The Gatehouse

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The 5th Part: In Which A Small Boy Who Is Actually Quite Old Does Not, In Fact, Destroy His Own House Again


The problem was that now Alden had to wear his favorite coat (which was made of a rare form of sphinx-hair), or lower himself to wearing his third-favorite. It wasn’t much of a choice, really. His third-favorite coat didn’t even have buttons down the front.

When it came to style, Alden could compromise elsewhere.

Of course, there were certain protection spells that could ruin the particular luster of the sphinx-hair coat, so the article had a set of distinct weaknesses, and as a result one of them it now needed mending.

“No, I’m being careful this time,” he assured his house, when a moment of hard thought resulted in several jars exploding on the shelves. “I’m not using the same spell. This is a really old one. I haven’t used it in a few hundred years, but it should do the trick.”

A scorpion, recovering from having been propelled across the room when its jar exploded, now scuttled across the floor and sat down judgmentally next to the mage.

Alden looked at it, startled at its grumpy expression, recognized it, and sighed. “Hey look,” he said, “the kid caught you, not me, so stop hating me like it’s my fault.”

The scorpion scowled. “You keep me in a jar.”

“Okay. Fair.”

“And every time I sting you, you just laugh like it tickles.”

“Okay, also probably demoralizing. Sorry.”

“And I have to listen to you talk to yourself all day.”

“Eek.”

Alden tried the spell again, and this time, something crashed to its demise downstairs and his sitting-stool disintegrated.

“Heh. Interesting,” he said, lowering himself back down to his feet, and squinting at the pile of dust that had recently been his seat. “I’ll take note of that one.”

A moment passed, as Alden reached out to smooth one edge of the coat. Then he paused, his fingers still pressing against the fabric as if he’d momentarily forgot about them. They started to smoke. “I wonder if the bloodstains came off when he closed the gate. I mean, he probably broke the bond, so they should have.” He looked up, pensively. “They really should have.”

“You’re not concentrating,” accused the scorpion peevishly. “This is an easy spell.”

“Yeah, and you’re irritating,” replied Alden. Then he realized what he was doing and quickly drew his hands away from his cloak.

The scorpion clicked. “You’re worried about him, aren’t you?”

“Ah,” said the mage, scratching his head of frizzy black hair. “I’m too old to be worried. The kid’ll be fine. Time’s not the same on that Side, you know, and he’s got the Shadowcat with him, and the essential pieces for two dozen of my outfits. He’s the last guardian—let him guard the Gate until he gets bored. Maybe he’ll have learned a thing or two, when I see him again.”

“When you see him again?” The scorpion huffed. “You know well enough that when he’s released, or releases himself, then so is the Curse.”

“Hm.” Alden didn’t sound very interested. He had suddenly brightened as if he’d remembered something, and leaning over his coat, he made a small, complicated motion with his hand.

The house groaned, preparing for an explosion.

A moment later, none came.

“Aha! I figured it out.” Alden sat up, beaming, and proudly held out his coat. “Look! Good as new!”

The scorpion glanced at it crossly. “I bet if he opens the Gate again, all hell will break loose. Maybe the Vagueness will even get past the Gatehouse and enter the world again. Even you can’t want that.”

“Well, it’ll be a chance to get my staff back.”

The scorpion grumbled, “it’ll also be the End.”

Alden was beaming at his sparkling-perfect coat.

“Sounds exciting, ” he said.

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