Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can turn your day around. Hearing Way’s voice was like that for me. I didn’t need her to fix everything that was wrong, or to fight my battles for me. Just knowing that she was with me meant things were ok.
That was particularly good since I knew I was going to have to destroy Vale Septem.
“Kari could use a hand, and I think there’s a few million demons laying waste to the Goblin Kingdom.” I dream spoke to Way, sharing images to help her make sense of what had happened since she’d defeated the first demon army.
“What about the Holy Throne?” she asked.
“I’ve got dibs on him!” I replied with a wicked smile.
Way sent back a laugh and added, “Think Kari will be ok?”
“Yeah, he smacked her into the deep dreaming but her meta-awareness is up to speed so she’ll figure it out.”
“I’ll take care of the demon army then. Apparently I didn’t hit them hard enough the first time.” she said before streaking away in a blast of thunder. Several million demons. One Way. I’d have to hurry if I wanted to deal with the Emissary before she was done.
“Empty fire shall not avail you!” the Emissary shrieked as he wove his hands through the gestures series of complex gestures.
“By the threads of time, I bind you! From the loom of fate, I strike you! Forever be no more, Empty Ghost, Hollow Spectre, Forgotten One!” he intoned, building his will into a strike against me that nothing on Vale Septem could stand against. He wasn’t weaving a spell of the Dominion’s magics. His words were guiding the dream magics he’d stolen. He was speaking in the voice of the Blind God and trying to rewrite reality itself to reject me.
“I’m sorry.” I told him, genuine pity beginning to stir in my heart. “I make my own fate.”
The Emissary lashed out with his hands and released the power he’d gathered to unmake me. With hands contorted into talons he ripped widening rents in the fabric of reality. If they’d continued they would have swallowed everyone in their path the way a earthquake fissure would. Grida and her people, the Goblin King and his subjects, they all would have been would have been cast into oblivion along with me if the Emissary got to call the shots.
“The world’s not for you to destroy.” I told him as I reached forward gently and gathered the tears in reality to myself like spider silk. The force of the spell that was ripping reality apart met the force of my words and dissipated.
“You…you can’t do that.” the Emissary stammered. Rage and terror welled up within him and burst forth as an incoherent scream. Unable to contain himself, the Emissary belched holy light at me like dragon fire. I didn’t gesture, or even speak. I just imagined the holy light dissipating into a stream of fire flies winding a path back to the heavens. The attack that should have washed over me and burned me to dust instead swirled around my arms, lightning the night with a beautiful soft glow and living sparks that rose towards the stars above us.
Dream magic isn’t about will, or power. It’s about imagination and the ability to connect things together. I’d been in Vale Septem for only a few days but I’d spent the time building connections to the world. The Emissary had been in the world for aeons and had spent the time drawing away from and denying the world.
“I’m sorry. There should have been someone to catch you when you fell. You’ve spent so long and understood so little.” I told him as I started walking closer to him, leaving the defenders of Dawns Harbor behind me.
“My will is supreme! I AM THIS WORLD!” the Emissary screamed.
“I know. That’s what I sorry about the most. You’ve wormed yourself into the fabric of this world so deeply that I don’t think I can pull you free of it without breaking it all apart.” I said.
“You will not take from me what is mine. I have defeated gods mightier than anything you can imagine!”
I could feel the Emissary building up his power. Across the world magic drained out of the shrines and temples of the Dominions. Holy relics lost their inner spark and magic armor and enchanted weapons became mundane. Even the Sanctuary spells the guarded the many cities of the Empire flickered and failed as the Emissary reached out to bring the entirety of his power to bear.
Apparently I’d successfully impressed on him the caliber of threat that I was.
“You still don’t get it.” I said, shaking my head.
“You are the darkness. I am the light. My power shall expunge your corruption from this world forevermore. I shall fashion a new dawn, I will bring my people into a day which never ends.” the Emissary ranted.
In meta-awareness I saw the future he spoke of. A world spinning so fast it had become frozen in time. No change. No life. All within it caught in the moment the Emissary believed to be the closest to perfection they could achieve.
“Can you hear yourself?” I asked and knew the answer immediately. He couldn’t. He was striking out with words but he’d long ago given up on understanding the reason behind them. He was the truest believer in his own madness.
He’d reached for power out of fear and had found only more things to fear. Capturing the Blind God had shown him the dark unknown beyond the world and the Emissary had shown himself to be weaker than Kari in his reaction to that.
Where she’d had the courage to face the mystery that she’d discovered, the Emissary had fled from it. He’d bound the Blind God out of fear of losing the power he’d stolen and he’d bound Vale Septem in terrified denial of what he couldn’t understand.
Where Kari had imagined both dragons and knights within the unknown dreaming, the Emissary could only imagine monsters. He’d been so limited and small and, in growing to the vast heights of power, he’d shrunk even further.
But as he’d said, the world was his.
I watched as the combined magic of the world gathered in his hands. He’d drawn in enough energy to turn the world into a new star. In smiting me, he would boil the oceans and burn the skies. Nothing living anywhere on the world would survive his attack. He would be alone on an empty world with no threats to his power at all, nor anything to anchor what little remained of the humanity he still held. Then the loop of time would reset and those who’d once lived would live again, and they would be all that he would have left to feed on.
I saw him pause, just for a moment, before he unleashed the force that he’d gathered. I met his eyes and saw the last spark of the man he’d once been holding him back. Even after so much time, even as lost in denial as he was, there was still a part of him that could see that what he was about to do was wrong.
I crossed the last few steps to him and placed my hands on his.
“You need to let it go.” I told him gently.
And so, with a scream of primal terror, he did. The star fire that he held blasted out of his hands to consume the world and met my fingertips.
I wrapped my arms around the world ending sphere of force and closed my eyes, letting it flow into me, imagining it as liquid sunlight that my skin could simply drink in and store for later.
When I opened my eyes, I saw that my skin had turned a rich chocolate shade of brown. Not burnt but rather the deepest most perfect tan imaginable.
The Emissary stood before me empty and exhausted. He moved his hands in a repeat of his initial unmaking spell.
“No more.” I said, interrupting his gestures by touching his hands.
He didn’t even have enough energy to be terrified. His hands dropped to his sides and he stared at me numbly.
“What are you?” he asked.
“What you could have been. What you could still be.” I told him. I didn’t whisper it but my voice was quiet enough that the words for the two of us alone.
“I will never be a monster like you.” he said, but instead of defiance his voice held only sorrow and fear.
“Look. See what you’ve become. See what you’ve done to those most loyal to you.” I said and gestured behind me.
I held all the power of the Holy Throne. I held all the magic in the world. At my call the Eternal Reborn appeared. All of them, standing silent and still and facing us just as the defenders of Dawns Harbor did.
I peeled away the illusion of life that cloaked the Reborn to show them as they were. Empty vessels. Homes for souls that had been shaped into barren puppets.
“This is what you’ve done to those who were loyal to you, even to those who loved an image of you.” I told him.
“Lies! They were sanctified. Purified.” he whispered back.
“They were that too. Sanctified to your will. Purified of all the traits you disliked. Purified of everything that made them unique, vibrant, and individual.”
“No. You are a nightmare. You’re showing me things to destroy me. You cannot trick me! I will not listen, demon!”, he hissed.
“If you won’t listen to her, then you will listen to us.” Grida said.
“We know what you are. We’ve seen what you’ve done.” the Goblin King said.
“We know where you are taking us.” Liggy said.
The defenders of Dawns Harbor had advanced to stand beside me, with even Liggy and the Knights joining the assemblage.
“This is our world too.” Kari said, descending behind the Emissary on wings of fire.
“And it needs to end here.” I said.
“No. It can’t. Not after all this time.” the Emissary pleaded.
“You were once a man of faith. Look to that faith now.” Grida said. “For one last time, believe there is something more than all this.”
The Emissary looked at her. He looked at Liggy. He looked at those who’d assembled to stand against him. And then he looked at me.
“I don’t know how to do it.” he whispered.
“Let go.” I said, sharing via dream speech the image of the bound Blind God and the power that had been trapped for so long.
“But the I will be no more.” he replied and around his words I saw the monsters of the void which terrified him most. Solitude. Despair. Hunger and Pain.
I reached out and drew one of them forth. It took the form of a winged serpent and the Emissary gasped at the sight of it.
With my finger I led the serpent around in a spiraling pattern until it was coiled around my waist like a belt.
“It’s ok, I forget to eat sometimes, so I can use the reminder.” I told him. I ran a finger down the serpent’s head and it swayed in sleepy contentment.
The Emissary’s body had gone rigid with revulsion at the sight of the serpent but was gradually relaxing again as he saw it for what it was. The monster, the hunger, was just a part of me. Accepting it for what it was didn’t mean giving it power over me. It’s the monsters that we hide from that can control us, as his had controlled him.
Slowly, like the sun hinting at the day to come, I saw understanding creep over his features.
“I think I see.” he said. I watched the tension drain from his face as stream of peace burbled up from some long lost corner of his heart.
“Yes, let it end.” he added and with an exhalation all the world around us began to disappear into a haze of mist as the stars in the sky winked out one by one. He’d freed the Blind God, he’d given up the power he held and the world that was bound together by his will crumbled away.
With the world went the defenders of Dawns Harbor, swallowed by the mists and the darkness as well until finally only Kari, the Emissary and I were left.
“I don’t understand. Why am I still here? Or is this to be my hell?” the Emissary asked.
“No, I’m going to make a far worse hell than this for you.” a new voice said.
From the shadows, the Blind God stepped forward. He appeared as a boy a few years older than me, and he’d not only regained his voice, he also clearly wasn’t blind anymore.
“I don’t think so.” I told the formerly-Blind God.
“You’re going to defend him?”
“I’m going to defend you both. If you’re really lucky I’ll even put in a few kind words for you when your cases come up for review.” I said.
“What do you mean?” the Emissary asked.
“You’re both on my turf now. Which means I’m dragging both of you to the Parliament of Time and make you their problem to deal with. Given how much you two managed to screw up an entire world, I’m betting you wind up in the remedial ethics classes.”
“What are you talking about?” the Blind God demanded.
“You’ll see soon enough.” I told him. “Let’s just say that while it’s impressive you were able to make a fully realized world, there are people used to dealing with much bigger fish than you.” I said, and then exhaled and continued in a gentler tone. “You’ve both made some mistakes. The Parliament will help you make sure you understand who and what you are so that you don’t make them again.”
“What about me?” Kari asked.
“Where you go is up to you, but you’ll probably want to join the Parliament too. I’ll introduce you to my class advisor. She would love to have an awesome student like you to work with.” I said, thinking of how happy Professor Haffrun to get to deal with someone like Kari rather than the usual problem children that get sent her way.
“Before we can do that we have a few things to take care of.” I said. As if on queue, a golden lightning bolt announced Way’s arrival.
“Aww, you didn’t save any for me?” she complained.
“You just got to play with how many demons?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes.
“Those don’t count. But it was four million, two hundred thirteen thousand and fifty six.” she grinned.
I shook my head.
“I’m never going to find you a big enough Christmas present am I?”
“What are you babbling about! My world has been destroyed and I will have my vengeance!” the Not-Quite-So-Blind God yelled.
“About that…” I began and stopped to listen.
From a far away distance I heard Grida calling a single word. My name.
“Kari, I need your help here.” I said and put out my hand to her. She took it and Way took my other hand without me needing to ask her.
“You’re the future Kari. You hold the unknown. Think of all of the things you can imagine happening tomorrow in Dawns Harbor. Then think of everything you can imagine happening tomorrow everywhere.” I told her. It was a ridiculous thing to ask but I needed her to be as open to as many possibilities as possible. The bigger the grasp on the future she could give us, the better.
“Way, you’re the present. You’re the ground I stand on. You’re what I believe in. The Way of Vale Septem is still alive in you. You’ve fought on every corner of the globe chasing the demons, Imagine the things that ‘are’, remember the world as it is.”
“And Grida…” I said, casting my voice into the dreaming. “You give us the past. You provide the context of everything that we do. You know those who have come before. Remember them and imagine your connections to them. Through each of them go further. Let Colten tell you of his parents. Let his parents tell you of their friends. You will be the center of the web of time that has already been woven, let your memories grow and echo with the memories of all you’ve ever touched and all they have touched in turn.”
I felt Kari pulling me outwards, towards the dawn that awaited at the end of the night. I felt Way holding me tight, a part of the world through the gravity of my connection to her. And I felt Grida reaching back to us, the incalculably vast web of the “world as it was” joined to her.
Kari and Way reached out through the shadows and caught hold of Grida’s outstretched hands. As the circle formed I let the magic that I’d taken from the Emissary pour forth from me and I called everything back. All the good, all the bad, everything that was real about Vale Septem.
In the sky above, the stars blazed back to life. Below our feet, the darkness was replaced with the earth shining under the brilliant light of the moon. All around us the shadows pulled back to reveal Dawns Harbor and its people, restored and gleaming in the silver light that bathed the land.
In freeing the Blind God, I’d destroyed the world, but together we’d brought it back.
I felt relief sing through my heart. I’d been pretty sure we could pull it off, but pretty sure is not the same thing as certain.
That was when we were joined by a few new arrivals and a horrible, terrible thought occurred to me.
“Would someone please care to explain what just happened here?” Professor Haffrun, my advisor, asked as she stepped forth from the Dreamlit World.
Vale Septem had been under intense scrutiny by the Parliament. They hadn’t been able to help us because the days we’d spent had passed in a fraction of a second. With the time flux gone though there were a whole bunch of people from the Parliament who were going to be crawling all over Vale, looking for who was responsible for what had happened.
“Oh, we are going to have so much paperwork to do to explain this!” Way said, more worried about that than she had been about the four million demons I’d asked her to face.