reach out magikally, and pull that door towards you." Aahz's voice was as tense as mine.

"OK.. here it comes..."

"When it reaches you, let the rest of your stored magik pour into it! All at once!"

"And here we go." I cut loose the 'dam' holding back the magik, and the darkness flared up around me. Instead of the near-instantaneous hop I had experienced on previous trips, something grabbed me from the 'side', and pulled me slowly but violently into the washed-out darkness, stripping away Aahz and Gus' hands, and taking me a piece at a time...

I coughed and gasped, dropping to my hands and then my knees on some gritty surface. I retched violently, but nothing came up. After a long moment, it felt like my stomach, along with the rest of my insides, had finally consented to rejoin the rest of my body, and I took a couple of deep breaths. The world slowly stopped gyrating.

Then it hit me. Actually several things hit me. First, I realized the air around me was actually warm. Not icy cold, not boiling hot, but warm.

The second was an odd smell, followed by a equally odd noise. The smell was... salt?

The sound was...

I looked up sharply. A strange, endless blue field wavered before me, stretching clear out to the horizon. What kind of grass moved like that? It was so... fluid. Like...


I realized with a start that I must be looking out across the first ocean I had ever seen.

It was somehow smaller than I had pictured one being.

"Aahz! Gus!" I crowed. "We made it! I did it! I..." I trailed off and looked up and down the... beach...? Yes. Sand... rocks... waves breaking on the shoreline... this had to be a beach.

A small winged creature circled overhead and gave off a mournful cry. Other then it, I was totally alone.




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All Contents ©1999 Robert M. Cook