Cace could not hide his hurt the next day. Even after a particularly deep sleep his face was gaunt and pale, with deep lines etched beneath his eyes. When he came out of the sleeping quarters Aylme took one look at him and her face fell.
“I want to help, Aylme.”
“By hurting yourself?”
“No…not by that. I thought I’d be able to do it safely. I was trying to flow in and out on my own…but it didn’t work. It…was even worse than before.”
Aylme shook her head sadly. “I know you mean well, Cace, but so did the Elders at the House of Olaish, and see what they brought upon us? I had thought that you of all people would see the folly in this. We’re simply not meant to walk between two worlds, Cace.”
That last sentence Cace could not agree with. Even more than before he felt that a part of him was still locked away in the Ether. He didn’t know how, but he was most definitely in two places right this very moment. But never mind that. No matter how much he burned with a desire to explore the secrets of the Ether, no matter how sincerely he believed he could use it as a tool to help the three of them survive, he had to face the facts that he didn’t have what it took to do that.
“Well I’m not going back Aylme,” he told her. “I still think it could have saved us…but it’s beyond me.” He hung his head and hurried away before she could respond. He went to clear his head by helping Rolar set some traps.
“Ah, Cace,” Rolar said without even looking up from his work. He could recognize the boy by his lighter footfalls.
“How do these ones work?” As Cace approached the older youth he saw that what he was working on was an apparatus of wood and vine.
“Very delicately…” Rolar replied, a bead of sweat rolling down his nose as he strained at the apparatus, prying two wooden meshes apart from one another. “This vine is surprisingly elastic, as good as a synthetic really!”
“So you just pry the wooden halves apart, but if they get disturbed they’ll snap back together…crushing anything inside?”
“That’s right. You pick things up quickly, Cace!…Grab that bracer for me,” Rolar nodded his head towards a fat, white stick laying on the ground.
Cace reached down and picked it up. There was a strange breaking of tension, as if it had been attached to some invisible membrane. But as if the breaking of that membrane wasn’t actually occurring under Cace’s fingers, rather it was centered elsewhere…somewhere far away. And now there was another strange and distant sensation, like the memory of an imbalance and dizziness. “Ohhh,” Cace touched his head and moaned.
“You alright?” Rolar glanced up, but then back down to the two halves he was holding apart with trembling hands.
“Yeah, I just…I just feel like something shifted.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, but I am having a hard time keeping these apart!”
“Right, right…sorry.” Cace tried to dismiss the strange uneasiness and wedged the stick sideways in the wooden mesh. “Okay, let go.”
“No,” Rolar panted. “Set it and pull your hand out.”
Cace could see the wisdom in that and hastily withdrew his fingers. Rolar nodded, then rolled his own hands over the edges of the trap. Both boys covered their ears in case the stick didn’t hold and the trap snapped shut…but after a few moments of squeaking it held.
“Excellent!” Rolar exclaimed. “That’s the trick with traps. You’ve got to make them sensitive enough to go off when the animal gets in, but not so sensitive to go off when nothing’s there. I’ve heard some ragouls in the night, and they’re about the size of two hands, so I figured–“
But Cace wasn’t listening. As soon as he had covered his ears and shut out the outside noise he felt that weird dizziness even more clearly. And he was starting to realize what it was.
When he had lifted that stick something had shifted in the Ether. Something there was tethered to that stick…and it in turn was tethered to something else that was here. And ever since that disturbance there was a rumbling sensation in the Ether that was growing stronger and stronger, louder and louder, nearer and nearer…an explosion that had not yet burst to the surface.
“It’s a trap!” Cace blurted out, jumping to his feet in a panic.
“What?” Rolar wrinkled his brow in confusion. “Well of course it’s a trap, what did you think we were making?”
“No, we’re being trapped. Come with me!”
“What are you going on about?!”
But Cace couldn’t wait any longer. He seized Rolar’s arm and hauled with a strength that belied his smaller frame.
“Cace, what are you doing?” Rolar asked as the younger boy lurched for the edge of the clearing, still tugging at Rolar’s arm every step of the way.
But then Rolar didn’t have to wonder anymore, for now he could feel it even in the regular world. The entire ground beneath seemed to wake up! It shook violently for a moment, and then the ground in the center of the clearing rose and burst apart, giving birth to a massive, brown creature from below. It looked like a sideways clam, with two plate-like halves that snapped the air wildly, seeking the boys that had been there just a moment before! At its back, where the two clam-halves hinged together, four sinewy legs sprawled out to the ground. When fully raised it stood nearly twelve feet tall.
“Get behind me!” Rolar gasped, pushing Cace to the rear and drawing his staff from his back.
The creature stopped snapping at the air, evidently understanding that its prey had escaped too quickly. So now it turned very still, slowly turning its head left and right, a warbling growl emanating from somewhere inside that massive mouth.
“What’s it doing?” Rolar whispered over his shoulder.
“It’s looking for us,” Cace responded. “That stick thing was its bait, and when we moved it it knew to come out.”
“How? The stick was just laying on the ground…there wasn’t any connection between them.”
“There was…but not here. They’re connected in the Ether.”