I spent the remainder of that day in my room, trying to gather my wits and pull myself together as Kieran had asked. I did a lot of thinking, pacing and muttering, and Gabriel followed me step for step. I watched an episode of my favorite TV show on my iPod and cuddled with Gabriel, sighing as the low battery signal blinked at me. I made a vow to myself that I would ask Sam if there were any spell he could think of that would charge it up for me. A couple of ideas about how we could use it to our advantage against Sigrid simmered in the back of my mind as I used the cool spring water from the bathroom to clean up before bed.
“Thank God for the dwarves and their genius,” I muttered. I still couldn’t believe how technologically advanced they had been as a race, and wondered why the elves and humans hadn’t bothered to try to catch up yet. I marveled at their handiwork for a few moments longer before collapsing on the bed. Gabriel, who had been snoring softly, gave me a slit-eyed look and a snort of annoyance.
“Sorry, buddy,” I whispered, stroking his head in an absentminded, habitual sort of way. His face softened, he yawned, and resumed his soft snoring in no time, lulling me into a deep, refreshing sleep.
When I woke the next morning, I sought Kieran out first. I gave him a tentative smile. “I’m going to do whatever I can to pull it together and help you.”
He flashed a broad, genuine smile and ruffled my hair. “I knew you would.”
I was momentarily stunned by how dazzling his smile was and how perfect his teeth were. Attraction tugged at my gut, and I blushed, looking away in the hope that he wouldn’t notice.
“Do you know where Sam is? I’ve got some questions about magic and some ideas that we might be able to use against Sigrid that I wanted to talk over with him.”
“Excellent! I’ll tell Rolf.” He nodded vigorously. “Sam is probably meditating up in one of the towers on the wall. Would you like me to help you find him before I give Rolf the good news?”
I grinned at his enthusiasm. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
It took us a good thirty minutes to find Sam, and I had shin splints from hell by then. I bent down and rubbed my shins with a grimace as Kieran cleared his throat to get Sam’s attention.
Sam’s eyes snapped open, and he scowled at Kieran until he spotted me. His expression cleared in an instant, and he smiled. “I guess there’s a reason the two of you sought me out all the way up here,” he drawled.
Kieran nodded. “Lauren has agreed to do whatever she can to help us, and she’s got some questions about magic for you, and some ideas that we may be able to use against Sigrid, too.”
Sam leaped up from his cross-legged position on the floor and grabbed my hand, giving it an excited squeeze. “Excellent! Just excellent!”
I returned his beaming smile with a nervous one of my own. “Easy now. There’s no guarantee that any of these ideas I have are going to work. At all.”
“You just have to have faith,” Sam chirped.
Kieran nodded. “I’ll leave you two to it, then. I’m going to go tell Rolf and Captain Burns the good news.”
I didn’t say anything to Sam until Kieran was gone because I was afraid the plan I was formulating might freak him out. Sam, however, seemed a little more laid back. I pulled my dying iPod out of my frock pocket and locked eyes with Sam. "Kieran tells me you’re a pretty good mage."
Sam grinned. "Understatement, as usual. I graduated from the University of Pallidia with highest marks in magic. Now, tell me what that thing is, and what I can do for you."
I chewed on my lip for a moment. "This is my iPod. It’s a device that can play music, but the power source is about to die. I was wondering if you could somehow enchant it so that the energy the music generates in the listener can be used to charge the power source?"
Sam nodded. "It’s worth a try. Did you want to tell me your ideas regarding how we can use this...thing against Sigrid?"
"Well," I sighed. "The idea isn’t fully formulated yet, but I’ll give you the basics. First, I want you to find a way to magically tie the song selection to my mood. Second of all, we need to find a way to magically amplify the sound from the headphones, and blast the music out of the walls, toward our enemies. With the right choice of music, we might be able to scare them and send them packing."
Sam smiled and chucked me on the chin. "As a former bard and mage extraordinaire, I like the way you think, m’lady."
I rolled my eyes at the M’lady part and shook my head. "It’s great that you like the way I think and all that, but the more important question is whether you can actually pull off what I want you to pull off."
Sam arched a brow. "I think I can. Now, hand over the device."
I clutched it instinctively for a moment. "If you break this, Sam, I swear to God I’ll break you."
He nodded, his expression somber. "I understand, Lauren. Please, give me the device and go explain your ideas to Rolf. He’ll be pleased to know that you’re making a real effort to help us. After that, he’ll probably send you to your first training session with Captain Burns."
I groaned as dread tied my stomach in a knot. "Oh, goody, I get to make a fool of myself and get my butt kicked while I’m at it. Joy."
Sam smiled and squeezed my hand. "You’ll do just fine, Lauren. I have faith in you."
I frowned at him. "Why? Why would you have faith in me? You don’t even know me."
"I know enough to trust you." He shrugged, his tone somewhat cryptic.
I grunted and shook my head. "You’re not going to explain yourself, are you?"
"No. Now run along and tell our fearless leader about your glorious stroke of genius."
I rolled my eyes again. "I wouldn’t exactly call it that."
Sam shot me a pointed look. "Shoo. Go. I need to meditate and create a spell that will revive the device before we can proceed with your plans. Off you go."
"Arrogance must run in the family," I muttered under my breath as I started the long trek from the tower back to the fortress, still marveling at the dwarves’ craftsmanship and guile.
They had managed to carve out an outer wall that simply appeared to be a craggy, impossibly tall sheer cliff when the inside was a well-maintained battlement. It concealed the fortress that was carved into the side of the mountain so well that I wondered how they had ever succeeded in finding Tiernan in the first place. On the outside, it was just like any other mountain. As I crossed the grassy space between the wall and the fortress, I studied the aqueducts and irrigation channels that I had failed to notice on first entering Tiernan. It was a feat of engineering beyond belief.
I was winded by the time I made it back to Rolf’s office. I tried to get my breath under control before I knocked on Rolf’s door. Jeez. I really was a lot more out of shape than I thought. I had a feeling that the training I was about to endure was going to be miserable. My breath was quieter but still ragged when Kieran opened the door. He looked happier than I’d ever seen him before. "Come in, come in! Rolf and I are excited to hear what you’re planning."
I felt a blush burn my cheeks, and I stared at the floor as I walked in. "It’s not so much a plan yet as an idea...a crazy idea."
Kieran shrugged and grinned. "Everything that has to do with you is crazy."
My head snapped up and I glared at him. "Gee, thanks."
His warm brown eyes sparkled as he chuckled. "Come on, you know I’m right. Arriving in our world through a lightning strike, having a highly intelligent and protective dog somehow find you in the middle of the Black Forest, these ’messengers’ you’ve told us about."
I found myself nodding. "I guess you’re right, but it’s about to get crazier."
"I’m not sure how that’s possible." Kieran shook his head and crossed his arms.
"Well, I have a certain device that ended up traveling with me to this world. It holds a lot of music, some of which I’m sure would unnerve people who aren’t familiar with it. I have Sam working on spells to power the device, to allow me to choose music by my mood, and we are trying to find a way to amplify the sound and blast it from the walls of the fortress, should Sigrid and her minions get close."
Kieran looked puzzled, but Rolf nodded and cleared his throat. "I think I understand. How loud and how startling do you think this...music will be?"
"If Sam can create the spell the way I described it to him, it’ll be loud enough to shake the ground, stun them, and make it hard for them to hear. As for how startling the music is, when Sam brings me my iPod, I’ll come see you and let you have a listen to it."
"Fair enough. It’s not exactly what I expected, but it’s a start, I suppose."
I ran my hands through my hair. "It’s the best I could come up with on such short notice, but I’ll keep thinking."
Rolf and Kieran responded in unison. "Good. Thank you."
I shrugged and smiled. "You’re welcome."
Rolf stood and walked me to the door. "Captain Burns is waiting for you in the armory."
"Oh, goody," I groaned.
Kieran clapped me on the shoulder. "I’m sure you’ll do fine."
I rolled my eyes. "Your faith in me is flattering, but misplaced."
He shrugged. "We’ll see."
"That’s what I’m afraid of," I muttered as I slunk out of the door. Gabriel was waiting for me in the hall with a reproachful expression on his face because I’d let him continue sleeping after I woke up.
I shot him a sheepish look. "Sorry, buddy. I thought you could use the sleep."
Gabriel snorted and shook his head, his curly blond ears flopping all over the place.
"It won’t happen again."