[Black text on white]

by Jenn Dolari

      It was nice to casually leave for once, fully stocked and supplied for a nice road trip, even if it was still under duress. Jana was beginning to wonder if she'd be leaving anywhere on good terms. If not, they would quickly run out of places to have a good night's sleep.
      The farther they two got out of town, the more the road seemed to hold together, eventually becoming a freeway. An abandoned freeway, but a freeway nonetheless, and the freeway meant speed. Jana throttled the bike up enjoying the wind in her hair. It wasn't just the bike going faster, but Sylvia was more animated as well, giving directions, and commenting on the sights.
      "So you've been here before?" Jana asked.
      "We're getting close to some of my old stomping grounds. Well, back in our other lives. A lot of this area doesn't look like it's changed much, actually. I thought I saw some electric lights back there. Take this exit, hun."
      Jana leaned the bike onto an exit narrowly missing a horse and carriage using the far right lane. "Horse and buggy!" she exclaimed excitedly before merging on another empty freeway.
       "Did you get a good look at who was in the buggy?" Sylvia smiled to herself, already knowing the answer.
      "Not really. It looked like a man with a beard and a big hat."
      "The Amish. Just like old times." Sylvia tried to remember where exactly she was again, "Take this exit, go under the freeway, and drive till you see a town called Mingoville. Not too far from here."
      Jana exited the freeway, pulling onto a crabby dirt road slowly being overtaken by nature. "You were an Amish?" she asked.
      "No, but I saw them a lot. I took a couple of semesters at Penn State University, in the old world. My parents weren't all that happy when I flunked out right away, and I was in no hurry to see them angry at me, so I stayed a few years up here. I've missed the place."
      "You ran away?" Jana had thought about running away a few times, but never went through with it. She couldn't believe Sylvia would try the same thing, and for years!
      "I guess you could say that. I thought of it more as spreading my wings a bit, being my own person. Letting water flow under the bridge before facing my parents again was just a...." she remembered she was talking to a person with an eight year old mentality and all the ideas that came with that. "Running away is bad, Jana. Especially around here." Jana nodded knowingly.
      As the road went from a scrabbled dirt road to a footpath, Jana slowed down. Not that speed mattered, their destination had been looming just south of them for miles now. "Do you see any roads heading off to our right at all, Jana? I can't sense any."
      Jana scooted forward on the bike slowly, "Not really. Nothing more than deer trails. It looks like this road might go to the right in a bit." Jana looked off to her right, due south. Staring back at her was a gigantic slanting wall of trees going up a thousand feet. "We're going up there?"
      "Right up Mount Nittany."
      "Doesn't look like any mountain I've seen," commented Jana. No jagged peaks, no snow, no clouds clinging to the top, no lava or smoke or even a castle. Just a big bump. A really tall big bump going from horizon to horizon, but a bump.
      "It's bigger than you think, hun. Take the next road to the right, it should go up the mountain, and hopefully won't be too hard to drive."
      It really was much bigger than Jana thought, the switchbacks had her careening backwards and forwards slowing inching up to the top of the ridge that was Mount Nittany. After a near accident involving a missing bridge and a part of the road that looked like it was ready to fall into a ravine, they finally made it to the ridgetop.
      The top however was heavily forested. Sylvia sighed to herself as best as she could in her current state as the remnants of a skull sitting in a box. She needed a good line of sight to the horizon for what she'd planned, and while the elevation was perfect, the trees were in the way. "Head down the road a bit more. There used to be a farm up where the forest was cleared out. It might still be here."
      Sure enough, a half mile down the road, the forest cleared out. The farm was still there, and the view across Happy Valley over to Bald Eagle mountain was breathtaking. Jana got off the bike and walked to the edge of the road, taking in the view. She reached back for Sylvia. "It's beautiful up here, Sylvia. How did you find it?"
      Sylvia smiled to herself, again. She wasn't about to tell Jana what she and her boyfriend would do up here before the world warped, but had to agree, the sight was definitely inspiring. "It's a five mile view across the valley, that was enough to bring me here many times. Brings back a lot of memories, hun." Her tone took a more serious turn. "I need you to place my box on the highest point you can find here, and then open my box. I'll need some time to concentrate, but don't wander off. Just in case."
      Jana nodded, placing the box on a large rock with a good view. She cracked the lid open and left Sylvia there to do what she needed. Sylvia's sight brightened with the box open, and now she saw a view she hadn't seen in a lifetime in stunning clarity. Happy Valley spread out before her, with its strings of mountains, creeks and farmland. She felt a slight twinge as she realized this was all out of her reach now, literally. Alone in a box. She tried not to think about it and summoned up her will to attempt her first real magic work since she found herself in this state. Powering a bike was one thing, attempting to send a pulse across the Earth was another. Even when she had her body, this would have taken time,
      It took some work, so much of her magic depended on ritual and movement, and that all had to be reduced to imagining it all while still trying to feel the power moving through her. It took time and patience, but she began feeling the energy building. She imagined arms and legs directing it around to where it needed to be stored and channeled, mumbled spells and chants to herself to summon more energy from her soul. All of which, she imagined, welled in one nonexistent hand, which she then pounded into the ground with a mighty punch. Immediately she dropped her own mental shielding, opening herself to anything and everything she could possibly detect. It was blinding.
      Jana felt more than she saw the golden sphere emanate from Sylvia's box. It expanded rapidly and violently across the mountain, fading from view, but obviously traveling like a shockwave across the valley.
      "Three...four...six....seven..." she heard Sylvia mumble to herself.
      Sylvia had sent the magical equivalent of a radar signal out across the globe, counting echoes of wish stones. They both needed to know how many there were out there, how long their quest would be.
      And then she felt something. The faint feeling of a threat, of someone looking for them.
      The threat was non-corporeal, it had no body, but it had a mind, a mind that was looking for the source of the pulse.
      "Twenty...twenty one."
      She felt another pulse of magic, not an echo from a gem, but a much more insistent pulse from another source.
      "Twenty six...twenty seven."
      The pulse echoed again, it was trying to find her. Trying to find them.
      "Thirty...thirty two."
      The pulses stopped, and suddenly she felt eyes on her. It knew where they were, but did not know who they were.
      "Thirty nine...forty."
      She turned her sight to the eyes. Six points of gold against the sky were all she saw. And the six points looked at her.
      "Forty one."
      Opening up to any and all magic was always a dangerous thing to do, especially when sending out an easily traceable signal, but she hadn't expected something to be awakened from her pulse.
      "Forty two."
      She looked deep into the six points of light staring back at her, and focused. It wasn't all there...just a faint consciousness, aroused by her pulse. And then the points vanished. Whatever had tried to find her had exhausted its own energy. It may not have determined who they were, but it definitely had woken up.
      She waited a few seconds more before raising her own mental shielding, no other echoes from gems or anything else. She was weak, and needed rest. "Jana, close the box. Please."
      Jana was busy looking at something that caught her eye, however. "Sylvia! Over here! There's a city! A real city!"
      Wearily Sylvia turned her attention to where Jana was looking, and a bustling city sat farther down the valley. Her old home of State College, Pennsylvania, alive as ever, and looking just as it did in the old world.
      "I need to rest, Jana. There's an old park at a place called Houserville, we can stop there and get some sleep. Just get us off the mountain, quickly." She didn't want to remain where she'd been found by the six eyes, but didn't want to scare the girl with what she saw. Thankfully, Jana, excited at seeing a modern city again, didn't need any encouragement to drive down the road and off the mountain.
      Sylvia had exerted herself badly to get a glimpse of the quest ahead. Maybe a night's sleep would allow her to find a way to break the news that thirty-nine stones remained unaccounted for.

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