ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
‘Don't look down,' Paltar thought. ‘Just don't look down.’
It was just like his thoughts about Nanna—the more he tried not to think about her, the more pressing his thoughts became. And with the wizard on his back, it became an even worse experience. Paltar was simply surprised at how well he had managed so far.
"So, how do you like it? It's exciting, isn't it?" Reod laughed.
"Uh huh," Paltar said.
It was easier to pretend to listen to the wizard than to ignore him completely. He had tried it on the first few dozen steps, and that only made him act more annoying. And with his weight on his back, Paltar really didn't need him to move any more than he already did. The stairs became a slow trot, each step the same as the last, going higher and higher. For a moment Paltar thought how glad he was that he hadn't turned into a bird—this must have been the height Nanna usually flew at, and focusing too much on his surroundings made his stomach lurch. He had to concentrate on something else.
That something else was laughing at his back.
"I was impressed by the way you repaired the bridge," he chattered on. "I was going to fix it myself, but I never got around to it! Maintaining a whole mountain is a difficult task, you know?"
"Mn," Paltar grunted.
Right now, he would rather not think about the time he almost fell to his death.
"So, can you tell me more about your magic? Or rather, your skill?"
Paltar shook his head.
"I'm just a simple tailor," he said.
It was true. He had been a tailor from the very beginning.
"We both know that's not true," Reod said from behind him. "You call them your ‘threads’ or 'strings', right? The strings of fate?"
Paltar laughed. "How would I know?"
"You use them. That implies some kind of knowledge.
But Paltar shook his head and readjusted Reod on his back.
"If I could use my so-called 'magic' to get up there, I would use it," he huffed. "But I can't, so... I doubt there is any real knowledge."
"Oh? Have you tried it?"
"No. Not with you chattering away all my thoughts."
But Reod laughed. Was this just a game to him?
"So when did this magic manifest?"
"I don't know."
"I know when you're lying, dear Paltar..."
Suddenly Reod felt much heavier, and it almost made Paltar stumble.
"You're not from around here, are you?"
"You heard me." Reod practically grinned.
"I was born here," Paltar huffed.
"But... is that all there is?"
For a moment, Paltar stopped, which might have been a mistake. If he could turn around and look Reod in the face, he would have. But caught in this way, he only had his voice to guess his true motives.
"Why are you so interested in me?" he asked bluntly.
"You summoned me. Isn't that enough to be interested in someone?"
"I don't know. I probably wouldn't have bothered."
The weight on his back lightened
"I'm not asking you for fun, boy." Reod’s words were harsh. "But if you don't find your place in the world, others will come and use your gift for their own ends."
"Aren't you doing that right now?"
"Oh no." Reod let out a cold laugh. "If I wanted to, you wouldn't be here."
A shiver ran down Paltar's spine. The wizard wasn't lying. He didn't know his powers... but surely, if he could turn a princess into a goose, he could do much worse to Paltar. And he didn't want to find out the extent of his powers. And if the wizard sensed his otherworldliness anyways, what good was it to hide it?
"Before birth..." He sighed. "It may sound crazy, but I lived another life before."
"Uh huh. Go on?"
"And then... I came here. With the strings."
"Aaaah." He felt Reod nod. "So you're a world wanderer."
"It doesn't mean much. I mean, I figured you were, with your strings and all. But you haven't met anyone else like that, have you?"
"Not that I know of."
"Oh, you would have known if that was the case."
Paltar tried not to think about it too much. This break had been going on longer than it should have already. How much longer were these stairs? His knees were weak, and sweat was streaming down his chin, but he still felt strangely energized. It seemed both that he was making no progress at all and that he was so high up that he would surely die if he took a wrong step.
"Any more questions?" he huffed.
"Are you getting tired?"
He continued his way upwards. Step by step, he wandered, even though he just wanted this to end. For a time, there was comfortable silence.
"You've done well, Paltar," Reod said on his back.
Paltar didn't answer. Instead, he felt his leg give way and almost fall down. With his hands supporting Reod, he had no possibility of stopping his fall—his face hitting the stairs, or worse, falling off. He closed his eyes, but the impact he was bracing for didn't come. Even the weight of his back lifted.
"You didn't even let go of me when you were in danger," Reod said. "Impressive. I think I underestimated you."
Paltar blinked. He wasn't on the stairs anymore. Instead, he felt as if he had been transported back to his childhood: the smell of hay and warm wood poured into his nose, and above him, the high beams arched in a stable similar to the one on his childhood farm.
"Where are we?"
"It's too late to turn back." Reod walked over to the barn doors and opened them. "I hope you're comfortable with your decision."
Sunlight streamed in, and it was so bright that Paltar had to look away.