Sometimes you break something and that’s it. All the kings horses and all the kings men have exactly zero chance of putting it together again. It’s the mistake that you can’t correct, the wound that will never heal, the loss that will never be restored. Sometimes you can go on from that and sometimes you can’t. Either way what’s done is done and there’s no going back.
For as terrible as mistakes like that can be though, there’s an aspect to them that we find appealing in a twisted way. Oh, the zombie apocalypse has come to town? What a shame that all of my neighbors got eaten, but at least I don’t have to go to that Bar-B-Q that I wasn’t looking forward to! No school or work tomorrow either!
The trap is that it’s all too easy to fall into that kind of thinking even when there is something we can do to fix things.
“What do you mean Dawns Harbor is dead? We’re all still here and we haven’t even started to fight.” Colten said.
“Without the sanctuary spell it doesn’t matter.” Marcus said. “Is anyone going to want to live in a town where they’re never, ever safe? Even if we all fight now, how many of us will survive? And how many of those are going to want to, or be able to, fight tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that?”
“This is our town. We’ll fight for it to the end.” Colten said, his voice loud enough to carry to the group of fishers and pack drivers that were mobbed at the first checkpoint the Prelate’s soldiers had set up on the road out of town.
“There’s another option.” I said. “I can try to replace the sanctuary spell.”
I had no idea how I would manage it. It felt like breaking the sanctuary spell was an irrevocable mistake. Without my dream magics, I couldn’t simply imagine it back into existence. Worse, even if I could figure out how to put it back together, there was the question of where it would draw its power from.
The spell took a lot of energy. The church recharged it every year and had started it with three years worth of magical power to insure no accidents occurred. I could draw on my own dreams to provide a similar charge but what would they do once I left?
Beyond that how would they survive as the one town which didn’t rely on the church? The Holy Throne wasn’t likely to overlook a town breaking away from its grip like that. The army of five hundred they’d sent was one thing. We might be able to deal with that. The problem was the church could easily send an army ten times that size along with enough spell casters to break the sanctuary spell the hard way.
All those thoughts conspired to try convince me that there was no point to even trying to fix the sanctuary spell. Against that sea of doubts I set the only thing I could think of that was strong enough to urge me on, my curiosity over whether I could manage the restoration at all.
“We have more immediate problems.” Brayson said, pointing at the the camp that had become engulfed in smoke.
A normal fire should not have produced that much smoke. The army hadn’t arrived with enough provisions and there wasn’t enough natural material in the open field to sustain a burn. Gazing into the smoke though it was clear that there was nothing natural about its origin. From the sickly colors that crawled through it, to the way that it writhed and spasmed like a living creature that was in its death agonies, everything about the approaching wall of fog screamed its malevolence.
“What is that?” Marcus asked with undisguised horror in his voice.
“Devil Miasma. They’re calling up a hellstorm.” Colten said.
Behind him the assembled fishers and pack drivers began backing away. They’d signed up to fight spell enhanced soldiers, which was borderline suicidal, but at least they could hit the soldiers and overbear them through sheer weight of numbers. Death fog on the other hand didn’t really care how hard you hit it, or how many men you threw into it.
I reached out gestured upwards with both hands, pulling a ten foot high wall of stone out of the ground between us and the Devil Miasma.
“That should buy us a little time. Are you sure they’re building a hellstorm though? It takes a phenomenal amount of energy to unleash one even in hell.” I asked Colten. ‘Priestess Jin’ knew all sorts of esoteric magic lore like that. It fit her role as well as being what I found fascinating.
“I know. I’ve been there. Seen them do it.” Colten said.
Meta-awareness gave me a short glimpse of the story behind his words. I saw a friend he’d once known triggering a deadly magical trap. I saw Colten, Brayson, Helena and Grida riding with a Celestial Army to storm the Citadel of Weeping Rust, the fortress in hell where Colten’s friend and hundreds of innocents were being gathered as fuel for a Great Ritual. I saw the hellstorm the devils had unleashed to destroy the Celestials.
It had reduced the Citadel of Weeping Rust to a smoking crater and had spawned an army of metal mutants that numbered in the millions. Colten and his adventuring party had barely escaped with their lives. The Celestial Army had been shattered, but their sacrifice had bought the freedom of the innocents who’d been trapped in the Citadel. Or most of the innocents. Colten’s friend had perished fighting a rearguard action.
“Marcus is right. We need to get everyone out here.” Brayson said. “They can’t fight this.”
“What about the soldiers?” Helena asked.
“The Unity Blessing will protect them from possession. They’ll be a match for anything short of the a Hell Lieutenant too.” I said.
“But the only way there’s a hellstorm brewing is if there’s at least three Greater Demons in the vanguard that came through the gate.” Colten said.
“Three Greater Demons? It’s not possible for even one to come into this world!” Marcus said.
“That’s true. So how are they doing this?” Helena asked.
“The Cauldron.” Kari said. As she said the words, I was flashing on the same idea.
“She’s right. Greater Demons can enter the world, but only on ‘Unhallowed Ground’. The Eternal Cauldron isn’t a tool of the Dominions. It’s not specifically a tool of the underworld either. It’s actually a lot worse than that. Wherever it sits will share a lot of the properties of Unhallowed Ground.” I said.
“Why is this happening to us? Shadow Breakers? An Army? Demon hellstorms? Unhallowing cauldrons? What did we do?” Marcus’ words were bitter, but his voice was filled with suppressed rage that overrode his fear.
“You welcomed strangers into your town. It’s our fault that this is happening.” Way said.
“That’s not possible. Too much of this has to have been in motion before you even arrived.” Colten said.
“I suspect someone has been preparing for our coming for a while now.” I said.
“What are you.” Marcus barely held his fear and anger back from exploding into rage. “You say you destroyed the sanctuary spell. The Shadow Breakers brought an army to deal with you and now the armies of Hell are marching against us. What kind of pit fiend are you? This is a good town. We don’t deserve this.”
“They’re not pit fiends.” Kari said. She was still oddly detached. Her words weren’t an expression of belief or hope. They were spoken with the certainty that comes from direct knowledge. How she could be certain of anything about us was a mystery, but not one I had time to deal with.
“How would you know? You’re a waitress! A spell befuddled waitress.” Marcus screamed and whirled back to face me. “What have you done to her!”
I saw Colten, Brayson and Helena watching Way and I too. They’d seen a lot more about Vale Septem than anyone else here. They knew we weren’t what we appeared to be. I couldn’t tell if they were giving us the benefit of the doubt or enough time to hang ourselves though. Either way I had to chose my words carefully.
“We’re impossible.” I told him. “That doesn’t make sense. I know. It’s also unimportant. What matters is that we’re going to help you.”
“Given what you’re up against you’d be insane to trust us.” Way said. “But you’d also be insane to go up against Greater Demons and the Holy Throne on your own.”
“We’re not going to leave this town undefended, but we won’t stop anyone who wants to leave.” I said.
“Why? Why would you defend us? What do you really want?” Marcus demanded.
“You were kind to me.” Way said, referring to how the townsfolk had carried her to the bungalow after she crash landed through a mountain.
“You’re good people.” I said, thinking of Kari and Grida’s kindness as well.
“That’s not enough. People leave good people to die all the time. You want something from us. What is it!”
I thought about that. Way and I tended to get embroiled in problems pretty easily. With our powers as dreamlords it was something of a game. That said though, we could as easily have played the game as villains. No one in Vale Septem could hold us accountable for our actions, and it wasn’t like there wasn’t cruelty and darkness in our hearts. We could be terrible, far more terrible than someone like Marcus could imagine in fact.
So why did I want to help these people that I’d just met? Why did the plight of one village change Way’s mind about getting involved when we could have pursued our mission anywhere in the world?
There were a lot of answers to those question, so I picked the one I liked best.
“What could you give to someone who owned everything in the world?” I asked Marcus.
“Nothing.” he said. “They already own everything.”
“What about things that can’t be owned?” I asked. “What do you think the greatest treasure that Dawns Harbor possesses is?”
“The ocean?” Marcus guessed.
Colten cuffed him on the back of the head and rolled his eyes. It was Helena who spoke up though.
“You mean the town’s people. I’d believe that except I know how you’ve been treated. Why would you defend people like Caina?” Helena asked.
“Nobody deserves what the Shadow Breaker’s had in mind.” Way said.
“That’s a part of it. Even if there weren’t people like Kari and you folks in Dawns Harbor, what the Shadow Breakers and the Holy Throne are doing needs to be stopped.” I said.
“You can’t fight the Holy Throne. No one is that powerful.” Marcus said.
“No one can break a sanctuary spell either.” I said. Marcus caught the implications of that and paused to consider if I was being serious. That gave Helena a chance to speak.
“Defending a town that you like is one thing, but now it’s my turn to wonder; why would you fight the Holy Throne?” she asked.
“Because we’re able to. Because they need to be fought. Because the world becomes a better place when people make it one.” I offered.
“But why would you fight the Holy Throne.” Helena asked again, making the emphasis of the sentence clear.
“Oh! Because they annoyed me.” I said.
Helena laughed and relaxed.
“You really are a young girl aren’t you?” she asked.
“The jury is out on that, but this is the way I really look. And my name really is Jin.” I said.
“And what about you?” Marcus asked Way.
“What about me?” Way asked, her eye sparkled and her voice took on an otherworldly quality.
“What are you?” Marcus pressed, his voice betraying a quaver of fear.
“I’m exactly what I want to be.” she said.
Marcus looked like he wanted press the matter but Brayson stepped forward.
“That wall is nice, but it’s not going to keep out a hellstorm.” he said.
“It won’t have to.” I said, plotting out what it would take to build a barrier strong enough to hold back a hellstorm.
“With how fast they brought the Miasma up, I don’t think we can evacuate the town before the finish brewing the storm.” Brayson said.
“We won’t need to evacuate the town either. They’re not going to finish summoning it.” Way said.
I shot a glance over to her. We’d been together long enough that I had a terrible suspicion I knew what she had in mind.
“The only way that’s going to happen is if the Greater Demons are destroyed here and forced back to their home realm.” Brayson said.
“Even that won’t work.” Helena said “With the gates open they’d just reform here again.”
“Then we’ll have to destroy the gates too.” Colten said.
Brayson shook his head and frowned.
“We don’t have an army of angels backing us up this time. We won’t get close to those gates.”
“You don’t have to.” Way said. “I will.”
Brayson started to scoff at the idea but I cut him off.
“You don’t have to do this alone.” I said, reaching out to catch her arm.
Even if she didn’t hold back, the body that she wore wasn’t capable of taking on two armies and three Greater Demons. She didn’t need to share her plan with me. I could see it all too easily.
There was no chance that the people around us could fight the foes that were assembled on the other side of wall without suffering serious casualties. People would be hurt, they’d be killed. They’d be twisted and broken and dragged back to the underworld to suffer fates far worse than death. We might prevent the demons from achieving whatever their goal was, but the price would be beyond what the town could bear to pay.
Way had the power to change that. Tapping into the Dreamlit World would tear her out of the timeline, but for the few moments that she could hang on to Vale Septem, she’d have access to her full powers.
“The Cauldron? A demon army? They were too ready for this.” Way said. “We have to make them draw back if you’re going to have time to figure out what’s going on.”
“Make who draw back?” Marcus asked.
“Everyone who’s focused on this spot and this moment in time. The church, the demons, probably a bunch of other groups that haven’t made their move yet. They all think if they strike quickly enough they can win some ultimate prize. That’s why they’re rushing their forces here so fast.” Way said.
I wanted to argue against her. I didn’t want her to go. I knew she was right though.
“This sucks.” I complained in dream speech.
“It does.” Way agreed.
“It doesn’t have to be you that does this. I can manage it too.”
“I know, but you need to be here afterward. You can pull them together. You can work this out.”
“Maybe if I’m lucky. It’ll be harder alone though.”
“Almost impossible right?” Way said, a teasing tone in her dream voice.
I grinned in spite of myself. Impossible was what we did, it was who we were.
“I love you.” I said aloud and smiled. I didn’t have to be happy with the situation to be proud of Way stepping up to handle it.
She smiled back and then drew me in close and kissed me.
“I’ll be waiting for you.” she whispered as she pulled away.
I reached out to keep her by my side but in a flash of light she was gone.
From a brief instant I felt the Dreamlit World descend and touch on the waking world of Vale Septem. Way was always fast, but at the height of her power the term almost lost its meaning. Time stood still for her and light pulled over into the slow lane to let her pass.
By the time I was aware of what was happening it was already over. The Dreamlit World was receding, carrying Way with it. The next second that she experienced would take place across the next two weeks that I would see in Vale Septem.
Way wasn’t the only one who was gone though. In the wake of the explosion of light she’d departed in, there was silence and before us an almost empty field where once there’d been two armies and several demon summoning gates.
The only feature that remained in the field was a glowing sigil. Two strands of light, one a brilliant gold and the other an electric pink, twined around each other and reaching up into the sky towards infinity.