Category Archives: Broken Bonds

Tag for posts that are part of the novel “The Broken Bonds”

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 31 (Epilogue)

Waves lapped on the shore, a steady but mild breeze blew and a lusciously warm sun shone down leaving my skin aglow with delight and relaxation.

“I could stay here forever.” I moaned contentedly.

“But then we’d miss all the fun of finals.” Way teased.

“We are supposed to be studying aren’t we?” I asked, turning on my side to look at her.

Way was in the beach chair to the right of mine. She looked as relaxed as I felt.

“Yeah, studying.” she agreed without moving a muscle towards any of the books we’d brought with us.

“How long did Professor Haffrun say they were delayed for?” I asked. I knew the answer but it was so nice to hear it aloud.

“Two weeks.” Way said, smiling.

“And we’re suspended for two weeks too.” I said.

“Not suspended. We’re on Cross Departmental Review. Professor Haffrun was very clear about that. We’re to be available for questioning at any time by the Case Review Panel until they have the incident fully documented and sorted out.”

“I don’t think the Explorer’s Corp is very happy with us.” I said.

“We did kind of break one of their big study projects.”

“We put it back together though!”

“Yes, but now it’s normal. No more time flux, no more need to conduct an extensive investigation into what was causing the time flux.” Way said.

“True. Instead the Diplomat Corp gets to interrogate the cause of the time flux and enroll him in their curriculum.” I said. The Emissary had quailed a bit when he’d seen the hungry look in the eyes of the Diplomat Corp investigators who’d shown up to “process him”.

Being able to affect time the way he had was a fairly rare gift. It wasn’t necessarily a trick he’d ever be able to repeat but that wouldn’t discourage the investigators from (verbally) dissecting him to see what they could learn.

“When will Kari be back?” Way asked.

“She’s got a full day of orientation, then Professor Haffrun said she’d bring her back here and give her some time to consider which program she wants to enroll in.”

“Think she’ll pick Diplomat?”

“Maybe. I think she’d do really well in the Explorer Corp too though.”

“We should arrange for a party for her when she gets back.” Way suggested.

“With Grida’s cooking?” I asked.

“We wouldn’t want to anything but the best right?”

We were both in agreement. The small taste of Grida’s cooking that we’d had at the dinner party we’d attended had left us dying for me. There was of course one small issue to that.

“I think Colten may have claimed the next hundred or so meals with her.” I said.

Actually he’s claimed all of the rest of our meals, but that doesn’t mean we don’t welcome company too!” Grida dream spoke to us.

Both Way and I sat up in surprise.

Healer Grida? When did you learn to do this?” I dream spoke back to her.

Probably right around when you asked me to help recreate the entire world.” she replied.

I don’t know why I was surprised. In retrospect it was a bit dim not to have seen that coming.

In fact if you girls would like, we’re just putting on a small lunch now and we’d love to have you join us.” Grida added. She sent along the scents of the various dishes that she’d prepared.

Way and I took a moment to look to each for confirmation. I didn’t waste any time. I teleported straight to Grida’s house. Heck I teleported straight into the seat she’d set for me at her table. That still wasn’t fast enough to beat Way there. We shared a giggle at that and at Colten and Brayson’s reaction to our sudden appearance.

“Why hello girls. So nice of you to join us.” Colten said.

“Healer Grida said it was ok. She invited us.” Way said.

“When was that?” Brayson asked, a smile on his face as well.

“About two seconds ago.” I answered.

“Ah good you’re here. That didn’t take long.” Grida said emerging from the kitchen with her tray of “small lunch”. There were armies that had marched on less food than she’d prepared.

For the next hour, Colten, Brayson, Helena, Marcus, Way and I made our best and most heroic effort to at least taste the various dishes that Grida brought out. I knew she had to be using magic to make them. She would have needed a hundred ovens and a pantry the size of a football stadium to hold all of the ingredients she prepared. I also knew that magic alone could never had made food as good as what she served us.

Eventually the flow of delicacies ebbed, mostly I suspected to give us time to digest and make room for future courses. That also let Grida join in on the conversation for a while.

“So Caina is setting up a ‘Reformed Church of the Holy Throne’?” I asked.

“So I’ve heard.” Marcus said. “With the Emissary gone and the Sanctuary spells lost, the church’s power is in decline, but there are some that find it more comfortable to continue believing in it.”

“Those Reborn don’t seem to be ‘declining’ too much.” Colten grumbled.

“Only some of them are siding with the church though.” Marcus said.

“Not sure which ones I’m more worried about.” Brayson said.

“They’re not as worrisome as they were before.” Sir Gahn said.

“Now that we’re pledged directly to the Dominions, I think you’ll find the Knightly Orders a bit stronger than they were in your day.” Sir Maak said.

In part thanks to their improved spell casting prowess, both of them were looking back at the peak of health.

“These Reborn aren’t like the ones that you fought before.” I added. “They’ve got their own hearts and minds back.”

“Still fast and strong as hell though.” Brayson complained.

“Resistant to magic too. We couldn’t do much to change their bodies when we brought them back.” I said.

“I not all that clear on what you did there?” Helena asked.

“It’s a little tricky to explain. The basic gist is the Emissary had separated them into pieces using the Cauldrons. The pieces he didn’t like, basically the parts that made them unique people, got tossed out of the world. When we beat the Emissary, the whole world fell into that same realm and as long as we were pulling it back from there, pulling back the wayward souls too was safer than leaving them out there.” I explained.

“Why was it safer?” Helena asked.

“Ripping out bits of what’s real is tremendously dangerous. It leaves a wound in the world and there’s all sorts of unpleasant things that can take advantage of that. The Eternal Reborn will be a problem, but they’re this world’s problem, and they’re people, not mindless murder bots so there should be a lot of options in how you deal with them.” I said.

“Speaking of problems, I’m surprised we’re not having more problems without the Sanctuary spells.” Colten said.

“There’re still signs of monsters lurking about but its like they’ve all pulled back.” Marcus said.

“Mmm, that might have happened.” I agreed, fighting to keep a smug smile off my face.

“I think the Priestess knows something she’s not telling us.” Helena said.

“I think she knows a great many things she’s not telling us.” Grida agreed. “But perhaps we shouldn’t call her Priestess.”

“Why’s that?” Colten asked.

“You usually address royalty as ‘Your Majesty’ I believe.” Grida said.

“Royalty?” Brayson said, his eyes widening as he looked at me.

“A mistake on the Emissary’s part. He took a title I had from somewhere else and made it real here too.” I said.

“What she’s not mentioning is that her title let her order the monsters of the deeps to stay in the deeps.” Grida said.

“To be fair, there are less of them around here too, so they’ve got plenty of room to breath as well. The Emissary had been gathering them up. When we brought the world back, we made sure they weren’t too concentrated. A lot of them aren’t even technically monsters. If you could meet them under more favorable circumstances you might find some common ground to work from.” I said.

“So what will you and Sir Way do next?” Helena asked.

“We have a little while before we’re needed anywhere.” Way said.

“We were thinking we might try to have an actual vacation here.” I added.

“And if any trouble comes looking to take advantage of the recent chaos?” Helena asked.

“We’ll be here to discourage it.” Way said.

“That’s a relief.” Grida said.

The was a knock on her front door.

“Just on time! Would you get that for me Colten. I’ve got to get the deserts ready.”

I turned to watch Colten open the door and do a double take. He murmured a greeting and then stepped aside to reveal two men and a young girl waiting outside.

With a gracious bow, Andromalius preceded his liege the Goblin King and Liggy into the foyer.

“Greeting unto the house of Grida, Healer and True Disciple of the Dominions.” Andromalius said.

“And a blessing on the fine cuisine she offers!” the Goblin King said.

What followed was another hour of delicious eating. Conversation was strained at first since there weren’t many obvious common topics between the elders of Dawns Harbor and the Goblin King or a former lord of the Underworld. That is until they began talking about past campaigns. It turned out that Andromalius knew some of the demons that Grida’s group had struggled against and was none too fond of them either. The Goblin King had been an adventurer in his princely days as well and it wasn’t long before tall tales were being traded back and forth almost as fast as the dessert trays.

Liggy was quieter but Way was able to draw her into a conversation, starting with thanking the goblin girl for her help the first day we’d arrived. Liggy had been the one to discover Way’s dazed and disoriented body. Since she’d been closer to Dawn’s Harbor and Way had looked human Liggy had gone there to get help.

That contact with Way had been the channel for the Blind God to call Liggy to his service. With the Blind God gone and the threat from the Holy Throne removed, Liggy was free to return to her homeland but when Way questioned her on that she shyly ducked the question.

The conversations continued for another hour after the dessert courses ended. It wasn’t until there was a lull that lasted for more than a few moments that the Goblin King rose from his seat.

“Our thanks and blessing upon your house once again, good healer. I believe the time is drawing near that we must take our leave though.”

“Thank you, your Majesty. And yes, I believe it’s time we headed out.” Grida replied.

“Headed out? Where are you going?” Colten asked.

“Didn’t you pack like I asked you too?” Grida said.

“Yes, but you didn’t say we’d be going anywhere today.” Colten said.

“That is my fault.” the Goblin King apologized. “There were affairs of state which I presumed would take longer to set in order than they did.”

“Affairs of state? You two are leaving together?” Colten asked, dismay on his features.

“No. We five are leaving together. Unless you don’t want to come along with us.” Grida said.

“You’ll not be rid of me that easily!” Colten said, dismay giving way to a beaming smile.

“I’ve wrapped up some leftovers for the rest of you. We should be back by tomorrow night, though we may be returning too late for dinner.” Grida said.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where will you be? I know Pastor Peracles can handle any medical emergencies that come up, but if we need to get word to you, where should we send it?” I asked.

“You will have to ask your Professor Haffrun about that. I’m not sure where she’ll be taking us.” Grida said.

“Proffesor Haffrun?” I asked, shocked as much as Colten had been.

“Yes, we got to talking after the whole event there. She says that His Majesty, myself and Miss Liggy show signs of the kind of talent her department is setup to nurture. She’s said we may even be able to begin training within a month or so.”

Professor Haffrun? Training them? In a month or so? At the start of the next semester?

“We’re getting new classmates.” Way said, smiling at the notion.

I stared in amazement as Grida waved her hand and drew Colten, Liggy, the Goblin King and Andromalius across to the Dreamlit World. So many new dream walkers and Vale Septem with it’s future wide open before it.

Sometimes you can’t begin to imagine the impact that you’ll have on the world.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 30

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.

I shuddered.

“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.

It tickled.

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.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 29

There are fights that you can back down from. Conflicts that you can resolve with reason and understanding. Even battles that you can avoid by surrendering gracefully.  Unfortunately for the Emissary, he’d pushed Kari far enough that none of those were an option for him.

For her opening strike, Kari hit the Cloister with the next mountain over.

Normally animating an entire mountain would be well beyond the power of a mortal sorcerer. Maybe once in a millenia you’d find a spellcaster so intensely in tune with the Third Dominion, the Dominion of Earth, that they could manage a spell of that magnitude.

Kari had granted herself that level of spellcasting prowess with all of the Dominions though and I could see the strain of holding onto Vale Septem was tearing away at her.

The living mountain shattered the ceiling of the Cloister and most of the shields that the Emissary had in place. The Demon Lords were thrown to the floor in the earthquake that followed.

In ghostly form, I wasn’t affected by the titantic physical forces that were being unleashed but I still needed to maneuver to stay close to Kari as the mountain the Cloister was on began to collapse and the Cloiser plummeted dozens of feet downward to a crashing (and temporary) halt.

Kari didn’t let up though. A golem that eclipsed the sky broke off from the top of the mountain she was animating. With fists the size of football stadiums, it continued to hammer away at the shields that the EMissary had in place.

Despite the tremendous force the golem was exerting, I could see it hadn’t attracted the Emissary’s attention. He eyes were focused on some faraway point, searching for something that was hidden even from his near omniscient gaze.

Rask and Avernicus, on the other hand, weren’t quite so distracted. They took over the attack in place of the disoriented Demon Lords, slicing out with arcs of brilliant fire to cut down the knightly defenders that Kari had summoned.

Half of the Knights exploded on contact with the holy flames and Kari shifted to defense again. The next barrage of holy fire was met by the remaining dream knights locking their shields together. That shouldn’t have been enough to save them. The power that Rask and Avernicus were throwing was enough to light the air itself on fire. The dream knights’ shields held though since Kari used her dream magic to steal away the force of the divine flames.

Reaching inside myself, I found the Sovereign Defense spell I’d ripped from Avernicus and transferred it to Kari. It would have been useful in the fight on the airship where I got skewered but I like to hoard useful spells like that. In the end this was a better use for it too.

The Prelate and the bishop redoubled their efforts as the Demon Lords rejoined the fray and the temperature of the room spiked up to the point where the walls and floored melted away to lava in seconds. Kari was starting to glow the way the Emissary was with all of the power that she was siphoning off of the incoming attacks and I had to wonder if there was going to be anything left of the mountain range itself if the fight continued much longer.

Looking at her opposition, I noticed something odd. Eleven of the twelve Demon Lords that had been summoned were fighting. The last, the only one who didn’t appear in human form, looked like he was bound and powerless.

Priestess Jin might be dead, but as her ghost, I still had the knowledge that she’d worked to accumulate. I turned my meta-awareness to the question of who the Demon Lords were. There were thirteen of them, arranged in a mockery of the Twelve Dominions. I knew their names and primary powers as well as their broad affiliations and historical significance . None of that seemed important though. The important bit of information was something much simpler.

Thirteen Demon Lords and Twelve Dominions? The numbers didn’t add up and that helped the pieces of the puzzle I was facing fall into place.

“This is pointless.” the Emissary said at last. His gaze and focus had returned to the present and the battle that surged around him.

He turned to look at Kari.

“Bind.” he said, the single word carrying a spell of enough power to engrave the truth of it into the world. He didn’t appeal to the Dominions. He effectively was one.

Chains of light surged around Kari burying her under a meter of constraints.

“We will deal with the apprentice later. The Voice must be silenced.” the Emissary said. With a wordless spell, he and the rest of his party then vanished.

The chains of light around Kari exploded a moment later and she emerged transformed into a figure of burning steel.

They’ve left.” I told her via dream speech.

Where did they go?”, she demanded as she let the ‘body of metal’ spell fade.

I cast out with my meta-awareness to confirm what intuition was telling me.

They followed the Goblin King to Dawns Harbor.”  I said, showing Kari a scene of the Emissary and the Lords of the Underworld forcing a path into the town.

We’ve got to stop them!” she said.

We will. Can you portal us back?” I asked.

Yes.” she said and opened one for us.

I need to talk Liggy. Do you think you can hold them off for a few minutes?” I asked her.

I don’t know. I feel like I’m being torn apart and the Emissary wasn’t even fighting back.” Kari said.

You’ve been using a lot of dream magic. It’s trying to pull you into the dream world. If you stick to summoning things from within yourself and working with the Dominion magics it won’t be as bad.” I explained.

I’m sorry. I wish I was stronger!” Kari complained.

I laughed.

You’re as strong as you can imagine yourself to be. Heck, you’re stronger than I am here. I couldn’t have fought the elite forces of hell and the Holy Throne to a standstill like you just did. Not without being completely swept away by the dream world.

But what if I can’t stop them?

Remember when I said there would be a price for following the path I took?” I asked.

Yes?” she said hesitantly.

This is all part of that price. This is the kind of life you wind up with. The kind of choices you need to make. It’s not about power. Not for people like us. It’s about what we choose.

I don’t understand. If I can’t stop them, if everyone is going to die, then what’s the point of making a choice?

That’s the big question. Or at least one way to phrase it. Let me ask you this though: Even if you knew for sure that you couldn’t win, would you let the Emissary hurt and kill everyone in Dawns Harbor? Or would you stand against him?

She thought on that for a long second.

It doesn’t matter. I can’t let him to do that, no matter what it costs me.

I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I wasn’t afraid of the Emissary, but Kari was. I could have shown her that she didn’t need to be afraid, but I couldn’t show her how to reach beyond that fear on her own. I couldn’t teach her to value others. Those had to come from her.

If she’d chosen to fight the Emissary because she’d given up hope and was resigned to her death, I wouldn’t have let her. Nihilistic dream lords wind up alone in the empty reaches of Oblivion all too quickly. That she was fighting for people she cared for though? That I could encourage wholeheartedly.

That’s your answer. Our choices define us, and yours define you as someone wonderful. Now let’s go have some words with the Emissary.” I said.

Kari nodded, gathered her courage and stepped through the portal.

On the far side, we arrived at a scene out of the apocalypse.

Against the Demon Lords, the Prelate and the Bishop, stood the Goblin King supported by his troops and the elders of Dawns Harbor.

The western side of the town was ablaze and crumbling under the insane exchange of powers. In the distance I saw the sigil that Way had left for us shining like a sun going nova as it fought to diminish the powers assaulting the defenders of the town. Even with that though, the defenders were being pushed steadily back.

Colten, Brayson and Helena were locked in combat with one of the Demon Lords, with Grida pouring support magic into them. Working together it looked like they could overcome the monster, but that was only one of the Demon Lords. Even dimished by Way’s ward, the rest were far too much for even the Goblin King, his arch-mage and his most elite forces to contain.

Go get ‘em!” I told Kari and she was off like a shot.

I watched her transform in mid-air, shifting back to the all metal form she’d worn to supplement the Sovereign Defense spell I’d given her. She landed amongst the Demon Lords like a cannon ball and summoned giant wriggling worms of stone from the ground to bind them.

From the skies above, the two dragons she’d summoned earlier descended with heaven shaking roars and the battle was joined.

Grida’s team and the Goblin King’s forces both pushed forward to support Kari and take advantage of the opening she’d created. It looked like everyone who could hold a weapon was trying to help too. Or almost everyone. Glancing over the battlefield, I confirmed that the three people I’d expected to be missing were indeed not present. With a guess as to where I’d find them, I took to the air and sped towards the safest place in town, the base of Way’s sigil.

There, as I’d thought, I found Gahn, Maak and Liggy waiting. The knights were standing with their swords drawn in defense of the goblin girl. I still had Grida’s illusion casting to call on, so I formed the image of Priestess Jin to talk with them.

“Sir Maak, Sir Gahn, nice to see you’ve patched things up!” I said as became visible.

“Priestess Jin?” Maak said, his eyes wide in surprise.

“Or a facsimile sent by the Emissary.” Gahn cautioned him.

“I’m the Jin you knew.” I said and walked past them to lay a hand on the glowing sigil. No servant of the Emissary could have accomplished that.

“Has the Emissary come?” Maak asked.

“The others are fighting his forces now. I left Kari with them to help.” I said.

“What power does she have?” Gahn asked.

“She’s got the same power that I do. Maybe even more actually since she’s a native.” I said.

“Will it be enough to defeat the Emissary?” Maak asked.

“Maybe? Maybe not? That’s why I need to talk to Liggy.” I said.

“If you would take vengeance on her, we must stand against you.” Gahn said.

“Whatever it costs us.” Maak agreed.

“No vengeance.” I assured them. “What she did wasn’t what it looked like. But I still need information from her. You understand don’t you Liggy?”

The goblin girl was looking at me intently with a worried look on her face.

“Why did you burn away? You didn’t have to. You weren’t supposed to. You’re the Queen!” she said.

“It wasn’t time for me to wear that title.” I told her.

“Queen? But you met us as the Shadow Queen, did you not?” Gahn asked.

“Liggy’s talking about another title I carry.” I said. The Oblivion Queen was what the Shadow Queen had become after the black fire of Oblivion had consumed her and most of her subjects. I’d beaten her too, and in so doing had earned that title as well. The Shadow Queen was a creature of nightmares, but the Oblivion Queen was far worse. If Vale Septem ‘didn’t need’ a Shadow Queen, then it couldn’t even survive having an Oblivion Queen show up.

“You could destroy him though.” Liggy said, tears welling up her eyes.

“Tell me about the Emissary.” I said gently.

He has bound the future and the past. He is consuming all of the power in the world and when it is his, he will consume its souls as well.” Liggy said, though it was not her own voice that she spoke in. Beneath and around the words she spoke in the physical world, I heard their echoes in dream speech.

With the dream speech came a flood information.

I saw the Emissary as he had once been. Ages ago. In that far distant past he had been nothing more than a man, old and afraid. One of the powerful but not powerful enough to stop the changes that he saw taking place. The world of his youth was long past and the future was a terrifying place. People were falling away from the Holy Throne, finding their own ways of speaking to the Dominions. The traditions on which he’d built his life were crumbling in the face of a new generation who believed in each other more than the unquestioned holy writs that had stood the test of time.

Aeons sped past, revealing the Emissary of today, his humanity lost in a drunken sea of power. His will had spread the reign of the Holy Throne far beyond the borders he’d known in his first life and within his domain, his rule was absolute. No one prayed except through him. No one questioned the holy writs. Or at least no one questioned them twice.

Time flew forward into the most probable future and I watched as the broad strokes of history played out. Across the loops of time, the Empire of the Holy Throne continued to grow until everyone on Vale Septem knelt before the Throne. The various supernatural powers of the world were consumed first, and then the powers of the Underworld and the empty heavens. Eventually the Emissary ascended to Holy Throne itself and, seated upon it, saw that there was still more he could reach for.

He started first with the souls of those who had proven unloyal. The unworthy and unwanted, he devoured, absorbing them into himself, taking all the life and power and possibilities that they held and making them his own. With their strength, he remade the world into a paradise for those who remained.

In their perfect cage, some few grew discontent though, and they were eaten as well. The rest tried to blind themselves, tried to believe that they were more than puppets to the Emissary’s will. What started as a trickle though became a flood and I watched as the last souls living on Vale Septem tried to break free of their beautiful hell and were burned in the insatiable fires of the Emissary’s lust for power.

What had once been a small and scared man had become a malignant god and Vale Septem the ruined, empty shell out of which he would hatch to continue his consumptive rampage.

“You see why he must be stopped.” Gahn said quietly.

“We are already lost, but we can at least spare the next worlds that he will ravage.” Maak added.

“If he’s here, I need to go to him.” Liggy said. This time it was my own meta-awareness that supplied the extra information.

They were protecting Liggy because the Oblivion fire that she wielded was beyond anything the Emissary could defend against. If she could touch him with it, she could unmake him completely.

“You’ll be destroyed too though.” I said, as the last piece of that particular puzzle fell into place. No wonder she was terrified!

All will be destroyed but those who remain will be saved and born into a new heaven.” Again it was Liggy who said the words but a much more ancient voice who spoke through her. Spoke through her cryptically to be accurate. I rolled my eyes. I hated being on the wrong side of a cryptic discussion.

Fortunately, “Cryptic Speaking 101’ was,  literally, one of the courses I’d studied.

“Taking out the Emissary will result in enough backlash to destroy the world, but whoever’s alive will be carried off to a newer and nicer world?” I translated. The exception of course being the one who carried the black fire to the Emissary. Liggy was faced with the prospect that there’d be no new heaven for her.

“Yes.” Gahn answered.

“Out of curiosity, why would you believe that?” I asked, since it’s the kind of line that tends to be spouted by all kinds of con men and charlatans.

“Our future doesn’t matter so much as our past.” Maak said.

“Surely you remember too?” Gahn asked.

Again meta-awareness had to translate for me. When Liggy had spoken I’d seen the ages of history roll by me, but I hadn’t seen myself in them, because I hadn’t worked quite that hard to insert ‘Priestess Jin’ into Vale Septem. This time loop was the only one where she had any “real” history.

For Gahn and Maak though, the vision that Liggy had shared had connected them to all of their past lives. They knew on some undeniable level that they’d seen the events of their lives play out time after time after time. They’d also seen how the Holy Throne had grown and how the corruption at its heart had spread.

“So why are you protecting Liggy? Shouldn’t she be out there, fighting the Emissary?” I asked, more to understand their motivations than because I thought it sounded like a brilliant idea to task an adolescent goblin with destroying the world. If anyone was going to do the world it’d be me.

“We don’t know what defenses the Emissary may have or how he might strike at her.” Gahn said.

“And if the Emissary takes her out?” I asked.

“The Blind God will speak through someone else that I’ve talked to.” Liggy said. Meaning someone else would carry the black fire and be tasked with killing the Emissary.

“Tell me about the Blind God.”

“He’s the flame bringer.” Liggy said. She was speaking in her own voice but I knew she was speaking of things she’d seen due to being called to service as the Blind God’s ‘Voice’.

“He shapes the form of all that is and is the source of all magic.” Liggy continued, speaking with words that weren’t her own, though her voice still was.

I pondered that and let meta-awareness fill in the blanks. The Twelve Dominions defined what the magics associated with their aspects could do but it was the Blind God that provided that raw force, the elemental capacity for change that powered those spells.

“Why is he called ‘the Blind God’?” I asked.

“Because he gives his gifts to everyone. He doesn’t judge us. He’s doesn’t see our differences. Good, bad, goblin, human, that doesn’t mean anything to him.” she explained, all on her own this time.

I thought about what she’d said and connected the rest of the dots.

The Blind God was the god of form and magic? The one who defined what was and what could be? Or, to say it another way, he was the god of Reality? That was a little frightening. There was a name for things could determine what reality was.

He was a Dream Lord.

And the Emissary had trapped him somehow.

“The Emissary spoke to the Blind God. At the start of all this didn’t he. How?” I asked.

“The Emissary was the most accomplished spell caster who’d lived. He connected to all of the Dominions.” Liggy said.

At first I turned to Priestess Jin’s knowledge to see if there was some arch-mage level spell that referenced all of the Dominions and could reach beyond the real world. Then it occurred to me. The answer to the discrepancy between the number of Demon Lords and the Dominions. There weren’t Twelve Dominions. There were thirteen!. The last Dominion, the lost Dominion, was the Dominion of Dreams!

The Blind God had made the world and bound himself to it becoming both a fundamental aspect of the world and forever apart from it. As Dream Lords went, that was one of the more likely pitfalls to fall into if you managed to avoid becoming a monster. The lure of power coupled with introspection and a desire to create could easily result in a new Dream Lord turning within themselves and crafting a world of such depth and character that it either drew in people from (conceptually) nearby worlds or birthed a real population from pure imagination.

“And what did they talk about?” I asked.

“The Emissary offered the Blind God the chance to see the world that he served.” Liggy said.

“And what did he ask in payment?”

“The Blind God’s voice.” she said.

In a world where magic was made by telling stories, the Emissary had stolen the power to tell stories to reality itself.

I watched the scene play out in meta-awareness. The Blind God, so eager to be a part of the world he’d shaped only to be caught so terribly in his own power when the Emissary turned it against him. Forced to endure aeons in silence, watching the world he’d made degrade towards the madness of one man.

And then two girls had shown up. Two girls who carried the spark of Oblivion inside themselves. Two girls who could end the whole horrible nightmare.

When Way and I had arrived we’d been buffeted by an unseen foe. I  finally saw that it had been the Blind God, striking out from his confinement. He’d recognized the black fire that burned within Way and I and torn off a piece of it in his desperate bid for freedom.

The Emissary had sensed what that power meant too. That’s why he’d struck out to eradicate everyone who’d been touch by the Blind God. If he could eliminate everyone he could snuff out the flames of Oblivion. Any amount of force was worth using to accomplish that, from his perspective.

“Thank you Liggy.” I said, and rose.

“Are you going to save the world?” she asked, unhappily.

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I even can. What I can promise you though is that the future you’ve seen? That doesn’t need to come to pass. We make the future, and I’m going to make one that’s better than that.” I said.

“What can we do?” Gahn asked.

“Stay here. If anyone comes asking for me, let them know where I’ve gone. Oh and take care of each other. You both look like a pile of walking bruises.” I said and winked out of sight.

The battle was still raging when I got back to town.

With the addition of Kari to the defenders forces, they’d been able to rally. The Demon Lords and the forces they summoned lay strewn across the battlefield, smote to pieces and burning.

Kari lead the defenders as they pressed forward against the Prelate and the Bishop. Though their borrowed power exceeded any force in the world, they were giving ground as Kari ripped the light from them in great fiery gouts.

“This isn’t possible!” Rask screamed.

None of the defenders wasted words responding to him. Even the Goblin King’s face was an implacable mask of determination.

“How long much we must hold them back!” Rask wailed.

“I cannot find the girl!” the Emissary answered, fear and rage warring in his inhuman voice.

I settled down to hover just above and behind the advancing defenders of Dawns Harbor and summoned up a handful of Oblivion’s fire from my heart.

The Emissary’s eyes instantly shot up and locked with mine. The one thing in all the world that he was terrified of danced around in my hands as I became visible once more.

“NO!” he screamed. The blast wave that he unleashed would have left a crater a hundred miles in diameter had it been allowed to strike outwards. Instead Kari grabbed it, compressed it into a tight sphere and released it back at the Emissary as a continuous beam.

Avernicus leapt in front of the attack to protect the Emissary. Despite his defenses, despite the extra power he’d been gifted with, the Prelate was vaporized in an instant by the force of the blast.

The light tore into the Emissary as well and hurled him back a dozen paces.

With that Kari finally got his attention.

“This must end!” he screamed and I felt the world lurch and shift.

Then came a feeling of the sweetest relief I’d ever experienced as the Dreamlit World settled over me once more.

I breathed in and felt alive and connected to myself in a way I hadn’t in days. There was no temporal drag, no sense of being ripped away from Vale Septem.

The Emissary had been the one who had created the time loop. He’d been the one to set it running at it’s mad speed. To access his full power, or rather the dreaming power that he’d stolen from the Blind God, he had to merge the Dreamlit World with Vale Septem.

The bad news was, that gave him the power to swat Kari completely off of the world with a wave of his hand.

One instant she was there and the next she was gone, tossed into the deep dreaming before she could resist.

The worse news was that none of the rest of the defenders had even a fraction of her ability to resist the Emissary. It would be beyond trivial for him to edit them out of his perfect world.

Against that bad news stood one fairly important bit of good news though.

With the Dreamlit World connected to Vale Septem again, a bolt of golden lightning tore the sky in half and slammed down at the Sigil on the far side of town..

Anything I can do to help?” Way asked.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 28

Standing with your back to an enemy isn’t a tactically wise move. Even moreso, if the enemy is one who has already literally stabbed you in the back. When the alternative is losing your temper and obliterating both the enemy and the world he lives on though it can be advisable to think on a more ‘strategic’ level. In other words, just because the Most High Emissary of the Holy Throne was standing a dozen paces behind me didn’t mean I couldn’t take a moment to breath out slowly and give him the chance to start running.

“I assure you, the world is in no danger.” he said. “Your struggles, if left unchecked might have imbalanced it, but as you can see I am a watchful caretaker.”

No one spoke back to him. They were all in shock, apart from the Goblin King and Liggy, the Voice of the Blind God. Liggy was silent and stone faced, her expression a mix of horror and slow burning rage. The Goblin King on the other hand was smiling. It was the kind of smile that held no humor or kindness though. Behind that smile lay cold calculation.

I turned to face the Emissary. His presence here was an anomaly I needed to understand. I expected to see him as the figure of blazing light that I’d seen in Prelate Avernicus’ memories and I wasn’t disappointed.  His light didn’t radiate through the shadows I held around us but it was undeniably powerful. Looking at him, I knew my shadows could no more hold him back than the night could hold back the dawn. The holy light that burned beneath his skin washed out the color from hair, eyes and clothes. I could barely see a scrap of humanity left within him. He was power, collected over a hundred or a thousand or a million iterations through the time loop. Once he’d been a conduit for the Dominions but long ago he’d eclipsed them. There was no one in the world who commanded more raw magical might than he did. No one who even came close.

At his sides stood Prelate Avernicus and Bishop Rask, each burning with gifted power as well.

I wasn’t surprised to see Avernicus. My retributive strike had been enough to take out his ship, but to take him out I would had to have flung enough power into it to level Dawns Harbor.

Bishop Rask on the other hand was an unexpected sight. Even moreso because it was clear that he had not been put through the “purification” of a bath in an Eternity Cauldron. That didn’t necessarily make him less formidable. From the way he glowed with power, I could guess that the Emissary had lent him an enormous amount of force.

“A caretaker?” I smirked. “Try asking your Prelates how ‘well taken care of’ they feel. Oh, I’m sorry, that’s not possible is it? I beat them so badly you had to make sure they’d never talk to anyone again.”

“You would test my patience?” the Emissary asked, his voice devoid of tone.

“You think it’s wise to trifle with mine?” I asked in return. I wasn’t being diplomatic. The moment for diplomacy hadn’t arrived yet. The Emissary was bristling with so much power and was so sure of himself there was no way I could reach him with words. We were going to have a very different sort of ‘discussion’ before he’d be willing to listen to me. I just hoped Vale Septem would be around when our ‘conversation’ was over.

“You are a bit of grit, a troublesome but insignificant nuisance, your patience is irrelevant.” he said. I let a cruel smile spread over my lips. I don’t normally like giving anybody a serious beating, but he was making it a lot easier to stomach.

“And yet, you’re talking with me when you could have already attacked. Why would that be?” I wondered. I had nothing to lose by keeping him talking. He held the upper hand in terms of available power. The more information I could extract from him in that state the better. That was so basic they’d barely even covered it in my diplomacy classes.

“He can’t see you.” Liggy said. She was just a wealth of unexpected info it seemed.

“He can’t? That’s interesting. He’s not the Blind God is he?” I asked.

Liggy looked at me and offered no response, positive or negative. I turned to the Emissary again and focused on him. Avernicus and Rask were moving slowly away from him and advancing on us.

“No. He’s not the Blind God.” I said, meta-awareness confirming that much for me. “But you’re right he can’t see me.”

The Emissary didn’t even gesture and, from the heavens, arrows of light slammed through the Cloister’s ceiling and bound my shadow to the ground behind me. I felt paralysis steal over my limbs as the shadow binding took effect.

“I can see you quite clearly.” the Emissary said.

I laughed. Meta-awareness painted the image of the Emissary’s dilemma  with breathtaking clarity.

“Except you know what you see is only an illusion.” I said. “We’re in the same situation. Neither one of us understands the other well enough to act freely.”

“I understand your power, Shadow Queen. I know your realm. And I know you. You are arrogance made flesh. You are fear and madness and chaos. I will reshape you into a proper tool for this world. A weapon to wield against all the foul things that will spawn in the wake of your passing.”

“You want to name me Shadow Queen?” I asked, delighted. “You know what that will mean don’t you?”

“Yes. Shadow Queen. I will dare to call your name. In this sphere my will is supreme. I will expose you. Summon your direst minions, loose your most potent weapons against me. Nothing shall avail you. Even the deepest shadows will not hide you. Wherever you flee, I will find you.” the Emissary said. Which meant he had no idea what he was doing, or he was careful enough not to give it away.

I carried the title “Shadow Queen” from having defeated the Shadow Queen of my homeworld. I carried other titles too, but none of them were inherently part of Vale Septem’s reality. I had said that the world didn’t need a Shadow Queen and I’d meant it. A proper Shadow Queen would be able to marshall the creatures that lurked in the darkness that lay within and below the physical world.

I could have built that as my identity when I came to Vale Septem but it would have stretched at reality in some fairly harsh ways. As a native, the Emissary didn’t have that problem. Granted as a normal person he also wouldn’t have been able to make “The Shadow Queen” any more real than “a rain of chocolate pudding”, but he’d left ‘normal person’ behind ages ago. With his power, creating a “Shadow Queen”, or a rain of chocolate pudding I supposed, was something he could do without even being fully aware of it.

Avernicus and Rask had ceased their approach and stood on my flanks about the same distance away as the Emissary was.

“And the Goblin’s? What shall become of them?” I asked.

“They bear the taint of the same Unmaker that you serve. They shall be cleansed as well.” he replied.

“The same for the people of Dawns Harbor?” I guessed.

“And everyone else who bears the Unmaker’s taint.”

“And this reprieve. This moment you are spending on speaking with us? You didn’t want us to escape, but you are still gathering your force for the final blow. You’re going to erase us and everyone else you would name as an enemy in one moment?” I said, meta-awareness giving me the shape of his plan and promising the details would fill themselves in shortly.

“Just so…”, he paused a moment and then released his last two words, “Shadow Queen.”

It was the third time he’d named me Shadow Queen. I felt his power reach out and create a new spiritual mantle in the world. One which settled on my shoulders. I stifled a laugh. Getting to hit the Emissary with his own power was a delightful prospect and it was more fun if he didn’t see it coming.

Predictably though it wasn’t quite that easy.

At the same time as he pronounced me the Shadow Queen, the Emissary, Avernicus and Rask opened portals in front of themselves.  A lot of portals.

A quick count told me there were twelve portals in the Cloister with three directly in front of us. The other ten portals had outflanked the goblin army that was still waiting in the wings. Meta-awareness told me that they’d opened more than thirteen portals though. Closer to thirteen hundred, scattered across the Goblin Kingdom and the bordering lands of the Holy Throne’s empire.

“Your Majesty, I believe your Kingdom is under attack.” I told the Goblin King.

“It has been for a very long time now. Almost refreshing to seethe old fool moving so openly.” the Goblin King replied. He’s taken the Chief Celebrant’s chair off the dias behind them and was leaning backwards on it, his feet propped on a short, floor mounted candle sconce. “I imagine we should be more concerned about those however.”

Out of portals strode eleven demons in the shape of men and a shadowy outline that looked as though it was trying to approximate one.

“Only twelve?” the Goblin taunted. “Oh, that’s right, you couldn’t get the full set could you?”

I blinked and focused on the demons. They weren’t simple denizens of hell. They were the Lords of the Underworld! Each one commanded one of the the Thirteen Legions of the Damned. They’d come bound in “redemptive service” to the Holy Throne, though I suspected the definition of “redemption” would be one I would be hard pressed to agree with. They were missing one of their number though.

Intuition beat meta-awareness to guessing as to the identity of the missing Demon Lord.

“Unless you intend to renege on your service?” the Goblin King asked, looking at the empty space behind his chair.

From underneath a veil of invisibility, Andromalius, the Goblin King’s demon messenger stepped forth.

“No my lord. I have little taste for such cliches.” the Demon Lord who genuinely sought redemption said.

“You would stand against your brothers?” the Goblin King asked, a note of genuine surprise in his voice.

“Tis the most of natural of things. Or did you think Hell free of sibling rivalry?” Andromalius said.

The Goblin King laughed.

“I suppose that shall be one more thing which can follow us to the greater heaven that awaits.”

“I would be sorely disappointed if it did not.” Andromalius agreed as he stepped forward to shield the Goblin King and the goblin arch-mage who stood beside him. He would have protected Liggy as well had the girl not started walking towards me.

“You must not save this world.” she told me again.

Something was wrong.

The Emissary had enough personal force to destroy everyone here. Despite that, he’d arrived with two of his most powerful underlings as backup. Then they’d raised the full power of the Underworld to strike at us and yet he was still hesitating.

My mind spun on that.

He’d called me arrogant but I wasn’t so wrapped up in myself to lose sight of who was around me. The Emissary knew of my power as the Shadow Queen and, considerable though it was, he was justifiably confident that he could destroy me.

Kari was a wildcard but he wasn’t looking at her, and didn’t understand the power she held. The one he was looking at, the one he was afraid of, was Liggy.

Why her I asked myself? What threat did the Blind God pose to him?

“He has to go. It all has to go.” Liggy said and as I watched her eyes grew dark, then black and then were filled with an empty swirl that I’d seen on the other side of nightmares.

In her hands I saw black fire gather.

She reached me and placed her hand on my robes. Oblivion, sheer nothingness, reached out and burned through me.

If I was human that would have been the end of me. If I was the girl I’d been, I wouldn’t even be a memory in the wake of the black fire. That’s what it did. It unmade things. Destroyed them so thoroughly that there was never a time when they’d existed.

But I wasn’t the girl I’d been.

I breathed in the black fire and drew it into the depths of my heart, where my own black fires burned. Dream lords aren’t born, or called, or chosen. We’re made. Forged by our own choices. I’d chosen years ago that even in total dissolution, I wouldn’t abandon myself or the people that I knew. In the face of the impossible, I’d become an impossible girl and if reality didn’t want to accommodate me then reality was the one that got to change.

The only problem was, I wasn’t quite willing to tip my hand to that yet. I still needed to understand what was going on and, most importantly, why someone felt that the utter annihilation of Vale Septem was preferable to letting the Emissary live another day.

So I let the Shadow Queen burn away to ash.

For the observant who were familiar with how Oblivion fire worked that would have been a huge clue that I was deceiving them. Oblivion means gone. No body. No ash. No anything. I didn’t really need to be the Shadow Queen of Vale Septem, but I kind of liked picking up titles and it seemed a shame to waste a perfectly useful one like that, so I made sure there were some ashes left that she could arise from.

The Emissary howled inarticulately at the display of a power even his vast might couldn’t protect him from. In answer the twelve Lords of the Underworld opened up with blasts of hellfire hot enough to melt the entire mountain range.

Liggy looked up, blinking in surprise. She either hadn’t expected me to burn away or saw that I wasn’t really gone. Either way she wasn’t fast enough to protect herself from the lances of hellfire the Demon Lords cast.

Fortunately for her, Kari was.

Spell casters in Vale Septem can cast and hold a single spell at a time. Unless of course they’re nascent dream lords.

Kari exploded in a maelstrom of spell casting. Shields of every variety interposed themselves between Liggy and the Demon Lords. Kari herself appeared in front of the girl, summoning forth a dozen knightly protectors from her dreams.

“I know you’re still there. Why did you let her do that?” Kari asked me via dream speech.

“There’s something we’re missing here. We have to talk to Liggy and give her a chance to explain what she knows.” I said.

“I don’t know if I can hold them back.” Kari said, sweat beading on her forehead.

“I know. We have to get out of here.” I said.

“I believe it is time to leave. Andro would you please provide us an egress?” the Goblin King said aloud. He hadn’t been listening in on our dream speech, but he was as able to read the situation as Kari and I were.

“To where sire?” Andromalius asked.

“All this strife puts me in mind of a vacation. Somewhere by the seashore I think.” the Goblin King replied.

With a flick of his wrist Andromalius attempted to open a portal. Nothing happened.

“I believe there may be some problem with that destination, sire.” he reported.

They were trying to go to Dawns Harbor. It was the one place that was warded against the power of the Holy Throne and the powers of the Underworld.

I conjured forth a ghostly body for myself again and laid an unseen hand on Andromalius’s shoulder.

“Try one more time.” the Goblin King suggested.

The friendly Demon Lord waved his hand again and this time I was able to catch his power and put my own signature on it. Way’s wards happily let the portal open in response.

“Sir Maak, your party is invited to join us as well.” the Goblin King said.

“I will hold this portal for the rest of you.” Maak said, looking all too aware what that would mean.

“Nope. We’re not having any of that.” Kari said and cast the same transit spell at the goblins, the cloister monks, the two knights and Liggy that I had used to get her off of Avernicus’ ship.

All alone she turned to face the most powerful being who’d ever walked on the planet.

“You hurt people I care about.” she said. “That was a really bad idea.”


The Broken Bonds – Chapter 27

Getting dressed for important functions was never something I looked forward to. It was one thing getting to try on a wardrobe of nigh infinite possibilities before attending a dinner. That was play time. Meeting royalty for a meeting that could decide the fate of an entire world was something I needed to take a bit more seriously though.

Part of me was tempted to meet the Goblin King in jeans and a t-shirt. I didn’t have anything to prove and casual clothes would communicate that fact clearly, assuming he was perceptive enough to be of use to me. On the other hand he’d asked to see me as one royal to another. It would be polite to treat with him as someone of similar station, which meant a slightly more elaborate outfit than jeans and a t-shirt was in order.

Maak and Kari had it easier in that regards. Maak needed nothing more than his armor cleaned up a bit and he literally was a knight in shining armor. Kari, as my herald, didn’t have to make quite the impression that I did and my travel pack held plenty of clothes that would fit her position.

“You’re sure we can’t come with you? The goblin’s haven’t been our foes for centuries now, but I mistrust the Goblin King if he’s playing a central role in the events that are unfolding.” Helena said.

“I’m afraid so. In the terms of the agreement, I specified how many I would bring and urged him to bring only a like number.” I said, via Grida’s illusion spell.

“And if he should prove to be untrustworthy and arrives with an army at his back?” Brayson asked.

“That would be very bad. For him.” I assured him, glancing over at Kari. As a native, her dreams had just enough purchase on Vale Septem that she could summon them into being here. She apparently had some natural talent at summoning too, since I’m not sure I could have pulled off summoning two titan-class dragons even with the home field advantage.

“Let them go Darius, they don’t need us for this fight.” Grida said as she completed a healing spell. The man she’d been ministering to breathed out a relaxed sigh as a restful sleep claimed him.

The wounded from the battles were arriving as fast as they could be safely carried in. Marcus’ drivers were doing most of the hauling of the wounded. They had experience moving heavy and fragile burdens and because they traveled alone most of the time and had to be ready to patch themselves up as needed, they made decent field medics. They were able to triage the injured and stabilize the ones who’d been badly wounded but were still alive. The number of those being brought in to the makeshift hospital below the chapel was daunting but it would have been far worse if the Prelate’s forces had been able to fight for much longer.

“Actually we very well might need you.” I said. “This place is the one safe spot I know of. If something goes wrong we may be coming back in hurry and with less than friendly sorts in hot pursuit.”

“I shall ensure their safety.” Maak promised. He was in the process of strapping on his armor. It did not look like a pleasant activity with the wounds he was still carrying.

“This is going to sound weird coming from a dead girl, but I need you to believe me. Kari and I can take care of ourselves. If I tell you to flee, I need to know that you’ll go.” I said.

“On my honor, I cannot leave you to face danger while I save myself.” Maak replied. It was important to him. No, it was central to him. The fight with Gahn, acknowledging that he’d been wrong, acknowledging that the Holy Throne he’d pledged his life to had been wrong, those had cost him a big part of who he was. He had little left to hang his sense of self worth on other than his honor, however tarnished it might be.

It was a dangerous mindset. I didn’t need a minion that was looking for an excuse to pitch himself in front of a fireball for me. I needed someone I could trust to handle tasks I wouldn’t have the time or attention to take care of myself.

“I may not have time to explain if a situation arises, but I promise you, I won’t ask that of you. If I tell you to flee, it will be to save us all.” I told him.

Maak didn’t look like he believed me, but he didn’t push the matter either.

“How long before you have to leave?” Colten asked.

“I agreed to meet the Goblin King at sundown. I think Kari should be able to open a portal a few miles away from the Cloister, so we’ll need to get going soon.” I replied.

“I think we’ve got the worst of the injured taken care of. Pastor Peracles and I can handle the rest.” Grida said.

“Are you sure? This is a lot of wounded for just two of you.” Colten said.

“It’s easier now.” Grida said. “I think I’m much closer to the Dominions now.”

“We are.” Peracles confirmed. “I’ve never been able to manage more than a few healing spells a day without exhausting myself. I’ve been casting them for an hour now and I don’t feel winded at all.”

“Are you sure we can’t fix them all up right now?” Kari asked as she finished concentrating on a spell to repair the damage the woman I’d possessed had sustained.

“I think so. Even with this extra power, we don’t want to stress their bodies too much. If we force them into fighting shape again, their wounds will heal wrong. Instant healing leaves scars that are much harder to heal around in the future.” Grida explained.

Colten laughed.

“Got a few of those myself.” he said.

“And they were all my fault, so you see I’m speaking from experience here.” Grida said.

“I seem to recall the alternative to the healing scars was being eviscerated by monsters most of the time, but I will concede your point. Thanks to Kari’s ‘pets’, I don’t think we need to worry about monsters chewing on us any time soon.” Colten said.

“What do you say then? Are you ready to head out or do you need some time to catch your breath?” I asked Kari.

“Let me change and we can go. I don’t know how accurate my portal will be.” she said.

I looked at Maak and he nodded in agreement. He was holding himself together with willpower and bandages but the look in his eye said that was going to be more than enough to see him through.

“I have one more request then. Healer Grida, could I borrow this spell from you?” I asked.

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean?” she said.

“I’d like to use this spell until I return. It will block out your access to the Seventh Dominion while I’m borrowing it though.” I explained.

“I don’t…that’s not possible as far as I know, but if you can do it I am amenable. I wouldn’t have any of my magic without you. Letting you borrow one part of it seems only fair.” she said.

“Thank you!” I said. I reached out with my dream magic and plucked the spell from Grida’s mind. Ghosts in Vale Septem couldn’t cast spells, so I had to fight to stay real in the world as I absorbed the connection to the Seventh Dominion. Meta-awareness searched through all of the possibilities for me and in the end I changed from a simple ghost to a Temple Guardian. Where ghosts were spirits of the once living, Temple Guardians were essentially sapient spells, aligned with one of the Dominions.

Reality wasn’t too happy with the notion that I’d been a Temple Guardian all along. That didn’t fit with the history that I’d once been Priestess Jin. Instead it decided that I was the fragment of a Temple Guardian that she had been entrusted with as a baby. That also explained Priestess Jin’s phenomenal abilities with spell casting. There were a few weird bits to that story but if reality wasn’t feeling grumpy about them, neither was I.

I felt myself grow more solid than I’d been as I finished absorbing the spell. I knew I wasn’t really solid, but the illusions that a Temple Guardian of the Seventh Dominion could cast included all of the senses, mundane and mystical, so my illusionary body was all but indistinguishable from a real one.

Kari finished changing and came back into the waiting area where we were gathered. She squinted at me for a second and then shrugged.

“You’ve improved the illusion?” she asked.

“And changed what I am. You’ll need your magic free in case anything comes up so I didn’t want to burden you with maintaining the illusion spell for me..” I explained.

“Are you going like that?” Kari asked, pointing to the priestly robes my illusory body still wore.

“No, I’ll need to change too.” I said and did so with a wave of my hand. In place of my priestly robes I called forth the old traditional attire of the Queen of Shadows. I’d updated them, and made them my own for when I needed a ‘costume’ on my home world. The Goblin King has specifically asked for a meeting with the Shadow Queen though, so that’s what he was going to get.

On my brow a crown of brambles burned with sickly purple fire. My robes were black and rimmed with the same purple fire that blazed on my head. Pointed thorns flared out at my shoulders, elbows and knees. My eyes took on the appearance of liquid black pools and in my hands I held a sceptre carved from human bone.

“We should leave now.” I said my voice echoing as though I stood alone in a great empty hall.

Maak looked startled at first and then concerned. I watched him bury that concern under a hard expression. There wasn’t anything about the Shadow Queen that suggested “good” or “kind” or, when you got right down to it, “human”. I was pushing his trust by showing him this side of myself.

I could feel my thoughts taking on a more sinister bend. Maak’s discomfort was just a little bit delicious. I clamped down on that line of thinking though. The Shadow Queen wasn’t a “nice” role. In making her “real”, I had to accept the parts of myself that weren’t particularly nice either. I had to accept them, but I didn’t have to lose myself to them. Whether I was cruel or kind, evil or empathic, came down to what I chose to be. A myriad of things could influence me. A bad enough day could make it nearly impossible not to snap and lash out, but “nearly impossible” is still not “actually impossible”. The final choice was always mine.

Not that I was always an angel of course. Cranky days and colossal screw ups are just another part of being human. With what I could do though? It paid to keep a somewhat tighter lid than normal on those screw ups.

“Ok, I can see the Cloister of the Silencing Bells.” Kari said with her eyes closed.

With a simple gesture of her hand she called a scintillating portal into existence. The rim was a foot taller than Maak and wide enough for the three of us to walk through abreast. On the other side, I saw a well tended brick road leading to a mountaintop that had been reshaped into a cathedral.

“Follow me.” I said and stepped through the gate.

Maak and Kari came through together and the portal popped closed in their wake.

“We’re not the first ones here.” Kari warned me.

I tried to scan the Cloister with one of the Seventh Dominion’s mind related spells but it turned up nothing. That wasn’t surprising. In the Cloister, the Fifth Dominion’s aspect of Secrets reigned supreme. Any sort of information gather spells were doomed to failure.

Meta-awareness on the other hand dealt in things on a bit more fundamental level. Focusing on that I saw the Goblin King had indeed arrived early. Sir Gahn was there as well. As was a goblin child. And a couple dozen of the King’s most powerful casters and warriors.

I paused. Technically I’d said I would bring only two people with me and had suggested that the King do the same. I hadn’t made it an explicit part of our deal that he do likewise. Given what he thought I was, I decided I couldn’t fault him for bringing a healthy amount of backup.

“There is a task force worth of soldiers waiting for us in there.” I agreed with Kari.

“Betrayal?” Maak asked.

“No. I don’t think so. Sir Gahn is there as well. I think they’re worried about us. About me to be specific.” I said.

Maak cracked a rare smile. Before today he probably would have found it ridiculous for anyone to be that worried about dealing with me. In the form that I was standing beside him though it had to seem equally foolish to even question the need for an army of troops as backup.

“Do we go in?” Kari asked.

“Yes. One way or the other, we need to hear what they have to say.” I said.

I allowed Kari and Maak to proceed in front of me and noticed as we walked that the sounds around us became muted and indistinct. The shadows that were cast in the setting sun seemed to be deeper than they should have been too. As locations for an ambush went, the Cloister had a lot going for it.

We reached the main doors and saw them swing open as we stepped towards them. At first I thought it was due to an enchantment on the doors, but then I noticed the Cloisters acolytes pulling them inwards. In the center of the open doors a bald man in monks robes stood. He gestured us forward and allowed us to pass to the large central chamber within.

The inside of the Cloister was lavishly decorated in various kinds of worked stone. There wasn’t a drop of paint anywhere on the walls but every color of the rainbow could be seen in the mosaics and statues and fine carvings that covered the interior.

At the far end of the chamber three figures waited for us. I recognized Sir Gahn and was able to guess that the tall figure beside him was the Goblin King. The third figure appeared to be a goblin girl, younger than Kari. Something was off about her though. I looked again, focusing on my meta-awareness and saw that the girl was actually a goblin woman who almost crackled with magical power.

I suppose I could have been concerned about the deception, but given that I was a walking illusion I suspected I didn’t have much right to be throwing stones.

“Hail and well met! Queen Jin, Lord of the Shadow Court, Far Wanderer and Lady of the Never Marches bids you greeting.” Kari proclaimed. I’d coached her in the proper form of declaration but the booming presentation was all hers.

“Hail and well met, Queen Jin.” Sir Gahn responded. “Ten Rex, Lord of Goblins, Defender of the Nightward Veil, Master of the Lost Corridors offers his greetings in turn.”

I studied the Goblin King while the formal declarations were exchanged. He was a tall man, close to seven feet. His features were slight and his moppish hair would have looked comical on someone who lacked his poise and presence.  There was nothing comical about either his bearing or the calculating look in his eyes though. His expression was mild but I could almost feel him dissecting me with his gaze. Magical means would reveal nothing about me in the Cloister, but he struck me as possessing the sort of intellect that had little need for magic to completely understand someone.

‘Wait for it.’ I told myself and sure enough a moment later a look of puzzlement washed over the Goblin King’s features.

“Has the Queen truly come to treat with us?” the Goblin King asked. His tone was wondering and almost playful.

“Yes, though what stands before you is an illusion.” I replied.

“And why have you not come yourself?” the Goblin King asked and again his tone was almost playful, yet underneath the mildness there was deadly steel.  I didn’t hear anyone move but meta-awareness told me that the soldiers who surrounded us had readied their weapons at the King’s silent signal.

“I am here.” I assured him “You have my full attention.”

“Then we must attend to the question before us. Time is short. Put simply, is it true that you stand against the Holy Throne and the abomination that sits upon it?” the Goblin King asked. He was so casual in how he asked the question that it seemed like any answer would satisfy him. In truth though, one answer would allow us to continue having our congenial discussion and the other would unleash an instantaneous attack.

“Wait. Where is Sir Way?” Sir Gahn blurted out. He’d been looking at Maak with a quietly happy expression a moment earlier but the thought of Way’s absence had jolted him out of reverie. I saw the tactical possibilities flashing through his mind. Of all of us, Way would make the best assassin. What Gahn didn’t understand was that if Way was with me, she wouldn’t need to strike from the shadows to take out everyone in the room regardless of how well prepared they were

“She is absent. She held off an army the Prelates brought to Dawns Harbor and the Greater Demon’s that they unwittingly summoned as well.” I told him.

“I heard the same tale from the elders of the town.” Maak confirmed. “That is a second hand account but with my own eyes I have seen that their sanctuary spell is shattered and in it’s place stands a sigil the likes of which I have never seen. The townsfolk credit it to Sir Way’s work.”

“The question still stands, though perhaps it is of less importance in this new light.” the Goblin King said. His disappointment was as mild as his good humor had been, except that it was unfeigned.

“You are correct that it is of less importance than it had been but not for the reason you imagine.” I glanced over at Kari and invited the Goblin King to speculate on what her place in this was. “As you say though, time is short and so I will answer plainly. I am going to destroy the Holy Throne. As for the man who remains once the power of the throne is broken? I do not understand him enough yet to say what his fate shall be.”

“You will stand against him with this small illusion?” the Goblin King asked, honest disbelief in his voice.

“I will not need even this to destroy him.” I replied.

“Then what power will you have to turn against him?”

“You have called me the Queen of Shadows. You know, at least a little, of what I am. Do you think I am limited to this form? These magics? The powers of this world?” I asked. With each word my voice grew broader. Not louder but vaster, as though it originated from a source external to me that grew to encompass the room. And with each word, the light in the Cloister dimmed. The shadows deepened and became an impenetrable darkness until, at last, the six of us were alone in a solitary pool of light.

“You weave a cunning trickery.” the Goblin King complimented me. At his gesture, the goblin arch-mage beside him dropped her illusionary form and focused her magic on dispelling the illusionary darkness I had summoned. Except it wasn’t an illusion.

As Priestess Jin I couldn’t have accessed the shadow plane that lay below Vale Septem. The dark world was the spawning ground for all sorts of horrors but it was a chaotic place. Until I donned my royal mantle. Until there was a Shadow Queen to rule it.

It would take time to crush the denizens of my realm to my will. That they hadn’t yet acknowledged me as their Queen mattered little in terms of my right to rule them. I had power. Even here. Even without my dream magic.

Tempting as it was to revel in that power however, the only purpose to my demonstration was to make it clear to the Goblin King, Gahn and most importantly the Voice of the Blind God not to discount me.

“I cannot free us my lord.” the arch-mage whispered to her King.

Gahn unsheathed his sword and stepped forward. Maak unsheathed his and stepped in front me of me to meet Gahn.

“I do not wish to quarrel with you.” Sir Gahn said.

“Nor I with you. You were right. About many things. But I can’t let you hurt her. You would never forgive yourself, as I can never forgive myself for what I have done.” Maak replied.

“And we have the makings of such a pretty tragedy.” the Goblin King cooed, observing the two knights.

“Yes, and I suspect my next words will only add to that: I need to speak with the Voice of the Blind God.” I saw Sir Gahn stiffen. There was no part of him that wanted to attack Maak, but stacked against that was what the Voice of the Blind God meant to the world. He’d done that calculation once already and Maak had come up on the losing side.

“Let us tip the balance then with one last question: Why?” the Goblin King asked. His whole focus was on me.

“Because she understands the catastrophe that’s before you, and unless I miss my guess, she knows what its source is too. If I am going to stand against that catastrophe I have to understand it or I could make things immeasurably worse.” I told him.

He looked at me for a long moment, his head slowly tilting to the side like a curious animal. I felt a small smile spread across my face and reach up to my eyes. He’d been playing with me the whole time. The theatrics had been for the benefit of those watching us.

I focused my meta-awareness on him. He wasn’t a dreamwalker but he was something close, a lunatic in the original meaning of the term as someone who was touched by Luna, the spirit of the Moon. He wasn’t a genius because he could see things others couldn’t. He was a genius because he could still see and understand normal things despite his natural vision being knocked askew from the regular world.

He’d known the world was time looped but it wasn’t until I’d arrived that he’d worked out that the future was always supposed to come after the past, not occasionally before it.

“Very well! Liggy, will you please step forward.” the Goblin King said with a triumphant bow.

I released the shadows that surrounded us as he began to speak. Out of the ones that remained, a young goblin girl appeared.

“Is this wise lord?” the arch-mage asked.

“Of course not! But sometimes one must be a little mad. Liggy dear, go chat with the Queen of Nightmares there would you?” the King asked.

Liggy, the goblin girl, the Voice of the Blind God, looked at me with uncertain eyes. She walked over to me and I knelt down so we could talk eye to eye.

“You’re going to save the world.” she said gravely. “You mustn’t!”

That wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting her to say.

“Why?” I asked, bending my meta-awareness to make sense of her words.

“Because that will save him!” she said and pointed over my shoulder.

I closed my eyes and winced. The most secret place in the world and we were still getting interrupted. I rose to my feet without turning to face the newcomers who were arriving by portal.

“You’re not welcome here Emissary.” I said as I began gathering in my magics.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 26

Stories of ghostly possession are, more often that not, wishful thinking. It’s easier, somehow, for people to think a spirit of the dead has taken control of someone than to acknowledge that the “possessed” person has some real psychological and/or physiological issues and needs proper care and treatment.

That’s mostly the case. Then there are the times when a dream lord needs to speak to everyone in the room and no one can see her because she caught a slight case of “the dead”.

“Could you ask Healer Grida if it would be ok for me to speak through her?” I asked Kari, who was the only one who could see and hear me at the moment.

“Oh, uh, sure. Why her though?” Kari asked.

“I think I can help her get her magics back. At least if I can figure out how one of my friends managed a knowledge transfer when she was like this.” I said.

“One of your friends is a ghost?”, Kari said.

Grida and the rest of the people in the room were look at her with expressions that asked if she’d cracked and if so just how far from reality she’d fallen.

“You meet all kinds of people in my line of work.” I told her with a smile.

Given that Kari had met demons, Prelates and was talking to a ghost herself, that didn’t strain her disbelief much, so she shrugged and turn to Healer Grida.

“Jin’s here. She’s a ghost and she’d like to speak through you. She says she might be able to give you your magic back.” Kari explained.

“Can you be sure it’s her?” Grida asked.

Kari looked at me closely.

“Yes. Definitely.” she said, her meta-awareness letting her see who I really was.

“As she wishes then.” Grida said. Despite her verbal agreement though I saw her tense up, expecting an attack.

I focused for a moment and let a sensation of calm wash over me. Once I was centered I stepped forward, placed my ghostly hand on Grida’s forehead and then spun into her, falling into the darkness of her mind.

“Hello!” I called out in a cheerful voice.

“Priestess Jin?” Healer Grida’s voice boomed out from every point around me.

“Yep, sorry to intrude like this. Ran into a small problem with a holy sword that wanted to be where my torso was.” I said.

“You really are dead? Why hasn’t your soul gone to join the Dominions?” Grida asked.

“I have a few things I need to take care of here still.”

“The Holy Throne?” she guessed.

“Yeah. I’m…let’s call it ‘mildly annoyed’ with him now.” I said.

“And Kari said you could restore my magics?” Grida asked.

“I think so. Pastor Peracles too. You lost your spells because you were an acolyte of the Holy Throne, the same as I’d been. When we prayed we used the words the Holy Throne had approved, we told the Dominions the stories the Holy Throne had created. That distance, the separation from the Dominions, that was never how it had to be. The Holy Throne made it easier to ‘get it right’, to cast spells that had exactly the effects you expected them too, but the cost for that was that you never really communed with the Dominions yourself.” I explained.

“I don’t understand how else it can be.” Grida said.

“Let me show you.” I requested.

“Please do.” she agreed.

From the dark corners of her mind, I stepped forward and into her awareness. I took control of her body and spoke with her voice. Her spirit was still attuned to the Dominions, the church couldn’t take that away from her. I looked at the connections within her, expecting to find the Sixth Dominion the strongest with it’s focus on healing. Instead it was the First Dominion to which her heart was most closely attuned. The Dominion of Language and Communication and, most importantly for her, of Love.

“Speak with me.” I told her and began to sing. It wasn’t a prayer, not an official one, but it was a song that resonated with Grida to the core. The words of the song spoke of love lost and love found, of journeys and perils, of separation and love’s return.

When I restored my connection to the First Dominion, I’d told Kari the story of the first time I’d embraced Way. That was my example of what communication and love meant. With Grida, I didn’t need that. The song we sung spoke to both of us clearly. It wasn’t a prayer but the First Dominion’s magic in it was undeniable. The words Grida carried in her heart, the ones that I sung with her, reached out in longing for her love, calling him to her side.

“I’ve always said you had a rare gift. It’s shame you didn’t become a minstrel.” Colten said, as he entered the Under Chapel at a dead run. He smiled and put his hands on his knees to catch his breath.

He looked into Grida’s eyes and she met his gaze. They’d played a tentative game with each other for so many years, both knowing but never admitting to themselves how they felt. The spectres of their lost loves had lingered over them too, giving each the excuse to not risk what they had. They were incredibly brave people, but no one is brave about everything.

The song had been a love spell, but not one that compelled emotions. Instead it revealed them. Under the magic of the spell, both of them knew and couldn’t hide from the knowledge of how they felt or how the other felt about them. It wasn’t a “kind” spell. The truth isn’t always what we hope it will be and illusions can be very comforting. Sometimes though fortune smiles on you and, in Grida and Colten’s case, neither could help but smile back.

I grinned at Grida’s bashful feelings and nudged her towards Colten to get the ball rolling. The magical awareness would fade, the revelation could retreat behind delusions if they still wished it to. Grida could have fought me to make that so. Certainly once I stepped out of her body and relinquished all control to her she didn’t have to keep walking forward. Grasping Colten in a rib breaking hug was all her too. As was the liplock she put on him.

There wasn’t going to be any going back as far as she was concerned.

Once the two came up for air, Helena offered a polite round of applause and a smile that promised endless needling once the situation wasn’t so dire. She might have started on the teasing then, but her husband arrive at the same frantic run that Colten had. Spill over from the love spell perhaps, since Brayson had eyes only for her for a moment after he arrived.

“You’re never going to believe what happened!” Brayson said, panting.

“A black dragon the size of a small castle cuddled up with your troops and devoured every last one of the Prelate’s army that was attacking you?” Colten guessed.

Brayson looked around the room in shock, as though everyone else was in the joke but him. Their smiles, which had been brought on by Grida and Colten’s display of affection did nothing to help with his confusion.

“Well…it was white, but yes. How in the deepest hells did you know that? Grida, was this your doing?” Brayson asked.

“Not at all. I suspect we have a friendly ghost to thank.” Grida said.

“Wasn’t me. Those were all Kari’s doing.” I said, and then remembered only Kari could hear me since I’d left Grida’s body.

“Dragons? I summoned dragons?” Kari said.

“Friendly ones from the sound of it. What did you tell them to do?” I asked via dream speech so the others wouldn’t think she was going completely crazy. Along with the words I sent the image of the huge black dragon that had fought with (and saved) Colten’s forces on the beach.

“I asked them to save the people I knew. But they were monsters. I…I was really mad, and I wanted to destroy the people who hurt you. I know you said there’d be a price to pay but I didn’t care.” It was as much a confession as an explanation.

“And look what you did.” I replied, my dream voice stern. “You saved the town, beat the Prelates and managed to keep those two lovebirds alive long enough for them to finally hook up.”

“I don’t understand though…” Kari began.

“It’s not always wrong to get mad. You had really good cause there. Admittedly you also got pretty lucky but that balances against the bad luck of being in this situation in the first place. In the future you’ll want to be more careful, but this time summoning giant monsters turned out to be an excellent idea! It should also show you that what’s hidden inside you isn’t as horrible as you might be afraid of.” I said.

“So are we safe?” Pastor Peracles asked.

“Looks like we might be, for a little while at least.” Colten said. He and Grida had taken a seat on one of the benches together. They weren’t sitting as close as Helena and Brayson were but Grida’s dark skinned hand and Colten’s swarthy one were very quietly wrapped together.

I stepped back into Grida’s mind.

“Again, sorry to intrude, but we need to work out what we’re going to do next and I think you can make it so I don’t have to go nuts because none of you can hear me.” I said.

“What do have in mind?” Grida asked.

“Maybe not anymore singing but if we can get the rest of your magic back, I can imagine an illusion spell that will let the others see and hear me. If you’re willing to work as the conduit that is?”

“Certainly!” she agreed.

Grida didn’t need much help figuring out the spell I had in mind. Experience counted for something there, and in truth she had a good imagination too. I was right to have been worried that she might awaken as a dream walker too. In fact, I was still worried about it but something told me she’d be able to navigate the perils that arose just fine if that occurred.

I helped her get connected to the rest of her Dominions and then explained what I had in mind. As she worked out the illusion spell I’d described, I took the time to bring Pastor Peracles back to his magics too. He’d connected to only three of the Dominions so it went faster but I could tell that the connections were strong ones. He was a good healer, and a good communicator.

I’d just finished reconnecting him when Grida announced she was ready. I stepped into her mind and instead of the dark corners I found an imaginary room waiting for me. In it sat all of the people in the Under Chapel. In the Under Chapel, Grida’s illusion conjured forth a vision of me that the rest could all see and hear!

“Hiya folks!” I said, testing the spell.

“Priestess Jin! You really are deceased?” Maak exclaimed. He’d been quiet till now but apparently the sight of my ghost was shocking enough to rouse him to speak.

“Think of it as attacking the problem from a different angle.” I told him. “I’m still here to help. I’m just a bit more limited in what I can offer than I was.”

“It’s my fault.” Kari said.

I rolled my eyes.

“Nope. It’s the Emissary’s fault. And mine. His for stabbing me in the back. Mine for underestimating him. The truth is I got careless, I’m used to having Way around to cover a certain amount of my sloppiness. If it helps you can think of me as ‘dead-ish’. I’m not just a ghost but for the moment it’s easiest if I basically pretend I am.”

“Easiest for who?” Brayson asked.

“Your world. I’m trying to be careful that I don’t break any important parts of it.”

“But you still want to destroy the Holy Throne?” Helena asked.

“Ok, any important parts that haven’t really annoyed me.” I said, revising my earlier statement. “Also, I’m pretty sure that the Holy Throne is already badly broken, so that’s more like clean up.”

“What’s our next step then? There will be another attack, and it won’t be just three airships.” Helena asked.

“Maybe it’s time to leave the town.” Colten suggested, weariness and concern in his voice.

“I don’t think that’ll help. The Emissary isn’t going to leave anyone in this town alive. He’s convinced I’ve contaminated you and for some reason he’s terrified of that.” I said.

“We can’t fight the entire empire.” Colten said.

“We may not have to.” I said.

“Not if we kill the Emissary.” Helena said. She twirled one of her rune daggers for emphasis.

“I’m not sure he can be killed. Not like that anyways. What I had in mind was finding someone to stand with us.” I said

“Who would do that?” Pastor Peracles asked.

“The Goblin King.” I said.

“Why would he do that?” Brayson asked.

“He asked to see me. Whatever he needs me for, I suspect he’d be willing to agree that defending this town is a reasonable price for my help.”

“There’s going to be a small problem with that isn’t there?” Colten said, gesturing to my ghostly form.

“That does complicate things. I’ll need to take some folks with me, if you’re willing?” I asked.

“Who?” Grida asked.

“Kari and Sir Maak. The terms of our meeting was that I would bring my knight and one other. I’ll need Kari for the talents she’s developed and I believe the Goblin King will be attended by Sir Gahn.” I explained.

“Sir Maak is still…” Grida started to say but was cut-off by Maak rising from his recovery bed.

“There is no force on this world that will keep me from standing by your side.” he declared. That would have been noble and charming except I knew exactly what it translated to; there was no force on this world that would keep him from Sir Gahn.

“What do we do if the Holy Throne’s next attack comes before you return?” Helena asked.

“Get word to us if you can. Pastor Peracles has his magics back. He should be able to communicate with us. If not? Say my name and hope for the best.” I told them.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 25

The problem with being a ghost isn’t that you’re dead. It’s that no one will listen to you! I swear that ninety percent of the angry poltergeists out there exist for no other reason than no will pay attention to them if they’re not breaking windows and making blood run down the walls.

After I blew up one of the Shadow Breaker airships I found myself short one physical body. Ghosts are real in Vale Septem, so I wasn’t entirely out of luck, but there were all sorts of rules on how and when they could affect the physical world. Mostly it boiled down to ‘you can’t’. Also, except for especially gifted people, or on certain holy days and in certain spots, no one could see or hear me.

“Points to the Holy Throne there. This is going to be a pain to work around.” I grumbled.

It was perhaps petty to be complaining about the restrictions I had to labor under. Most people who’d been fatally stabbed by a Holy Blade had to content themselves with getting first hand experience of the afterlife. Things left unfinished, promises that were made, friends that were in danger, these were all left behind. That’s not even a bad thing really. For other people.

I might have mentioned I’m occasionally a hypocrite? Intellectually I could understand the need to be able to move on. The need to respect that ‘finality’ can exist and sometimes, often even, doesn’t work in our favor. Rationally I knew all that, but I’m not a creature of pure reason. There were people in Dawns Harbor that I didn’t want to see hurt. Also, there was a guy sitting on the Holy Throne whom I was more than a little annoyed with. So I chose to linger a bit longer.

By default, my ghostly form had stayed in the same spot as my body had occupied. That meant I was floating gently below the oncoming storm clouds and had a beautiful view of the two remaining sky galleons as they crashed into the town below. My retributive strike hadn’t vaporized them like it had Avernicus’ airship but neither was even close to being flightworthy anymore either.

Since it was the more intact of the two, I followed the one that crashed into the ocean beyond the harbor. Part of me hoped that the crew would be as badly damaged as the ship but unfortunately bodies that were transformed by an Eternity Cauldron were more resilient than wood or metal.

The ship hit the waves and shattered into flotsam. Here and there, Eternal Reborn, the cauldron’s creation, popped back to the surface of the water and then dove back under. Without a signal, they began swimming to shore with inhuman speed, driven by the Emissary’s will.

As a spirit, I could fly naturally and wasn’t slowed by wind resistance, so I beat them to the beach by a wide margin. The townsfolk had repaired and improved their fortifications as best they could in the short time they’d had available. I could see Colten marshalling the fishers and guards under his command. He cut an imposing figure in his dark armor. In his hands, he held a scythe that was longer than he was tall. The aura it radiating was terrifying and powerful enough that I could feel its force even in my ghostly state.

There’s a funny thing about terrifying stuff though: when you’re faced with a terrifying foe, having something terrifying on your side can make you feel a whole lot better.

“The Reborn will be here in a minute. They’re going to hit you all at once. If you can cripple some of them  and fall back, you can gang up on the ones who pursue the quickest.” I told Colten. Who keep scanning the ocean since he couldn’t hear a word I was saying.

I tried lifting a spear that laying against a rack of weapons and my hand went right through it.

“Being dead sucks!” I complained to no one in particular.

The Eternal Reborn struck a moment later, exploding from the surface of the ocean in leaps that carried them thirty feet into the air and over a hundred feet up the beach. They landed behind the first line of fortifications, in and among the townsfolk and proceeded to attack everyone within reach of their blades.

The townsfolk hadn’t been expecting an assault like that and couldn’t have prepared for one if they’d know it was coming. The best they could do was try to flee to the second line of fortifications but even that was impossible in many cases. The Eternal Reborn cut off avenues of escape and cut down any who opposed them. Even fighting purely defensively, an individual townsfolk was no match for one of the cauldron-created warriors.

A tremendously bad idea occurred to me and I tried to take advantage of my ghostly state by leaping into the body of one of the attackers. As a ghost in Vale Septem, possessing someone should have been well within my capabilities. That was in theory. In practice the moment I touched the nearest Reborn I burst into flames, which wasn’t pleasant at all.

I cast the flames away and restored my ghostly body, kicking myself as I did so. The Reborn were powered by the light of the Holy Throne. Among the many other benefits it provided, the light burned any shadows, shades or other creatures of the dark that touched it. As a ghost I qualified as a ‘creature of the dark’, hence the fiery backlash.

It was tempting to dream magic the reborn into oblivion but that path led to both destabilizing the world and losing my grip on it. Granted the grip of a ghost was fairly tenuous at best, but it was better than losing my hold on reality entirely.

With the Reborn off limits, I turned my attention to the defenders instead. Many of them were wounded. The Reborn weren’t finishing them off, and I could see why all too easily. The Emissary of the Holy Throne wanted more cauldron troops and who better to use than a town he’d written off already?

While the Reborn weren’t focusing on fatal blows, I could see that Colten was. The retreat was a failure but the old warrior wasn’t giving up the fight. His scythe whirled with a speed and grace that was amazing to watch. For as tough as the Reborn were, when he clipped them with his scythe, it was like their armor was made of tissue paper. Unfortunately hitting them was difficult at best.

The mere fact that he was able to drive back a trio of the Reborn and keep them engaged was enough to serve as a rallying point for the defenders. They moved towards him, fighting in twos and threes against the Reborn. It wasn’t enough to let them overcome the attackers, but it did give the townsfolk enough of an edge to slow the assault.

Slowing the assault wasn’t the same as stopping it though. I saw one of the women who was fighting nearest to Colten catch an attacker’s sword in a lucky parry bind. For her effort, she also caught an elbow strike to the temple from the Reborn warrior beside her. The force of it knocked her off her feet and drop her senseless to the sand. The Reborn thrust forward to disable her more completely but was parried by another woman who stood beside the fallen one.

Where the Reborn were protected against possession, the townsfolk were not. That gave me the opening I needed and I hopped into the fallen woman’s body, rolling her out of the path of the next sword blow.

Springing back to “my” feet was a little different since I was piloting an unfamiliar body but in the end legs are legs and arms are arms so it wasn’t too hard to adjust.

I joined the fighting and called on meta-awareness to guide my strikes and blocks. I’d have loved to use magic instead, but ghosts don’t have access to the magic of the Dominions in Vale Septem. I couldn’t even afford to use my dream magics to ‘improve’ on my current body unless I wanted to leave the original owner feeling like they were in someone else’s body for the rest of their life.

All that said, having meta-awareness guide me in a fight left me nice advantage. The Reborn were stronger and faster. They were impossibly well coordinated too since the Holy Throne was puppeting them all. That level of control had an overhead cost associated with it though. No normal mortal could have handled it. The Holy Throne had magic to burn to cover that gap but even so, the Emissary lacked the real experience with combat that people like Colten had. He was able to fight them because he was barely thinking at all.

Observation became action became reaction in a brutal dance that he’d walked the steps of thousands of times. That was what meta-awareness gave me. I didn’t tell my borrowed body to do anything, it just moved as meta-awareness told it that it must. There wasn’t doubt or fear or even planning in my mind. Just silence and the desire to win.

Sadly, all the skill in the world isn’t enough sometimes.

With meta-awareness I could fight a single Reborn to a draw. Against two of them I could at least defend myself. The problem was, they could see that.

Colten and I each went down under a pile of a five of the Reborn. They were smart enough to leave nothing to chance. Try as we might, neither of us could stand our ground against that many foes who were that superior in speed and a strength.

As we fell, I heard a great horrified shout go up from the defenders who had formed up on Colten. Then I heard screaming. I expected sharp pain to follow but instead I was thrown up off the ground by a titanic impact.

I landed a few feet from the pile of Reborn that had dragged me down and looked up to see an enormous black dragon towering over us. It had several of the Reborn clutched in its claws and teeth. Or, to be more accurate, pieces of several of the Reborn. It roared like a hurricane, crimson fire lancing from its mouth like a laser beam that incinerated two of the Reborn who’d leapt out of its reach.

Despire its ferocity and rage, something about the dragon seemed familiar and for a moment I lost track of the battle as I stared in wonder at the enormous beast.

“Kari?” I asked.

It turned to me and roared. I couldn’t tell if it was recognition or rage. In either case I was glad I wasn’t in the body of any of the Reborn with the way the dragon tore into them.

The magically analytical part of me, the ‘Priestess Jin’ who remained, wondered why the light that sustained the Reborn didn’t burn the dragon as it tore them to pieces. Dreamlord Jin noticed that the dragon was burning, but it carried enough power and anger that any damage that was done vanished in seconds.

For as insanely frightening as the dragon was, once the townsfolk realized that it was targeting the Eternal Reborn exclusively they rallied behind it. What had started as a deadly rout shifted quickly to a merciless offensive.

The arrival of an unexpected force like the dragon sent the Reborn scurrying back to the water at the Emissary’s command. It didn’t make sense to expend troops in a fruitless battle, the smart move was to recall them and strike again when the opportunity presented itself.

The townsfolks didn’t give him that option. Spear and nets joined the rampaging dragon to annihilate the attackers before even one of them could the water’s edge.

The remainder of the battle took but a few minutes and when the fighting past I released my hold on the woman I was possessing. Without access to the Sixth Dominion I didn’t have any healing spells I could repair her with, but I was at least able to leave her resting in a comfortable spot, rather than sprawled on the beach.

My lack of healing made me think of Kari. The Holy Throne had excommunicated the town. That meant Kari was the only healer available. If she was in a situation where she was summoning giant black dragons though that didn’t bode well for her availability to fix up the fallen.

I took flight again, turning to meta-awareness for a sense of where to look for her.

I found her in the basement of the church. I noticed that she’d apparently plowed a hole straight to it. I also noticed the body of Prelate Ralls and Helena holding a pair of Rune Daggers that made Colten’s scythe look like a can opener.

A little bit of meta-awareness showed me the fight that Kari had waged against Prelate Ralls and the stakes they’d been fighting over.

A new sanctuary crystal! There was hope for Dawns Harbor once more!

“Wow! For a girl who didn’t think she was, and I quote, ‘anything special’, that was amazing!” I said, and like the amazing girl she was, she turned to face me, surprise written all over her face.


The Broken Bonds – Chapter 24

There are foundations that we build our world on. With a solid base to work from we can construct wonders. The only problem is that life means change and even the sturdiest foundations can shift under us unexpectedly. Things we thought were constant, that we could rely on, can vanish in the blink of an eye.

Kari landed in the center of Dawn’s Harbor where Colten and Brayson had gathered their forces. She barely had time to recognize that teleport spell had transported her off of the Shadow Breaker’s sky galleons when the sky was lit by a blazing light as bright as a second sun.

“I think we just lost the Priestess.” Brayson said in a quiet voice. He was wearing armor that didn’t gleam and held little ornamentation.  It had never been meant to look nice, it was designed solely to fulfill its purpose. Deep woven spells of protection and enhancement gave testimony that it was the gear an adventurer would trust their life to.

“She got the lead ship it looks like.” Colten replied. He wore armor as well. Where Brayson’s armor was focused on defense though, Colten’s armor served the same purpose as his weapon. It helped him kill things.

“But not the other two.” Marcus added. Unlike the two older men, Marcus didn’t look comfortable in the mail shirt that he wore. He hid the fear and excitement well but there was a tension in his bearing which seasoned veterans didn’t share. Where he looked reading to spring into a pounce, they looked relaxed.

To be fair, Colten and Brayson had seen more bad situations than either could count. Their relaxation wasn’t one of confidence or lack of care, it was the relaxation of a hand waiting to strike without reserve or hesitation.

“No. She can’t be gone.” Kari mumbled, tears beginning to well in her eyes. No one argued against her, save for the silent sky. “She can’t be gone.”

The two remaining ships hadn’t escaped the conflagration unscathed. Each fought to maintain their buoyancy in the sky but it was a losing battle for both of them. Barely able to control their descent, one ship plowed directly into the earth, nose-first, outside the northern border of the town. The other ship corkscrewed into a capsized landing in the ocean outside the town’s harbor.

“That won’t kill them.” Kari said,wiping tears away. She offered no explanation how she knew that to be true but Colten and Brayson nodded their agreement.

“My squads. Form up on me. We’re going to reinforce the squads manning the beach fortifications. We’ll turn them into chum and have a record haul tomorrow!” Colten said, bellowing loud enough for the assembled townsfolk to hear him.

“Marcus keep your squads here and coordinate with us. Guard squads, we’re taking the one that crashed in the forest. Follow me!” Brayson called out.

Despite their lack of formal military training the townsfolk did an admirable job of separating into three distinct forces. Kari was saved from being entirely alone by the small number of drivers that remained with Marcus under his command.

“Those Prelates have me worried. I’m going to see if I can intercept them if they try to slip into town.” Helen said, emerging briefly from the veil of undetectability she wore.

“Yes. You’ve got to stop them. They’re carrying another sanctuary stone. If they can reach the Under Chapel and install it they’ll have control of the town.” Kari said.

Again, she wasn’t questioned. Helena nodded and stepped back under the veil, vanishing to hunt for the Shadow Breakers.

“I never imagined I would see a day like this.” Marcus mused, grasping and releasing the hilt of his sheathed sword.

Kari had no response for him. She’d imagined nearly every sort of day possible, but she’d never expected one like this to become real. Part of her couldn’t accept that it was. Either the Priestess couldn’t be dead, or she never could have been real at all.

Meta-awareness is a blessing and a curse though. It wouldn’t let her hide behind convenient delusions and it showed her things she didn’t want to see. Things like how the battle would have gone if Jin and Way were fighting together. Even limited as they were, Way would have had Jin’s back. Prelate Avernicus could never have gotten in the treacherous blow that had killed Jin if she’d had been defended by her proper guardian rather than a kid with only the barest idea of what she was doing.

“Kari, you can still cast spells right?” Marcus asked.

Kari nodded.

“You should go to the Under Chapel then. We all felt what the Shadow Breakers did and Colten said that Healer Grida and Pastor Peracles are probably without their magic now. They’ll need someone there if we have wounded.” Marcus said.

Kari could see there was another reason Marcus wanted her to leave. Despite the courage Colten, Brayson and their forces had shown, when it came to fighting with the Shadow Breakers they were badly outclassed. From where Marcus and his men were positioned they could see the fortifications by the beach and would be the first to see anyone returning from the forest. Neither was likely to be a pleasant sight and he wanted to spare her that.

Looking into her heart, she wanted to spare herself that too. The horror of losing someone she’d believed to be so strong was still too fresh.

She took to the air, gliding low over the town as though to stay close to hiding places among the buildings if another sky galleon should show up. As she flew the wind dried her tears and kindled a new feeling in her heart.


Jin had been her friend. The Priestess hadn’t wanted anything more than the world to be a decent place. She’d tried to help and the Shadow Breakers had killed her for it. Just like they had Kari’s father.

Kari remembered the darkness that Jin had showed her. She remembered the monsters that had lurked unseen in it. Jin had been connected to that darkness, that great unknown, and Kari knew that she was as well. She didn’t fear the monsters that lurked in the unknown. She knew what real monsters looked like.

With her eyes still burning, Kari landed on one of the flat rooftops to steady herself. Meta-awareness showed her what she could do, showed her how she could unleash what was within her on the world.

It wasn’t anything like working magic. There was no supplication to the greater powers of the world. The beasts she called forth came in response to nothing more than her need and her imagination. All serpentine and unseen they flew from her heart and took shape in the sky above.

Kari felt a great force pulling at her, trying to hold her back and her down or tear her away, she couldn’t be sure. Gritting her teeth she fought against it, clinging to her anger and her pain and the joy that she’d felt in having someone who’d believed in her. The world wobbled out of focus for an instant, and time seemed to run at a broken gallop, but then the moment passed and everything was solid once more.

The beasts, two colossal forms that blocked out the sky, were loose but even so they were still a part of her. A part she couldn’t bear to see but one that she could certainly command.

She thought of the Colten and the people she knew fighting on the beach and dying like Jin had. She thought of Brayson skewered by a holy sword and the anguish that Helena would feel in his passing.

“Save them.” she said without looking upward. At her instruction, the two great shape took wing and flew outwards. The destruction of everything the Shadow Breakers had touched burned in their core.

Kari fell to her knees. She wanted to cry but the tears weren’t there. She wanted to rage but the beasts had carried that away with them.

“They still need me.” she told herself.

She had no idea if she’d damned herself by what she’d done. Jin had spoken of there being a price to be paid if Kari walked the path into the unknown. Certainly summoning monsters to the world put her well down that path. Regardless of what might await her though, there were people depending on her.

She rose again on unsteady wings and flew to the church. She remembered a time that seemed an eternity gone by when she’d attended church with her father and been thrilled at its vastness and splendor. Pretty colored glass couldn’t make up for hole the church had carved in her heart when they took her father away.

No, not the church. Pastor Peracles had always treated her with kindness. It was only some of the church that had been responsible. People like the Prelates and people like Caina who supported them.  She tried to push away the anger she felt at them. It didn’t work that well.

Especially not when she saw Prelate Ralls touching down in front of the church with the new sanctuary stone in her hands.

Kari hadn’t had long to practice with spell casting. Ralls knew more and subtler ways to weave spells. What Ralls lacked was Kari’s raw power and unrestrained will.

The girl that hit Ralls wasn’t flesh and blood. Kari had reached into her imagination and the power of the Earth Dominion and transformed herself into living steel. She also didn’t hit Ralls with the speed of a falling stone. There were twenty diagonal feet of earth between the surface of the ground that Ralls stood on and the nearest wall of the Under Chapel. Kari slammed into the Prelate with enough speed that she blasted them through that earth, through the Under Chapel and through the ground below that to a natural cavern that lay fifty feet further below.

With inhuman strength, the Emissary backhanded Kari across the natural cavern, embedding the young girl in the far wall. He was puppeting Ralls body directly and suffusing it with more raw magical energy than Kari seen in her entire life.

“Ah, good. I don’t have to go looking for the apprentice.” the Emissary said.

“You should…” he began to say, but Kari cut him off, gagging the Prelate’s body with flames that liquified the walls of the cavern.

“No! You have nothing to say to me!” she screamed and buried Ralls under a torrent of lava.

Faster than Kari’s eyes could follow, the Prelate erupted from the lava and grabbed her by the front of her tunic.

“I will cast you out as I cast out your mentor.” the Emissary said, his voice both vast an empty at the same time. In Ralls’ hand a holy sword appeared.

A part of Kari welcomed the thought of getting to join Jin, even if it was in the afterlife. Another part of her though rebelled at the notion.

“You’re not going to win here. This is my town. My home.” Kari shouted.

With a wave of her metal hand she shattered the holy sword into fragments. Before the shards could fall, she grabbed one out of the air and buried it in the Prelate’s left eye. Ralls collapsed to her knees and released her grip on Kari’s tunic, letting the young girl stumble backwards.

Though her metal body didn’t need to breath, Kari felt a sigh of relief building in her. That relief turned to fresh horror as she watched Ralls pull the foot long spike out of her eye, leaving behind no damage to show that she had ever been injured.

“You cannot turn my own power against me.” the Emissary laughed and, with a contemptuous slap, knocked Kari out of the natural cavern and back up the Under Chapel.

With the sturdiness of her metal body, Kari wasn’t stunned by the blow but she still had to blink to reorient herself. In the Under Chapel, Sir Marcus and Pastor Peracles still lay on their recovery beds. Grida, armed and armored like her friends, stood guard over them. Magic or no magic, Grida was still a formidable figure. Just not, Kari saw, formidable enough to stop Prelate Rall’s Emissary-possessed body.

Ralls rose into view on wings of fire after a few tense seconds. Around her thirteen orbs of fire circled, each it’s own spell. Each capable of roasting everyone in the Under Chapel to ash in the time it would take to counterspell any one of them.

Kari looked in Ralls eyes and saw the decision the Emissary had made. He didn’t care about that Ralls would be incinerated as well. She was just a pawn, pawns were meant to be sacrificed.

In the instant that he released the orbs, Kari snuffed them out.

Ralls, and by extension the Emissary, finally looked surprised.

“How did you do that? That’s not possible!” he exclaimed.

An instant later Ralls body toppled over lifelessly.

“You’ll never know.” Helena said as she stepped out from under her veil. In her hands, she held a pair of daggers that pulsed with red runes down the length of their blades.

“I didn’t think you weren’t going to use those again.” Grida said, looking at the daggers.

“The Prelate’s souls are long gone. All these could drink was the magic the Emissary was using to animate them.” Helena said with an unconcerned shrug.

Kari released the metal body spell before it could lock on her and rushed over to inspect the fallen Prelate.

Ralls was empty. The body was a shell without life or the semblance of having ever been alive. Even the knife wound in the back of the neck hadn’t bled.

“What about the other one? Prelate Temple?” Kari asked.

“Already taken care of.” Helena said gesturing with the dagger in her left hand.

Kari felt relief, real relief, wash over her. Whatever else happened, whatever the consequences were for what she’d done, in this one small way they’d won. She still wanted to see her friend but the prospect of meeting her in the afterlife was one she was willing to hold off on.

“Wow! For a girl who didn’t think she was, and I quote, ‘anything special’, that was amazing!” an impossible voice said.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 23

It’s easy to avoid worrying too much when I’m busy. My imagination gets wrapped up in whatever is keeping me busy. It’s the quiet lulls in between things going wrong where I find myself coming up with the strangest and most troublesome ideas.

“Shouldn’t the Holy Throne have attacked by now?” Kari asked. She’d melted and reformed a stone in the palm of her hands a hundred times in a row without burning herself and was getting bored with spell casting drills.

“We’ll have to reprimand their troops for their tardiness.” I told her. I was fiddling with the remnants of the stone that had held the sanctuary spell. I’d been trying to work out how to restore it but, short of a potentially disastrous, but-ever-so-tempting use of dream magic, I hadn’t come up with any good ways to fix what I’d broken.

We were killing time on the beach, safely within the protection of Way’s Sigil, waiting for an assault force from the Holy Throne. It had been a day since our war council with Grida, Colten and the other leaders of Dawns Harbor. I’d been concerned how the town was going to take the news that we were going to be fighting the church. It had been the central institution of their lives for as long as anyone could remember. With Grida taking the lead and speaking of how the Holy Throne had strayed from the Dominion’s calling people had been surprisingly receptive though.

That’s not to say that everyone agreed with fighting back. A lot of folks didn’t want to believe the situation was as bad as Grida and Brayson were making it out to be. A lot were like Caina and were simply incapable of accepting that the blind faith they’d extended could have been in error.

Some of those had been swayed by their greater belief in Grida, or Helena or Colten. Personal connections outweighed a lot of fear and uncertainty, but not in all cases.

I finished reconnecting to all twelve Dominions by exchanging more stories with Kari. Between the two of us we were able to open portals to other parts of the Empire. We picked places the Holy Throne didn’t have serious troop presences. The people who wouldn’t stay with us, either because they still believed in the Holy Throne or because they didn’t feel they could risk it due to their children or other loved ones, left via the portals with the promise from Brayson that once things were concluded they’d be welcomed back, no judgments rendered, no hard feelings held.

That left us with a town of about half the size it had been, but those who remained were committed, and the helpless innocents were out of harm’s way. Well, the young and the infirm at least. In my eyes, the townsfolk were all innocents and, against the might the Holy Throne could throw at them, helpless as well.

I knew a battle was coming. Way had delivered too severe a blow to the Holy Throne for there not to be retribution and I’d personally insulted the Shadow Breaker Prelates far too deeply for them not to seek vengeance. The delay on their counterstrike was because I’d impressed on Prelate Avernicus that I was a terrifyingly powerful aberration. They weren’t going to attack until they had a plan to beat me.

They also weren’t going to take long to develop that plan though. Whatever frightened them about the Voice of the Blind God was something they thought I was connected to and was something the Holy Throne was willing to exert unrealistic levels of force to prevent or put down.

I should have been concerned about the effort they were likely putting into plotting my downfall, but I was happier for the time it had bought us to straighten out things with Dawns Harbor. Even just getting the children out had been a big relief. Colten, Brayson and Marcus had gone beyond that though. The fishers and drivers and watch guards were all organized and ready for a fight. Helena and her apprentices had spent the day repairing and enchanting armor and weapons and Grida and Peracles had converted the Under Chapel into a hospital ward to care for any wounded we would have.

“How long will the Sigil that Sir Way created last?” Kari asked.

“We should have most of a week left before it fades away completely. It’s already weaker than it was though.” I said.

“What are we going to do then?”

“That’s the deadline for getting the sanctuary spell functional again. If that’s not possible, we’d have to move the town or come up with another method of protecting it.” I said.

“Would bad things really attack while we’re here? I mean, you could just destroy them right?”

“They’d attack because we were here.”

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Kari objected.

“There are things that are mindlessly drawn to power. People too I suppose. Then there are the ones that will think they might get lucky, or the ones that vastly overrate their own capabilities or importance, or even the ones that derive their sense of self from being the most powerful thing around. Even worse though are the ones that just don’t care. They’re only happy when other people are miserable and all they’d be looking to do is to cause as much destruction as possible. That’s a hard fight to win. You can beat them but if half the houses in town are flattened in the process, they kinda get the points for the win.” I said.

“What about the Holy Throne? Which type are they?”

“They’re one of the worst. They’re drawn to power because anyone else who has power is someone they’re not fully in control of. They don’t want just power, they want to replace everyone else with extensions of themselves. I don’t think the Holy Throne started off like it is now, but at some point, something broke. Someone lost their way and forgot why there are other people in the world.”

“Why’s that? I mean why do you think there are other people in the world?” Kari asked.

“Stories. None of us live the same lives. Even when our lives are very similar there’s always differences. Each is a story unto itself. Short stories, long stories, sad, happy, awful or wonderful stories, we’re all explorations of what it means “to be”. That’s why we have to be different. We can’t all think the same, we can’t all be slaved to one will, or the whole point of us is lost.” I said.

“So we should all try to be different?”

“We don’t have to try. Even at our most conformist we’re still ourselves, we’re still different. There’s no escaping that. The tough part is accepting and cherishing the differences that we find in other people.”

“Wouldn’t that mean accepting and cherishing the differences of the Holy Throne too though?” Kari asked.

“Shouldn’t we tolerate intolerance in other words? Nah. I can respect someone’s choice to believe in something greater than themselves, even to give themselves to it completely. That’s still a path they’re choosing to walk. It’s a very different thing for someone else to strip away a person’s identity and force them onto a path like that. The Holy Throne was literally going to do that with their cauldron, and they’ve done it figuratively in how they’ve demanded blind faith from their flock. I can’t justify destroying them for asking for blind faith, but even that is enough to be worth taking a stand against.” I said.

“And with the cauldron?” Kari asked.

“Oh that definitely puts them on the ‘destroy immediately’ list.”

“It’s that bad?”

“It’s worse. That thing not only destroys the people who are put in it, it creates a rift in the world where they once were. The things that step out of the cauldron aren’t people anymore. They’re fantastic soldiers but they’re also wounds in the fabric of the world. Remember the darkness I showed you and the things you knew were hidden in it? Imagine if some of those found a path into this world. A body they could inhabit that would let them be real.” I said.

“Why haven’t we destroyed it yet then?”

“Two reasons. First things like the cauldron tend to react poorly to being destroyed. Poorly on a scale of ‘a fireball the size of the entire town’ would be my guess. Second, I like to collect horrible stuff like that. You never know when there’ll be a good use for it.”

“What good use could you possible put something like that too?”

“I don’t know yet, probably nothing, but I like to keep my options open.” I said.

A cold wind blew over us. It came over the town and rushed out over the sea, bearing the smell of incense and blood. I saw Kari flinch as the gust hit her.

“What was that?” she asked through gritted teeth, her hands twisted into claws.

“An opening shot.” I said and delved into my meta-awareness for more details.

The Holy Throne was finally moving against us. They wind had carried with it words of excommunication for the town and everyone in it. I was already outside the pale of the church, so I’d barely felt it. Grida, Peracles and the few other junior clerics had been severed from their powers though. That was bad. I hadn’t anticipated the Shadow Breakers or the Holy Throne would be able to perform a blanket excommunication like that.

“We need to get back to town.” I said and called forth the gossamer wings of my flight spell. Kari did the same. As we ascended into the sky, I saw the next stage of the Holy Throne’s assault moving into place.

A trio of sky galleons flew in front of a vast storm cloud that was bearing down on the small town. From several miles out, the attack had already begun with casters on the airships hurling bolts of lightning at Dawn’s Harbor. Their efforts had little effect though. Way’s shield flared to life over the town, easily absorbing each bolt that was fired.

“Go tell Helena and Brayson that the attack is on the way. I’m going to stop those airship’s but they need to ready for a ground assault too.” I said.

“Right!” Kari said and peeled away to head towards the town while I continued ascending.

Three ships would have been overkill against Dawns Harbor normally but with Way’s Sigil protecting it I was surprised they hadn’t sent more. Rather than feeling relieved though, that left me wondering what other surprises they had in store.

I broke past the protection of Way’s shield and hurled a lightning bolt of my own against the lead sky galleon. The magical shields around the ship flared to life, absorbing the bolt like Way’s shield had. With a twist of my wrist I poured more force into the bolt and watched the shields detonate, setting fires along the rigging.

A light mist, conjured by one of the ship’s spell casters, quickly put out the fires, while another spellcaster began targeting me, rather than the town below, with their lightning bolts.

Flying has always been one of my favorite things, at least since I first developed my powers. That didn’t make it easy to evade the lightning bolts, but it did make it fun! I soared in circles and loops, happy that they were expending their strength trying to swat me rather than blasting away at Way’s shield and shortening its remaining duration.

Once the other two ships noticed what was going on, they turned to support their leader and the number of bolts flying at me tripled. I took a glancing shot from one of them and went tumbling, my nerves alight with pain. A quick healing spell though and the damage was all but completely erased. My tumble had brought me within reach of the lead ship’s main deck, and close enough to see the spell caster who had winged me.

Prelate Avernicus.

That meant the other two ships were probably under the command of Prelates Ralls and Temple. It seemed odd that the Holy Throne would pit them against me after I’d proven I could take all three of them already. Then I noticed the shimmer in Avernicus’ eyes.

A sick suspicion bubble up in my stomach and I focused my meta-awareness on them. They weren’t there. Not the Prelates that I’d known anyways. The things I saw before me had crawled out of one of the Holy Throne’s other cauldrons.  They were infused with both the power of the Holy Throne and something from beyond the world as well.

I landed on the deck of the lead ship hard enough to crack the planks under my feet.

“What have you done?” I demanded of the Avernicus-shaped thing that stood a dozen feet away from me.

“To fight abominations, one must use abominations.” The voice that spoke through Avernicus didn’t sound human at all. Meta-awareness wasn’t offering any sense of who it was, but intuition had a clue.

“I’m addressing the Emissary of the Holy Throne aren’t I?” I guessed.

“You speak to only the tiniest fraction of what I am, trespasser.” Not-Avernicus said. As we spoke, I saw the ship’s marines emerging onto the deck to surround me. They had the same shimmering power radiating from their eyes. The Holy Throne had converted them all. Every soldier that was assaulting Dawns Harbor, all of the clerics that supported them. They’d all been unmade and replaced with vessels of the Emissary’s will.

“You would call me an abomination? Seriously? After what you’ve done to your own people?” I needed Way with me. I could feel my anger kindling to an ugly blaze and without her steadying hand on my arm I was likely to do something regrettable.

“Yes. My people. Mine to do with as I wish. I would spend every one of them to keep my world safe from the darkness you bring!” the Emissary barked.

“I came here to relax on a beach you idiot. I specifically had no interest in changing anything until you attacked us.”

“What you desired does not matter. It’s what you are that would cast this world into darkness. You would break the chains that hold my people together. You have already done so! Or did you think I was unaware of your little apprentice? You showed her a world beyond this one. You lured her away from the fold, gave her knowledge she should never have had.” he said.

“Can you hear yourself? Can you hear the most powerful man in the world terrified of a young girl’s imagination? Is that really what you are? Is that what you want this world to be?” I shot back.

“Yes. What you offer is terror and madness. I have suppressed far worse than you for far longer than you can imagine. I will not see the sanctity of what I have created ripped apart by nightmares like you.”

The soldiers had me completely surrounded and I noticed the other two ships docking up with the lead ship so that even more were arrayed against me. A few seconds more and I’d have them right where I wanted them.

“She’s not a nightmare!” Kari said as she landed beside me.

There are times when it’s wonderful to see your friends ride to the rescue. This wasn’t one of them.

“Perfect. None of the taint shall escape us.” the Emissary gloated.

“If we go with you, you’ll leave the town alone?” Kari asked.

“He doesn’t want us to go with him. And he’s not going to leave anyone in the town alive either.” I said through gritted teeth.

“An unfortunate necessity brought on by the corruption you’ve spread there.” the Emissary said.

“What? No!” Kari yelled. She was fast, but only humanly so, as she lashed out with an Earth spell against the body of Prelate Avernicus that the Emissary was wearing. The storm of gleaming daggers was intended to be a death blow. After her experiences with the Shadow Breakers she wasn’t holding anything back. Against Avernicus though the attack clanked to the deck harmlessly. The Emissary had restored and improved on the defensive spells his Prelate had been wearing when I’d fought him.

The soldiers reacted to the attack with their predictably inhuman speed and there wasn’t time to think. Grabbing Kari, I pulled her close and let off the spell I’d been holding. The soldiers moving at blinding speed met animated ropes that were moving faster than them and intent on pulling them to pieces.

Avernicus stepped through the grasping ropes, burning them away with slashes of his hand. I conjured earth and flames to fight him with, pushing him back despite the indestructible defenses he was wrapped in.

“This town is under my protection. I won’t let you harm the people here.” I told the Emissary as I bathed him in a fire so hot it reduced the ship behind him to ash in an instant.

“You can not stop me.”

“You have no idea what I can do. For your own sake, don’t make me show you.”

“I have evaluated what your fellow abomination did to my forces. Burn yourself out destroying these ships and be gone if that is what you wish.” the Emissary said.

“You understand so little. Maybe it’s time I show you. Maybe that will stop this insanity.” I said. I fought to control my anger and felt black fire roiling in my veins. I could destroy him so utterly that reality itself wouldn’t know he’d ever lived. That would leave the world a broken mess though and despite his beliefs, I wasn’t enough of an abomination to want to do that.

“Jin!” Kari yelled.

I turned to find her struggling desperately against Prelates Ralls and Temple along with a handful of the soldiers who had gotten free of the rope trap.

I turned to help her, knowing that any spell Avernicus tried on me I could absorb with dream magic. The fire I’d called against him, I turned on Ralls and Temple, driving them back far enough for Kari to take flight and escape the clutches of the soldiers.

I started to turn back to Avernicus and fell to the ground before I fully understood what had happened. It was only the bright gleam of steel and the all-too-familiar sight of my own blood that clued me in.

The Emissary hadn’t used Avernicus’ magic to attack me. He knew it wouldn’t work. He’d used a sword, a holy sword at that. Right through my heart and lungs with the holy enchantments ensuring that I couldn’t heal my way out of the wound.

I tried to breath and agony ripped through my chest. I’d been wounded like this before. I knew I couldn’t save this body. In the bare seconds I had left, I gathered what magic I could and fired off a wordless spell. It streaked forth and hit, not Ralls or Temple or Avernicus, but Kari. In a flash she vanished, teleported to back to the safety of the town.

Then it was my turn to disappear in a flash. Except I wasn’t going to Dawns Harbor. I’d done a fine job with Priestess Jin’s body, I wasn’t about to let Emissary get his hands on it.

From the ground I think it looked like the sky gained a second sun briefly. As funeral pyres went I couldn’t complain, except that I only managed to destroy one of the three ships. Even as a dead girl that was a little disappointing.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 22

Social order takes a while to build. It involves a lot of compromises. People need a time to work out the rules that govern their behavior as a group. Violence can play a role in sorting that but more often expectations are communicated in subtle ways.

I looked around the room at the stunned people who surrounded me. As it turns out, promising to destroy the cornerstone of their society and faith wasn’t a particularly subtle move.

“Now you can’t hold the actions of a rogue bishop against…” Pastor Peracles began to say but was cut off by Grida.

“The Shadow Breakers are not the whole of the church. You can’t judge all of the good people in it by the evil you’ve seen in them.” There was raw fear in her eyes. She’d been afraid I was some Elder Abomination from Beyond Time and Space before I’m promised to destroy one of the corners of her world. She was right on all but one of those counts (I’m not that old). The thought of what I could do had her quite rightly terrified, except that my actual intentions weren’t as apocalyptic as she was imagining.

“That seems like a tall order even for someone of your skills.” Colten said. He believed that because he didn’t know what my skills actually were.

“It may be that the Throne must fall, but must the good souls who have held faith with it suffer too?” Maak asked. He was a man adrift, so, unlike Colten, he was ready to believe almost anything. He raised a good point though.

I wasn’t going to destroy Vale Septem or even the Empire of the Holy Throne but any actions I took against the current resident of the Holy Throne would have ramifications for all who lived under its aegis.

When I’d shattered the sanctuary spell on Dawns Harbor, it had been for the best of reasons,  to prevent an atrocity from being committed on everyone who lived there. Even with that good intention though I’d nearly damned the town to abandonment. What I was proposing doing to the Holy Throne would be several orders of magnitude worse than that.

Without the sanctuary spell, there hadn’t been any safety in Dawns Harbor. Without the Holy Throne there wouldn’t be any safety for anyone in the Empire and, if my guess was correct, anyone else in the rest of the world either.

A quick glimpse at my meta-awareness confirmed that. The Empire held back some of the darkest terrors that were buried in the world. They’d accumulated there over the thousands of loops of time the world had been through. Tearing down the Holy Throne would free them from their slumber and their bonds allowing them to rampage uncontrollably.

“Destroying the Holy Throne is worse that you know, but the alternative is worse than you can imagine.” I told them. None of what was occurring should have happened from what Way and I had been told. History was running off its tracks and the Holy Throne was at the center of it. The risk of unleashing a horde of terrors on the world paled in comparison to allowing the world to shatter completely.

Kari turned to me, her eyes wide and her breathing fast and irregular. She was caught in the grips of a vision.

“Unending life.” she whispered.

“That is the promise given us by the Dominions.” Pastor Peracles said.

“Not for us. For him. For the Holy Throne. We burn. We dissolve. Fed to him across aeons.” she said. She shook her head as the vision broke and clutched onto my arms, curling up against me for comfort while the horror of the vision drained out of her. Meta-awareness didn’t offer true precognition, but it did allow you to glimpse possible futures and get a rough sense of how likely they were. It came as no surprise that there were terrible ones that were likely enough for Kari to have stumbled on. I put an arm around her and turned to the others.

“I told you that I’d put my cards on the table and let you decide what was to be done for Dawns Harbor. I guess it’s time I do that.” I said.

“You also said that only those who will bear the cost of a decision should be the ones to make it.” Maak said.

“Yeah. I know. What does that tell you?” I said.

“That either you are a hypocrite or that you intend to bear cost of destroying the Holy Throne yourself.” Maak said, unafraid of offending me.

“I can’t claim I’m not a hypocrite sometimes, but in this case it’s the latter of those options.” I said.

“And how will you accomplish these miracles?” Colten asked. He’d seen what Way had done first hand but what I was talking about went far beyond that.

“I’m going to talk to him.” I said.

“You’re going to talk the Most High Emissary of the Holy Throne to death?” Colten asked. “Grida, you know I trust your judgment. More than I trust my own. But this is madness isn’t it?”

“It is madness, but not the kind you think.” I said. “I’m not from this world. Healer Grida, you worked that out yesterday didn’t you?”

“Yes.” she said. She was still as stone but her body language was all defensive.

“Was it when you saw me healing the Pastor?” I asked.

“No, though that confirmed it. It was when I went to the battle site. Sir Way’s sigil is like nothing I’ve ever seen, but it was the Cauldron that you sank into to the earth that gave me the clue.” she said.

“The cauldron? You didn’t unearth it did you?” I asked. It wouldn’t work unless someone followed the proper rituals but they were pretty easy to figure out.

“No. I couldn’t. My magics couldn’t affect it. But yours could. I tried to study it but what I saw…”, she swallowed, forcing back disgust before resuming. “That thing should not be. ”

“You’re right. And she’s right to be concerned. “ I said addressing Colten briefly before turning back to Grida, “What you saw in the cauldron? That’s a part of me as well. It’s something that has no place in this world or any other. I carry that emptiness within me because of a rash decision I made, but it’s not all that’s within me.” I said.

“What are you.” she asked.

“I am a sixteen year old girl. I’m a grandmaster cleric with more skill at spellcraft than any cleric who has ever lived. I’m warrior who can fight any two men alive and come out unharmed. And I’m a student who’s supposed to be studying for her exams but was kind of planning to goof off for a few weeks and take it easy in a quiet little seaside town until everything almost literally went to hell.”

“But what are you?” Grida pressed.

I hestitated. I didn’t want to have to explain any more. I didn’t want to risk awakening anyone else. Not when they’d be faced with the same choice that Kari was. Not when there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to be there for them. Not when they might turn out to the kind of monster that I saw lurking in the mirror when I was feeling at my lowest.

“She’s a child Grida. A powerful one maybe, but you told me yourself that she wasn’t wearing any illusions. She’s not any older than we were when we first set out.” Colten said.

“I said she hadn’t cast any illusions from the Seventh Dominion on herself. That doesn’t mean what we’re seeing here is real.” Grida replied to Colten and then turned back to me again. “What are you.”

If I was a spirit I would have been compelled to answer by the magics she’d woven into the thrice spoken question. As a young girl the magics held no power over me, but Grida’s words did.

She wasn’t asking me what I was because she wanted to banish me. She didn’t believe she had the power to and she had no desire to learn that for certain. She was asking me what I was because she wanted to trust me again.

As an adventurer, Grida had seen monsters aplenty lurking in the unknown corners of the world. In her experience unknown things that held power were more often than not deadly threats. Monsters didn’t act like I did though. For one thing they did a better job of pretending to be normal.

I looked at Grida one more time, weighing my decision consciously. I wanted them to trust me. That meant trusting them in turn.

“What you see of me is real.” I said as I stood up.

“But so is this…” I reached into my dreams and changed to one of my other selves. In the place of Priestess Jin, a goblin with blue skin and the most clever needle hook fingers stood.

“And so is this…” A twirl and I was a pirate lass.

“And this…” One more twirl and I was a giant spider, a hunter, and they looked just a little bit tasty.

Colten was on his feet a split second before Maak, though to be fair the younger knight was still badly wounded. Peracles reflexively threw shielding spells on everyone present, including Kari I was happy to see.

Where the men were on the verge of panic, Grida and Kari sat calmly.

Kari was looking at me with an unconcerned expression. Her head was tilted to one side as though she was evaluating an interesting looking bug, which in a sense I suppose she was. Meta-awareness was almost certainly telling her that the giant spider was no more a threat than the girl who’d she’d been sitting next too.

Grida on the other hand was smiling.  I clicked my mandibles together in the spider’s gesture of agreeable fraternity. It was like a smile but with more sense of ‘I’m not going to eat you right now, perhaps we can hunt together?”

Predictably the humans didn’t seem to understand it. Except the little one. She chomped her teeth together in a response. That translated to “the bugs are rotting well”. A happy child’s response.

As tempting as it was to stay in the comfortable simplicity enjoyed by giant spiders, I twirled once more and returned to the girl that I was. I felt myself blur a bit as I did and had to hold fast to fabric of reality around me. Dream magics, even purely personal ones like transformations, still ran the risk of sweeping me away into the Dreamlit world.

“How did you do that?” Pastor Peracles asked, dropping the shields that he’d raised.

“Those forms were all as real as the girl you see before you now. There was no magic, or at least none as you think of it, in my changing between them. They’re a part of who I am. I can shift between them because I can control what is real and what is unreal. I’m a dreamlord, that’s what I do. It’s what I am.” I said.

“You’re like a living Dominion.” Grida said.

“Not exactly. And not here at any rate. The Dominions can influence and create magic in this world a whole lot easier than I can. They’re ‘of’ this world. They’re fundamental to it. I’m a lot more limited because my powers aren’t ‘real’ here. I can cheat a bit at things – that’s why I’m so good at magic for example – but doing anything big, like wishing away the Holy Throne, would mean that reality would probably wish me away too.” I said.

“Can you teach us? If it meant restoring the proper balance to the world, I would eagerly pay the price you speak of.” Maak said.

“It’s not that simple I’m afraid. None of this is real. That aspect of me that you saw? It’s not real. Becoming what I am, would mean that as far as this world was concerned you wouldn’t be real either.” I said.

“How are you standing here then?” Colten asked.

“I told the world a story of who I wanted to be. I spoke to it of ‘Priestess Jin’ and convinced it to let me be a part of it. That takes a while though and this world doesn’t have that long to wait.”

“What fate do you foresee for us?” Grida asked.

“I can’t see the future, but I know the general path that its supposed to follow. For some reason the Holy Throne has broken the world off that path. Drastically so. If I’m right, the ‘Most High Emissary of the Holy Throne’ as you call him, is going to keep escalating and given that he has implements like the cauldron and enough power to provide sanctuary to the entire Empire I don’t think it’s going to take him long to push the world to a breaking point.” I said.

“So what are we to do about it?” Pastor Peracles asked.

“That’s for you to decide. I can offer you options. I can tell you what my plans are. I can even give you the mystical insights I have that might not, strictly speaking, be reasonable for a Priestess to have access too. What I can’t do though is tell you what to do. Your fate is your own.” I said.

I looked to Grida and Colten to see where we went next. I expected them to deliberate more. I thought I’d made reasonable points, but it was always hard to tell when people were in the mood to be reasonable versus when they were too scared to appear otherwise.

What I didn’t expect was to see a veil of invisibility slide away as Brayson spoke up.

“I think I’ve heard enough.” the Watch Commander said.

“I agree.” Helena said as the veil dropped away from her as well.

I blinked. Meta-awareness hadn’t pinged at all that they were hidden and listening to us. The stealth spell they were under was impressive. Meta-awareness can be very spotty when I’m not actively looking for something, but even so I usually picked up on people lurking invisibly near me for an extended period of time. I looked at Helena, curious what else I might have missed, but it was clear that she wasn’t a dream walker. She was just that good at stealth magics.

In a sense it was flattering. Grida had clearly convinced them that I was potentially dangerous. So Helena and Brayson had hidden themselves when I came into the room and let Grida and Colten do the talking. If it had turned out that Grida’s fears were justified they would have been in the best position possible to end me before I could do any harm.

That Helena had dropped the veil was a good sign too. If she’d decided against me, I knew I wouldn’t have seen the first glimpse of her before she struck.

“We’ve known this day was coming for a long time Grida.” Brayson said.

“And better that it be today than some distant tomorrow when the problem has passed to those who follow us.” Helena said.

“Aye, let their hopes and dreams be for a brighter tomorrow. The tyranny of the Holy Chamberpot is our problem to deal with. Let’s make our legacy one those who have gone before us will be proud of.” Colten said.

Grida looked at her friends, tears welling in her eyes. In a small voice she began to whisper the words to an ancient pledge.

“Though the foes before us rise to the sky…”

“Though they blot out the sun and overshadow the moon and the stars…” Colten answered.

“Though we are lost in the shadow of death…” Brayson continued.

“ …and all hope has fled…” Helena continued.

They paused for a moment, as though waiting for other, missing, voices to fill in the remaining words of the pledge.

“Together we shall stand.” Marcus said as he descended the stairs and joined the group. By their expressions his arrival was utterly unexpected. Nonetheless they all joined in speaking the rest of the pledge.

“Together we shall fight. And together shall we prevail.”

They all joined hands in the center of the circle they stood in. Pastor Peracles and Sir Maak reached in as well and, at Grida’s silent invitation, Kari and I did too.

With a final, wordless cry we raised our hands and broke apart.

“We said this was behind us. That it belonged to the younger generation.” Grida said, wiping her eyes.

“Like the younger generation could ever measure up to us?” Colten said, a wide smile beaming on his face.

“From what I heard the little Priestess over there could take you three falls for three old man.” Brayson said.

“Maybe two falls out of three.” I offered. “I doubt anyone gets that gray haired without picking up at least a few sneaky tricks.”

“When this is over Priestess, I’ll be sure to teach you some of them.” Colten promised.

“For now, we have weightier matters to consider.” Brayson said, as he drew out a map and gestured for everyone to gather around it.

The War Council had begun.