The next morning, Kevin Galwynn began his work. Lt. Nimbus led the way down spiraling staircases and twisting corridors to a guarded storeroom on a lower level of the castle. They entered and paused on the landing of a short stairway overlooking the storeroom floor. Kevin could see from the scuffs on the flagstones that the storeroom’s usual assortment of crates, sacks, and barrels of goods had been shoved into other storerooms to make way for a dozen neatly stacked crates.

Shortly thereafter, Kevin was joined by the Sky King and a few advisors he recognized, as well as several strangers. The most notable among the new faces were two opposites: A modestly dressed old peasant and a lavishly attired nobleman.

“That’s Duke Northstorm,” Nimbus whispered surreptitiously to Galwynn, as he nodded toward the tall nobleman who was resplendent in cloud-white attire from head to boot. His Grace was square-jawed, barrel-chested, luxuriantly coiffed, grinning cocksurely, and jabbering at the Sky King as animatedly as a jay preening in a birdbath.

“Northstorm can talk from sunrise to sunset without saying a single word of worth, if you let him,” whispered Nimbus. “All the same, his enormous wealth and well-placed largesse buys him access to court. Most of those attending him are toadies or sycophants, but the two lackeys standing behind him are the worst.” Galwynn scrutinized a tall, lanky brute; and a short, husky one. “They’re the Illwind brothers, Thomas and Dwyer. They’re cruel by nature, loyal to their lord to a fault, and share about half a wit of brains between them.”

Nimbus’s assessment of the Duke and his retinue was too harsh and sarcastic to be mere summary. Aaron obviously didn’t like Northstorm for some reason, which only made Kevin wonder about their mutual history and the justification for Nimbus’s animosity.

“Ah, Master Galwynn,” said the Sky King as he caught sight of Kevin. “Good morning! Come meet our benefactor, His Grace Major-General Clarence Northstorm.” As the Duke obsequiously shifted his attention to the visitor from Land, the Sky King seemed relieved to briefly escape His Grace’s cloying attention.

“Master Kevin Galwynn?” asked Duke Northstorm, rhetorically. “Delighted to meet you; delighted! I was just telling King Cirrus here, that with this exciting new evidence that I’ve brought, you’ll probably be able to resolve this whole celestial conundrum in a trice!”

The Duke plunged into what would have been a dialogue had Kevin been able to get in a word edgewise: “Your reputation precedes you, Master Galwynn; even as faraway as here in Sky. (“Thank you. I—“) Did I mention that I frequently have dealings with Landfolk? (“Very nice—“) I’m a merchant, you know, and if I should be so immodest as to say, a rather successful one. (“How wonderful for you, Your Grace. Now, about these crates—?”) The crates? Now there’s a story—!”

In the fraction of a moment in which Northstorm paused to inhale, King Cirrus managed to interrupt by saying, “Quite so, Your Grace. However, considering the brief amount of time at our disposal, let us postpone lengthy explanations until tonight’s feast so Master Galwynn can immediately examine your find.”

“Of course, Your Excellency. Most sagacious,” Northstorm said, with a wink and a self-satisfied grin signifying nothing of value, and then turned so quickly that his brocaded coat flared out like a giant mushroom cap before settling down again at his sides. “You there!” Northstorm exclaimed to one of his retinue in an exuberant tone that he seemed to use for all matters, be they great or small. “Open the crates for our learned advisor’s examination!”

The crates were made of a pale wood common to the cloud forests and they opened with a thump and a squeak as the workmen’s hammers knocked tightly fitted pegs from their holes. In short order, the contents of the crates were all spilled on the storeroom floor.

The first crate contained some shards of scorched lightning-wood, but mostly milled oak, maple, and pine. The pieces were either broken or cracked, or scorched and burnt, but none were longer than the distance from a man’s fingertips to his shoulder, nor shorter than the distance from his fingertips to his elbow.

The second and third crate contained longer sticks of wood; the fourth and fifth, shorter pieces. The sixth crate contained pieces of brass plates; the seventh and eighth, bent rods and arcs of brass and copper. The ninth and tenth crates contained thick chunks of iron. And the remaining crates contained shards of broken glass and gazing crystal carefully arranged in smaller boxes by color and size.

When the workmen were done, Kevin stood in the middle of a ramshackle circle of crates and their littered contents. At first glance, the neatly categorized pieces seemed to possess a sort of order. But this was an extraneous, imposed, order. Without an overlying rationale that described how they fit together, the categorized pieces actually represented nothing but chaos. 

The pieces reminded Kevin of one of his children’s favorite games in which they drop a handful of sticks, all painted different colors, in a pile and then challenge each other to pick up one stick at a time without disturbing any of the other sticks. Except this pile was worse.

“What does this all mean?” asked Duke Northstorm. All heads turned towards Galwynn.

Kevin knew part of the answer, but that answer disturbed him profoundly. The crates were made of pale, updraft-pine, which stood in stark contrast to the darker hued maple, jet-black iron, and shiny brass, copper, and glass. The items in the crates were all ensorcelled so they could exist in the Sky Domain, but their origins were clear: Almost all the pieces were from Land.

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