From that moment a profound transformation had begun in Adrian. The first manifestation of it had been his mind’s instinctive defense of the cave against the magical, demonic powers assaulting it from outside. After that had come an even deeper withdrawal from the world.
Then the defense of himself and his friends had been resumed in a conscious though indirect way.
Adrian had also been steadily aware that his parents and the other humans with whom he had close contact had also been alarmed and horrified by the ambush, and that they were in some way doing what they could to meet the threat that it represented.
From Adrian’s infancy he, like other infants, had been able to sense the feelings of those around him as well as hear their speech. Now, after the shock, he paid more and more attention to their words. Not that they often spoke in his hearing about things of real importance. But more and more the constant threat of physical danger, remote though it was, had turned Adrian away from his lifelong absorption with the magical aspects of the world, had made him reach out beyond
the suddenly inadequate perceptions of the world that he could achieve with magic.
The little Prince knew when his father rode off from the train alone, though he did not fully understand the reasons. He missed his father and could follow him, most of the time, with his nonphysical perceptions. In the same way Adrian had a fair grasp of the locations of many other people whom he knew as individuals. And he had already begun to do more than keep track of their whereabouts.
If no one would listen when he tried to tell them things directly, perhaps they would listen to a wizard.
And the elementals, the ones originally aroused by Karel on the day of the children’s entrapment in the cave, had not been allowed to meld their energies back into those of the earth itself. Instead, Adrian had discovered how to keep them alive. He had played with them like toys, sending them here and there, augmenting their power and then allowing it to diminish while he tried to decide what else he might be able to do with them. It appeared that they might possibly be a useful means of defense.
And then, at the moment when he belatedly become aware of the presence of Burslem, almost upon him, Adrian had called the elementals back to full life and had concentrated them all close around himself. It was almost a purely instinctive reaction, the only thing that he could think of to do at the moment. Another small child might have hidden his head in his arms, or jumped into the river to get away.
From the day of the alarm at the cave, Adrian had spoken directly to no one else about what he feared, or what he was trying to do. The experience of his life to date was that no one else was really able to communicate with him. His parents tried to do so only through speech, and then almost always spoke only of the simplest things. It was as if they were totally unable to see the world of magic that lay all about
them. The physicians who attended Adrian were hopeless, being concerned, as far back as he could remember, with nothing but getting answers to their questions about his body: Had he eaten? Had he slept? Had his bowels moved properly? Did anything hurt him, here, or here, or here? And the magicians, if anything, were even worse. They looked around him, never exactly at him, with their arts; like the physicians, the wizards peered and probed and examined, going about their own preconceived plans as best they could with their limited perceptions.
It was the way the world was.
Adrian had experienced something of a shock when he realized, at a very early age, that the workers in magic, like everyone else he knew, were at least half blind. They seemed almost totally incapable of any real communication with him, even when he sought their aid. And magic, Adrian was beginning to realize now, was not a very good tool of communication anyway. It was much more effective as a means of concealment and manipulation.
The friendly workers in magic who sometimes attended Adrian were often more clever in their manipulations than he had yet learned to be. But in many ways they were also weaker and less able. And Adrian was beginning to realize that often they could not see as well as he could what was happening around them.
The notion of using his physical powers of speech to try to warn them had scarcely crossed Adrian’s mind. One difficulty was that few people ever listened to him anyway; another was that most of the people with whom he was suddenly anxious to communicate were now scattered well out of the sound of his voice.
Among the several new needs that he was beginning to feel strongly was a better way to see. He had to establish stronger
contact with the perilous world around him in order to find new ways to control it.
Entrancing discoveries rewarded his first real efforts to use his eyes. The new sense could not be quickly perfected, but now, day by day, and even hour by hour, he was making progress in its use.
A time came when Adrian realized that magic from some threatening source had ensorcelled everyone in the caravan around him. The threat was definite, though not yet immediate. He was disturbed enough to get up from his bed and leave his tent. His vision was developing strongly, and for almost the first time in his life he went wandering through the physical world unguided.
He ought to help his friends who had been struck down. But he did not yet see how. Looking, thinking, he allowed himself to be distracted by the glory of the physical, visual world surrounding him. His eyes were focusing properly at last, and his brain had learned to use the signals from them. For almost the first time he was able to see the world in full color and crisp detail. The sound of the stream drew him, and he approached it cautiously. Then the familiar feel of water became attached to the sparkling, never-before-seen dance of droplets in the air.
The magician Burslem had been able to approach very near to Adrian before the young Prince sensed his presence. The perception came in the form of an image of evil magic and threatening physical size, compounded into one.
Shocked into panic, Adrian did what he could to remove himself from the evil presence and to erect barriers between himself and it. He saw with all his senses that the effort had created a perilous turmoil in his immediate surroundings, an upheaval through which he himself was forced to struggle, as through a dream.
And suddenly he was aware of a place, not very far away, where he should go.
Burslem’s own powers had recovered in time to protect their master from the shock of this local alteration of the world. The alteration could be undone, and they could undo it for him; only a little time was necessary for the task.
He was just beginning to be able to establish some mastery over his environment when a new sound distracted him. His powers were massing on one side of him, laboring there to build the most impenetrable wall of magic that they could create.
The impenetrable wall burst open at its center. Burslem had no time at all in which to hear the howl and only a moment of life remaining in which to see the streak of rainbow color coming straight at him.
AS Zoltan ran toward the great worm and the pool that the creature had created, the head of the monster turned toward him. Then it rose and swung away, avoiding the shrilling Sword that Zoltan held before him as he ran.
Recklessly he ran in under it and hewed again into the gray-green wall of the creature’s flank at the first spot he could reach.
Scales the size of flagstones flew left and right. Again the Sword emitted its piercing sound and carved into the worm’s integument as if those armored plates were so much butter.
This time Zoltan was closer to the heart and brain, and the reaction of the beast was swifter than before. A vast wounded loop, spraying dark blood, went coiling up, high as a house, to come smashing down again almost on Zoltan’s head, with a noise like a falling castle wall. The carvable plates of the scales were suddenly impervious armor once again, so long as they avoided Dragonslicer’s gleam. The descending mass crushed into splinters the riverside trees that happened to be beneath it. It shattered sandstone into sand and dust.
Once more, Zoltan narrowly escaped being caught under the falling bulk and flattened.