Tim's room was a lopsided extension on the back of the blacksmith's shop. It reeked of coal and sulfur and burnt beeswax. A single candle flickered on a stand beside the door.
Bryce snored on Tim's bunk. The healer had refused to see him. "Too many townsfolk need my help now," he claimed, turning up his nose. "I have no time or spark to waste on outsiders." So Tim and Eddie had carried Bryce back to Tim's room.
"Won't you get in trouble with the blacksmith for helping us?" Eddie asked, sitting on a corner of the bed.
Tim sat in the room's only chair. "The blacksmith is at the house of healing now," he said. "Out cold. He was one of the first to attack the dragon rider. His wife is still there by his side."
"The healer could have at least looked at Bryce," Eddie grumbled. "He looked at us like we were animals. Everyone does. I don't know why we even came here?"
"You can't blame them too much," Tim said. "So much has happened in the past few days. First the town stretched up into the sky when the laws of gravity decide to make an exception. Then we find that Bixbyville is gone, and the runners who went looking for towns further south never came back. Next morning, we found that the mayor had disappeared. He was the one trying to keep everyone calm. His nephew Max tried to fill in, but he disappeared the morning after that. A few others have gone missing in the days since then."
"So who is in charge?" Eddie asked.
Tim shrugged. "Sheriff Tragen was all we had, and you met her. She wasn't taking the pressure of leading this town well. Now she's out cold like your friend here." He nodded at Bryce. "The mob is in charge now."
Eddie studied Tim in the flickering light. He'd looked familiar when Eddie first met him, but Eddie couldn't connect Tim's face to anything in his past. "Why aren't you part of the mob too?" he asked. "You'll be unpopular."
Tim chuckled. "I've always been kind of an outsider," He said. "They think I'm peculiar here, all my tinkering and inventions. The blacksmith barely has patience for me most of the time."
"So, what do you think we should do about the girl?" Eddie asked.
Tim frowned. "What can we do? You'll have trouble even leaving this room. Everyone's itching to blame someone for all that's happened."
"Did you hear the conversation between the lady knight and the dragon rider?"
"Every word," said Tim. "He thinks that his king has caused the changes in the world."
"Have you heard of the prophecies they mentioned?"
"Sure. Everyone has."
Tim put his hands together and thought. "There's lots of different versions of the prophecy, but they all boil down to one simple story. A man will make a human sacrifice and cast a spell that will give him the power to steal the throne of God. When he does, the future will end."
"And that's what caused all this?" Eddie asked, waving a hand around.
"How should I know? I'm no prophet. I'm more concerned with natural philosophy."
"You're a scientist."
"I'd like to be. I have no spark, so magic isn't my thing."
Eddie glanced down at Bryce. "What is 'spark'? I keep hearing that word, but what does everyone mean by it?"
"Spark. It's a capacity for magic. Some folks got it. Some have a tiny bit. Some don't have any, like me."
"Magic," Eddie repeated. "Earlier today you said that magic took focus and will."
"And spark," Tim added. "It's like the three components of fire. To create a flame, you need fuel, heat and oxygen. Magic is similar. To bend reality, you need spark, focus, and willpower. Spark is like the fuel. If you have a little, you can do small things. If you have a lot, like our mayor, you can move buildings or paralyze a gang of attackers with your mind."
Eddie glanced at Bryce again. "The dragon rider... he wanted to take Bryce. He was after people with spark. But Bryce has never done anything magic."
"Or he performed magic and didn't know it. Not all magic is spell casting and moving objects with your mind. People with spark are often more adventurous. They can bend situations to their advantage. They don't have to use their capacity for overt acts of supernatural skill. They come across as being luckier than most and are often more reckless because of it. At the most fundamental level, magic is simply bending reality to your will."
"Huh." Eddie thought back over the past week. Bryce didn't strike him as being especially lucky. He'd been attacked by a troll and his gang, gotten a bad case of muskrat pox and been thrown in jail. Still, he'd come away from all of those situations alive.
"How can you tell if you've got spark?" Eddie asked.
"There are people who can sense it. It's their knack."
"Like the Sheriff has a knack for recognizing lies," Eddie mused. "Is that magic too?"
Tim shrugged. "Sure."
Eddie remembered Jane and Loretta at the ranch. Loretta had been reluctant to heal Eddie and Tim because she wanted to save her spark for her mother. She'd had dark circles under her eyes after the healing.
"Does spark run out?" Eddie asked.
"When you're using it, yes. It's something that needs to be recharged. A good night's sleep can do it."
Tim turned away. "If you say so. I'm more interested in the bigger picture. There's plenty of questions I can't answer. Not just about Holcomb, but about how the entire landscape has changed. I heard there were men who looked like human-frog hybrids in the jail."
"They escaped when the dragon rider came."
"There was nothing like that in this world a week ago."
"I've seen a troll," Eddie said. "And a kid with glowing eyes."
Tim insisted he tell him everything. Eddie told his tale, from his appearance in the desert to the showdown in the temple. Tim listened with rapt attention. When the tale ended, he sat back and studied his hands.
"What is it?" Eddie asked.
"Everything you told me is true?"
Tim frowned. "There's two different kinds of anomalies in your story, just like here in Holcomb. First, there's the mishmash of people and places that make up this world. Everyone seems to be out of place. Holcomb has survived as a unit, along with some of the surrounding territory. The fuel station you described is a smaller example. There are the individuals who have been displaced by themselves, like you and Bryce. It is as if many realities were torn apart and thrust together into a new hybrid reality."
"I've noticed. What's the other type of anomaly?"
"The aberrations, the things that could not exist in any reality. There's the shape of Holcomb. Gravity has bent around this town to create the hammer shaped tower. That's physically impossible. There's also the features of your car. A combustion engine that never runs out of fuel? A drink cooler that never empties? That's not magic. That's not physics. It's beyond extraordinary. It's impossible."
They were quiet as Eddie thought about this. He'd considered all the strange things he'd encountered as one big confusing mess. It had never occurred to him to categorize the madness.
"There's one other thing," Tim said. "Something in your story and what I've seen here in town. I don't know which category applies."
Eddie sat up. "Huh?"
"You know every language. You know things about every reality."
"I didn't know about magic," Eddie pointed out. "Or the guy who is supposed to take over heaven."
"But what you know is inexplicable."
"Do you know why you know so much?"
They were silent again. Eddie's head swam with sleepy weariness.
"None of this tells us how I save the girl," he said.
"I don't think there's anything we can do," Tim said.
"You don't have to help me. You'll only get into trouble. If I could break into that jail, I could sneak her out and we could drive away."
"You wouldn't get far," Tim said.
"If Bryce was awake, he could help. He could put some of that spark of his to use."
"Why do you think you need to save her? Why you?"
Eddie thought back to what the girl had said when he first met her. " you told me you would free me before the bad man could take me. " Had she dreamed him. Had she dreamed that he promised her he'd free her? How could she have foreseen the "bad man?"
"I'm getting her out of there," Eddie insisted. "With or without your help."
Tim nodded and yawned. "I'll help if I can. Let's get some sleep. We can make a plan in the morning."