Category Archives: Broken Bonds

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

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 21

As a kid I was terrified of the darkness. When I grew up, I learned to be terrified of other, more concrete, things for a while. Then I awoke as a dream walker and met some of the things that lurked in the deep darks. They were worse than anything I’d imagined while I was hiding under my covers in bed. I should have been terrified of them, but insteading of becoming afraid of them again, I changed. I ‘woke up’ fully. That’s what it means to be a dreamlord. I wasn’t afraid of the monsters in the dark. I’d become something for them to be afraid of.

That’s one path that a dream walker can travel.

In the darkness of the illusion I’d cast, I watched Kari search for the direction she would take. It was possible that she’d walk a path like mine. Or, faced with the infinite unknown of the dreaming, she might very well chose to turn away from the Dreamlit world entirely and return to her ‘real’ life. Either way, she’d have my support. I couldn’t leave her alone. Without someone else to lean on, at least occasionally, it’s all too easy to fall onto a path you never want to walk.

When faced with monsters, the greatest temptation is to become monsters ourselves. I’d made that choice too and I bore the scars within me as a result. I’d been saved from becoming something I hated by my brother, and from disappearing entirely by Way.  Kari wasn’t under the same kind of stress that I was when I awoke, but that only meant that she’d become her own kind of monster if she couldn’t reach beyond her fears.

I let the illusion of darkness fade, and the bungalow we were in came back into view.

“You don’t need to chose one side or the other. Not yet.” I told her.

“But you can answer my questions right?” she asked.

“Most of them.”

“Ok.” she said and then quietly added, “There was more than darkness there, wasn’t there?”

“Yes.” I agreed. I didn’t say any more though. What lay hidden in the darkness for me wasn’t the same as what she would find there.

“I need to think about this for a bit.” she said, gazing inwards once more.

I nodded.

“Why don’t you sleep on it? This has been a long and crazy day.” I suggested.

Kari blinked and her focus came back to the bungalow.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep. It feels like my head is caught in a storm.” she said.

“Give it a try. I’ll be here to catch any nightmares that try to sneak out.” I said.

“Nightmares?” Kari asked.

“Yeah. You’re not fully in control of your magic yet so sometimes it can get out and cause problems on its own. That usually happens when you’re sleeping and you kick out a bad dream in favor of a good one.”

“And you’ll stop them? Won’t you be asleep too?” she asked.

“No, I’ll being standing watch. Way bought us some time, but I don’t trust either the Holy Throne or the demons to have learned their lesson. They’re going to move against us again and I want to be able to react when they do.”

“Won’t you be really tired though?”

“I know some tricks that’ll help.” I said, specifically ones where I’d be able to split my awareness, and sleep with one part of my mind while remaining alert with the other. I’d gotten well practiced at that in order to be able to deal with problems in the Dreamlit world without totally spacing out in the waking world.

I settled into one of the bungalow’s beach chairs while Kari curled up on the bed.

“I’m probably going to be awake for hours.” she said.

Five minutes later she was out like light.

To my great surprise, the night then proceeded to pass uneventfully.

Several hours after the sun came up, Kari finally stirred and looked around, all bleary-eyed and confused.

“Good morning. How’d you sleep.” I said, stirring and stretching myself.

“I dreamed I had the day off from work. It was wonderful.” she said, still blinking and fuzzy.

“Well, good news on that front!” I said.

Kari blinked again and came to full wakefulness.

“Oh wow. Yesterday was all real wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Yeah, pretty much.” I admitted. “You did a good job with your dreams too btw.”

“What do you mean?”

“You had a few nightmares – you were tossing and turning – but it didn’t look like you had any problem dealing with them.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“Most people don’t. Waking up to find your nightmare is real on the hand? That tends to stick with you for a while.” I said.

“Does that happen a lot?”

“Depends. Usually it happens only once, one way or the other.” I said.

Kari shivered at the implication.

“We should see how Healer Grida is doing with the pastor and Sir Maak.” I said.

“Think she’ll have breakfast for us?” Kari asked.

“Better chance than at Caina’s place.”

Sadly by the time we arrived at the church’s Under Chapel, breakfast was being cleared away. Grida, Colten, Pastor Peracles and Maak were the only ones there but they’d managed to polish off what looked to have been a half dozen bounteous plates of fruits and cheeses.

“Priestess Jin! and Kari! We were just talking about you girls.” Colten said as we entered the temporary infirmary.

“Sir Maak was hoping to see Sir Way as well.” Grida said.

“I’m sorry, she’s left and won’t be able to return here for quite a while.” I explained, for Maak’s benefit.

“Then allow me to extend my apologies to you alone for now. When next we meet I shall apologize to Sir Way as well.” Maak said. He looked gray and weak from the blood loss but there was an animating spark in him that seemed to want to leap out of his recovery bed and storm off onto an adventure immediately.

“What would you have to apologize to Way and I for?” I asked.

“In piety, I was led astray and behaved in a less than civil fashion to you both. I have seen that my piety was misplaced and that you were never worthy of the disdain which I showed to you.” Maak said.

I was taken aback by that. In my experience people changed their views very slowly. An overnight change of heart was more often the result of a traumatic head injury than self reflection. Of course given Maak’s current physical condition I couldn’t rule out the traumatic head injury possibility.

“Was that why you came to our bungalow last night?” I asked, knowing it couldn’t have been the reason. The last thing someone who was slowly bleeding out would be concerned with was saying sorry for being impolite to a pair of strangers.

“No. I came to see you because I believe you are at the crux of great events. Ones that are reshaping the world. From speaking with Healer Grida and Pastor Peracles this morning I am more convinced than ever of the truth of that.”

“What ‘great events are reshaping the world’?” I asked.

“I do not know. I had hoped to learn that from you and Sir Way. I seek only to discern what my role in them might be.”

I turned to Grida and Colten. They didn’t look quite as comfortable as Maak was with the idea of me playing a central role in changing the world.

“It’s true that I’m not just a simple priestess. You’ve guessed that much already I think. I can’t explain everything about myself, but I’ll lay as many of my cards on the table as I can.” I said. “I think Maak’s right and there is something major happening, something that wasn’t supposed to. I can help, maybe, but Dawns Harbor is your town. How do you want to handle this?”

I could have made suggestions. I could have made demands for that matter. Neither seemed like a winning strategy though. Grida was already concerned that I was some kind of eldritch abomination. Anything I suggested she’d have to be skeptical of. Under other circumstances that would be fine. I’d met a lot of my friends in situations that gave them good reason to be suspicious of me and had won them over by slowly building trust with them. While we weren’t under immediate attack, something told me I wasn’t going to have a lot of time to work with once the Holy Throne decided to come back for round two.

“That’s the other thing we were talking about.” Colten said.

“We do not seem to have many options open to us.” Pastor Peracles said.

“That’s something I can help with.” I said.

“You’ll provide options and we’ll choose one?” Grida asked.

“That doesn’t make sense. Jin understands what’s happening better than any of us. Why not have her pick what’s best?” Kari said.

“Best for who?” I asked. “Any course of action will involve some sacrifices. I could chose for you, but I have the least invested here. I could take command of the town, but you’ve already got excellent leaders here. One’s who will be bearing the burden of any sacrifices that are chosen in a way I never could.”

Maak laughed and then winced in pain as the laughter pulled on his wounds. The rest of us looked at him in varying degrees of confusion.

“I am a fool.” Maak said. The humor that colored his words was betrayed by a catch in his voice.

“After our dinner engagement, I was convinced we’d found two of the Diabolists we were searching for. I thought it so strange that the Bishop wouldn’t allow me to pursue you. Gahn and I…” Maak’s voice trailed off, his jaw hard set against some painful memory.

“Sir Gahn had a more charitable view of my behavior I imagine?” I said.

Maak’s mouth stretched into a bitter smile.

“Gahn’s view of everyone was charitable.” Maak said.

“What happened on your expedition?” I ask, softening my voice.

“Disaster.” Maak said. “We set off at first light and made excellent time. The Bishop kept us to the major trade roads so that we could reach Dancing River, the goblin border town, as fast as possible. Gahn and I were told that the corruption was widespread and to alert the Bishop to the sightings of any goblins that the expedition encountered.”

“The luck of the Dominions was on us, because we encountered no one as we trekked to Dancing River. I don’t know if they were warned of us or if fate felt a rare moment of kindness. Most likely the latter. If the goblins known of us and our aim, events would have transpired very differently.It wasn’t until we reached the town that the Bishop informed us of our true objective you see.” Maak said.

“You weren’t there to hunt a rogue group of Diabolists.” I said. It wasn’t a guess. Meta-awareness was filling the story in for me as fast as Maak was telling it. I felt a cold pit opening in the bottom of my stomach.

“No. Our orders were clear. We were to annihilate the town. No quarter given for any living thing that we could find.” Maak said.

“That’s an act of war!” Grida said.

“It’s more than that. It’s a violation of the vows the knights had sworn to uphold. You two couldn’t obey an order like that, could you?” Colten asked.

“No. We couldn’t. Except under one condition. If there living things within the town had all fallen to darkness, if they were beyond redemption, then…then we could grant them the final mercy.” Anger and pain warred behind the rigid mask of Maak’s features.

“Gahn objected of course. By which I mean he threw a screaming fit at the Bishop. Rask was immovable though. The Most High Emissary of Holy Throne himself had given Rask the orders. The Bishop would not see them questioned or disobeyed.” Maak said.

“Based on my experience, I’m surprised he allowed any such backtalk.” Pastor Peracles observed.

“Gahn was too strong.” I said, understanding flowing through me. “Rask’s force was small. A lot of it depended on Sir Gahn, Sir Maak and the experience of their troops. Rask couldn’t afford to geas Gahn like he did you. Gahn would fight the geas and be either less effective in fighting the goblins or he’d break the geas and then slay Rask on the spot.”

“I’m not sure the Bishop was capable of being as rational as you describe. Gahn was though. He saw something change in Rask and let the matter drop after confirming that the Holy Throne had personally ordered the annihilation and that there would be no stain on our honor whatever the outcome was.” Maak said. “I think that’s why Rask relented and believed him. Gahn had to appear as hungry for the approval of his superiors as the Bishop was.”

“Aye, that sounds like the Bishop to me.” Colten agreed. “So what stopped Rask from ordering the slaughter immediately?”

“Gahn suggested that he lead a small team into the Dancing River to ‘cut off the town’s chief shaman from providing them aid’.” Maak said.

“Knight’s don’t make the best assassins.” Colten observed.

“No, we don’t. Rask was delighted with the plan though. I think he was afraid of matching his power against the Chief Shaman’s.”

“That makes sense, Bishops aren’t front line battle casters. He would have been at a disadvantage against the Shaman even if he had better overall skills at spellcrafting.” I said.

“What happened next?”, Kari asked.

“I don’t know. I knew that Gahn wasn’t going into Dancing River to kill the Shaman. Not unless the town really was overtaken by darkness.” Maak said. “What I suspect happened is that Gahn met with the Chief Shaman, was convinced they weren’t servants of the Underworld and warned the Shaman of the attack that was coming. He was probably introduced to the Voice of the Blind God after that.”

“Who’s the Voice of the Blind God?” I asked.

“Again, I don’t know for certain, but I believe she was the one we were sent there to kill.” Maak said.

“That didn’t happen though.” I said, again seeing the story play out before Maak could relate it.

“No. When Gahn and his strike team didn’t return, Rask ordered us all in for a lightning fast attack on the town.” Maak paused there, a wave of bitterness rolling over him. “I’m not proud of what happened next. Even mad with grief, I shouldn’t have consented to lead that charge. You have to understand though, when Gahn didn’t return, I could picture only one reason for his absence.”

“You thought the Shaman had killed him.” I whispered, understanding more than just what had happened, understanding what Gahn meant to Maak. I felt a twinge in my own heart and a desperate longing for Way. There weren’t many reasons I would willing turn into a monster, but I could understand how the thought of losing Gahn had done that for Maak.

“Or corrupted him. Either way, my rage…I was lost. We fought our way through the town, slaughtering the defenders that stood against us. Thanks the heavens that Gahn had warned them though. That at least meant that the young and the old and the weak weren’t laid before us.” Maak said.

“We carved a path to the center of town, to where Rask and I could sense the Shaman working a strong magic. It was a portal through which the town was being evacuated. The remnants of the goblin militia stood to guard it from us and at their lead was Gahn and his men.”

“I screamed when I saw him, because I knew, knew with the certainly of someone who has completely abandoned reason, that he’d been corrupted. I didn’t see him there. Not really. All I saw was a devil wearing a suit made from the man I loved most in the world.” Maak breathed a great deep breath to expel some of the pain that gripped him.

“We fought. Oh heavens above we fought. I lost track of the rest of the battle. I hurt him so terribly. Twice as bad, or three times as bad as he hurt me, or maybe a thousand times, I don’t know. All I knew was that I needed to destroy this abomination that was before me.”

“In the end…in the end the heavens were merciful at last. He cast me down. My strength was gone. I was helpless before the monster that had taken my love. And then he knelt down and spoke to me. He kissed me on my ruined lips and on my slashed forehead and on the very tip of my nose. He said that he knew I couldn’t believe him, but that he still loved me. He said that we’d fallen into something much bigger than we could imagine and that the little goblin girl he’d been defending was the key to righting a fundamental wrong in the Holy Throne. She was the Voice of the Blind God. The last thing that he told me before he cast a spell of healing slumber over me was that I should seek out you, Priestess Jin and your companion Sir Way. The two of you, Gahn believed, were a part of this great change as well.” Maat said.

The room was silent while we absorbed Maak’s story.

The Goblin King had sent Andromalacles to call on me in the afternoon. That would have been after Dancing River was evacuated. After Maak and Gahn had fought. The King had known what had happened at Dancing River and had decided only then to reach out to me. Why? Because he didn’t know which side I was on before that. Not until Gahn had told him about my row with Bishop Rask.

“Sir Gahn was right.” I said. “Way and I weren’t at the center of this, but we do have a role to play. Way did her part by buying us time. There are a lot of things I still don’t understand, but I can see one thing clearly that I’m going to do.”

“What’s that?” Grida asked.

“I’m going to destroy the Holy Throne.”

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 19

Silence has texture. There’s the feel to the silence of an old run down house that you’ve snuck into that’s very different from the feel of the silence of your bedroom after an argument with your mother, or (on the positive side) the silence that stretches out as you watch the sunrise with someone you know well enough that the moments are full even without words being shared.

The feel of the silence that comes after you beat a high official of the church to a pulp in an underground chapel is very different from any of those. There’s a breathless elation at having dealt with a serious threat combined with a tense certainty that worse calamities are winding up for their turn in the ring.

Not that calamities are particularly polite about “taking turns”. By preference, calamities seem to enjoy hunting in packs.

With Prelate Avernicus’ departure, Kari and I had one of those rare moments when the calamities seemed to be giving us a moment to catch our breaths. I knew that couldn’t really be the case though, and the moment that thought occurred to me I noticed the pastor of the church sprawled on the ground.

“Ah, damn.” I grumbled.

“What’s wrong?” Kari asked. She was glancing around the Under Chapel, probably trying to see if we had more Prelates to worry about.

“No rest for the wicked.” I told her and walked over to fallen Priest. It may not have been fair to categorize myself as wicked. Most of the wicked in Vale Septem weren’t anywhere near the danger to it that I was.

‘Potentially’, I reminded myself. I was only ‘potentially’ a danger to the world. It was my choice whether I wanted to be kindly or wicked and in this case, kindly seemed to be what was called for.

I knelt down and rested my hands gently on the priest’s head. I couldn’t read his mind but I could sense the dreaming worlds that he still held within himself. He was still there, but the outside world was lost to him due to the chaos that Avernicus had left his mind in.

As a Priestess, I knew that in time the priest’s mind would heal. He’d be able to make sense of what he was seeing and experiencing after his mind adapted to the damage that was done to it. It wasn’t much to hope for but it was more than he could manage at the moment. The deep damage the spell had done, the loss of memory, would last forever though. No amount of time would restore more than disjointed flashes of memory to him. He might not have lost everything he ever knew, but enough was gone that he wouldn’t be able to care for himself for a long time.

“He’s in bad shape. Avernicus was in too big of a hurry to be subtle it looks like. There’s still some hope though. Can you help me again?” I asked.

“What do you need?”

“Another story, we’re going to connect to the Seventh Dominion. I need the mind magics it has and it would be good for both of us to have some conventional magical shields against the kind of mental magic Avernicus was throwing around.” I said.

“Pastor Peracles said that the First Dominion was the one that covered Language, but I know that’s not the Dominion for the mind? Why is that?” Kari asked.

“The First Dominion is more primal. Its aspect as the Dominion of ‘Language’ is fairly broad. It includes things like talking to animals through body language. There’s a lot of other aspects that the First Dominion covers as well, but it’s the Seventh that claimed ‘the thinking mind’ as part of its portfolio.” I said.

“But how do I know that? I’ve never studied as a Priestess.” Kari asked.

“It’s a side benefit of what’s happening. Useful but not terribly reliable. You’ll know things that you shouldn’t, but not everything, and occasionally not the things you really need to know.” I explained.

“So what kind of story should I tell you?” Kari asked.

“The Seventh Dominion’s primary aspects are Art, Deception, Illusion and the Mind. Anything that reminds you of those will be fine.”

“I guess I know about deception the most. The job at Caina’s needed a lot of that. Some of the people were nice, but they were poor too. Caina always gave them the oldest, worst stuff she’d had. Things is, those were the people that I wanted to come back cause they were nice to wait on. So I’d collect up a bunch of orders together and give them all to Caina at once. That way she wouldn’t know which food was going to a poor table and which was going to the wealthy people. She always thought I was delaying the food for the poor people because I didn’t like them, but they always enjoyed the bigger portions that she had to give out when she couldn’t tell where the food was going so it worked out in the end.” Kari said.

“That was clever, and kind. You want to hold on to those.” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Like the Dominions, we have aspects. Patterns of behavior and natural impulses. Your impulse on meeting people who were nice to you was to try to be kind to them.”

“Isn’t that what everyone does?” Kari asked.

“Did Caina? Did Rask or any of the Prelates? We’re all different in what we look for in other people. We all value different things too. Looking for and valuing kindness? Not as common as it should be.” I said. “That’s where our mind’s come in. My brother is an athlete. He’s actually my step-brother, so we didn’t meet until we were older. By then I’d already formed an image of what big athletic guys were like. I thought he was going to be a total jerk. On an instinctual level I was ready to hate him, but I knew that wasn’t fair. Forget mind-over-matter, the hard thing is mind-over-instinct. It’s worth it though. I gave him a chance and got to know him as ‘James’ rather than ‘that jock in the house’. Turns out he’s pretty awesome. He can be a meathead too, but he’s a good hearted, super heroic meathead.”

“Choosing to shape what other people see and choosing what we focus on? Our stories are kind of the same aren’t they? Just two different sides of the same thing.” Kari said.

“They are, and they’re part of something much larger.” I smiled. She should have been given Priestess training ages ago. Even without meta-awareness and inner dream magic she was a natural.

I…I can see it!”, Kari dream spoke.

Can you see the most important part?” I dream spoke back to her, sending along my vision of her with my words.

I’m already connected to it! It’s a part of me, it’s a part of everyone!” her eyes were wide with comprehension. Knowing that was one thing, understanding it on an experiential level, that was something else entirely. It was that level of bone-deep knowledge that a priestess needed to possess in order to work magic with a Dominion and Kari developed it in hours since acquiring her meta-awareness.

I watched as she spoke a word aloud and vanished into thing air.

“I can turn invisible!” she cried out joyfully.

“You can do a lot more than that.” I told her, delighted at her delight. Pastor Peracles’ moan reminded me that we didn’t have a lot of time for instructions though, however much Kari might need them. “For now, I need you to keep an eye out for me.”

I sat on the ground besides the Pastor and folded my legs into a half lotus. There wasn’t anything mystically helpful about that position in this context, I just needed to be comfortable for what I was planning to try.

“What I’m about to do is delicate and dangerous.” I said. “I’m not sure how much of it will you’ll be able to make out, but please leave it all to me. If someone comes in here and you need to get my attention just say my name. I may or may not wake up but I’ll help you in either case.”

Kari nodded, in agreement more than understanding.

Avernicus’s spell had torn memories out of the Pastor and shredded his mind in the process. I couldn’t wave a magic wand and make it all better. I couldn’t even use dream magic to instantly restore him, not without replacing the bits of him that were missing with bits copied from me. He needed his own memories and his own dreams, not mine.

Fortunately, while they’d never come back on their own, Pastor Peracles’ memories weren’t completely lost. Avernicus’s spell had been focused on ripping information out of the pastor’s mind. The original memories were still there just broken and disconnected from anything he’d be able to consciously access. Restoring those connections wasn’t trivial but with some Seventh Dominion spells and a little judicious cheating with dream magic I might be able to have the pastor back to his old self before the night was out.

With a nod to Kari, I closed my eyes and placed my hands on Pastor Peracles’ forehead. I felt the connection form at the tips of my fingers and used that to narrow my focus inwards. I’d traveled into others dreams before, but each time was a new experience.

Peracles’ dreams were as scattered as his mind. The chaos of his thoughts was a great black void, the last defense against the spell that Avernicus had turned on him. In the void, shadows moved, angry, hungry thoughts seeking to lash out against the harm that had been done. I couldn’t make peace with them, Peracles was too hurt for that.

Behind the shadows I could sense the millions of fragments of memory, each wrapped in their own tiny dream worlds, huddled away. The beasts in the shadows lashed out at my presence to protect those memories from discovery. Peracles’ mind was rejecting the touch of mine. He hadn’t been strong enough to fight off Avernicus though and he certainly wasn’t strong enough to fight off me.

Fortunately for the pastor, I wasn’t there to fight. There was nothing I could gain by defeating the monsters of his Id that sought to keep him safe. Instead I let them come. Tooth and claw and sword. Blood and bone and bile. Every horrible thing in him rose to block my path and I gave them what they wanted.

Strength. Vitality. Comfort. I didn’t have to beat them, I had to make his monsters see that they had nothing to fear in me. I showed them an illusion, a deception that hide the things within me they would have been right to fear and presented that which sought to aid them. It wasn’t who I really was, but it was the truth.

The beasts of the Id didn’t back down, they didn’t accept me, but they did pause. That let me step past one of them into one of the worlds of memory that my meta-awareness drew me to.

It was a tiny world, only the size of the church building, which it recreated. I stepped into world and saw it replaying one of the pastor’s recent memories. He stood at the door to the church, on the other side Bishop Rask was giving last minute instructions.

“This is not something which you may question. If you see any of the goblin folk, be they adults or children, you are to slay them immediately. None should get through our net, but if they do, you must silence them before they can speak to anyone.” Rask said.

“I don’t understand. We’ve always had excellent relations with the goblins. Even if some have fallen in with Diabolists, they cannot pose any threat so long as they bound by the sanctuary spell can they?” Peracles asked.

“These can. We are but the first being sent to deal with this threat. A team from the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court will follow to assist us soon as they able.” Rask said.

“Then certainly it would make more sense to keep any goblins who come to town for the Shadow Breakers to render judgement on?” Peracles objected.

“They will have more important tasks to attend to than to deal with some goblins.” Rask said, anger plain on his face.

“This will be a life or death matter for the goblins Bishop! They are children of the Dominions the same as you or I!” Peracles, despite being younger, shorter, and of less station than Rask did not seem at all inclined to back down.

“They are not the same! Only we follow the light of the Holy Throne! Only we are blessed with its righteousness!” Rask shouted.

“That light comes from the Dominions, and are we not taught that we must share that light and use it to inspire all who see us?” Peracles shouted back.

“I do not have time for this. You will follow my orders without question Pastor!”

“I cannot do that Bishop. What you ask goes against every teaching of the Holy Throne. We do not slay the innocent.” Peracles met Rask’s gaze and didn’t flinch as pure rage rolled over the Bishop’s features.

“I do not ask.” Rask said at last, his voice low. “I command!”

Rask’s left hand flew out and grabbed the stunned Peracles by the face. I heard him recite a fairly lengthy prayer spell and recognized its effect immediately. It was a geas, a magical compulsion. Rask couldn’t talk Peracles into obeying him, so he’d forced the matter.

“You know my order. Enact it or suffer the consequences.” Rask said before vanishing from the memory in a swirl of his bishop robes.

I blinked. Poor Pastor Peracles just had no luck whatsoever today when it came to dealing with his superiors. Worse, this complicated any attempt I could make to help him recover.

On the positive side, the geas that Rask had slapped on the pastor had been thoroughly applied. That meant it would be part of most of his fragmented memories. That was good because it meant I could use it to pull them back together.

The unfortunate side effect was that I couldn’t restore those memories without also restoring the geas. I couldn’t even afford to banish it once he was restored since the geas would be one of the “stitches” that was holding him together.

What do you want Pastor?” I asked the man in the memory. We were in a dream and so I sent the context of my question with my words. I showed him the choices that lay before him.

I can bear the geas. My people need me.” he responded. I saw how he had hidden in the Under Chapel to mitigate the geas’ effect. It required him to slay any goblins he saw in town. As long as he was safely locked away from them it couldn’t take over his actions or trigger any of its effects.

I nodded to the memory and touched the geas mark that hadn’t yet faded from his forehead in the memory.

When I said there were millions of fragments of memory, I’d been estimating the damage Avernicus had done. With the geas as an anchor I was able to pull in hundreds of memories a second, restoring the connections between them and Pastor Peracles’ conscious mind. Even at that rate it took hours to pull them all together. Millions had been a low estimate. Tens of millions was probably more accurate.

By the time, the dark void of chaos had been replaced with a serene and complete mindscape once more, I was exhausted. I withdrew from the mental embrace and let the Seventh Dominions spell fall away as I settled back into my own head.

“She’s done.” I heard Healer Grida say.

I drew in a slow breath and exhaled carefully. Passing out after a piece of work like that would be understandable, but enough time had passed that I was sure a new crisis must have arisen.

“How’s Pastor Peracles?” Colten asked.

“He’s ok. More than that. He’s whole.” Grida said.

“By the deep blue, how did she do it?” Colten asked.

“I got lucky.” I said, opening my eyes to find the whole dinner party and several other people assembled in room.

“I want to hear that from the Pastor!” a slightly familiar voice shouted. I turned to look at the room and saw that it belonged to Caina. I hadn’t seen her at breakfast but her voice was distinctive enough that I was sure it was her.

“I would be delighted to answer your questions, if perhaps you would be kind enough to speak them more quietly.” Pastor Peracles said. He hadn’t risen from the floor but he had opened his eyes. A headache of epic proportions was an unavoidable outcome of putting his mind back together before it had finished healing.

“What did she do to you Pastor!” Caina shouted, collapsing to the ground beside him.

“She? Ah, my angel is real?” Peracles said, turning to look at me.

“I’m no angel.” I said as I got to my feet.

“As the heavens are our destination, we may all be angels to one another.” Peracles said, quoting the scripture of the Holy Throne.

“She didn’t hurt you pastor?” Caina asked.

“Far from it. If I am right, I have her to thank for undoing a most grievous injury.” Peracles said.

“One more grievous than I could have undone.” Grida said. She wasn’t precisely happy about that. More wary than anything else in fact.

Caina looked at Grida and then back to Peracles and then to me. Confusion was replaced by a scowl, but she didn’t say anything beyond that. It progress in its own way.

“They’ll both need rest after that. We can continue our discussion in the morning.” Grida said and began shooing the bystanders out of the Under Chapel.

“If I could trouble you to bring a cot down here. I shouldn’t be out and about now.” Peracles said.

“That’s no trouble, but what is it that still ails you?” Grida asked.

“Our Bishop has enspelled me. A geas to force me to kill any of our goblin neighbors that I see.” he explained.

“I was able to use it to bring him back, but it means he’s stuck with the effect until he has time to heal.” I added.

“I see.” Grida said. Her worry wasn’t directed only at Pastor Peracles. She was concerned about me as well. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘frightened’ of me. She’d seen what had happened to the Shadow Breakers camp. She’d seen what had happened to the Under Chapel as a result of my fight with Avernicus. She’d even watched as I’d pushed the magics of the Seventh Dominion into a territory bordering on the impossible. Like Avernicus, she had a sense of what I was, and like him she knew how dangerous that made me.

“Tomorrow sounds like a great time to explain everything to me.” I yawned. “I’m going to head back to the bungalow if that’s ok? Way’s Sigil should keep out any problems for a while, but if anything comes up let me know.”

I took a slow step towards the door. No one moved to stop me. For that matter, no one said much of anything, so I trudged up the stairs and out into the cool, late night air. I’d walked for a few minutes before I noticed that I hadn’t seen Kari in the crowd.

I looked around, meta-awareness tickling the back of my head, before I caught a faint shimmer in the moonlight.

“You’re pretty good at that spell, but I recommend not holding it too long. It gets inconvenient when people step all over you.” I said, looking in Kari’s general direction. In a blink the invisibility spell faded and I saw her standing slightly away from me to my left.

“How could you see me?” she demanded with a small pout. “No one else could.”

“They didn’t know you could turn invisible. Also, I’d bet Colten, Grida and their crew knew you were there. I think they’re trying to figure out what to do about us.” I said.

We walked back to the bungalow without any more invisibility tricks. Kari filled me in on how the others had arrived with Grida in the lead. The Healer had worked out what I was doing and had kept anyone from interrupting me despite the protests of Caina and a few others. She hadn’t said anything about the unnaturalness of what I was doing, but even Kari suspected that she knew the healing spell wasn’t exactly a standard one.

I was almost regretful of that we’d skipped the invisibility spells when we arrived back at the bungalow. There was a suit of bloody armor and a sword resting within the porch and by the time I noticed them it was obvious to anyone inside that we’d returned.

“I’ve got to put a locking spell on that door.” I said, shaking my head.

“There’s someone in there waiting for you.” Kari said, pointing at the door.

My meta-awareness was telling me the same thing, and even giving me a clue as to his identity.

“Maak, why are you in my house?” I asked as I opened the door to see the grumpy knight who’d traveled with Bishop Rask waiting inside for me.

He had only left Dawns Harbor that morning but from the looks of things he’d had a rougher day than I had. Poorly bandaged wounds of all types adorned his shirtless body.

“Priestess Jin, I had hoped to make a better…” he started to say as he rose from the small stool he was sitting on. His words cut off as he promptly toppled over.

I paused and waited a second, unsure if his performance was a trick of some kind. The blood on his back wasn’t stage blood though. It ran from real wounds.

“Kari, you’d better go get Healer Grida.” I said.

Wicked or kindly, it didn’t look like I could expect to get any rest any time soon.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 18

Sometimes being surrounded by people means nothing in terms of being alone. With Way’s departure from Vale Septem, I felt like a good chunk of my heart had gone with her. It was silly. I’d see her again the moment I crossed back over to the Dreamlit World. I knew that, and I knew I was being irrational, but for a moment all that was real was the sense that she wasn’t there anymore.

Instead of casting myself back into the Dreamlit World though, I turned to the people who were still with me and I had to smile. The looks on their faces were adorable. Even the normally stoic Brayson was gobsmacked by the tableau before us.

The ten foot high wall I’d created had been blasted down. The Devil Miasma that had been blocked behind it was nowhere to be seen. Nor was the army the Shadow Breakers had brought with them, or the demon army that we’d heard pouring through the summoning gates.

“What just happened?” Marcus asked, his eyes darting rapidly around looking for some clue to make sense of things with.

“Sir Way took care of them for us.” Kari said.

I looked at her. Really looked at her.

The people of Vale Septem couldn’t awaken as dream walkers. The temporal dissanonce between their reality and the Deamlit World was so high that they couldn’t catch hold of even a wisp of the unreal. Ever since the time loop had begun, the people of Vale had dreamed solitary dreams, visiting only their internal worlds rather than the partaking of the larger sea of creativity that lay beyond what was real.

Looking at Kari, I saw what happened to those who had enough imagination to awaken and encountered circumstances that would allow them too. Her mind was connected to the Dreamlit World, she was seeing flashes of it, partaking in the same sort of meta-awareness that I did, but without being able to touch the Dreamlit World she was floundering.

I would need to talk with her, but not in front of everyone else. Awakening was dangerous, the last thing I needed was to trigger even more people in the process of helping Kari come to grips with what she was becoming.

“She’s right. Way banished the army and the demons. She left us some protection too.” I said, gesturing to the sigil of interwoven gold and pink light that streamed up into the sky.

Even meta-awareness wasn’t enough to show me all that had occurred, but I was able to catch the gist of it.

Way had called to the Dreamlit World and brought it down to meld with the physical world for the briefest of instants. In that short time she’d cast the demon army back through the summoning gates. Where I would have done it with magic, she’d taken a more physical approach and literally stuffed each of the demons through one or more of the portals (demon bodies are magical constructs so she hadn’t spared any effort keeping them intact).

With the army of soldiers the Prelates had captured with the the Unity Blessing spell, she had been more gentle. They’d been pushed through the portals too, but only after Way had retargeted the other end of the gate to deposit them in Batsmoor, the faraway town they’d been drawn from.

With the last microseconds of time available to her, Way had then twisted the gates around into the sigil that remained in the field. It was a monument to the two of us, her and I. It wasn’t quite as strong as a sanctuary spell, or as controllable, but it would ward off any hostile magical incursions for at least a week.

“We need to get Grida out here.” Colten said. “Not that I doubt you Priestess, but when the seas change too quickly its good to have someone you know inspect the hull for leaks.”

Meaning, the sudden changes of fortune tonight had left him unsettled enough that he wasn’t going to relax until someone he trusted told him things were ok. That was fine with me. In his position I’d probably have been even less trusting.

“What about Prelate Avernicus?” Kari asked.

“Damn, I’d forgotten about him.” I said, guessing that he’d been far enough away from the action that Way hadn’t thought to collect him up either.

“He was heading for the Sanctuary spell’s heartstone.” Brayson said.

“It’s too late to beat him there but I might be able to stop him before he does any harm.” I said.

“Can we trust you with that?” Marcus asked.

“After what Sir Way just did? I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.” Brayson said. Of all of those present, he’d seen the most of what the Prelates had been like, and what they’d had in mind. For him the threat had been more real than for anyone else here. I smiled at him and nodded. He wasn’t necessarily convinced I was good for the town, just better than the alternative at the moment and I could accept that.

“Kari, I need your help again. Tell me what you see when you look to the sky.” I said. The Third Dominion was great for dealing with stone towers and keeping invading forces away. Moving places quickly though? Apart from whipping up a spell like the ‘Earthquake Express’, it wasn’t really ideal for quick transport. For that you wanted one of the other Dominions, like the Fifth, which governed the Air.

“Rivers. Lots of different rivers. At night it’s the streams of darkness that the stars float in and in the day it’s the streams of light that the clouds float below. The streams of light are close by, so they play with the winds a lot. That’s why the clouds move so quickly. The dark streams are so high up that only the big old winds blow there, so the stars move the same way all the time, except when one of the young winds from below reaches up and knocks one loose. That’s when we see the star go shooting across the sky.” Kari said and turned to listen to my story.

“Where I come from, we can sail the sky in great metal machines. The winds are so strong that even with dozens of people in them, the machines can soar miles above the ground. I remember the first time I rode in a plane, I thought its wings would have to flap really hard to keep us up, but it turned out all it took was the wind.” I said, sharing my earliest experience with flying with her.

Weaving the two stories together, I offered them as a prayer to the Fifth Dominion and felt a lightness surge in my chest. The breath inside me was alive with the Fifth Dominion’s power and with each inhalation I drew in more of it.

With the power came the other aspects that the Fifth Dominion embodied, not just Air, but Knowledge and Secrets as well. I stumbled back a step as my meta-awareness met and fused with the Fifth Dominion’s power. It was like a computer drive had been dumped into my mind.

“Woah, that’ll take a little bit to process.” I said shaking my head. The people around me, except for Kari, looked at me with confusion in their eyes. “Sorry, Prelate Temple excommunicated me. Undoing that had some unexpected benefits. I’ll deal with Avernicus before I get to that though.”

In dream speech I told the Fifth Dominion the same story I’d told it when I first arrived and once again wings of gossamer spread from my back. I was about to take flight with them when I noticed that I wasn’t alone in gaining new appendages.

From Kari’s back, wings that looked almost the same as mine sprang forth.

“I’m coming with you.” she said.

I studied her wings. They didn’t just look like mine, they were formed from the same prayer-spell. The one that I’d silently voiced to the Fifth Dominion. She’d heard the prayer and repeated it as well.

More than that, she’d understood what I was doing when I spoke to the Fifth Dominion and forged a new bond with it.

I was reminded of the panicked look in my mentor’s eyes when he first discovered how far I’d come in mastering my abilities on my own. Kari and I definitely needed to have a talk sooner rather than later.

For the time being though I just nodded my agreement and took to the air. Kari had trouble following me, though given that it was the first time she’d ever flown she managed to do a decent job of it. I was torn between blazing on ahead and hanging back to give her pointers. Prelate Avernicus remained a serious threat and while that would normally leave me inclined to race to defuse the harm he might do, in this case it argued for a more careful approach.

“I want you to stay close to me if we find Avernicus there.” I told Kari, adjusting my flight to match hers.

“I understand.” she said with a nod. “That way you can shield me like you did against Prelate Temple and Ralls.”

“You noticed that too did you?” I asked.

“Yes. Or I think I did. It just kind of makes sense. But I don’t know why?” Kari said.

“Once things have calmed down a bit I’ll explain as much of it as you want to know.” I told her.

“What wouldn’t I want to know?” she asked.

If ever there was a dangerous question to answer, that was the one. Having asked more or less than same thing myself when I awoke to my powers I couldn’t blame her though.

“Everything comes at a price, even knowledge. For now though, just know that you’re not going crazy.” I assured her.

“What’s happening to me then? I feel like I’m caught in a whirlwind, or like I’m standing outside myself.”

“You’ve been near some heavy duty magic tonight. You’ve got a talent for it too – which should be obvious given that you’re flying after spending zero time studying the Fifth Dominion.”

“Isn’t that impossible.” she asked.

“Technically? No. As a Priestess I can tell you that it’s possible for someone’s spirit to be naturally attuned to one of the Dominions. It’s rare but it means that forging a connection to the Dominion is something that happening almost unconsciously.”

“Is that how you got your magic back?”

“Nope. I straight up cheated on that.”

“Cheated how?”

“Like Way did when she got rid of the armies for us.” I said.

“And that’s something you’ll explain to me later?” Kari asked.

“Yeah.” I didn’t want to promise anymore than that. Kari was on the cusp of awakening as a dream walker. I loved being a dream walker, but it had changed everything about my life. In Kari’s case it could eradicate hers. If she stepped outside her world into the Dreamlit for one moment, she’d be swept away in time. It would be years in Vale Septem’s time before she could make it back, assuming she could even manage the return trip at all.

“What do you think Prelate Avernicus is doing?” Kari asked, changing the subject.

“Trying to work out what happened. The sanctuary spell should have been impossible to break.” I said.

“How long will that take him?”

“That’s what worries me. He’ll never figure it out. So the question is what will he do instead?” I started angling downwards as we came within shouting distance of the church.

“What do you mean?

“Let’s go inside and see. Stay close.” I said.

It had been a busy night for us but it was still early. The lights in the town were still lit and I could hear people running around several streets away. That made the dark and silent structure of the church stand out as all the more ominous. I wasn’t exactly on the best terms with the Holy Throne. Stomping into one of their strongholds wasn’t the safest of possible moves but under the circumstances the other options were worse.

I’d been half expecting a scene of devastation when we landed, but apart from the darkness, the church looked in fine shape. Which made sense. Avernicus had no reason to wreck the place. If anything he’d need it in good shape if he intended to use it for ritual work to repair the sanctuary spell.

That thought left me briefly considering whether I should wreck it myself to prevent him from using any of the prepared wards against us. Apart from the fact that there might be innocents inside though, I held off on that thought for a few other reasons, the biggest one being that I might need to use it to repair the sanctuary spell myself.

“Keep your flight spell going.” I said as I let my wings fade away. Extending my left hand above my head, I spoke a standard prayer to the Fifth Dominion and called a spark of electricity to arc between my thumb and little finger. As flashlights went it was limited but I couldn’t trust the illumination spells in the church even if they would respond to me.

We entered through a side entrance to the church and as we crossed the threshold I called out a simple “Hello”. With an electric arc in my hand, we weren’t making a stealthy entrance and if anyone, or anything, was waiting for us inside, I wanted them focused on me rather than Kari.

My careful and clever plan was met with nothing more than silence though. No one jumped out of at us. Nothing growled curses from the shadows. The church looked empty.

“The heartstone’s in the Under Chapel right?” I asked Kari.

“Yeah, the stairs down are over there.” she said, pointing to the back of the altar area where are door stood partway open. From somewhere down below light leaked up and I could just barely make out the sound of chanting.

I broke into a run, Kari following close behind me. We descended the stairs and burst into the Under Chapel to discover Avernicus waiting for us.

At his feet another man lay crumpled. From the fallen man’s eyes and mouth, I saw sparks of light rising up. Avernicus’s face was covered by the effect of the spell he was casting which had twisted it into a inhuman visage with no features save for a series of hungry mouths of of various sizes and shapes.

As ‘Priestess Jin’, I recognized what he was doing. It was a spell the Shadow Breakers had developed that let them, essentially, eat the memories of someone they’d overpowered. It left the victim a shattered, amnesiac, wreck, but it allowed the Shadow Breaker to process the memories they took from the victim with inhuman efficiency.

I didn’t have Way’s lightning reflexes and I didn’t have her physical prowess. I usually relied instead on the the magics I commanded. Where she is power incarnate, I work in more subtle mediums. For instance if she wishes to prevent someone from escaping she’ll grapple them. I’m more likely to drop them into a tar pit, or summon chains to bind them.

In this case, in my capacity as a master of the arts of subtlety, I hit the Prelate in the face with a brick.

I still had the earth shaping spell that I’d used to pull down the tower and form the wall, so pitching one of bricks from the wall of the Under Chapel  was the fastest means of breaking the memory eating spell.

For good measure I followed the first brick up with several dozen more, each launched with the force of a cannon ball. To say I got Avernicus’ attention was a bit of an understatement. Unfortunately, to say that I hurt him much would have been a bit of an overstatement. Aside from driving him back to the far end of the Under Chapel, the barrage of stones left him dusty but otherwise uninjured.

“And how would you manage to be here?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous.

I smashed another brick into his face. It may not have hurt him thanks to the defensive spells he was imbued with but it was at least disrespectful and annoying, which was sufficient for my needs.

“You seem to be under the delusion that you get to ask questions here.” I said.

“There’s no one else here. No one to save you little Priestess. I can do…” he was cut off by another brick to the face.

“You can do what I say you can do.” I said, advancing on him.

“You would challenge me?” he laughed.

“No. You’re no challenge whatsoever.” I said and advanced further down the rows of benches towards him.

“You were trapped and excommunicated. That you managed to hang on to simple earth shaping spell means nothing.” Avernicus said and with a word he called down a bolt of lightning from the ceiling that passed right through me.

I had to give him credit, working Air magic underground was tricky and a lightning bolt spell of the caliber he threw at me took a level of mastery that few achieved. When I stepped out of the bolt completely uninjured I think I managed to surprise him at last.

Unlike Avernicus I wasn’t connected to the Dominion of Earth indirectly through the Holy Throne. The Earth and I were connected on a fundamental level. Lightning was a great attack when it worked. On someone who was the next best thing to stone though, it tended to fizzle.

With one hand I reached out to manipulate the earth. The spell I wove yanked him into the ground to his waist. With my other hand, I reached out to the earth, formed a fist of stone beside him, and hammered him on the head like I was driving in a tent peg.

With a word and a wave of his hand he blasted himself free and knocked my stone fist to dust.

“Who are you?” he asked, growing visibly concerned.

Another stone fist hit him from behind, driving him face first into the ground.

“I said no questions. You’re going to give back what you stole from the pastor, restore his memories and then I’m going to decide what sort of message I want to send to the Holy Throne. If you’re very lucky, I’ll decide that it’s one that involves allowing you to retain the ability to speak.” I said.

The Prelate rose from the ground, battle ready and laughing.

“You have power, but do you think you can frighten me? No matter how strong your spells may be, I can see the weakness in you. You don’t have it in you to be terrible. You care. You want to be ‘good’. Agony and violation and despair. You fear them, but to me they are the scalpels that souls are shaped with. I’ve seen so many like you. Little heroes who learn the truth of the world only when it is torn from them in screams.” he said.

It was my turn to laugh. He’d been hiding the weaving of a spell as he’d spoken. His words forming the magic he sought as much as they were meant to disturb me. He really was a masterful caster.

And he really had no idea what I was like.

He struck out with a spell designed to burst my heart replace it with a magical hex. He had various spells that targeted his victim’s mind and could compel obedience directly. That was too simple though which was why this was his favorite. This spell left his victim in unbearable pain and also completely dependent on him for their lives. As soon as he let the spell fade, the hex would vanish and they were left with a void in their chests He could toy with they for as long as he wished, letting the hex fade out slowly so that the victim would feel every agoninzing, helpless instant.

He was lucky that I was still in a good mood. Rather than reflect the spell back on him, I caught it in my free hand and wrapped it in a dream.

“That is a tricky spell to cast. I’ll have to save it for later.” I mused, inspecting the marble of dreams that held the spell in check before popping it into my mouth and swallowing it. It went down and vanished away into my inner dream worlds, mine to do with as I pleased. It was a horrible spell, but sometimes horrible tools were useful to have on hand.

“That was dangerous wasn’t it?” Kari whispered behind me.

“Nah, I’ve got much scarier things than that inside me.” I said with a wicked smile. Several armies worth of scarier things in fact.

I did have to be careful though. The temptation to show Avernicus some of the more awful nastiness that lurked in me was fairly strong, but it was also beneath me. We are, to some extent, who we chose to be. I’d had the choice to become a true nightmare and I’d rejected it. I still had that choice, but it wasn’t what I wanted. So I set boundaries for myself. I chose to not be the terror that someone with my powers could be. It wasn’t that hard, but it did take thought and self awareness.

Avernicus didn’t know about those boundaries, but he was starting guess that he was faced with someone outside his normal realm of experience.

“How…how did you do that?” he stammered, fear beginning to crack his controlled demeanor in the form of irritation.

I closed the rest of the distance to him in a single leap. I’m not as fast as Way, but I can be quicker than an evil old high priest. Drawing on my connection to the Third Dominion, I grabbed him by his invulnerable throat and buried him halfway into the wall at his back. Then I started squeezing.

“What are you?”, Avernicus demanded, irritation turning to panic

“No question.” I reminded him and squeezed harder.

My strength was the strength of stone and earth while I channeled the Third Dominion. Avernicus’s invulnerability came from the Ninth Dominion’s aspect of endurance. If we’d been evenly matched he could have endured any amount of force I put against him but we weren’t. He drew his magics through the Holy Throne, mine came straight from the Dominion. Just beating him in a contest of raw might wasn’t enough though. I needed to send a very specific message.

The Holy Throne needed to know that Dawns Harbor was not under the protection of a prodigy level Priestess. I didn’t want them to think that I’d gotten lucky somehow, or that I was a pawn for some devil that they could banish to remove my power. I chose not to be a terror, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t people who should be afraid of me.

Avernicus’ invulnerability was his trump card. It was a near perfect defense, a “good” spell, that gave him free reign to be as offensive as he wished to be. So I took it away from him.

I couldn’t manipulate spells at a distance yet. I needed to reclaim more of the Dominions to do that. As with the spells that Prelate Ralls and Temple had thrown at me though, once a spell affected me directly, I could manipulate it with my inner dream magics.

I could have shattered it, like I did the spells that Ralls and Temple had thrown at us, but instead I peeled it off him and wrapped it up in another dream marble.

“You’re just a treasure trove of useful spells aren’t you?” I said. With the loss of his invulnerability, Prelate Avernicus found his options for responding limited. Speech was right out given that I was crushing his throat with the force of decent sized mountain. His frantic blinking might have been intended as morse code, but it looked a lot more like someone desperately trying to make sense of an impossible situation.

I offered him no further clues. Provided no explanations. I just looked him in the eyes, smiled and slowly closed my hand tighter and tighter around his neck. I wasn’t going to kill him. We both knew that. But I didn’t have to. Once I squeezed tight enough to cut off the flow of blood to his brain he’d be rendered unconscious in seconds. After that he’d be just as helpless against me as his victims had been against him.

I smiled a little more broadly as I saw understanding blossom in his eyes, followed by the realization that he already was that helpless against me.

I’d left his right hand free and so he tried the next obvious move. He tried to take Kari hostage with the same heart-bursting spell he’d thrown at me. My dream shield was already in place to protect her, but before the shield was needed I saw her reach forward and pluck Avernicus’ spell out of the air like I had.

Where I’d swallowed the spell, she flung it away like it was slimy bug. I coldn’t blame her. It was a yucky spell.

I looked back at Avernicus and my smile widened into a full toothed grin. If I wasn’t the only impossible girl in town, the Holy Throne had more to fear than Avernicus could possibly imagine. I stayed silent though and kept slowly crushing him. He looked back into my eyes, disbelief and terror warring across his face. He finally understood.

The next moment he was gone. Even unable to speak he was still enough of a spellcaster to call a personal portal to teleport him back to his own sanctum.

“What happened?” Kari asked.

“He escaped.” I said.

“Is that bad? He’ll bring the other Prelates back won’t he? Or another army?”

“Maybe. But he knows what I am now.”

“What’s that?”

“Beyond him.”

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 17

Sometimes you break something and that’s it. All the kings horses and all the kings men have exactly zero chance of putting it together again. It’s the mistake that you can’t correct, the wound that will never heal, the loss that will never be restored. Sometimes you can go on from that and sometimes you can’t. Either way what’s done is done and there’s no going back.

For as terrible as mistakes like that can be though, there’s an aspect to them that we find appealing in a twisted way. Oh, the zombie apocalypse has come to town? What a shame that all of my neighbors got eaten, but at least I don’t have to go to that Bar-B-Q that I wasn’t looking forward to! No school or work tomorrow either!

The trap is that it’s all too easy to fall into that kind of thinking even when there is something we can do to fix things.

“What do you mean Dawns Harbor is dead? We’re all still here and we haven’t even started to fight.” Colten said.

“Without the sanctuary spell it doesn’t matter.” Marcus said. “Is anyone going to want to live in a town where they’re never, ever safe? Even if we all fight now, how many of us will survive? And how many of those are going to want to, or be able to, fight tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that?”

“This is our town. We’ll fight for it to the end.” Colten said, his voice loud enough to carry to the group of fishers and pack drivers that were mobbed at the first checkpoint the Prelate’s soldiers had set up on the road out of town.

“There’s another option.” I said. “I can try to replace the sanctuary spell.”

I had no idea how I would manage it. It felt like breaking the sanctuary spell was an irrevocable mistake. Without my dream magics, I couldn’t simply imagine it back into existence. Worse, even if I could figure out how to put it back together, there was the question of where it would draw its power from.

The spell took a lot of energy. The church recharged it every year and had started it with three years worth of magical power to insure no accidents occurred. I could draw on my own dreams to provide a similar charge but what would they do once I left?

Beyond that how would they survive as the one town which didn’t rely on the church? The Holy Throne wasn’t likely to overlook a town breaking away from its grip like that. The army of five hundred they’d sent was one thing. We might be able to deal with that. The problem was the church could easily send an army ten times that size along with enough spell casters to break the sanctuary spell the hard way.

All those thoughts conspired to try convince me that there was no point to even trying to fix the sanctuary spell. Against that sea of doubts I set the only thing I could think of that was strong enough to urge me on, my curiosity over whether I could manage the restoration at all.

“We have more immediate problems.” Brayson said, pointing at the the camp that had become engulfed in smoke.

A normal fire should not have produced that much smoke. The army hadn’t arrived with enough provisions and there wasn’t enough natural material in the open field to sustain a burn. Gazing into the smoke though it was clear that there was nothing natural about its origin. From the sickly colors that crawled through it, to the way that it writhed and spasmed like a living creature that was in its death agonies, everything about the approaching wall of fog screamed its malevolence.

“What is that?” Marcus asked with undisguised horror in his voice.

“Devil Miasma. They’re calling up a hellstorm.” Colten said.

Behind him the assembled fishers and pack drivers began backing away. They’d signed up to fight spell enhanced soldiers, which was borderline suicidal, but at least they could hit the soldiers and overbear them through sheer weight of numbers. Death fog on the other hand didn’t really care how hard you hit it, or how many men you threw into it.

I reached out gestured upwards with both hands, pulling a ten foot high wall of stone out of the ground between us and the Devil Miasma.

“That should buy us a little time. Are you sure they’re building a hellstorm though? It takes a phenomenal amount of energy to unleash one even in hell.” I asked Colten. ‘Priestess Jin’ knew all sorts of esoteric magic lore like that. It fit her role as well as being what I found fascinating.

“I know. I’ve been there. Seen them do it.” Colten said.

Meta-awareness gave me a short glimpse of the story behind his words. I saw a friend he’d once known triggering a deadly magical trap. I saw Colten, Brayson, Helena and Grida riding with a Celestial Army to storm the Citadel of Weeping Rust, the fortress in hell where Colten’s friend and hundreds of innocents were being gathered as fuel for a Great Ritual. I saw the hellstorm the devils had unleashed to destroy the Celestials.

It had reduced the Citadel of Weeping Rust to a smoking crater and had spawned an army of metal mutants that numbered in the millions. Colten and his adventuring party had barely escaped with their lives. The Celestial Army had been shattered, but their sacrifice had bought the freedom of the innocents who’d been trapped in the Citadel. Or most of the innocents. Colten’s friend had perished fighting a rearguard action.

“Marcus is right. We need to get everyone out here.” Brayson said. “They can’t fight this.”

“What about the soldiers?” Helena asked.

“The Unity Blessing will protect them from possession. They’ll be a match for anything short of the a Hell Lieutenant too.” I said.

“But the only way there’s a hellstorm brewing is if there’s at least three Greater Demons in the vanguard that came through the gate.” Colten said.

“Three Greater Demons? It’s not possible for even one to come into this world!” Marcus said.

“That’s true. So how are they doing this?” Helena asked.

“The Cauldron.” Kari said. As she said the words, I was flashing on the same idea.

“She’s right. Greater Demons can enter the world, but only on ‘Unhallowed Ground’. The Eternal Cauldron isn’t a tool of the Dominions. It’s not specifically a tool of the underworld either. It’s actually a lot worse than that. Wherever it sits will share a lot of the properties of Unhallowed Ground.” I said.

“Why is this happening to us? Shadow Breakers? An Army? Demon hellstorms? Unhallowing cauldrons? What did we do?” Marcus’ words were bitter, but his voice was filled with suppressed rage that overrode his fear.

“You welcomed strangers into your town. It’s our fault that this is happening.” Way said.

“That’s not possible. Too much of this has to have been in motion before you even arrived.” Colten said.

“I suspect someone has been preparing for our coming for a while now.” I said.

“What are you.” Marcus barely held his fear and anger back from exploding into rage. “You say you destroyed the sanctuary spell. The Shadow Breakers brought an army to deal with you and now the armies of Hell are marching against us. What kind of pit fiend are you? This is a good town. We don’t deserve this.”

“They’re not pit fiends.” Kari said. She was still oddly detached. Her words weren’t an expression of belief or hope. They were spoken with the certainty that comes from direct knowledge. How she could be certain of anything about us was a mystery, but not one I had time to deal with.

“How would you know? You’re a waitress! A spell befuddled waitress.” Marcus screamed and whirled back to face me. “What have you done to her!”

I saw Colten, Brayson and Helena watching Way and I too. They’d seen a lot more about Vale Septem than anyone else here. They knew we weren’t what we appeared to be. I couldn’t tell if they were giving us the benefit of the doubt or enough time to hang ourselves though. Either way I had to chose my words carefully.

“We’re impossible.” I told him. “That doesn’t make sense. I know. It’s also unimportant. What matters is that we’re going to help you.”

“Given what you’re up against you’d be insane to trust us.” Way said. “But you’d also be insane to go up against Greater Demons and the Holy Throne on your own.”

“We’re not going to leave this town undefended, but we won’t stop anyone who wants to leave.” I said.

“Why? Why would you defend us? What do you really want?” Marcus demanded.

“You were kind to me.” Way said, referring to how the townsfolk had carried her to the bungalow after she crash landed through a mountain.

“You’re good people.” I said, thinking of Kari and Grida’s kindness as well.

“That’s not enough. People leave good people to die all the time. You want something from us. What is it!”

I thought about that. Way and I tended to get embroiled in problems pretty easily. With our powers as dreamlords it was something of a game. That said though, we could as easily have played the game as villains. No one in Vale Septem could hold us accountable for our actions, and it wasn’t like there wasn’t cruelty and darkness in our hearts. We could be terrible, far more terrible than someone like Marcus could imagine in fact.

So why did I want to help these people that I’d just met? Why did the plight of one village change Way’s mind about getting involved when we could have pursued our mission anywhere in the world?

There were a lot of answers to those question, so I picked the one I liked best.

“What could you give to someone who owned everything in the world?” I asked Marcus.

“Nothing.” he said. “They already own everything.”

“What about things that can’t be owned?” I asked. “What do you think the greatest treasure that Dawns Harbor possesses is?”

“The ocean?” Marcus guessed.

Colten cuffed him on the back of the head and rolled his eyes. It was Helena who spoke up though.

“You mean the town’s people. I’d believe that except I know how you’ve been treated. Why would you defend people like Caina?” Helena asked.

“Nobody deserves what the Shadow Breaker’s had in mind.” Way said.

“That’s a part of it. Even if there weren’t people like Kari and you folks in Dawns Harbor, what the Shadow Breakers and the Holy Throne are doing needs to be stopped.” I said.

“You can’t fight the Holy Throne. No one is that powerful.” Marcus said.

“No one can break a sanctuary spell either.” I said. Marcus caught the implications of that and paused to consider if I was being serious. That gave Helena a chance to speak.

“Defending a town that you like is one thing, but now it’s my turn to wonder; why would you fight the Holy Throne?” she asked.

“Because we’re able to. Because they need to be fought. Because the world becomes a better place when people make it one.” I offered.

“But why would you fight the Holy Throne.” Helena asked again, making the emphasis of the sentence clear.

“Oh! Because they annoyed me.” I said.

Helena laughed and relaxed.

“You really are a young girl aren’t you?” she asked.

“The jury is out on that, but this is the way I really look. And my name really is Jin.” I said.

“And what about you?” Marcus asked Way.

“What about me?” Way asked, her eye sparkled and her voice took on an otherworldly quality.

“What are you?” Marcus pressed, his voice betraying a quaver of fear.

“I’m exactly what I want to be.” she said.

Marcus looked like he wanted press the matter but Brayson stepped forward.

“That wall is nice, but it’s not going to keep out a hellstorm.” he said.

“It won’t have to.” I said, plotting out what it would take to build a barrier strong enough to hold back a hellstorm.

“With how fast they brought the Miasma up, I don’t think we can evacuate the town before the finish brewing the storm.” Brayson said.

“We won’t need to evacuate the town either. They’re not going to finish summoning it.” Way said.

I shot a glance over to her. We’d been together long enough that I had a terrible suspicion I knew what she had in mind.

“The only way that’s going to happen is if the Greater Demons are destroyed here and forced back to their home realm.” Brayson said.

“Even that won’t work.” Helena said “With the gates open they’d just reform here again.”

“Then we’ll have to destroy the gates too.” Colten said.

Brayson shook his head and frowned.

“We don’t have an army of angels backing us up this time. We won’t get close to those gates.”

“You don’t have to.” Way said. “I will.”

Brayson started to scoff at the idea but I cut him off.

“You don’t have to do this alone.” I said, reaching out to catch her arm.

Even if she didn’t hold back, the body that she wore wasn’t capable of taking on two armies and three Greater Demons. She didn’t need to share her plan with me. I could see it all too easily.

There was no chance that the people around us could fight the foes that were assembled on the other side of wall without suffering serious casualties.  People would be hurt, they’d be killed. They’d be twisted and broken and dragged back to the underworld to suffer fates far worse than death. We might prevent the demons from achieving whatever their goal was, but the price would be beyond what the town could bear to pay.

Way had the power to change that. Tapping into the Dreamlit World would tear her out of the timeline, but for the few moments that she could hang on to Vale Septem, she’d have access to her full powers.

“The Cauldron? A demon army? They were too ready for this.” Way said. “We have to make them draw back if you’re going to have time to figure out what’s going on.”

“Make who draw back?” Marcus asked.

“Everyone who’s focused on this spot and this moment in time. The church, the demons, probably a bunch of other groups that haven’t made their move yet. They all think if they strike quickly enough they can win some ultimate prize. That’s why they’re rushing their forces here so fast.” Way said.

I wanted to argue against her. I didn’t want her to go. I knew she was right though.

This sucks.” I complained in dream speech.

It does.” Way agreed.

It doesn’t have to be you that does this. I can manage it too.

I know, but you need to be here afterward. You can pull them together. You can work this out.

Maybe if I’m lucky. It’ll be harder alone though.

Almost impossible right?” Way said, a teasing tone in her dream voice.

I grinned in spite of myself. Impossible was what we did, it was who we were.

“I love you.” I said aloud and smiled. I didn’t have to be happy with the situation to be proud of Way stepping up to handle it.

She smiled back and then drew me in close and kissed me.

“I’ll be waiting for you.” she whispered as she pulled away.

I reached out to keep her by my side but in a flash of light she was gone.

From a brief instant I felt the Dreamlit World descend and touch on the waking world of Vale Septem. Way was always fast, but at the height of her power the term almost lost its meaning. Time stood still for her and light pulled over into the slow lane to let her pass.

By the time I was aware of what was happening it was already over.  The Dreamlit World was receding, carrying Way with it. The next second that she experienced would take place across the next two weeks that I would see in Vale Septem.

Way wasn’t the only one who was gone though. In the wake of the explosion of light she’d departed in, there was silence and before us an almost empty field where once there’d been two armies and several demon summoning gates.

The only feature that remained in the field was a glowing sigil. Two strands of light, one a brilliant gold and the other an electric pink, twined around each other and reaching up into the sky towards infinity.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 16

When I was a kid I took an inexplicable glee in kicking over ugly sand castles. Pretty ones, ones that people had spent time on, those I liked to stare at and imagine myself running around in. There was something precious to them, even if the next high tide was going to wash them away without a trace.

Ugly sand castles though? Ones where kids just dumped a bucket of sand over and then ran away to have fun somewhere else? Those offended me. It was like they were making an artistic statement and all they had to say was “whatever”. I could have done something with the castles, put my own touches on them to improve the looks, they were basically abandoned after all. Instead I’d stomp on them. Smush, and kick, and crush until there was nice smooth sand to start from again. It was mean, but I was little enough that people thought it was cute.

I’d stopped doing that after I lost my Dad. Looking back, I’d withdrawn into myself a lot more than I’d realized. It was hard to kick down sand castles when I felt like the rest of my world was already falling apart.

The stompy part of me wasn’t wholly lost though. It gave a tiny shout of joy as I called on the Third Dominion for a stone shaping spell and ripped down the stone tower we were trapped in.

For a moment, in the wake of the building being sucked back into the earth, the fighting froze.

Generally speaking, destroying a castle wall or a stone tower wasn’t something most Earth casters could manage and even the ones that could needed a while to cast the spell. If the Prelates were paying attention, I’d just given them a huge clue that I wasn’t actually from this world.

I didn’t care. With another twist of my hand to direct the spell I sunk both Ralls and Temple into the earth, burying them alive. It was a temporary measure at best. I knew neither one of them would take more than a minute to extricate themselves, but even thirty seconds would buy us enough time to get away from them. Add to that the confusion of the fire and smoke and we had a decent shot at escaping without them being able to follow us.

Not that escape looked like a simple option. Without the walls to keep them out, we had quite a few more soldiers to worry about. On the positive side though, smoke had flooded over us when the walls dropped so the entire area we were in was obscured.

Well now it’s just no fun.” Way complained via dream speech, sending along the visual of her and Brayson dropping the nearest dozen soldiers who’d lost sight of them when the smoke rolled in.

They were making better headway thanks to the concealment but we still couldn’t fight the army indefinitely. Not without things getting ugly fast. That meant the key question was figuring out where we could retreat to. Thanks to what I’d done to the sanctuary spell, nowhere nearby was safe anymore. Not for us, not for the army, not for anyone.

“Priestess Jin, come this way.” I heard a woman’s voice say. We hadn’t spoken much during the dinner but between memory and meta-awareness I recognized her as Helena, Watch Commander Brayson’s wife. Also the town blacksmith as I recalled, and a retired adventurer herself. Given the state of the armies camp I had to wonder if “retired” was all that accurate of a description though.

Leading Kari along with me, I called back to Way via dream speech.

Helena is here. I think we have her to thank for the fires. She’s got a safe place in mind. Can you disengage?” I asked.

The Watch Commander is already leading me out. He knows she’s here and what her plan is. I think they have a telepathy spell going.” Way replied.

Any problems with rest of the soldiers?” I asked.

Yes. They’re ruining our vacation.” she said. I could feel her smirk of confidence underlying her words.

Try not to punish them too harshly, it’s Prelate Ralls who’s at fault for what they’re doing.” I said.

I know. Figured you would handle her.

Kari saw to that. Temporarily.” I said, sending the image of Kari skewering Ralls with a thrown thunder spear.

How long do we have before she shakes that off?

We surprised them. They’re not going to want to send the troops in until they have a handle on what we can do, but they’re under serious time pressure too. So maybe an hour before they’ve pulled the camp back into shape and put together a plan? Oh, I buried the Prelates too, that might give us an extra minute or two.” I said.

You buried them? I take it you’ve given up on the ‘talk them out of this’ option?

Think it was too soon?” I asked.

Professor Haffrun might say so, but I was hoping you would do that the minute Ralls opened her mouth.” Way said.

Who knows, maybe they’ll respond to force better that reason?

With the way they treated us, I don’t think they have room to get any angrier.” Way said.

The sound of an immense detonation knocked Helena, Kari and I off our feet.

It was followed by the kind of scream that I’d heard all too often in the last two years. Something inhuman had woken up and, given the way our luck went, was almost certainly eager to eat us. I racked my brain to come up with what new monstrosity might want a piece of us and then I remembered the summoning gate.

The one that Ralls had activated. The one she’d linked to the demon world. The one that I’d broken the wards on by stepping out of the circle. The one that hadn’t been shut down. Oh and the one that wasn’t in an area with an active sanctuary spell anymore!

I swore, loudly, and stopped in place.

What was that? Are you ok?” Way asked.

I answered in dream speech and regular speech so that Kari and Helena would know what was happening too.

“The summoning gate they put us in. There’s demons breaking through it. I’ve got to go back there and shut it down.” I explained.

Two more detonations sounded nearby, but not in the same direction as the first.

“Oh you gotta be kidding me!” I complained.

“What’s wrong?” Kari asked.

“It’s too late to shut the gate down. The first demons through it were summoners. They’re making more gates.”

“They can’t get to us. The sanctuary spell will keep them out of the town.” Helena said.

“No it won’t. It’s not there anymore.” I said.

“What? How do you know?” Helena asked.

“The Shadow Breakers took control of it. I’ll explain the whole thing later. Right now we need to stop those demons.”

“Won’t they have to fight the soldiers first?” Kari asked.

“Maybe. Probably. That Unity Spell is potent. Maybe enough to prevent any possessions.” I said.

“The Prelates are still alive correct?” Helena asked. I nodded in response. “Then we’ll be fighting the army and the demons. The Prelates will use them the same way they’re using those men.” Helena said.

“The Unity Spell requires a willing subject though.” I said.

“There’s a version that doesn’t. It burns out the recipient much faster but I’ve seen them use it before.” Helena said, her expression grim.

“Would it work on Greater Demons?” I asked. Not that a Greater Demon should be able to fit through a summoning gate like the one Ralls activated but given how our day was going it made sense to ask.

“I don’t know. But if a Greater Demon is here, we have much worse problems than the Shadow Breakers to worry about.” Helena said. Greater Demons were the Generals of Hell. Meta-awareness gave me a flash of insight as I looked at Helena. She’d fought them before. Not many mortals could claim that and none who did walked away from the battles unscarred.

“What are we going to do?” Kari asked. She wasn’t panicked. She was distant. Her eyes were focused far away, but she was looking at something deep inside herself. Some loop of imagination or new connection of ideas forming. If I didn’t know better I’d say she looked like me when I was focusing on my meta-awareness.

“We’re going to fight.” Helena said.

“We who?” Kari asked, though her tone suggested that she already knew the answer.

“All of us.” Helena said.

She lead Kari and I out of the camp just as Brayson and Way emerged from the smoke via another path. Across the border to the town, on the other side of the checkpoint that the army had set up, I saw a great crowd of people waiting for us.

A small squad of soldiers still manned the checkpoint and were warning off the assembled townsfolk who had gathered about fifty yards away from them. In the soldier’s favor, the townsfolk had only ‘gathered’, meaning they hadn’t yet been incited to anything more violent than loud insults.

As a whole, the people of Dawns Harbor were a reasonably pious lot. The church provided them with a number of benefits and took from them a painful, but not crippling, portion of their wealth. It wasn’t a terrible deal as such deals went in the Empire.

That garnered a certain amount of appreciation from the populace. There were some who took their piety even further though, sometimes all the way into blind devotion. Caina, Kari’s former boss, the one who’d fired her for serving us, was among that number. Standing before us was the section of the populace from the other end of the spectrum.

Fishers and pack drivers were pious in their own way, but that piety didn’t extend far enough to cover groups like that Shadow Breakers. Somehow the Shadow Breaker’s campaign of terror against the populace hadn’t inspired a lot of loyalty in those who’d been most affected by it. Hard to believe but people are funny like that sometimes.

The soldiers were so focused on the crowd in front of them that they didn’t even notice Way and Brayson approaching them. Roughly two seconds later the last of soldiers was a twitching, tasered, non-threat on the ground. It hadn’t been a fight and it hadn’t been fair. They were still alive and salvageable though so any complaints they might have had about being bushwhacked they could take up with someone who cared.

“I thought you were going to ‘talk’ with them.” Colten said. He’s been one of the two leaders of the crowd. The other was Marcus. They’d stepped forward to talk to the soldiers while the crowd that came with them lingered safely outside of easy spear throwing range.

Apparently the two of them had convinced the fishers and the pack drivers that rather than getting drunk and fighting each other, they could get drunk and fight the army. How they made that sound like a bright idea was beyond me. My diplomatic skills  certainly weren’t up to the task, but then they’d both had a lot of practice manipulating these particular crazy people.

“We did.” Brayson said.

“That’s a lot of commotion for a conversation.” Colten observed.

“They said some things I disagreed with.” I said.

“We have a problem. Priestess Jin says they’ve opened a demon gate.” Helena cut in.

“Several actually. Summoner demons were the first ones through the gate Prelate Ralls activated.” I said.

“Demons? The sanctuary spell will shred them.” Colten scoffed.

“No it won’t. It’s gone.” I said.

“I was afraid of that. The Prelates took control of it, but they messed it up while they were holding us with it.” Brayson said.

Colten growled and put his years collecting profanities as a sailor to work.

The sanctuary spell was the carrot that the church had held over the town since it’s inception. It was one bit of church magic that even the most rebellious of souls had to admit was worth the cost. It didn’t excuse the church’s excesses but for Colten and people like him it was the reason they had avoided striking back against the injustices which they’d seen for years.

It was really and truly tempting to allow them to believe that the Prelates had broken the sanctuary spell. It would unite the entire town, and get them all on “our side”. We’d be seen as heroes for opposing the Shadow Breakers, rather than eyed with suspicion the way we had been. It wouldn’t even entirely be a lie. It was the Prelates fault that the sanctuary spell had been broken.

“They weren’t the ones who destroyed it.” I said. “I was.”

The lie was oh so tempting, but I knew the truth would come out eventually and when it did, it would destroy any trust Colten and the rest had in us.

“What? Why?” Helena breathed beside me. The rest were silent.

“Because the Prelates were going to use it to kill us all.” Kari said.

“Kill us?” Colten asked.

“Actually it was worse than that. They took control of the sanctuary away from the Watch Commander and were going to “purify” him using an Eternity Cauldron.” I said, drawing the name of the abominable magic item from meta-awareness. “Then they were going to do the same to Kari, Way and I and then everyone else in town.”

“What’s an Eternity Cauldron?” Colten asked.

“You’ve seen the Blessing of Unity that Prelate Ralls used on the soldiers? How it gave them all her mind and will? The cauldron does the same, except it does it permanently.” I said.

“That’s insane!” Helena said.

“It is. As bad as they are, they couldn’t do something like that to an entire town. People wouldn’t stand for it.” Colten said.

“Yes they would.” Kari said. “The church would just say that the governors of the town had been corrupted by dark forces and had spread the possession through the rest of the town.”

I saw a sick expression flicker over the faces of the adults present.

“They’ve done that before haven’t they?” I asked, guessing that it was true.

“Gold Wood.” Marcus said, joining the conversation.

“That was different. They burned those people.” Colten said, but his voice lacked certainty.

“Did they? Gold Wood wasn’t a large village and no one has been allowed in there since the purge.” Marcus said. “But that’s not important, the point is they’ve destroyed whole villages before.”

“A village is one thing, but there’s over two thousand people living here. How would they do that?” Colten asked.

“With an army of five hundred enspelled soldiers, three Prelates and control of the sanctuary spell.” I said. It made a terrible kind of sense. With the forces they had, they would easily be able to “process” a town of two thousand through the Cauldron, even if the townsfolk were warned and resisted.

“Why though? It doesn’t make sense.” Colten said.

“They need an army.” Way said.

“It looks like they have an army.” Colten pointed out.

“An expendable one.” Way added.

“How do you figure that?” Colten asked.

“They brought a tool capable of making combat golems out of ordinary people.” Way said.

“How could an entire town be expendable?” Helena asked, appalled at the thought.

“If they felt that the town was lost anyways, or if whatever they’re actually after would mean the difference between them staying in power or losing it. People can find ways to justify doing almost anything under those circumstances.” I said.

“Whether or not that’s true, it doesn’t change our immediate problem. Without a sanctuary spell, we don’t have a chance.” Brayson said.

“We can fight the demons.” I said.

“It’s not the demons.” Marcus said. “It’s every creature from every dark corner. Tonight. Tomorrow. For all the days to come. There’s no more safety here. We can’t stay. What happens with the army is irrelevant now. Dawns Harbor is dead.”

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 15

Fire makes a great distraction. It can be beautiful and enticing when it’s far away. When it’s up close and personal though it commands the attention of a very powerful part of the mammalian brain. That part exists to send a clear message to the rest of the mammal: “get the hell away from that”.

Even with their conscious minds restamped by Prelate Ralls, even with their fear response deeply suppressed, the soldiers outside the tower still reacted to the fire instinctively. Given that the commotion bought us time, I had to believe that the fire was both deliberate and set by someone we knew.

“We should leave before Helena decides to get unpleasant about things.” Brayson bellowed out as he parried a thunder spear and slid beneath the soldier’s outstretched arm.

“Working on it.” I shouted back. It didn’t surprise me that Helena had followed us and was working to get us out of this jam. She’d made it perfectly clear that she wasn’t letting her husband go up against the Shadow Breakers without her. It was a little surprising that she’d managed to be so stealthy that I hadn’t noticed her, but my senses weren’t superhumanly sharp and meta-awareness was fickle about volunteering that sort of information.

There was only one door into the stone tower and it was filled with soldiers fighting to get inside. That was one problem. The bigger problem though was the cauldron that sat in the middle of the room. There was no telling what destroying it here might do but I didn’t like the idea of leaving it behind either.

Prelate Temple was momentarily down fighting off the effects of the agony spell that I’d hurled back at him. Beside him, Prelate Ralls was dealing with the thunder spear that Kari had hurled through her. Without magic that would have been a fatal wound, but not instantly so. I was glad that Ralls did have magic though. It meant that Kari hadn’t done anymore than inconvenience the Prelate. There might be a little blood on Kari’s hands but it was no more than you’d get from scraping your knuckles by punching a bully.

I almost wanted to give the Prelates a few punches myself for good measure. The fight was tipped in our direction for the moment, but the tide was going to start swiftly turning against us.  The Prelates were both recovering quickly, as were the soldiers that Way and Brayson had stunned.  If they recovered before we got out of here, it wouldn’t mean that we would lose the fight, it would mean that we’d have to stop holding back which would be a lot worse.

I watched Way dance up one of the thunder spears and use its wielder as a springboard to avoid a trio of thrusts that had been aimed at her. She flipped on mid-air, catching two of the soldiers with her lightning sword. As they fell, she used their bodies for cover and swept another soldier off his feet. He rolled away, immediately shielded by his compatriots who pressed their own attacks on Way.

“How are we going to get out here?” Kari asked. She’d taken another thunder spear out of the hands of one of the stunned soldiers and was holding it out defensively to ward the fighters away from us. The surge of the fight had pushed our backs to the wall farthest from the Prelates. I suspected that was the primary reason that Kari was still holding the spear rather than playing pin cushion with Prelate Ralls some more.

“Normally I’d have Way knock open a hole in the wall for us, but it looks like she’s a little busy.” I said.

“We’re trapped here?” Kari asked and coughed on the smoke that was starting to fill the room.

“Not exactly. I just need a few seconds.” I said. “Keep me safe ok?”

I didn’t actually expect that Kari would last more than a half second in a fight against one of the soldiers but I also didn’t expect that either Way or Brayson would let any of the soldiers get within ten feet of her.

Secure in that particular gamble, I closed my eyes and knelt on the floor, drawing a quick circle around myself.

Prelate Temple had excommunicated me and broken my connection to the Dominions. It took years to achieve the necessary spiritual centering to successfully swear yourself to a one Dominion. As a result, divesting someone of those connections was a time consuming process as well.

Normally the priest or priestess to be excommunicated would be held in mystical bondage, forced to wait for one of the Dominion’s holy days. At sunset on the holy day, a ritual would be performed and as the holy day ended, so too would the bond between the defrocked and the Dominion.

For someone like me, who’d be sworn to all Twelve of the Dominions, it could take up to a year for the High Holy Days for each Dominion to roll around. Those were the days  that were aligned the most strongly with each Dominion, which meant their sunsets were also the most mystically significant.

Somehow Prelate Temple had bypassed all of that though. A thrice uttered pronouncement and, poof, my connections were gone. That was impossible as far as I knew, which meant I needed to see what was really going on.

Meta-awareness was maddeningly vague when it came to providing the details I wanted. Instead of a rich narrative, I got flashes of insight.

I saw Prelate Temple kneeling before a blindingly vast light. I saw a mark appear on his forehead. I saw fire raging out of his mouth and eyes. With each image there was a hint of meaning too.

The blinding light was the Holy Throne, or the man who sat upon it. The mark that appeared on the Prelate’s forehead was the mandate of the Holy Throne, empowering the Prelate with his mission and his authority, power enough to violate all sorts of laws that defined Vale Septem’s reality. And lastly there was the fire, a symbol of how the light of the Holy Throne was consuming him.

I reached out to the last image, freezing it in place and wrapping it in darkness. When the darkness had dimmed the fires out, I looked into the vision-Prelate’s eyes.

“Are you just a victim in this too?” I asked him in my dreamscape.

In answer he pulled his hand aways back from his chest, shielding a dim light within them. His heart burned with the same fire that I’d seen consuming him.

I frowned. I didn’t like it, but that wasn’t going to change the fact that Prelate Temple wasn’t like the ensorcelled soldiers. He hadn’t been tricked into accepting servitude to the Holy Throne. He’d made his choice knowingly. He’d coveted the power that was offered and had known the price he would pay for it.

I could “save him” and “turn him away from the Holy Throne” except he wouldn’t really be himself anymore. The choice he’d made was a fundamental one. If I changed that choice for him with dream magic, rewrote his reality to be the way I wanted it to be, he’d become no more than a weak reflection of me. Just another kind of puppet.

I pushed those thoughts aside. I’d deal with him, but not like that.

Instead I returned to the image of the Holy Throne and the man who sat on it. The figure was lost in a stellar mass of light and flame in the vision, the great light show serving to obscure his form and face.

I’d turned my meta-awareness on Prelate Temple, so I saw the man who sat on the Holy Throne as the Prelate truly saw him. Power, deep and unfathomable. Whether it was the Throne or the man upon it, I couldn’t tell, but either way I could see that I was looking at the source of the church’s powers.

When young priests and priestesses learned their prayers and aligned their spirits with the Dominions they did so through the auspices of the church. It hadn’t always been like that. Just for the last few decades. Just since the time loop began.

It was another piece to the puzzle, but I couldn’t see how it fit in. What I could see was that the path the church had set for communing with the Dominion’s wasn’t the only way it could be done.

“Kari, I need your help.” I said, opening my eyes.

“What do you need me to do?” she asked, glancing back briefly so that she wouldn’t miss any soldiers that tried to move towards us.

“I need you to tell me a story. And I need to tell you one too.” I said.

“A story? Now?” she asked.

“Yes, about the earth, about the Third Dominion.” I said.


“Because I think I can reconnect to it.” I said.

“But why a story?”

“Because that’s what stories do. They connect us to things and places and people that we’ve never met or been a part of.”

“But I’m not a priestess. I don’t know anything about the Third Dominion.” Kari said.

“Not as a great big magical thing, but it’s a part of you. You’re a part of it. You know the earth. You’ve played in the mud. You’ve eaten the fruits that have grown from the soil. Every piece of you is a part of this world.” I said.

“I don’t know…” she stammered.

Admittedly this was not the most conducive environment for spiritual reflection but sometimes we make due with what we’ve got.

“When I was little I thought that diamonds came from the ground, like any ground, anywhere. I figured people probably had to dig really deep for them, so I told my parents I was going to be a diamond miner and make us all rich. They thought it was funny until they found me in a hole I’d dug that was deeper than I was tall. I was crying because I’d worked for so long and I hadn’t found any diamonds at all.” I said.

That was one of my earliest memories. I could still feel the soft dirt filtering through my fingers as I shifted it for diamonds. I could still smell the clean, earthy scent of all the soil I’d dug up. Looking back, I knew the hole couldn’t have been that big, but at the time I thought I’d dug halfway to the center of the Earth.

“I never did anything like that.” Kari said “But I did find a secret tunnel once. I was out in the woods looking for dewberries and I fell into a pit. Except it wasn’t a pit, it was a tunnel and the ceiling had broken away. It wasn’t natural either. The stone was polished and there were these amazing carvings that I saw. I know it’s silly, but I thought I heard a minotaur in there, so I climbed up the carvings and ran all the way back to town and then kept going to the beach. I thought if I was in the water the minotaur wouldn’t be able to find me.”

I smiled and thought of the minotaur that I knew. In hindsight, it would have been nice to have her along for this “vacation”. Since she wasn’t here though, I was going to have to deal with things myself.

I closed my eyes one more time (which also helped keep out the smoke that was getting a little thick) and let my imagination flow back over Kari’s story. It was simple, like mine had been, but that was ok. Earth could be a simple thing.

The land could hold many secrets, geology showed us that there was a complexity to the Earth that rivaled anything the stars had to offer but, for all that that, earth could be very simple too.

I followed that thought and reached out to the Third Dominion. It wasn’t the Dominion of secrets, or deception or anything esoteric. It was the Dominion of Earth and I was already spiritually centered enough so I simply called to it and it simply answered.

Opening my eyes I felt a surge of triumph and pride. Cheating with dream magic was all well and good, but the connection I had to the Third Dominion was one I’d woven honestly. Better still it was unfettered by any connection to the Holy Throne. They could excommunicate me all they wanted, I’d found my own communion with one of the fundamental powers of the world.

“Time to go!” I shouted, more for Kari and Brayson’s benefit than Way’s.

Then I blasted the roof of the stone tower to tiny grains of sand and ripped the walls down around us, burying them back into the ground.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 14

There was an abomination before me. That’s not a term I use lightly, but, in the case of items that are designed to utterly destroy anyone who is placed inside them, I find it to be reasonably accurate. Full accuracy would require the use of a long string of expletives as well.

“In this holy vessel your souls shall be cleansed of all that has separated you from the light of the church. You shall be reborn, filled new purpose and vision. Where sin and darkness has twisted your soul, the light of the Holy Throne shall place within you a heart that is eternally incorruptible.” Prelate Temple preached.

His blather was lost on pretty much everyone else in the room. The other Prelates were unconcerned with the state of our souls. Avernicus in particular eyed us with a look that said he was all too aware that the Cauldron was not a tool to washout sin. The soldiers, by virtue of the fact that their current minds were copies of Prelate Ralls shared her disinterest. That left only Brayson, Kari, Way and I as an audience and none of us were inclined to believe a Shadow Breaker’s lies.

Prelate Temple’s diatribe did have one positive benefit though. It gave me time to examine the Cauldron and understand what it was.

The most obvious thing was that it wasn’t a part of this world. Someone, or something, had brought a piece of dreamworld technology into Vale Septem. Which, in a sense, was great news. Way and I had been sent to Vale Septem in order to help unravel the mystery of how it came to be in its current state. Sitting before me was a giant cauldron-shaped piece of that puzzle. In a weird way I coveted the Cauldron because of that. Whatever its purpose was, it was a string I could pull on to discover more about the one who brought it here.

A deadly, dangerous string though. There wasn’t much that could actually harm Way or I. Technically the cauldron wouldn’t be able to destroy us like it could anyone else here but being cast out into Oblivion was not a trivial problem to overcome. Especially since I suspected the cauldron was set up to do more than merely destroy us.

My meta-awareness usually looked only at what was real. The “unreal” was more difficult to focus on. It wasn’t there, it wasn’t a ‘thing’ the way even real ideas were, so any information about it was both true and false and most values in between. In short, it hurt my head to think about it too much. Figuring out the cauldron’s story was worth the headache though, so I gave it my full and undivided attention while Temple spoke.

What I saw when I looked past the surface wasn’t a cauldron at all but a writhing twisting mass of contradictions. The cauldron was only partially unreal. Bits of real magic and real cauldrons were twisted inside a shell of unreality, set to capture and reform the essence that was shredded away from anyone who was submerged in it. Oblivion would rip them apart and the real magics would reweave heart, mind and body into little more than an automata.

An incredibly powerful automata, one that was able to follow complex instructions and execute detailed battle plans, but without any of the personality or will of the person whose essence was used to construct it. Perfectly loyal, perfectly subservient, incapable of sin.

It had to be destroyed.

“Put the Watch Commander in first. His soul is the most tainted.” Prelate Ralls suggested. Not that the status of Brayson’s soul had anything to do with Ralls’ desire to see him go first. Brayson had angered her most and Ralls was still under the mistaken impression that we three “children” were looking to him to protect us. Seeing our “big hero” converted to a willing slave of the Prelates was about the worst punishment she could think of for us.

Her imagination was really lacking.

I closed my eyes and felt the silence spell that she’d bound us with. It was a masterful working. Given that she’d been able to cast it almost effortlessly, Ralls clearly used it often. It was an extremely difficult feat but not surprising that she could manage it. As a Third Prelate, her skill at weaving magic was superb. On par with the best in the world. It was time she learned who she was dealing with though.

With a thought, I shattered the spell and sent a surge of magical backlash at Ralls like an open handed slap across the face.

By excommunicating me, the Prelates had disrupted my connections to the Twelve Dominions. That had taken away my priestly magical powers. As a dreamlord though I didn’t need magic to be powerful. Vale Septem’s odd time acceleration limited my ability to change the world around me, but I held my own dreams within me and those were always mine to control. Affecting magic that were affecting me was as easy as imagining what I wanted to happen and suggesting to the world that my view was the more real one.

“You’re wrong, Watch Commander Brayson is far from the first person you should worrying about.” I said as I cracked the knuckles on my left and right hands.

“Demon child! Shadow spawn!” Prelate Ralls eyes were wide with shock. From everything she knew, it was four flavors of impossible that I’d been able to break her silence spell. The magical face slap actually made it five flavors but she’d probably lost count by that point.

“You have no idea how far off base you are.” I laughed. My history with “shadow” powers was not one that could be called “amiable” by any stretch of the imagination.

“Fool! I shall cast you out. You have no place in this realm!” Ralls screamed and I felt that sanctuary spell that warded Dawns Harbor close on me like a vice. There was a cracking sound and I looked down to see that circle we were contained within had been converted to a summoning gate.

Ralls was trying to literally send us to hell.

I tried to move out of the circle but the Sanctuary spell had bound my limbs. I looked over at Way. She wasn’t moving either.

“Right. This has gone far enough.” I said, a cold anger rising in me.

Grida had made us a part of the town, had extended the sanctuary spell to include Way and I. That let me feel it inside me as well as wrapped around me like a set of chains. In my mind’s eye I followed the weave of the sanctuary spell back to its source.

The heartstone of the spell sat within the church building that overlooked the town from one of the highest hills. It was a green-blue gem of some variety native to Vale Septem. All of the magic bought from the Holy Throne to sustain the spell glittered in the gem’s core.

Until I shattered it.

I couldn’t have done that from a distance, but with the spell touching me I had all the connection I needed. In breaking the part of the sanctuary spell that permeated me, I broke it all, right back to its source. By all rights it was something I shouldn’t ever have done, but given the choice between remaining a helpless victim of the Shadow Breakers verse fighting for our freedom, it was an easy decision to make.

“The sanctuary…someone at the church has destroyed the spell’s heartstone! They have accomplices!” Prelate Rall screamed, jumping to the only conclusion that made any rational sense to her.

“Leave the accomplices to me.” Avernicus said. With a series of intricate gestures he folded to the ground and rose back up transformed into something that looked like a giant pterodactyl. With a beating of reptilian wings he was outside of the stone tower and off to investigate our supposed accomplices.

To be fair to the deluded Prelates, the insults we’d given them were nothing compared to the unbelievable sin of destroying a sanctuary spell. Not to mention how hard doing that would be for anyone who wasn’t cheating reality with dreamlord magics like I was.

“Can you hold them until Avernicus is back to purify them?” Temple asked Ralls.

“No. She can’t.” I said, and stepped through the boundary of the summoning gate.

The three nearest soldiers reacted instantly, Ralls’ rage burning in their eyes as they thrust their spears out to impale my heart and lungs. A thundercrack knocked them all away and flattened everyone else who was outside the circle. I shook my head to clear my hearing and saw Way standing before me, the sword of lightning in her hands once more.

Without the sanctuary spell for Way to worry about, I had the sense that the Prelate’s soldiers were about to have a fairly bad day. On the other hand there were several hundred of them to contend with, and they were only puppets, innocent of any personal wrongdoing despite how dangerous they might be.

Way had that fact in mind too. Her first attack came immediately on the heels of guarding me. With a sweep of the her blade, she reduced the nearest soldier to a spasming unconscious body. I’d seen her use similar attacks before. They packed a lot of punch but wore off swiftly as well. A normal person would be down for an hour or so and wake without any serious discomfort. Against the enspelled soldiers I guessed each stunning blow of her blade would buy us a couple of minutes at most. Two minutes is a long time in a fight though.

As much as I might have hated the Blessing of Unity spell, I had to admit that it was effective. Way managed to stun only three of the soldiers before the rest were on their feet and pressing her back. If the outcome of the fight hadn’t been so critical, I might even have enjoyed watching it.

The soldiers were enhanced with speed, strength and coordination beyond anything a normal human could manage. Way was far from being a “normal” human too though.

The soldiers held a tight formation, closing her in and supporting each other with their spears. Whatever side she faced away from became a path of victory for the soldiers. In the tightening circle they kept her dancing back and forth, warding off blows from all corners.

That’s where the beauty of the fight came from. Where the soldiers moved with precision and speed, Way danced with a liquid grace that made it look like the soldiers around her were standing still. A parry to her right was made in time with a leg sweep to her left. When one of the soldiers blocked her blow with his spear she slid in close to him and spun him around to act as a shield against the rest before backflipping away and slicing him along the back with the tip of the lightning sword.

For each soldier that she stunned through, two more entered the stone tower and took up positions behind their comrades. She was being gentle, fighting for them as much as she was against them, but eventually that would have to change. As the soldiers she’d stunned started recovering she was going to have switch to more disabling blows. Ones that their enhanced healing wouldn’t be able to shrug off. One’s that would do permanent damage to them.

The necessity of that was delayed when four of the soldiers were disabled at once. As it turned out the lightning spears they were carrying weren’t enspelled to work only for them and in Watch Commander Brayson’s hands the spears were every bit as effective as Way’s lightning sword.

The two of them didn’t have the supernatural coordination the soldiers enjoyed from the Blessing spell. I knew that, but I wouldn’t have believed it to watch them fight together. Neither was actually precognitive but both seemed to be able read the battle and their foes responses to a degree that allowed them to not only predict the soldiers’ actions but also what each other would be doing in response to those actions.

The Prelates weren’t used to this kind of fighting. Their preferred targets were ones that had been rendered helpless long before they arrived. Even so though they could see that the battle was one where the outcome was very much in doubt. Even if we held no further surprises, the effort it would take for the soldiers to get us under control would burn out more of the soldiers remaining fighting time than they could afford to spend.

Prelate Temple attempted to join the battle first with a simple binding spell. I really didn’t want to think of the sort of uses he would normally put a spell like to, so I shattered it the same way I had Ralls’ silence spell.

He tried an agony spell next. Technically it was a blasphemous inversion of the Ninth Dominion’s aspect of “Endurance”. Even with eyewitness testimony though, I somehow doubted I’d be able to arrange for the conviction of a Prelate through the Ecclesiastical Court though.

I shattered that spell as well and flung the shards of it back at him. Prelate Temple didn’t enjoy receiving as much as he did giving as it turned out and he collapsed with a scream of terror and pain.

Since I wasn’t visibly casting counterspells, Prelate Ralls didn’t know what to make of what was happening. I took Kari’s hand and called on one of my dreams to shield us from any physical attacks Ralls or her soldiers might throw our way.

Instead of a physical assault though, Ralls went for a mental attack, summoning a wave of crippling fear designed to break our minds and leave us collapsed in horror at the enormity of her power. I didn’t even need to counterspell that one. Instead I just altered my dreamshield to share my perspective on it with Kari.

As the fear spell rolled over us, Way and Brayson merely shrugged and, essentially, ignored it. Ralls’ spell was powerful, but both of them had trained their minds every bit as much as their bodies. If anything Brayson was probably less affected than Way, having fought through similar effects many times as an adventurer.

For Kari and I the experience was different. The magical fear washed into us like a stream but in the dreamshield it met an ocean that was vaster than anything Prelate Ralls could imagine. She could have achieved a similar effect by screaming “Boo” at us from across the room. We didn’t literally point at her and laugh, but the temptation was there for both of us.

The Prelate went to cast another spell, but I never found out what it was. She was cut off by one of the fallen soldier’s thunder spears burying itself in her stomach. I tracked the flight of the spear back and saw that Kari had apparently found one and had a much better throwing arm than I would have guessed.

Kari lifted another spear, perhaps to finish the job, but the attack on the Prelate had brought us onto the soldier’s threat list. That didn’t work out well for them though since taking their attention off of Way and Brayson meant they were stunned nearly instantly by blows from Way’s lighting blade and Brayson’s two thunder spears.

More soldiers surged in but I noticed it was not just to join the fray. They were fleeing from the smoke that was billowing outside the entrance.

Someone had lit the camp on fire!

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 13

People like to divide things into “light” and “dark” as a shorthand for “good” and “evil”. When they do that with magic, they tend to lump protective spells into the “light” category. Few people enjoy the idea of being hurt, so protection sounds inherently good. Life isn’t that simple though.

Power rarely has an inherent bias towards good or evil. Healing magics can be turned to horrifying ends in the hands of a torturer and death magics can provide closure and healing by calling up the shades of the departed to help resolve the issues that linger in their passing. In both cases, and is so many others, the key lies in how the power is used.

I’d learned that in Diplomat school, but it was the practical object lesson which the Shadow Breakers were providing that I knew was going to stick with me.

The Sanctuary spell that shielded Dawns Harbor should have been a “good” spell. It should have protected the citizens of the town from those who sought to harm them. In the Shadow Breakers’ hands though it had become a weapon. With our offensive capabilities suppressed, the Breakers were able to apprehend us with little trouble.

I can still fight.” Way said to me via dream speech.

Not without damaging the Sanctuary spell.” I pointed out.

If they’re using it against us, does that matter?” she asked.

Unfortunately, yes. It’s still protecting the town. Without it, they’re as doomed as they’d be if we let the Shadow Breakers do whatever they wished.” I said.

We can’t let them separate us, especially not from Kari or Brayson.” Way said.

Agreed.” I said with some reservations. If Way damaged the Sanctuary spell there was less than no chance that the church would see fit to repair it, but losing track of Brayson or Kari could be a lot worse than that.

“This is a violation of all legal custom.” Brayson growled as the soldier slapped a set of manacles on him.

“The tribunal will determine that.” one of the soldiers said, speaking with Prelate Ralls’ voice.

“Usurping control of the Sanctuary spell is not a matter for a heresy tribunal to determine.” Brayson insisted.

“Did you think you were beyond the reach of the church’s law? Or do you think that when we find corrupted governors we are bound to leave that corruption place to work further ruin upon the Empire?” the Prelate asked.

“The Sanctuary spell is a sacred trust. Only those pledged and bonded to the service of the community are allowed to manipulate it.” Brayson said as the soldiers around us started to lead us off. Neither Way, nor Kari, nor I was wearing obvious weaponry, so Ralls apparently felt that we weren’t threatening enough to warrant manacles of our own. That puzzled me since the Shadow Breakers didn’t tend to err on the side of being unnecessarily merciful.

I looked at the camp as they lead us through it and the overwhelming impression I had was one of sloppiness. Judging from the bustle and chaos around us, the sloppiness didn’t come from apathy but rather urgency. The Shadow Breakers had scrambled to get an armed force out here but whatever crisis they were responding to was still unfolding.

“And how long will it take you to assemble the tribunal?” I asked.

“You are being brought before it now.”  Prelate Ralls said.

“A proper tribunal for a town governor requires twelve judges, drawn from the local governors and the militia garrison commanders.” Brayson growled.

“Or, the direct voice of the Holy Throne.” Prelate Ralls said.

“If the Holy Throne were here you wouldn’t need these men to compel the people of my town.” Brayson replied.

“We speak with the mandate of the Holy Throne. We are the direct representatives of the Holy Throne’s will. You and this town may be so far lost in sin that you can no longer see that but justice will be done upon you nonetheless.” Ralls said as we arrived at a large stone tower.

It had been raised from the land through raw mystical might. It’s creators had a lot of magical skill but virtually no care for aesthetics. The tower was a circle of stone, smooth and uniformly dirt brown. There were no windows in it, nor embellishments. At its crown there was simply the end of the cylinder with no thought given even to militarily advantageous designs.

Ralls led us into the tower through the single opening that had been blasted into it’s side. As conjured dwellings went, it lacked, well, pretty much everything. Light was provided by torch spells, seating was non-existent and the interior space of the room wasn’t divided in any way. Basically the only reason for it’s height was to look impressive to people who didn’t know how to work Earth magic.

“As one of the town’s governors you should be tried first Watch Commander Darius Brayson. By expunging the taint from you, we shall loosen its hold on the rest of the town that much more rapidly.” Prelate Ralls said, a smirk of triumph on her face as she lead Brayson to stand in a circle that had been inscribed in the floor.

I recognized the design from my meta-awareness memories. It was an anti-magic ward, designed to neutralize not only spell casting but also the enchantments on any magical items the subject might possess. Normally removing those items from someone’s possession was enough to prevent their use but between enchanted tattoos that couldn’t be removed and soulbound rings that could respond to the owners will from anywhere on the planet something as simple as a strip search wasn’t sufficient to guarantee that the defendant didn’t have access to magical powers or enhancements.

“Disrobe.” Ralls commanded Brayson as the majority of the troop of soldiers who had escorted us in surrounded the circle. With the circle in effect there was no reason to demand that of him, except for the psychological one. She wanted him to feel helpless.

“He is not required to.” Way said. “A knight can be asked to peace bond or surrender their weapon by a legitimate authority but only their direct commander can strip them of their armor.”

“This is our court, child. Our laws are the ones that apply here!” Prelate Ralls hissed.

“Are they not all part of the one set of laws? Derived from the Twelve Dominions? Or do you wish to say that the greater body of law that rules the Empire hails from merely mortal wisdom?” I asked. The truth was that the Dominions had never set down laws for mortals, but the Holy Throne had made it a point of doctrine that all of the laws which governed the empire stemmed from the “divine wisdom and guidance gifted to the church through the grace of the Dominions”. It was a very roundabout way of saying ‘yes, mortal men and women wrote these laws, but they’re perfect because the gods told us the are.”

As a side benefit, I’d once again pointed out that Ralls was blaspheming. It seemed to be a running theme of my dealing with agents of the church. Probably because they were such staggering hypocrites.

“Unless you wish to join the Watch Commander, you would wise to hold your tongue Novice.” Ralls spat at me.

“How is that possibly supposed to frighten me? Not five minutes ago you said we were all already condemned. Am I supposed to hold some delusion that if I let you victimize a poor old man that will somehow ingratiate me enough to you that you’ll let me go?” I asked.

“Poor old man?” Brayson said, his voice affronted.

“You are a fool if you do not plead whatever clemency we see fit to grant to your soul.” Ralls said. Her jaw was set in a trembling rage. Noone, pretty much ever, talked back to her the way we had. People were far too afraid of her power to do so.

In Brayson’s case, his defiance came from a deep well of courage. He’d seen terrible things in his life as an adventurer and he’d managed to survive them. Ralls was more powerful than he was both in a physical sense and judicial one, but he’d fought more powerful enemies enough times to know that simply caving in before them wasn’t necessarily the best option.

In a sense, I was more afraid of Ralls than he was. I wasn’t worried about what she could do to me, but venturing out of the bungalow had been a bit of a mistake. I’d let myself start to care about Dawns Harbor and the people in it. Whatever happened here would have an impact on them, one that I was increasingly beginning to suspect shouldn’t have happened in the normal flow of time. Or in other words, their lives were about be upended and it would pretty much be entirely my fault.

“I’m pretty sure I know how much mercy there is in your heart, so let’s cut to the chase shall we?” I said and started pushing through the ring of soldiers to join Brayson in the circle.

That Way followed me came as no surprise at all.  She was my calmer, braver, better half. She wouldn’t let me stand alone anymore than I’d allow her too. What did come as a bit of surprise was that Kari pushed past the soldiers to join us as well.

She’d been all but invisible thanks to Brayson commanding Ralls attention. I’m pretty sure she could snuck out of the tower and none of the Prelates or soldiers would have cared. From the look of anger in her eyes though, sneaking away into the night was not an option.

“Fine. Then you shall all be judged together.” Ralls said.

“By whom?” Brayson asked. “You are clearly the prosecutor of our case, so you cannot be judge and executioner as well.”

“Those shall be our roles.” a black bearded, pale skinned man said. He looked young compared to the balding, liver spotted man beside him. Both wore the same Prelate robes and insignia that Ralls did.

“Avernicus, I see reports of your demise at the battle of Temple’s Peak were somewhat exaggerated.” Brayson said, address the older of the two men.

“One can never control such rumors.” Avernicus said in a rasping voice, a cold smile on his lips.

“Hope springs eternal.” Brayson observed. It wasn’t technically an insult but I don’t think anyone missed Brayson’s meaning there. “Who’s your companion.”

“This is Prelate Temple. He shall be acting as the judge in these case.” Prelate Avernicus said.

“And you’ll take the executioner’s task. Good, nice to know it’ll be someone with a lot of practice at it.” Brayson said.

“Someone has to stir the pot.” Avernicus agreed. Something told me there was more to that reference than there appeared to be, but meta-awareness had nothing to offer me.

“Time is short.” Prelate Ralls snapped. “I accuse these four of being tainted by dark powers, resisting the lawful orders of a Prelate, multiple count of blasphemy and working to harbor an agent of the apocalypse.”

I did a double take. An agent of the what now?

“Has the agent been discovered here?” Prelate Temple asked, eagerness twisting off his breath as he spoke.

“No. Possibly due to their interference. The delays they have caused may have allowed the agent to escape.” Prelate Ralls said.

“Damn.” Temple scowled and looked at us with the same malice that Ralls had shown us.

That left only Avernicus not displaying open hostility. He wasn’t any more comforting though. Something reptilian lurked behind his eyes. The cold joy of murder, carried out under the auspices of a holy flag. Meta-awareness, unsuppressed by the anti-magic circle, gave me glimpses of his delight at playing executioner. Of the three of them, he was the most monstrous by far.

“In that case I pronounce them…” Prelate Temple began.

“No.” I said, my voice loud enough to cut through the sounds of the camp being constructed.

“No?”, he asked.

“No one here, or in this town is guilty of anything Prelate Ralls has charged us with. She has no evidence and no witnesses.” I said.

“I have witnessed your guilt myself. That is all of the evidence that is required.” Ralls said.

“You’ve witnessed…” I began to say but she cut me off.

“I’ve witnessed your blasphemy against the church, your refusal to obey your superiors. I’ve seen you play your games of words, just the way the devils you’ve pledged your souls to do.” Ralls screamed.

“We’ve done…” I began again, and again she cut me off.

“You’ve done everything you can to slow us down. We are the law, we are the voice of Dominions. Your obedience to us should have been instantaneous and unquestioning if you were still faithful servants of the church.” Ralls bellowed.

“No, you’re…” I tried one final time only to find my voice freeze in my throat.

I looked around and saw that Brayson, Way and Kari were clutching their throats as well. Outside the circle, Ralls held her hands in an intricate gesture as they glowed with pale blue light. She’d cast a silence spell on us.

“This is done. Your words are worthless. Prelate Temple render your judgment.” Ralls said.

“I judge them guilty on all counts and sentence them to Purification so that they may rejoin the church as our brothers and sisters in faith.” Temple said.

“I believe additional judgments may be needed for the Watch Commander and the Priestess.” Ralls said. “Their sins being so much heavier.”

“Agreed. Their burdens were clearly too great for them. The Watch Commander I judge to be stripped of all ranks and privilege. He shall be no more than a common citizen. And for the Priestess, there can be only Excommunication. Once she is purified, the church shall in mercy welcome her back, but as she had misused her connection to the Dominions, they must be stripped from her evermore. So say I. So say I. So say I.” Prelate Temple clapped his hands three times, once for each ‘So say I’. I recognized that as a ritual action, but was still shocked when I felt the bonds I had with the Twelve Dominions shatter at the ritual’s completion.

With a few words, he’d destroyed my magical powers. That shouldn’t have been even vaguely possible. Or, rather, it shouldn’t have been possible to do that easily. Any member of the church could be excommunicated but it was an involved process and stripping a priest or priestess of their powers involved at least one ritual per Dominion they were sworn too. The process could take up to a full year for someone like me that had sworn themselves to all Twelve Dominions.

I wanted to scream, but Ralls silence spell still held my throat frozen shut.

I’m getting us out of here.” Way said in dream speech and I could feel her anger blazing behind her words.

Wait, there’s something’s impossible going on here, we need to see what they mean by ‘Purification’.” I replied, sending the sense that I was still ok back as a comfort to her.

She didn’t respond in words, but I felt her reign her rage in.

Beside me Kari was trembling, so I laid a hand on her shoulder and gave her a small smile and a shake of my head to let her know not to count us out yet.

As a diplomat, I’d more or less utterly failed to manage the situation. Granted I hadn’t had much room to work with, but the mere fact that the Prelates had been willing to speak at all would have given a senior diplomat more than enough opportunity to take control of things. All wasn’t quite lost though. I might have lost the first round to them but I had a plan.

Once they’d carried out whatever “purification” ritual they had in mind, they’d consider us neutralized. For a junior diplomat like me, that was an amazing spot to be able to strike from. It would take some cleverness and more work on understanding them than I’d put in so far, but with “purification” as a shield to hide behind I could get away with so much it wasn’t even going to be a challenge.

Or that’s what I’d thought until the soldier wheeled in a gleaming white cauldron. It was large enough for even a big man to be fully submerged in it. The soldiers set it down in the center of the room and I saw Avernicus smiling broadly as he walked over to it.

It should have been a holy artifact. It should have been a relic of the world. It should have been real.

It wasn’t any of those things.

When I saw it, it was only with my eyes. My meta-awareness told me that there was only a void there. I’d seen things like that before. Two years ago, when I started my life as a dreamlord.

They had a tool of Oblivion. The Cauldron didn’t purify those put into it. It unmade them.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 12

One of the things they try to teach us at Diplomat school is that there are far more ways to solve a problem through communication than there are through conflict. The difficulty lies in thinking creatively enough to talk your way through a problem instead of punching the other guy in the face. In my experience there was another issue beyond creativity that made things difficult though; some people just needed a good punch in the face.

I glowered at the soldiers possessed by the Shadow Breaker Prelate. Some people needed a lot of punches to the face.

“Are we still going to be ok?” Kari asked, walking close beside me as we approached the camp the Shadow Breakers had set up outside Dawns Harbor.

“We’ll be fine.” I assured her, taking her hand in my own.

“Fear not, though you are condemned, the Holy Throne is wise and just. You will be restored to grace, the taint which blackens your soul washed away in holy light.” one of the soldiers said in Prelate Ralls’ voice.

I looked over at Way who narrowed her eyes and nodded back to me in agreement. We were going to have to ‘disagree’ with the church rather vociferously if Prelate Ralls tried to ‘wash away our taint’.

The ‘grace’ the Holy Throne offered was the grace of unwilling servitude. If it washed away any existing mystical taint it did so only by replacing it with a far worse one, and in this case there was nothing to ‘wash away’.

As a Priestess, I could draw on the Seventh Dominion’s aspect of ‘Deception’ to see the mystical or otherworldly influences on people. That gave me spells that were as powerful as anything the Shadow Breaker’s could have employed to determine whether someone was possessed or had fallen under demonic influence. As a dreamlord I didn’t need them though.

The demons and devils of Vale Septem were fairly standard as ‘evil powers’ went. They were masters of deception and adept at plotting the downfall of the mortals who turned to them. For every spell of True Sight a mortal could cast there was a veiling spell that would protect the demon’s secrets. That didn’t mean it was impossible to discover them with magic, it just meant that you needed a wide repertoire of spell prayers to draw upon and more determination about using those spells than the demon had for maintaining their veils.

The awareness of a dreamlord entered that contest the same way “planet killing super nova” entered a rock, paper, scissors battle. Meta-awareness could fail to warn me of things for a variety of reasons but, no matter what veils a demon might employee, if I deliberately looked at someone, I saw what was real.

There were things that could block meta-awareness, for example people and powers that could manipulate their own reality, like other dreamlords, but I was fairly confident that neither Vale Septem’s demons nor the Shadow Breakers were in that league. If they had been, their cruelty and malice would have either been left behind or made far worse.

That’s how I knew that the Shadow Breaker’s assertion that we were all already damned was yet another lie. With meta-awareness I could see that there was no taint, dark or light, good or evil, on the people of Dawns Harbor. The poor reception they’d given Way and I had been a purely human response. Grida and Colten taking us in for dinner had been the same. The people of Dawns Harbor were real and complex in ways that demons could never quite manage to be.

That meant that, despite how they’d treated us, they deserved better than what the Shadow Breakers were going to do to them.

We reached the camp to find another party of ensorcelled soldiers waiting for us.

“You are charged with obstructing the orders of an agent of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court. Charges of blasphemy are also being prepared. Surrender your weapons.” the leader of the soldiers who were waiting for us said. The voice was, again, Prelate Ralls.

“And you are charged with brigandage and assault. If you should resist arrest on these charges I am required to use lethal force in response.” Brayson answered. He was calm and relaxed, perhaps sensing that violence was not immediately forthcoming, or perhaps confident that the force presented against us was not yet sufficiently overwhelming.

As a retired adventurer, Brayson had to be masterful at combat. The only way an adventurer lived long enough to retire was to hone their skills far beyond that of a common soldier. That was more or less the opposite of the way it worked in my world, but in Vale Septem it made a degree of sense. Vale’s adventurer’s were the ones who spent their lives poking into dark corners and fighting the unimaginable variety of horrors that lurked therein. The Empire’s soldiers on the other hand rarely saw action and when they did it was in battles where personal prowess mattered less than the overall coordination of the unit they were in and the kind of support they had backing them up.

“Your charges are meaningless as are your threats.” Prelate Ralls said through the leader of the soldiers who stood around us.

“As is your claim of legitimacy until you provide a sealed writ confirming it.” Brayson answered.

“We are preparing the writ now. Any further time that you spend holding the Sanctuary spell against us will be counted as additional sins that must be expunged from you.” Ralls said.

“Preparing the writ? Forging a document at this point won’t help you. But I will add that to the list of charges that we’ll hang you for.” Brayson smiled at the soldiers.

“I could kill you where you stand, and still you offer insolence in place of the awe and respect due to a Prelate.” Ralls asked, disbelief plain in her voice.

“You seem to be under a misapprehension. I am offering you far more respect than someone claiming to be a Prelate but offering no proof of that deserves.” Brayson explained.

“And once you have your proof?” Ralls asked.

“Then I will treat you with exactly as much respect as a Third Prelate of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court deserves.”

Ralls didn’t catch the undertone of that promise, but I did. Meta-awareness showed me glimspes of Brayson’s history with the Shadow Breakers. Kari’s father wasn’t the only townsperson that Dawns Harbor had lost to the Breakers. Spurious charges, backed by confessions and “conclusive” evidence that no one was allowed to see or contest due to “greater spiritual concerns”. There’d been enough circumstantial evidence that Brayson hadn’t been able to gainsay the Breakers, but as far as he was concerned none of the townsfolk that had been taken had been guilty of anything they were accused of. If I scrapped together the respect that he had for the Prelates of the Shadow Breakers into a thimble I’d still have plenty of room for my middle finger.

It’s why he was helping us. He didn’t like us, well Way or I. Kari he was at least fond of. Way and I were trouble though, which meant his first instinct was to wish we were elsewhere. Barring that, he’d be happy if we managed to avoid attracting his attention. The one thing that overrode that general disapproval though was that the Shadow Breaker’s presented a target he truly loathed. As common ground between us went, it wasn’t the most stable of foundations but it would do under the circumstances.

“I thought you were going to meet us here in person?” I asked the nearest Ralls controlled soldier.

“Once the Sanctuary effect has been restored to its proper function and operations here have commenced, I will be happy to deal with you personally.” she replied.

“Why are they all talking in the same voice?”, Kari whispered.

“Because this army has been unified by the grace of the Holy Throne.” Ralls replied through another soldier. Superior hearing was apparently also part of the enhancement package the soldiers were enspelled with.

“The church has decided that the life force of these soldiers is worth less than the aim they are pursuing here.” I added.

“We all live to serve the Holy Throne, but you speak as though you are aware of prayers which are spoken for the Blessing of Unity?” Ralls said.

“Yes. I know what you’re doing to these men and women.”

The soldiers around us paused for a moment, processing that. Meta-awareness filled me in on why. The Blessing of Unity was a prayer that was only taught to high officials of the church. It was both demanding to cast and easy to misuse. I offered no explanation for how I, an apparently underage Priestess, knew of it and allowed Ralls to draw her own conclusions.

“Priestess Jin, how much longer would you expect the soldiers can be kept in this state?” Brayson asked.

“That depends on how much they are misused. With moderate activity, I imagine a caster such as the one speaking to us could manage to keep them alive for four or five days in this state.” I said.

“And if they were freed before then?” Brayson asked.

“That depends on when they are freed. If it was tonight they would need no more than a week’s rest. The longer they stay like this though the more rapid their decline will be. By two days from now they’ll start suffering a permanent loss of strength and reaction speed.” I said.

“Significantly decreasing the fighting prowess of the Imperial Army is grounds for both execution and excommunication.” Brayson said to no one in particular. Ralls caught his meaning on that one. It was weird to see the faces of all of the soldiers surrounding us darken into the same scowl.

The mirrored expressions reminded me of the fact that they were as much victims in this as the townsfolk of Dawns Harbor were poised to become. Their consent to the Unity Blessing entered into a questionable philosophical area. On the one hand it might have been genuine when it was given, motivated by respect for authority or faith in the church. On the other there was no way the Shadow Breakers had explained the Unity Blessing to them fully or made them aware of what its real nature was. The spell only called for consent, not informed consent though, a feature that was completely a part of the Breaker’s design of it.

There was a commotion in front of us, from within the camp, as another set of soldiers marched forward. At their head was a woman in priestly robes. Prelate Ralls held a scroll in her hands and an expression of wicked satisfaction on her face.

“Watch Commander Brayson, here is the documentation required for control of this town to pass to the the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court. I hereby officially relieve you of your duty and your rank as Watch Commander. Further the charges I had read against you will now be put into full effect.” Prelate Ralls said as she handed the sealed writ over to Brayson.

He opened it and read the contents, his frown shifting to a small smile.

“I hereby accept this writ of Emergency Powers to be granted to the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court. However, Prelate Ralls, you appear to be unfamiliar with the Emergency Powers procedures and doctrine. This writ requires that I render you all aid and comply with any legal orders given. It specifically does not allow for the ouster of the existing governors of the village, town or city referenced.” Brayson said.

“You will find that you are mistaken. It is well within my power to strip you of your rank, your privilege and your life. Were this not a Conscription mission, I would have done so already.”

“Prelate, I am aware of the sorts of actions you are used to being able to take. Allow me to assure you that my understanding of the laws as they are actually written is quite accurate. You have the right to execute any legal order within this town, up to and including trying me for heresy. Past experience may have left you confused and under the impression that any order you make is legal simply because you wish it to be so. Further, you have brought five hundred warriors with you. This likely leads you to believe that you have the necessary might to enforce your orders regardless of whether they are legal or not. Allow me to correct that misunderstanding.” Brayson slipped on a pair of mailed gauntlets. Jewels gleamed on the knuckles, and I could feel them radiating with a disturbing amount of power despite being in a quiescent state.

“You cannot threaten me. You do not know who you are speaking to.”  Prelate Ralls said, though she backed away a step.

“I am speaking to a Third Prelate. You are speaking to one of the six people who survived the Battle of Empty Swamp. It has been many years since then, but did you know we fought over two thousand undead there.” Brayson said. Ralls froze, her face hardening into a silent scowl.

“The charge of heresy remains against you. You will turn over all of the weapons you possess and submit yourself to our custody.” Ralls demanded.

“As you wish.” Brayson said. He unbuckled his belt and handed it over with the sword that was strapped to it. “I must warn you though, assembling a proper tribunal to try a town Watch Commander will take several days. Longer, I believe, that you can sustain these troops. And until the trial is completed I will not turn the Sanctuary spell over to your control.”

Ralls laughed at that. A chilling cackle of glee.

“The Sanctuary spell is a gift of the Holy Throne. Now that we have command of the town, it is ours to command as well.” Ralls explained.

With a twisting gesture of her hand, I felt the ward that Brayson had woven against the Shadow Breakers unwind and reform, settling on us instead. One moment we were free and the next we were encased in the chains of magic that had kept the town safe for decades. I reached out for my Priestess magic and found a hard blockage holding it back.

Looking around I saw that Way had been similarly constrained. No sword of lightning would come to her hand while the Sanctuary spell was turned against us, and our strength and reflexes were severely diminished. We weren’t the worst affected though,

Kari looked at me as the mystical chains fell on us. Her eyes were wide with fear. Behind them I saw visions of her father’s fate playing out in her mind’s eyes.

“We shall render our judgment upon you now.” Prelate Ralls said.

The Broken Bonds – Chapter 11

There’s a strange sort of peace that comes from heading towards trouble. I think its because your uncertainty drops away. Often trouble sneaks up on us. One moment things are fine and the next you’re hip deep in problems and sinking fast. People like the Shadow Breakers rely on that. It’s easy to make a victim of someone who’s too surprised to fight back.

“They called for me, so let me do the talking.” Brayson said as we walked through town.

“As long as they’ll listen to you that’s fine.” I agreed.

“Do you know where they are?” Way asked Brayson.

“I don’t think five hundred men will be hard to spot.” he said.

“I meant the Shadow Breakers. Will they set up a command post immediately or will we have to find them among the troops?” Way asked. I could see what she was thinking. If it came to a fight, being in the middle of an armed camp was ‘less than optimal’. Too high a chance for unintended casualties.

“Can’t say. I haven’t seen them do this kind of thing before.” Brayson said.

“They’ll defer to the Knight commanders.” I said, meta-awareness sketching me an image of how a group like the Shadow Breakers would take command of a military force. “For something unusual like this they’ll have picked commanders that they’re comfortable with.”

“I never seen them deferring to anyone.” Brayson said.

“They’re probably not obvious about it. It probably looks more like delegation. The order to set up the camp will come from them but it’s the Knights who know what that means and how best to do it.” I said.

“That I’ve seen.” Brayson agreed.

We turned a corner off of a street that was lit by a collection of magical torches and entered a wide but unlit alley between a textile merchant’s shop and a two story residential building. The cobblestones that paved the main road continued only a few feet down the alley, leaving us to navigate around the muddy puddles that dotted the alley.

I saw that Kari was picking her way down the alley with extra care for her new dress.

“Don’t worry.” I told her “The skirt’s self cleaning. I’ll show you how to trigger the enchantment later.”

“Oh, thank you.” she said and hurried her pace to catch up to Way and Brayson. She still avoided the puddles though.

“Who are those people?” Way asked, pointing at a group of armored men who marched by the far end of the alley.

At her question, the men halted, wordlessly, and turned to look down the alley. The armor they wore was marked with a glowing sigil in the shape of the Ever Watchful Eye. On their brows, pure white halos glowed and in their hands they held spears that crackled with electricity.

Their leader was a taller man, and his armor was adorned with more glowing sigils than the rest. He stepped forward and when he spoke the voice that emerged wasn’t his own.

“Halt. This town is under General Confinement and Conscription by direct order of the Holy Throne. ” a feminine voice commanded.

“I am Watch Commander Darius Brayson. Under what charges was that order issued, and who I am addressing?” Brayson demanded.

“I am Third Prelate Ralls of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court, I am in direct command of the forces sent to enact the Holy Throne’s decree and I order you to lay down any weapons you are carrying and submit to yourselves to our custody.” the leader said.

Meta-awareness quickly unpacked a bunch of what was going on for me.

The Supreme Ecclesiastical Court was the official name for the Shadow Breakers. As a Prelate, Ralls was one of the Shadow Breakers commanding officers. Third Prelate meant she was about as high up as one could get and still see action in the field. The Second Prelates were concerned with the governance of the Shadow Breakers organization and the First Prelate was an office whose sole member sat on council that advised the Holy Throne on the governance of the entire Empire.

When Ralls said she was in ‘direct command’ of the forces, she was speaking quite literally. The sigils and halos that the troops wore offered them enhanced combat prowess, from greater strength to faster reflexes to added layers of armor-like toughness and rapid healing. It was extremely rare that the spell was put into use though as it drew its power from the life force of those who bore the sigils. Sustained use was as certain to kill the wearer as any sword blow would be and even if they survived, the recovery time was measured in months or years.

That wasn’t the ugly part of the spell though. The ugly part was the way the recipient of the spell became a puppet for the spell’s caster. No will, no thought, save what the caster allowed. That meant no fear, no hesitation and no chance anyone would disobey a clearly immoral order.

That control came at a price though. No human spellcaster could consciously control five hundred soldiers and have them fight effectively. That’s where the Shadow Breaker’s turned to mind alteration. In place of the subject’s conscious mind, the spell stamped a copy of the caster’s mind into the host body. It was a ‘temporary effect’, in theory ending when the spell was released. In practice bits of the caster’s mind could linger with the subject, disturbing their sleep and instilling paranoia and doubt into every waking moment for years afterwards.

“I refuse to surrender my weapons or any of those under my charge until you present a writ bearing the Holy Seal.” Brayson said. His hand wasn’t on his sword and the rest of us were unarmed as far as the mind controlled squad could see. For some reason though, they still paused. You couldn’t intimidate the mind controlled soldiers, but intimidating the caster who was directing them was another matter.

“Refusal to obey a directive from a Prelate of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Court is an act of treason and punishable by summary execution. Throw down your weapon.” Ralls commanded again.

“Until you verify your identity and your authority, I am required to treat armed invaders in my town as brigands, or are you unfamiliar with the requirements of official judiciously practices, Prelate?” Brayson said the last word out with enough contempt that he might as well have been spitting it into the dirt.

I saw what was coming next as the soldiers started to move. They didn’t need to communicate when they made the decision to attack. They were of one mind after all. The Shadow Breakers had rallied a force out to Dawns Harbor at an inhuman speed. There was no chance they were going to waste time answering questions or presenting proper paperwork. We weren’t looking at a group of defenders for the town or even peacekeepers. This was an assault group. They’d brought overwhelming force and there was no reason, in their minds, not to use that force to reach their objectives as fast as possible.

They started to move on us and things happened very quickly.

Way moved first, a flick of her wrist sending a thunder clap down the alleyway as she pulled an enormous blade of lightning down from the sky above. With their magically enhanced speed, the soldiers answered the threat Way posed by hurling their spears at her in unison.

Brayson thrust his arm forward and the shield that he’d been silently weaving into place sprang to life in front of us as a wall of blue radiance.

The spears detonated against the wall like cannon balls, shattering it but being destroyed themselves in the process.

“As Watch Commander of Dawns Harbor, by the power of my office and in execution of my duly appointed duties, I charge you all with assault and disturbing the peace. I bind you by law to stand down and submit yourselves to the judgment of the next tribunal.” Brayson said, loud enough to be heard a block away.

His words were more than a warning or a declaration. The sanctuary spell was responsive to any official of the town. By charging the soldiers with an official crime they had to answer for, he was able to turn that power against them.

Ordinarily the magical fear that the sanctuary spell could generate would be enough to force a brigand to submit or at least flee. The haloed soldiers couldn’t feel fear though and Prelate Ralls was far too strong mystically to succum to it.

Which isn’t to say the sanctuary spell was worthless. The soldiers responded to Brayson’s words by conjuring and hurling another set of electrified spears at us. The assault shattered into dust before the spears even got close enough for Way to parry them.

“I say again, you are bound by law. Continued resistance will be met with the use of lethal force.” Brayson said. There was no anger or malice in his voice, but it was also the farthest thing from warm.

“Your authority has been revoked. The General Confinement and Conscription places all citizens and officials of this town under the authority of the Prelates sent to secure it.” Ralls said.

“My authority remains in effect until I am relieved of it by death or a properly delivered edict from my superior, Knight General Longinus. Watch authority can be suspended by the Holy Throne in times of crisis but notice must be presented in writing to that effect.” Brayson said and began striding towards the soldiers. “Since death will end my authority, I suggest you try to kill me. I am nearly convinced that you are heretical brigands already, I could use confirmation of that fact ‘Prelate’.”

“You are a foolish man. There will be no mercy or leniency shown in your sentencing thanks to this.” Ralls said.

“Continue resisting my lawful command and I promise I will show you precisely what ‘no mercy’ looks like.” Brayson said.

“Threatening a Prelate is also grounds for summary execution. Time is of the essence however and it will be faster to produce the documentation and officially relieve you of your command than to undo the damage of your misuse of the Sanctuary spell. Come with us. You may retain your weapons until you are stripped of your rank.” Ralls said, before turning the squad of soldiers back towards the edge of town and the army that encampment that lay beyond it.

“I expect you to be waiting for us in person, Prelate Ralls.” Brayson said, falling into step behind the soldiers. Way released her lightning blade and she, Kari and I followed in Brayson’s wake.

“You are in no position to make demands.” the leader of the squad said.

“Aren’t I? We both know the Shadow Breakers don’t have the authority to command the Imperial army. When Knight General Longinus finds out what you’re doing here he’s going to make your little interrogation chambers look like pleasure parlors.” Brayson said.

“We are not commanding the Imperial army. The Holy Throne is. We are merely servants.” Ralls said.

“I’m sure the distinction will be very meaningful to the Knight General.” Brayson said.

“You place your faith in a mortal man rather than the Holy Throne, and so commit one of the Great Sins as well? Oh, I will definitely be seeing you in person.” Ralls said.

“You meant to say ‘faith in mortal power instead of faith in the divine wisdom of the Dominions’, didn’t you?” I asked, innocently.

“You wish a lecture on theology child? Your father’s influence will not spare you from the church’s wrath if you speak blasphemy.” Ralls hissed.

“Who’s influence? Child? I am priestess of the Twelve Dominions Prelate and I would take care with accusations of blasphemy. Bishop Rask seemed to have a similarly difficult time distinguishing proper dogma from Ecclesiastical shorthand.” I knew baiting her was a bad idea, but she was pushing the same buttons that Rask had. Between that and my revulsion at the Halo spell she’d cast, I wasn’t feeling particularly well disposed towards Prelate Ralls.

“If you know Bishop Rask, then know that you cannot call on him for aid. It is because his mission has failed that we have been mobilized. There is no one who will speak for anyone in this town. You are all already condemned.” Ralls said.

Her words rocked me back. Not because she claimed we were condemned. If the church knew what I really was they’d excavate a new level of the Abyss to bury me in.

No, the shocking thing about her words was that she didn’t recognize me, didn’t know who Way or I was at all. The Shadow Breakers hadn’t come for us. They’d come for the town. Rask had just wanted us to be held here so that we would be caught in the wake of whatever was planned to happen to Dawns Harbor.

That also meant that Ralls was lying. Rask had known the Shadow Breaker’s would be coming before he left to pursue the mission. On the other hand they were in a rush. This couldn’t be a long thought out plan. It would have been better organized if so.

I had a vision of the world falling apart and the Shadow Breakers desperately scrambling to hold together the grains of sand that made it up. They were going to fail, and somehow I knew, I was going to make sure that happened.