“I know that the other time did not go well!” Ruth’s voice was quiet but sharp with an edge of some pent-up emotion.
“Not go well?! That is an understatement!” Drake’s voice almost trembled with his own emotion.
“It is too important to try to make contact with Earth for me to give in to a minor inconvenience.”
“Working yourself into a collapse that lasted for two days is NOT a minor inconvenience. Please do not push yourself so hard.”
Ruth sighed, letting out her breath in one extended exhalation. She knew that Drake was worried about her but felt driven to provide her son and grandson with all the comfort she could find. Deep inside her, the iron determination to figure this problem out drove her to push her point for the first time in their relationship.
“I am sorry, Drake, but I am going to try the communication conduit again. I will not let you or Cal talk me out of it.”
Cal looked at his mother with a conflicted look on his face. Glancing over at him, Drake could see the younger man’s desperate longing to see his wife again fighting with concern for his beloved mother. The Lord of Borachland knew how he felt when he lost his mother. That agony was still new and sharp in his heart even years later.
Even newer was his bond with the Archmage. Becoming her Anchor had been life-altering for him, and he marveled anew every day at the changes that had been wrought in his life and his mind. Even to himself, he didn’t want to admit how much it changed his heart.
Flinging his hands into the air, Drake said, “I admit that I’m worried but if you’re going to do this anyway, let’s be smart about it. I don’t want to be focused on the spell and unable to react when we get hit with another attack by the idiot Council head.”
Relaxing now that she knew the primary argument was over, Ruth added her own bit of concession, “That would make a lot of sense. I will go and have a discussion with the Inner Keep staff and leave the Outer Keep portion of it to you and Cal.”
The two men turned and moved briskly out of the room, united in their desire to both keep all of them safe and get on to the spell. Ruth smiled, thinking how much like the two men were. Separated by decades and species, they still managed to look like family. Strides about even, the two men moved in step down the hallway toward the stairs. The Mage could hear their voices as they rapidly evaluated options and approaches.
Deciding it was time for her to get moving also, Ruth moved lightly down the stairs to the kitchen area. She knew that she would find most of her senior staff in the kitchen at this time of day, drinking hot tea and discussing issues. Thinking about how good some tea would taste right now, the Mage speeded her steps up a bit and walked into the warm and welcoming chamber.
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The discussion with the Inner Keep staff had gone well, and Ruth felt reasonably sure that they had all the critical bases covered. Jenna was not terribly happy with Ruth attempting the communication conduit spell again, but her protests had withered on her lips as she had taken in Ruth’s set face.
At some point in the discussion, Troyer and Techla had joined the group in the kitchen. They sat silently, huddled together, drawing comfort from each other. Looking over at her grandson and granddaughter, Ruth asked, “What is the problem, dearlings?”
Troyer burst into speech, saying, “I really want to see my Mom, Grandma. But… I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Techla looked terrified and about ready to cry. Troyer put his arm around his younger sister and held her close against his chest. Looking over the top of her shaking head, the little boy said, “How dangerous is it for you to try to get to Mama?”
The Mage responded with the courtesy due to another adult, saying softly, “Any new spell is dangerous. The first attempt, I didn’t do some things that would’ve helped me, and I paid the price. This time, I’m going to learn from my experience and try to do better. Sometimes, that’s all we can do.”
When Ruth rose to her feet to go back upstairs, the two children followed closely behind. All the way up the stairs to her spell circle, she thought about telling them that they could not be in the room. However, there was a chance that this would be the only opportunity for Troyer to see his mother again. She just didn’t have it in her heart to deny him that possibility.
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Coming into the ritual room, Ruth stopped abruptly at the sight of the extra people. She had expected to see Cal and Drake, but there were two others in the chamber. Before she could ask a question, Cal started to explain.
“Just in case there’s a problem, we are going to have several people in the room that can possibly help. If you cast a small protective circle over on the side, that will shield the children, me, and the two healers here.”
Ruth thought for a moment and surprised both Drake and Cal with a smile. “I bet you thought I was going to argue with you, didn’t you? Both you were ready to try to win me over with a variety of different reasons why this is important. I can tell from your faces what he had planned. Too bad you don’t have to use all those arguments because I think it’s a good idea!”
The Mage turned away immediately and went over toward her preparation area. She could not have stayed another second because she would have burst out laughing at the expressions on the two men’s faces. She had personal experience with the frustration of not being able to present a well thought out argument. Being able to take the wind out of their sails at this point gave her a much-needed boost of humor.
It only took Ruth a few moments to finish her preparations. Focused and feeling like a vibrating drum and wailing violin had combined into a harmonious disharmony of potential, she cast the protection around everyone but her Anchor and herself. Then, moving to the center of the room, she and Drake took a position in front of the materialized archway.
Once again, Ruth activated first the protection of the circle surrounding them and then the containment that slithered along the outside walls in intertwining flashes of moving light. The Archmage was ready to try her spell again.
This time, the exact spell had changed and evolved. It had become more fluid and integrated, more powerful and efficient. The materialized archway was used for focus immediately, and the spell grew quickly and surely.
To the wondering eyes of her anchor and spectators, the gathering of glowing light that was the visible aspect of Ruth’s magic seemed to flow from the mage through the archway. The threads of magic came off her hand and arms. The fibers quickly thickened and strengthened as the power of her Will and Word moved toward the portal and beyond.
Drake’s hands on Ruth’s shoulders were steady and comforting. The drain of her spell did not even register on him. Instead, he was wholly focused on his Mage’s wellbeing.
Even in the middle of the searching phase of the spell, Ruth was conscious that less energy was being pulled from her. Having her Anchor present provided far more power to her spell. His rock-solid support allowed her to search more quickly and feel less stretched by the distance and time.
The shock of connection to Rena was like a dash of ice cold water on the skin of the Mage. Goosebumps rose, and the hair almost curled at the icy touch of the vast space that her spell spanned.
Rena was crying, a heart-wrenching expression of grief and horror. Ruth could feel clearly her fear that she was losing her mind. Why else would she imagine that she could talk to the mother-in-law that had been gone for so long?
“Rena, sweetheart! You are not going insane. We found a way to contact you, but we haven’t figured out all of the pieces of it yet.”
“Mom? Is that really you, or are you a figment of my imagination? Has my grief and loneliness driven me past the edge? I can’t go insane, Mark has nobody else left, and I won’t abandon my other son!” The younger woman’s voice was cracked and broken sounding. Her image through the archway looked like she was on the end of her endurance and had nothing left to give.
Ruth’s heart felt like it was shattering into small pieces. Choking on her own emotion, the Mage whispered, “Honey, please listen to me. You are not going nuts, please calm down.”
In Ruth’s intent focus on making the connection, she had forgotten that the archway would display the person with whom she was communicating. That oversight was costly, as a scream of, “Mama, Mama,” pierced the air like a sharp arrow of sound. Troyer could see his mother and all of the pent-up longing for her erupted in a mad dash that broke the protective circle around the children in a flash of brilliant white light.
The little boy ran headlong toward the glowing portal, tears streaming down his face. So great was his desperate craving for his mother that his ears were closed to the pained shout of anguish from his father.