Sometimes being surrounded by people means nothing in terms of being alone. With Way’s departure from Vale Septem, I felt like a good chunk of my heart had gone with her. It was silly. I’d see her again the moment I crossed back over to the Dreamlit World. I knew that, and I knew I was being irrational, but for a moment all that was real was the sense that she wasn’t there anymore.
Instead of casting myself back into the Dreamlit World though, I turned to the people who were still with me and I had to smile. The looks on their faces were adorable. Even the normally stoic Brayson was gobsmacked by the tableau before us.
The ten foot high wall I’d created had been blasted down. The Devil Miasma that had been blocked behind it was nowhere to be seen. Nor was the army the Shadow Breakers had brought with them, or the demon army that we’d heard pouring through the summoning gates.
“What just happened?” Marcus asked, his eyes darting rapidly around looking for some clue to make sense of things with.
“Sir Way took care of them for us.” Kari said.
I looked at her. Really looked at her.
The people of Vale Septem couldn’t awaken as dream walkers. The temporal dissanonce between their reality and the Deamlit World was so high that they couldn’t catch hold of even a wisp of the unreal. Ever since the time loop had begun, the people of Vale had dreamed solitary dreams, visiting only their internal worlds rather than the partaking of the larger sea of creativity that lay beyond what was real.
Looking at Kari, I saw what happened to those who had enough imagination to awaken and encountered circumstances that would allow them too. Her mind was connected to the Dreamlit World, she was seeing flashes of it, partaking in the same sort of meta-awareness that I did, but without being able to touch the Dreamlit World she was floundering.
I would need to talk with her, but not in front of everyone else. Awakening was dangerous, the last thing I needed was to trigger even more people in the process of helping Kari come to grips with what she was becoming.
“She’s right. Way banished the army and the demons. She left us some protection too.” I said, gesturing to the sigil of interwoven gold and pink light that streamed up into the sky.
Even meta-awareness wasn’t enough to show me all that had occurred, but I was able to catch the gist of it.
Way had called to the Dreamlit World and brought it down to meld with the physical world for the briefest of instants. In that short time she’d cast the demon army back through the summoning gates. Where I would have done it with magic, she’d taken a more physical approach and literally stuffed each of the demons through one or more of the portals (demon bodies are magical constructs so she hadn’t spared any effort keeping them intact).
With the army of soldiers the Prelates had captured with the the Unity Blessing spell, she had been more gentle. They’d been pushed through the portals too, but only after Way had retargeted the other end of the gate to deposit them in Batsmoor, the faraway town they’d been drawn from.
With the last microseconds of time available to her, Way had then twisted the gates around into the sigil that remained in the field. It was a monument to the two of us, her and I. It wasn’t quite as strong as a sanctuary spell, or as controllable, but it would ward off any hostile magical incursions for at least a week.
“We need to get Grida out here.” Colten said. “Not that I doubt you Priestess, but when the seas change too quickly its good to have someone you know inspect the hull for leaks.”
Meaning, the sudden changes of fortune tonight had left him unsettled enough that he wasn’t going to relax until someone he trusted told him things were ok. That was fine with me. In his position I’d probably have been even less trusting.
“What about Prelate Avernicus?” Kari asked.
“Damn, I’d forgotten about him.” I said, guessing that he’d been far enough away from the action that Way hadn’t thought to collect him up either.
“He was heading for the Sanctuary spell’s heartstone.” Brayson said.
“It’s too late to beat him there but I might be able to stop him before he does any harm.” I said.
“Can we trust you with that?” Marcus asked.
“After what Sir Way just did? I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.” Brayson said. Of all of those present, he’d seen the most of what the Prelates had been like, and what they’d had in mind. For him the threat had been more real than for anyone else here. I smiled at him and nodded. He wasn’t necessarily convinced I was good for the town, just better than the alternative at the moment and I could accept that.
“Kari, I need your help again. Tell me what you see when you look to the sky.” I said. The Third Dominion was great for dealing with stone towers and keeping invading forces away. Moving places quickly though? Apart from whipping up a spell like the ‘Earthquake Express’, it wasn’t really ideal for quick transport. For that you wanted one of the other Dominions, like the Fifth, which governed the Air.
“Rivers. Lots of different rivers. At night it’s the streams of darkness that the stars float in and in the day it’s the streams of light that the clouds float below. The streams of light are close by, so they play with the winds a lot. That’s why the clouds move so quickly. The dark streams are so high up that only the big old winds blow there, so the stars move the same way all the time, except when one of the young winds from below reaches up and knocks one loose. That’s when we see the star go shooting across the sky.” Kari said and turned to listen to my story.
“Where I come from, we can sail the sky in great metal machines. The winds are so strong that even with dozens of people in them, the machines can soar miles above the ground. I remember the first time I rode in a plane, I thought its wings would have to flap really hard to keep us up, but it turned out all it took was the wind.” I said, sharing my earliest experience with flying with her.
Weaving the two stories together, I offered them as a prayer to the Fifth Dominion and felt a lightness surge in my chest. The breath inside me was alive with the Fifth Dominion’s power and with each inhalation I drew in more of it.
With the power came the other aspects that the Fifth Dominion embodied, not just Air, but Knowledge and Secrets as well. I stumbled back a step as my meta-awareness met and fused with the Fifth Dominion’s power. It was like a computer drive had been dumped into my mind.
“Woah, that’ll take a little bit to process.” I said shaking my head. The people around me, except for Kari, looked at me with confusion in their eyes. “Sorry, Prelate Temple excommunicated me. Undoing that had some unexpected benefits. I’ll deal with Avernicus before I get to that though.”
In dream speech I told the Fifth Dominion the same story I’d told it when I first arrived and once again wings of gossamer spread from my back. I was about to take flight with them when I noticed that I wasn’t alone in gaining new appendages.
From Kari’s back, wings that looked almost the same as mine sprang forth.
“I’m coming with you.” she said.
I studied her wings. They didn’t just look like mine, they were formed from the same prayer-spell. The one that I’d silently voiced to the Fifth Dominion. She’d heard the prayer and repeated it as well.
More than that, she’d understood what I was doing when I spoke to the Fifth Dominion and forged a new bond with it.
I was reminded of the panicked look in my mentor’s eyes when he first discovered how far I’d come in mastering my abilities on my own. Kari and I definitely needed to have a talk sooner rather than later.
For the time being though I just nodded my agreement and took to the air. Kari had trouble following me, though given that it was the first time she’d ever flown she managed to do a decent job of it. I was torn between blazing on ahead and hanging back to give her pointers. Prelate Avernicus remained a serious threat and while that would normally leave me inclined to race to defuse the harm he might do, in this case it argued for a more careful approach.
“I want you to stay close to me if we find Avernicus there.” I told Kari, adjusting my flight to match hers.
“I understand.” she said with a nod. “That way you can shield me like you did against Prelate Temple and Ralls.”
“You noticed that too did you?” I asked.
“Yes. Or I think I did. It just kind of makes sense. But I don’t know why?” Kari said.
“Once things have calmed down a bit I’ll explain as much of it as you want to know.” I told her.
“What wouldn’t I want to know?” she asked.
If ever there was a dangerous question to answer, that was the one. Having asked more or less than same thing myself when I awoke to my powers I couldn’t blame her though.
“Everything comes at a price, even knowledge. For now though, just know that you’re not going crazy.” I assured her.
“What’s happening to me then? I feel like I’m caught in a whirlwind, or like I’m standing outside myself.”
“You’ve been near some heavy duty magic tonight. You’ve got a talent for it too – which should be obvious given that you’re flying after spending zero time studying the Fifth Dominion.”
“Isn’t that impossible.” she asked.
“Technically? No. As a Priestess I can tell you that it’s possible for someone’s spirit to be naturally attuned to one of the Dominions. It’s rare but it means that forging a connection to the Dominion is something that happening almost unconsciously.”
“Is that how you got your magic back?”
“Nope. I straight up cheated on that.”
“Like Way did when she got rid of the armies for us.” I said.
“And that’s something you’ll explain to me later?” Kari asked.
“Yeah.” I didn’t want to promise anymore than that. Kari was on the cusp of awakening as a dream walker. I loved being a dream walker, but it had changed everything about my life. In Kari’s case it could eradicate hers. If she stepped outside her world into the Dreamlit for one moment, she’d be swept away in time. It would be years in Vale Septem’s time before she could make it back, assuming she could even manage the return trip at all.
“What do you think Prelate Avernicus is doing?” Kari asked, changing the subject.
“Trying to work out what happened. The sanctuary spell should have been impossible to break.” I said.
“How long will that take him?”
“That’s what worries me. He’ll never figure it out. So the question is what will he do instead?” I started angling downwards as we came within shouting distance of the church.
“What do you mean?
“Let’s go inside and see. Stay close.” I said.
It had been a busy night for us but it was still early. The lights in the town were still lit and I could hear people running around several streets away. That made the dark and silent structure of the church stand out as all the more ominous. I wasn’t exactly on the best terms with the Holy Throne. Stomping into one of their strongholds wasn’t the safest of possible moves but under the circumstances the other options were worse.
I’d been half expecting a scene of devastation when we landed, but apart from the darkness, the church looked in fine shape. Which made sense. Avernicus had no reason to wreck the place. If anything he’d need it in good shape if he intended to use it for ritual work to repair the sanctuary spell.
That thought left me briefly considering whether I should wreck it myself to prevent him from using any of the prepared wards against us. Apart from the fact that there might be innocents inside though, I held off on that thought for a few other reasons, the biggest one being that I might need to use it to repair the sanctuary spell myself.
“Keep your flight spell going.” I said as I let my wings fade away. Extending my left hand above my head, I spoke a standard prayer to the Fifth Dominion and called a spark of electricity to arc between my thumb and little finger. As flashlights went it was limited but I couldn’t trust the illumination spells in the church even if they would respond to me.
We entered through a side entrance to the church and as we crossed the threshold I called out a simple “Hello”. With an electric arc in my hand, we weren’t making a stealthy entrance and if anyone, or anything, was waiting for us inside, I wanted them focused on me rather than Kari.
My careful and clever plan was met with nothing more than silence though. No one jumped out of at us. Nothing growled curses from the shadows. The church looked empty.
“The heartstone’s in the Under Chapel right?” I asked Kari.
“Yeah, the stairs down are over there.” she said, pointing to the back of the altar area where are door stood partway open. From somewhere down below light leaked up and I could just barely make out the sound of chanting.
I broke into a run, Kari following close behind me. We descended the stairs and burst into the Under Chapel to discover Avernicus waiting for us.
At his feet another man lay crumpled. From the fallen man’s eyes and mouth, I saw sparks of light rising up. Avernicus’s face was covered by the effect of the spell he was casting which had twisted it into a inhuman visage with no features save for a series of hungry mouths of of various sizes and shapes.
As ‘Priestess Jin’, I recognized what he was doing. It was a spell the Shadow Breakers had developed that let them, essentially, eat the memories of someone they’d overpowered. It left the victim a shattered, amnesiac, wreck, but it allowed the Shadow Breaker to process the memories they took from the victim with inhuman efficiency.
I didn’t have Way’s lightning reflexes and I didn’t have her physical prowess. I usually relied instead on the the magics I commanded. Where she is power incarnate, I work in more subtle mediums. For instance if she wishes to prevent someone from escaping she’ll grapple them. I’m more likely to drop them into a tar pit, or summon chains to bind them.
In this case, in my capacity as a master of the arts of subtlety, I hit the Prelate in the face with a brick.
I still had the earth shaping spell that I’d used to pull down the tower and form the wall, so pitching one of bricks from the wall of the Under Chapel was the fastest means of breaking the memory eating spell.
For good measure I followed the first brick up with several dozen more, each launched with the force of a cannon ball. To say I got Avernicus’ attention was a bit of an understatement. Unfortunately, to say that I hurt him much would have been a bit of an overstatement. Aside from driving him back to the far end of the Under Chapel, the barrage of stones left him dusty but otherwise uninjured.
“And how would you manage to be here?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous.
I smashed another brick into his face. It may not have hurt him thanks to the defensive spells he was imbued with but it was at least disrespectful and annoying, which was sufficient for my needs.
“You seem to be under the delusion that you get to ask questions here.” I said.
“There’s no one else here. No one to save you little Priestess. I can do…” he was cut off by another brick to the face.
“You can do what I say you can do.” I said, advancing on him.
“You would challenge me?” he laughed.
“No. You’re no challenge whatsoever.” I said and advanced further down the rows of benches towards him.
“You were trapped and excommunicated. That you managed to hang on to simple earth shaping spell means nothing.” Avernicus said and with a word he called down a bolt of lightning from the ceiling that passed right through me.
I had to give him credit, working Air magic underground was tricky and a lightning bolt spell of the caliber he threw at me took a level of mastery that few achieved. When I stepped out of the bolt completely uninjured I think I managed to surprise him at last.
Unlike Avernicus I wasn’t connected to the Dominion of Earth indirectly through the Holy Throne. The Earth and I were connected on a fundamental level. Lightning was a great attack when it worked. On someone who was the next best thing to stone though, it tended to fizzle.
With one hand I reached out to manipulate the earth. The spell I wove yanked him into the ground to his waist. With my other hand, I reached out to the earth, formed a fist of stone beside him, and hammered him on the head like I was driving in a tent peg.
With a word and a wave of his hand he blasted himself free and knocked my stone fist to dust.
“Who are you?” he asked, growing visibly concerned.
Another stone fist hit him from behind, driving him face first into the ground.
“I said no questions. You’re going to give back what you stole from the pastor, restore his memories and then I’m going to decide what sort of message I want to send to the Holy Throne. If you’re very lucky, I’ll decide that it’s one that involves allowing you to retain the ability to speak.” I said.
The Prelate rose from the ground, battle ready and laughing.
“You have power, but do you think you can frighten me? No matter how strong your spells may be, I can see the weakness in you. You don’t have it in you to be terrible. You care. You want to be ‘good’. Agony and violation and despair. You fear them, but to me they are the scalpels that souls are shaped with. I’ve seen so many like you. Little heroes who learn the truth of the world only when it is torn from them in screams.” he said.
It was my turn to laugh. He’d been hiding the weaving of a spell as he’d spoken. His words forming the magic he sought as much as they were meant to disturb me. He really was a masterful caster.
And he really had no idea what I was like.
He struck out with a spell designed to burst my heart replace it with a magical hex. He had various spells that targeted his victim’s mind and could compel obedience directly. That was too simple though which was why this was his favorite. This spell left his victim in unbearable pain and also completely dependent on him for their lives. As soon as he let the spell fade, the hex would vanish and they were left with a void in their chests He could toy with they for as long as he wished, letting the hex fade out slowly so that the victim would feel every agoninzing, helpless instant.
He was lucky that I was still in a good mood. Rather than reflect the spell back on him, I caught it in my free hand and wrapped it in a dream.
“That is a tricky spell to cast. I’ll have to save it for later.” I mused, inspecting the marble of dreams that held the spell in check before popping it into my mouth and swallowing it. It went down and vanished away into my inner dream worlds, mine to do with as I pleased. It was a horrible spell, but sometimes horrible tools were useful to have on hand.
“That was dangerous wasn’t it?” Kari whispered behind me.
“Nah, I’ve got much scarier things than that inside me.” I said with a wicked smile. Several armies worth of scarier things in fact.
I did have to be careful though. The temptation to show Avernicus some of the more awful nastiness that lurked in me was fairly strong, but it was also beneath me. We are, to some extent, who we chose to be. I’d had the choice to become a true nightmare and I’d rejected it. I still had that choice, but it wasn’t what I wanted. So I set boundaries for myself. I chose to not be the terror that someone with my powers could be. It wasn’t that hard, but it did take thought and self awareness.
Avernicus didn’t know about those boundaries, but he was starting guess that he was faced with someone outside his normal realm of experience.
“How…how did you do that?” he stammered, fear beginning to crack his controlled demeanor in the form of irritation.
I closed the rest of the distance to him in a single leap. I’m not as fast as Way, but I can be quicker than an evil old high priest. Drawing on my connection to the Third Dominion, I grabbed him by his invulnerable throat and buried him halfway into the wall at his back. Then I started squeezing.
“What are you?”, Avernicus demanded, irritation turning to panic
“No question.” I reminded him and squeezed harder.
My strength was the strength of stone and earth while I channeled the Third Dominion. Avernicus’s invulnerability came from the Ninth Dominion’s aspect of endurance. If we’d been evenly matched he could have endured any amount of force I put against him but we weren’t. He drew his magics through the Holy Throne, mine came straight from the Dominion. Just beating him in a contest of raw might wasn’t enough though. I needed to send a very specific message.
The Holy Throne needed to know that Dawns Harbor was not under the protection of a prodigy level Priestess. I didn’t want them to think that I’d gotten lucky somehow, or that I was a pawn for some devil that they could banish to remove my power. I chose not to be a terror, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t people who should be afraid of me.
Avernicus’ invulnerability was his trump card. It was a near perfect defense, a “good” spell, that gave him free reign to be as offensive as he wished to be. So I took it away from him.
I couldn’t manipulate spells at a distance yet. I needed to reclaim more of the Dominions to do that. As with the spells that Prelate Ralls and Temple had thrown at me though, once a spell affected me directly, I could manipulate it with my inner dream magics.
I could have shattered it, like I did the spells that Ralls and Temple had thrown at us, but instead I peeled it off him and wrapped it up in another dream marble.
“You’re just a treasure trove of useful spells aren’t you?” I said. With the loss of his invulnerability, Prelate Avernicus found his options for responding limited. Speech was right out given that I was crushing his throat with the force of decent sized mountain. His frantic blinking might have been intended as morse code, but it looked a lot more like someone desperately trying to make sense of an impossible situation.
I offered him no further clues. Provided no explanations. I just looked him in the eyes, smiled and slowly closed my hand tighter and tighter around his neck. I wasn’t going to kill him. We both knew that. But I didn’t have to. Once I squeezed tight enough to cut off the flow of blood to his brain he’d be rendered unconscious in seconds. After that he’d be just as helpless against me as his victims had been against him.
I smiled a little more broadly as I saw understanding blossom in his eyes, followed by the realization that he already was that helpless against me.
I’d left his right hand free and so he tried the next obvious move. He tried to take Kari hostage with the same heart-bursting spell he’d thrown at me. My dream shield was already in place to protect her, but before the shield was needed I saw her reach forward and pluck Avernicus’ spell out of the air like I had.
Where I’d swallowed the spell, she flung it away like it was slimy bug. I coldn’t blame her. It was a yucky spell.
I looked back at Avernicus and my smile widened into a full toothed grin. If I wasn’t the only impossible girl in town, the Holy Throne had more to fear than Avernicus could possibly imagine. I stayed silent though and kept slowly crushing him. He looked back into my eyes, disbelief and terror warring across his face. He finally understood.
The next moment he was gone. Even unable to speak he was still enough of a spellcaster to call a personal portal to teleport him back to his own sanctum.
“What happened?” Kari asked.
“He escaped.” I said.
“Is that bad? He’ll bring the other Prelates back won’t he? Or another army?”
“Maybe. But he knows what I am now.”