Silence has texture. There’s the feel to the silence of an old run down house that you’ve snuck into that’s very different from the feel of the silence of your bedroom after an argument with your mother, or (on the positive side) the silence that stretches out as you watch the sunrise with someone you know well enough that the moments are full even without words being shared.
The feel of the silence that comes after you beat a high official of the church to a pulp in an underground chapel is very different from any of those. There’s a breathless elation at having dealt with a serious threat combined with a tense certainty that worse calamities are winding up for their turn in the ring.
Not that calamities are particularly polite about “taking turns”. By preference, calamities seem to enjoy hunting in packs.
With Prelate Avernicus’ departure, Kari and I had one of those rare moments when the calamities seemed to be giving us a moment to catch our breaths. I knew that couldn’t really be the case though, and the moment that thought occurred to me I noticed the pastor of the church sprawled on the ground.
“Ah, damn.” I grumbled.
“What’s wrong?” Kari asked. She was glancing around the Under Chapel, probably trying to see if we had more Prelates to worry about.
“No rest for the wicked.” I told her and walked over to fallen Priest. It may not have been fair to categorize myself as wicked. Most of the wicked in Vale Septem weren’t anywhere near the danger to it that I was.
‘Potentially’, I reminded myself. I was only ‘potentially’ a danger to the world. It was my choice whether I wanted to be kindly or wicked and in this case, kindly seemed to be what was called for.
I knelt down and rested my hands gently on the priest’s head. I couldn’t read his mind but I could sense the dreaming worlds that he still held within himself. He was still there, but the outside world was lost to him due to the chaos that Avernicus had left his mind in.
As a Priestess, I knew that in time the priest’s mind would heal. He’d be able to make sense of what he was seeing and experiencing after his mind adapted to the damage that was done to it. It wasn’t much to hope for but it was more than he could manage at the moment. The deep damage the spell had done, the loss of memory, would last forever though. No amount of time would restore more than disjointed flashes of memory to him. He might not have lost everything he ever knew, but enough was gone that he wouldn’t be able to care for himself for a long time.
“He’s in bad shape. Avernicus was in too big of a hurry to be subtle it looks like. There’s still some hope though. Can you help me again?” I asked.
“What do you need?”
“Another story, we’re going to connect to the Seventh Dominion. I need the mind magics it has and it would be good for both of us to have some conventional magical shields against the kind of mental magic Avernicus was throwing around.” I said.
“Pastor Peracles said that the First Dominion was the one that covered Language, but I know that’s not the Dominion for the mind? Why is that?” Kari asked.
“The First Dominion is more primal. Its aspect as the Dominion of ‘Language’ is fairly broad. It includes things like talking to animals through body language. There’s a lot of other aspects that the First Dominion covers as well, but it’s the Seventh that claimed ‘the thinking mind’ as part of its portfolio.” I said.
“But how do I know that? I’ve never studied as a Priestess.” Kari asked.
“It’s a side benefit of what’s happening. Useful but not terribly reliable. You’ll know things that you shouldn’t, but not everything, and occasionally not the things you really need to know.” I explained.
“So what kind of story should I tell you?” Kari asked.
“The Seventh Dominion’s primary aspects are Art, Deception, Illusion and the Mind. Anything that reminds you of those will be fine.”
“I guess I know about deception the most. The job at Caina’s needed a lot of that. Some of the people were nice, but they were poor too. Caina always gave them the oldest, worst stuff she’d had. Things is, those were the people that I wanted to come back cause they were nice to wait on. So I’d collect up a bunch of orders together and give them all to Caina at once. That way she wouldn’t know which food was going to a poor table and which was going to the wealthy people. She always thought I was delaying the food for the poor people because I didn’t like them, but they always enjoyed the bigger portions that she had to give out when she couldn’t tell where the food was going so it worked out in the end.” Kari said.
“That was clever, and kind. You want to hold on to those.” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Like the Dominions, we have aspects. Patterns of behavior and natural impulses. Your impulse on meeting people who were nice to you was to try to be kind to them.”
“Isn’t that what everyone does?” Kari asked.
“Did Caina? Did Rask or any of the Prelates? We’re all different in what we look for in other people. We all value different things too. Looking for and valuing kindness? Not as common as it should be.” I said. “That’s where our mind’s come in. My brother is an athlete. He’s actually my step-brother, so we didn’t meet until we were older. By then I’d already formed an image of what big athletic guys were like. I thought he was going to be a total jerk. On an instinctual level I was ready to hate him, but I knew that wasn’t fair. Forget mind-over-matter, the hard thing is mind-over-instinct. It’s worth it though. I gave him a chance and got to know him as ‘James’ rather than ‘that jock in the house’. Turns out he’s pretty awesome. He can be a meathead too, but he’s a good hearted, super heroic meathead.”
“Choosing to shape what other people see and choosing what we focus on? Our stories are kind of the same aren’t they? Just two different sides of the same thing.” Kari said.
“They are, and they’re part of something much larger.” I smiled. She should have been given Priestess training ages ago. Even without meta-awareness and inner dream magic she was a natural.
“I…I can see it!”, Kari dream spoke.
“Can you see the most important part?” I dream spoke back to her, sending along my vision of her with my words.
“I’m already connected to it! It’s a part of me, it’s a part of everyone!” her eyes were wide with comprehension. Knowing that was one thing, understanding it on an experiential level, that was something else entirely. It was that level of bone-deep knowledge that a priestess needed to possess in order to work magic with a Dominion and Kari developed it in hours since acquiring her meta-awareness.
I watched as she spoke a word aloud and vanished into thing air.
“I can turn invisible!” she cried out joyfully.
“You can do a lot more than that.” I told her, delighted at her delight. Pastor Peracles’ moan reminded me that we didn’t have a lot of time for instructions though, however much Kari might need them. “For now, I need you to keep an eye out for me.”
I sat on the ground besides the Pastor and folded my legs into a half lotus. There wasn’t anything mystically helpful about that position in this context, I just needed to be comfortable for what I was planning to try.
“What I’m about to do is delicate and dangerous.” I said. “I’m not sure how much of it will you’ll be able to make out, but please leave it all to me. If someone comes in here and you need to get my attention just say my name. I may or may not wake up but I’ll help you in either case.”
Kari nodded, in agreement more than understanding.
Avernicus’s spell had torn memories out of the Pastor and shredded his mind in the process. I couldn’t wave a magic wand and make it all better. I couldn’t even use dream magic to instantly restore him, not without replacing the bits of him that were missing with bits copied from me. He needed his own memories and his own dreams, not mine.
Fortunately, while they’d never come back on their own, Pastor Peracles’ memories weren’t completely lost. Avernicus’s spell had been focused on ripping information out of the pastor’s mind. The original memories were still there just broken and disconnected from anything he’d be able to consciously access. Restoring those connections wasn’t trivial but with some Seventh Dominion spells and a little judicious cheating with dream magic I might be able to have the pastor back to his old self before the night was out.
With a nod to Kari, I closed my eyes and placed my hands on Pastor Peracles’ forehead. I felt the connection form at the tips of my fingers and used that to narrow my focus inwards. I’d traveled into others dreams before, but each time was a new experience.
Peracles’ dreams were as scattered as his mind. The chaos of his thoughts was a great black void, the last defense against the spell that Avernicus had turned on him. In the void, shadows moved, angry, hungry thoughts seeking to lash out against the harm that had been done. I couldn’t make peace with them, Peracles was too hurt for that.
Behind the shadows I could sense the millions of fragments of memory, each wrapped in their own tiny dream worlds, huddled away. The beasts in the shadows lashed out at my presence to protect those memories from discovery. Peracles’ mind was rejecting the touch of mine. He hadn’t been strong enough to fight off Avernicus though and he certainly wasn’t strong enough to fight off me.
Fortunately for the pastor, I wasn’t there to fight. There was nothing I could gain by defeating the monsters of his Id that sought to keep him safe. Instead I let them come. Tooth and claw and sword. Blood and bone and bile. Every horrible thing in him rose to block my path and I gave them what they wanted.
Strength. Vitality. Comfort. I didn’t have to beat them, I had to make his monsters see that they had nothing to fear in me. I showed them an illusion, a deception that hide the things within me they would have been right to fear and presented that which sought to aid them. It wasn’t who I really was, but it was the truth.
The beasts of the Id didn’t back down, they didn’t accept me, but they did pause. That let me step past one of them into one of the worlds of memory that my meta-awareness drew me to.
It was a tiny world, only the size of the church building, which it recreated. I stepped into world and saw it replaying one of the pastor’s recent memories. He stood at the door to the church, on the other side Bishop Rask was giving last minute instructions.
“This is not something which you may question. If you see any of the goblin folk, be they adults or children, you are to slay them immediately. None should get through our net, but if they do, you must silence them before they can speak to anyone.” Rask said.
“I don’t understand. We’ve always had excellent relations with the goblins. Even if some have fallen in with Diabolists, they cannot pose any threat so long as they bound by the sanctuary spell can they?” Peracles asked.
“These can. We are but the first being sent to deal with this threat. A team from the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court will follow to assist us soon as they able.” Rask said.
“Then certainly it would make more sense to keep any goblins who come to town for the Shadow Breakers to render judgement on?” Peracles objected.
“They will have more important tasks to attend to than to deal with some goblins.” Rask said, anger plain on his face.
“This will be a life or death matter for the goblins Bishop! They are children of the Dominions the same as you or I!” Peracles, despite being younger, shorter, and of less station than Rask did not seem at all inclined to back down.
“They are not the same! Only we follow the light of the Holy Throne! Only we are blessed with its righteousness!” Rask shouted.
“That light comes from the Dominions, and are we not taught that we must share that light and use it to inspire all who see us?” Peracles shouted back.
“I do not have time for this. You will follow my orders without question Pastor!”
“I cannot do that Bishop. What you ask goes against every teaching of the Holy Throne. We do not slay the innocent.” Peracles met Rask’s gaze and didn’t flinch as pure rage rolled over the Bishop’s features.
“I do not ask.” Rask said at last, his voice low. “I command!”
Rask’s left hand flew out and grabbed the stunned Peracles by the face. I heard him recite a fairly lengthy prayer spell and recognized its effect immediately. It was a geas, a magical compulsion. Rask couldn’t talk Peracles into obeying him, so he’d forced the matter.
“You know my order. Enact it or suffer the consequences.” Rask said before vanishing from the memory in a swirl of his bishop robes.
I blinked. Poor Pastor Peracles just had no luck whatsoever today when it came to dealing with his superiors. Worse, this complicated any attempt I could make to help him recover.
On the positive side, the geas that Rask had slapped on the pastor had been thoroughly applied. That meant it would be part of most of his fragmented memories. That was good because it meant I could use it to pull them back together.
The unfortunate side effect was that I couldn’t restore those memories without also restoring the geas. I couldn’t even afford to banish it once he was restored since the geas would be one of the “stitches” that was holding him together.
“What do you want Pastor?” I asked the man in the memory. We were in a dream and so I sent the context of my question with my words. I showed him the choices that lay before him.
“I can bear the geas. My people need me.” he responded. I saw how he had hidden in the Under Chapel to mitigate the geas’ effect. It required him to slay any goblins he saw in town. As long as he was safely locked away from them it couldn’t take over his actions or trigger any of its effects.
I nodded to the memory and touched the geas mark that hadn’t yet faded from his forehead in the memory.
When I said there were millions of fragments of memory, I’d been estimating the damage Avernicus had done. With the geas as an anchor I was able to pull in hundreds of memories a second, restoring the connections between them and Pastor Peracles’ conscious mind. Even at that rate it took hours to pull them all together. Millions had been a low estimate. Tens of millions was probably more accurate.
By the time, the dark void of chaos had been replaced with a serene and complete mindscape once more, I was exhausted. I withdrew from the mental embrace and let the Seventh Dominions spell fall away as I settled back into my own head.
“She’s done.” I heard Healer Grida say.
I drew in a slow breath and exhaled carefully. Passing out after a piece of work like that would be understandable, but enough time had passed that I was sure a new crisis must have arisen.
“How’s Pastor Peracles?” Colten asked.
“He’s ok. More than that. He’s whole.” Grida said.
“By the deep blue, how did she do it?” Colten asked.
“I got lucky.” I said, opening my eyes to find the whole dinner party and several other people assembled in room.
“I want to hear that from the Pastor!” a slightly familiar voice shouted. I turned to look at the room and saw that it belonged to Caina. I hadn’t seen her at breakfast but her voice was distinctive enough that I was sure it was her.
“I would be delighted to answer your questions, if perhaps you would be kind enough to speak them more quietly.” Pastor Peracles said. He hadn’t risen from the floor but he had opened his eyes. A headache of epic proportions was an unavoidable outcome of putting his mind back together before it had finished healing.
“What did she do to you Pastor!” Caina shouted, collapsing to the ground beside him.
“She? Ah, my angel is real?” Peracles said, turning to look at me.
“I’m no angel.” I said as I got to my feet.
“As the heavens are our destination, we may all be angels to one another.” Peracles said, quoting the scripture of the Holy Throne.
“She didn’t hurt you pastor?” Caina asked.
“Far from it. If I am right, I have her to thank for undoing a most grievous injury.” Peracles said.
“One more grievous than I could have undone.” Grida said. She wasn’t precisely happy about that. More wary than anything else in fact.
Caina looked at Grida and then back to Peracles and then to me. Confusion was replaced by a scowl, but she didn’t say anything beyond that. It progress in its own way.
“They’ll both need rest after that. We can continue our discussion in the morning.” Grida said and began shooing the bystanders out of the Under Chapel.
“If I could trouble you to bring a cot down here. I shouldn’t be out and about now.” Peracles said.
“That’s no trouble, but what is it that still ails you?” Grida asked.
“Our Bishop has enspelled me. A geas to force me to kill any of our goblin neighbors that I see.” he explained.
“I was able to use it to bring him back, but it means he’s stuck with the effect until he has time to heal.” I added.
“I see.” Grida said. Her worry wasn’t directed only at Pastor Peracles. She was concerned about me as well. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘frightened’ of me. She’d seen what had happened to the Shadow Breakers camp. She’d seen what had happened to the Under Chapel as a result of my fight with Avernicus. She’d even watched as I’d pushed the magics of the Seventh Dominion into a territory bordering on the impossible. Like Avernicus, she had a sense of what I was, and like him she knew how dangerous that made me.
“Tomorrow sounds like a great time to explain everything to me.” I yawned. “I’m going to head back to the bungalow if that’s ok? Way’s Sigil should keep out any problems for a while, but if anything comes up let me know.”
I took a slow step towards the door. No one moved to stop me. For that matter, no one said much of anything, so I trudged up the stairs and out into the cool, late night air. I’d walked for a few minutes before I noticed that I hadn’t seen Kari in the crowd.
I looked around, meta-awareness tickling the back of my head, before I caught a faint shimmer in the moonlight.
“You’re pretty good at that spell, but I recommend not holding it too long. It gets inconvenient when people step all over you.” I said, looking in Kari’s general direction. In a blink the invisibility spell faded and I saw her standing slightly away from me to my left.
“How could you see me?” she demanded with a small pout. “No one else could.”
“They didn’t know you could turn invisible. Also, I’d bet Colten, Grida and their crew knew you were there. I think they’re trying to figure out what to do about us.” I said.
We walked back to the bungalow without any more invisibility tricks. Kari filled me in on how the others had arrived with Grida in the lead. The Healer had worked out what I was doing and had kept anyone from interrupting me despite the protests of Caina and a few others. She hadn’t said anything about the unnaturalness of what I was doing, but even Kari suspected that she knew the healing spell wasn’t exactly a standard one.
I was almost regretful of that we’d skipped the invisibility spells when we arrived back at the bungalow. There was a suit of bloody armor and a sword resting within the porch and by the time I noticed them it was obvious to anyone inside that we’d returned.
“I’ve got to put a locking spell on that door.” I said, shaking my head.
“There’s someone in there waiting for you.” Kari said, pointing at the door.
My meta-awareness was telling me the same thing, and even giving me a clue as to his identity.
“Maak, why are you in my house?” I asked as I opened the door to see the grumpy knight who’d traveled with Bishop Rask waiting inside for me.
He had only left Dawns Harbor that morning but from the looks of things he’d had a rougher day than I had. Poorly bandaged wounds of all types adorned his shirtless body.
“Priestess Jin, I had hoped to make a better…” he started to say as he rose from the small stool he was sitting on. His words cut off as he promptly toppled over.
I paused and waited a second, unsure if his performance was a trick of some kind. The blood on his back wasn’t stage blood though. It ran from real wounds.
“Kari, you’d better go get Healer Grida.” I said.
Wicked or kindly, it didn’t look like I could expect to get any rest any time soon.