Kason looked up at Kamadus with a blank expression, still feeling rather groggy from having just woken up. He took in what Kamadus said, but didn’t seem to really appreciate what it meant. Kamadus, seeing that he didn’t have much of a reaction, instructed him to take off the hat he was wearing while he plucked the little blue crystal out of the air above Kason’s head. He then collected the hat from Kason and told him to go back to sleep.
Nodding, Kason fell back onto his pillow and lay there for a couple of moments before falling back into a deep sleep. He slept fitfully through the remainder of the night and awoke the next morning, almost without remembering the happenings of the night. He lay still for a few moments after he woke sure that something had happened during the night but unable to quite remember what.
He moved his hand to scratch his head and as he did, realised that he was no longer wearing the hat they had been given. He immediately sat up, having remembered exactly what had happened. Kamadus had mentioned a problem but hadn’t said what. He looked around the medical suite for Kamadus and as he did, caught sight of Harper lying next to him.
He too, was no longer wearing the hat, but in its place was a different kind of headgear. This one seemed to be made of metal and was covered with lightly pulsating patterns of blue. Kason examined it with interest for a few moments, he wasn’t sure what its purpose was, but he assumed it was to do with whatever the problem was that had made Kamadus stop the experiment.
He slipped out of bed and changed into his day clothes. He then padded over to the waiting room area to see if Kamadus was there. He poked his head through the doorway and spotted Kamadus sitting on one of the chairs next to a senior division student who Kason didn’t recognise. The student had long blond hair much like Harper’s but his face was turned away from Kason so he couldn’t see what he looked like.
Kamadus noticed Kason and stood up to come over to him. “You’re awake I see, Kason. Come with me for a minute, I’ll explain what happened during the night.” He walked through the door with Kason following behind him, calling out to the senior division student he had left behind. “You can come through as well Nixon, I’m sure Harper would be glad you’ve come to visit.”
Kason followed Kamadus over to his desk, wondering who this ‘Nixon’ was, and stood in front of it while Kamadus sat down on its other side.
“Well,” Kamadus began, moving a few papers around on his desk as he did, “During the night, I discovered a bit of a problem with the device, the self-adjusting filter, that Randall gave you. It was showing normal readings but when I checked on Harper over there, I found he was suffering from mid-stage overexposure.” He sighed, “I stopped the device as soon as I could, naturally, and I’ve given him some medicine to take which should fix things but it was quite unusual.”
He looked up at Kason and saw him looking worried. “Don’t worry,” he said, guessing the source of Kason’s distress, “I checked you as well, and you were fine.”
Kason let out a sigh of relief and waited for Kamadus to continue. “Anyway, Randall and Jerald are looking at the devices now, to see if they can find the fault. You should come round when your lessons end for the day to see if they’ve found out anything. I don’t know how long you’ll have to wait for the experiment to continue, but you’ll probably be able to sleep in your own bed tonight for a change.”
Kason left the Medical Suite a few minutes later, passing the boy called Nixon on the way out. He was sitting on a chair next to Harper’s bed reading a book while Harper slept next to him. Kason’s mind stayed on the mysterious Nixon throughout breakfast; he felt like he should recognise the name, but whatever significance it had was temporarily lost on him.
He had just finished his breakfast when he realised that it was probably Harper’s brother. He couldn’t remember for sure what his name was supposed to be, but ‘Nixon’ seemed to ring a few bells so Kason thought he was probably right.
He arrived back at the Medical Suite after lessons had finished, with Kayla, Lexia and Alford in tow. He had explained the situation to them during lunch and they had all volunteered to come and see how Harper was doing. And so it was that they all turned up in the Medical Suite, to find an argument going on between Randall and Nixon.
The two of them were standing near one of the windows and shouting at each other with angry expressions on their faces. Meanwhile, Jerald hovered around the two of them trying every so often to get a word in and Harper sat on his bed, head resting on his hands looking bored.
He noticed them as they walked in and waved them over to his bed, his face lighting up with a smile. They walked over as he had instructed and Kason asked Harper what was going on. Harper explained that Jerald and Randall had come over about half an hour ago to report to Kamadus on the state of the faulty device. Nixon, who had overheard their report, then made a snide comment about their skill as engineers which had made Randall pretty angry and the argument just grew from there.
The argument carried on, showing no signs of stopping. Eventually, after one last yelled insult, Randall stormed out of the Medical Suite. Jerald, after giving an apology to Kamadus who had remained at his desk the entire time, followed him.
Nixon, evidently having won the argument, came over to where Kason and the other children were playing a card game on Harper’s bed. He waited for the current round to end and then joined in. They played for quite a while longer, though with Nixon playing more to his own rules than to those set by the game.
As they were playing, they talked and Nixon asked them about how they were finding college so far. Kason, who had had a vague feeling this topic might come up, felt a slight twinge of dread as he asked the question. It wasn’t that he particularly minded the question, but that it would give Lexia the perfect opportunity to ask him to go into the Forest again.
He prayed within his heart as the game went on that the events he feared wouldn’t occur, but even as he was eliminated from that round, Lexia began to speak. She narrated to Nixon all that had happened in the Forest, with Harper, Kayla and Alford adding in their opinions when they thought it necessary. After she finished her narration, she told Nixon of her plan to go back; innocently adding on the end that Kason had said he would go with her.
Kason turned his head and let out a soft sigh before turning back to hear Nixon’s reply.
“That is strange…” He said and seemed to think about something for a couple of moments. “When are you thinking of going back into the Forest?”
Lexia shot Kason a glance and then answered, “We haven’t really arranged a date, just sometime soon.”
Nixon nodded and was silent for a moment then said, “Could I join you when you go? You see, I major in Advanced Reconstruction in the senior division and this seems like a good chance to get some practice.”
Lexia immediately nodded her head at his suggestion and Nixon smiled, “Shall we go this next weekend then? Better sooner rather than later don’t you think?”
Lexia agreed readily and Kason echoed her enthusiasm, although with markedly less vigour. Harper also opened his mouth, as if he were going to ask if he could come too, but Nixon put an end to that thought before it had even left his mouth. Alford also looked like he wanted to go too, but he kept his mouth shut.
With this agreement now firmly in place, Kason couldn’t help but slightly dread the coming weekend. He felt better about going in now that Nixon was going to be going with them, but all the same, he would definitely prefer not having to go at all.
The weekend came around, bringing with it their rest day and also the task of going into the Forest again. Kason walked the same route he had done before to meet the Botanists the last time they had gone in. He went through the trees that were out the front of the main building and saw Lexia and Nixon already there and waiting.
He joined them and they set off around the trees towards the end of their expanse where there was the short stretch of lawn separating the woodland area from the Forest. Once they reached it, Nixon performed the same spells that the Botanists had and they all ran across the gap at speeds that reasonably, shouldn’t have been possible.
Once under the canopies of the trees, they began to make their way into their depths. Lexia striding along in front with Nixon, and Kason following along behind. Lexia spoke to Nixon every so often, guiding him through the trunks that surrounded them towards the clearing where the incident had occurred. Kason had no idea how she even remembered where the clearing was, he surely didn’t have a clue. He attributed it to whatever previous adventuring experience she had had at home, although this made him wonder what sort of stuff she had gotten up to let her develop such an insane sense of direction.
Sure enough, after maybe ten minutes of trudging over the leaf-strewn forest floor, they reached a clearing. Kason entered after Nixon and looked around. He immediately saw a familiar looking tree and realised that this was indeed the clearing where he had seen the apparition of the owl. He drifted off into a bit of daydream and came back a few moments later to find Nixon staring at him.
“Can you show me where you encountered this owl?” He asked.
Kason nodded and led him over to the tree. Once they were both standing beneath it, he pointed to the branch he had been sitting on.
“I was just sitting there and then I saw the owl perched on the branch above me.”
Nixon nodded and promptly jumped up into the tree to examine the place further. Lexia came and stood next to Kason and together they watched Nixon as he did whatever it was he was doing. He stood on the branch where Kason had sat and stared intently at the place where Kason had said the owl had been.
After a couple of minutes, he pulled out an oddly shaped wand which looked more like a miniature version of a tree branch with many other small branches sprouting off in many directions. He then waved it around in a complex kind of pattern and muttered some words that Kason couldn’t hear.
Kason watched as he continued to do this and suddenly, he saw a shadowy shape begin to coalesce on the branch where Nixon had been staring. After a few seconds, he let out a small gasp and heard a similar exclamation from Lexia beside him. On the branch in front of Nixon, was a shadowy, barely-distinguishable version of the owl he had seen that day!
The owl moved about in a very strange way, or at least that’s what Kason thought until he realised that it was doing everything it had been doing when Kason had last seen it in reverse. He watched it preen its feathers backwards and was sort of looking forward to seeing it fly away in reverse, but contrary to his expectations, that did not occur.
The owl took off from the branch, but instead of flying away through the trees as Kason had expected it to, it flew backwards a few paces and then disintegrated into a mist of blue sparks which then also gradually faded into nothing. Kason looked at the sight and felt a chill run down his back; had the animal just popped into existence mere moments before he had seen it?
He glanced at Nixon, half hoping that something had simply gone wrong with the spell he had been casting, and saw him wearing an ugly expression, brow furrowed so far his eyebrows almost met in the centre of his head. He seemed to contemplate something for a minute, then he closed his eyes and pursed his lips, a look of increasing frustration visible on his face.
“But that’s just impossible!” Nixon exclaimed.