Chapter 24: Magic

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-Jack

It felt like the world had been yanked out from under me. I sat up straighter. "You've been to Hoshaldri? The Hoshaldri with magicians?"

"Do I look sixteen to you?" the boy asked.

I blinked. "Going to Hoshaldri is part of your coming of age ceremony?"

Now he looked impressed. Just a little. "Our first trip there is reserved for the end of our five day celebration period." A grin snuck onto his face. "But that doesn't mean I haven't tried to sneak in before."

I nodded wisely. "It is a fine art, sneaking into adult celebrations."

He smothered a wider grin. "You sound like Abner."

"Is that another Trader?"

He nodded, grin fading, and mumbled something about ". . . best friend."

He no longer seemed like a know-it-all. He didn't even seem certain of anything. He looked lost.

I frowned and slid my finger over the top of my steel foot. Forward and backward, forward and backward. "How did you get here? Why aren't you with the rest of your people?"

He slowly looked up from the steel bird cradled in his arms, eyes boring into mine. "What do you think?"

I was confused, until I realized he wasn't speaking to me. Then I was even more confused.

"This is obviously a gentleman with great honor and valor," a comically high-pitched voice shouted, and though I wasn't sure where it came from exactly, I thought it was somewhere near the boy, who groaned.

"I forgot how helpful you could be." He reached into his coat, putting the bird contraption back wherever he had found it, and pulling out something else entirely. A tiny boy who couldn't have been taller than my thumb.

"This is Tom," said the first boy. "And I'm Colton."

"Jack," I said with a nod, staring at Tom.

"Actually," Tom said. "My name is Tom Thum."

Alright, I thought. You're in the Land of a Thousand Skies. Meeting tiny people is totally normal. As totally normal as meeting giant people and their freakishly large pet toads. This wasn't the direction I'd pictured my life taking. Well, except for the whole magic thing. So in retrospect, I guessed the randomness really should have been expected.

Then I grinned. "So, where are you from?"

"I found him in a shoe," Colton replied nonchalantly.

I smirked. "Whose shoe?"

"An abandoned one. Well, mostly abandoned. A wolf was sniffing at it."

I cocked an eyebrow. "How'd you take care of the wolf?" I had learned long ago to never underestimate wolves. One year they decimated half our livestock and wounded several neighbors. I wondered if Colton had had dogs with him, or if he had had to fight it off alone. At least there was only one. That almost never happened.

Colton looked away. "I have my ways."

"He means the giant has ways," Tom piped up.

"Hush."

"What do you mean?" I asked. Now we were getting somewhere.

Colton glared at Tom, who just gestured to me. Finally, he sighed. And fidgeted. And sighed again. "My parents. . . they didn't think I could handle myself. They never let me go anywhere or do anything on my own." He looked up from the spot on the floor he'd been staring at. "So I ran away."

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