Heroism can take many forms. Sometimes its about speaking up when all around you are silent. Sometimes its about putting your safety at risk to save someone else from peril. Sometimes though it’s simpler than that. Sometimes being a hero means taking an overwhelming fear and putting it aside.
Screaming and yelling has a grand tradition in regards to heroics, but its often the quiet sort of heroics that are the most difficult and the most important
“What do you mean Peri has gone to fight the monster under her bed.” my Mom asked. I didn’t need any special awareness to know that all of her old fears were flooding back to the surface. We’d lost my Dad to unnatural violence and it had left both of us scarred. We still carried those wounds with us despite the years and despite gaining vast amounts of unnatural powers ourselves. The prospect of losing another family member, especially Peri, was not one that my mother could face rationally with much ease.
For me it was a little different. I couldn’t bear to lose Peri either but, if I was right, she was in my domain which meant I knew I wouldn’t have to.
“I saw it earlier. There was a small rift under her bed. I told her to leave her room until I woke up. She was supposed to go play with Melissa until then.” I started to explain.
“If you saw it, why didn’t you do something about it?”
I could see her trying to hold back her anger.
“Belle had already gone in to fix it. She’d put a ward in place over it too. I didn’t think Peri would even be able to get in.” I said.
“Is she in any danger?” my Mom asked, slowly and carefully.
“Yes.” I said. “But not like you’re thinking.”
“Please explain.” she said. I could see the sky darkening and feel raw currents of power gathering under us. Mom never used her power at home but in the face of emotions as strong as the one’s she was repressing, the mantle of Gaia she wore couldn’t help but react.
“Belle’s in there. You’ve never seen her fight but take my word for it, she’s like a force of nature, and she won’t let anything happen to Peri. More importantly, I’m going to go in there.” I said.
“You can save her?” Mom said. She needed to hear the words explicitly to even begin believing them.
“Peri’s in the Dreamlit world, the borderland between the real and the unreal. There’s almost nothing I can’t do there.” I told her.
“So you can save her and bring her home.” Mom asked again.
“Yes. If she’ll come with me.” I told her.
“What do you mean?” she asked, not reassured at all yet.
“If she likes it there? That would be a problem. I can bring her back. I can even bind her to this world, but I can’t bind her imagination. If she likes the world beyond the rift, her heart will long to return there. She’ll pine for it.” I said.
My Mom breathed a sigh of relief. I knew how what I’d said sounded. Peri pinned for things all the time. For about five minutes. Then she’d find something else to want with all her little heart and soul. I could have left my mother thinking that was the case here, but with her, for something like this, I didn’t even want to let a lie of omission slip by. There were times I needed people to trust me where I couldn’t offer them any explanation of why they should. The only way I knew to build that kind of trust was to be as honest as I could with them whenever I could, even if it was painful.
“This isn’t like you’re thinking. If the Dreamlit world captures her imagination, she won’t let it go. Ever. If I have to pull her out of that realm, she’ll grow up to be as much of a resident of it as she can. And she’ll make the world around her into as much a reflection of it as she can.” I said.
“How obsessive would she be?” my mother asked.
“Best case? On par with a life long Star Trek fan who speaks fluent Klingon and dresses in Starfleet uniforms. Worst case? Well the worst case is if she were to be denied it for years and years and then woke up as a dreamwalker. Like I said, I can bind her to this world but she could disappear within herself, literally.” I explained.
“We are not going to let that happen.” Mom said.
“No, we’re not. And Peri isn’t going to either. I know this sounds insane and I know that she’s only four but I believe in her. And you should too.” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re with her more than I am. How long has it been since Peri was her own little person? She got about ten times the willpower and personality as I did at that age. She wants Belle back. Do you really think anything like a monster-under-the-bed is going to be able to distract her from that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. She’s so little.” my Mom said. I could see her holding back tears. The clouds did her crying for her in the form of a sudden hail storm.
“Did I mention Belle was in the form of a puppy when Peri saw her?” I said with a smile.
My mom smiled at that and our shared laugh broke the mood of gloom.
“I’ll get her back. I promise. I was in a hurry before because of the mission Way and I are on, but I’ll take my time and do this right. I’m not going to tell you not to worry, but I am going to ask that you trust me.” I said and put my hands on my Mom’s shoulders. She pulled me into a hug.
“I do trust you. I always have you know.” she said.
“Thank you.” I told her. Her belief was a simple human decision, not a fate weaving or dream magic, but it made everything easier somehow.
“That said, are you sure you shouldn’t bring Way in on this?” she asked.
“I could, but that would get complicated.” I said.
“How? Wouldn’t she be able to help you? You’ve said you do your best work when you’re together.” Mom asked.
“I do. But, well. It’s…complicated.” I said, flailing around for words and feeling butterflies in my stomach again.
“Tell me how.” she said patiently. She wasn’t willing to risk her youngest daughter’s safety on my stomach butterflies.
“Well, I can’t get a message to her in the world we’re working in until I wake up there, so to let her know what was up, I’d have to wake her up here.” I said.
“How would you do that?”
“I’d go to her castle and wake her body up there.” I said.
“Way has a castle?”
“Yeah. It’s in one of the Faerie realms.” I said.
“I don’t understand.”
“To stay ‘real’ here, we have to leave part of ourselves in this world. Since it’s nice to have bodies here, that’s what we leave behind. Way’s not here much though so she leaves hers in a remote and extremely well defended spot where she can rest in an enchanted sleep for as long as she wants. Sounds like a Faerie tale right?” I said.
“But the Faerie realms aren’t on Earth are they?” she asked.
“No, they’re their own planes. But as far as our Earth is concerned, they’re real. They’re a part of the cosmos we live in. The same as the Olympian realm that you and James get your powers from.” I said.
“So when you say that your mission with Way is on another world…” Mom asked, trailing off as she tried to form the question.
“The Earth we’re on is like this one except that it’s not real as far as our Earth is concerned. The only connection between the two is through imagination. It has similar but different laws, both physical and metaphysical.” I said.
“And where Peri is now?”
“She’s closer than that. The Dreamlit realm around our world is a mirror of what’s real for us mixed with what can be imagined. By default it’s very similar to the world that you see all around us.”
“Ok, leaving that aside, you can wake Way by going to her castle. Why is that complicated?” Mom asked, returning to her original line of questioning.
“Well, she might be in the middle of something. In fact with how our ‘luck’ works its extremely likely. If I wake her during a gunfight, she’ll probably get killed there.”
“Can’t you check on that before you wake her up?”
“Yeah, I can. It’s a little tricky since I have a comatose body there, but I can manage it.” I said.
“Then why don’t you want to?”
I sighed. I had to be honest. With myself as much as with her.
“I don’t want her to know that I messed up. That I got hurt.” I said.
“What?” the hail storm had stopped but I heard a peel of thunder in the distance.
“If I wait a bit, I can probably argue and annoy the reality there into letting me wake back up. I can make whatever wound I took less severe. Way’s not going to be expecting me for a few hours still. If I can show up in one piece, even if its a somewhat damaged one, she won’t be as scared.” I said.
“Scared? With what you both can do? What would she be scared of?”
“That I can’t take care of myself.” I said quietly.
“How could she be scared of that?”
“Did James ever tell you about the first time he saw me use my powers?” I asked.
“It was in the stadium when you fought the Faerie Queen for us wasn’t it?” she asked.
“No. It was before that. After you were taken by the faeries. They didn’t take James because he’s Aegis and they couldn’t even get close to him. They didn’t take me because they were afraid of me.”
“They were afraid of you? Why?”
“Because of this.” I said and reached deep into my heart. In my hand, a black flame appeared.
“What is that?” my mother asked, recoiling instinctively from it. Her mantle knew exactly what it was and the danger it represented.
“Oblivion. This is the unmaking flame, a piece of non-existence. Anything which this burns is not only destroy, it is erased completely. Reality as a whole is diminished with each thing I destroy with this. No real power or force can stand against it.” I explained.
“How did you…” my Mom started to ask.
“I’m not entirely real anymore remember? It’s the price I paid. I can never fully be a part of this world, and I can never fully be a part of the imaginary realms.” I said and quenched the Oblivion fire. It was a part of myself that I chose to look away from. I could never forget it was there, but I didn’t have to feed it, didn’t have to give in to its call to let everything burn.
“I still don’t understand though. Why would Way be afraid for you?”
“We’ve been with each other for four years. Ever since we both changed. She’s always been there to support me, to cheer me on and…to stop me from going too far.” I said. “Without her? On my own? If I can’t take care of myself, do you know what I could become?”
“Yes.” my mother said. She was smiling, a tiny little smile. I couldn’t understand that. Hadn’t I been clear? If not, I didn’t want to try to be any clearer.
“I won’t push any farther, if you’ll answer me this and make me one promise.” my mother said.
“Ok.” I agreed.
“Tell me, truthfully, are you sure that you can rescue Peri without Way’s help?” she said.
“Yes. I’ve seen things like this before. Even if what’s hiding in there is a lot more powerful than it’s letting on, I can deal with it.” I said.
“Fine. I do trust you. Go get your sister back.” Mom said.
“What about the promise?” I asked.
“Promise me that you’ll have Way talk with me before you two have your chat.” she said.
“Uh, ok?” I said. I had no idea what the two of them might have to talk about, or why my Mom would ask for that, but as promises went it was probably the very easiest I was going to get off, so I asked no further questions.
“How long will it take you?” she asked.
“If I did it quick? Two seconds. Maybe less if I didn’t put any flourish on it. But I want to do this right. If this goes well, you should see Peri pop out from under her bed all on her own in a little while. I’ll follow along a few minutes after that.” I said.
“What will you be doing once Peri’s out of there?” Mom asked.
“Teaching a monster under the bed a lesson in manners.” I said.