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A Wizard in Ingary

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"Howell! What have you done?"

Howell Jenkins, who had just performed a spell that had unexpectedly transported him to a different world, realized that the unintentional consequences of performing that spell might extend beyond transporting himself. He knew that voice, and the owner of that voice knew him.

He turned around reluctantly from the view of the forest and the mountains and the cottages of this exciting new world, and took in the view of his sister's face. "Megan," he said weakly.

"Well? Where are we? Where is everyone?"

That was actually a good question. All the doors were closed, all the curtains were drawn. But there was a faint sound of music in the distance.

"Why don't we find out?" Howell suggested.

While Megan was contemplating this novel suggestion, Howell took off.

"Howell!"

He ignored her, and she didn't run fast enough to keep up with him. Out past the last cottage, over an arched bridge across a quick mountain stream, and up a stony path to the top of a ridge.

In the distance was the sea, and the plain between mountain and sea was mostly farmland, patchwork fields spotted with villages, and a modest port city. It was all so small and distant Howell had to estimate what he was seeing from the different textures, the details being to small to make out.

The next hill over was densely wooded and blocked Howell's view of the plain nearer to the mountains. In the valley between, there were brightly colored tents, a large collection with a brightly colored fence surrounding them. The path he was on wound down the hill in steep switchbacks, all the way to the tents.

"Is this how it's going to be?" Megan said, huffing up to stand next to him.

Howell had almost forgotten that she was here with him. "Can't you appreciate the wonderful world my spell has brought us to?"

"The wonderful world...? Do you have any idea what you're doing?"

"Maybe," Howell said evasively. "You shouldn't have interrupted me."

"Is that what you think? I'll tell you what I think..."

It was just like Megan to totally ignore the fact that something unusual and exciting had happened and focus on the one thing she thought she could control -- namely, Howell.

"...so because of your irresponsibility, we have no choice but to..."

Why was Megan here? She must have figured out where Howell had gone. He'd heard something right before the surge of magic, hadn't he? And there'd been a feeling like some last piece of the spell had fallen into place.

It still seemed unfair that he'd somehow brought Megan along. She was still talking, gesturing urgently. Howell started walking.

"Howell! Don't leave me here alone."

When Howell looked back, Megan looked very out of place, standing in the middle of a path that was more of a trail. This might be Howell's unexpected adventure, but Megan wasn't the adventuring type, and she had things to go home to.

"I'm sorry," he said, unexpectedly. He was sorry. He just hoped Megan wouldn't harp on it for too long.

Megan bit her lip and nodded. "You do realize that we have to get home, don't you?"

Howell hesitated.

"Howell!"

"I'll find a way," Howell said. Silently, he continued, to make sure you get home.

Megan nodded, oblivious to the silent alteration. Sometimes she caught those things in Howell's expression; she was really upset. But after a moment, she straightened her shoulders. "Okay, let's go see what's going on," Megan said, and forged ahead.

 

The bright fence surrounding the festival was studded at intervals with signs. "Festival of Magic" and "Entrance" with an arrow. Howell and Megan had to go all the way around to get to the gate.

"Maybe we should just climb the fence," Howell suggested, knowing that it wouldn't pass muster with Megan.

"Don't be daft," she said. "Sneaking into a festival of magic is sure to be the wrong move."

Actually, she was right about that.

When they finally reached the gate, Megan surged ahead to talk to the gatekeeper, a tall man with a bushy brown beard.

"We don't get many this late in the day," he said as he passed her though. When Howell attempted to follow, he held up his hand. "Now just a second," he said. "I'm going to need you to remove that spell."

For a moment, Howell didn't understand. "What spell?" he said, even as the clues all fell into place. He'd felt the tugging ever since he got here, the connection to the world he'd left behind.

"Oh, that spell," he said. "I don't know how."

"Feel free to work it out over there," the gatekeeper said, pointing to a bench over to the side.

Megan had moved on to the next tent, and was trying on a black cloak with silver trim. Even she was seduced by the wonders of the festival of magic. Howell gazed longingly at all the tents, and then retreated to the bench.

"It can't be that hard," he muttered to himself.

 

"What a sad sight," a man said. He was standing right in front of Howell, but Howell had been so busy trying to invent a spell for analyzing spells that he hadn't even seen him there.

"I'm Gerald," the man said. He was clearly present for the festival of magic, because he was carrying a staff with a glowing tip, and was standing about a foot above the ground. Even so, that only put him up to about Howell's collar bone. He bowed politely to Howell.

"Howell," Howell said, and bowed back. It seemed like the thing to do.

"What a strange name."

"It's Welsh."

"Oh, is it indeed?" The man seemed strangely interested for someone from an entirely different world. "Well, well, well. Welcome to Ingary. You must come with me, I'd like to know more."

"I'm not allowed in."

"Nonsense!"

The gatekeeper looked like he wanted to say something when Gerald cavalierly pushed through the gate, ushering Howell ahead of him. But he eyed Gerald's staff, and didn't say anything after all. Not to Howell, nor to Gerald and his levitation.

"How come you get to break the rules?" Howell asked.

"Break the rules? My dear boy, you could hardly find a more staunch defender of the right rules anywhere in Ingary, but the people who put together this little affair have it out for me, and I simply cannot acknowledge that."

"Hmm," Howell said. He was too busy staring. In his trials and experiments, he'd managed to put together a sort of rudimentary magical sight based on a few half remembered spells from his work, plus the principles of magical grammar that he knew from his advisor Dr. Rilcer (and it had to be admitted, a lot of wild experimentation that Dr. Rilcer would have sternly frowned upon -- but when in a magical foreign country, needs must).

So Howell could see that this was a festival of magic. It shone from every booth, and even from the ground itself.

"What kind of magic is it all?" he asked, but Gerald had an agenda of his own, and ignored the question. He set his jaw and smoothed back his ginger hair with surprisingly delicate, thin-boned hands, and set forth to show Howell everything that was worth seeing.

Which appeared to be a fraction of what was going on in the fair, but Gerald had a reason for that. "Magic is becoming far too widespread," he claimed. "And that's diluting it. My own teacher has taught those who have no business in the magic business. As long as you could convince her of the goodness of your heart... I respect her, but her vision was lacking. Now that she's retiring, it's time. I tell you, it's time."

Howell tried to stop at a stall run by a bald man with a neat red mustache, which appeared to be selling beautifully crafted musical instruments, but Gerald pulled him on to the next stall, which was full of books. He shushed the proprietor's complaints and began paging through one of her books.

"Impress them, my dear boy, my teacher always told me. Once I have the support, I will go to the king, and beg for a royal charter..."

Howell stopped listening. He'd caught sight of Megan in the distance, talking to someone who seemed to be -- if Howell could read his sister's body language -- persuading her of something despite her better judgement. Which mean that Megan was still having more fun than Howell.

"...and of course I will need students. Which is where you come in, my boy. I can see that you're in need of training...?"

Howell wasn't even tempted. He would like magical training, but not from someone who would drag him past everything he was interested in, and never leave a gap in the conversation for him to say so much as a word.

"Oh look," he said, and before Gerald could come up with anything more to say, he'd slipped between two booths and was away. He couldn't have done it neater if it had been Megan. Gerald and Megan had a lot in common, Howell reflected.

He stopped to try on a green and gold suit in the local style, and to ride the shapeshifting carousel (it was just an illusion), and look at the exquisitely painted weather control fans that didn't seem to have much actual magic to them -- Gerald might have a point, Howell thought, amidst all that blather.

He came back to the book stall after Gerald had moved on. He wished he had a month just to read the titles and tables of contents and analyze the spells to see what they said about the capabilities of magic. And he wished he had a year to try it all out.

The proprietress interrupted him in the middle of a comfortable browse through a book of transportation spells, some of which bore some resemblance to his spell.

"You're with the other strangely dressed person?" she asked nervously.

He looked up with irritation. "We're nothing alike," he said.

"So you're not entering the contest of magic?" she said. "Your friend is doing so well, I thought you must..."

Reluctantly, Howell slid the book of spells back into its place. "I think you'd better tell me what Megan's been up to."

 

The underground cavern where the contest of magic was taking place was large and filled with people and magic. Howell entered and paused, squinting because the faint overlay that remained of his improvised magical vision was starting to phase in and out. Was that a reaction to all the magic in the vicinity? He'd have to analyze that as soon as he got a chance, if he ever got a chance...

But not right now, because in the midst of all that magic, there was Megan, competing.

"She's got a talent for disrupting magic," the bookstall proprietress had said. It hadn't surprised Howell. Of course Megan would. But to see her standing in the center of the glowing ring, facing up to a bear juggling pots of writhing glowworms--

Howell was grinning far too widely.

"Par-ry! Par-ry!" he started chanting, like he was at a football match.

Megan spared him an irritated glance, but then she had to dodge as a pot came her way. She caught it by the rim and it disappeared. At the same time, Howell felt the tugging sensation from the spell that he'd almost forgotten about. It hadn't faded like the magic vision spell.

And it looked like Megan was using it.

"Unfair," he muttered. If she could use it, then why had the gatekeeper let her in and not him?

He didn't have long to wonder, though, before the bear surrendered and Megan's next opponent appeared. It was Gerald.

"Wait!" Howell shouted, but he was hushed by his neighbor, a matronly woman with curled blonde hair under a pretty straw hat. "He's the one who thinks he can turns us into a guild once Mrs. Pentstemmon retires," she said. "He gives magicians a bad name. Do please keep quiet until he's defeated."

"Do you think he'll lose?" Howell asked.

"I'm sure of it," the woman said, and winked.

As soon as the magical duel started, Howell realized why she was so sure. Gerald's magical style involved conjuring up dangerous animals. It was impressive, but Howell soon realized that many of the audience, spread all across the seating area, were doing something to protect Megan.

Megan was trying to get closer to Gerald. Howell hoped she wasn't going to send him through the spell, but as she got closer, Howell could feel the tugging get stronger every time Megan sent one of Gerald's beasts packing.

Then Gerald did something that didn't involve conjuring. Howell couldn't see exactly what he did, but as a result, magical barriers became visible all across the field.

"Oh dear," Howell's neighbor said.

Some of Gerald's supporters rushed out onto the field. Howell leaped over a bench and pushed through some other people, trying to get to Megan. He wasn't the only one. It seemed like the entire audience had decided to join in, and magic was flying everywhere.

"Come on," Howell said to Megan, dragging her toward the exit.

"I can still--"

"Come on," Howell said, ducking under a flash of lightning and leaping over a sudden cactus. The path to the exit was blocked by magicians wrestling, but Howell saw a little niche between one area of seating and another, and ducked into it. Megan followed, breathing hard.

"That was quite something," she said when she had her breath back.

"What were you doing?" Howell said, exasperated.

"The organizer found out I had -- you saw that, didn't you? And she told me the prize would help me get home."

"About that," Howell said.

Megan looked at him expectantly.

Howell removed the necklace of rosemary from around his neck and placed it on Megan's head like a crown. He searched her for a sign. Looking guilty, Megan held out her hand. When she opened her clenched fist, Howell saw that she had a somewhat mangled bit of clover. "It was right there when I opened the door," Megan said. "I picked it up just before..."

Howell took it carefully between thumb and index finger, hoping it would be enough.

"If you send me home, I'll send you home," he said. He was relatively sure it would work. But it would take both of them.

Megan eyed him skeptically, then nodded.

"One, two, three," Howell said, and they moved into the void together.

There was a sensation of motion, straight and fast, like stepping off of a cliff and falling straight down. Howell couldn't see anything. And then they landed in Megan's half-finished house, surrounded by conjured beasts.

"Oh dear," Megan said.

 

"I'm not going to talk about it," Megan said. "And if you had any sense at all, you wouldn't want to."

"But Megan..." Howell said.

"Don't you but me," Megan said, as Howl had known she would. "They've quit running stories in the local paper about escaped zoo animals, and they never figured out where exactly they came from, which means you got away with it. You've had your adventure, now you'd better hurry up and get some academic credentials before anyone figures out what you've been up to. I don't want that in the family. It's bad enough--"

Howell could see that her trip to Ingary hadn't changed Megan at all.