Finding time where Douglas wasn’t watching or listening was rather easy. When he had finished any work given to him, he returned to fiddling with the puzzle. The small hut they’d constructed wouldn’t stand the test of time, but it was at least good enough to give some privacy. Hagen Reed found some time to speak with Xavier Lynwood alone.
“I am now unsure if bringing Douglas along with us was the best idea. There weren’t many other options but…” Reed shook his head, “His eager desire to learn magic was quite a benefit to him until it no longer became possible to perform magic. Now it seems to have become an unhealthy obsession. Yet it is likely not possible for either of us to deny him the chance to learn.”
Xavier nodded his head. As his father, he’d of course known Douglas his whole life until they were separated. He was very much aware of his son’s tendencies. Since the incident where he’d lost his magic, Douglas had only really perked up when allowed to learn magic again, at least as far as he was able. Truthfully, his skills in writing spells had quickly recovered, but without his own power he wouldn’t be able to do any active magic or activate any formations. It took some time for his hands to come up with the words. “If we don’t allow him to try, he might break even sooner.” He paused for a moment, “That puzzle… though he doesn’t show much expression, he’s very fascinated by it. He always loved puzzles, and magic was just one more. I think… he expected that he had to use magic. I could, his sister could, stories about his mother said so. Now… he might be alright without. We can hope.”
Hagen Reed sighed, “I can’t tell if that puzzle is dangerous. With his experience, I don’t expect him to know any better than myself. I know I warned him about the dangers of the library before, but he never really ran into significant trouble. He was clever enough to deal with any problems. With something like that… it could be dangerous even if it wasn’t intended to be. In fact, it might even be more dangerous than if it was actually a trap.”
“Should we come up with some excuse to take it away from him?”
“No, I don’t think that would help. Leaving Douglas’ mind unoccupied wouldn’t be good for anyone involved. He does not seem too upset about being unable to use magic himself… so I see no reason to not continue with what we’re doing for the moment. I’m just unsure about the future.”
Xavier nodded as he looked towards where he knew Douglas was fiddling around with the magical puzzle.
Completely unaware of the conversation that had been happening, or indeed any conversation at all, Douglas turned a puzzle piece over in his hand, rotating it in every direction. So, it was like that. He nodded to himself. Yes, of course it was. How would that fit in with everything else? Maybe if it was oriented this way, then it could…
Two things snapped into place, though it wasn’t quite the same as actually fitting puzzle pieces together. Even if they stuck together through some rotation, very rarely would they remain together in all orientations. In which case, they didn’t actually fit together.
After he had finished memorizing the first piece, subsequent pieces had become easier. It had just taken time for Douglas to develop a system to visualize things in his head. Saying he actually knew what the full object was like would be a bit much, but at least he could see and remember what fit into the planes he could interact with. Douglas was fairly certain the pieces were four dimensional- not any more than that, because he hadn’t seen any additional complexity other than seeming to change size and shape smoothly. Or maybe he wouldn’t be able to tell, in which case it didn’t matter.
Douglas could not yet tell what shape might ultimately arise from his puzzle- if indeed there was just one shape to result. Perhaps there would be different solutions in different orientations. He might require something to hold the puzzle in place to keep things steady. Either way, the total size of whatever resulted would be no bigger than a few hands on a side, with at least one direction being closer to one hand instead. There just wasn’t more stuff than that, though of course there could instead be irregular shapes that brought it to an in between shape. Maybe the solutions wouldn’t look like anything, and he would just know they were correct because the pieces fit. Douglas was hoping for some sort of insight into the reason for the puzzle- though maybe that was just it. Maybe it was just a puzzle… but he needed to find the solution to know whether he should expect something more. It was just that he would have something more. Unless he made it just for practice.
Occasionally it occurred to Douglas that the puzzle might not be complete. That he might be missing pieces, perhaps it was never finished, perhaps there were multiple puzzles mixed together. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a puzzle at all, and they were separate pieces he only thought fit together, yet were all for some separate use. Douglas didn’t like those ideas, so he ignored it. If they weren’t meant to fit together like a puzzle, he would figure out a satisfying solution anyway. Like stacking blocks and toy horses and men in just the right way.
Every time they moved on the road, Douglas lost his progress putting together the puzzle. Just the physical progress, though. Not his memorization of the shapes and his understanding of how they fit together. Thus, every time they stopped he could put together what he’d figured out more and more quickly. Up until the current point he hadn’t come across such a difficult puzzle. It had been months, up and down the mountain… carving out a regular road to use, a better way to enter the library, structures to stay in while they were there.
Douglas wanted to explore the library, read its books… but before he could do that, he had to finish the puzzle. Otherwise, the reading would be marred by distraction. He wouldn’t be able to think about it with the puzzle undone… and it was most certainly a puzzle. The pieces fit together too neatly, once he figured it out. Everything almost locked into place… until it shifted, sizes and shapes changing. It was fortunate that none of the expansions got caught on other pieces… or perhaps it was by design. After all, the creator of the puzzle had to know that it would not just remain perfectly still until completion. If it accidentally broke… well, Douglas didn’t actually think that would be easy. The pieces seemed rather sturdy, though obviously he hadn’t fully tested their limits. If they were truly like the gemstones they resembled, they would shatter suddenly upon reaching their limits.
The actual colors and patterns of the pieces seemed to be unrelated to the puzzle, though Douglas had certainly tried matching them. Instead, only shape mattered for his current goal. Maybe there was something more, but he had to focus on the goal in his sight at the moment. The current shape he was working towards was… a box. Or maybe a rectangular prism. The catch was whether anything was inside of it or if it was a solid shape.
Douglas was constructing it, and he knew what all the pieces going into the structure looked like when oriented the way he was constructing them. Thus, he knew it was solid and had nothing in it. But also… he knew there was magic involved with the shapes. He couldn’t say that once the puzzle was complete, there wouldn’t be anything different inside.
Pieces rotated, placed one by one into the construction he was making. He nearly reached the end but found pieces that needed to be contained inside were not yet placed, requiring him to start over from nearly the beginning, finding ways to twist pieces just right that they slid into place with more objects in the way of their motion. It was late one night when the last piece clicked into place. Douglas was working by the light of the moon- being unable to use magic to provide his own light, and unwilling to light a candle. Besides, working with his hands and feeling the shapes for so long… he knew what he needed to do.
Douglas carefully propped the box against the wall. He was quite certain it was done, but he couldn’t see if there was anything special that had happened. Even though his mind was still racing, it was also exhausted and sleep easily overtook him.
In the morning, the light of the sun shone down on his box and revealed something. Runes, hidden inside the crystalline structures of the pieces. Had he never noticed them before… or had they not been there? Certainly each individual piece had been exposed to sunlight, even a half-built construction earlier in the day. No, it had to have changed. Douglas studied the runes, carefully picking up the box to see each rune embedded in the puzzle. It was hard to say where anything started, and though he was certain they were all magical runes he was also quite certain he didn’t recognize them. Thus they had to be runes he did not yet know. They weren’t just forgotten either, wiped away by his great magical mistake, but he was certain he had never known them. Yet he was also just as certain that they were not fake.
Douglas didn’t know how to activate them. He didn’t know what their pronunciation was like… but that didn’t matter anyway. He hadn’t ever spoken a single word, magic or not. However, what was more important was getting the spell right, the words in the right order. And before that… what was most important was understanding what the spell was, what it did. Douglas needed to know if he even wanted to, or should activate it. What would be the consequences if he did? He was now well aware that powerful magic could easily go awry if one did not think it through to the very end. Since that time, he had not done magic.
But if he wanted to activate this spell… it wasn’t that he couldn’t do magic. He hadn’t yet made use of his mother’s magic, the only magic left in him. He wasn’t sure if he should. He certainly wasn’t going to start with the particular spell he saw in front of him.
First he had to understand it. It was like a half-understood language. In fact, there were only a few runes he didn’t understand. Since the language of magic was indeed a language, there was much that could be gleaned from context. He just had to determine which order the runes were meant to be read in. Should he start on one side of the box? The top? The bottom? At least its expected orientation was clear. It literally didn’t exist in another orientation. The runes… also didn’t. Douglas experimented with taking apart the box. Each piece fit perfectly with no seams, but their differing materials still made it clear where each was placed. They easily slid apart… and with even one piece missing, the runes faded away.
So, what did the runes mean? That was something he would have to puzzle out himself… though perhaps his father and Librarian Reed could shed some insight into their potential dangers. He certainly didn’t want to assume he understood everything perfectly on his own. Not when he’d already made such a large mistake once.