Wynius awoke to the sounds of a skirmish. A pair of chattering squirrels was perched on a branch outside of the bedroom window, having a quarrel worthy of Oules and Igi. Anticipating another of Igi’s epic breakfasts, he strained to hear pots and pans clunking about in the kitchen. Odd, that the cabin was silent at this hour, he thought. It must be mid-morning judging from the angle of the sun. Perhaps they’d finally gone and killed one another during the night.
He yawned and stretched lazily, and rose, still in his clothing from the night before. He’d have to be back on the trail early if he was to arrive at home by sundown.
A perfunctory search of the cabin revealed no Oules, and no Igi. The day was dawning perfect strange and an odd feeling crept up his spine. Finally, he made for the kitchen where at least he might find a morsel or two before he went on his way.
Rather than the Gods-awful mess one usually found after one of Igi’s cooking sprees; flour covering the table and floor, eggs splattered hither and thither, and the rich smell of strong coffee on the stove, he found nearly nothing. The kitchen was spotless, save for half a pot of cold tea, a single mug and a stale crumpet laid out on the table. Not even a pat of sweet, creamy butter for the crumpet or a hunk of cheese to go with it!
“Harumphff!” he scoffed. He’d come all this ways and now he had to return the length of it; the least they could’ve done was to leave him a proper breakfast. Meanwhile, they were probably off fishing in the creek behind the cabin, enjoying the morning while he starved half to death! Ah, well...nothing for it, but to go ahead and eat what he had.
And then he spied the scroll, rolled up, sealed with wax, and placed neatly to the right of his crumpet.
“What now?” he asked to no one, “and the Gods go easy on us!”
Sitting down, he tore into the scroll to see what predicament the two of them might have gotten themselves into now. The letter read thusly:
My Dearest Wynius,
Igi and I will have gone ahead to Tealey Town to purchase supplies for our journey. My sincerest apologies for the meager breakfast ye find before you. We shall await yer arrival ere noon, and shall partake in a hearty lunch there.
Huh? Wynius wondered. Journey? They had spoken of no journey that he could recall. And how was he to make it to Tealey Town ere noon when it was a full day’s walk from here?
Use the Dimagnetic Protonic Destabilization device in my laboratory, the letter went on, as if Oules had been reading his mind, as we cannot wait out the day for ye.
“Good Heavens!” Wynius cried. “Not that God-awful contraption!”
Now, all wizards are men of science and learning and Oules was no different. Though he excelled at a multitude of philosophies, and was most especially adept at Alchemy, he loved to dabble in Physics. This was not to say that he was good at Physics, thank you very much, just that it was his favorite. Wynius, himself, mistrusted the natural laws that Oules swore by, and was instead a man of Mathematics. In the world of numbers, he instinctively saw patterns that made sense; patterns that were visible to the naked eye and ever-present. The workings of Oules’ lab remained a mystery to him.
And of all the strange objects and experiments that might be going on in Oules’ laboratory at any given moment, the Dimagnetic Protonic Destabilization device had to have been the most bizarre. Oules had invented the thing and had spent years and years trying to perfect it. But to Wynius’ mind, the science of Physics was woefully incomplete and the contraption seemed out to prove that very fact by being inherently full of bugs.
He remembered the day that Oules sent the pig through; the reasoning being that the anatomy and physiology of the pig was as near to that of a human as could be had. Wynius had made the long walk the day before in order that he might be on the other end to receive it. Oules kept another house, with an adjacent laboratory, in Tealey Town, where he often went to get some peace from Igi’s constant banter. In this laboratory, the twin to the Dimagnetic Protonic Destabilization device sat waiting.
The Dimagnetic Protonic Restabilization device bore a greater resemblance to a torture chamber than any machine Wynius had ever seen. Covered in dust, it was wired from end to end, with an odd assortment of handmade batteries and gears churning, copper tubing spiraling in and around glass beakers filled with strange, glowing liquids. And upon activation, it made a high-pitched whirring noise that not only hurt Wynius’ ears, but left him with a headache of epic proportions.
As he sat, watching the contraption and waiting for the hour of noon, (the appointed time for the sending of the pig) he doubted the thing would come through. In fact, he hoped it would not. Let this thing fail and let Oules move on to a more sensible use of his time. Pigs were best left for Sunday dinner anyway.
But come through it did. At precisely twelve o’clock and thirty five seconds, the pig arrived squealing with terror, and landed with a thud on the table inside of the chamber. It had immediately leaped off the table, and hit the ground running. And though Wynius had never seen that particular pig again, he did notice on the way out that its ears had been reassembled in a backwards position at the very least.
At the time, he had laughed at Oules’ failure, but now, thinking about putting his body in the machine left him badly frightened. While the invention might be a very good thing when used in the preparation of a roast, he highly doubted its ability as a means of human travel.
“Not going to do it,” he said to himself, returning to the letter. And again, as if Oules had been reading his mind, the letter exhorted him.
And do leave aside yer concerns about the machine. I have repaired it. Igi and I went through it ourselves this morning and have arrived safely and in one piece! That is to say; the two of us arrived each in our own piece, and not in a unified mass, as I suspect ye are now thinking.
“Curse him! How does he do that?” Wynius cried. The fact that Oules knew Wynius well enough to anticipate his every reaction was mind-boggling, not to mention that he had no proof at all of the verity of the statement itself since they were not here in person to show him.
I will make an excuse, he reasoned, I will say that I did not find the note and so return home safe and sound and go about my business as though I had never seen the dratted thing.
And don’t try to pretend that you have never seen this scroll, the letter went on, for as I am well aware that your first thoughts will be of your empty stomach, the placement of this document next to your breakfast was no accident. Do hurry! Time is of the essence!
Your friend in desperate need,
“Bugger it!” Wynius hollered in frustration, and stormed out of the kitchen into the sunny, front yard to sulk, knowing all the while that he’d return and do Oules’ bidding.
And indeed, within the hour, he found himself standing before the whirring, ticking, hulk of a construct, preparing to step inside.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, as he gingerly put one toe forward.
The machine burst into life and he was instantly sucked into the vacuum inside. It felt to Wynius as though each of his molecules was ripped apart and the whole of them thrust into space at hyper-speed.
“Gah!” he screamed, as he watched millions of brightly-colored particles, each no smaller than his own now, race by in either direction. Closing his eyes against the vision, his stomach gurgled and rolled and he silently thanked the good Gods that he hadn’t eaten the crumpet.
And that was really all he had time for before his body slammed into the chamber at the other end. His first thought was of the pig and as his hands flew to his ears, he heard sniggers coming from the space around him.
“Wynius,” Oules said a bit too casually. “You have arrived at long last!”
Opening his eyes, he saw Oules perched in an over-stuffed chair directly in front of him. One leg crossed over the other, his head resting on a clenched hand, he’d obviously been sitting there waiting. Igi stood in the doorway of the laboratory, a wicked grin plastered on her face.
“Arrived he has, my Love, and better late than never, but will his trousers be along soon, as well?”
Instantly, and not before, Wynius felt the chill on his bare legs. Horrified, he let his hands fly into what he hoped were strategic positions as his eyes searched frantically for cover.
Fortunately, (or not) there was one window in the laboratory. Wynius darted behind the curtain as quickly as he might, and stood peeking out at the wizard and his woman, with something akin to complete and utter humiliation.
“I hate the two of ye,” he mumbled through reddened cheeks.
“And how do you feel about my good neighbors?” asked Oules, bringing home the point that Wynius’ bare behind was now pressed against the clear glass and open to the outside world.
“Gah!” he screamed, not for the first time that day, and tore the curtain clean off the wall, spinning round and wrapping himself tightly in it. “I hate ye!”
And in one of those rare moments that Oules and Igi saw anything eye to eye, the two laughed until they cried.
Later on, and after the missing trousers had been located high on a branch, in the old Oak outside, the three sat round a table piled high with hearty fare. There was homemade vegetable soup, made rich with a creamy beef broth. There were warm, buttery biscuits, and roasted pork, beans baked in brown sugar, and pan-fried squash. There was a full gallon of fresh, cold milk to chase it down. And for dessert, there were cinnamon-spiced apples baked into a tender, crusty pastry, with clotted cream for a topping. And there was coffee, strong, black, coffee laced with sugar until it was thick with goodness; all of which helped to soften Wynius’ foul mood. He ate till he could eat no more, and was just getting ready to suggest a leisurely, afternoon nap, when Oules cleared his throat in that ‘it’s-time-to-get-down-to-business’ manner that he had.
“Pack up as much of this food as the horses can carry, Igi. We leave within the hour.”
“But where are ye off to?” Wynius protested.
“We,” Oules corrected, “and of course we are off on our quest.”
“I remember no quest,” said Wynius. “We spoke of none last evening.”
“Of course, we did,” Oules replied. “We are off to find the thing! The thing I have been searching for these last days.”
“But of a journey?” Wynius asked. “We spoke of a journey?”
“Do ye not remember then, ye half-wit? It was yer idea, for the love of the good Gods!”
“It was?” Wynius asked, much confuzzled.
“It was ye, was it not,” said Oules, “who suggested that we retrace my steps? It’s East we must go; East and for the kingdom of Aelhaven, where last I ventured when I was away. In the East, I am certain we will find what I have been seeking.”
“But what is it, and if ye cannot remember that, then however will we find the thing?”
“I’ll know it when I see it,” Oules grumbled.
Wynius sighed in resignation. It was ever thus with Oules Skeldergate.