In a string of dull days, this one surely looked to be just another.
Headmaster Isaac puttered around in his little park, adjusting and measuring. A cloud passed and the late-morning light shone down, causing his oddly shaped apparatuses to cast still odder shadows on the grass. Not for the first time, he considered marking out each one as a sundial to indicate his meeting times and appointments. But he would probably just forget which piece was for which event.
His work kept him occupied, but what had happened to the war? The real war. What had happened to the sense that events were in motion to change everything?
No-one spoke of it lately.
He supposed it was much like any other plan or scheme or Big Idea hatched here in the Magic Kingdom. The sideless and the helpless would talk excitedly for a while, then their plans would evaporate, never even to be mentioned again.
But Isaac's work, his search for reliable facts, did move slowly forward. Was that any different from the schemes of Predictamancers? He hoped so, but he didn't trust his own judgment of it.
A few of the Great Minds lingered nearby, occasionally using the equipment with hesitation. But Isaac was aware that this place usually stood empty when he was not here. He himself was the attraction, even among other Masterminds. They all had something they wanted to converse with him about, but they knew to keep their distance lest they disturb his thoughts.
Their constant attention left him somehow lonely, yet desperate for time alone. A paradox. Hm.
Wasn't everything, though? At the finest or grossest level of detail, everything seemed to be opposed to itself. A counter-force for every force, a reaction to every action. Opposite, and perhaps equal. He suspected it might be a law of Erfworld, but there was not enough evidence.
He dropped at once to the ground and sat on dry grass, cross-legged. For a number of minutes, he simply sat there beside a springmount and tried to work out how he could prove (or more likely disprove) such a thing.
It was a hard problem. Reliable facts were so difficult to come by! But he came up with a few promising lines of inquiry before his mind inevitably wandered away, drawn along the humming and tinkling vibrations of the world's strings.
He found himself staring up at the springmount, wondering if he should get up and tune it again. This one was modeled on a gwiffon, made of Thinkamancy-polarized Stuff and imprinted with Signamancy in bright yellow. It was centered on a single strong coil of steel anchored deeply into the ground.
The mount shape was neither fanciful nor accidental. One used this instrument as a surrogate mount, climbing upon it and building up a physical oscillation of the proper frequency to detect and study the Thinkamancy of orders. The intent of a commander in issuing an order to a non-speaking unit, or of a Ruler in issuing an order to a remote field unit, was one of the most interesting forms of natural Thinkamancy, Isaac felt. He really should log more time on the device.
He looked around the park. Nearly all of the machines he had built here worked on similar principles. G-strings vibrated on different frequencies, and would cancel or amplify each other across predictable distances. Before Isaac had built these devices, a Thinkamancer had to walk around until his head was in a place of amplification, then hold still.
But staying within one node deprived the observer of important perspective, much in the way that closing one eye caused a loss of depth perception, or covering an ear made it hard to tell the direction of a sound. It had already been known that two linked Thinkamancers standing in different nodes could detect and send far better than any one caster. Isaac had figured out that one caster switching rapidly between nodes had a similar effect.
And so he created a pendulum seat for a caster to swing back and forth between nodes. This worked very well for certain frequencies, but the nodes of amplification were not always aligned parallel with the ground. So he devised a simple lever and fulcrum of the proper length, to allow access to nodes which were separated vertically. This required two casters to operate.
...going in equal and opposite directions. Hm.
He stood up, glancing up the hill to the great Temple. It was also made of polarized Stuff, designed long ago (and modified more recently) as a refuge. Cosmic vibrations couldn't penetrate it.
So whatever Charlie could send wouldn't make it into the Temple. And whatever was sent from within could not be heard from without. The Temple was perhaps their greatest defense against Titanic powers the rest of Erfworld couldn't even imagine.
Isaac sighed wistfully, and walked toward the chute-and-ladder. The existence of the Arkendish troubled him not only as a Thinkamancer; it bothered him as a natural philosopher. As he struggled to find answers about Erfworld's nature through observation, there sat the Arkendish, the greatest instrument of observation there could ever be.
If only Charlie were one of the Great Minds. If only he Thought Alike.
Isaac climbed the ladder. He would go up, then come down. Equal and opposite actions. He had been an object at rest for too long now. Today, he would take some form of action.
At the top and bottom of the smooth inclined plane were nodes of intuition. One did not get more than a quick glimpse between the two, but that usually would suffice. If not, one could always climb the ladder again. This apparatus had a personal effect on the operator, giving him a glance at his own Fate and perhaps a vague insight or focus or warning.
Isaac put his arms up and slid.
At the bottom, he tumbled into the grass with a fleeting understanding...and a profound foreboding. He had the feeling that he had just glimpsed some kind of terrible finality. Was it his own?
He didn't think so. It seemed greater than that. And there was a string to follow to its source...
Maggie's. He plucked it.
He did not need to look up the cipher she used, as he had devised it himself. The message was clear enough as well, although it could have used a timestamp...
He stood up and thinkshouted, "Temple meeting! Now!"
As he ran, he considered whether this was his "action" or its "reaction." Things did seem opposite, but not at all equal. His feet pounded the grass, then the gravel path. His breaths came hard and heavy as he scampered up the hill. A reaction greater than its action was coming, he'd intuited. An avalanche from a pebble, a line of falling blocks, an inferno from a spark. Some other cosmic principle than paradox was in play here. But what could it be?
He couldn't so much as guess.
His sole reliable fact here was that the day was no longer looking dull.