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IX. CASTLE OF ILLUSION


Chapter 2

Gus waited as best he could in the corner of the Great Hall, but Taff failed to return. As the room warped and shimmered around him, Gus forgot what he waited for; he had to remember something, but he could not recall what, or even where he was.

Gus wandered past the Count’s new grandly-named magic mirror. He didn’t mean to look as he worked his way around the edges of the crowd in front of it when Cindi along with Skip and her entourage entered the Great Hall. While everyone else turned to stare at them, Gus ducked behind the gawkers. Thus he found himself standing before the Speculum Mysterium.

The computer-animated face of Ieronimus Magus swam into view in the darkness behind the glass. Weirdly lit from below with a ghostly bluish glow, the frowning image leaned forward, beard and eyebrows thrust out.

“Ah, there you are, Augustine,” it said. “Report to my office.” The visage withdrew into the blackness.

“What? Doctor Lac–,” Gus began, and the scowling face reappeared for a second.

“Now,” it sternly commanded and vanished.

Gus was never sure how he arrived at the tower. Nor did he understand how he came to be in Heronimo’s garret instead of Lacnuit’s office. But there he found himself at a dimly-lit workbench. Alembics bubbled and glass pipes steamed and hissed in the background, while various-sized lenses, hand tools, and mechanical parts lay strewn about before him.

“Don’t just stand there; get to work, young man,” a sharp-edged voice demanded.

He looked up. A plain, dusty mirror hung upon the tower wall. A man stood reflected in it which looked curiously much like Gus, imitating his every gesture. But he spoke with authority.

“What do you want me to do, Doctor Lacnuit?”

“Doctor who?” the voice said. Now the figure looked more like his father, and the voice sounded more like Doc’s also.

“You broke it, boy, you fix it,” the figure ordered. “Remember the settings.”

“Yes sir.” Gus sat on a stool, as did the bearded old man. He suddenly noticed the reading glass upon the workbench before. Everything kept warping and shifting as he looked, his hands felt odd and rubbery. He couldn’t understand how the lenses were put together.

While he stared at them, mind helplessly whirling, the voice lectured him. “Both lenses have wing-nuts at each corners on the mounting screws. Distance as well as angle may be independently adjusted. They must be set exactly so.”

“Even if I knew the proper settings, I’d never be able to remember that.”

“Yes, you can, son: just recall what happened.”

Gus’ mind went back to a rainy day long ago where he’d sat looking at the lens in his hands, puzzled. “Just take it apart,” his older brother said, tossing a ball in the air, impatient to use the lens to burn the model fort they’d built.

“No,” Gus replied. “Dad’ll kill us if he ever finds out.”

“Make sure he doesn’t.”

Therefore Gus had carefully scratched tiny marks into the brass screws with his pocketknife just below where the middle lens sat. Soon it was completely apart. But weather made the effort pointless. They were unable to light the wooden palisade or any toy soldiers. Worse, when Gus put the lenses back together, one of the long screw legs became cross-threaded. “It’s stuck, Skip,” he complained.

“Use pliers, stupid,” Skip said. But that just made it worse. “Must I do everything?” his brother said. “Out of the way, squirt.” Skip twisted the antique brass screw. It broke.

“Now look what you did,” Gus replied, on the edge of tears.

“Me? I tried to fix it. It’s your fault; you’re the one who got it stuck.”

In the tower, Gus gasped in realization, “That lousy rat!”

“Fear not, it doesn’t require the last setting, three will suffice,” the voice said.

“Really?” He looked at the lens. “But I still don’t know what it’s for.”

“To see its purpose, you must understand the cosmic plan,” the deep voice solemnly intoned. “Look, look, look into the mirror.”

Gus raised his eyes. The figure was gone from the glass, replaced by a grey mist.

As he peered into it unable to see shapes, the fog started to spin. This converged into a pearly circle in the center, which grew brighter the faster it whirled. The disk swelled in size and Gus felt as if it were pulling him up through a long, dark tunnel. He felt like a swimmer gone too deep at last approaching the surface where the airy world of light beckoned.

What was happening? Was he dying? Before Gus could fully formulate the thought, he broke through a surface not of water, but of illumination. His hands grasped a solid, stone edge. Gus slowly drew himself up into the warm darkness of the night.

 


 

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“Even I,
who with my Ampliospectus did behold mountains on the Moon and creatures sporting in the dew,
have no mirror which can bedazzle the soul.
That art belongs to another age as yet undreamed of. ”

Testimony of Magister Ieronimus to the Inquisition,
1337

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