Chapter 7: Meeting Bahati
Bahati woke with a pounding headache. Assessing her body, however, she did not feel as though she had been turned into a stone carving. At least that was something. Rising shakily to her feet, she surveyed her surroundings and found she was still in a carnival.
It makes sense. The carnival was taken into the building.
As Bahati looked around, she also noticed that the she only saw children. She wandered about, trying to find anyone older than a teenager.
Her initial excitement dropping off, she closed her eyes and felt for the magic in air. To her surprise, she still felt traces of the powerful magic that she had felt on the boy in the magician’s tent. Without opening her eyes, she followed the feeling, and finally stopped in front of a wide tent made of purple fabric.
Her eyes slid open and she gazed into the darkness of the open tent flap. The magic emanated from within though it was not nearly as strong as when she had seen the boy. Perhaps it was not in him, but those who had been close to him.
Her eyes narrowed as she sensed the other sort of magic coming from the tent: Time magic that could reveal the past and the future. Involuntarily, Bahati took a step back. She had no desire to relieve any second of her tumultuous life, or to glimpse the troubles yet to come.
Whoever was in there was bound to come out eventually. She had come this far. This could wait.
With a flash of light, Matt found himself back in the main compartment of the House of Mirrors. Neil knelt only a few feet away, staring off into the distance.
Matt knelt beside him. His own experience with the final mirror had been traumatic enough, and he couldn’t imagine what his dad must have seen. “Neil, what happened?”
He almost answered, but then shook his head. As he waited, Matt felt pressure build up in his chest. He wanted to ask him to describe everything he had seen, wanting to know whether it was the same. It was something he wanted to lock in the deepest vault in his memory with a dozen locks.
The mirror had shown him a time when he would have to make a decision: between saving his dad and rescuing his brother, and the lives of thousands of others. Shaking his head, he shook the dark images from his mind. He didn’t even know how the images could be true. In the mirror, they were on a beach, so it was probably just a trick.
But another voice in his mind warned him not to shrug it off. Everything else that he had been shown from his past had been right. I mean, how could that mirror know about his mom? She’d been dead for years.
Finally, his dad snapped out of his daze and stood. “Let’s go,” he said with a grunt. “We’ve got a tower to climb.”
Matt knew that he would probably have to wait until later to get the full story out of his dad. He sighed and dusted himself off, following his dad out of the tent.
Bahati glimpsed the two figures emerging from the tent and raised her staff as the feeling of magic grew stronger. Not willing to take any chances, she readied a spell to stun her opponents. It was much easier to ask questions or forgiveness of a stunned opponent.
In the moment before she released the spell, her opponents did something she hadn’t expected: they cowered. Throwing his hands over his face, the man in front of her shrunk back and let out a sound no more threatening than a frightened mouse.
Wondering if it were a ruse to make her let down her guard, Bahati held the staff for a few extra seconds to make a decision. When her opponent did not strike, she realized that he was not going to—his terror was real.
Feeling more than a bit foolish, she lowered the staff and took a step back from the man she had almost flattened. Instead, she extended a hand. “Do not fear me, sir. I am sorry I startled you.”
Hesitantly, Matt raised his head and approached the stranger. She was a tall, slender girl, with dark skin and well-defined muscles. She wore a strange yellow and orange robe embroidered with black patterns and carried a black and orange staff that resembled a trio of snakes braided together, their fanged mouths open to the sky.
She looked strange, but it kind of worked for him.
“Are you performing at the fair?” asked Matt, his voice subdued. “That’s a very interesting…costume.”
Bahati shook her head and cleared her throat. “No, I am Bahati Okoye. I have journeyed far to be here on urgent business.”
“Business?” Neil said, raising an eyebrow. “Are you from Africa? ’Cause you don’t look old enough to fly on your own.”
Bahati looked as if Neil had asked him why he had blue skin. “Excuse me? I do not think you have room to talk.”
Matt burst into laughter, nearly losing his footing as laughter wracked his body. Neil looked on, eyes wide at the inappropriateness of his son’s behavior.
“Sorry,” he finally managed between fits. “You should see the look on your face, dad.”
Neil rolled his eyes and led Bahati toward the Hall of Mirrors. “You should probably come with me. There is something that you should see.”
Bahati threw up her hands and shook her head. “No, I do not wish to enter that tent. There are strange forces at work there—time magic that can leave a person scarred and broken.”
Neil spread his hands. “I went through myself and so did Matt, and look. Not broken or scarred. It’s like watching a movie. A really strange, and sometimes disturbing movie, but nothing worse than what you see on TV these days.” Lowering his gaze, Neil cocked his head to one side and raised his eyebrows at Bahati. “You do have TV where you come from, right?”
Without another word, Bahati pushed past Neil and into the darkness of the tent.
A half an hour later, Bahati emerged from the tent, her face smooth as a pane of glass. She approached the two and gave a short bow. “I understand. Probably better than the two of you. As you might have guessed by my staff, I am a wizard. What you might not have guessed is that we have been trapped in an elaborate bit of star magic.”
“Star magic?” Neil snorted. “Like ‘When You Wish Upon a Star?’ Should I be looking for my conscience? Because I’m pretty sure mine is not a cricket.”
Matt rolled his eyes. It was just like his dad to start saying stupid things around pretty girls. Then again, Matt didn’t really know how he usually acted himself. He never got the chance.
Bahati’s face flickered slightly. “I do not know what you mean. I am told that most in this country do not believe in magic, so perhaps I should be clearer. Star magic is the magic of creation. I have been seeking a powerful object of star magic that was in the main tent off the carnival. It appeared to be in the possession of a young boy who was watching that scurrilous magician.”
Matt burst out laughing, and almost lost control. “Sorry,” she muttered, “I’ve never heard a 13 year old use ‘scurrilous’ in a sentence. Must be a wizard word.”
“A young boy?” asked Neil. “Where in the tent was he? What did he look like?”
Bahati closed her eyes. “In the third row. He wore glasses, light, unruly hair. Pale skin and freckles. A man older man and a younger man who looked very much like the two of you were sitting next to him.”
“Tyson,” muttered Neil. “It has to be him. Why else would that magician take him?”
“Or read to him?” Matt said. “It’s like we’re inside some sort of twisted dream.”
Bahati nodded vigorously. “You are pretty close to the truth. This boy, Tyson, has taken this magical object, which takes concepts from his imagination and shapes the matter around him to match. That magician probably realized this and cast a sleeping spell on Tyson to keep him dreaming, so that his imagination would be always be active.”
Matt coughed and took a step closer to Bahati. “But then, why would he read to him?”
Bahati shook his head. “That’s where the magician shows his true genius. The boy is only lightly asleep and his mind is open to suggestion. The magician is trying to influence what Tyson’s mind is creating.”
Matt felt his stomach do a flip. His little brother had one crazy imagination. “So, if he reads him The Wizard of Oz, our town will turn into the Emerald City?”
Bahati shrugged. “Maybe, but in our case, star magic is showing its strange nature. Instead of building out, the magic is building up-‘reaching for the stars’. The boy’s mind is creating a tower.”
Neil and Matt gasped together. The strange images in the “Quest” mirror made a lot more sense. “So,” Matt whispered, “the longer we wait here, the taller this tower will get? Come on, we need to get to the top and wake him up.”
Bahati stepped forward and planted her staff in the dirt. “Then I will go with you. You will need my help if you hope to succeed.”
Matt’s head bobbed up and down, while Neil’s shook. “Wait a second,” Neil said. “Who says we need help? I mean, it was a wizard who got us into this trouble in the first place.” He puffed up his chest as much as his spindly frame could manage.
Bahati cracked a smile. “Oh, perhaps you have inner strength, but you’ll need much more than that to face the challenges that lie ahead. Wouldn’t you rather have a bit of magic on your side?”
Matt punched his dad lightly on the arm. “Dad, I know you want to be macho, but at least as long as you’re 13—keep dreaming.”
Neil let out a puff of air through his nose. “Why couldn’t he have dreamed of me at 26? I actually won a bodybuilding competition that year. Called me ‘Neil of Steel’.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing,” said Matt, shaking his head. “Now the secret’s out. Maybe I should tell our neighbor across the street.”
His dad’s face went red, but he said nothing, looking back and forth between his son and the wizard.
“Fine,” said Neil at last. “We’ll take the teenage wizard. But the first time she tries any voodoo junk on me, I’ll…” The sentence trailed off and Neil shrunk back. “Well, you don’t want to find out.”
Bahati bowed, a little lower than necessary. “Thank you for your invitation, however grudging. I would suggest that you follow my lead. Even if it’s the mind of a 40-year-old stuffed in that head, I have many times your experience with magic. My father, Elmar, taught me from the cradle. But so that you settle down, I promise I will not lay any curse, hex, voodoo or any other form of unpleasant magic on you. I wouldn’t want to see what the consequences are.”
She said the last word with a wink at Matt, who broke into a thin grin.
“So, Miss. Big Wig Wizard,” said Neil. “Is there an elevator in this magic tower, or do we have to take the stairs?”
Bahati shook her head. “Neither. If I know star magic, which I do, the passage to the next level of the tower will be marked by a circle of light above us. It marks the place where the starlight flows upward towards the tip of the tower and beyond. This kind of magic always flows upward.”
Both Neil and Matt gazed to the sky. Above them appeared a perfectly normal afternoon sky without as much as a cloud.
Bahati sighed. “Of course, you cannot see starlight in the day time. We’ll have to wait a few hours, at least.”
Neil held the side of his head as if it might burst. “But…but we’re inside, right? How can it change from day to night?”
“It might be difficult for you to wrap your mind around how this works,” said Bahati. “But trust me. Yes, we are inside, but it is also something created by a dream. We’ll have night and day.”
Neil shook his head even harder. “Okay, okay, you’re right. I don’t understand, and I don’t really want to.” His hands clutched his stomach, which rumbled. “I say we don’t waste our time and get something to eat. I think my teenage hunger came back with all the acne and greasy hair.”
Matt slapped his dad on the back, a little harder than he had meant to. “For once, dad, I totally agree with you. Tyson was obsessed with carnival food, so I bet there’s some around.”
“Agreed,” said Bahati forging off in the lead towards the center of the new carnival where strange and delicious smells wafted invitingly on the breeze.
They had only taken a few steps, when Bahati turned on them. “Remember, all of this was created by a dream, but it is not a joke or an illusion. You don’t just wake up from this, even if Tyson does. If you get hurt in the tower, you stay hurt, understand?”
Matt shrugged, and looked over at his dad, whose expression had gone spacey. Matt waved his hand in front of his dad’s face. “Hey, earth to dad. Dreams are dangerous. Got that?”
His dad nodded, and snapped out of his trance. “Yeah, I know.” He sighed and pushed his way past the other two in the direction of the rest of the carnival.