Chapter 8: A Bump in the Road
There was a long moment of silence as Annabelle worked through what Seppo said, what it meant.
“You’re the same?” she said slowly. “You mean you all have these impossibilities?”
One by one, they all nodded. Annabelle tried to stifle her curiosity and just managed to not ask the next question: “What are they?” If Charlie could conjure fire, what else was possible, she wondered. But she hesitated, thinking it might be too personal a thing to ask.
Instead, she asked the far more important question. “Why does the Enemy want impossibilities?”
Why do they want my sister? she thought to herself.
Charlie only shrugged and shook her head. “We don’t really know why.” She gave a heavy sigh. “We don’t really know much about the Enemy, to be honest.”
“She means that the Wizard won’t tell us,” said Percy. Annabelle could tell he was just managing to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “All we know is what we managed to find out on our own.”
“Which is almost nothing,” said Charlie ruefully. “Amelia knows more, but she won’t tell us much either. Jenny’s no help either.”
“Amelia? Jenny? Who are they?” Annabelle’s attention piqued at the mention of these new names.
“They also live at the White Tower,” said Percy.
“They’ve been with the Wizard longer than us,” said Charlie.
There seemed to be more at the White Tower than the four here. Annabelle wondered how many more people lived there and how big it was.
“It’s because the Wizard thinks we’re children,” said Percy.
“That’s… not entirely untrue,” said Charlie.
Annabelle could tell it was a sore subject for them, including the silent Seppo. Having no notion of the Wizard beyond what they told her, Annabelle didn’t know what to think.
Still, these feelings did not come out of nowhere. Even if they were based on assumptions, Annabelle could not help but think there was a grain of truth to them. This was worrying if Annabelle wanted the Wizard’s help in recovering her sister from the Enemy’s grasp. She would have to be very careful when dealing with the Wizard, she thought to herself.
Though she supposed she must be careful with anyone who was called “the Wizard.”
“How long do you think it will take to get to the White Tower?” Annabelle asked, feeling that more talk about the Enemy would be far too weighty.
Both Percy and Charlie’s heads turned to Seppo, who tapped a finger to his cheek.
“A few more days, I think,” he said. “We must travel through many more Doors.”
The others began to talk about the specific routes and which Doors they would need to navigate. Annabelle tried to listen and pay attention, but many nagging thoughts began to worry at her.
Was she doing the right thing, placing her hopes on a person she had never met? But what else was she to do? Her sister was within the grasp of someone who could shape reality to his own whim.
Annabelle could only rely on having the same power on her side in order rescue her sister. But would the Wizard help her at all? Once again, the task before her seemed too great, too daunting.
Her thoughts were broken by Seppo throwing more wood onto the campfire. Startled, Annabelle jumped with fright before realizing her mistake.
“Sorry!” she said, chagrined. She looked around and saw that everyone else had fallen fast asleep. “Oh! I didn’t realize—”
“I take first watch,” he said. It was difficult for Annabelle to tell what Seppo was thinking, for he didn’t speak much, and when he did, it wasn’t for very long. “There are many perils outside the White Tower, so we must take precautions.”
“What kind of perils?” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“The Enemy has many servants, of course,” he said. “But there are many worlds and thus many perils. Does your world not have such?”
Annabelle wondered if that was the first question he had asked her.
“I wouldn’t say that,” she said slowly. “But I don’t have any personal experience with it either. I suppose I’m very sheltered.”
Seppo nodded, but did not speak a reply. Annabelle could tell that he was thinking about her answer, though what he thought, she couldn’t know.
Instead, she asked a question of her own, though she regretted the words once they left her lips.
“Do you think the Wizard will help me?” she said. A lump formed in her throat, catching her voice. “Do you think the Wizard will help me rescue my sister?”
Seppo shook his head. “I do not know,” he said. “But even if the Wizard will not, I will help you.”
Annabelle looked up, surprised at his words.
Seppo only shrugged. “I gave you a promise,” he said simply.
She had wondered whether he had remembered, so little had they spoken since then. She gave Seppo a smile. “Thank you.”
And quite without meaning to, Annabelle was swept off into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Annabelle awoke to find she was once more the last to rise.
“You’re lucky there’s still a little breakfast left,” Charlie said playfully. “Unfortunately for you, it’s cold. Perhaps more fortunately, it was made by Percy and so it’s probably best if you skipped anyway.”
Annabelle quickly ate steamed roots that had long since become limp and yet more stale bread. Afterwards, she tried to help as much as she could to break down the camp. This mostly consisted of doing what the others told her to do, like scattering dirt over the remains of the fire or washing the pots at a nearby stream.
Then, without much preamble, they set off for the next Door, with Percy carrying Cid within the makeshift sling. Many times Cid shifted into and out of consciousness. Annabelle wondered if he would be able to make it to their destination, but Percy waved those concerns aside.
“He is strong,” he grunted. “He will make it.” Though Annabelle thought she could detect a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
Much of the time, the paths Seppo chose were little used and they had to cut across brush, which was difficult work. Annabelle could feel many scraps and welts across her arms from being caught by stray branches.
She helped Charlie as much as she could, as she struggled to maneuver effectively over the rough terrain with her bad leg. Yet the other girl almost invariably shrugged her off, saying, “Don’t worry about me.”
Over the next few days, they crossed into many different worlds and alien landscapes, each ending and beginning anew at the threshold of a Door. These were often tucked away in the most inexplicable places, most of them hidden in the middle of wild, uninhabited places.
Each of the Doors were of different construction, sometimes wood, sometimes stone, but clearly crafted by the same intelligent hand, each possessing the same strange symbols etched upon their surface.
Their journey was punctuated by short rests for a quick bite to eat. Annabelle quickly came to loathe the hard and tough bread that they seemed to have an endless supply of. Only rarely would Seppo be able to gather a few mushrooms. Those were nights Annabelle began to look forward to with some excitement
After many hours of traveling, well after Annabelle reached her breaking point and had to stop from exhaustion, Percy or Seppo or Charlie would point out a likely campsite. Most of these were hidden and out of the way, like small caves or amid a thick grove of trees. Once they stopped beneath the hollow made from an abandoned, crumbling wooden ship, its massive size dwarfing them by many magnitudes.
Over the many days, Annabelle wondered about these many different worlds they traveled to, what they were called, who lived there, and other such things. But her curiosity was not often satisfied, for history and lore did not seem to be of much interest to the others.
She began to form a clearer picture in her mind about the people she was traveling with.
Annabelle could tell that Charlie was having a difficult time with her bad leg, but the girl would always have a bright, mischievous smile on her face. However, more than once, she had caught Charlie wincing painfully and treating the leg very tenderly, though Annabelle said nothing. She felt that Charlie was the sort of person to react badly to pity.
On some days, Percy would trap small game animals, which made Annabelle feel a little queasy as he skinned them and dressed them and roast them over the fire in the evening. Some of the animals he trapped were truly bizarre: one of them had thick knobbly scales that had to be dressed a certain way, but the meat had been tender.
He shared a bit of a rivalry with Seppo, boasting who could carry Cid longer without rest. Seppo met these challenges without complaint, and Annabelle noticed that he did not reject them out of hand either.
Many times Seppo would venture off on his own to scout out the land ahead. His movements were very quiet when he did this, so much so that he startled Annabelle many times with his silent return.
On one such morning, Seppo returned to camp grim-faced, a dark look about his eyes.
“Soldiers of the Enemy,” he said.