The worst thing about being caught crash landing from orbit by a teleporting devil guy was the thought of the paperwork I was going to have to fill out. Oh dear god the paperwork!
“Umm, slight problem here.” I dream spoke to Way, cringing at the thought of dragging her into the mess that was a Ops Secrecy Breach Review. On the other hand if I tried to hide something like that from her she’d get dragged in anyways but without any decent answers to give. Nothing annoyed Ops reviewers more than people who honestly had nothing to tell them.
“That didn’t take long.”, she sighed.
“Someone was waiting where I landed, or teleported in pretty quickly afterwards.” I said, sending her a memory of what the devil guys looked like.
“That gives us one piece of the puzzle then. Think he’ll be trouble?” she replied.
“Not sure. His first play was to try the subtle approach. It worked for a while, so I’d bet he’ll stick with that. I’ll keep an eye out for him if he comes back in a disguise or veiled again.”
“Have you worked out the native magic system yet?”, Way asked.
“Partially. It’s not one of the standard ones, but I think I can work with it. I’m going to start with a flight spell, that should be reasonably safe.”
Nothing said safety like potentially uncontrollable three dimensional movement.
“Try to be a little careful at least?” Way said.
“Always.” I replied with a smile. I could have tried for a healing spell first, but the potential for that to go horribly awry seemed a lot higher. Also, even if my leg was in better shape, it would take a lot longer to hike to where Way was than it would to fly, so I’d be risking the flight spell anyways.
Fortunately, I wasn’t taking quite the risk a genuine novice to the mystical arts did when casting their first spell on Vale Septem. From my classes on Gix, I knew the basics of manipulating magic on a number of different worlds. Reality manipulation was an extremely potent ability but for some problems it was also extreme overkill, and there were always side-effects to be wary of. Beyond my training though, I also had both my meta-awareness to draw on and the story that I’d woven into my identity on Vale Septem.
Identity was something that a traveller through the Dreamlit world always needed to consider when entering a new world. Stepping out of your own “real” world wasn’t that hard (relatively speaking). Stepping into another world though could be quite challenging. The hardest part was that you simply weren’t “real” in the context of the new world. You had no history and no future beyond the time you were in the world. The particles that made you up weren’t accounted for in the original mass of the universe and had never influenced any other particles until the moment you entered the world. Most realities didn’t like that sort of thing.
Dream walkers got around that problem by crafting an identity that that fit within the new world. It was sort of the reverse of dreaming. Instead of a real person dreaming they’re someone impossible, an unreal person would dream they were someone who’d been a part of the world all along.
Once you had a suitable identity firmly in mind, the next step was to convince the new world to accept it. If you were successful you could slip across the Dreamlit barrier with ease – you belonged in the new world as much or more than you belonged in the Dreamlit one. The trick with identities was that it was a lot easier to get the new world to accept your identity if it didn’t stray too far from the norms of the new world and if its history could be integrated without disturbing the existing history much.
It was, in theory, possible to make your new identity the Queen of the World, but it was a whole lot easier to convince the world that there was one more random high school student, or scullery maid, or red-shirted security guard than it had noticed before.
By all rights, Way and I should have entered Vale Septem as ordinary peasant girls without any special talents or skills. That was the easy and safe play. Little attention generated, little hassle with the new identity and very easily overlooked. Even the meager experience we’d gained in our two years of training had showed us what a bad idea that could be. Ordinary peasant girls don’t tend to do so well surviving reentry without an aircraft or spaceship for example. That was why we tended to cheat and create identities for ourselves which were a little on the extraordinary side. It made convincing the world to accept us a bit harder but had always proven to be worth the effort.
Way’s identity was as that of an itinerant knight. Vale Septem wasn’t a fully civilized world and there were creatures that lurked in its dark corners that no commoner had the training or tools to deal with. Itinerant knights and other adventurers were a fairly common sight, so in that at least she’d chosen an inconspicuous form and it was one that fit well with her natural aptitude for physical prowess.
My own aptitudes were a bit more metaphysical, so I’d cloaked myself in the body of a Priestess of the Dominions. That meant that I could draw on a history of magical studies that I hadn’t actually undergone. As far as Vale Septem was concerned though, the Jin who had lived here for sixteen years had spent the last ten of them diligently practicing her magical studies. That gave my meta-awareness a bit of an extra edge when it came to helping me figure out what I needed to do.
“I call on the Fifth Dominion with my breath and mind.” I said, touching the index and middle fingers of my left hand to my lips and forehead in succession.
Each of the Twelve Dominions covered various aspects of Vale Septem. Among other elements, that Fifth Dominion held sway over the winds. Casting magic in Vale Septem was unlike most of the other worlds I’d studied. Rather than raw mystical force shaped by the caster’s will, the magics in Vale Septem were invoked by speaking a word, a single mundane word, that resonated with the Dominion of your choosing and then telling the Dominion a story to shape the spell effect around that word. With your story, you tied yourself to that Dominion for the duration of the spell you wished to invoke.
All magic comes at a price, and Vale Septem was no exception. Tying yourself to a Dominion allowed the Dominion to manifest around you more easily. Frequently this meant that problems or issues related to Dominion would be drawn to you. In tying myself to the Fifth Dominion for example I was likely to attract things like any errant Storm Elementals that might be rampaging nearby. Given who and what I was though they’d probably be drawn to me anyways so I wasn’t giving up all that much and in return the sky was mine!
I lifted off on wings of gossamer silk and felt like I was floating through the air. The Fifth Dominion’s version of flight, at least the one I’d talked it into, wasn’t a brilliantly fast as my normal dreaming flight but it was much more relaxing. I was buoyant as cloud being pushed along cool winds and the beating of my wings.
I could have called to the Twelfth Dominion, which governed the concept of “Travel”, for a faster mode of transit but, given that I was still new to Vale’s spell casting, trying a Teleport spell seemed as ill advised as trying a healing spell. Plus I really enjoyed flying.
It was about a twenty minutes later when I caught sight of the small seaside town where Way was staying. The primary houses and buildings of the town sat atop a low hill at one end of a wide, curving bay. The bay was sheltered from the ocean by a series of reefs that gentled the incoming waves and left a quarter of the bay’s circumference open to the ocean beyond.
The midday sun glistened off the dark blue waters and the shining white sands of the beach as I glided in closer to the town, beyond which lay a myriad of huts scattered about the beach. People were bustling about in the town below but it looked like it was still too early in the season for the locals to be enjoying the surf.
To the east of the town, at the far end of the bay, the low hills gave way to rocky escarpments to that quickly rose to tall mountains. On the mountain nearest the town I could see the shattered summit that Way had plowed through. I’d seen her take heavier hits than that but that wasn’t while under the limits that Vale Septem placed on us.
As I floated down towards the hut that Way was resting in, I focused my meta-awareness on picking out any devil guys or gals that might be hiding under a veil of invisibility. It wasn’t a matter of “if” he would be back but when, why and with what reinforcements. Happily, while the beach had several humans wandering around it, nobody with horns and red skin seemed to be lurking about. What I did notice though was a pair of armor clad humans walking towards Way’s hut in front of me.
“Are you expecting company?”, I asked her via dream speech.
“Just you. Why?”
“Two warriors are heading your way. Armored and armed but their weapons aren’t drawn.” I said.
“Might be from the village?”
“Maybe. I don’t think they’re under any kind of disguise spell. I’ll land before they get to you and we can greet them together ok?”
“Yeah.” Way agreed. I could tell she was strapping on her armored breastplate. The body she’d conjured was plenty tough but surviving the impact with the mountain had come as much from the enchantments her armor held as anything else. My robes had similar enchantments though not quite as strong.
I angled my flight path down behind enough huts to block the men’s view of me and landed at Way’s hut just as she was emerging from it. The armor clad men showed up half a dozen seconds later or so.
“Hail Sir Knight.”, the taller of the men called out to Way. He was fair haired, with the lean, muscular build of someone who needed his body in top condition to survive the peril he routinely threw himself into. Like his companion, his armor showed signs of use, but was also polished to where it gleamed in the sun, shining even brighter than the pure white sand.
“Hail Sir Knight. Are you seeking me or did you come to enjoy the lovely weather.”, Way called back.
“The day is a fine one, but we have come seeking you. I am Gahn and my companion is Maak. The herbalist said an itinerant knight had been injured in a rockslide from this morning’s earthquake. I see you have a priestess to tend to your wounds already though, so perhaps you do not need our aid?”, Gahn said.
“I appreciate your offer, but my injuries were not severe ones. I was more rattled than broken. My name is Way, and my companion’s name is Jin.”
“Excellent. If you are fully recovered then perhaps you would be interested in joining us? We march with a company of common fighters on an Anointed Expedition.”
“What’s that?”, Way asked me via dream speech.
Meta-awareness filled me in.
“Their Holy Emperor, or his appointed representatives, can give their blessing, and resources, to a military campaign. For itinerant knights who wish a place in one of the Holy Orders, it’s a way to get recognized.”
“Where is your expedition bound?” Way asked.
“We hunt diabolists. The Holy Throne has foreseen us preventing the summoning of a great darkness.” Gahn explained.
Maak, was silent beside him, but the scowl he wore spoke volumes. We were unknowns, unconnected and unaccountable. It wasn’t unheard of for an itinerant knight to “go bad” and cut deals with the monsters they were supposed to be protecting people from. Priestesses were less likely to go bad that way, but mostly because there were fewer itinerant ones and of those, most didn’t interact with monster that much. From Maak’s point of view though that just meant if we were a danger it was one people were less likely to see coming.
“I thank you for the offer to join your company but my companion and I are in need of a period of recuperation.” Way said.
“I can see why you made Dawns Harbor your destination then, right Maak?” Gahn said, playfully slugging his friend on the shoulder.
“Certainly.” Maak replied, raising a dubious eyebrow at Gahn.
“Maak is convinced the Holy Throne will add recreation to the list of Great Sins any day now.” Gahn said in a faux whisper.
“I am familiar with someone who apparently shares his belief.” Way said, casting a sidelong glance at me. I feigned shock and indignation.
“I hold no quarrel with recreation, it is idleness when called to sacred duty which I believe walks close to Perdition’s flames.” Maak said.
“And so he condemns me.” Gahn said. His tone was playful and it was clear the argument was one they’d had many times already and likely would many more.
“Never.”, Maak replied, “Never condemned, merely chastened.”
“As neither of you were called to this sacred duty, we shall wish you a restful idleness. Our company shall be encamped in Dawns Harbor till tomorrow. If you should change your mind please seek us out. In fact if you have no other plans for dinner, I invite you to seek us out as well. Exchanging tales with fellow travelers can make for a safer journey for all.” Gahn suggested.
“Thank you for both offers.” Way said with a nod of her head.
“A pleasant day then Sir Way and Priestess Jin.” Gahn said.
“A pleasant day to you both as well.” Way replied.
With their departure, we returned to the hut. Way took off her breastplate and laid it on the small table in the room. Reaching in her pack, she produced a polishing cloth and a small hammer and got to work repairing the damage the collision with the mountain had produced.
I sank onto the bed after dropping my own pack beside it and removing my shoes. I had to admit, resting did feel heavenly, especially since it let me take the weight off my injured leg.
“Coincidence that they’re hunting diabolists?” Way asked as she polished the armor.
“In some universe, at some point in time, yeah, coincidences like that have gotta happen at least once in a while.”
“Just not to us.”, Way said, her smile mirroring my own.
“Maybe we should join them?” I said.
“In two weeks, if you’ve actually rested?”, Way’s eyes narrowed.
“There was a guy waiting where I landed. A half hour later, we’re talking with recruiters for Devil Hunters R Us. I’m not thinking we have two weeks.”
“Dinner.” Way replied.
“Dinner?” I asked.
“Right. Let’s have dinner with them. If we can make it through that then we can rest easy right?”
“Maybe. Unless devil guy’s into drama and decides to strike at midnight.”
“Ok. Dinner and dawn then. If nothing happens then we don’t go with them and we just relax.”
“And if something does happen then we deal with it, and then relax?” I suggested.
“Yes. That’s the kind of plan I was looking for.” Way said.
I snuggled down into the bed and closed my eyes. Part of me was still clinging to the hope that Way was right, nothing would happen and we’d have some time off. Another part was kind of eager for something to go wrong though. It was a little disturbing. On some level I felt more comfortable with a world than was besieging me than one that was peaceful.
Struggling to put that out of my mind, I turned my thoughts towards imagining the most boring dinner date with a pair of Holy Knights that I could think of.