Finding what you were looking for, Tam observed, seemed to rarely correlated with getting what you wanted.
As the swirling lights above them settled into fixed positions, Tam felt the emotional vertigo they’d induced subside as well. It was an impressive effect. Even with an awareness of mind altering magics, and some general defenses against it, the Luminids had managed to bring some of her deepest worries to the foreground. It wasn’t a devastating attack, but it didn’t need to be. Fairylands played with the senses as a matter of course, but it was the traveller’s intent that shaped the aspects of the realm they encountered.
Someone who was searching for a lost child might encounter mazes to block their path, or guardians to challenge their resolve, but their path would lead them towards the child (however circuitously) until their intent changed.
Should someone have followed the call Tam heard but with an unkind intention, the Luminids would have drawn that out and turned it around, so that the unkindness was focused inwardly and the path through the fairyland would have changed to reflect the traveler’s altered desire for self destruction.
As traps went, it was a more effective one than Tam would have imagined given the strength and simplicity of the call which she’d felt. She’d brought Cynthia along largely because it had seemed like a relatively inexperienced caster had been requesting aid with what would probably be a minor matter in a strange and beautiful realm.
Tam the lingering traces of shadows which had clouded her heart. She’d tried sharing the weirder elements of her life with her first few girlfriends and had met with mixed results. She’d backed away from that with later relationships, hiding the parts of who she was that were harder to understand, but that hadn’t done much for the health of those relationships. With Cynthia, she felt a level of acceptance and trust that let her dare to hope for more than she’d had with her last few girlfriends, but painful experiences weren’t the easiest thing in the world to let go.
Shaking her head to clear the last of the mental fog that had wrapped her up, she turned to the more immediate at hand.
“Those burns happened a long time ago, didn’t they?” Cynthia asked the young boy who was sitting on a slowly drifting cloud less than a dozen paces away from them.
“That’s an accurate assessment,” the boy nodded and added, “I’m Kael. Thank you for answering my call.”
“You said there was a problem we needed to know about?” Tam said. She didn’t reach out to gather in any more magic. In part she sensed it wasn’t the time for hostile gestures, and in part fairy magic was notoriously fickle. Casting it was always somewhat fraught with peril and even holding onto it for too long could lead to the sort of changes that involved hiding new and unusual animal parts where you’d once looking completely human.
“Many problems in fact,” Kael said. He flickered and reappeared on the cloud in a different position. It was a bit unnerving, but it was better than watching him teleport all around them.
“We’ve already got a list with many problems on it,” Tam said, thinking of the stack of files piled up in her inbox.
The traditional source of requests for the Second Chance Club’s help were the letters which Charlene curated. She reviewed each one which arrived and assigned the Club’s resources to help the people as best the Club could manage. Often that took the form of connecting the requesting, potential member with an established member who had the capacity to help them. Since Tam and her team had taken down Prima Lux though, the scope of the issues they took on had widened considerably.
On one hand that was good. By being proactive, they’d managed to head off problems that would have affected fair more people than the Club would have had the resources to assist. The cost to that though was a backlog of cases to work on that could have kept an army of associates busy.
Bringing on Connie, Sarah and Jen had helped with that to a degree. As had the other recruitment they’d done. Somehow though there was always more work to done than people to take care of it.
“It’s possible you may know of these issues already then,” Kael said, blinking to a new position on the tiny cloud again. “I know the Potestates care is usually focused on Earth though, so do many of the entries on your list include issues in neighboring realms?”
“Neighboring realms? Like here?” Cynthia asked.
“This is a preserved domain,” Kael said. “The problems I speak of are in worlds less sanctified than this one.”
Tam grimaced. Her team had already gone to hell once, without her, and had escaped through good luck as much as good fortune or planned. If there were more problems unfolding in the worlds that were connected to Earth, then she wasn’t sure she wanted to subject anyone she knew to the trouble of dealing with them.
“Charlene Potestates organization is pretty wide spread, but even with as good as my friends are, I don’t think we can reasonably handle even one world’s problems, much less the local corner of the multiverse,” Tam said.
“I suspect you’re not aware of the extent of the Potestates true influence,” Kael said. “But the problems I speak of are not one which are confined to other worlds. Since the fall of the organization known at Prima Lux, the strictures and wards which its founders used to secure their holdings on your Earth have fallen away. That has opened cracks in the borders of your world. You saw the result of one such crack earlier today.”
“The water elementals?” Cynthia asked.
“Were you the one who placed the enchantments on the fire suppression pipes?” Tam asked. Kael’s broader claim wasn’t hard for her to accept. She’d known even before they took down Prima Lux that there would be fall out from creating a power vacuum like that. Most of her work over the last several months had been centered around mitigating the impact of that fall out and charting the changes which had resulted from shifting magical balance of the world.
“I was,” Kael said. “Water finds a path into whatever it encounters. They were beginning to seep in on their own, but they would have become lost in the currents of the Earth if there hadn’t been a stable pool for them to inhabit.”
“What about the fire?” Cynthia asked.
“A practitioner on your world objected to their presence,” Kael said. “The elementals exert an influence their native material wherever they exist. That proved to be inconvenient for the one who owned the building they were sheltered in.”
“So he lit the place on fire?” Cynthia’s outrage carried a note of professional disgust that Tam recognized. People who solved problems with fire tended to be oblivious to a myriad of better solutions available, and there were enough naturally occurring and accidental fires that she never reacted well to cases of arson.
“Water spreads,” Kael said. “Very little other than fire can contain a water elemental, and the practitioner in question was able to fuel the flames with his hatred, so it was easy to encircle them.”
“I take it he was human?” Tam asked.
“Yes,” Kael said.
“Of course he was.” Tam closed her eyes. “We’re really good at destroying things out of blind hatred.”
“No,” Kael said. “As a species you are no more talented at that than any other. You may have some prodigies who descend to the bleakest of depths but so too do you have ones who rise to the most ennobled of heights.”
“I guess most of us just float along in the middle?” Cynthia asked.
“You change and move, as all living things must,” Kael said. “The practitioner is an outlier, I believe.”
“And the Water Elementals?” Tam asked. “Are they an outlier as well, or are we looking at a broader trend there?”
“For all of the problems which plague you, your world is still a shining jewel compared to other worlds,” Kael said. “With the barriers unbarred, there are many more than the Water Elementals who will seek entry to the Potestates home.”
“The Second Chance Club?” Cynthia asked.
“I think he means the Earth,” Tam said, to which Kael nodded.
“She is one of the primary powers that remains on your world, and thanks to her victory over Prima Lux, the one with the most influence over its fate at this moment,” Kael said.
“When you say ‘seek entry’ what do you mean?” Tam asked. “Are we talking individual travelers and small groups or are we talking armies?”
“That depends on you,” Kael said. The cloud disappeared and Kael settled slowly to the ground on his half clipped wings.
“I’d prefer individuals if that can be arranged,” Tam said.
“Then you will to seek audiences with the realms nearest to you and work outwards,” Kael said. “That is the message I wished to delivery, and the problems I wish to avert.”
“What happens if we don’t get a diplomatic corp in place?” Tam asked, there being several unpleasant alternatives that she could think of.
“I don’t know,” Kael said, blinking a few feet closer. “What I fear though is war. Across the worlds. With power enough to shake the foundations of the cosmos.”
“That would be bad,” Tam said. “Especially since we don’t have that kind of power on Earth.”
“You have more power than you know, and more resources to draw on than you can imagine,” Kael said. “My concern is the lengths to which the Potestates will go to defend what is hers.”
“I’ve never seen Charlene with her back against the wall, but I would guess she’d be willing to do almost anything to keep her people safe.”
“That’s what I fear,” Kael said. “The Potestates has shown wisdom in the past, and has been able to negotiate shrewdly to find workable solutions to complicated problems. Earth and her sister worlds are not over supplied with wisdom though and the powers in other worlds can be far less than wise.”
“You think they’ll push her to fight? Or push us all to war?” Tam asked, trying to imagine what a war across the worlds would look like. Fighter jets flying through lands of leaping rainbows and nightmares from the subconscious rampaging through city streets. Wars on Earth left devastation and horror in their wake. War on a cosmic level might not even leave that much behind.
“What are your thoughts on preventing that?” Tam asked. Kael didn’t look like a cosmic mover and shaker, but Tam wasn’t fooled by his appearance. The wounds he displayed were real enough – she knew how deep injuries could appear no matter what form their bearer took – but his youth was likely only a relative feature. If he was a boy, it was likely only in comparison to entities which could look back and recall the birth of the universe.
“To enlist your aid,” Kael said and smiled.
Tam groaned inwardly. That couldn’t be the extent of his plan. Any creature aware of the multiverse would have to know better than to leave it’s fate in the hands of a few well meaning humans. Tam had known other humans for a little over thirty years but it had only taken her a tenth of that to see that humans were not exactly great with delicate situations. They tended to break things. All of the things. Everywhere, eventually.
“Can we do that?” Cynthia asked.
“You’re the only ones who can,” Kael said, fading as he spread his hands wide to them and the people in the park around them which he had returned them to. “If your world is going to have the chance to grow, you are the ones who are going to have to create it.”