Nimbus was jarred from his despair by a most peculiar sound.
Castle Castellanus was composed of many floors layered like tiers of a wedding cake, or seams of gold and gangue in a troll’s mine. Each floor contained a mix of shops and markets, offices and apartments, and streets and public squares all paved and clad with marbled white-and-gray cumulus-stone. So it was, beneath the hallway where Kevin Galwynn disappeared, there was an apartment occupied by the royal apothecary and his wife. There were several feet of arched and buttressed cumulus-stone above their bed chamber, and usually they were undisturbed by the foot traffic passing daily above their heads.
Tonight however, was different. There was so much noise that the apothecary and his mate, both in their white night caps and shirts, were awakened by the clatter. “What is all that noise?” complained the druggist, as he put on his spectacles and a scowl. “You’d think someone was fighting for their lives up there!”
It was at about this moment the apothecary squinted at the ceiling, took off his spectacles, cleaned their gazing crystals with the sleeve of his nightshirt, then put them back on and squinted at the ceiling again.
The apothecary did not think he was dreaming, but how else could he explain the pair of feet that seemed to be dangling from his ceiling? Bit by bit, feet then legs, legs then a waist, and a waist then a torso and one arm, slid into view. The druggist and his wife both stared in stunned silence at the sight until the dangling figure momentarily stopped his descent. The astounded couple held each other, then held their breaths, just before Kevin Galwynn came tumbling down from the ceiling, yelling a long drawn-out wail, “Nim-m-m-bus-s-s-s!”
It was this cry, along with the terrified yelps of the apothecary and his wife, that was the peculiar sound that shook Nimbus from his despairing reverie. “Master Galwynn must have fallen through!” Nimbus exclaimed. Then quick as a gale, Nimbus darted towards a stairwell with Galwynn’s talisman clutched in his fist, and the amulet’s silver chain trailing wildly behind.
There was a whoosh of air as Nimbus raced to the floor below. He arrived just in time to be bowled over by the lanky apothecary and his plump wife as they ran for their lives from their apartment. The pair blew down the hall and out of sight, with the peaks of their pointy nightcaps trailing back in the direction they had just come, before the door to their apartment had time to slam into the vestibule wall.
Nimbus picked himself up and rushed into the abandoned apartment, arriving just in time to see Kevin sink into the bedding and disappear. Nimbus dug through the covers, but Galwynn was gone.
Aaron raced out of the apartment so fast that the turbulence of his wake made the bedcovers whip up and point where he had gone. There were more apartments in the floors beneath this one, and Nimbus raced down the stairway hoping to intercept Galwynn at one of those levels. Nimbus stormed down the stairs faster and faster until he became a sirocco whistling through the halls of the keep. But each time Nimbus reached a floor, he was met with the startled cries of sleepers awakened by a man falling through their ceiling. It was clear that there was less and less magic in Galwynn’s body to hold him on a floor, and so he was falling faster and faster.
Nimbus suddenly realized with a fright, that if Galwynn fell down and through the basement layers of Castellanus, he would fall from the clouds for hundreds of feet to the Land below. By the time he reached the ground, he would be all too solid—and mortal—flesh.
Prodded by his fear, Nimbus hurtled on. He roared past astonished night workmen transiting the enclosed streets to the alcoved dwellings, businesses, and workshops of Castellanus. Nimbus skipped the remaining apartments, knowing that to stop there would only cost him more time. Instead, he dashed to the first sub-basement, which held one of the keep’s bakeries. Beneath the bakery were storerooms, freight docks, and stables. Beneath that was thin, empty, air.
The bakery was a cavernous room. On one side were row upon row of shelves loaded with bags of flour and sugar, while on the other side were racks of wonderful-smelling fresh baked bread, cooling slowly. In the middle were huge baking ovens fueled with lightning-wood that smeared the bakers’ faces deep purple with smoke.
When Nimbus entered the bakery, the bakers and their helpers were calmly going about their work. They looked up for a moment to inspect their unexpected visitor, but seeing his rank badge authorized him to come and go as he pleased, and that he had nothing to ask them, they went back to work keeping to their busy schedules. All was peaceful.
“Yee-owww!” came a cry from overhead. Kevin Galwynn fell through the ceiling and crashed into a rack of cooling bread. The alarmed bakers arrived first at the impact site; saw Kevin melting through the snow-bread and multi-colored, seven-grain rainbow loaf; and then fled the hall crying, “Cosmos protect us!”
“Master Galwynn, grab hold!” shouted Nimbus as he raced into the bakery and shoved the Sun-and-Moon talisman into Kevin’s hand. By now, Galwynn was just a shimmer; barely perceptible in the Domain of Sky. Upon contact with the amulet, the features of Kevin’s face immediately began to become clear and well delineated. But his expression was not one of relief, but of heightened terror.
“Nimbus, no!” Galwynn exclaimed in a strangely choked voice. “Listen carefully, and then act quickly.” Kevin’s hand was changing from pale transparency to ruddy opacity.
“I must not solidify here,” Kevin said. “I’m half embedded in the floor already,” he panted, “and I can barely breathe as it is. I must let go of the amulet now, and trust your swiftness to carry you to the floor below and catch me with it as I fall.”
“But Master Galwynn—!”
“There is…no time…to argue.” Kevin’s breathing was becoming more labored as the cumulus-stone floor began to coalesce around his chest. “My body is filling…with the amulet’s spell. I will have a few moments…for you to catch me…before the magic…wears off…again.” With a wry smile, and remembering something told to him recently, Kevin admonished Nimbus, “Don’t be late!” Then he flung the amulet over the lieutenant’s outstretched hand.
Even as the amulet swung from Nimbus’s fingers, with its argent chain glittering from the light of the ovens, Kevin Galwynn began to fade and fall once more.
Nimbus bolted for the exit from the bakery, jumping over tumbled shelves and spilled baskets of skinny loaves of bread. His mind was supremely clear, focusing on nothing except one footstep’s pursuit of the other. The lieutenant had become like the belly of a tornado, a howling tempest so implacable that it swept every obstacle out of its way.
Nimbus stormed down to the storeroom level, the last tier of Castle Castellanus before its solid foundation and empty air beneath. Here was a dimly lit maze of corridors that divided the space into hundreds of storage rooms. “Which room is directly beneath Galwynn?” Nimbus frantically wondered. Judging from the relative position of the stairwell, Nimbus guessed his goal could be either of two small storerooms.
Aaron tried the first storeroom. It was full of crates and metal-rimmed casks, but there was no sign of Master Galwynn dangling from the ceiling. Nimbus cursed himself. Precious seconds had been wasted! He dashed out of the wrong storeroom to the final alternative at the end of the hallway.
“Lieutenant! Where are you?” came a cry from within the room. Galwynn had been found at last! Nimbus surmised the Master of Enlightenment must be unceremoniously hanging upside down in order for his voice to be heard.
Nimbus came to the storeroom, yanked the handle of the door—and discovered it was locked. Aaron pulled and heaved the door latch, but try as he might, it held fast. Time was of the essence, and Galwynn didn’t have much left. Aaron had to get into the storeroom, but there was no telling where there was a foreman with a key. Nimbus hacked at the door with his sword, but it was made of hardwood reinforced with metal straps. It splintered not at all.
“Nimbus, I’m falling!” came another cry, this time more plaintive than the last.
“The door was sturdy and metal clad,” thought Nimbus. “How can I breach it?” The strategy for storming an enemy’s gates was well known: Attack like with like.
Nimbus was a blur as he turned and ran back to the first storeroom and reemerged with one of the metal-rimmed casks hoisted on his shoulder. Then he charged at full speed—like a gale or a tornado, but straight on in one direction—down the hallway. And when he was within the last few feet of the locked door, he hurled the cask.
In a hurricane, needles of straw have been known to be driven through the solid trunks of trees. In this moment, Lt. Nimbus was a little less a force than a hurricane, but the cask was much more massive than a straw. The locked storeroom door exploded into a flurry of shards and splinters.
The shimmering figure of Kevin Galwynn was hanging from the ceiling by an ankle when the force of the door shattering shook him loose. His ghostly form fell, arms flailing, into the grasp of Lt. Nimbus. Galwynn was a mere wisp of smoke in Nimbus’s arms, but there was still enough of his essence for the amulet of Sun-and-Moon wrapped around Aaron’s fist to draw Kevin back into the Domain of Sky.
In ten beats of his racing heart, Kevin’s features and form were distinct. After ten more beats of his heart, Kevin’s volume, mass, and solidity were his own once more. After a final ten beats of his heart, Kevin was as real as Aaron himself—and just as heavy. Galwynn suddenly became too massive for Nimbus to hold, and both he and Nimbus collapsed onto the storeroom floor.
Nimbus propped himself up on one elbow and gave Kevin the amulet. Galwynn grabbed the talisman like a drowning man lunges for a lifeline, and then pulled the chain around his neck and stuffed the pendant down his tunic.
“Owww!” Kevin said, as he painfully rolled off a crushed wooden box poking him in his rump. His pain gave evidence that he was now quite solid, which under the circumstances he regarded as a blessing instead of a tribulation. He adjusted his position until he was comfortable, and then he laid back exhausted from relieved terror. For his part, Nimbus laid back exhausted from his exertions, and panted heavily in silence.
“Thanks for saving me from falling to my death,” said Kevin to the ceiling, being too spent to even turn his head toward Aaron.
“Thanks for saving me from that kidnapper’s sword,” Nimbus replied to the ceiling, being too spent to turn his head toward Kevin.
For a long time, neither man spoke. They merely breathed heavily, in concert.
After a while, Nimbus caught his breath enough to comment, “Well, so far this has been quite an adventure, hasn’t it?” Nimbus was on his back, seeing only the mortar lines and fitted cumulus-stones of the vaulted ceiling above his head. But when he heard no reply, he suddenly became concerned. “Hasn’t it?” he repeated anxiously.
Kevin’s answer came in the form of taking the broken box he had landed on, and sailing it across the storeroom to splinter harmlessly against the wall near Aaron’s head. Startled, the lieutenant propped himself up and turned towards Galwynn in surprise.
“Adventure?” the Master of Enlightenment said, scornfully. “Adventure!? Haven’t I told you how much I hate adventures?”